Where is Tahrir Square in all this?

The Square, as it is today, is mired in apathy, as if nothing had ever happened there. Thatʹs the way it seems. The Tahrir Square activists are either in detention, exile or silence; the only sound that reverberates is the sound of oppression. The relapse which followed the Arab Spring has led to repression, pure and simple.

The image of Sisi as heir to Abdel Nasser quickly faded after the deal involving Tiran and Sanafir (by which Egypt ceded control of these two islands to Saudi Arabia) and then it waned completely after Egypt entered into military co-operation with Israel in Sinai.

Yet Egypt is not alone in this. The wave of counter-revolution has only one clear discourse, namely security. Its only outlook is to crystallise the practice of repression for repressionʹs sake, that is, with the sole objective of retaining power, without regard to any attempt to craft political legitimacy out of a socio-political project. This is what Syria is witnessing at the moment and the facts of Libyaʹs disintegration point to this; itʹs the same elsewhere...

Cairoʹs Tahrir Square as it looked at the height of the January 25 rebellion in 2011 (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Stoking the embers: what we need now is a radical re-birth in Arab thinking. We need to renew our demands, so that we can turn the uprisings of the Arab Spring into an intellectual, political and moral project that gives meaning to the goals of freedom, democracy and social justice

This type of authoritarian incapacity can be seen clearly in Algeria, where the symbol has merged with reality in a fantastical way. Bouteflika was not only incapable of political rhetoric, he was incapable of any kind of speech. Moreover, the power of the generals and the mafia around him now seems mute and helpless in the face of the Algerian peopleʹs Tahrir Square-style uprising.

Ask what happened to the spirit of Tahrir Square and we find the reply in the Maghreb. Today Tahrir Square is in Algeria, Sudan, and in many other places besides. Perhaps the secret of the Arab Spring lies not in its victories or its defeats, but in its ability to liberate people from fear.

Although the Syrian slaughter has provided a model with which the Arab regimes might terrorise their people – there was even a vague attempt to replicate it when Bouteflika began talking about "preventing the Syrianisation of Algeria" – the wall of fear has been broken.

The defeat of the Arab Spring has seemed likely to extinguish this glimmer of hope, to return the Arab world to the tyrannical duopoly of military and oil and to crush the will of the people in the struggle between Sunni and Shia, between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The combination has thrown the region into Israelʹs lap. But the defeat cannot and will not stop the renaissance. If the Arab world has reached rock bottom, it canʹt go any lower and it canʹt last forever.

The trial of al-Aswany, the charging of Amr Waked and Khalid Abu al-Naga with high treason, the arrest of the young activists from Tahrir Square and the turning of the Syrian people into refugees reflect a determination to eradicate the spirit of freedom which Tahrir Square engendered, but they are only part of the picture in the Arab world. Itʹs a spirit no-one can quench.

What we need now is a radical re-birth in Arab thinking. We need to renew our demands, so that we can turn the uprisings of the Arab Spring into an intellectual, political and moral project that gives meaning to the goals of freedom, democracy and social justice.

Elias Khoury

© Qantara.de 2019

Translated from the Arabic by Chris Somes-Charlton

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