Last Updated: Fri Jan 27, 2012 10:25 am (KSA) 07:25 am (GMT)

Letter from Cairo: Many revolutionary returns!

Sonia Farid

If I give birth to a baby who weighs something like half a kilo and it is to be placed in an incubator for a whole year, maybe more, to have its organs properly functioning, I am not sure I would be throwing a party and making a gift list. I might do so if I had been barren for years and had lost any hope of having children then suddenly and without the least effort on my part found myself pregnant and grew obsessed with the idea itself while totally overlooking how well it would materialize. So while in the first case, I would be staying up all night monitoring the baby’s progress and helping it to gently cross into normal life, in the second I would leave the poor soul struggling with the dozen tubes that provide it with a semblance of life and get busy bragging about my fertility and denying all malicious allegations about my incomplete femininity. In the first case, I am a normal woman whose main priority is to see her child healthy. In the second, I am either too insensitive and extraordinarily selfish or utterly delusional and none of those is known to be among the main characteristics of a real mother.

I really fail to understand where the people who wanted to celebrate the first anniversary of the revolution were coming from and I very much doubt they are delusional, but I am almost sure of their insensitivity and have no doubt at all about their selfishness. It doesn’t take so much mental effort of any person equipped with a minimum level of sanity to look back at the past year and realize that there is no cause for celebration at all not because the revolution was a failure, but rather because it is till now too unfinished to be treated as over … unless, of course, in some peculiar forms of human behavior it is common to celebrate unachieved achievements!

I and many of my fellow “untamable” Egyptians have been continuously rebuked for how “ungrateful” and “greedy” we are and have been reminded all the time how a year and one day ago we would have never dreamed of an ousted government, a prosecuted president, and an elected parliament. Have I ever denied that? What kind of a fool would anyway? But is this all what the Egyptian people wanted when they shouted at the top of their lungs, “The people demand the toppling of the regime”? Is a regime about president and parliament? I am sorry, but this is KG-level politics and it’s about time we grow up a little bit!

Let me rephrase the question in case the previous one is too existential for people who prefer to have their fingers placed on the exact problem: In what kind of a democracy are peaceful protestors in general killed, tortured, or maimed; female protestors subjected to virginity tests or stripped of their clothes in public and the Coptic ones, also in particular, crushed beneath the wheels of armored vehicles while none of the culprits are put on a fair trial or receive a proper punishment? Is it democratic to refer tens of thousands of civilians to military courts, to raid NGO offices, to clampdown on activists, and to turn freedom demands into destruction plots? Which definition of “democracy” includes brainwashing gullible citizens into repeating words along the lines of “foreign agendas” “third parties” “anarchy” and “infiltration”? Or let me group all of those questions into a more comprehensive, yet not so abstract, one: Which of the words repeated throughout the 18 days we mistakenly thought were the duration of the revolution have turned into reality? Social justice? Citizenship? Freedom of speech? Independence of the judiciary? Purging the police force? There is so much more on the list, but this is just a portion of the demands that drove people to take to the streets on January 25, 2011.

On January 25, 2012, Egypt was divided into two camps: one that had an honest and objective answer to those questions and which decided to have a revolution re-run on that day and another that either chose to find itself illusory answers or to ignore the questions altogether and which decided it’s party time on the same day. For the second, the first were the fun killers who loved trouble for trouble’s sake and for the first, the second cared about nothing except their own gains and which took precedence over the revolution and the interests of the entire population. So in Tahrir Square was the second basking in parliament glory and pledging allegiance to the ruling authorities while all over Cairo was the first stressing that neither the demands of the revolution nor the martyrs that paid their lives to see them happen will ever be forgotten.

Joining the first camp came as naturally to me as turning around when somebody calls my name. For the first time since the start of the revolution I was surprised to see that it didn’t bother me not to be in Tahrir Square and that nothing was as fulfilling as marching through the streets of the capital that rocked under the feet and around the shouts of those freedom fighters vowing to finish what they started.

On that day, all parts of the city turned into replicas of that version of Tahrir Square that we have summoned every time we were on the verge of despondence. So yesterday I went back to not worrying about feeling thirsty because I was sure that in a split of a second a thousand bottles of water will be given to me, to not fearing harassment because I had no doubt that all those men in the crowd would take it upon themselves to protect me from any fake revolutionary, to feeling that a million plus people can feel like siblings and first cousins and bosom friends. It was during the five hours the march took that the real voice of the revolution reached every Egyptian cowering under a blanket, turning up state TV volume to the max, or signing opera in the shower. None of the revolution’s demands was missing and on top of that came bringing to justice every single official, from the most senior to the most junior, responsible for shedding the blood of innocent citizens, the equal distribution of wealth, the creation of a civil, nonreligious and nonmilitary, state, the release of political detainees. It was astonishing to see children that would not by any means exceed five years old yelling shoulder-borne that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has to step down, a group of Libyan youths declaring solidarity with their revolutionary brethren, and a women’s march swearing not to enjoy a minute of rest until they see all their abused “sisters” justly avenged.

Only such spirit would make you forget about the hunger creeping into your tummy, the muscles burning in your thighs and calves, and the vocal cords worn with protesting shouts. This same spirit makes you feel totally alright with finding not one single moving vehicle to take you back where the march started and with eventually settling for a boat ride to do the job.

Like all literature nerds, I read too much into things and that was exactly why I considered ending the day in the middle of the Nile and the liberating feelings that instilled into my and my fellow-protestors’ souls are just another symbol of where the revolution is heading and of the destiny of freedom no forces of evil can stop from happening. What I actually find more symbolic is that fact that the boatman found nowhere to drop us off except where one of Cairo’s liveliest cultural centers is located. So there we were suddenly hopping into the place and watching those who sat in the café or attended any of the center’s activities turning round and wondering where on earth we came from. That’s not new, I must say. We have always surprised our beloved compatriots… the whole world in fact. So why would yesterday out of all days be an exception? And we are determined to keep doing so until Egypt becomes what it deserves to be and until we make sure we carve our names in history as the makers of the globe’s most peaceful uprising.

Many happy returns of the revolution and many revolutionary returns of the true Egypt!

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

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