Skip to main content

Get ready for Egypt's 'second revolution'

By Cynthia Schneider, Special to CNN
July 2, 2013 -- Updated 1454 GMT (2254 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cynthia Schneider: Egyptians plan Sunday protest against President Mohamed Morsy
  • Schneider: U.S. ambassador to Egypt ignores history by being skeptical about "street action"
  • Schneider asks: What revolution has succeeded in the short term without taking to the streets?
  • The opposition to Morsy shows that the Egyptian revolution is not over, she says

Editor's note: Cynthia Schneider is a professor in the practice of diplomacy at Georgetown University, dean at the School of Diplomacy at Dubrovnik International University and a senior nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is also a former U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands.

(CNN) -- Artists tend to occupy the front lines against repression. So it comes as no surprise that the occupation of Egypt's Ministry of Culture protesting the "Brotherhoodization" of the ministry under the leadership of Alaa Abdel-Aziz has helped drive the planned massive demonstrations against Mohamed Morsy on Sunday.

Once again, the U.S. government appears to be on the fence in Egypt, with Ambassador Anne Patterson expressing skepticism about "street action" that could result in violent protests.

"People realize that this is about the identity of Egypt," said Hazem Azmy, a scholar active in the Culture of Ministry occupation.

Cynthia Schneider
Cynthia Schneider

With Ultras (militant soccer fans) standing by to protect the growing crowds, nightly performances are held outside the ministry, ranging from ballet to an impromptu concert by pop star Ahmed Saad that even had the police dancing.

Artists of Cairo's famed Opera House -- on strike since Abdel-Aziz fired its head, Enas Abdel-Dayem -- have been performing, too. Their repertoire? Excerpts from "Zorba the Greek," including scenes of defiance.

Expressing a sentiment increasingly heard in taxis and on the streets of Cairo, the actress Moataza said, "Our protest at the Ministry of Culture is just part and parcel of the struggle of the Egyptians against the colonization of the Muslim Brotherhood." The Brotherhood is as an international organization with loyalty to its members, not to Egypt. She speaks for many, including people who voted for Morsy in the last election.

However, Patterson, the U.S. ambassador, recently equated protests with "violence on the streets" and urged Egyptians to "get organized ... to join or start a political party that reflects your values and aspirations."

Morsy supporters upstage protesters
Morsy: One year later
Jon Stewart brings comedy to Egypt

What revolution has ever succeeded in the short term (and 2½ years is a short term) without taking to the streets? Yes, Egyptians need to become better organized politically, but at this early tumultuous stage, that is a long-term goal.

Patterson's condescending comments ignore history, as well as the specific situation in Egypt. For example, recently a court sentenced employees of nongovernmental organizations to jail, effectively curtailed activities of these groups that provide advice and support for the kind of political activities for which the ambassador advocated.

Patterson's dismissal of "street action" as likely only to "add new names to the lists of martyrs" not only insults the millions of Egyptians who have marched in the streets to change their country for the better, but it also stands at odds with President Barack Obama's words of praise for the Egyptian revolution of 2011: "We stand for universal values, including the rights of the Egyptian people to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech. ..."

What was the Egyptian revolution if not "street action"?

It was left to another U.S. "ambassador" to lend support to Egyptians. On June 21, Jon Stewart appeared on Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef's popular show, "Al Bernameg," and told the audience: "Bassem is showing that satire ... can carve out a space in a country for people to express themselves. Because that is all democracy is ... the ability to express yourself and be heard."

Ironically, in targeting cultural leaders, including Youssef, the Brotherhood has helped unify its opposition.

For the artists are the canaries in the coal mine, who lead the way in questioning authority and in holding up a mirror to society.

As fate would have it, the sit-ins at the Ministry of Culture and the nightly performances of dance, music and street theater coincided with the growth of the grass-roots Tamarrod movement, which says it has collected more than 15 million signatures in order to force Morsy to call for early elections.

Just as with the 2011 revolution, this "second revolution" began with youth activists, many of them artists, and now has spread like wildfire through the population. Stories abound of traffic stopping in Cairo to accommodate Tamarrod volunteers weaving through cars to gather signatures, often to spontaneous applause.

Reflecting the mood of revolution in the air, Youssef recently hosted an Arabic version of "Les Miserables" on his show. As the studio audience joined the singing group Fabrika in a rousing finale of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" to inspire Egyptians with "the music of the people who will not be slaves again," artists and activists outside continued their vigil for freedom of expression at the Ministry of Culture.

No one knows what will happen Sunday. Feelings of excitement mix with anxiety about the potential for violence, which the recent thug attack on protesters in Alexandria forebodes. But the energy of the young activists behind Tamarrod, the passion of the artists inside and outside the Ministry of Culture, and the unified opposition to Morsy's rule show that the Egyptian revolution is far from over.

"Street action" is the kernel of revolution.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cynthia Schneider.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT