Today there was another silent protest against police brutality, or at least there was meant to be.
I went along to Qasr El-Nil bridge ten minutes after it was meant to have started and encountered the usual scene of lovers staring cross-eyed and nauseatingly at each other while caressed by a gentle wind, but distinctly no protestors. The idea is that protestors all wear black and stand in silence/read the Quran or Bible for an hour, in a line. So far assembly points have been along the Nile, presumably because the presence of the aforementioned couples and other flaneurs both increases the profile of the protest and provides a protection of sorts. Because these are after all only individuals contemplating the Nile. Who all happen to be wearing black while standing in silence.
The filth had other ideas however. As I approached the Tahrir end of the bridge I saw a bunch of them standing by one of the lions instructing youths wearing black t-shirts to bugger off. I then wandered along the corniche below the bridge where 6 – 7 young men in black were positioned doing silence and contemplation etc. I assumed they were part of the protest. Up on the bridge meanwhile on one side even the non-political lovers were being moved on, and I overheard one officer say to pedestrians attempting to walk along the bridge, “El kobry mamnou3” [the bridge is forbidden] and felt like we were in some role-playing computer game and that we would have to find the golden chalice through the haunted forest.
By this point I had run into a journo I know, who was accompanied by another journo I didn’t know called Ahmed, who turned out to be demagh and droll. Me and Ahmed trundled around looking for the protest until we discovered that for some reason it was outside the Trade Chamber [el ghorfa el togareyya] in Bab El-Louq, so off we went.
There were about 20 people there who were immediately descended upon by a group of uniformed cops and plain-clothed nasties. It was “agreed” that the protestors (some of whom were not the usual activists present at almost all demonstrations, and who included a child) would leave in groups of three, which is what happened.
There was a minorly interesting moment when a copper asked a journo in a brusque fashion who he was and what newspaper he worked for. When said journo replied New York Times the tone changed considerably. I must remember to use this tactic.
There was more confusion after that as we wandered and wondered where to go, including a bonkers moment when some men in the street began exclaiming “a protest! A protest!” and “Ali El-Hashem has died!” and “We’re going to the Synagogue!” Two of them strode off while behind us another dragged one man off his seat while all laughed and lots of colourful descriptions of the mother of the man doing the dragging were bandied about. It was eventually established that these gentlemen had nothing to do with the cause, and that the cause had now (inevitably) moved to the Journalists’ Syndicate.
On the way there Ahmed described a protest by El-Baradei’s National Coalition for Change that he had covered a few weeks ago, participants in which – after being having been prevented from demonstrating by the police – decided that they would finish off their evening of activism by decamping to City Stars, a 5 star shopping mall. I don’t know if the anecdote is true, but it reflects an impression held by some that Dr Elbadz’s movement is somewhat elitist - or at least that it recruits individuals from certain social strata.
I thought very unchristian thoughts throughout the day as I observed the feeble number of people who had turned up for the protest, because on Twitter people were calling for “activism” by tweeting tweets about Khaled Said and the protests.
I still have some thinking to do about this and so don’t want to get my high horse out quite yet but I have a burgeoning belief that Twitter activism is something of an oxymoron.
Twitter is indispensable for communicating information and throwing light on issues ignored by the media big boys, but activism? How can writing 140 characters to (as most my followers are, at least) like-minded people constitute activism? Isn’t this like the Pope railing against abortion at a Catholic priests’ annual general meeting? Not that I’m blaming or chastising or judging or anything, I am all for people ranting against oppressive mothafuckas because it’s one of my favourite activities. I just object to the nomenclature. Getting something as a trending topic on Twitter is good and everything but it isn’t activism, it’s awareness-raising. To call it activism is a little bit of an insult to the people who interrupt their lives to go out on the streets, in the process exposing themselves to arrest and injury.
And here endeth the lesson.