Wyclef Jean’s contribution to the Egyptian revolution

Is the Haitian rapper the real reason behind Mubarak’s exit?

The Egyptian people triumphed today – but not without a little help from the former Fugees rapper and erstwhile Haitian presidential candidate, Wyclef Jean.

The rapper uploaded his song " 'Freedom' (Song for Egypt)" on to YouTube this morning. This afternoon, Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Coincidence?

After being barred from running for president of Haiti in 2010 because he was not a resident there, perhaps Jean will consider running to become president of his Egyptian "sisters and brothers".

From "La Marseillaise" to Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind", songs have the power to inspire protesters. Let's wait and see if the latest offering from Jean, a self-styled Bob Marley for the YouTube generation, will become the soundtrack to this revolution.

In the song, he sings of "the scars of courage" on the faces of his "sisters and brothers", and draws on Egypt's history:

If the pyramids could talk they probably would say we want freedom,
Cairo wants freedom, the youth want their freedom, they want a peaceful solution.
I see the camels in the desert,
But they don't have no riders . . .

He assures the Egyptian people:

Allah has not forgotten you, he is grateful.

Jean is no stranger to mixing politics and music. He has likened himself to the Haitian revolutionary Touissant l'Ouverture, saying, "Revolution is in my bloodline." When protest broke out in Egypt he changed his picture on Twitter to an Egyptian flag. Clearly, Mubarak was able to withstand the protests of thousands of his fellow Egyptians – but Wyclef's video proved too much . . .

Over in Tunisia, the rapper Hamada Ben-Amor released a song protesting at the rule of the then president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The video became a YouTube sensation as protests continued in the country. The 22-year-old was subsequently arrested, and the authorities refuse to comment on the situation.

 
If this has whetted your appetite for music that champions a cause, check out the New Statesman's top 20 political songs. For a slightly more serious analysis of Mubarak's exit, go here.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.