During the past few months, we have witnessed great movements of change both in Egypt as a country and within its institutions. These movements, despite their differences, include similar key principles (social justice, human rights, freedom etc.). However, it is impossible to talk about those principles without tackling the notion of “the majority.”
First, I would like to note that there is nothing that is determined by the absolute majority, that is, the majority in its abstract sense. Within democracies, there is a voting population (that does not constitute the whole population) on which the notion of “majority” is calculated. Another example would be mass movements that do not have voting machinery for its participants; during the Egyptian revolution, decisions were made by the consent of the “majority” of participants in a specific moment; that means that the majority’s decision on an act could have shifted if it had occurred an hour later, given the fact that people in Tahrir or in other gatherings were in continuous exchange with others.
The problem starts when we treat the notion of the majority as a static notion. In this understanding, I hold many of the analyses found in literature on the Egyptian revolution inadequate; we all have heard about such notions such as the “silent majority” that have been talked about as an entity, and whose motives and stances are clearly stated.
Taking this argument narrower to our AUC community, The American Flag Fiasco is the perfect example supporting this argument. Briefly narrating, on Thursday Sept. 15 2011, AUC students participating in the recent student movement had carried out an act that was meant to escalate the movement’s position as a response to Pres. Lisa Anderson’s sudden withdrawal from the planned forum. Whether this action of taking down the flag was the right kind of action or not is a question that doesn’t matter as far as this argument is concerned; nevertheless, students who opposed the act, as well as those who supported it, brought the notion of the “majority” in arguments of whether the majority’s consent was in favor of the act. In doing so, the arguments had lasted for nearly an hour of course without a clear consensus on what the majority’s stance was.
This incident invokes this idea of defining the “majority.” Despite that it was clear that the majority of participants at that moment were in favor of the action, it does not necessarily mean that the majority of students participating in the movement would have supported it. This takes us to the conclusion that we have to deal cautiously with tricky notions like that of the majority. However, the issue becomes simpler when the “majority” is defined according to rules that are apparent and accessible through one’s general knowledge (the majority in voting polls for example). On the other hand, it becomes much more complicated when it entails an unknown number of people that does not define their majority.