Monday, March 14, 2011

A Reply to Sandmonkey's "The Free Republic of Egypt"

I just read a post by blogger Sandmonkey called "The Free Republic of Egypt". It is written in the form of an open letter to the Egyptian population. As you might expect from him, it is thoughtful, well worded, and makes some great points. The letter's apparent purpose is a noble one, to explain to the general population why revolutionaries do what they do.

And now for the bad news.

Lemme tell ya, the Egyptian revolution is in dire need of some PR knowhow. While Sandmonkey's intended purpose is clearly noble, the actual letter is an exercise in sarcasm and mockery, save for some lip service paid to a more unifying stance in the end. This comes as no surprise, as the revolution movement (if it can still be called that after endless fracturing)  has relentlessly worked on alienating more and more segments of the population ever since the historical day of Mubarak's departure.

At one point he says:

"You can have a country where people believe that being civilized is to go for one day and clean Tahrir Square up, while we will believe that true civilization is ensuring that our government cleans our street up and as for us, well, we just won’t litter."

That's right, he just implied the majority of the population doesn't understand how to be "truly" civilized. He might as well just call them animals while he's at it. Feel free to go read the entire letter for many more pleasant remarks like the above.

The question here isn't about whether Sandmonkey is a big "meanie" for making fun of much of Egypt's population. It is about whether putting people down is helpful in winning them over. I contend that it is not, and because I am such an optimist, I hope the rest of everyone else does too. In fact, because I am pretty sure Sandmonkey is a highly intelligent person, I can't help but think he knows this. The infantilizing tone of his letter is counterproductive to his stated purpose, and I can't imagine him thinking otherwise. What's his deal?

Well, I won't speculate on his behalf, but I'll say this: now is not the time to give in to anger with people who are too afraid to follow. The tone must always remain brotherly or sisterly, not patronizing. People who disagree should not be excluded nor shunned, they should be given continuous gentle pressure to go in the right direction. If we can't handle disagreement without speaking in aggressive undertones, then those we speak to can only wonder why on Earth we want a democracy in the first place. People are not stupid, even the uneducated ones. Nature has granted them the ability to read you instinctively even when they can't do so intellectually and when they get mocking and patronizing vibes it is going to blur the line between your message and that of the regime we just removed.

The comments under his letter are telling too. There is the usual circle of people who feel this is exactly how things should be said, one even suggesting it be translated to Arabic so it can reach the mainstream public (to make sure a maximum number of people get pissed off with being called uncivilized?) Others congratulating him on unleashing his sharp tongue upon those who disagree. Others yet congratulate Sandmonkey on his work so far but wonder why his letter sounds like a "BIG FUCK YOU" to people who don't agree with him.

I think I belong to this latter group. It seems to me that if you say "fuck you" to the people, they are going to respond in kind. This is hardly helpful to overcoming the obstacles that await us. Sharp tongues are nice, but wisdom is required to ensure they are put to effective use.


  1. People are not stupid, even the uneducated ones.

    Based on what I've seen on blogs, twitter and facebook I'd say that a lot of educated Egyptians actually ARE stupid. Maybe uneducated Egyptians are smarter then them, but in any case I would suggest one of the most important goals of the revolution should be to change whatever the criteria is to determine who gets to go to college and who doesn't. All that education is wasted on people who aren't intelligent enough to comprehend what they've been taught.

  2. programmer craig:

    Spoken like a true ignorant racist twat.


  3. Perhaps you haven't met any of the people Sandmonkey refers to - but I have. & they believe that Egypt didn't really need a revolution & that the people could have done the cleaning up themselves (giving reference to the day after toppling Mubarak at Tahrir) & that the people could have donated to & helped educate the poor majority without humiliating our government/former President. So his point made about being civilized is actually relevant to that particular group of people & hence should not be taken as hostile to the rest of the population.

    With regards to your comment that Sandmonkey's tone should not be patronizing or condescending, I totally agree, but the problem here is that everyone that seems to be opposed to the ideology behind the revolution - which is really what this rant is about - is being over sensitive because their own personal point of views are actually - indeed - pretty mockable.

    Now I'm not saying that people should not disagree or debate their differences, am just saying that at this stage, this revolution really has turned into black or white. You can't stop now - & you can't continue half asked just because the silent majority are having a difficult time coping.

    At this stage, perhaps we really do need to be shaken up by straight-tell-it-as-it-is blunt honesty. Unfortunately, everyone just goes on to take offense, meanwhile missing the whole point of the discussion. Kinda like the whole hate mongering campaign unleashed on Alaa El Aswany only for ranting the truth in Shafiq's face & completely missing the point the man was trying to make.

    I urge you & everyone that did not find this blog post enlightening & motivating to re-read it again but from a less defensive position. Open up your mind like you are sitting with a friend who is indeed ranting & trying to get across through people's crippling fear.

    Moreover, this blog is called "Rantings of a Sandmonkey" & anyone who's ever followed the Monkey should expect wit & as you eloquently put it: "his sharp tongue" because really - that's what he is all about.

    No sissies here.
    There are other mediums in which people are gently taken by the hand to the light of understanding, this forum - is definitely not one of them & you should have known that yourself.


  4. Thanks for commenting, Nermeen.

    I understand your points but some of your underlying assumptions are unfortunately a little bit off.

    I know and have met people who don't agree with the ideology of the revolution, or rather are fearful of it. You need to somehow manage to imagine that it is possible to communicate with people like that without any mockery. Indeed, even when someone's position is worthy of mockery, as you say, the fact remains that mocking them is not the most effective method of communication.

    Secondly, you assume I or others read Sandmonkey's post in a defensive state of mind. I would just like to let you know that I pretty much agree with each and every one of his points (really) and have no reason to feel defensive or concerned by what he says. Indeed what I am questioning is not the substance of what he is saying it but how he says it.

    By your own admission, it appears that you are aware that this mode of communication causes people to "completely miss the point" of what is being said. Armed with this knowledge, if you proceed without challenging your own communication choices, one might wonder if people missing the point isn't your actual intent, since you know it will happen.

    I am a big fan of bluntness but I also know that it is not always appropriate, especially when it causes people to "miss the point." I also know bluntness and sarcasm are not the same.

    If communicating like that is "what he is all about" then so be it. It won't stop me from seeing through the whole "No sissies" toughness nonsense and agreeing with most of what he says, but it WILL stop others.

    So you know what the price tag is for talking to people that way and those who are willing to pay it are entitled to make that choice.

    You shouldn't expect that other people will stop commenting on a such a style, either.

  5. Spoken like a true ignorant racist twat.

    That there is exactly what I was talking about. Are people like that who can't even tolerate people who disagree with them on blogs without becoming abusive and threatening capable of even understanding what "democracy" means? Let alone implementing it?

  6. As a non-egyptian, outside observer, I read sandmonkey's blog post for what it was: a rant. Generally speaking, when I rant, it often isn't pretty, or even nice. It is a chance to download frustrations and spew forth in a safe forum: one's own blog.

    Sandmonkey is sarcastic, but that isn't a bad thing. Playing Devil's Advocate can stir the pot and make readers see other sides to an issue. It might rub some people the wrong way, but it also incites dialogue, and as long as people are discussing the issues, things won't stagnate.

    I agree that serious PR is needed now, to keep everyone in the information loop. With a country unaccustomed to democracy, there needs to be a large PR process to assuage the fears of many people who haven't had the benefits of an elightened education. Fear breeds fear, but if you can relieve those fears, can encourage participation and understanding, there is every reason to feel hopeful for a fabulous new government for Egypt and a bright future.

    Sustained change doesn't happen overnight, but with time, education, patience and perserverance, that change will happen.

  7. I understand your point Adham, about infantalising Egyptians and treating them as uncivilised buggers. This has been going on for the past 60 years since that evil lesbian dictator Nasser (the proud forefather of Gaddafi btw) declared to Egyptians that he was the one who taught them the meaning of dignity and patriotism (!).
    but what I understood from that paragraph you noted (I might be mistaken) is the same as what Ibrahim Issa, the Dostor newspaper journalist said , in that cleaning the streets is a good thing and shows that they are serious for change and a proper clean society and civilisation. However, it remains the governments job to do so, and the people have to remind the gov about their duty in that respect.
    for the past 60 years, the gov have been making the people feel guilty that they were getting married and having children and actually existing. well fuck the government. the government is a mere fucking servant and slave to the wishes of the people and is not the peoples' master. the peek of my depression a few years ago and which was one of the reasons why I left the country, was that the government was able to convince the people to celebrate the african world cup victory, just a few days after more than a thousand Egyptians were killed in cold blood in the red sea (the Salam ferry incident) by one of the cronies of Mubarak (who later fled to the UK), and without a single day of mourning. It is the most hateful memory that I will ever hold, watching people dancing and celebrating in the streets of Cairo while the families of the victims were morbidly in shock and despair.
    I believe that understanding of rights versus obligations the political culture has to continue evolving, notwithstanding the magnificent revolution, just like it is still ongoing in the US even after nearly 250 years of their democracy. the brilliance of Egyptians is that the culture enables them to adapt to new situations and thats what you find now with everyone having an opinion, educated or not, about the amendments, and which may not have been conceivable pre 25 January.

  8. Yeah yeah whatever...
    That’s almost my reflix to every revolutionary blog, article or video i read or watch
    There’s a segment of society that no one even realizes exists
    I'm one of them
    I believe in Islam, I believe it's God's message to us & in fact a great system...
    I would love it if I can have a president who makes my life better & my afterlife as well.
    Yet, I'm neither salafi nor MB.
    Dedicated independent muslim who believes in peace, mercy, unity & justice above everything else who has a salafi brother, an atheist aunt & an extremely liberal cozin, etc.
    My likes believe that Allah (SWT) granted Man the respect the day He created him
    We were amazed to join people who think the same regardless of their ideology, simply we all have the same needs, wants & dreams in life expressed differently.
    Was so excited at first, until some "revolutionary extremely liberal pro-democracy" friends called others 7ezb el kanaba & some even said bahayem we ba2ar we yestahlo mubarak we awsakh" so i was like OK...cross-roads, my father & mother, both very dedicated employees, do not like what's happening, call them conservative, but i know for a fact how dedicated my dad was to improving labor conditions in every place he worked for, him being called bahayem was a major turn i decided to bail out..i'll just watch & hope for the best for whomever is right & they can both be right by the way
    I think the real counter revolution is this attitude, when we were telling people "ya ahaleena endamo leena" we were humble, caring, sincere & most of all humane.
    When we start calling people all the things that we all know, then we are none of that & we will not get the support of the bahayem...logical ya3ni
    It's also my nature to be skeptic of everything so just like I didnt like many things about the mubarak regime, i will question many things about the revolution, so I am the enemy & I want mubarak?
    Also, the common "bad word" used against the enemy today by most revolutionaries is that they are the result of "the mubarak academic system" as if that's enough to make them brainless, well guess what, i'm the result of that system, i taught myself english & spanish & very strong Arabic, & IT stuff.
    To be continued in the next comment

  9. Again i'm very disappointed at the revolutionaries because as i thought i'm one of them, they crushed my dream & called me the other, just because they thought that by me being on their side, i'll disregard my likes who have different perspectives.
    It’s just like the nerd in high school finally getting a chance to be with the popular bunch just to hear them crucify nerds!!!!!
    And what happened to having an opinion about everything & liking this & disliking that without losing each other?
    The silent majority was silenced...they r used to fear & nothing happening shows otherwise, except for a new regime, be it the military or the rebels, silencing any other opinion by giving them the infamous social stigma & by repeating over & over again that those in ta7reer are the best people in egypt in all possible aspects...good, great, amazing, whatever but exclusivity is kinda offensive
    And by the way, i left my job because i'm being crucified by co-workers & students coz i couldnt take it anymore..the discrimination against me just coz i wear a 3abaya is not even funny.
    Yet i still hope that we r just high on power just like everyone else is in the beginning of power. i seriously hope we'll come baq to our good nature & reconcile for a better egypt.
    So sorry for my scattered thoughts, i chose to speak about myslef on behalf of my likes who do not want to be perceived as others..just human beings who want the same thing sometimes and different things at others
    We care about sisters & brothers who think they know for us jus bcoz they had better education & went to europe, or the US. But with dignity.
    Hope i didn't bore u. i just thought that if someone thinks that way, i should give him an insight. Thanks for caring about others man.
    Salamo 3alaykom

  10. Anonymous, thanks for expressing your views, bro. I appreciate it. No, it wasn't boring at all and the insight is valuable. I hope everything will soon be better for ALL of us.