Last Updated: Fri Jan 06, 2012 08:07 am (KSA) 05:07 am (GMT)

Letter from Cairo: Happy New Egypt!

Sonia Farid

Making a list of resolutions never means you are resolute to do any of them and wishing yourself or others a happy new year never means you have a good reason to believe there is any happiness looming in the horizon. In fact, the resolutions and the new year in which they supposed to be put into action are one and the same thing. The decisions we make at the end of the departing year are our idea of what could make the coming one “happy.” I believe that is exactly why we engage in an activity that proves futile almost 99 percent of the time: to feel good about ourselves and the future and to resist admitting defeat for trying and failing to do the same bunch of things over the past decade or so.

How many times have you said or heard the phrase “as of next year” preceded by some grievance and followed by some solemn vow? How far did you manage to go on a diet if half your clothes don’t fit, to hit the gym every morning if you gasp for breath every time you climb a couple of stairs, to stop yelling at your kids if every time you overhear them talking about you the word “crazy” has to pop up, to follow the instructions in “Why Men Love Bitches” if your boyfriend is taking you for granted, to quit smoking if your blood pressure is hitting lethal levels, or to start admitting that women also wear pants if your wife announces she is no longer taking your chauvinist gibberish?

The level of challenge posed by these resolutions vary and so does the willpower of the people who make them, yet one fact remains the same: comfort zones are not called as such because they are technically comfortable, but rather because getting out of them is uncomfortable. That is why most people would rather stick to lousy old habits than make the extra effort of acquiring healthy new ones and would rather keep feeling bad where they are than try feeling good in a different place. And that is how the “resolutions” is emptied of any meaning and that is also how “wishes” sounds like the most logical substitute. Being the down-to-earth person I am and realizing that a failed resolution is much more traumatic than a wish not coming true, I stopped using the first since I was in high school and started investing all my energy in the second.

A few minutes before 2010 came to an end, exactly the time when I am usually hit by that barrage of wishes for the coming year, I found out that I only had just one that summed up almost everything I felt at the moment on both the personal and the public levels and that sounded too complex it had to stand alone.

“I want to be a citizen of a democracy,” I whispered to myself as I fixed my gaze on the dial getting closer to 12.

“Oh! I have never had a wish come true that fast,” I said not a long time after as if to the genie who had just granted it, while struggling to fathom how on earth can weight loss resolutions fail that miserably and revolution wishes happen that gloriously. I remembered those cheesy “Eat Pray Love” kind of books where the power of a plea is determined by how many people share it and where you immediately summon the image of a group therapy session with people repeating some tedious mantra while holding each others’ hands and where your only reaction is always “Duh!” But who knows, I wondered, maybe it really works. Maybe a few other millions made the same wish at the same time and maybe the emotion each one of us vented into his or her wish was intense enough to make it come true and genuine enough to transform itself into a resolution.

Based on this assumption and regardless of how dreamy or ridiculous it might be, I decided in the last moments of 2011 to reenact the same pseudo-hypnotic ceremony in the hope that fellow supplicants from last time will be there again for a second round of sweeping resolutions.

- I want all remnants of the former regime to rot in jail
- I want all revolution hijackers to disappear
- I want the army back where it came from
- I want the police to do what it is supposed to do
- I want no more talk of religion in politics
- I want to stop hearing disparaging remarks about women
- I want to stop hearing discriminatory nonsense against Copts
- I want people to know that votes are too priceless to be sold … or bought
- I want human rights classes in every single elementary school across the country
- I want every Egyptian to be able to distinguish between Arabic and Mandarin Chinese
- I want all Egyptians to look up the words “secular,” “liberal,” “civil,” and “socialist” in a beginner’s dictionary
- I want the dignity of the Egyptian citizen to be the first article in the constitution
- I want members of parliament who do not think it is a musical chairs game
- I want a president who feared not to be a dissent at the time when it was life threatening
- I want a government that supports the Palestinian cause
- I want a people who know what they deserve and are willing to fight for it
- I want no more black strapped photographs of Egypt’s bravest youths
- I want the Egyptian revolution to go down in history as the noblest and most peaceful of all time

I know the list maybe a little bit longer than last year’s, but I and my partners in “wanting” have become too demanding and too confident … and rightly so! But I made sure I started earlier so that I would be done by the time it struck 12. I hope they did the same.

I finished, took a deep breath, and heard the midnight strokes then saw millions of crossed fingers starting a countdown for Egypt as we all want it … happy and new.

(Sonia Farid teaches English Literature at Cairo University. She can be reached at:

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