What happened when Egypt's government unveiled a monument to Tahrir Square protestors?

If the army was hoping that a hulking great monument would, literally and metaphorically, set their version of history in stone, they were wrong.

Yesterday morning, Egypt’s military interim government unveiled a memorial in Tahrir Square commemorating those who died during the 2011 protests against Egypt’s longstanding dictator Hosni Mubarak, and during the 2013 demonstrations against its Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohammed Morsi. By nightfall, the memorial had been vandalised – it was sprayed with graffiti and the stone inscriptions were picked off. So why has this memorial to Egypt’s dead caused such offence?

The problem is that the memorial was constructed by the very same people, namely the army and security forces, who killed the protestors being remembered. The army may see itself as the guardians of Egypt’s revolution, and many welcomed its removal of Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, but that doesn’t mean they have forgiven its heavy-handedness. If the army was hoping that a hulking great monument would, literally and metaphorically, set their version of history in stone, they were wrong.

Meanwhile, today in Cairo, competing demonstrations have been organised by supporters of the military, Morsi supporters and secular revolutionaries to commemorate the anniversary of some of the most deadly 2011 clashes between protestors and security forces. The army has promised to react strongly against any group threatening violence. As Alastair Beach reports in the Daily Beast, Egypt’s military government is also due to sign a series of laws to force street protestors to seek government permission and to limit their protests to designated areas. It also wants to introduce jail sentences for those caught writing political graffiti.

Commemorating the dead can be an important step to promoting national reconciliation, but Egypt can’t reconcile itself with the past while there is still no little agreement on who “owns” the revolution, and where power should lie in the new Egypt.
 

Protestors paint grafitti on a Tahrir square memorial unveiled yesterday. Photo:Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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