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Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Book Review: True but painful revolution diary

Saad El-Kersh decided to quit his job as a journalist and live in Tahrir Square until Mubarak was pushed out, thereafter describing his experiences in great detail and honesty

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Sunday 27 May 2012
Saad El-Kersh
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Al thawra al aan … yawmeyat min midan el tahrir (Revolution now … Dailies from Tahrir Square) by Saad El-Kersh, Cairo: General Organisation for Cultural Palace, 2012. 442pp.

As soon as one reaches the last page of Saad El-Kersh’s daily record of the revolution, one feels the revolution is indestructible, despite all indications to the contrary, pointing to the many forces fighting revolutionaries: the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Muslim Brotherhood, the ex-regime and many others who are watching closely and not hiding their hatred.

Far from everything we are watching today, El-Kersh recalls with great honesty and detail the mural painted by Egyptians throughout the 18 days of the Tahrir Square sit-in: the madness, torture, confrontation and pleasure, the constant stream of imagination and creativity.

The reasons this book is a rare record are: first, that the author himself is a novelist and experienced storyteller, and it’s difficult to track all the details of the events if not by way of a writer with an eye and courageous spirit together; secondly, El-Kersh is also a journalist in a daily newspaper who has the experience of the journalistic style, rendering language and format crystal clear, but also hurtful in many cases; third, the firsthand experience of El-Kersh reflects in the degree of honesty present in the details; finally, depending on what he registered in the moment on Facebook, the author goes minute by minute until the ouster of Mubarak, allowing the text to remain fresh and retain all its tension.

Interesting to note, the book had started before the revolution, with the title, The President’s words … before goodbye, where the author collected papers, notes, scraps here and there, taking a full stock of the 30 years of Mubarak’s consistent sabotage. However, with the exception of the introduction and the first chapter, the revolution took over the book, leaving no room for "the president’s words," using its material just as equally as the reference to Facebook of which he tells, “I owe this book to Facebook. Since the beginning of the revolution until it succeeded I never wrote a word, and almost lost the details or their links to daily events, but going back to the notes and comments I recorded then helped me a lot to remember and recall things I thought I’d never remember.”

As an aside, the book presents rich substance that explains the role of journalists and writers in general, for reading the headlines of newspapers, especially "public newspapers," would not suffice to describe what a circus it had all turned out to be. The last meeting of Mubarak with a number of writers and intellectuals, for example, and the many descriptions that labeled the revolutionaries ‘traitors’ and ‘thugs’; soon many jumped ship in a matter of minutes, like trained circus acrobats, now praising the revolution and the revolutionaries.

The author lived the entire 18 days in the square, vowing not to return to journalism until Mubarak left; he joined demonstrations, marches, writing statements, collecting signatures, and played a role in linking with Arab writers living in the Arab world or Europe to pressure the media against the dying regime.

The Friday of Anger, the Battle of the Camel and Departure Friday represented the background to the mural described by El-Kersh. He describes the people, their dress, the banners they hold, their slogans, and the tense emotional condition of the revolutionaries. Tackling the media campaign against the revolutionaries, the author tries to contrast that with the overall mood in the square, at the same time pointing to the early beginnings of the Muslim Brotherhood joining the events after their absence in the first few days, recalling also that the Muslim Brotherhood were the first to respond to the call for negotiations made by Omar Sulieman, who was appointed vice president days into the momentous events, attempting to make gains from the regime’s leftovers.

Reflecting on the events, El-Kersh considers it a duty to write in full honesty and very simply what happened, deciding to leave his job and join millions in protest against the regime.

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