Since January 2011, everywhere I went people would eagerly ask for a first-hand account of the situation in Egypt. The tone accompanying their questions varied greatly over the course of what is now approaching three years.
You could sense the excitement at times, worry at others, sympathy, sorrow, hope, fear, almost the same emotions we Egyptians, have been experiencing during an extremely emotionally-draining time.
Every time I was asked a question, I made sure I reflected a sense of hope, even in the darkest moments – and we had lots of these - simply because this reflected my deepest conviction that this revolution will eventually making its way to success.
I had my moments of frustration, of distress, of grief and resentment, but never despair. People sometimes appreciated my optimism but other times thought I was too romantic. But who said revolting was not an act of romanticism?
I have come a long way in realising that the aspired change is not going to happen overnight and that so long as we keep pushing towards change, it is okay if we stumble over a rock once, twice or ten times along the way to the final destination. In fact, these rocks are not just obstacles on the way, they are building blocks, and as such they are simply inevitable.
When Mubarak was ousted in February 2011, like millions of Egyptians I was over the moon. I was not sure what it meant that the army took over. My initial reaction was a naïve question: is this good or bad? We wanted to be happy and to enjoy our achievement of getting rid of a dictator after 30 years, so we chose to believe it was good - but not for long.
It only took me a couple of weeks to realise that we were under a worse form of dictatorship: a blunt one. To sum up, killing, detention, torture, virginity tests, brutal dispersal of sit-ins, military trials of civilians, dire attempts to be in control for the longest period possible. After a long, stubborn struggle on the revolutionary Egyptians’ part, the military was forced to end what was initially supposed to be a 6-month transitional rule and what ended up being a year and a half long.
What we had next was what seemed, on the face of it, to be a "democratic" process of presidential elections. This experience has raised all types of existential questions for me. I dared to question the worth of democracy. Not that I advocated dictatorship, but I realised that democracy could be very elusive and that there is probably a need for another form of government that guarantees justice and self-determination because whatever happened in the name of that “democratic process” was not justice and did not reflect Egyptians' free will.
The Muslim Brotherhood and what they represent, sure enough, had their share of my thoughts too. Since the beginning of the revolution, there has always been the ongoing fear – a fear instilled by Mubarak for years – that if he and his gang relinquish power, we will be left with no other option but the Brotherhood to rule us. They were the only other organised force on the ground.
After the Brotherhood’s numerous shameful positions adopted towards the revolution, and the role they played against the development of a civil country, there have been rising voices against them asserting that Mubarak was right to put them in jail and disallow them to fully participate in political life.
In spite of my increasing resentment against the Brotherhood, and although I never believed in their doctrine, my position towards them has never changed. They would never have my vote, but I am ready to fight for their right to exist.
To me, they have always been Egyptian citizens who happen to believe in a different ideology but who also have the right to all citizenship rights.
To me, the Brotherhood did not just go to jail because they were dangerous; they essentially became dangerous because they went to jail. You can have the most extreme school of thought in the world; suppress its followers, and you gain more of them. It is that simple.
If you want to fight extremism, educate people. Mubarak did not want to fight the extreme school of thought of the Brotherhood. The truth is, he wanted to nourish it. He wanted it to remain a threat to Egyptians who dare to genuinely oppose him; hence, suppression of the Brotherhood for decades and hence, the appallingly poor level of education in Egypt.
Over the course of 18 months, I was forced to contemplate my position towards the Brotherhood over and over again now that they became in power. In early 2012, the Brotherhood had swept the parliamentary elections. We had seen them in action for a few months before the parliament was dissolved by court later in June 2012 – a shameful performance. We have seen them again in action with their president in power for a whole year from 30 June 2012 to 3 July 2013 - another shameful performance.
The same dictatorship again: killing, detention, torture, brutal dispersal of sit-ins, military trials of civilians, dire political attempts to be in control for the longest period possible but in the name of religion this time. However, I think that having the Brotherhood in power has been one of the best things that happened to Egypt since the revolution. A chance was given and realisations made.
I have to admit that at a certain point, I did have an unresolved conflict between my convictions as a Muslim and the way the Brotherhood presented themselves.
My belief that my religion should prescribe all actions in my life had coincided nicely with their motto "Islam is the solution," but not with their actions. I was not sure where the discrepancy was coming from. In the past, talks of separating politics from religion meant weak religious faith.
Thanks to the revolution, I was given the opportunity to question my givens; hence, I have come to the conclusion that following the teachings of religion, even in politics, is one thing and making claims about representing religion is another. Right now, any politician calling for and working towards freedom, dignity and social justice would instantly have my vote. After all, aren’t these ideals the core of religion? Yet, any politician who speaks in the name of religion will surely abuse it at some point because religion is not meant to be represented by individuals who, by nature, are prone to commit mistakes.
Many Egyptians, including myself, have finally understood the essence of religious fascism and one thing is for sure crystal clear now. The Brotherhood are not getting our votes again.
Yet, looking at our situation now, we seem to be repeating the same mistake again. Once again, the military is in power and, quite surprisingly, many Egyptians have already forgiven and forgotten crimes of the very recent past. It is amazing how you can mobilise the crowds by inciting feelings of fear and making them think you are their one and only saviour. The situation is depicted as if we are caught between a rock and a hard place; as if Egypt is doomed to choose between the Brotherhood and the old corrupt regime forever.
It is the same old trick - “security” versus freedom. But the good news is, you cannot deceive all the people all the time. Experience has showed that every time people wake up after a while and find out that there is a third alternative. Every single time the revolution gets back on track before it stumbles over the next stone. But that is okay; it is part of the journey. The problem is that every time it takes bloodshed for people to wake up; a price we have to pay for being silent for decades.
Have I given up hope? Never. My belief is still strong the revolution will eventually make its way to achieving its core demands. I am still hopeful and still romantic. What I can confidently confirm, though, is that the revolution did succeed in forcing many of us to re-define many of our taken-for-granted realities.
This is a revolution!
The author is an educational research PhD candidate at Lancaster University and a rhetoric and composition instructor at the American University in Cairo.