It is in poor conscience that I entitle this an entry “from” a revolution, as I’m no longer in, associated with, or even near it. This qualifies as an entry more “of” a revolution, I’d say — or more accurately, one of its demise.
Just over five years on, the events beginning on January 25th 2011 in Tahrir Square at the center of Cairo, Egypt continue to impact Middle Eastern politics, global foreign policy, and perhaps less importantly, yours truly. My time there saw me through a difficult time of emotional development; it inspired me, helped me to evolve, and quite possibly damned what was left of an already warped perception as to what constitutes an exciting or worthwhile life.
For one thing, I was nineteen years of age — which, in terms of real world experience, is broadly the same as being a bench player on an unknown lower division sports team — and only just coming out of the phase in maturing where you are not so secretly convinced that you’ve got everything figured out; that, for whatever reason, you were born ahead of the curve, developmentally speaking. Having recently been taken apart, I begun the laborious task of piecing back together an identity slightly less, well, terrible.
This meant that, among other things, I needed something to which I could fully devote myself, a cause both meaningful and redemptive. Fortunately, my search for said coincided with a semester abroad at the American University in Cairo, an institution which I would temporarily ditch in the interest of pursuing all sorts of glorious hell in the uprising which broke out only days after my arrival.
Some of you may have read my earlier accounts of these happenings. I choose not to, partly because they are appallingly written, but primarily because they are so glaringly desperate to sound edgy and cool that I have a hard time even claiming ownership of them; and yet I must, because they are the only pieces left of me from that time, and also stories of remarkable events transpiring during a remarkable time in history.
However, things have changed. I have facial hair now. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is the elected President of Egypt, and a contentious one, at that. People are disappearing randomly and at will under his administration, much like the epidemic of Los Desaparecidos amidst the Dirty War in Argentina. The Egyptian pound is a rapidly withering currency. Division of wealth remains a chronic national issue being turned a chronically blind eye. The country is relatively safe, by modest standards of the region in which it is located. People are content, in a contrived, uneasy sort of way.
Of course, that was all bound to happen. Any forced and unexpected shift in government will always elicit a myriad of turmoil in its wake. There are those who claim the Arab Spring was a controlled and calculated plan executed by the Obama administration and CIA to weaken the numerous Middle Eastern countries in opposition to Israel, so as to ensure the nation’s political and military supremacy. This is something I don’t quite buy into, but nor do I have the facts to prove that you shouldn’t. Who really knows?
A more relevant and worthwhile question to ask is: what was actually gained? There were many reasons for the necessity of ousting former President Hosni Mubarak, a textbook dictator whose regime’s tyranny still managed to look benign when compared to that of those like Saddam Hussein’s or Muammar Gaddafi’s. His time in office spanned almost three decades, which is absurd and unacceptable, but the fact is — in spite of that tyranny — his regime saw a period of relative social and economic stability in Egypt.
I am very uncomfortable citing that fact, but it is an undeniable one. My dedication to the Revolution was predicated in large part on feeling lost and wanting to connect, to be involved in something greater and more important than my own ego. It was also a misplaced sense of righteousness and adolescent impulse to be rebellious, but we’ll gloss over that. Principally, though, it helped me to establish a newfound pride in my heritage, as well as to share a more visceral experience with the people whom I claim as my kin.
Point being that my investment began as genuine, wholehearted, and remains to be, on some level. But what’s happening in Egypt now is so far removed from the uprising’s initial objective that it’s difficult to discern why it took place at all. Sisi would have been hard pressed to do a worse job of leading the country than Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak’s successor, who was convicted of and imprisoned for more despicable crimes than I’m able to list without boring you and enraging myself. That crook did more damage to the Egyptian people in one year than his already crooked predecessor did in nearly thirty.
In so many words, Sisi would have had to go well out of his way to mess up Egyptian politics any further. To his credit, the new President has managed to cut all governmental ties with the notorious Muslim Brotherhood, also imprisoning many of its more nefarious members. However, his administration has been accused of and proven to be kidnapping those associated with MB or even just rumored to be, holding them for questioning, torturing them and, in some cases, killing them.
Being Christian, my family has always supported Sisi, a known advocate of the Egyptian Coptic Church, whose followers have long been persecuted by the overwhelmingly Islamic population in the country. But many of them do so blindly, to the exclusion of acknowledging blatant abuses of power such as the one aforementioned. What make things complicated are Sisi’s real contributions to the nation’s wellbeing, as well as his progressive foreign policy with the West, and image of charisma and strength as former Minister of Defense.
None of this has ever been easy to make sense of, because you’d have more luck unravelling the mystery of the universe than resolving Middle Eastern politics — in fact, some people have. Egypt has been among the dominant military powers in the region since the end of World War II, second only to Israel; it has also maintained political relations with the Western world better than most of the Islamic countries neighboring it. Things are not nearly as bad as in, say, Syria, or the West Bank, but that’s probably not the best way to look at it.
What’s hardest to see and believe is the deterioration of camaraderie, energy and inspiration I witnessed amongst countrymen and women in 2011. People were not Muslims or Christians; they were Egyptians, united in cause and kinship, committed to creating a better world and future. It’s hard to find evidence of that anymore. Obviously, the mindset was never going to be permanent (effects of historical events such as these are often fleeting for their fervor), but the younger generation’s impact on its nation’s future should’ve been sustained a little longer.
Rarely is it worth enough to spend time or energy living in the past. I have my memories and cherish them, but so too must I accept their inherent ephemerality. I will always love and support my father’s native country, which has acted as home and more to me on more than a few occasions. The Revolution lives on in brief moments of pride or rebellion within me, along with countless other discontented Egyptian youth, I’m sure. Would that we could do more about it, though.