A few months ago, I had taken a decision to stop joining protests. I could no longer ignore the fact that not only were divisions among all of us becoming very serious in terms of Liberal/Secular vs. Islamic, divisions that were growing wider as we neared elections; but also that Egyptians in general were becoming frustrated and disillusioned with the revolution itself and where we were going.
For after all, what has the revolution achieved, really? What change has been brought about for the larger swathes of Egyptian society? The economy hasn’t improved, in fact quite the contrary, there is no better healthcare or education, no decrease in corruption, no greater respect for rights and needs of society. Rather, it’s higher prices and more crime for everyone.
Of course, none of this is our fault. It’s SCAF’s fault, it’s the government’s fault. And all the divisions in Egyptian society are the fault of those Salafists who came out of the burrows with the Gulf funding. But none of it is our fault, naturally. It’s always some other person who’s working day and night to screw you.
When do we realize that we’re only repeating a self-deceiving belief, one that blinds us from seeing that the fault is our own?
I’m going to lay out a little theory that I’ve been developing, that suggests most of what’s happening and the circumstances we find ourselves in, is all OUR fault, no one else’s. And I will touch upon a lot of related issues throughout. Let it be called “chasing the pie”.
There’s not one among who hasn’t looked at Tunis with some sort of envy. They’re already done with the transitional period. They’ve finished their elections, are (or have, I’m not sure) choosing a new government, and are on their way to completing a constitution. We’re the ones still stuck in the quagmire. Why? Two reasons, is my best guess.
- The Tunisians, regardless of the ideological differences they had among them, were never as severely divided as we were. At the very least, there was no higher power playing divide and conquer upon them, as was the case with us (SCAF). But even then, we’ve none to blame but ourselves, for a simple reason: the fact that SCAF succeeded in playing divide and conquer among us only means that we had accepted to be mere tools. They fooled us into that game by baiting us with a piece of the pie, and it’s been going on ever since February 11. And so, despite far more important issues that needed attention, we had managed to waste an incredible amount of time and energy on petty arguments (while any voices of moderation between Islamists and Liberals/Seculars were completely lost in the shouting match) of no real significance. And of course, whenever the game of divide and conquer is played and we agree to be the tools, brace yourself for dirty politics. Because every single faction even the large politically-unoriented masses in Egyptian society, is ready to sell their souls, betray their morals, accuse, hate and sell out on each other, all for the sake of a piece of the pie. All of us participated in this, and all of us turned out victims as well. Don’t you deny it.
- Tunisian society is fairly more educated than ours, and this is no secret. It means Tunisians are generally more aware, politically and religiously speaking, and are far less prone than us to fall for cheap slogans and will spot out abuse of religion for political ends. As a general rule (with its exceptions, of course), whenever a society is more educated, politicians, thinkers and leaders are less likely to court whoever is in power or to be people-pleasers by playing dirty games against other rivals/factions or by abusing cheap political/religious slogans. Instead, you can expect the majority to be politically moderate rather than adherent to extremes, whether such extremes are Liberal/Secular or Conservative/Islamic, and political parties and factions will put as much effort into reaching compromises with one another on issues related to the general public, rather than attempt to impose their unilateral vision. Does any of this all ring a bell regarding Egypt?
Which leads me to the pie.
No one in their sanity and reason can deny that our ultimate goal from this revolution is to wrench power and authority from the current seclusionist system and take it for ourselves (us being Egyptians at large). That’s what this revolution comes down to: us having a say, us participating, us formulating policies, us making the laws. Us holding power (i.e.: having the pie).
Of course, while SCAF is around, it’s impossible to imagine we’ll have the whole pie to ourselves. Back during February, it was the case that we were naive and trusting enough to think they’d give us the whole pie to us soon enough. As time passed the “transitional period” prolonged and SCAF progressively became more entrenched. The constitutional referendum was the first time they actually played the divide and conquer game on us, and ever since they’ve gotten better at it, and we’ve proven over and over to be efficient tools.
The petty arguments were always between the Islamists on one side and the Liberals/Seculars on the other (and I’m referring to the political forces and major public figures/intellectuals/writers). Both courted the army, and the army always played with one against the other at various times. With the Islamists, it was a case of shutting down those fighting for immediate rights among the Liberal spectrum by using popular, mainstream groups. But aside the entrenched dislike for the Islamists in the military institution, there was always the threat of US funds being reassessed should Egypt be ruled by what are perceived as fundamentalists, that motivated SCAF to also tease the Liberals every now and then at the expense of the Islamists. And how easily SCAF could tease one group or another. All they had to do was just dangle a piece of the pie to them; some promise of power or bigger say in the constitution, whether openly stated, hinted at, or agreed upon in backroom deals, was always enough for one group to sacrifice some of its principles and jump into the generals’ laps (whether by being part of the constitutional committee way back, or being part of the successive cabinets, or taking part in formulating various policies/laws).
All the while, there were the “activists”, a good majority of whom, but not all, were leftists. While they were selfless and ready to sacrifice all they had, and while also having very noble objectives: fighting repression, protecting rights, battling corruption, campaigning against military trials, etc… the “activists” never had too wide a view, and at any rate were also shortsighted. Like the rest of society, they too were drawn to the pie. But unlike most political powers or figures, they saw they could get society and people the entire pie merely through street action and activism. They believed the majority of society was educated and aware enough to stand up against injustice at the slightest notice, and thought people would readily sacrifice their welfare when necessary in pursuit of freedom. They believed in changing the system, not changing the people in terms of their morals and principles, let alone consider that maybe they need to change too. They believed the system was the villain and the individual the victim, disregarding that the system’s tyranny had infiltrated and corrupted everyone of us. And from that point, they too failed.
Repetitiveness and stubbornness for lack of ingenuity
Protests and sit-ins now result in superficial changes, while military trials have not ceased, society’s becoming increasingly fractured and discontented. Whether true or not, a direct relation has been made between political unrest, lack of security and protests on one hand, and the downturn in economy on the other hand. Always valuing the economy and welfare, people are increasingly disregarding protests in hopes of seeing the economy improve, or in the belief that that phase has passed. The downside is that with such disregard for protests that call for basic rights and necessary demands, people are also gradually ignoring those basic rights and demands that are being increasingly trampled on, day after day. Unconsciously, a disregard for the protests is increasingly turning into a disregard for all what the revolution called for, and a mindset that values stability and economic security over freedom and dignity is propagating. We’ve increasingly become accustomed to violence and apathetic to victims of state repression; the girls who were subjected to virginity tests were unfortunate victims (if indeed they’re considered victims at all), the people who died and were injured in the violence of June 28, the Maspiro incidents, and recently in Tahrir and Mohamed Mahmoud, are simply a collection of figures and statistics, while the pictures of the battles, the corpses and the wounded are merely generic media of no real substance.
At times during the recent clashes in Tahrir, I’d take a break by having a bite at Kahlawy (عربية الكحلاوي بتاع كبدة وسجق), and nearby traffic could occasionally be heard honking away not far in Talaat Harb, as if the massacres happening just a few hundred meters away at the hands of one of the most brutal police forces in the world, was the most natural occurrence ever; instead, what mattered more was how these events would affect prices tomorrow. At the end of the day, I’d sometimes take a cab with my friends to rest at a cafe right behind my house in Dokki, where everyone would be chatting away and smoking their shishas like it was “just another day”; all this when only half an hour ago I was in a real battlefield, braving bullets and choking tear gas, witnessing unfathomable bloodshed. It’s as surreal as it is hugely worrying, that we’ve become such a numb society.
Worse, any attempt to persuade activists to think, analyze and develop new strategies of influencing change aside protests and sit-ins would usually end in you being accused of cowardice or dull intelligence; “not revolutionary enough”… They always pinpoint the problems, but fail to provide adequate solutions. Ahmed Fouad Negm had perfectly described this state while he was, ironically, describing himself: “I’ve always been opposed to the regime, and you know what? When the young generation takes the lead and begins the real change, I’ll remain part of the opposition…” It was as if one had been born for no other reason than to oppose, but to actually strategize and develop realistic pathways out of the mess? No sir. نحن خلقنا لنعترض
What we had neglected
I think, I’m certain, there was one little thing we had won from the revolution, but completely disregarded. We were for once, free to enlighten. For decades, Mubarak’s greatest source of power, as with any dictatorship, was his propaganda. In the months immediately following the revolution, we had, to a great extent, silenced State Media. But instead of focusing on raising political and religious awareness, we assumed that as a low-priority part-time task. And whenever we temporarily gave it greater importance, it was never for the sake of society but because some vote (referendum/elections) was coming up, and we wanted to make sure people in general would help us secure our own piece of the pie. Regardless, we mainly focused on two things, taking revenge of the past regime, and seizing power (grabbing the dangling pie). The latter, in particular, blinded us and took us completely away from the important mission of elevating society’s moral standards and principles. We left the larger swathes of society as they always were, with a lacking and fundamentally flawed understanding of religion, with a worrying level of ignorance when it came to politics, and with a severely twisted set of morals. Worse, a lot of us played on the emotions and sensibilities of people at large in cheap attempts by each of us to sway them to our separate causes.
A lot of us had a responsibility, as the better educated, the more aware, the financially well off, to help society. I’m confident, had we turned towards improving ourselves and worked on facing the severe issues that infect our society, we would have found ourselves today at a completely different stage. Think about it. It’s almost a pervasive, nationwide trait: we’re never self-critical. But we never fail at criticizing others, do we? In fact, we’re always ready to blame others for our misfortunes, and the devil’s always SCAF, of course. Yet for all what they had contributed towards defeating this revolution, and for all the deception they had spewed on society, we never really did our part, even partly. I personally never spent time or effort helping to raise political or religious awareness, or to preach morals and principles, and I barely engaged in charity work, just a few times during Ramadan. Generally speaking, it was months before an initiative was made to effect real change on the ground for people via the charity tweetback initiative in Ezbet Khayr Allah, and to my knowledge, that was a one-time initiative.
The degree of religious & political ignorance, moral decadence and economic haplessness we suffer from are the exactly the sort of factors that lead people to disregard what little is left of their humanity and dignity as it is trampled upon by the state. They don’t even notice it happening while they they passively witness countless people getting killed, injured, tortured, or unjustly tried by the state, and “justifiably so” because they “don’t look right”, differ politically or religiously, or are bent on harming the state. Just as disgraceful is witnessing that sham trial of Mubarak aired live for only a few sessions, enough to see the dictator as resilient and arrogant as ever, lying on a bed while a circus of lawyer-clowns clamor for the microphone in pursuit of some celebrity status before the cameras, and soon the trial is taken off-air and all knowledge or notice of its proceedings fade away. Once people become that apathetic, once they’ve lost their last few traces of humanity and dignity, you may do as you wish with them. And don’t blame them when they go vote again on the most misguided and misinformed of basis. The only people that ought to carry the blame are ourselves for ignoring our own society like that.
I don’t know how these elections will turn out, or how the current situation in Tahrir will lead to. But what’s for sure is that we’re in the quagmire, and that a lot of people are either content with the current dictatorship in place of the previous one, or might very well vote a different kind of dictatorship into power. All for the simple reason that the values, principles and levels of societal knowledge on politics and religion remain mostly unchanged, after the revolution, as before it.
I think it’d be useful here to recount something I witnessed during the night of Sunday, November 20, after the Military Police and CSF had been pushed out of Tahrir Square for the second time. I was in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, front line. At one point, a volley of gunfire was followed by an attack. They came at us out of Falaki Street, military police with sticks in the air, shields poised. I stuck to the wall to avoid the stampedes, and suddenly found myself mere feet away from the army soldiers. We took a beating, ran back, then stood our ground and bombarded them with rocks. Soon they retreated and we charged, capturing one of them. A massive, angry mob tried to beat him to death, and they nearly killed us too, a handful, around 30 or so, as we tried to get him out alive. At one point there was this guy who was very insistent on reaching him, and I kept pulling back, screaming at him in all the chaos and madness to “Stop, we’re not like THEM! We’re not like THEM!” (بطل! احنا مش زيهم). He eventually turned to me and shouted back “No, we ARE like them!” (لا بقى احنا زيهم). At the time I was simply pissed off, and with all my strength pulled him back again and felled him on the ground. We got the soldier out eventually on an ambulance, bare inches away from death. Aside all the drama, thinking back about that moment now, I can’t deny the significance and the truth of the statement he made during the heat of battle…
To wrap it up…
I don’t really have a definitive solution, aside the conviction that we’re doing things very wrongly, and that we need to change our ways before its too late. These elections might prove a success, or they might be a disaster, and God knows what that would lead to. Regardless, we need to reach out to society more. The revolution was never about the Twitterverse, the Facebook sphere, the social media world, or Tahrir Square. It wasn’t about acting out of certain environments while disregarding the rest. The greatest piece of propaganda SCAF spread was that “Tahrir” and what that entailed isn’t representative of the people, and we’ve only made that true by sticking to our spheres instead of reaching out to the masses, and I mean really reaching out.
As much as I try to be optimistic, we cannot keep going like this forever, continuing on old methods without learning any lessons… What I’m preaching here is somewhat extreme – I realize what SCAF is throwing at us is more than we can handle and is the main reason why we’re at our current stage – but I believe in carrying out one’s part to the fullest, and we’re far from doing that at the moment. We’ve got to evolve and drop our ineffective and inefficient methods and reach out to the masses. We must change, within and without. And, for a while, we’ve got to forget about the bloody pie.
وكيفما تكونوا، تولوا
That is all.