Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Haifa's Tent City

Though Haifa's "tent city" can't compare to Tel Aviv's, it has grown from three tents to about 50. But not only has the number of tents increased - a real culture has sprung up, along with hierarchies and role divisions, and local norms. The infrastructure has expanded to include chemical toilets, an ecological dish washing system, a living "room" and kitchen, and other amenities.
The kitchen includes a full-sized refrigerator which is constantly stocked with donated goodies from local cafes, restaurants, and bakeries. Trash is sorted into compost, plastic, paper, and waste.
In the living room area, discussions are held, as well as spontaneous jam sessions. A stocked bookshelf contains literature on socialism and other topics.

Some of the alternative values that have taken hold at the tent city are reflected in this "free market." People leave items they no longer want and may take whatever they want ("freecycling").
There's even a "playroom" for the young protesters, though I haven't seen too many of those. Most of the tent city inhabitants seem to be in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties.

Information in the tent city is transmitted through several vehicles: on-site leadership, detailed bulletin boards (including a dynamic events-calendar which lists extra-curricular activities, lectures, and more), and Facebook groups.

In addition to the various lectures, the diversity of the activities is pretty amazing: poetry night, acrobalance, professional massages, workshops on stress and other topics, guerilla gardening...
One thing that has characterized the protests until now (including the tent city and the demonstrations that have been taking place up to three times a week) is their peaceful nature. I haven't heard of any incidents of violence or looting, which is reflected in the atmosphere at the tent city: quiet but determined, respectful but opinionated.
It's been 23 days since the tent protests began in Haifa. The protest grew quickly from three tents to an almost functioning microcosm of a (tent) city.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tent Protests Spread to Haifa

About a week ago, "tent cities" sprung up in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to protest the lack of affordable housing. The tent protests were also planned for other cities in Israel such as Be'er Sheva and even Kiryat Shmona. Haifa wasn't mentioned in the news, but starting today around 17:30, young people have set up shop in the Carmel Centre. By late evening, the three tents had grown to four with more tents planned for tomorrow in the neighbourhood's "Gan HaEm" (Mother's Garden). The "tent city" in Haifa is tiny compared to the scenes around the country, and it will be interesting to see if the organizers can get it going.
And it may all be related to cottage cheese.

Friday, January 28, 2011

More Thoughts on Protests

Comparing the photographs from Egypt in 2011 to those from the post-election demonstrations in Iran in 2009 - there are almost no women demonstrating in Egypt. In the Iranian protests, women were front and center, at least on the documentary record. Says quite a bit about the differences between these two societies and the protest movements.

Some people are worried that Egypt might turn into another 1979. I think it would be hard to repeat an Islamic Revolution in Egypt today. Even if Mubarak were to fall, it's unlikely that a militant cadre of Islamists would be able to turn the whole protest movement into a revolutionary transformation of Egyptian society, eliminating other opposition movements and cutting off ties to the West.

The Intifada against Arab Authoritarianism


Unless higher-level officers in the Egyptian army turn against the government, this protest wave will not turn into a revolution. Mubarak has shown that he's willing to go far - as far as the Iranian regime did - in crushing the protests. There cannot be regime change without the army losing faith in Mubarak or the president himself stepping down. And I don't know that the army has a party or a leader it would back beside Mubarak.

These protests were only possible because of the relative liberalization of Egypt and the comparatively free access of so many educated young people to new media and communications (until Mubarak shut the internet down!). By way of contrast, see how quiet Syria is in comparison; this kind of popular and sophisticated grassroots organization simply would not have been possible there.

Nevertheless, this is a new political dynamic in the Arab world. Tunisia and Egypt are seeing true popular upheavals. And because these states never achieved the kind of modern, mass mobilization of their populations built up by the Iranian regime since the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, Tunisia and Egypt depend (in Tunisia, depended) on their military and security apparatuses in the face of opposition. In Iran, you had ideologically-motivated popular militias and activists fighting on behalf of the Iranian state against the opposition protesters. In Egypt, you only have paid soldiers, loyal to the institution of the army and, for now, to the president.But as long as they remain loyal, the regime will not fall - at least not in the short-term. Tunisia's police and army were ultimately too weak and too unwilling to fight for the dictator there. But Egypt's army is much larger and Mubarak's support there seems deep enough for it to continue to side with him.

Another comparison: The violence in Lebanon following the fall of the government represents a much more familiar phenomenon. Basically thuggery along sectarian lines.