June 28, 2012

The revolution that started 10 years ago

For 7000 years we've existed as one nation; and since the last 3 Pharaonic dynasties until the 1952 coup d'etat, we've been ruled by non-Egyptians. We've had them all, Greeks, Romans, Muslims from the East, from the West, from Turkey, the French and the Brits. Moreover, we've always been an open society and a crossroad between different civilizations, at least the northern half of the country which saw merchants, travelers, foreign armies, scholars and immigrants come and go. After 1952, we've been ruled by Egyptians but each one of them came with his own set of ideologies (or lack thereof), Socialist (borderline communist), Neo Liberal and finally a complete idiot. During the past few thousand years we've had hundreds of cultures come and go, each one of them taking over the country for a few years, decades or even centuries. Over the years, we've absorbed each one of those "guests", retained some of what we liked about their culture(s) and sent the rest back with them on their way out. Yet, somehow, we've managed to retain the roots of our culture and kept adding layers but rarely shedding any of our core values. Somehow, we're still celebrating Sham El Nessim (Pharaonic feast), still mourning the dead for 40 days (Pharaonic tradition), still using words like Bekh to scare someone (pharaonic for scared), we still celebrate the birth of holly men and visit their graves (Fatimid tradition) and until 20 years ago, our passports were written in both Arabic and French (retained from the Napoleon occupation). The list goes on.

In the past 60 years, our society was subjected to three different cultures/ideologies imposed upon us from the top down as well as one that invaded us at the grassroots. The 3 cultures were the socialism at time of Nasser, which reversed the pyramid of power in the country and introduced very close ties to the Eastern European block, affecting our architecture, literature and arts. The Neo Liberal policies of Saddat which empowered a new segment of the society and gave way to American consumerism at its worst. The third was one of corruption, oppression and division between socio-economic classes that eventually lead to complete separation between the various segments. While those three "cultures" were imposed on us from the government/ruling powers, a fourth courant emerged in the 70's and 80's fed by the growing relations with the newly enriched Gulf: The Wahabi / Conservative Islamic courant.

The short period in which those four cultures were imposed have led to the reshuffling of socio-economic segments, the loss of the middle class which was the main depot for our culture and to the polarization of the society. While one group copied a western model blindly, another became totally submerged in a radical Wahabi culture, meanwhile the majority got crushed between the two. The lack of education, the dire economic conditions and the regimes determination to keep this society divided have resulted in a very superficial society that lacks any real identity. We became more interested in simulating life-styles that were not our own at the expense of maintaining our authentic Egyptian values. This confusion in our priorities can be seen in our movies, our books, our songs and even in the shallowness of our political and religious leaders. Cheap consumerism took over all aspects of our lives from our language to our concepts of what is fair, right or just. The absence of our anchoring values is reflected in how our society finds no shame in adopting conflicting attitudes such as piousness and bribery, being rich and belittling importance of education, etc.

However, over the past 7-10 years a new trend had emerged which is the "Egyptianization" of the society. Companies and brands started having Egyptian names as opposed to the trends in the previous years of giving companies either "Western" or "Islamic" names. Examples include: Diwan, Makani, Tilal, Mobadara and Kheir Baladna compared to Cook Door, Daily Dress and Alfa Market to reflect a Western culture or El Tawhid Wil Nour, El Farouk Schools and Al Esraa to reflect the Islamic culture.

These changes can also be seen in our art and culture, a new movie industry – for instance – was emerging away from the traditional cheap productions in the 70's, 80's and 90's; mostly showing an Egyptian reality and addressing or describing social issues, such as Heya Fawda. The same with books, several new authors emerged with books primarily focusing on the changes in our society and the loss of our identity, such as 3marit Ya3coubian. In music as well, bands such as Wist El Balad emerged with a strong Egyptian identity. This period has also witnessed the start of a large number of civil movements that foster independent art and culture and support creativity examples include El Sawi cultural wheel, Al Mawrid Al Thakafy, Geneina Theatre, Studio Emad El Din and others.

The strong Egyptian identity that emerged in January 25th did not come out of the blue; it has been building up for a decade. Probably, the growth in social media and the information revolution has also contributed to the process; first by making it easier to foster and feed this new movement and second by exposing Egyptians (youth primarily) to the shallowness of our identity compared to other cultures in the world.

This past decade was witnessing the Egyptian society's return to its origins. After having adopted bits and pieces of the various cultures that were thrown upon them during the previous five decades, Egyptians were starting to shed those values that were not their own and the society started its journey back to its roots. A process, I believe we – as a country – have gone through tens of times throughout our history.

It's a long process that will take another decade or two but - I believe - it cannot be stopped today; not even with a top down approach from a new government (Ikhwan: hint.. hint..). There is a genuine thrive in this society to reconcile with its roots. Extremists on both ends of the spectrum will continue to exist for a while and will continue to try and pull society to either ends but the movement has gained a tremendous push during the revolution and there is no turning back.

I always believed that January 25th was a clash of generations and not a revolt against a regime. It's a social revolution before being a political one; an uprising by the youth and their contemporary values against the old and their decaying social structures. Judging by the number of youth and their average age, I sort of become confident that they will outnumber and outlive their opposition.


  1. Hey I had a similar last statement in a recent blog post that I believed this revolution was against ourselves or against negative aspects in our culture as opposed to simply a revolution against a corrupt regime. Great analysis btw and am glad it ends in hope! و "هنا أتدخل بقولي أن الثورة بالنسبة لناس كثير كانت ثورة مش بس ضد نظام مبارك و لكن النظام بأكمله ممكن كده تقول يعني ثورة على النفس. ثورة علي ثقافتنا و تقاليدنا، أيوة ضدنا لأن ثقافة الشعب تحولت إلي ثقافة فساد و قهر تعممت داخل الأشخاص و المجتمعات نفسها.

    كم الثوار الذين لا يلتزمون بأبسط القوانين مثل قوانين المرور مفجع و ألسنا قدوة للشعب؟ المهم أننا لازم نبدأ "بنفسنا كفاكم فلحسة و فنطزة و فتاكة.

  2. Very nice ya Karim. You have looked very globally at our society and at the same time managed to microscopically analyse many of its facets all in one go. Well done. I too have great faith in the youth, who I define as those with young ideas and young ideals. Lots of work to do for all of us to retain our Egyptianness while, as always, taking only what is best from our "guests" and sending the rest packing.