Anatomising the Egyptian Quandary

Call it a case of deja vu. People power 2.0 has beckoned and once again the Egyptian nation is at the heart of all this. Photos of the hordes gathering at Tahrir Square are consumed by the minions who know their news. We see it everywhere, in the ubiquitous news bulletins, the online coverage, and even on the daily. We behold their urge for change thundering around them, another botched experiment at liberty. We watch, we consume, we applaud their tireless endeavors to attain democracy. I am sure that at least some of us feel their sense of agony, of constant inadequacy to reach their ultimate goal. This empathy should be considered nothing short of admirable, since most Western nationals have  democracy as their birthright. You wake up everyday to capitalism and have never encountered the Egyptian dilemma. Of course, there is the snag of sitting at home thousands of miles from the scene. Moreover, the current crisis in Egypt makes it a no-go zone for anybody with half a hypothalamus.

Personally however, Egypt and Tahrir Square is a project – a project of nation-building, of liberty, of whether twenty-first century secularism can work in the Near East. Naturally (and cruelly), this exercise would carry collateral damage. At what cost? This remains the burning question. We view Syria being transformed into a war zone, and the toll that their denizens have to endure. The Arab Spring has been in full swing and even the Arab world’s model performer in Turkey has become caught in the picture. We are all reduced to the background in this struggle. We witness what is happening in the Middle East and I cannot help but think of Edward Said and his work on Orientalism. We perceive these legions as the ‘Other’, intrigued by their work. You find them curious but your attention span gets the better of you. After all, the Middle East has always been a chaotic setting, some exotic canvas that lingers beyond your realm. For most, the afterthought has been ‘why bother?’

Egypt matters to me because the 2011 revolution made such an impression on me that I engaged with this theme during my recent studies for a number of critical months. The feisty nation drew my attention and spurred me on. I wrote about the uprising, I dissected it and went Egypt hawking for a number of promising months. The so-called Facebook Revolution hit home, conjuring up images of past bloodless coups. This was not unprecedented, with a history from the Orange Revolution to those that transpired in the Philippines (most notably in 1986). Egypt was ‘trending’ back then just as it is at the moment. They held the world’s attention, they riveted my gaze. The television reports depicted Tahrir Square as flooded by Egyptians, who were as proud as anyone to fly their flags at the moment of triumph. The educated, the middle class, the masses – they were all there, eerily reminiscent of those same bloodless coups who counted university students and the bourgeois as the backbone of their grapple.

So that leads us to the current stalemate in Egypt. Again, not unprecedented. The Philippines had People Power 2.0 in 2001, when Filipinos had enough of then-president Estrada. The mobile phone played a massive role on those few fateful days in people flooding EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue), the main thoroughfare in Metro Manila. The thirst for democracy and public outcry against government corruption and betrayal was as fierce then as it is right now, despite disparities in the employed technology. Although looking rosy at first, the succeeding Presidential election was a farce – as every newsreader worth their salt would know. Now that leaves Egypt, that ancient land of Pharaohs and Pyramids. Deja vu? Certainly. This state of affairs is the result of a government that cannot get their act together, a military that continues to cast a dark shadow over that nation and democracy lingers to hang in the balance. To the desensitized, today’s consumption is tomorrow’s left overs. For everybody else watching in bated breath on the next World News and the rolling online accounts, this Egyptian dialectic is cause for much quarrying.

To paraphrase a banal Shakespeare soliloquy: to care, or not to care, that is the question.


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