The Dissipating Drag of History: Tahrir and Maspero

 The Palestinian problem is one that many Egyptians get very emotional about. The sense of historic injustice and the ambivalence with which the West and most of the world often seems to be dealing with it, makes it an open and festering sore in consciousness of most Arabs. However, it has repeatedly been used by the Egyptian government for more than fifty years to deflect attention from pressing national issues, while half-heartedly (or worse) pursuing a solution. I could not help but feel that the same dynamic was in play yesterday when I was walking through Tahrir.

The call for solidarity with the Palestinian intifada, is one that is bound to resonate with most Egyptians and revolutionaries in particular. The revolution was, to a great extent, about justice in the widest possible sense. The pain and indignities that Palestinians suffer presents a capital case for an injustice that has to be resolved. However, to have this issue trump pressing Egyptian pains and problems right now makes me quite suspicious of the motives of  those who are putting the Palestinian problem front and center.

The picture in Tahrir
There was a strong presence of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and they seem to have dominated many of the speaker stands. I could see many MB members with  green bandannas with their ominously distinctive logo  that juxtaposes swords and the Koran. The polemics that were echoing through the square went as far as calling for holy march to Jerusalem and had blatantly religious undertones. That did not feel like the Tahrir that I know and love.

There was something in the air the reeked of division and lack of focus. It seems to me that having a multi-themed demonstration at Tahrir is not a good idea. We need to restore our sense of focus. We have the following pressing issues:

  1. The pain of the Copts due the ugly events in Imbaba.  
  2. The illusive and faceless SCAF that seems to be writing the rules of the political game singlehandedly. 
  3. The detainees of the revolution. 
  4. The upcoming parliamentary elections that will define the constitution of Egypt. 

The MB seems to be wasting very little time with regards to the last issue. They are working actively to muster support and in campuses the are all out giving speeches about their outlook and their program. In Tahrir, I could not be help but feel that the MB are trying to distract the masses with Palestine while our Egyptian house is in a great deal of disarray. But, maybe it would unfair to blame it all on the  MB, I could see many holding up pictures of the late president Nasser who is famous calling for pan-Arab unity (as well as the eradication of Israel).

All was not doom, gloom and holy war in Tahrir. I has happy the see the El-Adl party organize a group based artwork on the dreams for Egypt. They fashioned an Egyptian flag out of bits of colored papers that many in Tahrir scribbled on their dreams for the country. The sense of humor was there in the form of creative placards.

Many also on Tahrir had there eyes clearly focused on national unity. However, they were a bit less visible and less vocal.

At Maspero
One can but only feel a palpable sense of pain at Maspero. As I walked into the sit-in area I had to pass through a checkpoint where they looked at my ID and conducted a pat-down search. The people at Maspero seemed nervously happy to have a Muslim amongst them. There many excited chanted call for a secular state, and also asserting pride in the Coptic identity.

While I could but not but help feel the deepest sympathy for their pain and plight, I suddenly grew very nostalgic to good old days in Tahrir when religious distinctions were of limited consequences as all Egyptian were clearly united. However, in many respects Maspero felt more like the old Tahrir, it was clean and had a clear focus. There were no street vendors and people were sharing food and water.

While I am not calling for abandoning the Palestinian cause or the dream of pan-Arabism, I believe that there is great loss of focus and we are being dragged by historical issues and all the pains they bring. We are not putting sufficient energy in dreaming about a brighter future for all Egyptians.

4 thoughts on “The Dissipating Drag of History: Tahrir and Maspero

  1. I sympathise with your worries about losing focus and momentum toward your original goals.

    Factionation seems to be a fact of life in any conflict or attempt at guided change. I think that the many factions need to speak their peace. After all, many joined the main revolution with the hope that their own specific issues would be addressed as a side effect.

    Tolerating, even embracing this diversity is difficult and scary.

    A friend of mine recently said to me that “Discipline is remembering what is important”.

    I hear you trying to cultivate that kind of discipline among your people. Despite the many other issues running amok in peoples heads and hearts, the core central issue remains as a motivator and cohesive force?


  2. On the Palestinian problem.

    Perhaps it is just my circle, but I know many from the west who are very sympathetic with the Palestinians problems.

    It may not seem like enough, but there are many in the US who were very happy to have Obama to ask for two (contiguous) states based on 1967 borders. I personally believe in his dedication to the issue, but I also know there are many who will do their best to undermine him.

    There are many in the US (very far from the middle east and africa geographically) who see the current uprisings and realignments as a shift toward a more peaceful, prosperous and happy region, and a positive resolution of the Palestinian Problem (or the Zionist problem if you prefer) is a key part of that.

    I feel that our interests in the region are inappropriate but understandable (given our oil-fed industries and agriculture).

    Once again, thank you for your good work with this blog. It is a small but important window into your world in this time of turmoil.

  3. @Steve thanks for you comments.

    “Remembering what is important” is often tricky and I hope that we manage to cultivate that and establish some focus before all what we have worked of is lost. I am going back to Tahrir this Friday with that hope.

    A key feature of our revolution was about recognizing the other and truly feeling the shared humanity the we all have. It is a feeling of great empathy with “the other”. I am still hoping that this spirit is there and will live on. If we can maintain that spirit and spread it, it could heal a great deal of the wounds in the region.

    Though I acknowledge that Factionation is very much a fact of life, I was hoping (and am still hopeful)that the noble feelings will remain and will trump everything. That is not say that we should all maintain the same ideology and concerns, but that our shared empathy and love of one another will be our main guide when we are setting our priorities. The was feeling in the early days of the revolution and it is what has kept us together, and it is what we desperately need now as many are trying to divide our ranks.

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