Letter from Cairo: Come 8th of July


“Did the Egyptian revolution make mistakes?” wondered prominent Egyptian writer Alaa al-Aswany in his last article. “Yes,” he replied to his own question. “Twice.” The first time, he explains, is when all the revolutionaries went back home the moment the president resigned and the second when those same revolutionaries started engaging in endless disputes while none of the revolution’s demands has yet been fulfilled. I might not 100 percent agree on the first not because it’s wrong but rather because looking back now is entirely different from living the moment then.

Anybody who was in Tahrir Square when the regime officially fell would understand why Egyptians thought of that as the ultimate victory and anybody who experienced this regime first hand would realize how improbable, impossible, and out of this world arriving at this end was. Asking protestors to think of anything else would have been absurd. “Wait, but what about the constitution?” or “Let’s stay here till we make sure the elections are fair” or “This is just a little thing so let’s celebrate when we do something really big.” Of course not! We were euphoric to the extent that we didn’t care if we died the next day because at least we would have seen Egypt free even if for a couple of hours. Just think of that: Egypt celebrates for a few weeks when it gets the Africa Cup of Nations. Imagine how long it would take to celebrate a revolution that is bound to change the face of history.

Now we come to the second mistake and since we mentioned football, let me share with you an analogy a friend of mine made a couple of days ago and which I find very relevant now: Egypt during the revolution was a reenactment of the Africa Cup of Nations where all Egyptians—players and fans alike—are united behind one single goal, while Egypt now is similar to the two years that separate each round from the next one where teams go back to their endless squabbles and fans don’t miss a chance to jump each others’ throats during or after any game. This was the real mistake.

During the revolution’s 18 days, a new Egypt was being formulated and it was coming out beautifully as Tahrir Square transformed itself into a utopia that defied all speculations about a people who the more oppressed they were, the more hostile they grew. I was never a football fan and never cared who won what but my friends who are so much into this have always told me that while generally in a crowd there is a very big chance you will be harassed if you are female and you can be robbed if you are from either sex, this never happens during football victory celebrations that usually take part all over the streets of Egypt right after the game is over and till the next morning. This was the case in Tahrir and this is when everyone realized that Egyptians can move mountains if they rally behind the same cause and cannot bring themselves to climb a couple of stairs when each of them goes off on his or her own way.

The moment everybody went home elated at the miraculous achievement of ousting the regime, the common cause seemed to have started fading away as each faction started designing the Egypt it wants and which best fits its ideologies while totally forgetting that a zillion other common causes have not yet been resolved and will never be if this “I want it my way” attitude persists. Summoning up the spirit of the revolution that managed to effect the most drastic of changes has become the only way of making sure this very change does not end up going down the drain. That is when the July 8 rally comes in.

As tradition has had since the start of the revolution, every Friday protest is given a name that in a word or two states the reason for yet another expression of indignation at one thing or another—usually related to revolution demands that have not been met. Since reasons for disappointment at post-revolution achievements or rather lack of achievements are many, there was yet another dispute about choosing a name for this Friday and that, I believe, was quite a frustrating start. Some wanted to focus on drafting a constitution before parliamentary elections, others argued that trials of policemen involved in killing protestors is the topmost priority, and other others believed the revolution will boil down to nothing if the government is not purged of all allies of the former regime. The list was endless and each group had a valid point, but we were back to square one: wasting all energy in arguing and getting breathless when it’s time for real action. Luckily, alarm bells warning of the imminent threat to the revolution were too loud to ignore and they all agreed on one slogan that is supposed to unite them the same way the ouster of the regime did on January 25 and till February 11. After endless arguments over what comes “first,” turns out that going into details defeats the purpose and that there is no such thing as one demand being more important than another. Everything that people call for and that moves us one step forward in the road to democracy is a priority in itself and gains legitimacy by virtue of serving the mother cause: the revolution. So, Revolution First Friday it is!

This is the Friday of reunion where Egyptians will be renewing their vows by going to the same altar and reenacting the communal rite of passage they performed all together the day the tyrant’s departure initiated them into the world of freedom and dignity. There will be one major difference, though. This time we will not go back home with the assumption that it’s over like we did that day, but rather with the determination that this revolution is here to stay and that letting it slip heralds the death of all of us and drags Egypt towards its doom.

We have indeed reached the point of no return and going back is out of the question even if we try. Last night I closed my eyes to an inspiring sentence with which one of my favorite presenters ended his talk show:

“Can you try death then choose to come back to life? Of course, you can’t. This is how freedom works. You can never taste freedom then give it up.”