A fairy tale about Cairo


tahrir square

There was, initially, outpouring anger. There was, afterwards, voluptuous exhilaration. And there was, in no time, the reiteration of both explosive feelings like tidal waves, of sudden wrath and unexpected anguish. The Egyptian revolution, in two years, had wretched the entire foundation of the nation, but it had not entirely swept it away from a perpetual wave of dictatorial rule of the potentate. There comes an ongoing bloodbath between the Islamists and the secularists, an ensuing power game between military and political parties tied to those so-called ‘honorable Islamists’, and a deteriorating multidimensional crisis, threatening to set the whole nation apart.

And for this Egyptian, the ideals of the revolution he so solemnly adored, of a Cairo cleaned of chaos, of savagery, and of morality mess, have instead ended up going off further away from reality.

This is one of the most gripping essays you will ever read in your lifetime.

Read the complete version in Aeon Magazine.

NB: this essay was published in March 2013, four months before Egypt’s President, Mohammad Morsi, was ousted by the military after days of ensanguined protests, killing over 36 civilians and wounding up to a thousand.

Excerpt from the essay:

I say ‘fairy tale’ because I’m no longer sure what people really died for. Can it be said that one died for the greater good when the greater good itself is so riddled with contradiction? For example: President Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, won the election after he was arbitrarily stamped with the seal of the revolution in the run-off vote; such was the desperation to make sure that his Mubarak-affiliated rival wouldn’t win. Yet many of those who so stamped him have been tortured and killed protesting against Muslim Brotherhood policies, by the police waging a two-year-old vendetta against their arch-enemies, ‘the revolutionaries’, or else by Islamists guarding their turf. How far can one sympathise with such martyrs?

I say ‘fairy tale’ also because I want to string the events I have witnessed into a bedtime story for Kismet: a way to explain how her mother and I participated in things being the way they are, to apologise creatively. I want my story to be compelling and edifying, so it can’t be that same one about the fight between good and evil — in which, because good is too rhetorical to be true, its triumph is indefinitely postponed. At some level, our life together will always be shadowed by the fact that Baba and Mama, though never as mulishly unseeing as other activists of their generation, did contribute to the ousting of Mubarak. It will always be true that Kismet came into the world just as this historical achievement was revealing itself as no more than a turn for the worse, mere authority changing hands, making more room for sloganeering and violence, and for society to sink still lower. The winning cards in the ensuing power game were marked from the start: not the ones with the pledge to grant civil rights but those with the imperative to deny them. Misogyny, tribalism and brute force are far more popular in Egypt than equality, institutionalism and reason. The Cairo of our dream, like that of Ismail Pasha, the 19th-century Khedive of Egypt, is gone; we cannot even return to the semi-medieval mega-village we had always known. And Kismet will grow up in a third squaloropolis, even further removed from our fantasy. Were we fools, then?

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