The Zeinobia Chronicles

Author ········· Ayat Mneina 
Published ······ Issue 08, 2013
Section ·······  New Media

Published in Kalimat, Issue 08 (buy this issue)

Zeinobia, the alias of a young Cairo native, has grown to be one of the most recognised Egyptian bloggers and Twitter personalities of the Arab revolutions, author of the Egyptian Chronicles, her journalism background provides informed political commentary complete with videos, pictures, 140 character narratives, and articles on the daily – and often controversial – occurrences on the streets of Egypt.  With the passing of the two-year anniversary of the 25 January Uprising, she provides us with an insightful status update on how far Egypt has come and how much further it needs in order for the goals of the revolution to be realised.

AM | When did you start blogging? Were you inspired to blog in response to something happening in Egypt at the time?

Z | I started blogging in 2004 about my own interests like music and film, but a year later, I switched my focus to politics. [The year] 2005 is considered to be the start of blogging in Egypt, I [called] it the blogging mania. This was a very special year for politics in Egypt where political reforms were taking place and social movements like Kefaya (enough) were being born. There was also a lot of debate around blogging and whether or not it posed a danger to national security. My grandfather was a journalist and I was raised in a house where political debates regularly took place. From an early age I had access to newspapers of opposition at home. This gave me perspective on what was, and currently is, happening in Egypt. I am familiar with the names of the actors in the political arena. I am familiar with the history of the press in Egypt and the changes that were brought on by different regimes. I used my blog as a citizen journalist to report what was happening in my country.

AM | Blogging and the use of social media were largely underestimated by the regimes toppled during the revolution Do you believe that blogging has the power to influence society?    

Z | Most definitely. In fact, one of the most important aspects of blogging and the role of women in the blogosphere took place during 2006-2008 in Egypt. The only medium that broke the silence and spoke about sexual harassment in Egypt as a growing social epidemic was the blogosphere. Bloggers were the ones who started the campaigns against sexual harassment; they provided the media with videos and proof of specific incidents. As a journalist I know how heavily we rely on citizen journalists as sources. Blogging has served as a direct link between media and the people.

AM | What did you think about what was (and is) happening in Egypt before, during, and after the uprising?

Z | There were ups and downs during the uprising but I was very optimistic, I had high hopes.  Young Egyptians – my generation – were romantic, revolutionary dreamers that were not aware of what was taking place backstage, in terms of politics like the Muslim Brotherhood and their deals with the Mubarak regime, with the military, and so on. I don’t want to say that we were innocent but we trusted everybody. We didn’t know that things were a lot more complicated than they appeared.

Now in 2013, we are witnessing countless assaults on freedom of expression. Journalists and television hosts are being served with lawsuits for allegedly insulting the president, which is occurring at a rate higher than any other president or ruler in the history of Egypt. YouTube was blocked for an entire month, not to mention the extreme polarisation that has formed amongst Egyptians. I understand that transitional periods are difficult and that other countries have been through worse, but I do not recognise Egypt in the kind of polarisation, the kind of hatred, violence, and poor economic conditions [which are] present today. It hurts to hear people on the street complaining that they didn’t suffer like this under Mubarak’s regime; how can I give people hope after what they’ve been through these two years?

AM | In your opinion, what were the goals of the revolution?

Z | At that time, we had very simple goals: bread, human dignity, social justice, and freedom.  Unfortunately after two years, all four goals seem to be lost in the agenda of the political elite and their failure to understand that they are not running a country that shares their goals. [There] have [been] failures in the economy, social justice, and of course, human dignity. The amount of recent oppression used against protestors by police is unbelievable. So, it’s very depressing. We had four main goals and none were achieved effectively. The only thing I believe we have somehow achieved is that people are no longer afraid to speak up. People criticise the president [and] the government without any fear. They protest. The revolution broke a taboo for everyday Egyptians.

AM | During the uprisings, citizens of the region took on incredible roles to contribute to the change they wished to see. These citizens have since returned to their jobs and daily lives and the revolutionary rhetoric seems to have shifted. The methods used, namely mass protests, no longer garner the same results. Have different approaches to incite positive change in Egypt developed?

Z | Unfortunately, in Egypt the approach has grown increasingly violent. First of all, we have a new class of protestors. They are no longer the activists. Second, it’s not only in Tahrir Square, it has spread throughout the governorates including Port Said, Alexandria, Tanta, and Kafr El-Sheikh. These are protests led by frustrated, young Egyptians who have no jobs and no political representation and are expressing themselves violently. This violence is also two-way. For example, protestors in Port Said were attacked by police. In return, the protestors retaliated [with force] and continued to protest for another week.  

Regular Egyptians, the working class, are growing tired of the protests. We need to find new methods but I don’t see any viable alternatives when politicians – including the government, the president, and the rest of the political spectrum – are one on side, and the people, including the protestors and working class, are on another.

AM | The constitution that was passed in the referendum held last December has caused a lot of controversy. What is your personal take on it? Where did it fail or succeed, if at all?

Z | First of all, the constituent assembly that wrote the constitution doesn’t truly represent the Egyptian people; not regionally, ethnically, geographically, culturally, or religiously. It was led by the majority of the assembly, the Islamists. Second, I have a problem with many of the articles that are against the freedom of expression, the right to having free unions, the freedom of press and the changes in presidential powers. It is ironic that President Mohamed Morsi has more power than Hosni Mubarak ever did when it came to the constitution. Third, this constitution gives the army more rights than any other constitution since 1952. They now have right to make civilians stand in military trials–outrageous! As I mentioned earlier, this constitution fails to recognise the ethnic groups across Egypt whether in Aswan, Matruh, or Sinai; instead of embracing minorities they are completely ignored. The constitution also claims that all citizens are equal before the law without discrimination [Article 30], without specifying the grounds on which discrimination is prohibited. This leaves women vulnerable to discrimination based on gender. For these and several other reasons, I refuse to recognise this constitution. The irony of all ironies is that the amended constitution of 1971, [which was] used in 2011 after the uprising, is a thousand times better than this one.

AM | Despite all of this, do you feel that there are opportunities for positive change to take place that will be beneficial to the Egyptian people as you understand it?

Z | Personally, from what I see now, I am not very optimistic especially with the violence that has broken out in the past two weeks. I think that concessions from the government and the president must take place if we really want to see this revolution succeed. I fear that this phase of the revolution left to fester will only lead to violence. The political class needs to recede from the polarisation it has caused in the country.

AM | Does this polarisation apply to the Egyptian youth? Have the youth remained united as they were during the uprisings or have divisive politics penetrated their united front?

Z | You have angry youth that are united when it comes to revolutionary goals, but the reality is that they use these goals differently depending on their political ideals. However, they do not have any representation in the political class. The old generation dominates the politics and there is a gap between the young and the old.  

AM | Given that transitions take time, what is one thing that needs to take place now to restore hope in the youth?

Z | Hope can only be restored when the true goals of the revolution are protected and when the people of Egypt are united again. It is very sad to see the degree of division that we have reached compared to the 18 days of protests. Islamists stood with liberals and cleaned Tahrir square together, now they are at odds with each other. What is needed now is beyond leadership and fair representation; we need someone or something to reunite and restore Egyptian society.

A Canadian-Libyan activist, Ayat Mneina is the co-founder of the Libyan Youth Movement (@ShababLibya). She has recently completed graduate studies at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. @amneina