multivalence is the new ambivalence

Category: history

things fall

Things fall into place today

Every small death
an opening
to a distant future history.

So what if we’re doomed
to suffering then oblivion,

a whole generation lost
down the spiral of its love
for itself?

Something else
some other time
will prevail.

Every nightmare begins
a dream.

Who knows what
it may become if
beyond the jolt of panic
there is still sleep.

It’s over.. & only just beginning!

Mubarak has stepped down. On paper, the army is in charge, but in fact, it’s the people.

After two and a half weeks of making daily peace with the unknown, of alternating between terror and hope, between disillusion and euphoria, Egypt has done it!

The unthinkable –a peaceful, secular revolution– has happened in Egypt and actually worked.

I’m dizzy with possibility.


The Happy Revolution

Whatever happens in the next few hours, despite the sadness of the last two days, despite the deaths, the terror, the rumours — we must remember that for a while, this was a happy revolution.

Sunday 30th, Monday 31st, Tuesday 1st — The streets of Cairo were safer than I’d ever known them. Every residential street protected by self-organised group of young men, with makeshift barricades and sticks (golf clubs in Zamalek), debating politics and joking and making bonfires to keep warm. Others, in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, walked around with binbags and brooms cleaning the streets. It was organised anarchy. Walking over an empty 6th of October Bridge after the so-called curfew, I felt cared for and protected by every single person I met. In a city where sexual harassment is usually rampant, I have not seen or heard of one incident since January 25th. In Tahrir Square and surrounding areas, people of all walks of life were sharing laughter, songs, food, ideas and hope. Volunteers organised themselves around the entrances to the square to regulate traffic and security. In a country where people never queue, natural zigzag queues were formed at the few food outlets that stayed open despite the curfew. Social differences were gone. We all sat on the same ground and ate the same koshari.

This revolution is no longer based on just a vision of a better society, but on an experiential reality of a better society that some of us have lived during the past week.



the happy revolution

Cairo Update

Co-written with the author of Cris d’Egypte and posted by a friend abroad when the internet was still down in Egypt.

Egypt : To Whom it May Concern

Cairo 31st January 2011. Continuous misunderstanding of what is happening in Egypt is causing unnecessary losses of lives and livelihoods. The enormity of the change that has occurred in less than a week has taken us all by surprise. For those of us on the ground, there is no doubt that what is happening is the making of a genuine democracy. The resolve on the street is joyful and renewable. In most people’s minds, the Mubarak era has already ended.

Egypte : Aux peuples du monde entier

Le Caire, 31 janvier 2011. Ne pas comprendre ce qui est à l’œuvre en Egypte augmente jour après jour le nombre des victimes. L’énormité de ce qui a changé en moins d’une semaine nous surprend nous aussi. Pour nous qui sommes sur place, il n’y a aucun doute que le peuple d’Egypte construit une démocratie véritable. Sa détermination dans la rue est joyeuse et renouvelable. Pour la plupart des Egyptiens, l’ère Moubarak est déjà terminée.



why i hope


(This is a high-context post. Follow the hyperlinks.)

This has happened before. Things like this have happened before. But something is different this time. Something is new. As protests continue all over Egypt 2 days after the announced “revolution”, it’s becoming more and more difficult to rationalise away the hope that they spark.

I’m not being unreasonable or romantic. There are a few simple and realistic reasons for hope —

1) Tunis. Pretty self-evident I think.

2) Mubarak is almost 83. With presidential elections coming up in September, this year was already set to be some sort of turning point.

3) The current visibility of dissent. What I mean is that until a few years ago, public demos were rare, sit-ins and workers strikes went unreported, attacks on Mubarak were taboo. Now a new visibility makes dissent and methods of dissent part of the collective imagination of at least a fraction of the Egyptian population. When the population is over 80 million, a fraction might just be enough.

I’m a cynic by persuasion. I believe that one should not easily believe. But I hold such a stance mainly because I’m too aware that belief is power, and power can be dangerous. Power — even the power of belief — corrupts. So it’s a moral choice at the end of the day. And there are moments in life when the moral is a good one, when believing feels like the right thing to do. Simply to create and harness some power in the face of injustice. For me, this is such a moment.

Because history happens when events coincide and give rise to the unlikely. And when history happens, it happens one day at a time.



Tahrir Square, Cairo - 25 Jan 2011


rights & wrongs

ليه ما كلنا أعضاء في بعضينا…!!

There are numerous examples of female friendly societies during the very early years of the nineteenth century. These provided sick and burial benefits, and also must have served as social organizations. Many had rules insisting on sober and decent behaviuor, including in at least one case sanctions against any member having irregular sexual relations with the husband of a fellow-member. (emphasis mine)

هناك أمثلة عديدة لجمعيات نسائية في بدايات القرن العشرين كانت تقدم خدمات في حالات المرض والوفاة وغالباً تقوم أيضاً بدور الأندية الاجتماعية. وكان لبعضها قوانين تنص على الالتزام بالسلوك اللائق والمحتشم، وتضمن ذلك في حالة جمعية واحدة على الأقل فرض عقوبات على أية عضوة تقيم علاقة جنسية مع زوج عضوة أخرى.

from an essay on working-class women activism in 19th-century England (in the book The Rights and Wrongs of Women)

women & memory

From David R. Blanks, “Gendering History: Europe & the Middle East”, Alif, 1999.

On feminist writings in medieval Europe: is important to recognize that these early feminist writers were just that, writers. They were not activists. They had an agenda –which was to redress the balance vis-à-vis male stereotypes of women– but they did not have a plan. No strategic plan, no network. Mostly they were working in isolation [which] explains why efforts were so often replicated. Generation after generation of women were forced to reinvent the wheel because the knowledge of their own history was being denied to them: “thus each woman had to argue as though no woman before her had ever thought or written” (Women & History). The lesson is simple. If women are to take control of their futures, they must reclaim their pasts.

عن الكتابات النسوية في العصور الوسطى في أوروبا:

من المهمّ تقدير أن تلك الكتابات النسوية المبكرة لم تتعدّى كونها كتابات. فلم يكن لكاتباتها نشاط سياسي بحق. نعم كان لديهن هدف –إحداث توازن في مواجهة الصور النمطية السائدة عن المرأة– ولكن لم يكن هناك خطة أو شبكة تجمعهنّ. عملت أغلبهن في عزلة ونتج عن ذلك تكرار في المجهودات. فجيلا بعد جيل كانت كل كاتبة وكأنها تعيد اختراع العجلة لمجرد أن تاريخ من سبقها من النساء لم يكن متاحاً لها: فكان على كل كاتبة أن تناقش وتقدم الحجج كما لو أنه لم تفكّر ولم تكتب قبلها امرأة. الدرس المستفاد بسيط. إذا أرادت النساء إدارة مستقبلهن فإن عليهن أيضاً استعادة ماضيهن.