Last Updated: Sat Sep 17, 2011 18:24 pm (KSA) 15:24 pm (GMT)

Sonia Farid / Letter from Cairo: Breaking and tampering

"Sooner or later one has to take sides if one is to remain human,” Graham Graham wrote. So did the protesters on Friday by tearing down the wall built around the Israeli embassy in Cairo. (Photo by Reuters)
"Sooner or later one has to take sides if one is to remain human,” Graham Graham wrote. So did the protesters on Friday by tearing down the wall built around the Israeli embassy in Cairo. (Photo by Reuters)

A long time ago, I read a sentence by British novelist Graham Greene, and it has ever since been my motto, not necessarily because it delivered some universal truth that was in line with my philosophical inclinations – I don’t think I had any at the time and am not sure I do now – but because it appealed to me and made me feel good every time I started to whip myself for not being objective enough about something.

“Sooner or later one has to take sides if one is to remain human,” Greene wrote.

Even though I have always made sure not to abuse my right at taking sides, I have also never robbed myself of the privilege of giving my emotions free access to my brain, and Greene was absolutely right: only then do I feel different from a lifeless data bank.

So, while I always try to look at any issue from all its perspectives and weigh its merits and drawbacks, the resulting judgment comes in the form of a bulk of solid external facts tinged with a shade of soft internal feelings. I have never consciously applied this mechanism, but I guess that is how things have been working for me.

The first time I could actually hear the gears squeaking and could detect each and every movement of this machination was on the day the Israeli embassy in Cairo was stormed.

Unlike what I usually do – most of the time I react as things happen and I get to know from the start where I would most probably stand at the end – I watched the whole thing as if I was in a movie theatre. I saw people destroy the wall, storm the building, toss documents from the windows, and remove the Israeli flag from the roof with a kind of detachment that was weird and frightening to me, for this was not my general mode of behavior and not my usual response to the one cause I have been most passionate about since I realized what the word “cause” meant.

Speaking of taking sides, I am pro-Palestinian – a stance I have taken for years based on both conscious and the unconscious levels and using my signature blend of objectivity and subjectivity – and I don’t recall a time when I supported Israeli actions anywhere, be that the Occupied Territories, southern Lebanon, the international waters, or the Egyptian border, and I was all for sending the ambassador back in objection to the killing of Egyptian soldiers and starting an international investigation into the incident.

If you think this is the right formula for condoning the attack on the embassy, let me correct you.

Perhaps part of the reason why I felt I was watching a movie was the feeling I and numerous Egyptians got that there was a script that detailed every move taken on that day. The Higher Council for the Armed Forces and the Interior Ministry announced on Thursday September 8 the withdrawal of all their forces in order to allow for “legitimate protests” to take place on Friday. Protestors are encouraged to give it a try and march to the embassy, and as expected, the coast is clear, not only on the way there, but also in front of the wall, inside the usually heavily guarded building, at the entrance to the country’s most protected embassy, and on the roof that had previously witnessed a “desecration” of the flag. The revolution is out of hand, external powers are wreaking havoc in Egypt, Israeli citizens are no longer safe, national security is hanging by a thread, and this is what happens when the army does not interfere and this is what happens when you give uncivilized people the chance to act as they see fit.

Bottom line, state of alert it is and emergency laws are back in full force.

Meanwhile, we are left wailing over one more damage the revolution has sustained and wondering if we’ll ever break free from the army’s grip. That is not a situation that makes anyone happy no matter how pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli he or she might be.

But I was not shocked. As in Egyptian movies when a woman tells her husband to drive carefully and you automatically know the next scene will be him dead in a car accident, only the blind would not have seen it coming. Let me not blabber about the long history of animosity towards Israel, since I have already done that on more than one occasion, but let me just point out that in revolutionary Egypt, where there is no way people are going to give up the power they discovered they had to change the fate of their country and even the whole region, it is next to impossible that the killing of Egyptian soldiers by Israeli forces and the subsequent lack of action on the part of the government will see people going about their daily lives as if nothing had happened. Not anymore.

Anyone who saw protestors storm into the offices of State Security, previously thought off as invincible bastions, would easily surmise that the past’s most formidable is the present’s most accessible and that this fear on which all popularly unwelcome entities in the country, be it the Interior Ministry or the Israeli Embassy, depended for survival is apparently gone, with no intention of returning. Add to this the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador in Ankara and the way Egyptians have lately been looking up to the Turkish government as far as its stances against the Jewish state are concerned.

I am, therefore, quite baffled by how shocked everyone – that does not include the army of course – was that day and how naïve they were to assume that more red lines existed for the Egyptian people.

I was not sad, either. Even though this was the wrong move at the wrong time and might have done the revolution more harm than good, there is no denying that what the government failed, or did not want, to do in several weeks, whether based on strategic concerns or for ulterior motives, was done by the people in a matter of hours: the Israeli ambassador was sent home.

Regardless of all reservations about the way this happened, which are all valid, the will of the people has once more prevailed, and even though they seem to have fallen in a previously set trap, they have made sure not to come out of it emptyhanded and not to let a chance pass without reiterating that they are here to stay.

The movie did not end on a “happily ever after” note, nor was it a Greek tragedy. This type of ending requires a sequel, if not several. And after several hours of just watching, power was back to my good old system the moment the credits rolled and I realized that based on the circumstances the country is going through and the several hurdles the revolution is already facing, breaking into the embassy and tampering with a front that was better left untouched at the moment was far from being a good idea.

Yet, in that little space I leave for myself to take the sides I choose and make the judgments I feel like making, I was secretly – well, not anymore apparently – content that the message was brought home and that the voice of the masses has once again proven to be several pitches higher than armies and states and international treaties.

(Sonia Farid, Ph.D., of Al Arabiya also teaches English Literature at Cairo University. She can be reached at: sonia.farid@mbc.net)

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