By Philip Whitfield
CAIRO: Imagine you’re President of Kentucky Fried Chicken on January 25. You pick up the phone and call the manager in Tahrir Square. What would you tell him? Close the store with a melee on your doorstep? Open the backdoor for more millions of munchies? Or, hang the consequences give everyone a free chicken nibble?
No doubt Roger Eaton would examine the issue from a myriad of options and consequences: First from his customers’ perspective. Then take into account the company’s corporate stance. And consider the shareholders viewpoint.
Then he would make his decision based on his mastery of reasoning skills. Thrust into the global spotlight, with KFC Tahrir Square on TV 24/7 to 800 million viewers, he’d rely on the company’s mission.
Yum! Brands, the parent company (KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) strives to be the defining global company that feeds the world. To do that their mission is to build: 1) A culture where everyone counts; 2) Vibrant brands that become part of the community and 3) A huge heart that opens up all kinds of opportunities.
It’s a pity the sitters-in outside KFC don’t have such clear strategies to: 1) Strip the military of its power; 2) Refer trials to civilian courts and 3) Influence the prime minister.
Their action plan to march on Mugamma, the Defense Ministry, the Parliament and other official buildings is questionable. It invites confrontation where none is necessary. Whatever their intent, wherever in the world, when crowds descend on government buildings they can expect to be tear gassed.
If such a crowd doesn’t disperse, the militia will up the ante. It makes headlines. But is it effective? It throws a question mark over the motives of the protesters. Is throwing yourself in front of a platoon of soldiers worthwhile?
What happened in January and February was justified. To endlessly repeat the tactics is poor judgment.
Instead, they should consider a winning end-game strategy: Forge a political coalition that wins power in the parliament and for the office of president. Diversity is their strength. Divisiveness is their weakness.
When a little-known black politician set off from Chicago on the road to the White House few gave him much of a chance. When Barak Obama needed their votes, opponents bound together to ensure his clear victory: Soccer Mums, Hilary Clinton, soldiers and city slickers. Racism was dealt a triumphant blow.
The same is true of Angela Merkel and David Cameron. Mrs. Merkel formed a coalition from the Christian Socialist Union and the Free Democratic Party, sworn into government on October 28. Six months later Cameron formed the first coalition government with the Liberal Democrats since World War II.
Without their understanding of the politics of the possible both would have been swept into the wastelands of political obscurity.
Dubious naysayers are endangering Tahrir’s glorious branding of freedom, democracy and justice. Instead of declaring what they’re against the Tahrir squatters should look around for partners they can live with.
With more than 50 percent of the country under 30, a Grand Youth Coalition should sweep into power.
Of course it won’t happen.
Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand, said the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, a lens grinder whose philosophical accomplishments and moral character prompted 20th century French philosopher Gilles Deleuze to name him the prince of philosophers.
According to Spinoza in Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrata (Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order) the will and the intellect are modes of thought. The will is the same as the intellect.
His belief that all ideas come from Nature would go down well in the current turmoil. Spinoza wrote in Ethics: The more active the mind is, the more it’s able to avoid evil emotions. The more passive the mind is, the more it accepts emotions that are evil.
Applied to the Tahrir Square sitters-in, Spinoza reasoning suggests they should be focusing on a logical outcome for the Revolution, not a repetitious declaration of biases.
In today’s parlance, we do get it. We do understand their grievances. Many agree. But blocking the center of the nation’s capital isn’t a winning strategy. The very threat of returning to Tahrir Square in the hundreds of thousands is enough to exert their influence.
More impressive would be the diversion of their energies to explore the minutiae of their differences. Then with fellow opposition groups they can pound out compromises and find charismatic leaders to go out and win the votes.
If they’re prepared to accept power’s responsibility, they’ll need all the reasoning skills they can muster to make the post-revolution era momentous.
Tahrir Square isn’t a summer break. For years to come it will symbolize the aspirations of fettered people – more precious than drawn out sit-ins.
The KFC allegory shows that vision, mission and strategy trump intuition. The Tahrir Square branch was closed after some extremists suggested KFC symbolized a bucket of Western prejudice.
KFC didn’t chicken out. They bided their time until they reckoned they’d be welcome to continue their mission.
Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.