Like several other bloggers with an interest in the Middle East, I received an comment/email a couple of days ago from someone who called himself Ahmad:
Hello, could you help me promote this freedom video as much as you can, if you agree to its contents, of course. It’s about Egypt’s real nature and the accelerating imprisonment of freedom fighters in general, and bloggers like Kareem and many others under severe threats from the Egyptian Government.Kifaya - Arabic for "Enough" - is an Egyptian movement for democratic reform that until recently focused almost entirely on President Mubarak. "You brutalised us, you imprisoned us..." the song in the video goes. It is dedicated to Ayman Nour, an Egyptian opposition leader who was imprisoned in 2005.
Since the 2006 Israeli/Hezbollah war, Kifaya has become more anti-Israeli and anti-American, angered by the fact that the US government did not call for an unconditional ceasefire. They are also opposed to the Broader Middle East Initiative, which is an American-led plan for the region that Kifaya calls an attempt to "recast the chart and fate of the Arab region and people". While most of Kifaya's manifesto concerns Egypt, it also refers to "The Zionist devastation daily wreaked on the Palestinian people bordering on a holocaust". They call for an end to the American "occupation" of Iraq.
So of course I have mixed feelings. I am a strong supporter of the Iraq "occupation" and I am ashamed and disgusted by any democrat who sets themselves against Israel - the only country in the region with a proper democracy and free society. A Kafiya activist would be quite safe living in Israel; the safety of an Israeli in Cairo would be less sure.
Kifaya is also supported by the Muslim Brotherhood - not least because they find themselves under assault from the Mubarak regime, but also because they see it as a means to an end that is not considered ideal by every Kifaya activist.
Of course, this raises the question, or problem, one always faces when dealing with democracy movements in the Middle East, and indeed elsewhere: you don't always agree with them. Last month, I copied in full a post by an Egyptian blogger that gave his perspective on the past few years. I don't agree with everything he said, but then by definition that is going to be mutual.
There is also a more practical concern, which I will put in the words of this same Egyptian blogger, Nah·det Masr:
I feel better with Mubarak on top, I fear that any switch will either be bloddy or dark. I hope the transition will be smooth and to a like-minded ruler. I don't mind him being a dictator, I prefer to have the small freedoms we have right now, to the medievel rule of islamists who would be supported by the illiterate masses.I think I'd feel the same if I were Egyptian, though I'm not certain. I'm glad I find it hard to try to imagine how I'd feel if I were in that situation, and I want to keep it that way. Equally, I'd like Nah·det Masr's children to have the same difficulty I have in imagining what it is like to be caught between the rock of authoritarianism and the hard place that is religious insanity.
If people gain freedom and democracy, they are not necessarily going to agree with me about everything, or indeed anything. There were pretty deep fissures between free and democratic nations during the build up to the Iraq invasion, with French Fries being re-named Freedom Fries in New York. That's how it works. People disagree. We have found a way to have those disagreements without killing anyone: no democratic nations have ever gone to war with one another.
The transition that many Islamic countries face between where they are now and where they will be in the future - free and democratic - will be a troubled one and some may have a period of clerical rule, as is the case with Iran right now. I'm neither relaxed nor fatalistic about that, just observing that it may well be the case.
It's very hard to drag oneself away from the sense that we have a duty to solve the problems of the Middle East to realise how humiliating and infuriating it must be for people who live there to see foreigners planning how to redraw their lives. If you are Egyptian, you can look back on a history of extraordinary accomplishment - pyramids when my ancestors were wearing animal skins, the golden age of Islamic science when my ancestors were freezing in castles and discussing whether witches would float - then Ottoman occupation, European colonisation, indigenous dictatorship, underachievement and humiliation.
How do we now come to meet over coffee, to talk about each other with honesty, admiration, agreement, solidarity, disagreement, anger but - above all - liking? That is a question we have to answer as individuals, not collectively. Anything else is a cop out; this isn't something we can delegate.
The video is powerful. I'm glad to post it here.