Via Al Jezeera English, by Mark Levine
As Egypt prepares for elections, Tahrir Square is a similacrum of its old self.
The world's largest experiment in the effects of long term exposure to toxic tear gas seems, for the moment, to be winding down, as Egyptians prepare to vote for the first post-Mubarak cabinet. The SCAF and its political allies and bedfellows clearly hope that, as the smoke clears, enough Egyptians outside of Tahrir and other centres of protest will ignore the often grotesque violence visited on pro-democracy protesters and vote in a government that will reinforce - or at least not challenge - the decades-old patrimonial system.
That is surely what is behind this cruel experiment, with the Brotherhood leadership deciding it's better to be an observer rather than a test subject.
But in the square, the effects of constant tear gas exposure on test subjects can now be documented, and while it's produced a lot of injuries, strange flus and sheer exhaustion, it has only hardened attitudes against the SCAF and increasingly towards any political group that is perceived as having sold out the protesters.
Voices stronger than batons and shocks
"They can break my bones, but they can't break my voice, and it's stronger now than before."
So exclaimed Mona Eltahawy, when I unexpectedly ran into her in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel not far from Tahrir Square. The award-winning Egyptian-American journalist was seized, badly beaten and sexually assaulted by the military police just a few days ago.
The white casts on each arm acted like beacons, with a parade of well wishers - and even tourists - approaching to offer their support, and if they were friends, to sign her casts.
While talking to Mona, I scanned the room and saw Ramy Essam, the "singer of the revolution", whose song Irhal became a global anthem for the audacity of everyday citizens to demand change. Introducing the two of them, it was sadly emblematic of the state of Egypt fewer than 48 hours before an election that once inspired so much hope that the first thing they did was compare the marks of torture - electric shocks on his back, made in the Egyptian museum in March, with the bone-breaking batons on her arms only two days before.
But what was clear for both was that in suffering those beatings, and now inhaling the gas meant to extinguish the spirit of the revolution in time for the election, was that the violence was, in a very real way, cathartic.
Eltahawy couldn't help but agree with the many friends who told her "if this had to happen to someone, you were the one who could handle it best".
As she prepared to return to her home in New York, she couldn't handle all the inteview requests coming her way from most every major news outlet. But she was literally licking her lips at the chance to rain verbal bullets on SCAF and on the Obama administration that has so uncritically supported it - despite the thousands of arrests, killings and torture it has visited upon Egyptians. She wanted to speak out against a system that in a kind of postmodern medievalism imagines that the spectacle of torture, of "making an example" out of those who dare to speak, would display enough of the awesome power that for decades cowed millions of Egyptians into meekly accepting dicatatorial rule to keep the system intact after Tuesday.
As leading activists from several human rights organisations joined us, we all agreed that, as with the US strategy in Iraq after the invasion in 2003, the goal was to generate enough chaos that people could not see - or have no time or ability to contest - the attempted manipulation of the still embryonic political system's DNA, so that