Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Egyptian Revolution: Between the Silent Majority and the 1%

Even though we all wish to agree on everything but it can never realistically happen, especially between the different generations and especially during tough times of choice. I realized that just like the counterculture social movements of the 1960’s, when it comes the time for the youth to grow and be the larger, more active part of the society, they always find resistance from the older generations. They tend to label them as fools, hooligans, druggies, immature, too driven, or simply dreamers just because they dared to dream differently and make themselves heard. On the brink of the final presidential elections, the generation gap in post-revolution Egypt has shown to be no different.

The youth who represent 40% of the population are fighting for a dream that if realistically achieved, would be for their own children to enjoy, while what most of the more passive, older generations are worried about is getting back the stability they sure miss. When it finally came time to choose between restoring the old regime with its bloody hands, sheer wantonness and corrupted power and might, and either the double-edged, often-bigoted Islamic project of the Muslim Brotherhood, or boycotting the elections all together, they ran with open arms to the candidate whose sole and meager role is to restore the fallen regime.

They chose the regime that has proven to miserably fail because they are familiar with it. Some because they are simply terrified from the Iranestan illogical scenario and they would vote for anyone opposing the Muslim Brotherhood. This group includes many Copts who were mentored by their churches that must equally share the same fright. Others, because they have been conditioned to fear the unknown – people or circumstances – as well as to fear and try to avoid any change altogether like the case of many who live in today’s segregated societies.

Fifteen month have passed and this silent majority, or the people who do not publicly express their opinions, including many of the older generations, had enough from the fickle chaos which they were never used to. I can almost sense that, secretly or not, they blame the revolution for all the current instability. I can’t really blame them myself since they always lived in their own bubbles where their stable, unperturbed lives went on peacefully. For the last 30 years, they enjoyed specially-tailored versions of “security” and “stability.” They had full gas stations, no million-man protests on Fridays or any other day, no real political worries, and crimes were only heard of in newspapers. Plus, the M.B was merely an illegal opposition movement that had no real presence or voice. And as the other tens of millions of Egyptians were suffering from extreme poverty, diseases, illiteracy and a 3-decade old emergency law, this section of the society were just getting by with their daily lives.

The silent majority includes most of the top 1% of the Egyptian society, and most of the top 1% have direct or indirect relationships with the ruling power. They make their lives easier with facilitated bribery, favouritism, racketeering and embezzlement of many kinds. The rest of the people also get their own share of different degrees from these contagious traits, until it became the only way there is for pretty much everyone.

I believe that it’s almost impossible to live where corruption is the norm and not somehow be affected by it. Sometime, somewhere, you will most likely join the game. First because you can, then to survive your surroundings and to keep up. After a while, you start taking it for granted since everyone else does until it becomes your own norm. And that’s exactly what the system is built upon; dragging you along. If the higher ruling power is corrupt, wouldn’t they want everyone else to be corrupt too? Maybe to feel better about themselves, maybe because they are sinister devils, I’m not sure. But what I’m sure of, however, after living there for 33 straight years is that this is how the system in Egypt really works.

I have to fairly note that breaking a line, if there are any, or tipping an underpaid government clerk to renew your driving license, as much as it’s still considered a sort of corruption, it does not tantamount to taking billions of Pounds worth of loans or closing down a factory and causing loss of jobs. All in different degrees for different people with different connections. But again, don’t get me wrong, it did feel great to get something done in 15 minutes with a single phone call to the right officer when it would take 2 hours for the average person. It felt great? Yes. Convenient and pleasant? Yes. Right? No.

Why would anyone complain if they were born in the privileged and comfortable yet distant setting of this 1%? The family can probably afford several cars, the siblings' pricey university tuitions, a possible international trip or two every year, while the majority of the same nationality cannot even find basic life needs such as clean drinking water. There is also the psychological luxury - or not, however you look at it - of being more fortunate than almost 99% of your fellow compatriots.

For the older generation, especially the ones who are part of this elite minority, those fluctuating times are not the best days. Many old families were never too enthusiastic about revolutions and some of them even brought us up believing that 1952 was the saddest U-turn Egypt has ever taken, and they were probably right. Others, the nouveaux riches, became from the 1% solely because of the ’52 revolution and understandably they are now worried sick to lose it all. But, January 25 is totally incomparable as this is a people’s revolution, millions of them, and not a coup d'état  by a small group of young army officers who wanted to overthrow the monarchy to say the least.

After Nasser’s idea of socialism, or what was implemented from it, the gap between the different classes remained disproportionally large. Initially, land reform abolished the political influence of major land owners but it only resulted in the redistribution of about 15% of Egypt’s land under cultivation. Even though both of my families were directly affected and most of their lands were taken, I had to feel grateful to have been born possibly part of that 1%; not in terms of wealth but in terms of social status. However, when I would look around and see how the average person I’m sharing this country with is living, I would feel a mix of shame, sadness and rage, and the worst of it all is that you know well that your hands are tied about it. How much change is one capable of achieving if the selfish system is so corrupt that 40% of the people still live under the poverty line in the 21st century? And where could one ever start?

I was lucky to have been to one of the best schools and universities, later held many decent jobs in multinational organizations and my life was rolling. As the years went by, I started to look around me more and ask if it was all fair. The answer was of course no, but I had no solution and not even any hopeful exit scenario for the country and its people. I knew well how fraudulent and dishonest our system was and that the power was in the hand of the few who have no reason to ever let go of it. Of course the idea of a revolution has never really crossed my mind then, and all I knew about revolutions was from history books and documentary movies.

My growing dissatisfaction from the surrounding conditions and the fact that I knew that I wouldn’t be able to really change anything about it made me feel hopelessly helpless. It led me to look for solace in many different places just to escape this reality. I tried indulging in meditation, drugs, Sufism, cocooning in a balloon inside the self-absorbed bubble we were all surrounded by as a minority in the society. Still, I was never able to totally disconnect, even with any artificial indifference I would use as a defense mechanism to oppose my unrealistic denial. Heading to work in the morning in my A.C’d car, listening to Led Zeppelin while sipping on coffee in my metal Starbucks mug, I was surrounded by millions of lifeless, ambitionless, sad and worn out looking, unhealthy individuals. The more I tried to block them and not think about the misery they live in the more I couldn’t ignore them. The colourless streets seemed to me to always resonate with discontent, deprivation and frustration.

Down deep inside I knew this is not life as it should be and that there must be a better way. I knew something had to happen and I knew it had to be of massive proportions, but I had no idea what. I would find myself asking if they were only fine with living in such dire conditions because they don’t know any better? The answer I later found out was no. Sometimes I would even try to convince myself that this is their destiny with an ignorance is bliss-type of reasoning, probably to feel better towards their sufferings. But all in all, this level of injustice never made any sense to me.

I left to Canada 3 months before the revolution and I know well that my plans would have most definitely changed if it had happened before I left. Though I do believe that everything in life happens for a reason and that, somehow, it was all meant to be. Like many others, I then got interested in the dirty game of politics because I saw a real chance for change and for catching up with the rest of the world. The "better way" was finally on the horizon. I took part in demonstrations here in Toronto and sang our National anthem out loud in the streets for the first time in my life, reconnecting with the dormant Egyptian in me and it honestly felt sensational.

However, I always knew that it will take years to reverse all the damage as I also knew that it will never be a walk in the park since SCAF - the military boys of the oppressor we toppled - are the ones in charge now. I think we are the first revolution in history where the ousted president and few of his cronies are in prison whilst the whole system is still in power. It certainly doesn’t take a genius to guess in which direction that system will be heading.

With days away from the final presidential elections, I realized that some people seem to forget who the real enemy is. I always remember a saying my father used to tell me in a different context but that has always made sense to me: "You always blame the boss." And SCAF here are the boss. They have the power, the billions, the arms, the media and the government, they control the masses like puppets with the same exact tactics Hitler used during his reign.

They also fuel the fright from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranestan scenario that could never realistically take place for many reasons. Then, they amplify the fear through Amn el Dawla and its media control which is still very much alive and well after the revolution! What kind of logic is that when you leave the system you toppled during a revolution to keep doing what it has been doing? I mean, will they work FOR the revolution now and for achieving the Bread, Freedom and Social Justice demands? Will their collective conscience suddenly wake up and do the right thing? No, they are the counter-revolution themselves and they are freaking powerful.

As for their not-so-secretly-endorsed candidate, Shafik, not only that he’s too absent-minded and shows eccentric, non-scholastic speech and reasoning capabilities for a new post-revolution Egypt, but also quite frankly he does not have the revolutionary sense or will to clean up the 30-year old mess, which, in fact, he was and still is part of.

Choosing the comeback of the old regime means meekly submitting once again to the same camouflaged, depotistic military system the country has suffered from for decades. It also means forgetting about any dignity and pride, deliberately agreeing to be under the mercy of the new old oppressor who is now offering the same vile options Mubarak has twisted our arms with; Me or Chaos. The part that is intriguing to me is that many didn’t learn from the past and are actually choosing the Me because they simply had enough from the current Chaos which normally must take place in order to get rid of the Me. The Me’s never go by themselves, they have to either be toppled, exiled, jailed, killed or all of them combined if they really deserve it. If they are left wandering around, they have the resources to regroup themselves and come back for vengeance.

I sometimes wonder if those who are demanding stability would have made the same choice if they lost a son during one of last year’s protests, knowing that the killer will never be tried as long as the regime is still ruling. In fact, all the killers kept their jobs and got promotions and raises. And just yesterday, the aides of the ex-minister of Interior Habib el Adly who were charged with killing and wounding hundreds of protestors between Jan 25th and Jan 28th were all acquitted and freed. How could the parents or any human being concerned with justice ever get any peace of mind? Until now, the charges of 16 cases of murder of protestors all around Egypt have been dropped. Can any sane person still really trust the system? In a nutshell, stability can never be found unless there is justice. A very simple equation it is.

I believe that uniting and directing our energies towards getting rid of SCAF is the one and only key to this riddle. And definitely not by taking part in rigged elections where we all know that Shafik - the old fallen regime - will win. Until they hand over the country to a possible revolutionary presidential committee, the revolution is definitely still on

As for the older generations and the silent majority, no hard feelings as I’m sure we all want a better Egypt. But I only wished you had thought more of your grandchildren and the country you want them to have rather than choosing today’s stability. Know that this idea of “stability” is unreal and only a façade for building a new remodeled dictatorship all over again. You can mark my words when I say that it won’t last long before it all crumbles down once and for all. Again, revolutions are a long process in the making, and rationally speaking, matters will take years to truly stabilize. However, sooner rather than later, there will be another much fiercer confrontation where we’ll all we have no other option but to stand united against those greedy oppressors and reclaim our country back. For freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed as the great Martin Luther King Jr. once said. 

I really hope that Shafik winning and the comedic Mubarak trials are the last farces needed to continue what we’ve started. Glory to the martyrs who got us to this day. Onward forward we go, the revolution will eventually win.

*Note: Due to lack of official statistics the top 1% here could be anywhere between 1% and 1.5 % according to various sources, knowing that the population of Egypt is approximately 85 Million.
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