An armchair revolution

Posted on 03 February 2011

It’s very easy to be an armchair revolutionary. It’s very easy to judge the actions of others without understanding their experience. It’s very easy to expect a situation elsewhere to fit one’s own expectations.

Over the last few days I’ve read so many tweets and posts on Facebook and blogs and comments. While most are no doubt being written from a supportive stance, some are also written from a position of misunderstanding.

Today was almost the day of reckoning. Although violence broke out, it also fizzled out (f0r now — it can only get worse now). There is no doubt, to me, that the violence was orchestrated and incited by “pro-Mubarak” supporters. I use that term in a rather loose sense. I know, from someone in Cairo, that employees of the state were “encouraged” to go out and demonstrate on behalf of embattled Mubarak, otherwise they would lose their salaries, at the very least. Given the coercion and threats likely used, does that make them paid thugs of the regime? Or very scared individuals?

There are undoubtedly a great number of men who are loyal in the extreme to Mubarak, and will do as they are told to maintain whatever position they hold. Part of that control is to ensure others are also seen to be supporting the regime. They use all sorts of tactics to ensure this compliance, but you can be sure that they use threats and fear to get what they (rather Mubarak) want.

So the question is, who are we to assume that all those on the streets today, attacking the Egyptians demanding freedom from oppression are “pro-Mubarak” supporters? Do they really support Mubarak or are they trying to protect themselves as they have not yet managed to break through the fear-factor? Isn’t it very easy for those of us who live privileged lives in the West to point the finger at those who are not supporting the revolution in the way we expect them to?

How easy it is for us to judge those who appear to oppose our position as being paid thugs of Mubarak. But let us not forget how deep and how cancerous the reach of a regime can be. Imagine: you are a street sweeper, probably earning less than the average monthly wage of around £350 Egyptian pounds (about £36 sterling) a month. You are an employee of the state, of the regime, of Mubarak.

Now, imagine that the paid thugs demand that you too go out on the street, to support your leader, to show allegiance. The meagre wage you earn barely pays for your family to be housed, fed and clothed. So what choice do you have when a  Mubarak strong-arm tells you to get out there otherwise your family will suffer?

I know that, especially as a mother, I cannot answer that question with all honesty. I do not know what I’d do. Would I stand for my principles, or would I protect my family? So, before you judge everyone on the street who is being called a Mubarak thug, just think about what their situation may be. None of us in the safety of our Western homes can begin to imagine the threats, the fear and the danger that some people believe they face. This revolution may have an enormous impact globally, but how it is felt locally is what matters to Egyptians.

If you were threatened with violence, against yourself, against your family, would you stand up for your principles and do the “right thing” or would you protect your family, your little income and your humble home? Before you judge everyone else, think about how you might behave in such terrible circumstances. Rarely is something just black and white: there’s usually many shades of grey in between.

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