This is not the famous phantasm of the Communist Manifesto, which the youthful Marx and Engels rather optimistically believed had been haunting Europe in the mid-19th century. It’s more like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the buried majesty of Denmark; hovering in the background, incorporeal and therefore unable to play a direct part in the drama, yet by virtue of its shadowy presence is its driving force.
For some, the Egyptian revolution is a talisman from which an extremely thin thread of legitimacy may be derived, and which through laudatory references in a constitutional preamble or the odd speech is wielded, however unconvinced and unconvincingly, to help ward off a reenactment of real revolution.
For the revolutionaries, in prison and out, it has taken the shape of a dreamland, an illusive space and time which increasingly seems to have been out of place and out of time, a yearned for realm of freedom and brotherhood, of goodness and reason that, like a super nova of sorts, had shone exceedingly brightly, only to flicker and die – giving way to utter bleak darkness.
For a great many Egyptians, a failed revolution, a revolution that has proven almost intrinsically unable to fulfill its mission, is a lesson in the futility, indeed foolhardiness, of rebellion. For these Egyptians, millions of whom took to the streets across the country, revolution has become synonymous with pain and chaos, loss of lives and livelihoods, and the revolutionaries around whom they gathered at best naïve fools and at worst trouble-makers with hidden agendas. Indeed, the thwarted hopes and aspirations of a freer and more just Egypt are transformed into a most profound resentment against those who acted to instill them into peoples’ hearts only to fail to deliver on a single one of them.
Overwhelmingly, however, the aspect of the Egyptian revolution in today’s Egypt is that of a ghost, an evil recalcitrant spirit that must be exorcised and snuffed out, over and over again. Alive, it had put the fear of God into the mean greedy souls of the nation’s – and the region’s – rich and powerful. Dead, it haunts their dreams as much as their wakeful hours. Tragedy, as it tends to do, is turned into farce, Hamlet into The Exorcist.
It is only by reference to the obdurate and fearsome presence of this ghost of the revolution that the disparate features of today’s Egyptian reality may be explained: the heartless viciousness, the nearly total collapse of reason, the vulgarity and the hysteria, the feverish attempts to erase and rewrite, or rather to wholly fabricate lived recent history.
The Egyptian people, long believed by their masters to be the most pliant and compliant in the world, had dared to rise up in revolt, had for three long years and with tremendous heroism sought to seize their own destiny, to redraw their and their nation’s future, thus forcing these would-be masters over and over again to bow before the storm – the supreme humiliation.
Ultimately, great revolutions cannot lay the blame for their failure on their enemies. Ultimately, they have only themselves, their mistakes and shortcomings to blame. But ultimately as well, and however long it may take, lessons are learned. Death leads to rebirth. This is a law of nature as of human history.