What an anniversary! I am not sure how many are familiar with the term “revolutionary depression”, but it’s a condition that was so common this last week in Egypt. If you did not run into one of those who were complaining about their revolutionary depression, then it is your own fault for keeping such a tight circle of associations. The “revolutionary depressed” in Egypt are a massive segment. Youth in particular comprise the most members in the revolutionary depressed group. But since it is very easy to be confused, please understand that this revolutionary depression is not another ordinary frustration. It is not a passing phase due to a specific set of conditions; it’s a unique syndrome with very notable symptoms.
This kind of depression begins with an overall state of rejection, a sudden loss of interest and a general feeling of political fatigue. It is not a matter of political orientation, class association or even personal interest. In fact, it is rather a matter of common plight, collective loss and one-sided episodes of mourning. There is a point at which you realise that what you had is slipping slowly out of your hands, and another point where you realise that you actually had nothing at all. Those who took to Tahrir Square on Tuesday, 25 January 2011 could hardly be found in the same square last week during the third anniversary festivities. Last week was the point where those who occupied Tahrir Square in 2011 realised they had nothing at all.
I am not sure how many of the ones reading this article watched television coverage of the 25 January anniversary last Saturday, let alone the number of those who actually spent the day in outdoor celebrations. But I was one of those who watched television coverage, and the very first face I saw when I turned my TV set on was a former State Security General giving his comments about how dangerous or secure the day will be in Tahrir Square. Personally, I hate those who tend to over-analyse tiny pieces of information or symbolic instances. But the retired general was not a single instance; he was only an episode in a long series of state representatives who suddenly became the most appropriate guests to be on air during the revolution’s third anniversary.
The festivities of this year’s anniversary, although taking place all across Egypt, had one common message: the people’s utter support for Marshal Sisi, the Egyptian army and the police. The irony of this specific message being sent on 25 January is not the only thing to be noticed; what’s even more important than the irony is the narrow room left for any other message. Regardless of where you stand politically, if the message you were trying to convey during this anniversary was different than the mainstream one, the chances were, you were going to be confronted by an extremely hostile street, one that does not only object to your message, but also detests your blasphemous logic and questions your suspicious associations. Among the most important symptoms of revolutionary depression is watching the ideas you fought for taken over gradually by radicals and extremists, regardless what they stand for.
It is important to understand that this form of depression is not your traditional brand of opposition. The issue is not one where you refuse to acknowledge the presence of a specific authority, or when you mass resources behind a certain leadership in support of what it stands for. The depression travelling fast among the revolution’s youth in Egypt these days is one that reaffirms the loss of original objectives, while at the same time failing to identify alternatives. The segment of revolution’s youth that I am talking about is not one that relates to political parties, social movements or identified entities. Although January 2011 was about Tahrir’s “collective” spirit and its collaborative mode of life, there was an essential dimension of individuality that was besieged after the vulgar resurrection of the deep state in the post-30 June era. When individuality is replaced with stereotyping, when conformity replaces originality and when mass manipulation is hidden behind a cunning veil of single-tracked patriotism, revolutionary depression then is a condition that should not surprise anyone.
This year’s anniversary was a powerful reassuring message indicating the new balance of power dominant in Egypt. At the top of this balance is the state – the Egyptian state in its institutional sense. The matrix of institutions representing the state is indeed the most powerful member in the new balance of power. Institutional realities like the armed forces, the police, national security, intelligence, the judiciary, state media and the bureaucracy are the crux of Egypt’s new power balance. In addition to those institutions, there are a number of resourceful political actors, whether these resources are in the form of money, popularity, mass support, leadership or even effective techniques of dialogue and coexistence. Within the same matrix of power you will find a number of regional and international allies who do not only directly support the new power centres, but also empower their strategies and lobby for their policies. Finally, this new power structure ends with a significant number of supporters who are not only prepared to occupy the streets, they are also ready to ensure the absence of all other forms of political orientation. Those who complain of revolutionary depression are usually the ones who could not situate themselves within this power structure, and at the same time, failed to situate themselves in the Muslim Brotherhood’s so-called resistance block.
There is no need for us to hide our heads in the sand. Last week’s celebrations and all future celebrations of 25 January (as long as the current structure of power remains) will no longer represent what 25 January 2011 stands for. Asking why and how we reached that point is a completely different issue. However, while revolutionary depression is a common case and a frequent condition among those who suddenly realised that what they stood for three years ago is not exactly what has been celebrated last week, despite this unfortunate reality, revolutionary depression is not the only way out. It is not a way out in the first place.
Revolutions take long years before they’re able to change state structures, and even longer years before they change economic performance. However, January 2011 has planted change in some individuals, and they are these very persons who are living proof that 25 January 2011 left a mark more influential in the long term than all forms of power structures.
Ziad A Akl is a Senior Researcher on social movements and contentious politics at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.