Friday, February 12, 2021


The Arab Spring was an arc which covered most if not all of the Arab world, from the Atlantic to the Gulf. The events in Egypt were the most dramatic, also because the country always occupied a privileged place in the world's collective memory.

The "gift from the Nile" mesmerized Europeans but they kept their eyes shut for too long to the resentment and inequalities which existed in the shadow of some of civilisation's greatest achievements. Western imagination fell prey to antiquities and also to its own selfish rivalries, while oblivious to the expoitation and savage industrialisation imposed by (imported) rulers and their cliques.

Egyptology was a mania and cover for French/British rivalry with, at the end, the ownership of the Suez Canal (created by the French) as goal. The British won, taking ownership of both the canal and Champollion's heritage. One had to wait for Nasser to return ownership and pride to Egypt.

The recent history is familiar. Mubarak was a benign despot. His fall from power and the interregnum until al-Sisi's coup are well known. He did not see the Arab Spring coming at him with a vengeance. Most observers were actually taken by surprise. Egyptians are for the most part smart, tolerant, with a wicked sense of humor. One tends to forget that they also have the memory of political pluralism which simmered until World War II. Different political strands existed until the fall of King Farouk. Nasser's one-man rule was forgiven after he gave Egypt back its dignity, nationalizing the canal and the humiliating the UK, France and Israel, with the tacit support of no other than the United States.

Sadat added to Egypt's  new-found prestige. Mubarak's dull, pedestrian personality didn't click with Egyptians who got tired of his permanent ego trip, with little regard for their living conditions. He surronded himself with a coterie which couldn't shield him any longer from scrutiny and impatience. After his fall, the Muslim Brotherhood found in President Morsi a man with good intentions but no management skills.  His then minister of defense al-Sissi stole the power and made the army his own. 

The Arab Spring which preceeded Mubarak's fall was generous but too over- intellectual maybe in a socio/economic environment wherein corruption and immense disparities required more empathy than just political reform. The students did not speak the language of the people.

Egyptians see themselves always as different from Africa and distant versus their Arab brethren. They still look at Europe as "close" and tend to consider other Arabs as a different strand. They have their own contradictions, navigating the pharaonic past and the islamic DNA. They are both religious and cynical, generous and mendacious.

The many students and intellectuals in Tahrir Square who spoke so eloquently about human rights and reforms did not always realize that the ones they tried to convince were to grasp the ambitious intention beyond the message.

Egypt is stuck for now in the usual scenario wherein the sole leader builds a new capital somewhere that is more made to serve his prestige (tanzim) than to host the needs of the people.  Sounds like Burma...and looks like it!  Autumn is coming!

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