Shades of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” in Tahrir Square

Lord Rennard

Last week I spent a few days in Cairo encouraging some of the parties now preparing for elections.  I first met members of the Lib Dem sister party, the Democratic Front, a few years ago when democracy in Egypt seemed to be a far off aim.  None of them would have predicted the speed of change earlier this year when the protests in Tahrir Square led to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak.
Meeting individuals who have fought for democracy and are preparing to fight their first free elections is always inspiring.  Those of us who have criticisms about aspects of our own democratic system know that they pale in to insignificance when contrasted with the problems faced by people fighting dictatorships to establish basic democratic principles.

I met people who had camped out in Tahrir Square for weeks striving to play their part in bringing democracy to Egypt.  One woman told me of how the person next to her in the demonstrations was one of the many casualties shot dead.  I saw the burnt out remains of the old ‘National Democratic Party’ Headquarters next to the Square and I talked to people who have based themselves in makeshift HQs established by some of the parties and civil organisations.

Encouragement and advice on the forthcoming election campaigns was readily welcomed.  Although a doctor who had helped to save many lives in the Square was quick to remind any visitor from Britain of how people in Egypt remained angry about our country’s support for the invasion of Iraq.  Explaining that there were differences within and between parties on this subject, that my party had opposed the war and that some of us had joined the million people on the anti-war march in London did not satisfy the criticism.

The nationalist/Nasser tradition is now discredited in Egypt and the socialist tradition is not strong.  The parties based on the Islamic religion obviously have a strong brand and well resourced organisational support.  The word ‘liberal’ is not a helpful word in an overwhelmingly Muslim country, but there is clearly a tradition in the country that supports the principles of ‘liberal democracy.’

I met several parties, including the Democratic Front and the Free Egyptians Party, who ascribe to this tradition.   The parties preparing for the elections are in different stages of development and preparation for polling now due to take place in November.  But the rising number of parties based on a similar outlook, with several more seeking recognition, inevitably reminded of scenes in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and the discussion led by John Cleese about the “People’s Front of Judea”. The people I met were nothing like Monty Python’s mythical revolutionaries.  They were sincere, dedicated, professional people with strong democratic values who want to see a modern, tolerant society in Egypt and one that recognises the rights of women.  If their parties can work together effectively to present a clear choice in the elections, they will make a big contribution to establishing a strong and stable democracy in Egypt.

In my discussions with several parties I reminded them all of the need to keep their messages simple and based on the most immediate needs of the people.  In a seminar with young activists, I was asked what in my opinion was the best slogan a party had ever used?  I told them that in my view the party with the best slogan in the 20th century was ironically the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.  In 1917, they campaigned on the message “Land, Bread, Peace and Freedom”.  Of course they delivered the opposite of their promises.  But for any party in a country’s first democratic elections, the challenge is to rise to the hopes of what democracy might bring.

4 comments for “Shades of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” in Tahrir Square

  1. Senex
    01/08/2011 at 9:17 am

    Did you say hello to Mummy?

  2. MilesJSD
    01/08/2011 at 9:46 am

    “…when democracy…seemed a far off aim”:

    the universally essential Question has to be:
    “what percentage of democracy was the aim then, and what now?”
    (Some UK Lords think, teach, and legislate, that Britain has long since been firmly established, and exemplarily so, as a “full democracy”;
    but a majority of worldwide experts in political History have voiced that (“)the world has yet to see an effective peoples’ democracy – the best we have such as in USA, Britain and so forth is a “Three Party Oligarchic State”(“).

    What would be Britain’s “top-speed”, for commencing and sustaining a move to increase its percentage of Democratic-participation ?
    Yet when Lord Rennard said to several Egyptian Parties to remember to “keep your messages simple and based on the most immediate needs of the people”
    surely he had put a real and essential principle and element of democracy “on The Table”;

    but surely there needs to be added, probably much more essentially
    “the longest-term needs (& affordable-hows
    thereto) of the people compatibly with all other Nations’ Needs & Hows” ?


  3. Gareth Howell
    01/08/2011 at 12:40 pm

    Egypt remained angry about our country’s support for the invasion of Iraq.

    ( I wonder what Senex’s remrk means!)

    I am just reading about the involvement of the UK in central Africa. All those countries are so
    drastically war torn, one wonders about the nature of Africans from those parts, DRC/the new Southern Sudan/Uganda, but the point about Egypt is that they had a dual mandate
    of government/empire with the UK in some of those territories, until the early 50s.
    It is always said that anywhere which depends on the Nile depends on Egypt, and vice versa,
    so Egypt has not always been the slumbering giant that it now is.

    I hope that the projected federation (arggh!)
    of some of those countries, Kenya included, will be as successful as Egyptian democratic elections will,also hopefully, be, rather a different one from the ill fated, Kenya, Tanganyika, Nyasaland of the British Empire.

    Has the Lord Rennard developed any view on those Egyptian issues, of the Nile and beyond?

  4. maude elwes
    04/08/2011 at 12:15 pm

    Yes, and today Egypt’s Mubarack is on trial. Whilst the modern civilization has Blair and his cohorts playing the game of pretending to be ‘Peace’ envoy.

    How the world turns.

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