Let's disagree to agree: Disputes over revolt persist

Yasmine Fathi , Thursday 10 Feb 2011

The conflicts and disputes surrounding the 25 January uprising have moved well beyond Tahrir square and into the nation's living rooms, as well as online forums and social networking sites

Hanna Hussein received a message from her fiancé yesterday morning telling her he wants to end their month-long engagement.

No, they didn’t have a lover’s spat about her jealousy and possessiveness or his laziness and lack of commitment, or the other usual drama that may cause couples to split up. They broke up because they disagreed about the revolution.

“We’ve been fighting non-stop since the protests broke out,” says Hussein, a 25-year-old entrepeneur, “He hates the fact that I am upset over the revolution and keeps telling me that I should support it, but I don’t want to.”

Then after Wael Ghoneim - the Google regional marketing executive whose Facebook group "We are all Khalid Saeed" is credited with impelling the 25 January revolt - appeared on national TV and broke down after seeing photos of the martyrs, the couple had a major fight, because Hussein felt that Ghoneim was not really sincere.

“He told me that I am insensitive and hung up,” recalls Hussein, “Then in the morning he sent me an SMS saying that the revolution has changed him and he wants to embrace that change, but I have remained the same and therefore it’s best if we go our separate ways."

A few months ago, people would have been shocked at Hussein’s story. Eyebrows would be raised and families and friends would mutter to each other, “Why would a seemingly happy couple break up because they disagreed on politics, of all things?" But this is no longer the case. It seems that the conflict between the pro and anti-Mubarak camps has moved beyond Tahrir Square and snaked its way into living rooms, online forums and social networking sites.

Anger over the revolution has not only divided Egypt politically but also socially. Many people who have never talked politics before now hold strong and stubborn opinions and if their friends disagree, then, well, they are no longer friends. The last couple of weeks have seen children become estranged from parents, lifelong friends breaking off ties, neighbors avoiding each other and Facebook friends deleting and blocking one another.

Dalia Sobhy, a 28-year-old interior designer, was dragged into a Facebook fight when her sister, an uprising supporter, went head-to-head with a friend on the social networking site.

“They ended up viciously fighting and the girl started publishing nasty stuff about my sister on my wall and all our friends' walls, completely spamming them,” says Sobhy. “I removed the posts from my wall, but then she would copy and paste the messages onto my friends' walls."

The fight began when Sobhy made a remark about the revolution, which made her friend furious. After a while, the two forgot all about Egypt and went up close and personal. One taunted the other that she comes from a broken home, who in turn told everyone her accuser was “just jealous” and hates her because she is in love with her husband.

“The fights went on for a whole week,” says Sobhy. “Everyone who knows us saw it and it was incredibly embarrassing for our family.”

Sometimes, these disputes erupt within the family. Journalist Aliaa Ibrahim, 26, refuses to leave her room because the rest of the family taunts her because she supports the revolution.

“My dad forbade me from joining the protesters In Tahrir,” says Ibrahim. “But then he took my sister and brother to a pro-Mubarak protest in Mohandseen. Is this fair?”

Dina Adel, a 28-year-old housewife and mother of two, also had a fight with her husband about the revolution. And because he is overseas, the fight took place on Facebook, in front of all her friends. Adel didn’t like his opinion about the protests and wrote so on his wall. He responded by telling her that she doesn’t understand politics and she should stay out of it. She got angry and told him that he shouldn’t talk to her like that.

“Yes everybody saw our fight," laughs Adel. "I want change, but a wise change that doesn’t cause any losses to Egypt. But whenever I try to express myself people tell me to shut up, which is very frustrating," says Adel.

Adel also had another fight with one of her friends on Facebook, which then developed into a BBM war that lasted five days.

“There is something wrong with the Egyptian people,” says an exasperated Adel. “We never learned to debate but only to argue, insult and raise our voices. Oh, and if we disagree then you hate me and I hate you. It's funny that people are demanding democracy and yet they can't even apply it to themselves."

Then there are those who are completely neutral but have been dragged into arguments by friends who insist that they should be on their side. Laila Hassan, a 29-year-old housewife, says she woke up one day and found herself in eight different groups related to the revolution.

“And they were all contradicting each other, one was pro-Mubarak, the other was against him, one was encouraging people to hit the streets, the other said let’s support the revolution from our couch," says Hassan. “People probably thought I was a nut job who couldn’t make up her mind.”

Dr. Hany El-Sobky, a consultant psychiatrist and member of the World Federation for Mental Health, says that the recent events have caused a lot of fear and anger, which is making people lose their cool in the face of changes they don’t understand. In addition, Egyptians have not learned the beautiful art of disagreeing.

“We never learned the culture of disagreeing and we in fact fear disagreeing,” says El Sobky. “We were raised with a government that taught people throughout the generations that whoever agrees with it is a winner but whoever goes against it will end up "behind the sun", and because of this we developed a fear of disagreeing.”

This culture, says El Sobky, is apparent in households and the way parents bring up children.

“Parents refuse to discuss anything with their children and just tell them to follow orders or else,” explains El Sobky. “And although we resented this as children, we started practicing it when we became adults, because it was the only way we learned to have dialogue.”

This, says El Sobky, in addition to the increasing level of ignorance and deterioration of cultural standards in Egyptian society, have led people to struggle when faced with an opinion or approach that is different.

“This led to the single-mindedness we have now,” says El Sobky. “I don’t see the ‘other,’ and my opinion is the only one.”

But El Sobky says that we don’t necessarily need to wait for a whole new generation to grow up to see the values of democracy instilled in us. He points out that if the pillars of democracy, such as equality and justice, are set up, along with access to proper health services and good housing, Egypt could move towards democratic practice in a very short time.

“In as little as five years, we could see the first fruits of democracy,” says El Sobky. “But in a generation, it will become part of us.”

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