Whither Tahrir dreams?

on two to 20 years of liberation in the work of Ezzedine Choukri Fishere – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Tahia Abdel-Nasser, Jan 22, 2013.

At the start of the 25 January Revolution, Tahrir inspired poetry and an abundance of other art forms; it made and remade genres, which underwrote the revolutionary movement throughout 2011 and 2012. Tahrir, and the national desire for tahrir (or liberation) inspired collective art forms: the mass ceremony of poetry recitations; poetic improvisation; and the communal elegising of martyrs of the revolution in murals.  

Abdel Rahman Al-Abnudi’s poem “Al-Midan” honoring revolutionaries became both the obituary of Mubarak’s regime and a revolutionary anthem from 2011 onwards. Even the memoir became a collective effort to document the revolution as it included the voices of revolutionaries, workers, sloganeers, intellectuals, poets, and street vendors who assumed primary roles in the national movement and contributed to turning the revolution into narrative. Indeed art, song, poetry, jokes, slogans, memoir and later fiction, in and through the space of Tahir Square, were reflections of the community of Tahrir in 2011 and 2012 with all the political crises that ensued.

One of the revolution-themed novels that emerged in 2012 from the 25 January Revolution and that continues to haunt the present is the widely read and powerful novel by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, Bab Al-Khuruj (The Exit: Ali’s Letter of Unexpected Joy). The future setting of the novel offered Fishere the space for the political evaluation of the revolutionary present and the fictional plotting out of national futures. For many readers, the novel was read as prophesy because it imagined the future of the 25 January Revolution and was published while it was being written in the uncertain context of 2012.

The novel, concerned with ‘Ali Choukri, a translator and secretary in the presidential palace in Hosni Mubarak’s regime before the 25 January Revolution, imagines Egypt’s future from 2011 to 2020. In October 2020, Ali writes a letter to his son about the years of the revolution that he had observed as a regime translator before 2011 then as a translator in a series of failed governments. He remembers the revolution during the rule of President Al-Qattan, a formerly retired military general from Mubarak’s regime and his father-in-law. The long letter chronicles waves of revolution from 2011 to 2020 and the state’s collapse after an Islamist regime then military rule up to the moment when he prevents President Al-Qattan’s catastrophic plot to launch a nuclear attack on the US and Israel. In the rest of his letter, he remembers the escalation of violence in the build-up to the moment in which he writes to his son his testimony of nearly a decade of revolution – the presidency of the Muslim Brotherhood Bayoumi, skirmishes in Gaza, a military coup, the rise of youth groups, and the new president’s plans … //

… Ali’s letter offers a dystopian history (future, for readers) yet paradoxically it contains “unexpected joy.”  In 2020, the promise of revolutionary and democratic youth appears. As a revolutionary history haunts the present, Ali tells his son, “It took us long years to come to this point” and Egypt’s youth have “inspired a revolution the likes of which we never saw before.”  They have been lost in nine years of wandering, chaos and murder, but they now have a way out of a labyrinth. After rule by different forces, the novel offers the promise of a youth coalition – revolutionaries, liberals, leftists, and Islamists. Although the novel tells a story of betrayals and failed governments, it captures the hope and promise associated with the start of the movement. Ali offers new solutions in the form of alliances to prevent a war. The novel recounts the future of the revolution yet Fishere reopens the door to Tahrir dreams through youth activism and community. From the moment of its appearance, the power of the novel has been in how it moves beyond the power struggles and the political scene in the context in which it was written and continues to haunt a community of readers with the future of the revolution.
(full text).

(The writer is visiting assistant professor of English and comparative literature at the American University in Cairo).

Links:

Martyred for history, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Nashwa Abdel-Tawab, Jan 23, 2013;

Anatomy of a revolution, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Nasser Abdel-Hamid, Jan 22, 2013;

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