It was held in a dodgy-looking building in Mounira. One of those splended pre-war edifices which have been left to go to seed, all broken windows and stained walls. I was initially convinced that I had got the address wrong.
Having neglected to observe the golden rule regarding press conference timing I waited 45 minutes for the effin thing to start, despite arriving fifteen minutes late. I used the time to watch the organisers put the finishing touches to the setting. This largely consisted of hanging up zillions of banners and pieces of cards bearing anti-Zionist and anti-regime slogans, until the place looked like a giant library notice board gone mad. A huge Palestinian flag had been affixed above the speakers’ heads while Hassan Nasrallah looked out beneficently from the front of the speakers’ table, to which he had been pinned.
One restless organiser decided that it would be a good idea to clean the table while waiting for proceedings to begin, and did so using a tissue moistened with a mineral water bottle containing tap water. He apparently tired of the table halfway through the endeavour and instead switched to his head, wiping the bald pate with a circular motion while in discussion with another organiser.
The table the organisers selected was a mistake. Qandeel is a small man, and the table’s elevation/shortness of his chair/both had the effect of making him look even tinier. The effect was only intensified by the chaotic collection of huge banners which surrounded him above and below: Kefaya has always been dwarfed by (rather than exploiting) the issues around which it rallies, and Qandeel seemed the embodiment of this, shrunk and lost somewhere in the midst of the slogans. And Nasrallah.
A political movement must have an identity independent of the issue(s) around which it rallies if it to endure, innit. As has often been pointed out, this is/was Kefaya’s critical weakness: it based its existence on opposition to the presidential elections, succeeded in capitalising on the momentum generated by popular opposition to inherited rule, and has since been busy playing Swingball with itself now that it apparently doesn’t have an issue to lob at the regime.
Interestingly Karima El-Hefnawy told the press conference that Kefaya came into existence to oppose the regime, and will cease to exist once the regime ends. Qandeel meanwhile said that as part of Kefaya’s makeover, they will cease merely to be an anti, ‘no’ movement and will instead be a force for change – a la Obama, perhaps?? This he says will be carried out via the ‘Coalition of Egyptians for Change’ which will apparently unite in one group Egypt’s political and social forces. I don’t know why but I thought of the Travelling Wilburys.
It’s an ambitious endeavour given the fragmented state of Egyptian politics, the crippling apathy gripping the street, and the regime’s WWF approach to protests. Qandeel has promised some kind of earth-shattering ‘surprise’ in February concerning the Coalition. Short of the news that Hosny Mubarak will be joining the Coalition of Egyptians for Change I can’t see what magical political alchemy they have in store.
I overheard a comment made just before the start of the conference, while the bald man was busy polishing his head. It was saddening somehow, in its delusion. Someone who had just arrived said to the organisers, “I thought I had got the wrong place: the street is completely empty! There’s no police at all – during a Kefaya conference!”
Almost as an afterthought, he to reassure himself he added, “Perhaps they’re all on Qasr El-Aini Street [the main street perpendicular to the street in which the press conference took place]”.
He may have been joking, but seemed not to be.