There may be some reading these words who spent last New Year with a loved one and that loved one has now passed away. There may be others who got married during the course of the year and will be spending their first New Year together with their new wife or husband. Others still may have lost a job or gained a new one.
It’s remarkable, isn’t it, that the people we work with and those we pass by every day on the street have stories to tell of which we know nothing. Each one has his story. How are we to know that the person sitting at the next desk to us in the office had terrible news that morning and is really not in the mood for our jokes? How do we know that the one sitting next to us on the bus or standing next to us in the metro has just heard of the death of a close relative?
The British Cardinal, John Henry Newman, used to say that one of the greatest losses to our world is that we don’t share the secrets of our hearts. Everyone has his point of view.
Nowhere has this been more obvious over the last year than in Egypt. Denied a voice for so many decades, it seemed that every shopkeeper and taxi driver had his own solution to Egypt’s problems and knew exactly who to blame for the country’s ills. The arguments that broke out in metro carriages or on the street were a manifestation of this new found freedom of speech.
Decades of authoritarian rule had taught Egyptians to keep their ideas to themselves or, if they dared to give them, to realize that there was no one going to pay any attention to what they had to say.
Well, now things are different.
This last year has seen a very unfortunate polarization between people with different ideas. Much of this has been fueled by media hype, looking for a story where there was no story to tell. Indeed, many of the protesters in Tahrir or elsewhere over the last months have been encouraged by the coverage they received on the TV or in the newspapers.
If we are to be honest, some of it has also been fuelled by those remnants of the old regime who still refuse to accept that things have changed and that there is no going back to the way things were.
Momentous things have happened for Egypt over the last twelve months. The country now has its first ever democratically elected civilian president, after the military finally relinquished power. Free elections brought a new parliament, with a range of parties from across the political spectrum. And, of course, in recent weeks, we have had the furore over the new Constitution.
For many, this is a sign of great hope for the future. They see that all of these developments are the natural consequence of the transition from authoritarian rule to true democracy. The process may be very untidy and may cause pain, but it will result, they believe, in a better Egypt. Others, on the other hand, see all this as so much chaos and they would prefer to return to the stability and certainty of former years.
Just as we remember, though, that the one sitting in the office next to us has his own story to tell and our lives would be enriched by knowing his hidden secrets, so the citizens with different opinions to us each have their own stories and their own ideas. Egypt will be a richer place if people can listen to one another’s ideas without recourse to violence or harsh words.
With a new Constitution approved by the majority of the people and a Shura Council meeting for the first time, there are signs of hope for the new year. Indeed, now that the Constitution has been approved, this paves the way for new elections for the People’s Assembly. Maybe after those elections we will see the President keeping his promise of appointing a Christian Vice-President. It will be with dialogue and reconciliation such as that that Egypt goes forward. If the government oversteps its mark in the future, then the people have the right to make their voices known and, ultimately, remove it when the next election comes round.
Whatever has happened over the last year, it is worth our while reflecting that life goes on. Whether it has been a personal tragedy or a national crisis, the sun still comes up every morning and it will continue to do so, if Allah wills it to be so. And therein lies the important fact.
We saw last year across the Arab world that no matter how a president may try to secure his own position or ensure his succession by a family member, when his time is up there is nothing he can do to stop it. Despite the vast security apparatus that had been created to keep him in power, Egypt’s now jailed former president was removed from office after just eighteen days of popular protest.
For Henry Ford, history might be just one damned thing after another, but for people of faith all things come from Allah. He is in control of times and seasons. Indeed, Muslims in Egypt are often heard to say that “there is neither strength nor power save in Allah.”
A nation that prays five times a day and keeps its eyes fixed firmly on the Almighty should not have too much to worry about. It is only when we forget this that things seem to get so complicated and beyond our control. Muslims do not cry out five times a day that America is the Most Great, nor Israel, nor money. They cry out “Allahu Akhbar”, God is the Most Great.
Inshallah, if this New Year all of Egypt’s people are able to remember this simple fact, they will be able to cope with even the greatest crisis.
Until then, Happy New Year!
Idris Tawfiq is a British Muslim writer who teaches at Al-Azhar University. The author of nine books about Islam, he divides his time between Egypt and the UK as a speaker, writer and broadcaster. This article was published at the Egyptian Gazette on Dec. 28, 2012.