Last Friday, when I called the Egyptian embassy in South Africa for comment on events in Egypt and also their sentiment on proposed demonstrations outside the embassy, I was asked by a worried diplomat whether any South African political parties had been planning to join the demonstration. The protest last week was a spontaneous act of support by a handful of Egyptians living in South Africa. The demonstration set for later today is likely to be more organised and much better attended, various trade unions as well as activist associations have put their weight behind the protests today.
I don’t know how to start writing this. I have been battling fatigue for not sleeping properly for the past 10 days, moving from one’s friend house to another friend’s house, almost never spending a night in my home, facing a very well funded and well organized ruthless regime that views me as nothing but an annoying bug that its time to squash will come. The situation here is bleak to say the least.
It didn’t start out that way. On Tuesday Jan 25 it all started peacefully, and against all odds, we succeeded to gather hundreds of thousands and get them into Tahrir Square, despite being attacked by Anti-Riot Police who are using sticks, tear gas and rubber bullets against us. We managed to break all of their barricades and situated ourselves in Tahrir. The government responded by shutting down all cell communication in Tahrir square, a move which purpose was understood later when after midnight they went in with all of their might and attacked the protesters and evacuated the Square. The next day we were back at it again, and the day after. Then came Friday and we braved their communication blackout, their thugs, their tear gas and their bullets and we retook the square. We have been fighting to keep it ever since.
That night the government announced a military curfew, which kept getting shorter by the day, until it became from 8 am to 3 pm. People couldn’t go to work, gas was running out quickly and so were essential goods and money, since the banks were not allowed to operate and people were not able to collect their salary. The internet continued to be blocked, which affected all businesses in Egypt and will cause an economic meltdown the moment they allow the banks to operate again. We were being collectively punished for daring to say that we deserve democracy and rights, and to keep it up, they withdrew the police, and then sent them out dressed as civilians to terrorize our neighborhoods. I was shot at twice that day, one of which with a semi-automatic by a dude in a car that we the people took joy in pummeling. The government announced that all prisons were breached, and that the prisoners somehow managed to get weapons and do nothing but randomly attack people. One day we had organized thugs in uniforms firing at us and the next day they disappeared and were replaced by organized thugs without uniforms firing at us. Somehow the people never made the connection.
Despite it all, we braved it. We believed we are doing what’s right and were encouraged by all those around us who couldn’t believe what was happening to their country. What he did galvanized the people, and on Tuesday, despite shutting down all major roads leading into Cairo, we managed to get over 2 million protesters in Cairo alone and 3 million all over Egypt to come out and demand Mubarak’s departure. Those are people who stood up to the regime’s ruthlessness and anger and declared that they were free, and were refusing to live in the Mubarak dictatorship for one more day. That night, he showed up on TV, and gave a very emotional speech about how he intends to step down at the end of his term and how he wants to die in Egypt, the country he loved and served. To me, and to everyone else at the protests this wasn’t nearly enough, for we wanted him gone now. Others started asking that we give him a chance, and that change takes time and other such poppycock. Hell, some people and family members cried when they saw his speech. People felt sorry for him for failing to be our dictator for the rest of his life and inheriting us to his Son. It was an amalgam of Stockholm syndrome coupled with slave mentality in a malevolent combination that we never saw before. And the Regime capitalized on it today. Today, they brought back the internet, and started having people calling on TV and writing on facebook on how they support Mubarak and his call for stability and peacefull change in 8 months. They hung on to the words of the newly appointed government would never harm the protesters, whom they believe to be good patriotic youth who have a few bad apples amongst them. We started getting calls asking people to stop protesting because “we got what we wanted” and “we need the country to start working again”. People were complaining that they miss their lives. That they miss going out at night, and ordering Home Delivery. That they need us to stop so they can resume whatever existence they had before all of this. All was forgiven, the past week never happened and it’s time for Unity under Mubarak’s rule right now.
To all of those people I say: NEVER! I am sorry that your lives and businesses are disrupted, but this wasn’t caused by the Protesters. The Protesters aren’t the ones who shut down the internet that has paralyzed your businesses and banks: The government did. The Protesters weren’t the ones who initiated the military curfew that limited your movement and allowed goods to disappear off market shelves and gas to disappear: The government did. The Protesters weren’t the ones who ordered the police to withdraw and claimed the prisons were breached and unleashed thugs that terrorized your neighborhoods: The government did. The same government that you wish to give a second chance to, as if 30 years of dictatorship and utter failure in every sector of government wasn’t enough for you. The Slaves were ready to forgive their master, and blame his cruelty on those who dared to defy him in order to ensure a better Egypt for all of its citizens and their children. After all, he gave us his word, and it’s not like he ever broke his promises for reform before or anything.
Then Mubarak made his move and showed them what useful idiots they all were.
You watched on TV as “Pro-Mubarak Protesters” â€“ thugs who were paid money by NDP members by admission of High NDP officials- started attacking the peaceful unarmed protesters in Tahrir square. They attacked them with sticks, threw stones at them, brought in men riding horses and camels- in what must be the most surreal scene ever shown on TV- and carrying whips to beat up the protesters. And then the Bullets started getting fired and Molotov cocktails started getting thrown at the Anti-Mubarak Protesters as the Army standing idly by, allowing it all to happen and not doing anything about it. Dozens were killed, hundreds injured, and there was no help sent by ambulances. The Police never showed up to stop those attacking because the ones who were captured by the Anti-mubarak people had police ID’s on them. They were the police and they were there to shoot and kill people and even tried to set the Egyptian Museum on Fire. The Aim was clear: Use the clashes as pretext to ban such demonstrations under pretexts of concern for public safety and order, and to prevent disunity amongst the people of Egypt. But their plans ultimately failed, by those resilient brave souls who wouldn’t give up the ground they freed of Egypt, no matter how many live bullets or firebombs were hurled at them. They know, like we all do, that this regime no longer cares to put on a moderate mask. That they have shown their true nature. That Mubarak will never step down, and that he would rather burn Egypt to the ground than even contemplate that possibility.
In the meantime, State-owned and affiliated TV channels were showing coverage of Peaceful Mubarak Protests all over Egypt and showing recorded footage of Tahrir Square protest from the night before and claiming it’s the situation there at the moment. Hundreds of calls by public figures and actors started calling the channels saying that they are with Mubarak, and that he is our Father and we should support him on the road to democracy. A veiled girl with a blurred face went on Mehwer TV claiming to have received funding by Americans to go to the US and took courses on how to bring down the Egyptian government through protests which were taught by Jews. She claimed that AlJazeera is lying, and that the only people in Tahrir square now were Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. State TV started issuing statements on how the people arrested Israelis all over Cairo engaged in creating mayhem and causing chaos. For those of you who are counting this is an American-Israeli-Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood-Iranian-Hamas conspiracy. Imagine that. And MANY PEOPLE BOUGHT IT. I recall telling a friend of mine that the only good thing about what happened today was that it made clear to us who were the idiots amongst our friends. Now we know.
Now, just in case this isn’t clear: This protest is not one made or sustained by the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s one that had people from all social classes and religious background in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood only showed up on Tuesday, and even then they were not the majority of people there by a long shot. We tolerated them there since we won’t say no to fellow Egyptians who wanted to stand with us, but neither the Muslims Brotherhood not any of the Opposition leaders have the ability to turn out one tenth of the numbers of Protesters that were in Tahrir on Tuesday. This is a revolution without leaders. Three Million individuals choosing hope instead of fear and braving death on hourly basis to keep their dream of freedom alive. Imagine that.
The End is near. I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay “because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people”. This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can’t. I am heading to Tahrir right now with supplies for the hundreds injured, knowing that today the attacks will intensify, because they can’t allow us to stay there come Friday, which is supposed to be the game changer. We are bringing everybody out, and we will refuse to be anything else than peaceful. If you are in Egypt, I am calling on all of you to head down to Tahrir today and Friday. It is imperative to show them that the battle for the soul of Egypt isn’t over and done with. I am calling you to bring your friends, to bring medical supplies, to go and see what Mubarak’s gurantees look like in real life. Egypt needs you. Be Heroes.
As the world trains its eyes on Egypt, a solidarity protest will be held today at 13:30 outside the Egyptian embassy in Pretoria. It’s unclear who exactly is organising the protest but a call to an advertised number gleaned this information: “It is a friendly protest, supporting the desired change in Egypt, asking for freedom and corruption elimination. We will be in front of the embassy at 270 Bourke Street.”
A call to the Egyptian embassy, meanwhile, revealed that the embassy was unaware of the planned protest but welcome it and ‘will listen to the protesters and forward the information to Cairo.’
Lucy Bushill-Matthews, whose biography I bungled while introducing her, at Islamic Relief’s Sisters of the Deen event in Mayfair yesterday regaled the 500-strong audience with her typically witty observations of the idiosyncracies of Muslim life in South Africa. Her first brush with Muslim life in South Africa, she recalled, was the conclusion of a meal at Nando’s. She was taken aback to see halal insignia proudly emblazoned, on the back of an unassuming wet-wipe. As far as South African Muslim life goes, much of it is spent lusting after a McDonalds happy meal while your conscience twists in agony over whether it really is halal. We are consumed with issues of halal and haraam when it pertains to how many insects’ legs were used to shine our chocolates yet we neglect to count how many feet we trample to climb the ladder of self-righteousness. And as the audience guffawed with laughter at Lucy’s joke, a backstage volunteer at the event, a recent convert to Islam, poked me in the ribs and asked me to explain what the joke was. And as I explained our penchant to stamp everything from toothpicks to a shoulder of lamb with halal, she looked at me exasperatedly and said, ‘But how else will we know what’s halal then?’
A post on Indigo Jo Blogs this morning responds to an article that appeared in that great standard for journalism, the British press, boldly informing the British public that entertainment venues like Wembley Stadium and Royal Ascot are serving halal meat. The article I take it, is meant to paint a picture of, ‘Even the meat in our posh schools are halal, them Moslems are taking over!’ Without delving into the issue of stunning animals before slaughtering them, and how halal or haraam that is (which was the ostensible argument against halal meat) or speculating on whether our heavily meat-ridden diet is at all halaal, I’d like to point out instead that during the Fifa World Cup™ earlier this year, each stadium was equipped with a halal food kiosk, and though the very, very large contingent of local Muslims who formed substantial numbers at the stadiums complained bitterly about the standard of that halal food, we didn’t rate a headline.
allah-hu-taala het gesê innie koran
djulle moet djulle bekke hou
preek die imam innie smokkelhuis;
hoek me allah
djkr hy by die jintoe
wat net halaal kos iet
toe excommunicate die jamma hom.
maa’ allah ken mos betere
wan’ die man het hom mos geremember
ennie woord gespread tussen innie mense
en toe stuur allah hom straight heaven toe
met n’ borrel dop
(allah the highest said in the qur’an
you must keep your mouth shut
the imam preaches in the shebeen
he chants at the harlot
who only eats halaal food.
so the community excommunicated him
but allah knows much better
because the man remembered him
and spread the word in-between the people.
and so allah sent him, straight to heaven
with a bottle of booze)
Translation by Mphutlane wa Bofelo
Our self-serving hypocrisies quite aside, it takes just a mention of ‘Majlis’, ‘Rainbow Chickens’ or more recently, ‘Woolworths croissants’ to a Muslim in Johannesburg to realise the severity of our problems with halal certification in South Africa. And these are problems that must be resolved within ourselves for the betterment (and sanity) of the community. Woolworths are not feeding us porcine lard in their croissants as part of an obscure Zionist campaign. And I assure you, when I first heard of the Woolworths confectionery being ‘not halal‘ I was incensed because they appeared to be perfectly halal in Cape Town. It seemed to me that Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal air rendered it not precisely ‘haraam‘ but just, ‘not halal‘. I’ve spoken to the big people at Woolworths themselves since, speculating on how different a Cape Town recipe could be to a Pretoria one. My email to them was angry enough to induce their people to actually call me with a response instead of offering me lame platitudes over email. It turns out the factories preparing confectionery for Woolworths in regions besides the Western Cape can not guarantee that your croissants have not been mangled with pork or alcohol in the preparation process. While these factories have been requested to open facilities especially for Woolworths products that will be sanitised of any porcine or alcoholic influences, they are yet to comply. I was still skeptical but what finally swayed me was my interlocutor’s unlfinching honesty. I asked him, if he as a Muslim (he had a Muslim sounding name and had offered me salaam) and a Woolworths employee would eat those croissants should he find himself in Jo’burg. Without missing a beat he said he would not.
We cannot rely on the presence or absence of halal insignia at the expense of common sense.