With every passing anniversary, on the 25th of
January, we try and remember a day that shook the world, a day where young
people lead a defiance of years of apathy and depoliticization as well as a
brutal police apparatus to try and dream of a better future.
The act of remembering is often a snapshot. After all, many
other things that have happened in the world since then. So each year, there’s a
snapshot of politics, economy, the fine young revolutionaries being thrown in
and out of jail after a great many of them were killed. The state of police,
judiciary and military.
It is often difficult to remember or even imagine that the plethora
of images of Tahrir square filled with people numerous days during the active
revolutionary years are actually comprised of individuals, each with their own
story. The big picture is often seen in an aerial photo, a hastily written
article to meet the publishing deadline or a human rights report that details
victims and abuses by the state. Yet outside these bulletins, the lives of
these people that contributed to the mosaic-like photos continue and for the
most part remain under reported. But there is no real reason to report these
untold stories. Those living these stories know them and don’t need them
reported and the bigger picture remains clear with every human rights report
and every arms sale and business transaction between the west and Egypt’s
Yet there is value in remembering that the large mosaic
image of the revolution and its defeat is made up of countless tiles of humans
who put their lives and futures on the line, many of whom still exist despite
the disappearance of the Egyptian revolution. They still form a mosaic image,
but one that is not captured in an aerial image or a news report. The image is
far less visible than the collection that once gathered in Tahrir, in fact,
it’s hardly an image, it’s faint dots dispersed all over the globe, barely
audible, yet the sound they make sometimes tells a story; of the rise of hope, the
euphoria of revolution and the survival following its defeat.
Often times using the term mosaic is a cliché, but in this
case, perhaps it’s adequate to think of the people who have been a part of the
revolution as shattered glass. Each of them unique, colored and sharpened by
their experiences and yet shattered. The picture they paint is that of defeat
and groups of them share some of the same attributes, some of the same colors,
some of the same flavors of escape.
From a distance, you may look at those who have stopped their
politics, trying to get by with ordinary jobs, jobs that come directly in
contact with the military, who have turned business in Egypt into a monopsony,
a term used to describe an economy where there is only one client, where the
armed forces is the only client. There
are others who sought refuge in studying abroad, or finding work there. Others
have taken various different routes to survive.
I would not paint a picture based on these clusters, but
rather on where they are mentally with processing this experience. How can we
understand where they’re at? It’s unfortunate that there is no outlet for this
sort of study or information, but you can see it in the stories of people
you’ve known for a long time, on their presence or absence on social media, on
the quality of content they post, in their travels and in what topics they
choose to engage with. To those of us living the aftermath of the revolution’s
defeat, it’s clear simply by looking at ourselves in the mirror or at those
we’ve known along the years. To an outside observer the changes would be simply
observed at the moment of their observation if they’re not doing so over time.
Still there are pockets where you can find some of that
story, if you look closely enough. One such reflection of this ongoing story
was a podcast that has been narrowly circulated in 2019 called Mesh
Masmou, which means not heard.
In this podcast, we follow some of the voices from before
the revolution, into their experiences and then finally into how they processed
some of it and where they’re off to next. All of this is discussed on an
abstract mental level, without the details you would find in a feature article,
with some sort poster child.
That mosaic audio is one of a shattered revolution, like a Rubik’s
cube gone into complete disarray, a far cry from the image painted by an
overflooded Tahrir square.
This is the sort of snapshot worth taking today, the
shattered pieces of a shattered revolution. Maybe a conversation with those in
exile has been one angle, but more of the story is to be told looking at the
ordinary voices of extraordinary people who were present at some point during
the revolutionary years. What do they think of their past experiences? What do
they think of their present? Of their future? But what do they think of the
Collectively we struggle, we fall and grow. At every point
in my personal journey through dealing with the revolution, I’ve seen others
who are going through something similar. We can still relate even though there
is no longer a common place to meet, or even a shared goal to achieve. The
places we keep remain in our minds and in our memory but more importantly in
Paradoxically the revolution had given us all a glimpse of
what we could be and then took it all away. It allowed ordinary people to rise
to the ranks of creative heroes, knowledgeable experts with a fame mostly on
merit. They rose against the will of those in power. When the revolution was
quashed, they were targeted to vanish from the public sphere. Countless
talented people had no choice but to withdraw to obscurity or an even more
dumbed down version of their former self. The only way to survive is to return
to building once again from scratch. Many of those who stayed on in Egypt have
realized that success under these circumstances is not within reach. Silence
alone does not suffice. Compliance along with moderately positive statements
about Egypt is not enough. There is only room for the talentless, the
opportunists, the hypocrites.
The revolution now is a story of wasted potential. It’s the
story of all the things that could have been but have not, all the people that
could have been and have not.
It is a time where people are bearing the brunt of poor
economic policies throughout the years, and even some of the staunchest
supporters of the Egyptian state have realized the economic catastrophe. But
the people have already been divided and there is nothing new for old
revolutionaries who have seen this coming from the start. The fear is that the
greatest of dreams have turned into cynicism and in a sense, that would be the
Everything is boiling beneath the surface, but that surface
is fortified and no one knows how solid or brittle it is in the face of the
unknown, unseen, unheard quantities suffering beneath it.