Each time I arrive in Egypt, everything is different. However, never Egypt has changed as much as this time, after the revolution of the 25th of January 2011. On my arrival, the airplane was shaken by some turbulences before landing and meanwhile I was watching the majestic, beautifully illuminated mosques. Egypt looked quiet from high up in the sky. What aspect will it have from down there?
Back in Germany, at the first look, the revolution seemed to be full of contrasts. In a somehow absurd manner, different worlds were displayed next to each other. There was the “real world”, the one which the demonstrators lived on the Tahrir Square and which was transmitted with impacting images. On the other hand, an “artificial scene” was set up discursively by people commenting on the happenings.
When I was following the events on Egytube, at the very beginning, on the first Tuesday of the revolution, the contradiction between what was going on the Tahrir Square and the comments which were streaming on the internet next to the life images were quite surprising. While enormous crowds of people were protesting in the heart of Down Town, the online comments on Egytube started (in the colloquial sms-Arabic style which is spelled in the Latin alphabet) to switch to a conversation about with what kind of contract and which telephone-company the news channels were best visualized on the new i-phone. This conversation was interrupted by all kinds of nationalistic slogans.
The contrasts of the Egypt on the streets and the “safe worlds apart” continued. While the images of the Egyptian museum were shown and the furious protesters in the background, a completely overdressed reporter with ravishing, shiny and long black hair continuously insisted upon Egypt being the mother of civilization.
The climax of the absurd was definitely reached with the then still President Mubarak’s last speech. While the Egyptians were holding up their shoes and screaming that he should step down, he explained to the world –unshaken as it seemed- that all of this was not meant against him, that he did not take it personally…
Did these contrasts vanish after Mubarak’s disappearance? What does Egypt look like right now?
On the plane I started to read the Masri al Yom newspaper and was very excited to see that, at the moment, the revolution seems to succeed. The army promises to hand over power to a civil government on the first of October after the completion of the parliamentary elections which are to be held in June and the elections of a new president which are scheduled for August. The new president shall have a mandate for four years with one possible re-election only. If the army really steps back in October, Egypt will have a civil government for the first time since 1952! This quite reminds me of the so-called “Harakiri del Bunquer” in Spanish history where the dictatorial, fascist executive voluntarily dissolved itself and gave way for a democratic future of the country after Franco’s death in 1975. As a matter of fact, regarding the charges of financial crimes against the Mubarak clan, the army already informs that it will not take part in any of these procedures because there is “nobody above the law.” Even though by this attitude, the army might also try not to get involved into further debasing the honor of the former highest officer Mubarak, the explicit promotion of the rule of law as a universal principle is an extremely important statement.
Mubarak’s pictures published in the newspaper are now said to be “coming from the archive” or “to have been formerly published”. All masks are washed away. Not only the ones which had so long disguised the face of this never aging Dorian Gray of the recent Egyptian history, also the streets are held as clean as it may be. The Egyptians took over their country and are polishing it right now. On the cover-page of Masri al Yom a big advertising from a DSL-operator makes publicity for voluntary public cleaning actions of the streets of “our Egypt”.
Even the taxi driver proudly told me that Egypt was being held clean now. This reminded me of one of the points which Misr al-Fatat were demanding from the Khedive Ismail in 1879 during the very first nationalist movement: they claimed that it should be forbidden for ships to throw waste into the Nile. Nationalism is therefore directly associated with cleanliness. All remains of the misdeeds perpetrated by the fallen regime are washed away and a purified image of the nation arises from the ruins.
I arrived in a new Egypt, which seems to be on its way to finally belong to the Egyptians who are organizing themselves democratically in grass-root communities wherever institutions are missing or decisions are being taken slowly. Improvisation also plays a big part in this. To give an example: whereas schools are still closed in Giza the ones of the Cairo side of the River Nile are already operating again. In order make their children not miss more classes, the parents therefore decided to hide the label of the school buses in order to make the pupils pass unnoticed.
The contrasts start to be washed away and the Egyptian spirit for improvisation and the will for survival are set free. How will it continue? I am proud to be a witness of life history during this month of March.