It’s Not Over

by    /  January 25, 2015  / 1 Comment

The 2011 revolution may be unrealized, but its spirit still lingers in Egypt. Photo via Flickr user: Joseph Hill.

In her first column for Sampsonia Way, Nasreen Salem speculates that Egypt’s revolution is still ongoing.

Since the military coup against the democratically elected President Mursi in 2013, it has been easy to lose heart when observing news coming out of Egypt. Mass arrests, unfair military and courtroom trials, prisoners’ hunger strikes largely ignored, conspiracy theories, and the provocation and deliberate targeting of foreign journalists, hardly indicate a democratic state – even a mediocre one — in the making. Calls for “bread, freedom, and social justice” have quieted into inner whispers that even social media cannot give voice to anymore.

  1. A Thousand and One Cries will use a literary edge to reflect on Middle Eastern cultural and political trends, paying special attention to the condition of women and other minorities in Egypt.
  2. Nesreen Salem writes fiction and commentary on political and cultural affairs in Egypt and the Middle East. Although her heart is in Alexandria, the city of her birth, she lives in England. There, she works as the Egyptian Feminist Union’s UK Coordinator and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Essex. Her field of research includes history, feminism, myths, legends, and fairy tales. Currently, she is writing her first novel and a collection of poetry.

But there is still anger. There is a vibration on the surface of the stagnation that has seized Egyptian political life, and those listening where there was once no sound can feel its frequency. Even those who loudly claim they’ve voted for el-Sisi as president will whisper, when they feel safe: “We voted for him, but….”

Who killed the protestors? Why have Mubarak and his cronies been allowed to walk free after three decades of unabashed corruption? These are questions left unanswered and acquittals that will forever haunt the Egyptian people. Egypt’s citizens are watching closely, and they will not let another leader get away like his predecessor without, at least, questioning. Unanswerable questions, such as why the Interior Ministry so brutally murdered Khalid Said, and why his killers were not punished, were the aorta of January 25, 2011.

Although it may seem like the spirit of the revolution has lost its breath, it may be catching it again. Every now and then — and more often than not — I hear the growls of small, inner revolutions, and then I’m reminded that it only takes a pebble to start an avalanche.

Revolutions are romantic, violently passionate. They are ideal at heart, full of the valor reminiscent of heroic art and literature. Yet, they fail to deliver a gleaming ending. However, as Oscar Wilde notably wrote: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” In reality, heroes have fallen and their masks have broken, and many have diverged from the ideals they once knew and trusted before the revolution, choosing instead to pave their own paths.

The revolution remains as it was conceived: center-less and formless, but it continues to breath a life of its own, with laws of its own, flowing in the bloodstream of those who afforded it unity and expression. There are those who are still living it, strongly; feeding the umbilical cord that ties our humanity together across borders. Small revolutions in the form of personal upheavals have been – and are still – happening since the end of the 18-day sit-in. And that’s the true start of a real revolution.

I see it. Daily. I feel its mark in the history of our collective consciousness. People, both political and apolitical, measure their years by the revolution’s date. It’s as though life before January 25 was lost, and in the chaotic aftermath, was found again, even if it has since scattered.

Something woke up in Egypt and cannot be put to sleep. January 25, 2011 may not have brought the change the people sought, but it did succeed in creating a space for merciless questioning.

One Comment on "It’s Not Over"

  1. Chalachew Tadesse January 28, 2015 at 8:47 am ·

    Dear Salem, my colleague at Sampsonia, I must say that your piece is beautifully written. Yes, the Egyptian people understood the true taste of freedom; they lived it day and night in the squares. Of course, every revolution may be temporarily defeated by counter revolutions. And counter revolutions may face a counter counter-revolution. My country Ethiopia and yours Egypt, which are connected by the Nile River, are now connected by two failed revolutions, the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution and the 2011 Egyptian one. I hope the true and successful revolution that Egypt needs would not take forty years like ours. As you know, one more revolution seems to be remain for Ethiopia.

    From the very beginning it was clear that the immediate end of Egypt’s revolution would be like this given the lack of organization among liberals, and the power mongering interest of the old military establishment, a sleeping giant which preyed on people’s achievements under the guise of vague “national interest and national security” arguments. I remember that back in 2012, as a close follower of the events in Egypt, I wrote three articles on an Ethiopian newspaper, namely “Reporter” arguing that the Egyptian military would finally take over Egypt. This was well before Mursi came to power. Sometimes, in my discussions with friends, I boast of foreseeing Egypt’s eventual destiny.

    But let us be clear: Egypt’s liberals are reaping the fruits of the seeds they sowed, i.e. I was astonished when they opposed the takeover of power by Mohammed Mursi. (I wonder where Salem stood at the time in terms of the political spectrum). Liberals could have easily forced Mursi to distance himself from the conservative old guard of Muslim Brotherhood, given that they were the cause of the liberals’ phobia. Mursi was a much lesser evil than Al Sisi. But liberals gave Sisi the popular mandate at a time he needed it most. That was utterly wrong and short sighted. Mursi is languishing in prisons due to this mistake. What liberals did to Mursi will continue to haunt those who opposed on unfair grounds. That does not mean Mursi was right on every thing he did. He was not. But taming Mursi was far easier than taming the Field Marshal, who changed his uniforms only, not his heart and mind. As you know, any revolution against Sisi will ask more price, since it will be squarely a revolution against the military establishment. At a time when Turkish Generals went to the barracks, the mistakes of liberals brought the military to the very mantle of power. I know they had already been there at power center in one way or another- but that was implicitly and unofficially.

    Nonetheless, the revolution’s spirit still seems to be alive. But who could keep it alive for long? Basically, writers like you must carry the responsibility. And people must show Sisi in one way or another that the momentum of “peoples power” is giant and still alive, and he will not be immune to popular protest. But, for sure, any future revolution would not be the same as the January 25th one. Never ever. Now, much polarization has become part of the Egyptian psyche. I wish Muslim Brotherhood and liberals get some middle ground.

    A question that lingers in my mind: Do you think a marriage between Islam and democracy (as we know it today) would be possible on long term basis? It remains unanswered. I still wonder if Huntington’s “clash of civilization” thesis is perfectly the case today in the Middle East. Can the mainstream Islam really reconcile itself with the western model of democracy? Let us be honest. Let us put aside Tunisia. It cannot be an example for now- since it is a short term democratic experiment and very uncertain still.

    May God keep your pen alive, dear Salem. My hats off for your perspective in the above piece.

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