What Egypt really needs is more freedom on the personal level. That has been Egypt’s main illness for decades if not centuries. More freedoms does not entail more activists Tweeting, or more Leftists blogging from the AUC student union on MacBooks. Freedom is a more fundamental concept that entails education, illumination, and exposure. I believe that this kind of change is inevitable, but I also believe that it is debatable whether the January revolution has expedited, hindered, or even aborted for the time being this kind of change.
Egypt is a conformist and uniform society. Yes, there might be some semblance of local variation, there might be a much discussed sectarian rift, and there might be social classes with clear differences. But Egypt is as mono-cultural as they come. Everyone is expected to behave the same way, read the same things, watch the same shows, like the same stuff, start similar families, and lead similar lifestyles. If you are a middle class woman, you are expected to dress a certain specific way; an upper class woman, another very specific way. This transcends all lines in Egypt. The upper class is no less conservative (even if it appears on the surface to be more westernised) than the middle class. Christians are probably more conservative than Muslims in most situations.
What this leads to is a situation where innovation is stifled. You have to follow a path prescribed to you by society since birth. If your scores in high school exit exams are good, there is no way in hell you can pursue your dream and talent of being a pianist. If you want to marry a girl you like who is outside your social niche, you can rest assured that the social backlash will be so consistent and ferocious that the relationship will fail. This translates into a deep social belief in lack of freedom at all levels, lack of social freedoms, lack of economic freedoms, lack of academic freedoms, and lack of artistic freedoms.
But this was definitely on its way to change. In 2010, it seemed that Egypt was definitely not the same. The upper middle class was growing so steadily that it managed to become the new powerhouse of Egypt instead of the classical upper class. The new rising middle class was fuelled by foreign investment and multinationals flowing in after Mubarak’s much maligned economic reforms. And things were compounded by an information access explosion of epic proportions as the Internet became more accessible. Suddenly the upper middle class was exposed to how people elsewhere lived, not through movies, but through actual interaction or even direct observation as the newfound wealth allowed them to travel abroad on vacations. And suddenly there was a growing trend of people deciding that what society has always dictated might not be necessarily right.
Suddenly people were talking about why it’s not OK for girls to ride motorcycles. People were for the first time seriously backlashing against the social push to cover up women. Nostalgia about the more socially liberal (but still conformist and uniform in its liberalism) sixties grew. And people started pursuing crazy business ideas beyond the confines of the old dictates of becoming an engineer or a doctor.
And it was trickling down. Not just the wealth, or not mainly the wealth, but the ideas. The desire for freedom was trickling down to the middle and lower middle classes. It was a slow process, but it was a sure process.
And then the revolution happened. It was lead by the upper middle class (and the Islamists if we are to get real) who had decided that the Mubarak regime was the main/only obstacle to achieving their dream of a more free society. But the reality is Mubarak was never a hurdle or a real accelerant of the process. His reforms may have helped in the liberalisation of part of society, but that wasn’t the direct intent. Nor was there a direct intent to do the opposite. Mubarak was a technocrat. A decrepit and old technocrat perhaps, but still a technocrat not an ideologue.
As the revolution continued the upper middle class discovered that the hordes who had joined them had not joined for the same reasons. Freedom was not part of their agenda. In fact, a large component, the MB had joined to achieve the exact opposite of more freedoms. The MB had joined to achieve even more uniformity in society, a uniformity based on the MB’s fascist idea of what the ideal citizen should look like. But the bulk of the body of the revolution was people who joined because they were promised they would get richer if Mubarak was removed.
The middle and working classes had yet received the same exposure the upper middle class had. They had not achieved any conviction that Egypt needs more “freedoms.” They needed more time, more education, more interaction, and more enlightenment to reach that point. That’s why when time came to make choices, they made choices that were not based on achieving more freedoms, but instead followed promises of wealth and/or stability.
And can you blame them? After all, the leadership of the revolution, the activists, turned into some of freedoms’ worst enemies. They issued black lists, called for political disenfranchisement of thousands of people, ostracised millions of people for electoral choices, and even made decisions about which art was acceptable and revolutionary and which art was vulgar and reactionary. In the aftermath of the nihilistic landscape created by the “activists” after the revolution, why would anyone not look for a solution that would at least guarantee a minimum level of stability needed for normal humans to function properly.
So in a way, perhaps January was a setback in the inevitable path of society liberalising. Perhaps we were on a path where increasing numbers of people were getting convinced that breaking social norms is not necessarily bad. And at one point, a true critical mass would be created where society would change itself by itself. After which, a change in the governing system or regime would only be a technicality. Instead, the revolution theorised that trouble was entirely with the regime or that the regime somehow was blocking social growth (which is demonstrably false, the regime was oblivious to it). The focus on deconstructing the regime thus created a situation where chaos and vulnerability have become very solid concerns not just conspiracy theories. The backlash is inevitable, but it will cost us years of social development.
Ion Manticore is a fake name of the blogger who wrote on Post-revolutionary Stress Disorder blog. He wrote about the reasons of different egypian people acts concerning the revolution.
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