Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012

Egyptian Blogger and Activist Wael Abbas to Speak at UWM Tonight

By Lisa Kaiser
Google+ Pinterest Print

This week will be a fateful one for Egypt. Its first post-revolution president, Mohamed Morsi, just granted himself sweeping powers. Many in the judiciary have pushed back. Protesters are back in Tahrir Square. And now Morsi is rushing through a vote on a new constitution, since the folks who would vote on it—his allies, since everyone else has withdrawn from the committee—could be pushed out of power within days.

Milwaukeeans are fortunate in that one of Egypt’s leading bloggers, Wael Abbas, will speak at UWM tonight. Abbas stopped by the Shepherd’s offices yesterday.

Although Egyptian bloggers and activists who use social media became well known to the West during the 2011 revolution, Abbas was posting highly controversial footage of police brutality and other abuses long before Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year. Abbas was threatened, arrested and harassed by the authorities for his work, yet he persisted. His email, YouTube and Facebook accounts were shut down for a while, but they’re back, now, and Abbas’s coverage of the 2011 uprising was essential.

“You could blog anything you wanted” during the Mubarak years, he said, “but you would suffer the consequences.”

Yesterday, we spoke about Egypt at the crossroads.

“Things aren’t very promising or good now,” Abbas said, “but at least we are still able to fight back and change things.”

He said that while bloggers and social media users couldn’t take full credit for organizing the protests that ultimately toppled the Mubarak regime, they were essential to the movement’s success.

“They had an edge that TV and radio and newspapers didn’t have,” Abbas said. “They forced traditional media to compete with them because they made them feel that they were losing [their] audience. The bloggers were also different than everywhere else because they not only blogged online but they were active on the streets and in political movements, organizing their own events and rallies and sit-ins.”

He didn’t have a lot of positive things to say about Morsi, who managed to beat a Mubarak crony to gain the presidency with a coalition made up of the Muslim Brotherhood, religious folks, secularists and Mubarak opponents. A lot of folks sat out the election, though, including Abbas.

“I personally will not recognize the [constitution] committee and will not recognize the constitution and will fight against it,” Abbas said of Morsi’s latest power-grab.

What’s next?

“Things are standing in Tahrir [Square] now,” Abbas said. “As long as there are people in Tahrir and in the cities all over Egypt protesting, I am more comfortable and I think things might go in the right direction. Because constitutions can change and committees can be dissolved, but the only thing that is fundamental here is the people themselves.”

Was it worth it? Did the revolution make a difference?

“Of course, of course,” Abbas said. “Every revolution has to go through stages like this. We’ve seen that in the French Revolution and they started killing each other and executing each other. We’ve seen problems facing Romania and Bulgaria and Georgia and Poland. All countries that have had revolutions have had to go through difficult times in order to be able to build a prosperous state that can last long. So it is to be expected that we will face troubles.

“But the important thing is that we have gained our freedom. The freedom of expression. People are not willing to give that up again. That’s why they are protesting against Morsi now, who is trying to be another dictator and claiming that he is protecting the revolution.

“But as long as people are this aware and this enlightened there is no fear that the country is going somewhere else.”

Log in to use your Facebook account with
Express Milwaukee

Login With Facebook Account