Egypt’s pro-democracy revolt may have been buried on the wrong side of the Great Chinese Firewall – the Beijing authorities filtered out news of the uprising from online searches and censored comments about it on web forums – but that hasn’t stopped China’s vast manufacturing industry from making a fast buck out of regime change in Cairo.
Only a few weeks after former president Hosni Mubarak was toppled following mass demonstrations and violent street battles launched by government security forces and pro-Mubarak thugs, roads which were once littered with rocks and molotov cocktails are now teeming with market stalls offering every conceivable type of plastic protest kitsch. Bandanas jostle with car licence plates, martyrs’ calendars are on sale next to “freedom pendants” and t-shirts, and flags – Egyptian, Libyan, and beyond, all made in China – are for sale by the bucket-load on every city corner. The revolution has been well and truly merchandised.
But although street traders are doing well out of the surge in nationalistic pride, not everyone is so happy about the instant commercialisation of such a hard-fought struggle for freedom. Mubarak may be gone, but the remnants of his regime remain very much in place – including in the prime minister’s office, where Ahmed Shafiq, a Mubarak-era cabinet member, continues to hang on to his job despite widespread protests against him.
The ruling military council that is overseeing Egypt’s “democratic transition” recently had to issue a ham-fisted apology after military police attacked peaceful demonstrators with tasers and batons outside parliament; meanwhile, strikes and sit-ins by workers seeking better wages and the removal of corrupt Mubarak acolytes from their organisations continue up and down the country. Amid all the ongoing turmoil lies a widespread belief that the revolution is far from being over – and hence tacky trinkets celebrating its success are a tad premature.
“Enough of the carnival in Tahrir,” said Egyptian journalist and protester Ayman Farag last week, as the country’s new tourism minister announced plans to invite “celebrity guests” – including Oprah Winfrey – to make appearances in the capital’s iconic central square. “This is a revolution not a football match. I’ll buy your key chain when the whole regime goes.”
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