On January 28, 2011, during the beginning of the uprising, the Egyptian government cut off internet and mobile services. The first thing that came to my mind was that they wanted to make sure people would not be able to get in touch with each other and would, therefore, find it impossible to agree on when and where to meet so that eventually most of them would lose interest and stay at home while the few remaining others would be scattered and unorganized. This scenario made a lot of sense since Egyptians are not the type of people who would make appointments a couple of days in advance and even in regular outings they would keep calling each other till the last minute to see who arrived and who will be late so that each one in the group would make sure he or she is not the first to go and sit alone waiting for the others. In fact, this may be the only reason they might decide to car pool. So, whoever thought that blocking all channels of communication would abort the protests was not a fool after all.
Being one of the few Egyptians who do not wait for confirmations, I decided to be on time for the appointment hoping that a considerable number of my compatriots had realized that dinner on a weekend is slightly different from a protest to topple the regime. I was having breakfast that morning with a couple of my fellow punctual friends to brace for the long day and the TV was on in the café. It was then that an on-screen headline popped up and it literally translated into, “Cutting off communications in Egypt forebodes a massacre.” It was a private, non-Egyptian news channel, so this statement was not a message the regime was trying to deliver to protestors, but rather came as a purely objective analysis of the motives behind such a procedure. I realized how stupid I was when I invented that whole theory about the gathering habits of Egyptians. It was much more basic than that. The regime simply took advantage of the sense of entrapment people were bound to feel as they became totally isolated from the outside world and from each other and of their subsequent realization that with no rescue around the corner, perdition would be the inevitable outcome of such a miscalculated adventure.
The numbers were astounding
That day I knew the real meaning of collective consciousness. The regime dared Egyptians to a duel and was only made aware of its erroneous judgment when the presumably spineless opponent took over the whole arena. Call it stubbornness, troublesomeness, or recklessness but the message was one and the same. Egyptians are no longer to be trifled with, belittled, or perceived as cowardly and will no longer be shooed, bullied, or intimidated.
Had regimes been able to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, dictatorships would have vanished from the face of the earth ages ago. A massive rally by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies had the exact same purpose as the January 28 show of power with its organizers hoping to scare Egyptians away from taking to the streets on June 30 to call upon the president to step down. Under the slogan “No to violence” and in response to clerics who sanctioned the bloodshed of the opposition, the “peaceful” demonstrators, who miserably failed at hiding the way they projected their violence on their opponents, promoted crushing anti-regime protesters and ruthlessly standing up to any attempt at undermining the president’s legitimacy.
The way they violently denounced violence instantly brought to my mind a photo from an earlier Islamist demonstration in which one of the protesters held a banner that read, “We shall behead whoever claims Islam is a religion of violence,” thus summing up their presumably subtle way in promoting violence peacefully or promoting peace violently or whatever formula they assume would drive the message home.
This approach is very similar to the fuel crisis that always precedes massive popular protests against the regime and that has reached its peak in the past couple of days and is expected to get worse in the days leading up to June 30. How the regime assumed that a people who are not grounded by death threats would find empty tanks a deterrent remains a mystery. The same goes for the regime’s inability to understand that there are several ways of reaching the presidential palace other than the bridges closed “for repairs” and the roads blocked by “construction work” and that power outages offer the perfect pretext for seeking some fresh air outside.
Last Friday’s demonstration did in fact push many Egyptians who were convinced of the futility of attempting to topple the regime at this stage and who were, therefore, reluctant to fight what they perceived as a losing battle, to make up their minds about June 30, if only to spite those in power and teach them one more lesson about the Egyptian people.
Dictatorships, which all seem to use the same manual, provide substantial assistance to revolutions that set out to topple them not just because of their tyranny, but rather because of their arrogance. It is not just because of how they suppresses their people, but rather because of how they underestimate them.