Like many, I heard from afar in February 2011 that a dictator in Egypt named Hosni Mubarak had fallen. Unlike many, I was only in India by a twist of fate. Egypt had been home for almost two decades.
I came to make a new life in India in November 2010 tired of an Egypt I found stagnant, convinced of my inability to master a decent amount of Arabic, and unable to find a reason to tie me to the land. India would treat me better, I decided. The following January I watched from afar as protestors poured into familiar streets, and Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square took on meaning as it never had before. While Egypt chanted “Irhal” asking Mubarak to leave, another chorus rang through my head: I should never have left.
In the days and some sleepless nights that followed, I called Indian news channels, giving them numbers of Indians in Egypt, circulated emails in India to mobilize some action. I tried to be in Egypt the only way I could, calling landlines, re-activating my Facebook account and posting volumes, replying to friends in broken Arabic, tweeting and retweeting news from Egypt and, increasingly, neighbouring revolutions.
From afar, I witnessed friends catapulted into heroism, journalists turned citizens in the line of fire, and citizens turned journalists on social media. I thought of my family: my brother patrolling streets at night like many others in Egypt where police and military were no longer to be trusted, his visiting fiancée who took my mother India to the airport in a vehicle meant for evacuees of another nation, my over-fearful father who asked me to speak in Hindi even as he lied into the phone everything was all right, and my steadfast mother who came to India so that I would not go to Egypt. They were all heroes, learning to protect others, and I was an idiot. I was the prodigal child being asked not to return, to stay just a little while longer till things were safe.
I still wish I had been there.
Finding myself here in India again for another visit amid another season of strife in Egypt, I am less troubled. I know what I did not know then: that Egypt will be safe. Despite many unnecessary deaths in recent days, I am thankful and aware that these are not the flailing attempts of a dictator to assert his rule through fear-mongering; they are a result of the very real divisions in society that need to be addressed. This is the street – somewhat sadly – addressing the street and its ills.
When I returned to Egypt to live there again in April 2011 fresh after an attack at the women’s rally at Liberation Square, I felt the truth of many friends’ words: that it would be all right to return when I did, that this was a long battle. Slogans, parties, banners have since echoed that sentiment: The Revolution Continues. Within the freedom gained from dictatorship, other rights and freedoms needed to be fostered, for women, for Christian and Baha’i and other minorities, for media, for workers, and for the citizens of a state learning what it was to be a democracy.
For Egypt is an unfolding democracy, now, no matter what Morsi and his backers try to pull off with the constitution – media is not just in newspapers and websites which went to strike – it’s on blogs and social media, the graffiti on the wall, and the songs echoing from the Square.
Thinkers, artists, and movements have shed their anonymity and are now vocal and articulate. We are closer to the “heaven of freedom” that Rabindranath Tagore spoke of in his poem, “where the mind is without fear.”
Morsi, despite popular attempts to label him as such, is not a Mubarak. He is a man battling with holdovers of the former regime. Seeing no way of circumventing the legal loopholes passed his way by the judiciary, he raised himself above it, and in so doing was caught by the very ruling he thought would liberate him. While he may well prefer being likened to the Roman Cincinnatus, who temporarily assumed dictatorial powers towards a noble end, the essential difference is this: unlike Cincinnatus’ state, Egypt is not threatened by powers outside, it is torn apart by divisions within.
Unless Morsi and his religious allies implement the constitution to address these divisions within society, protecting minorities and safeguarding democratic rights and freedoms, they will be labeled pharaohs rather than friends of the revolution. The mistake they make is in representing a religion rather than representing a people which elected them.
When the current government fails to perform that befits demands of the revolution, it is
understandable that some are chanting the slogans of the revolution, to remind others of the direction in which they are headed. Morsi is not a Mubarak, calling him such is only a warning of what he could become.
In 1981 Mubarak had reinstated the “Emergency Law” granting the state unconstitutional powers. Perhaps Mubarak had initially meant these powers to be ‘temporary’ till a ‘threat to the state was removed.’ Renewed every three years since, the Emergency Law was only repealed in May this year.
It is no wonder then that many Egyptians are showing some reluctance to grant keys to that door again. They have learned better than to let Morsi repeat history.
Written Dec 6, 2012