Ahdaf Soueif, Egyptian writer, author of The Map of Love and other books, including most recently Cairo: My City, Our Revolution. She also wrote the foreword for Tweets from Tahrir: Egypt’s Revolution as It Unfolded, in the Words of the People Who Made It.
Joining us from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Egyptian writer and activist Ahdaf Soueif says the refusal by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to run an inclusive government has sparked the massive uprising now seen in the streets. "[Morsi] was not governing Egypt in the interests of Egypt," Soueif says. "He was not even seeing the Egyptian people or their demands, and he lost an amazing opportunity to actually have a government that actually worked for the majority of the people." Soueif is the author of a number of books, including "The Map of Love" and, most recently, "Cairo: My City, Our Revolution."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We remain in Cairo. To talk more about the crisis in Egypt, we’re joined by the Egyptian writer and activist Ahdaf Soueif. She’s the author of The Map of Love and other books, including her most recent Cairo: My City, Our Revolution. She also wrote the foreword for Tweets from Tahrir: Egypt’s Revolution as It Unfolded, in the Words of the People Who Made It. Her most recent article is headlined "In Egypt, We Thought Democracy was Enough. It was Not." It was published in The Guardian on Monday. She’s speaking to us overlooking Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ahdaf Soueif. It’s good to have you with us.
AHDAF SOUEIF: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what it is the people are calling for right now?
AHDAF SOUEIF: Thank you, Amy. It’s good to be back. You’re going to have to repeat your question; this is really—it’s just so noisy here.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m asking what it is you wrote about in your piece in The Guardian demanding that Morsi must go. And if you could follow by responding to this question is—of how the people in the streets feel about the military?
AHDAF SOUEIF: Well, there’s a very passionate flirtation going on now between the people in the street and the military. Of course, there are dissident voices, and they are important voices, that remind people that the military for a year killed us in the streets. But on the whole, the people are just embracing the military and are asking them to step in and are already celebrating the fall of Morsi. Now, of course, if you kind of believe in the savviness of the people, then you hope that—that this is just that, that it’s a flirtation, and that once the people get what they want and they get an interim presidential council, they get the beginning of a reworking of the constitution, and so on, then they will, you know, again have a kind of a more distant relationship with the military. That is at least what we hope.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about why you are calling for Morsi to step down. Is there anything he could do today? You know, as we broadcast on Wednesday morning, the ultimatum that has been issued by the military, it is all expected—the military is expected to speak at 10:30, about an hour-and-a-half after we go off the air, Eastern Standard Time. Is there anything that Morsi could say that would lead people to say he could stay?
AHDAF SOUEIF: I think at this point there is really absolutely nothing he could say, except that he would resign of his own free will rather than plunge the country further into division. And I don’t think he’s going to do that, because he had many, many chances. And I think that the reason why he needs to leave, and has needed to leave for a while, is precisely this, because he has divided the country enormously.
He has gone back or failed to honor every one of the promises that he made in order to be elected. And he has basically behaved as though he had somehow legitimately inherited the old Mubarak regime with a veneer of piety. So, he’s—you know, he’s let down people that he’s promised things. He has—he’s shot protesters in the street. I mean, basically, things like police brutality, which were one of the watchwords of the revolution, he’s done nothing whatsoever to curb the police. In fact, he’s rewarded them for the way that they have suppressed the revolution. As Sharif was saying, he had to put together a fact-finding mission to explore what had happened, how people had been killed during the rule of the military. The results of the fact-finding commission were put to one side and not implemented, you know, were not even put in front of the judiciary. His economic policies, he has continued to be as opaque as Mubarak. He went running to the IMF for a loan. Nobody ever knew what this loan was going to be used for. And finally—and, of course, he pushed through the constitution.
And so, basically, it’s a really hard thing to say, but it is—it has become undeniably evident that he was not governing Egypt in the interests of Egypt. He was not even seeing the Egyptian people or their demands. And he lost an amazing opportunity to actually, you know, have a Muslim Brotherhood regime or government that actually worked for the majority of the people and had Egypt in its hand, and he lost that. And there have been repeated—I mean, every day has been a chance for him to pull people in, to have a more inclusive style of government, to follow the map that the people had put in place. And he hasn’t done that. And now he is clearly not hesitating to put the rank and file of the Brotherhood, young men who believe him and who believe the rest of the leadership, to put them in a direct confrontation with the rest of the country and to put them in a confrontation with the military. And if we have—we are now having skirmishes, you know, in the districts just outside Tahrir. People have been killed, as Sharif said. And, you know, I mean, I hope and believe that we are not going to go into civil war, but if we do, then it will largely be of the making of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership.
AMY GOODMAN: Ahdaf Soueif, I wanted to play a clip from your nephew. This—we spoke to him soon after Mubarak fell. This was in March of 2011, your nephew, Alaa Abd El Fattah.
ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: What I personally dream of is revolutionary mandates, that we don’t need to deal with the complexities of the current constitution. The current constitution was created by an illegitimate government anyway. I’m a radical leftist, but I can’t claim that this is the general mood in the square or in other cities, you know, among the revolutionaries. Egyptians—it’s amazing that this uprising is happening, and it’s been an incredible one, but Egyptians are generally, you know, conservative in their action. And so, the moment you remove the very hated enemies, I think, I’d expect that a majority of them would ask for a more smoother transitions.
There’s also other benefits for smoother transitions. Like right now everyone is—we are really united, but there are topics that are very divisive. They are just not relevant right now. But if we immediately embark on writing a new constitution, revolutionarily reshaping Egypt, we might have to start discussing secularism versus—you know, everyone wants a modern civic state.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, that was Alaa Abd El Fattah in 2011. Can you describe what has happened to him as a protester under the Morsi government, Ahdaf Soueif, your own nephew?
AHDAF SOUEIF: Right. Again, I really can’t hear you very well, but if I’ve got your question right, there was really—there was probably no need to start writing a new constitution. And there was a big argument about that for a whole year, while the military were in charge. And, in fact, there was a very strong opinion that Egypt could work very well with the constitution of 1971, if you removed some of the tampering that the Mubarak regime had done with it, and that, in fact, this issue of writing a new constitution was like, you know, Atlanta’s apple. It was something thrown in our path by the military in one of its many stratagems, really, to kind of—you know, to suck off revolutionary fervor and to deflect us from the path of following the aims of the revolution. So there was the whole referendum on whether you write a constitution first or whether you go to elections first, and then there was the—the writing of the constitution was undertaken by the Brotherhood under Morsi’s presidency, but in a way that was completely non-inclusive, completely nontransparent, and has resulted in a constitution that has been thrown out by the Supreme Constitutional Court and that is an instrument of division rather than an instrument of unity as a constitution should be.
I would say that there is an argument now for actually going back to the 1971 constitution. It’s an extraordinary moment, really, where everything—nothing is to be taken for granted—no presidencies, no procedures, no constitutions, nothing. Everything has to be rethought again and again and again, which is why it is so imperative to put in place a leadership, a government, that is actually taking cognizance of this and working in the interests of the country, because it’s a time when people can be sort of very much led in wrong directions and a lot of time can be lost.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the role of the youth movement in the protests that are taking place today?
AHDAF SOUEIF: Well, the youth are out there, of course. I mean, remember that this is a country where, I don’t know, I think 65 percent is under 25. So, the young people are out there in force. But, of course, they are different kinds of young people, so there are hundreds of thousands out there behind me in Tahrir Square celebrating the downfall of Morsi and singing patriotic songs; on the other hand, there are groups of completely, I don’t know, straight revolutionaries who are actually at the morgue, who are at the morgue to try and help people, parents, identify the bodies of their young who have been killed. And these young can be secular, or they can be Muslim Brotherhood. It makes no difference to the people who are, if you like, the heart of the revolution, and for whom the individual never stops mattering. And then, of course, there are the young people of Tamarod, the young people who are in some kind of political leadership position now, who are probably trying to have an influence on whatever processes, deals, roots, are actually being devised now behind—behind the scenes. Behind all this noise and all these crowds, something is being put together.
AMY GOODMAN: Ahdaf, are you concerned about sexual assault in the square? Egyptian anti-sexual harassment groups have reported mobs sexually assaulted, in some cases raped, at least 91 women in Tahrir over four days of protests beginning June 30th. We just have a minute to go. Human Rights Watch has just released a video featuring some of the voices of the women. Can you respond to this?
AHDAF SOUEIF: Yeah, it’s a very serious situation. There were over 40 cases reported, I think, the day before yesterday and more before that. This is—it’s very organized. Some people are in there actually filming the harassments. And then that’s being—was used by President Morsi to talk about the moral quality of the people in Tahrir. It should also be said that a lot of people have mobilized and have organized themselves as groups working against harassment, and so they are out in Tahrir at great personal risk to themselves and in a very unpleasant situation, protecting people, taking polls, documenting what’s happening. And people are also writing about it. It’s a strange situation, because it’s only happening in Tahrir. It’s as if whoever is setting this up and tapping into whatever nastiness there is in some Egyptian men can only do this in Tahrir. There’s also a minivan that has been seen kidnapping women. So, something has been set in place that can only happen in Tahrir and that takes the form of sexual harassment and that is a political tool. But people are also working against it.
AMY GOODMAN: ...on the satellite, but we hear enormous roar from the crowd. What are people chanting? What are they saying?
AHDAF SOUEIF: They’re saying that the rule of Morsi is illegitimate. They’re saying, "Get out! Get out!" And then they have songs about how much they love Egypt. And this battle that you hear means "illegitimate."
AMY GOODMAN: Ahdaf Soueif, we want to thank—
AHDAF SOUEIF: So they’re naming—the person leading the—
AMY GOODMAN: Keep going.
AHDAF SOUEIF: Thank you, Amy. Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much, Ahdaf Soueif, Egyptian writer, author of Map of Love and other books. Her most recent, Cairo: My City, Our Revolution. She also wrote the foreword for Tweets from Tahrir: Egypt’s Revolution as It Unfolded, in the Words of the People Who Made It. We will continue to follow what’s taking place in Tahrir, throughout Egypt. You can go to our website at Democracy Now! over this holiday weekend.
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