Recycling history

Daily News Egypt
4 Min Read

CAIRO: O?ver the past month, there’s been an ongoing debate over what constitutes the “pure Egyptian identity. It’s a strange question at a time when Egyptians are suffering from unprecedented worsening living conditions and have nothing else to think about except the bleak present and an uncertain future.

Some Copts consider themselves the true offspring of old Egyptians, while others, mostly Muslims, despise this rhetoric as fanatic and racist. Not surprisingly, both sides return to history to substantiate their arguments, through marshaling certain historical events in a way that supports their stand.

History, like an empty can, is recycled in Egyptian political life at various levels. The first and foremost recycling efforts have been made by the regime itself. The post-1952 regime has introduced the so-called liberal era (1923-1952) in education and state-owned media as a period of corruption, political decay, brutal capitalism and social exploitation.

Some historians have restlessly and vehemently created this wrong picture in public perception about such an important period in our modern history.

No word is uttered about freedom of expression, associational life and political vitality during the first half of the 20th century. By doing that, the government has opened the appetite of certain political and cultural groups to play the same game; recycling history to serve their own purposes.

Many opposition factions, including liberals, who have not attached themselves to the ruling National Democratic Party, reciprocally look into the 1952 revolution as a military coup, which hauled the whole country into a prolonged period of totalitarianism. No truer words are said about free education, the formation of the middle class, and economic development, especially in the 50s and 60s.

In my opinion, both groups decide to fudge the truth for political purposes.

The post-1952 regime, albeit in power for more than a half a century, suffers from shriveled legitimacy, ineptness, lack of vision and corruption. Unable to change the quality of life of Egyptians, the regime seemingly tries to maintain its grip on power through evoking and stoking Egyptians’ fears of the return of political and economic dominance of capitalists over their lives, of political Islam and of the multi-faceted foreign intervention in our domestic affairs.

The anti-1952 revolution groups, by contrast, are exposing the totalitarian character of the successive 1952 regimes to fuel public depression and dissatisfaction, believing that this is the only way to make regime change.

Both sides are totally wrong.

People aren’t questioning history, but have serious issues with today’s economic hardships. If the government works better and opposition groups introduce viable solutions to current problems, there would be no need to visit history in such a polarized way.

Experience tells us that people protest because their stomachs and pockets are empty, not as a result of their excursion into a politically colored reading of history. But, because the government has a self-serving agenda, and opposition forces only care about political rhetoric, both sides seek refuge in history, marshaling and recycling specific events, a process that makes people more bewildered.

We must ask this question: Why do Egyptians rummage into to divide rather than unite? Government and opposition groups are dealing with history selectively for slim political gains, while Muslims and Christians turn to history to look for anything supporting either the ethnic superiority of Christians or the religious supremacy of Muslims.

Sameh Fawzy is an Egyptian journalist, PhD researcher, and specialist on governance and citizenship.

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