Tahrir Square – “The biggest think-tank in the Middle East”
In the Western world, there is much hand-wringing over just how our people and governments can help the people of Egypt get a better government. Since we are viewed as part of the problem, any interventions (either supporting the Mubarak regime, or condemining it more forcefully) will likely make matters worse. So for now, we hear slightly patronising platitudes about how the Egyptian people “must decide for themselves” followed by cautionary tales of radical Islam in the very next breath.
There is one way in which Western nations – or rather, the people civil society groups in those nations – could help the pro-democracy groups, and that is by publishing their message. With communications still slow and unreliable in Egypt itself, the messages of What They Actually Want are patchy, stilted, and vulnerable to pro-Mubarak spin.
In Tahrir Square, just over one hour ago, Mostafa Hussein sends out the following message:
Tahrir square is the biggest brainstorming & think-tank in the middle east and possible the world now. #egypt #jan25
Well then: how about the people of Europe and North America, with their unrivalled and unfettered communications network, publish the preliminary findings of this new think-tank?
I do not mean “Let’s publish thoughts of Egyptian journalists and analysts” or “thoughts of Arab writers” or “eye witness accounts of what is happening”. I mean, why not publish the debates and discussions of those in the square right now.
Now, I actually think that a book is the right medium for this. Something that has been formally published and can exist in printed form has a certain authority and weight (literally and metaphorically) that these ideas need. TV interviews and news reports are two-a-penny and far too transient, as are blogs, YouTube Channels and Twitter feeds. A book on the otherhand – even a short book – can step outside the river of news and become something more tangible and influential. It will be something other than the charter of the Muslim Brotherhood, that everyone can point to as an alternative to Mubarak and his henchmen.
With the new digital inventions at our fingertips, there are no technical barriers to doing this. Initiatives like The Benjamin Franklin Project have shown that the free tools on the Internet are all that is required to gather and publish news and views. And the means to pull content together are already in operation down on Tahrir Square. Lulu.com allows you to publish a proper book, with an ISBN and a listing on Amazon, almost on a whim.
So, how about a British or American civil society group offers to spend until the end of this week managing the project, and undertakes to publish the book, in English, to an international audience. I am thinking of a projects of the scope of The New Liberal Arts project – short essays. I reckon think tanks like Demos, or the Fabian Society have the capacity to pull this off… or maybe a forward think news organisation like OpenDemocracy, The Guardian, or The Atlantic?
A couple of PEN members may be putting this together with their contacts in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Libya! Get in touch via the comments if you would like to help.