My message to the Egyptian people
Having lived in Cairo for the past six months, I can honestly say I have come to love it. I love the hundreds of people I know here, and have enjoyed the company of the thousands of wonderful Egyptians I have talked with. I came in April, in the wake of the violence that killed over 800 people, in the hopes that the message of freedom espoused by the protesters that brought down Mubarak would continue, and the people would reap the benefits of having liberated themselves. Unfortunately, the message has grown cold, and Egyptians are still slaves.
The protest movement has lost its unity. When people are unified by a few narrow ideals and goals, they can accomplish amazing things. Unfortunately, they often have the wrong ideas. Revolutions do not always have worthwhile outcomes. They often mean the transfer of power from one group of uncaring elites to another. The French, Cuban and Iranian revolutions, for instance, were popular revolutions for freedom against corrupt dictatorships, but a small group of cunning ideologues surfed the wave of discontent and positioned themselves as the alternative. Being little more than “not the last guy”, they were cheered into power. The people ended up living under regimes that were different but not significant improvements. The reason was, the people themselves had the wrong ideas.
The Egyptian Revolution (if that word is in fact appropriate) is different from the French, Cuban and Iranian revolutions, notwithstanding the possible election of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the coming elections. In Egypt, the head of the regime was removed but it grew a new head immediately as the military took over. The military stood neutral during the three weeks of violence in January and February; a smart strategic move, as it turned out, because it was able to side with whichever group won the battle. One message of the time was “the people and the army are one hand”. That slogan has become a sad joke, as witnessed by the thousands of military trials for peaceful protesters and the lack of any progress on the revolution’s demands. People are still being locked up for nothing, churches are still being burned with impunity, and the hopes I heard in the voices of those I met when I had just arrived have largely faded. The countless demonstrations against the transitional military government have been in vain. Egypt is still a police state.
In the past twenty years, democracy has become the ideal that all nations are supposed to desire and gravitate toward. The main reason they have done so is that the US has consistently spread its message, and as the winner of the Cold War and the uncontested superpower, was free to do so all around the world for the past two decades. But democracy was supposed to be about advancing freedom, which is why the two words are often spoken in the same breath. It has not advanced freedom. It has brought a veneer of legitimacy to the same rule by elites under whose rule most of the world’s people are still subject. Freedom only comes to those who demand it and take it and defend it. Those who do not appreciate or defend their freedom lose it, slowly but surely. Take the modern United States, a country which many Egyptians seem to hold as ideal. Since the American Revolution, Americans have become complacent, too fat and happy to care what their government does. As a result, government power runs unchecked and the people are no longer free. Hundreds of thousands of people live in prison, many for nothing more than smoking something the state has deemed illegal because it threatens the profits of big corporations. Americans go to jail and get beaten every day for protesting, filming policemen beating people, or feeding the homeless. Is this freedom? No, but it is democracy.
The elites will try to divide you. They will try to divide you by religion, class and political views, and then tell you you need a strong government to protect you from foreign devils. But your fight should not be among yourselves, or with foreigners. The only group with the power and motive to take away your freedom is the state. Do not fall for the lies. Do not succumb to the simplistic divisions they will try to impose on you. Educating yourselves is a vaccine against hatred. Action is antithetical to tyranny.
But freedom is still possible. There are ways to attain it for everyone, but they are not easy, and they take time. Voting will not bring it about, as a vote in an election means supporting a system based on violence. Why give your consent to be ruled by people who only want to take your money and your freedom, people who see you as producers for their own benefit, people who will not care about you, however much support you give them? You do not need rulers. Everything the government does, you can find solutions for yourselves. Work together to solve your own problems. Defy the state and its violence. Expose the bankruptcy of the state’s claims to protect and represent you, like you did in January. Educate yourselves on the philosophy of liberty and the practice of civil disobedience. And most importantly, continue to spread and live the message of freedom.
Egyptians, if you want to be free, take down the whole government, not just its head. Otherwise, in a generation’s time there will be a second metro station called Al Shohadaa (martyrs), and it will be named after your children.