Egyptian activists are demanding a third way

Egyptian activists are demanding a third way


Originally published in The Independent, 20 August 2013

Khalid Abdalla is optimistic. In the wake of the worst mass killings Egypt has known in its modern history, he appears to be one of the few to remain so. As Cairo suffocates under a night-time curfew, and Egyptians count their massacres, there are plenty of reasons to worry about the fate of this country.

But amid the deepening polarisation, one group of activists is attempting to forge a path which steers clear of the rising tide of hysteria and hostility.

According to Mr Abdalla, an English-Egyptian actor who helped found a media and film organisation in Cairo following the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the so-called “Masmoua”, or “Heard” campaign, is an attempt to reject the political extremes which led to the unprecedented bloodshed of last week.

Founded just four days ago, it aims to encourage opposition to both the political Islam and military hegemony.

“I believe the majority of people in this country don’t want to live under fascism,” said Mr Abdalla, speaking to The Independent today. The Masmoua movement, he said, was about trying to “create a space in which we get beyond” the extremities which are wrenching the country apart.

Ever since the popular coup on 3 July, which led to the toppling of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt has appeared dangerously divided. Despite an ostensibly civilian-led transition, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the country’s top soldier, still appears to be tugging the political strings.

Egypt’s Islamists, meanwhile, continue to be the ghosts at the revolutionary feast. Several hundred were massacred last week, while security services have arrested hundreds more up and down the country. With Monday’s killings of more than two dozen policemen by militants in Sinai, along with continued attacks against churches and Christian businesses, an obsequious media is also whipping up fears of the terrorist menace.

The Masmoua campaign uses unorthodox methods to get its point across. Every night, at 9pm, supporters are asked to clatter on a kitchen pan outside their window to register their disapproval.

The idea originated from a similar technique used during the recent protests against Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey.

But in Egypt, where protesters in Tahrir Square now erect posters of long-dead generals instead of demanding the collapse of the regime, the Masmoua movement represents an effective way of reclaiming the power of protest, according to Mr Abdalla.

“At the moment, not only are we silenced,” he said, “but we don’t have any place for our voice to go. We don’t have a ballot box. We don’t have any representatives.

“We don’t even have the street. This is why it is essential that the home becomes the battleground.”

Egypt has become a place where political allegiances can sometimes invite disapproving scrutiny.

One prominent Cairo-based academic told The Independent how his mother had recently urged him to shave his beard, such is the level of anti-Islamist hostility from some quarters in what has long been a conservative country.

Aalam Wassef, a film-maker who has also joined the Masmoua campaign, said that some people had not taken kindly to the movement.

“We get suspicion and disapproval,” he said. “There is the suspicion among some that we are Muslim Brotherhood in disguise. Or we are bashed for being irresponsible, or told we are naïve for not sticking by the military.

“Our campaign is about reviving optimism. History teaches us that when dictatorships become more and more violent it’s because they have lost the grip they used to have.”