Op-ed: Owners of the revolution
BY REHAM BARAKAT
There are millions of Egyptians living below the poverty line. In extreme cases, we know that unlike what we were brought up to believe, that “nobody in Egypt sleeps hungry,” some people are eating out of piles of garbage whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. I say this because unfortunately there are some people who ignore these facts or even worse, believe that it’s not a cause for concern about because “they’re used to it.” Yes, I have heard those exact words uttered by privileged members of this society who seem to have lost any sense of compassion for humanity and the dire circumstances endured by others.
These are the same individuals who scorn the revolution and are bitter about the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Dr. Morsi and are still whining about it. There is nothing wrong with wishing things had turned out differently, but there’s something very wrong with forgetting that essentially the revolution in spirit was not only to improve the lives of the privileged few in Egypt but for those who, out of pain, were willing to die for a change in circumstances, in the hope that they could lead decent lives, in fact, the majority. It’s shameful that many people seem to have forgotten about that.
We don’t have to look very far to see that there’s something severely wrong with the structure of our society and that a large segment is suffering from a lack of basic necessities such as food, clean water, homes, health care, all inalienable human rights. In Ramadan, TV ads were filled with pleas for charitable donations for so many different causes to the extent that people were wondering what the role of the government has been in solving the problems of the marginalized masses. And no, we cannot use the argument that “they’re used to it.” Because “they” are not a species that are different from any of us; they are as human and as Egyptian as we all are.
I have found myself engaging in conversations with different people and having to defend the revolution and to remind them that Egypt is not the slim number that are exchanging posts on Facebook and Twitter. It’s much bigger than that and “they” should not be scorned, looked down upon condescendingly or with apathy. In fact I find it very dangerous that the privileged few separate themselves from what Egypt is really about and identify them almost as an “other” whose circumstances should be ignored. It would be just as dangerous if our newly elected government does not prioritise Egyptians living below the poverty line in their upcoming projects because essentially they are rightful owners of the revolution.
It is true that Egypt is a nation filled with charitable endeavors and that those who work in development and human rights are still striving wholeheartedly to advance the lives and conditions of many Egyptians, but surely more can and should be done. It won’t help if we turn a blind eye to the fact that many people do lead very difficult lives. If we do, then how different are we today from the days of the former regime?
So to all those who are disappointed in the revolution, if the levels of poverty and marginalisation do continue as they are, if the new government fails to staunchly and gradually improve the socioeconomic standards of individuals in society, if human rights abuses continue, if there is limited social mobility, if we have a fascist regime, if the country regresses and does not prosper in time; then we can say that the revolution has failed. But not before then. The operative word here is time, because change in a country as vast as Egypt will not happen overnight.
It is also true that it’s difficult at the moment to anticipate whether things in Egypt will turn out for the better, but with continued pressure from civil society in a constructive manner we might at least be heard by those in power and possibly witness some transformation. But concurrently, we too as members of civil society have a role to play in engaging in this struggle for change. We cannot change things if we continue turning a blind eye to those in need because of an assumption as vacuous as “they’re used to it.” What makes you so sure? Have you tried being in their shoes? Can you live a day of their lives?
I doubt very much that the answer is yes.
Reham Barakat is a Cairo-based commentator and creative writer.