On Friday, The Brian Lehrer Show and It’s A Free Country called a meeting. The agenda: understanding revolution. At a live event in the Greene Space, people with first-hand experience of revolution from all over the world gathered with interested audience members for an in-depth conversation about what happens after an uprising. Journalists, academics and policy experts were there to inform and be informed by those with their ears to the ground — and to offer advice to Egyptians in the midst of revolution.
Guests today include:
Benjamin Barber, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the New York think tank Demos and Walt Whitman Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Rutgers University;
Youssef M. Ibrahim, an Egyptian and a former New York Times Middle East and European correspondent who served as the paper's Tehran bureau chief in 1978-1979;
As well as Shinasi A. Rama, deputy director of the NYU Alexander Hamilton Center for Political Economy and one of the leaders of the Albanian student movement; Suketu Mehta, New York City-based journalist, professor of journalism at NYU, and author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found; Neferti Tadiar, professor and chair of women's studies at Barnard College; Anne Nelson, adjunct associate professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University who's covered revolutions as a journalist in Central America; Omar Cheta, PhD candidate in the departments of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and History at NYU; Shiva Sarram, who was eight years old during the 1979 revolution in Iran and the founder of the Blossom Hill Foundation, which works with children affected by conflict.; Gladys Carbo-Flower, recording artist and witness to Cuba's revolution; Didi Ogude, a recent NYU graduate who was ten years old during South Africa's regime change in the nineties; Hesham El-Meligy, a Muslim-American community organizer from Staten Island; and Ali Al Sayed, Egyptian New Yorker and owner of Kabab Café in Little Egypt, Astoria, Queens.
From left to right: Brian Lehrer, Mona Eltahaway, and Gideon Rose
"History wears a tragic face," said Simon Schama, University Professor of art history and history at Columbia whose work focuses on revolutions. "That's what it's done. Many revolutions do end in some form of military authoritarianism. This is a moment of extreme delicacy. I know the army have been saintly in protecting the protestors, but armies are not elected—it's a conscript army. Their corporate, collective intstincts are usually nationalist and conservative rather than something that really wants to see a free-flowing open moment of constitutional change. They will stay like soliders are, used to taking a receiving orders, unless they're actually connected with civilians who are prepared to write constitutions and do all this dull stuff, which it takes to actually bring a new democracy to bear."
"You have widespread unemployment, education but no jobs, and if it turns out they need the West, which they probably will, then they need to be careful," said Benjamin Barber, distinguished Senior Fellow at the New York think tank Demos and Walt Whitman Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Rutgers University. "I know it feels like cold water to say it, but now that they ve been successful, they need to be prepared for the second, much harder phase."
"The saddest day of my life was Wednesday night, when I saw innocent, peaceful demonstrators sitting in Tahrir Square getting shot at," said Dalia George Abusharr (left), an Egyptian New Yorker. "It was horrible. Today, I want to pay condolences for every person who fell for Egypt. I owe them the freedom, and my children owe them to be proud to be Egyptian and to be part of their roots."
"The Muslim Brotherhood could become the biggest threat to this revolution, the one party that really turns glorious strife into a neofascist thing," said Youssef M. Ibrahim (right), an Egyptian and a former New York Times Middle East and European correspondent who served as the paper's Tehran bureau chief in 1978-1979. "America should not stay on the sideline now. We should make sure that the revolution continues without being stolen."
"The revolution has just begun, and we're entering a stage in which there will be a scramble for power," Jeff Goodwin, professor of sociology at NYU, told Brian Lehrer. "The unity that's been there is going to fracture. What glued the opposition together was common hatred and anger against Mubarak. Now that he's gone, all the conflicts of interests, all the differences, all the fissures, they're going to come to the fore."
"What happened right now has opened can of worms," said Shinasi Rama, deputy director of the NYU Alexander Hamilton Center for Political Economy and one of the leaders of the Albanian student movement. "It's very dangerous for the revolution but also for the national interests of the United States. Revolutions are won by groups with three characteristics: structure, leadership, and external support. The only groups that have these characteristics are not people in Tahrir Square but the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Nationalist Party. By decapitating the regime, making Mubarak a scapegoat, now we have a junta and there's no reason for protests to continue."
Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian New Yorker and columnist and public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues, tweeting and getting in touch with family minutes after receiving word that President Hosni Mubarak would step down.
"With the return of politics we're seeing now, we can see confusion about the army," said Omar Cheta, PhD candidate in the departments of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and History at NYU. "Many young people served in it, and the army, yes, represents nationalism, but doesn't in the way we think about it here in America as some mild form of fascism. Egyptians see the military as a symbol of independence and national pride. The army might be only Egyptian institution that is seen as pro-American but also independent. The American administration can actually expect the army to act in a way that would not be seen as just being a ploy of Americans.
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