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Masmou3: Audible / Heard / Listened to

[9 December 2012, anti-Muslim Brotherhood graffiti, and against those who care for their own interests. Image originally posted to Flickr by Hossam el-Hamalawy] [9 December 2012, anti-Muslim Brotherhood graffiti, and against those who care for their own interests. Image originally posted to Flickr by Hossam el-Hamalawy]

“Masmou3”[1] began as curfew fell. The idea is simple. If you refuse the choice between fascism masquerading as religion, and Mubarak’s state masquerading as nationalism, silence is not enough. Make your voice heard. Every night at 9:00 p.m., pick up a pot and make banging noise for five minutes. Announce your position, and invite others to challenge you or join. Say that your condemnation of the actions or crimes of either side does not mean you believe they are equivalent in all things, that it is possible for two sides to be wrong for different reasons, and that anyway, neither represents you.

Over time your sound will travel. You will find people you did not know who agree with you, and others who disagree with you but respect your opinion. Gradually, you will be heard. You will know that you are not alone. And when you are heard you might be listened to.

In under a week, there has been banging noise heard across districts in Cairo, in Alexandria, Marina, Ismailia, Minya, and even among Egyptian communities abroad. In only six days, masmou3’s Facebook page has garnered over 16,000 likes. Songs have been released, videos uploaded, photos shared, gatherings at people’s houses, and people have even walked around streets banging their pots and pans to wake people’s voices from silent slumber.

The Egyptian media in Arabic has not mentioned us. Why?

Because we are being silenced, and we are silencing ourselves. Because today both sides of the divide have adopted the rhetoric of the greatest shedder of Arab blood, George Bush, claiming that you are either “with us or against us in this war on terror.”

So let us pause for a moment, and ignore the state, ignore the Brotherhood, and think instead about the country, think about the future, think about our principles and the complexity of what we truly believe. For if we do not the price will be blood, and more blood – everyone’s blood.

When we silence ourselves and restrict our logic to the simplicity of two sides, very soon all that is left is: All of them are bad, all of us are good, and so when they kill us we must kill them. We must finish them off, the reasoning goes, because if we do not they will finish us off; our blood against your blood. This reasoning is the route to drowning this country in blood, in a civil war at worst, or decades of explosions and crackdowns at best. In other words, and in both cases, the outcome is the further ruin of our economy, and another generation lost, of citizens and soldiers, the innocent and the guilty.

The problem with silence is that it could mean anything. Silence as complicity, for example. Are people silent because they agree with what is happening? Or because they are afraid? Are people silent because they are depressed and do not know what to do? Or because they are afraid that if they mourn at full voice they will be attacked? Perhaps because they are preparing for revenge? Or simply because they are exhausted and taking a rest? Who knows, maybe it is because the curfew has finally allowed them to hear – while awake – what the ground of this country sounds like? Or perhaps it marks a hope that this period of darkness will bring us to the light?

Nothing is simple. So for a moment, think honestly to yourself. These days, the hardest opinion to state clearly is that you are against both sides. Or even, if you have chosen a side, that you have major disagreements, or major worries. It is easy enough to deal with attacks from one side. Just imagine attacks from both. But if we were to respond to both sides at once – what would we say?

We might say that from the very beginning our revolution has been about searching for consensual ground. It has always been searching for an Egypt in which we are all present and no one is excluded, despite major differences. To try and reach that goal every part of our country has been in awkward alliances and marriages of convenience from the very beginning, looking for some kind of power structure that can let the country rest for a while and move from being in revolution to a calmer period of reform. We have been through the army with the Brotherhood, the Brotherhood with the revolution, the army with the revolution, the revolution alone against the brotherhood and the army, and even the revolution split and confused.

On 25 January we saw a vision of what that future might look like, but we have to confess it did not include those who support Mubarak’s regime. On 3 July too, we saw a vision of what that future might look like, but we have to confess it did not include those who support the Brotherhood.

If we are going to get beyond our current crisis, our discourse has to change, and we have to move beyond our dogmas – all of us. Discourses do not develop in silence, they develop because people announce their opinion and open it up to being challenged, then defend it or adjust.

Since the revolution began, the army and police have killed, tortured, and arrested innocent people. The Brotherhood, likewise, have killed, tortured, and arrested innocent people. In March 2011 the army and Brotherhood supported a constitutional declaration that created the political roadmap that has lead us to this crisis. A parliament dissolved. A constitution dissolved. A presidency dissolved. Each stage was stained in blood. Think back to the lead-up to the issuing of the constitutional declaration and how the army claimed we needed to vote “yes” in the 19 March referendum in order for there to be stability, and how they were wrong. Think back to those speaking in the name of religion who said that we had to say “yes” if we did not want to live as infidels, and you will see a mirror image of where we have got to now with the burning of churches. The same simplistic arguments, unfurled over time, but with more blood. Our discourse writes the course of events.

Think of the November 2011 Mohamed Mahmoud battles and the events around the cabinet building in December that same year, the struggle in which the revolution was pitted against the army and police with the Brotherhood in tow. Think about the eyes that were lost there; the bodies thrown in the rubbish. Think about the women who were beaten while Brotherhood politicians sat on their parliamentary seats claiming there was no gunshot used, after chanting the army and people are one hand, ignoring the bloodshed to get to the parliament they sat in for six months, achieving nothing of use for themselves or anyone else. Our discourse writes the course of events.

What if at the beginning of the revolution our chant had been “Step Down” in the plural, instead of the singular. Our discourse writes the course of events.

The people demand the downfall of the regime.

The army and the police are wrong. The Brotherhood and all those politicizing religion are wrong. We have to say it as loud as we can, in order for us to be able to build a future for our country. Everyone who has come to power since 2011 has been incapable of understanding the vision we had on 25 January for the future of our country, because they are old dogmatics who do not understand the basic principles of our revolution: bread, freedom, social justice, human dignity – equal rights and freedoms, an independent judiciary, a free press, the right to create parties and independent unions, the right of assembly, the right to speak freely and be protected doing so. But though their vision for the future of this country is wrong, we have to understand that they must also be a part of that future. We should not silence them as they have silenced us. We must understand their fears though they have not understood ours. We must respect their dead even though they have not respected ours.

Masmou3 is a campaign to break the binaries, and the first step is to make noise from your window at 9:00 p.m. The street has proven that it is the guarantee of our path, and it will remain so, but while it is a means to reach our goals, it is not the whole journey. The current silence on the streets does not reflect what is in our hearts. So your participation in masmou3 is something so much bigger than banging on metal. You are building a community, you are participating in developing a different discourse, you are opening up the ground on which we can all walk, and taking part in a form of protest that can include everyone, from the safety of your home to the frontlines. You are placing your trust in the people of this country, and confessing that even though you are not sure exactly how you are going to get where you want to, that you believe in the wisdom of this people’s hearts and consciences. Our way is not the way of blood, but even if blood follows it, our way is not built on the idea that if we kill enough people we will be able to silence them.

Our duty right now is to deescalate in every way possible. Telling both sides to renounce violence is ridiculous when they are both pointing guns at each other, and our silence renders us irrelevant. The only way for the guns to come down is for them to be convinced that doing so is more valuable to them than keeping them up. For them to be able to know that if this violence continues, they will lose more. For them to know that, we have to be heard, we have to be masmou3. Only when enough of us are masmou3 will they understand that our power is not to be underestimated, that the road they are dragging us down is not ours. If they understand that, they might renounce violence, or at least act according to our actual power balance before deciding to kill.

There will not be any dialogue in the context of violence. With all due respect to the government, no plan offered up and not jointly penned, will be accepted by the other side after so much blood. The only way forward is a process created and negotiated between the full spectrum of powers in this country leading to a constitution consensually written without exclusion.

For this is the problem – in how we have interpreted democracy so far, everything has been upside down. Democracy is about those in power having to respect the wishes of their people. We have made it about those in power making us afraid of them, treating them as if they are doing us favors. A constitution is about protecting those who will find it hardest to protect their rights. We have made it about those who find it easiest to protect their rights. If we get these things the right way around, it will no longer be a matter of hoping for someone in power “who feels for us,” as people keep saying. Instead, whoever is in power will be forced to listen, and if they happen to feel for us they will be able to draw strength from our voice.

All these are key concepts to being masmou3, because being masmou3 is about being heard in justice, economically, politically. It is, of course, an integral concept in democracy. It is what a good parliament is about, a good electoral process, a good union, a good press. It is about representation. It is about the right of the most deprived having the same right to be heard as the richest and most privileged, and building a system around that principle that can continually adapt to make things better.

We are not going to go to sleep one night and wake up to find everything perfect. Humbly, we are fighting for the next generation to grow up in a country they believe deserves the rest of their life--nothing more, nothing less. If we can do that the generation after might inherit something they can build from to make us all proud. The more alert we are now, the more honest we are now, the more we speak the truth now, the sooner it will happen: the sooner we will reach what we need to reach. In the darkest of silences we must be masmou3 because if we are not our future will only be dark and silent because that is all we have allowed ourselves to express amidst the blood, the darkest blood.

Masmou3 is an invitation built out of the dream of 25 January. It is an invitation to all those who believe that the real binary in Egypt is not between the Brotherhood and police state, but between those fighting for old authoritarian dogmas on the one side, and a range of social movements with a humanist agenda on the other.

Please join us from where you are. Join us in making noise at 9:00 p.m., and keep your voice masmou3 as part of your larger struggle.

[This article was published in partnership between Jadaliyya and Mada Masr.]


[1] Pronounced masmou‘ and Arabic for audible, heard or listened to.

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