On returning to Cairo I felt myself, while struggling with the physical difficulties of the city, brimming with positivity for it. There are a lot of interesting people doing interesting things in what is now an undeniably tremendous space for collective projects, campaigns, and interventions. After decades of living with the state’s failure to address fundamental problems with such negligence and corruption that the layers of crises grew dense and sticky, people are coming together and working on a plethora of issues including the environment, sexual harassment, and food security. Independent young people are doing their jobs and the supposed job of the state, with creativity and heart.
Egypt charms us with this sense of possibility, a charm made all the more compelling when we remember the stagnation of the years before the uprising, a time which seemed at once frustrated and apathetic. And then, with a few clicks through social media links, the atmosphere darkens abruptly. Like thousands of others, I watched the footage of Shia men being beaten to death by a mob of horrifyingly normal-looking people earlier this week. I ill-advisedly watched this just a few minutes after seeing Mosireen’s video about sexual torture in Egypt, and felt myself enveloped in grief. People talk about becoming desensitised to violence after frequent exposure to it. I am yet to experience this.
In this dualistic atmosphere, I haven’t really known what to think of the Tamarod campaign for protests demanding Morsy’s departure on June 30th. Being generally supportive of demonstrations against violent and corrupt power, I was initially impressed by Tamarod’s ability to mobilize. The campaign seemed to capture people’s exasperation and anger at the regime and their desire for change. But the vagueness of Tamarod’s “post-Morsy” plans combined with their pro-army statements and the opportunists circling around the campaign is disconcerting.
I worry about the short- and long-term ugliness that could result from the Islamists’ sense of self-righteousness and existential threat, which will be inflamed by the attack on their long-awaited chance at political leadership. I had been hoping we could let them permanently destroy themselves through the incompetence and short-sightedness of their rule. Sarah Carr lays out the dilemma pretty well here, and I find myself feeling conflicted in much the same way. But the movement on the streets has already started, and so I have to feel hope that the opposition’s numbers will be huge, and that the good guys will win with as little loss of life and eyes and spirit as possible. And then we can get back to the rebellious work of creating positive change in this place where everything suddenly seems so possible.