WRITERS IN THE REVOLUTION: Ezzat El-Kamhawy discovers the Egyptian revolution of laughter

Ezzat El-Kamhawy, Sunday 20 Feb 2011

Ezzat El-Kamhawy relives the "laughing revolution", where the sense of humour and imagination overcame the surly regime that lacked the necessary imagination

When I joined the youth in the demonstrations on 25th January, I thought it was going to be like one of the protests we started when we established the Kefaya (Enough) movement in 2004, which traditionally saw around 200 demonstrators, usually from the intellectual elite, surrounded by thousands of police.  These took and place in the 'Triangle of Freedom', namely the Syndicate of Lawyers, Syndicate of Journalists and Judges Club in downtown Cairo.

That is why I naively set a time with a friend to meet at a bar downtown after the demonstration! The meeting didn’t take place at the bar, but at Tahrir Square which became our home and hang-out.

The expectations of a low turnout weren't only mine, but even those who called for the demonstrations themselves were doubtful about the number of people who would attend!

As we all now know the number of participants far exceeded everyone’s wildest dreams, and this simple demonstration turned into a sit-in in Tahrir. The reaction of the regime came too late, having depended on the large police force, while the protesters depended on their imagination.

Then came the 'Friday of Anger' and even more surprising, the revolution escalated on that day, with a lot of imagination and lots of laughter.

It was a revolution of laughter, if indeed it has to bear a name, where the sense of humour and imagination overcame the surly regime who lacked the necessary imagination as well as delayed its decisions – something described so well in one of the banners;  Akalemuh Beharara, Yerud Bel Attara (I talk to him with a lot of emotion, and he barely answers as if through a dropper) referring to the famous song by the Egyptian singer Soad Hosni, written in colloquial Egyptian by the light-hearted poet, Salah Jaheen.

At one point, every concession offered by the regime might have been fully acceptable earlier. However, just before it was presented, the massive demonstrations by the middle-class youth, who know the meaning of political humiliation, as evident during the rigged elections and the torture at police stations, had turned into a revolution.

The young people were joined by workers and employees who have long been humiliated while striving for their daily bread, while others enjoyed the billions collected without effort out of land speculation or stealing state property at ‘symbolic’ prices.

The search for human dignity was the common factor among those seeking political change and bread-seekers, while the regime’s dictionary and circles of corruption knew nothing but their own bank account figures.

The regime didn’t pay attention to this strange invention “human dignity” when it shot at the demonstrators and when it sent scores of bullies for 14 continuous hours to kill or at least injure the demonstrators in Tahrir, in a notorious incident now called the 'Battle of the Camel', while the former president spoke twice describing his insistence on staying in power, without a word of condolence to the families of the victims of his own rule.

When he did it was already too late, and it was all over in one instant of stepping down, which has brought the biggest and widest public joy since the liberation of Sinai in 1973.

Following this celebration came the sorrow that we have overestimated the power of this regime and patiently waited all these years, while those of the regime themselves now realise their regret for overestimating the power of the revolution and maybe now sorry for giving up so easily!

But I think that the revolution, first born as a simple demonstration, has ended up largely powered by the stored feelings of anger, but also by the joking, through the banners expressing readiness to stay in Tahrir forever … even to the point of celebrating a wedding in the middle of the sit-in!

But Mubarak’s resignation is not the end of the road, for there is not personal conflict between him and any of the demonstrators. It is rather the regime that has forced this painful surgery for its removal.

The Egyptians have given the West a great example of peaceful demonstrations and rising above the feelings of revenge.  There was the continuous cry, Selmeya (Peaceful) with which the demonstrators reminded each other whenever one of the bullies or policeman was captured inside the sit-in.

The second lesson will come when the revolution settles down and we finally have our democratic state.

The West will need some of the imagination of the Egyptian revolution to understand that whoever has oil cannot exactly drink it, but will sell it in the end, and that dealing with stable democracies is a thousand times better than dealing with an unhappy population that may revolt at any instant.

Ezzat El-Kamhawy is a novelist and journalist, and is currently editor of Akhbar El-Adab newspaper (Literature News)


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