Not Dead Yet

My Cairo diary of this week’s post-elections, pre-results limbo is now live at n+1.

I returned from the Cairo Jazz Club Tuesday night (a friend had dragged me to see a small but enthusiastic rich-kid audience bopping to a Cyndi Lauper–wigged Egyptian pop band) to find Al Jazeera reliving the ’80s too. The news showed highlights of Hosni Mubarak “legacy” footage, and was quoting Reuters saying the former president was “clinically dead.” His heart had stopped beating, apparently after a stroke; electric shocks and other efforts had failed to revive him.

If the Egyptian revolution were a person, I could say that its case is just the opposite. Despite the thousand (unnatural) shocks she has received in the past eighteen months, despite the generals’ efforts to stifle and strangle and shock and drown her (thawra—revolution—is feminine in Arabic), her heart continues to beat.

But the metaphor quickly collapses. Any real revolution is not a single organism. Perhaps it’s more like water, a raging current replacing old debris with new, becoming soiled in the process. Or as Tocqueville put it, as though speaking to Egypt’s would-be revolutionaries and old regime remnants alike:

The first duty which is at this time imposed upon those who direct our affairs is to educate the democracy; to warm its faith, if that be possible; to purify its morals; to direct its energies; to substitute a knowledge of business for its inexperience, and an acquaintance with its true interests for its blind propensities; to adapt its government to time and place, and to modify it in compliance with the occurrences and the actors of the age. A new science of politics is indispensable to a new world. This, however, is what we think of least; launched in the middle of a rapid stream, we obstinately fix our eyes on the ruins which may still be described upon the shore we have left, whilst the current sweeps us along, and drives us backwards towards the gulf.

Obituaries for the revolution have multiplied in recent weeks, as have revolutionaries’ mea culpas, but there are some new and stubborn statements of optimism. (Read the rest on the n+1 site.)


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