Letter from Cairo: In the beginning was ‘disobedience’


The word “disobedience” is a crime in a dictatorship and a sin in a patriarchy, so just imagine how catastrophic it can be in a society that combines both. Latin America is the proud host of a bunch of the world’s most respectable democracies, yet it remains the stronghold of machismo and Tunisia before the Jasmine Revolution was a dictatorship, yet its women had for years remained the model every Arab feminist aspired to. Egypt has neither this nor that and one year through the revolution “Yes is the answer. What is the question?” is still expected to be the response of each and every single citizen to each and every single authority and the result is an absolute lack of personal and public freedoms and a unflinching rejection of any attempt at slaughtering that sacred cow every repressive society strives to keep alive and healthy for good.

It does sound peculiar, in fact quite absurd, to talk about the sanctity of obedience in a country that has just been through one of history’s most enthralling acts of disobedience, but this just sheds a little light on how far the revolution has gone or whether it has gone anywhere at all or what the definition of a revolution is to start with. The conundrum this might seem to be is in fact an extremely simple formula that can be summarized in the most basic of terms.

The revolution ousted a regime and in no time was hijacked by a similar one that is only different in the way it is structured for it now comprises two parts, both of which supported the revolution only for the opportunities it is offering them and never for the cause it is fighting for. Islamists and the military are by definition dictatorial entities and the fact that the first came to power through elections and the second was initially supported by the people does not change that. It is quite hard to assume that a group in which a pledge of obedience is the number one rite of passage and/ or membership requirement and in which rebellion is the number one reason for severe punishment and/or disgraceful expulsion is willing to accept nonconformity or be tolerant towards the idea of resistance. It comes naturally, therefore, that both of them would do all that it takes to undermine the civil disobedience initiative, scheduled for the first anniversary of the president’s ouster, and to demonize all those taking part in it, let alone propagate the most twisted definitions of the concept and the values it stands for.

The anti civil disobedience campaign in the post-revolution era required an instant exhumation of dictator jargon in the pre-revolution era and the result was a grotesque discourse comprised of avowals to protect the revolution through crushing the revolutionaries and threats to eliminate democracy by defending the power of the people, all against the backdrop of once again equating peaceful protests with destructive attempts at bringing down the state and rendering rebellion against tyranny a declaration of war against God, not to mention the emotional blackmailing of average Egyptians into viewing any act of objection as detrimental to the economy and any calls for freedom as an implementation of some foreign agenda, let alone working hard to issue a bunch of laws that that strip citizens of the right to protest.

It is quite surprising that the February 11 civil disobedience is promoted by the ruling authorities and viewed by a lot of people as an outrageous action that is bound to have grave consequences and I have no clue how the first dared make this argument and how the second fell into this trap, but what I am certain of is that one party is lying to the other while the other is lying to itself and both are doing their best to overlook what civil disobedience is really about.

I hate to sound like a teacher, which I am, but a quick look at the two words of which the expression is made, a process which will take a little more than two minutes, is enough to prove how hollow all the talk about civil obedience being a mischievous plot to turn in Egypt into a lawless state is. “Civil” is the opposite of “military” and if anything military denotes by definition the involvement of weapons then according to the most basic forms of empirical logic, the one we studied in high school, anything civil is, also by definition, unarmed and therefore involves no acts of violence and no intention of destruction whatsoever. “Disobedience” ─ needless to say ─ is the opposite of “obedience” with all the repressive connotations this word carries. Obedience, unlike what is commonly believed in a culture like ours where one’s strength is only asserted through another’s weakness, is an act of submission to some form of law or norm that does not necessarily conform to my values or that can even be in flagrant violation of one or more of them. Therefore, obedience, by definition as well, is an action, or rather an inaction, devoid of any choice simply because if I get to choose I wouldn’t be “obeying” and consequently I wouldn’t have anything to object to. That is why it goes without saying that the decision to put an end to obedience is the core of every single revolution and is also the first step of any path to freedom. Putting the two together would mean that civil disobedience can be defined as peaceful or nonviolent resistance or revolution. Does that sound familiar? Isn’t it, if I am not mistaken or stoned, the exact same thing that became the January 25 Revolution and that was blessed by the exact same powers that are now trying to stunt its growth?

According to Henry David Thoreau, abiding by an unjust law automatically means taking part in the forms of injustice resulting from the application of that law. That is why he thought that all citizens that oppose slavery should understand that paying taxes constitutes an implicit approval of the practice since they are funding the government that practices it and are, therefore, not different from those who support slavery and should not hold them only accountable for failure to abolish it. The question is: Will those who abstain from paying taxes in this case be looked upon as anarchists or saboteurs or terrorists or is it possible that they are exercising their right to put pressure on a government that is betraying their trust? The same question could be asked about people who changed history and gave a new meaning to resistance and freedom fighting like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, couldn’t it? Endless other questions could pop up about a whole bunch of revolutions from the Velvet through the Rose to the Orange and the answers will remain hanging in the air for all those who choose to blind themselves to the truth.

The right to participate in civil disobedience in Egypt is the right of every Egyptian citizen who cannot stand still while seeing the demands of the revolution going down the drain one after the other and while feeling helpless as more of his or her innocent compatriots are killed in cold blood and while realizing that every alleged protector is nothing but a vengeful predator in a different guise. They will not watch while all this happens and they will continue to resist till the day comes when they are certain that their brethren’s blood was not spilt in vain and they will fight with the weapons their oppressors do not possess and will never dream of possessing simply because bullets are for cowards while willpower is the cannon of the brave.

They will follow the instructions of the greatest of poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and with that they will prevail again like they did before.

Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war