Nevertheless, a few lights are still glimmering in the darkness of Egypt′s present. To be sure, great nations do not die or fade away overnight. It’s pressing problems notwithstanding, Egypt is still a place that is full of life and activity. Its vibrant soul carries a great appeal and on several recent occasions, Egypt was able to stir the imagination and captivate the hearts of its neighbours.

The promise of revolt

For instance, Arabs were awed by the thrilling images of the 2011 revolution. Watching peaceful demonstrators bravely defy police forces; pious prayer on the Kasr al-Nil bridge while they were being showered by water cannons; turning Tahrir Square into a hub of revolution and music and satire; and eventually forcing a despot, who ruled for thirty years, to step down (after less than three weeks of protests) was indeed inspiring. The revolution was young and vigorous and promising. It was nothing short of an earthquake that attempted to shatter the old world – old leaders, old institutions and old mentalities.   

Then there is this aura of fascination about Bassem Youssef, the political satirist who rose to prominence after the 2011 revolution. Dubbed as Egypt′s Jon Stewart, Youssef capitalised on his own sense of humour and charisma to mercilessly lampoon figures of authority: the president, politicians, the top brass and religious leaders. At the time of his weekly show (suspended in June 2014), Arabs from the ocean to the gulf were glued to their television sets. 

Despite the show′s peculiar Egyptian character, many Arabs felt they could relate to it. After all, their grievances and aspirations are very similar to Egypt′s. Decades earlier, the sharp political verses of the vernacular poet Ahmed Fouad Negm (1929 - 2013) had a similar impact, giving a voice to the voiceless. Negm was rebellious, outspoken and humorous. His poems on revolution and love are still popular in the Arab world.

Spirit of resistance

What is the common denominator between these examples? In one word: resistance. Where the sense of defeat is overwhelming, the spirit of resistance is appealing. One generation after another, Arab peoples have come to be deeply frustrated by various realities that seem unchangeable: autocrats that preside over republics and monarchies of fear, Israel′s military superiority in the region and its subjugation of Palestinians, the growing scientific and technological gap between the Arab world and the advanced world.

As a result, helplessness has defined the way they view themselves. They continue to be torn between a culture that idolises manliness and a reality that is soaked in defeat and humiliation.

For any action, as the laws of physics explain, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is not the case in social sciences, especially in the Arab world where people descended into an ocean of despair, lamenting the wretched present and a history of missed opportunities. 

In such a milieu, resistance is a psychological remedy, a cathartic experience. Whether seen as a means to an end or an end in itself, resistance makes defeated people feel human and alive and capable. In his Cairo trilogy, Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz wrote that sexual instincts were implanted in humans by God only to make them feel the joy of resistance.

Bassem Youssef (photo: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Gombert)
Egypt′s Jon Stewart: Bassem Youssef′s highly popular political satire show ″AlBernameg″ ran for three years in Egypt, until it was abruptly taken off air at the end of 2013. A few weeks later the Deutsche Welle incorporated the show into its Egypt programme. Nevertheless, Bassem Youssef was forced to throw in the towel that same summer – over fears for his own safety

For the development of the people

If Egypt – the nation, not the state, regime or government – wants to rise from the ashes of defeat, its best bid would be to raise the flag of resistance and not any kind of resistance. In order to avoid the setbacks that befell many endeavours in the past, resistance should not be an act in the void—incognisant of its limits, detached from reality, immersed in folly and destined to fail.

A better, fruitful kind of resistance is the one that seeks to develop people, enable them to be more educated, conscious and equipped with a sense of direction and a vision for the future. Standing in the middle, between silence and violence and coupled with persistence and perseverance, this resistance should be committed to both peacefulness and rejection of the present state of affairs.

Above all, Egypt′s weakness lies in its docility and lazy ignorance. Egypt′s ability to rise above its wounds is hinged upon its capacity to shake the dust off its soul. Egypt the volition, the action, the resistance, not the status quo, is the panacea.

Nael Shama

© Open Democracy 2016

Nael Shama, PhD, is a political scholar based in Cairo, Egypt. He is the author of ″Egyptian Foreign Policy from Mubarak to Morsi″ and ″Egypt before Tahrir: Reflections on Politics, Culture and Society″.

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