We were told, time and again, that “revolution” and “the people” were obsolete terms, irrelevant in a post-revolutionary world, especially in the Arab world. This, after all, was a place where the burden of the past weighed so heavily and the cultural DNA somehow preconditioned those who carried it to feel more at home with tyrants and terror. Too many trees were killed theorizing about the region’s inhospitability to democracy. “Reform” was the most one could hope for. Revolution? No way! That was the stuff of outmoded leftists and dreamers left behind as history marched forward. The referent for “revolution” resided in the past (or in the west), but never in the present, or near future. The latter, was eternally deferred. Revolutions were dormant in archives, dictionaries and documentary footage. Revolutions were celebrated and imagined in songs and poems fading from collective memory and oral history.
Even those of us who didn’t buy into this narrative for obvious reasons fell prey to despair and pessimism. It wasn’t just hereditary dictatorships mushrooming left and right, but neocolonialism, military occupations, sectarianism and civil wars. It was even difficult, at times, to be a pessoptimist à la Habibi.
Then there was Tunisia. The people forced “fate to respond” to their will to live (to echo the great Tunisian poet al-Shabbi [1909-1934]) and restored meaning to a crucial signifier. Men and women consigned a dictator and his brutal reign to the past tense and are still demonstrating, because they will not settle for cosmetic change. The dictator’s friends in the “civilized world,” who sustained him just as they sustain his species elsewhere, were shocked and disoriented. Now, the people are trying to summon revolution back to the material world in Yemen. And in Egypt, with creativity and courage, anger and suffering are transformed into colossal human waves.
The tide is turning. Something has changed for good. Dictatorial regimes are not invincible. A modern-day pharaoh and his corrupt family are about to be consigned to the past tense. But he will cling to his throne with bloody hands. As I write this, news reports confirm that army units are being deployed in anticipation of Friday’s “Day of Anger.” In addition to killing several demonstrators, massive arrests, brutality, blocking Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Blackberry. The regime, with the collusion of multinationals, has disabled Internet services in Cairo and other cities to disrupt mobilization and disable the revolution. An electronic siege.
Friday promises to be a monumental day. The various groups have called for demonstrations after Friday prayers. Our hearts are with the Egyptian people as they teach the world a valuable lesson, but we should express our solidarity with them and demand that the siege be lifted immediately so their voices can be heard, loud and clear.
Since the United States is the main $ponsor of Mubarak’s brutal and corrupt regime and American politicians have shamelessly reiterated their support, American citizens should speak up and tell the media and these politicians where they stand. With the Egyptian people and their revolution (in the present tense), or with dictatorship? You can’t have it both ways.