How long must we endure?
It is difficult to take events in Egypt seriously right now. It has become normal to see legal and judicial travesties on a daily basis; a news story about two people being arrested for speaking English while on the subway, another story about a man getting arrested, or brought by a mob to a police station, for writing the frequency of satellite channels on a bathroom wall, as though it were some sort of political pornography. We are almost used to the frequent violations of the basic legal rights of anybody suspected of homosexuality or atheism, as though those were crimes when even Egypt’s mockery of a legal system has not yet found the time to officially criminalize them. The courts, initially resorted to by human rights activists, have about as much blood on their hands now as the police force does. The army has become, first covertly, but now quite overtly, an armed political juggernaut. The notion that might is right has become the only law of the land, and people have, by example, learned no lesson but that. There is a corresponding lack of civility, a corresponding drop in the very expectation of legality or justice. Anybody in Egypt who wants something now has been made to understand that there are only two paths to follow; you must be powerful, or you must be close to power. All independent voices have been silenced in the media, and barely one or two relatively decent voices have survived so far, but only by leveling their criticism at the system at large and not directing any of their attacks on the head, as though the regime were a headless chicken whose body is mindlessly causing damage before it is finally spent and reduced to stillness. The revolutionaries, if they can be called that, are the only ones that have, as the phrase goes, and as they called for the military to do; gone back to their barracks, while some of their most iconic figures (whether or not they merit that adjective) have been jailed, with their friends and their families left despondent and angry, and, I suspect, inevitably resentful of the masses that called their loved ones heroic and then promptly forgot about them and went back to watching poorly written, poorly acted, and meaningless soap operas. The people have, in turn, lost faith in the revolution, then distanced themselves from it, referred to the faithful as ‘revolutionaries’ as though they were a cast apart, and then blamed them for the apparent failure of the revolution, then hated them for raising their hopes for a better Egypt, and then blamed them again, in fact – even resented them – for the overwhelming futility that they now feel, for daring to fashion wings, for being foolish enough to bind them with wax, and for flying too high. The people of Egypt, so hopeful, so wonderfully optimistic, so heart-achingly kindred in the days when the revolution flourished, have found their hopes crushed, their optimism assailed on all side, their newly found sense of kinship shattered by betrayals and paranoia, and finally, have turned against their heroes; at best, they ignore them, leave them languishing in the jails of the dictatorship, and at worst, they consider them collaborators in a giant conspiracy which one day, they think, had even them fooled.
This is a moment that is not yet past, and as it unfolds, as it steamrolls over our best hopes and dreams, one thing must be understood, the disaster is unfolding still. The worst, incredibly enough, has not yet come to pass. The powers in charge now, the regime which the president embodies, and which, ridiculously, some people still hope he himself will somehow ‘revolt’ against – is like a fire, it cannot be satisfied no matter how much it devours, no matter how much it owns; it wants more. The regime, because it is based on brute force and not political influence, does not care how it looks, does not care how ridiculous it may appear to be, does not care if it fails economically, does not care if the security system is in tatters, does not care if the police force is both overstaffed and corrupt, does not care if it promises miracle cures that it cannot deliver, does not care if it has no long-range plans other than to empower itself, does not care that the educational system is a tool to suppress the youth rather than enable them. After all, the regime trusts the media to guide the national compass, to focus the people’s attention on whatever grandiose promises it makes, and then to distract them with sensationalist stories about homosexual bathhouses or international conspiracies lest they realize that none of those grandiose promises are being kept.
It is a climate in which it is far easier to survive as a monster than to live as a decent human being. Of course, you can get by if you can ignore the massive suffering that you know takes place every day. If you are okay with knowing what you know and pretending that you don’t. If you are okay with watching yourself get older while the youth are shot at, arrested, or murdered by the gang of thugs that the state and the media refer to as the police force. A police force that refused to submit to governmental audits, and labels those who ask for them terrorists, declares itself invincible while it sacrifices the poorest of its recruits to carelessness and recklessness and rewards the powerful and cowardly, the murderous, with accolades, promotions, and higher salaries, and immunity from any sort of legal responsibility. You seem to have two choices; keep your head down and survive, or be a human being and risk your safety, your freedom, and the well-being of those closest to you. This is democracy as defined by the military council, which, by presidential proxy, rules Egypt.
Some try to ‘look at the bigger picture’ and pretend that there is more to life than what happens to their fellow man. They subject their souls to that pretense and only succeed so long as the violence and oppression of the state do not touch those closest to them. They cling to an optimism; that despite his fascism, the ruler might be efficient, might achieve results. It is a delusion, of course, since they also know, that any national course that does not enlist the people is a lost cause, and you cannot enlist the aid of the people when the people do not trust you, do not trust your courts, do not trust your police officers, do not trust your system of justice, cannot get educated in your schools, and cannot get treated in your hospitals. You cannot rally a people behind you if they have lost all hope. If your very power is contingent on keeping them uneducated and disempowered. It just doesn’t work that way.
Everybody knows it is a dead-end. The only thing people are left to gamble on is when the collapse will occur.
The dis-ease has already taken root, and it is strong.
There are heroes, no doubt, but the ones that we know, the first wave of heroes, will not be listened to. In their despair, the people no longer have the patience to listen or pay attention to any voices with which they grew familiar during the first years of revolt if only because those voices remind them of their failure, remind them of their guilt towards the martyrs, towards whom we feel, as a nation, an unbearable shame that will surely cause our collapse just as it surely eats at our collective souls every single day, and will continue to do so until justice is served, until the murderers are recognized as such until they are held responsible until those who betrayed them are held accountable, and until Egypt finally belongs not to those who would exploit it, but to those who embody it. That day is yet to come, and in our darkest days, it seems like an empty hope, but history is more patient than any one of us, and even when we feel impotent as individuals, collectively, it is history that we serve. Again, the only real question is when.
Those who died are not forgotten. They are remembered all over social media. The anniversaries of their deaths are marked by regular Egyptians online; you can see the posts on Facebook and Twitter. A quick search on Google will show you web pages dedicated to some of the martyrs, a book called Demaa ala Tareek al Horreya (Blood alongside Freedom’s Path) by Hanan Badawy and Hanan El-Samny was published in 2012. It comprises 54 articles in total and recounts the circumstances of the deaths, the surrounding stories of the revolution, and the families’ memories of the martyrs. It begins with the first murder in Suez and ends with the shooting of senior Al-Azhar Sheikh Eman Effat, who was killed by the regime during the Qasr Al-Aini clashes in December 2011. Of course, the book was compiled too soon, for the murders did not stop with 2012, and the regime did not ‘fall,’ as many had hoped it might, as thousands had died hoping it would. The regime endures and continues to murder those who call for an authentic state, those who would expose the fraud, and who would risk themselves to fight the lie. The regime can continue to murder these Egyptians, but it cannot destroy their memories. Every one of these people had families, friends, lovers or spouses, work acquaintances, people who knew who they were, people who know that their loved ones were murdered by the state, not for being an agent of a foreign conspiracy, not because they were out to destroy Egypt, not because they were paid by Iran, Turkey, the USA, or whatever villain de jour the media has turned on, nor because they were idiots fooled by the dreams of a revolution, but because they were good, intelligent, people who fought for a dream, who fought for a better Egypt, who were true patriots.
I have avoided using examples, I have avoided pulling out some names, although I remember many of them well, and although, by virtue of being alive, I know myself to have been far less brave than they have been, I know and fully understand that although I was brave sometimes, they were brave always, and that is why I am alive, and they are dead. I have chosen not to mention any of their names not only because their names shame me but because you all have your own little list of names that you cannot forget. It might’ve been the young woman who chose to go down on the 25th of January when you hesitated and waited. Perhaps it was the man who fought to hold Tahrir on the 28th when you relented. Perhaps it was somebody who you saw murdered by thugs on the day of the Camel Battle before the regime finally decided that they would resort to deceit rather than violence because at the time we have the people on our side, perhaps it is the military man who was shot by the army in the head in April of 2011 because he dared call his generals traitors, and asked, as we did, for a civil council, perhaps it was the young man who died in Maspero, crushed by military tanks, in footage which to this day exists, is inarguable, and which the current Coptic Pope would have us forget, perhaps it is one of the men shot by snipers near Parliament, the list goes on and on. It is different for each one of us, but we all have one. We all have a list of people for whose deaths we feel guilty, and because of which, we are shamed by being alive. All of these people cannot be forgotten, and all of these people had no political ambitions, no thirst for power, all of them wanted nothing more than a better life for you, for us, and for their children, and for that, the state, the regime, the military that has been in power for more than 61 years, destroyed them.
The same regime wants you to believe otherwise, so they give you The Lie.
It is on us to stay awake, to not succumb to The Lie, to call out The Lie whenever we hear it. In a nation of lies, the truth will always be inconvenient, but it remains inconvenient only while the nation lives The Lie, and the dis-ease can only subside when the cause is purged. Do not let it pass when somebody says something you know is a lie. Do not let it go when somebody defends a murderer. Do not let it slide when somebody excuses a crime in the name of stability because you cannot get there from here. Explain that when you find it necessary. People are not stupid, and most of them are not evil. However, their memories are dulled by distractions, and their mindsets are molded by the tedious repetitiousness of a media committed to selling The Lie.
“Reality denied comes back to haunt.” – Philip K. Dick.
In Czechoslovakia, they say that a lie has short legs; it will not get far. In Aramaic, they used to say that truth stands, but lies do not. In Arabic and Hebrew, it is common to say that a lie has no legs, and in the Netherlands, they say that the lie may be quick, but the truth always catches up. The Hungarians say that it is easier to catch a liar than a lame dog, and in Turkey, it is said that a liar’s candle burns only until sunset.
To which I can add only this; it is better to work towards sunset than to wait for it.