Egypt’s longest year

Published on Al-Ahram weekly no. 1078, by Assem El-Kersh, 29 December 2011 – 4 January 2012.

… During the longest year in Egyptian history, we had lost opportunities galore: stubbornness and myopia were the principal obstacles in disputes over priorities and roadmaps; with insufficient or cloudy vision, people moved in the wrong direction; hence the sharp and indigestible parts of the newly reconstituted political soup: every political party is to blame.  

For months we hovered, joy gave us wings; but we have landed head first into the mire: bumbling with the weight of grief and concern over the future and a deep sense that Egypt remains forever unfortunate … //

… But it was not all lost time. Egyptians, at least a good many Egyptians, have almost definitely improved their standards — of freedom, of courage, of conscience, of aspirations, of taboo-breaking power. They overcome the barrier of fear. Pure air was inhaled in gulps for the first time in decades, even if it was periodically polluted by tear gas (apparently of different varieties). Perhaps at the expense of other aspects of life, politics is now lodged in our daily routine in a way it has perhaps never been: we eat, drink, sleep and dream politics. Interest in the state of things has exploded to an extraordinary degree, so did sarcasm — reflecting scepticism about everything — and new terms entered into our lexicon, from “the third party” that allegedly interferes between protesters and security (later also military forces) to fulul or “remnants” of the old regime, from the word millioniya (denoting a million-strong demonstration) to the expression “foreign agenda” applied to a person; the treachery law no one yet understands, but Possible Presidential Candidate is something we are all familiar with by now.

Some half of the route to a new status quo has perhaps been covered; maybe a little less than half. But no doubt the remaining leg of the journey will be longer, harder and more tiring. That is why one knows in advance that 2012 will be no less clamorous and eventful year, shaped by confrontations and clashes of every kind: revolutionaries vs generals, Abbasiya vs Tahrir, Muslim Brothers vs Salafis, liberals vs Islamists, “Couch Party” adherents vs activists, SCAF vs Facebook, mobile technology vs security breaches and foreign powers vs all of Egypt. Disputes about the shape and nature of the state, its theocratic and democratic components, the position of the army in it and who will have the power to draft its constitution or form its government are but a mere taster of things to come. It is therefore well to be prepared, psychologically if not otherwise.

And however much dust they throw in our eyes, the endless battles of words on talk shows, meetings of the elite, tweets and status updates should never distract us from the principal, uncontestable task, which is to move from the state of a revolution on the streets to genuine institutional change — and eventually renaissance. Our duty for the moment is to stop the draining of time, of goals and of lives. Everyone must abide by an unwritten ceasefire without ulterior motives or calculations. Then we may be able to move forward along parallel and simultaneous lines in matters of security, the economy, politics and the democratic process. Not until then can we say that revolution has laid roots in Egyptian soil; and we will say it not in order to return to our former coma but to translate our anger and energy into action — and embark on our immigration, however long it will take, to the kind of future we really deserve. (full text).

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