Today, 4 May, marks a date hated by many of my generation; Hosni Mubarak’s birthday.
For 30 years, the “people” celebrated his birthday. The people in this case were mainly state media, publishing articles regaling our magnanimous dictator, as state TV aired songs praising his birth, mainly with a song well-mocked among the younger generation, Akhtarnak or We Chose You. It has always been baffling how one chooses a dictator.
Business men, mainly high-rollers whose deals the government facilitated, would spring for ads congratulating “the hero of peace and war” on his imminent birthday. To this day, Mubarak’s participation in the 1973 war against Israel, that successfully returned Sinai to Egyptian jurisdiction, is still quite unclear.
Celebrations were always in order despite people dying on trains, sea ferries and in torture dungeons of the Ministry of Interior.
The occasional profile on intimate moments with his family was posted by papers as more Egyptians buried their children out of poverty: in rubber boats of illegal immigration, suicide induced by financial strain and at times the simple ignorance of not immunising newborns because their mothers did not know better, among other ways to die. Death takes various cruel forms in Egypt.
On 11 February 2011, I was about to leave Tahrir square in the evening when I heard people screaming, more of a roar. I could only think of one thing: we are being shot at, again. It was only when I saw people kneeling and kissing the ground that I realized what happened. Mubarak has conceded defeat.
It’s hard to describe the jubilation of the moment. Enough to say it is a mix of hope, happiness and mostly empowerment.
A dictator has finally fallen.
Of course, the naïveté of thinking that it was a clear road to a new democratic Egypt, soon shattered.
As SCAF took over following the ousting, their rule-now commonly known as the transitional period- was a mess of clashes between military personnel and civilians as well as political bundling. The once very popular army was being loudly criticized by many. The tension reached its climax by November 2011 with clashes downtown on Mohamed Mahmoud Street which left several deal and hundreds severely injured, forcing SCAF to finally set a date for Egypt’s much anticipated presidential elections.
The Muslim Brotherhood was expected to win the presidential elections. On the streets for 30 years of Mubarak’s tyrannical rule, there was no one but them and the Salafis providing the people with an alternative. The secular forces in Egypt barely existed, and still do not on many levels.
But Mohamed Morsi’s win was secured through non-Ikhwani members after the Brotherhood presented an all inclusive plan for the country, otherwise known as the Renaissance. Well-meaning Egyptians supplied the eight million plus votes needed to grant them the presidential seat. A campaign titled “Squeeze some lemons and choose Morsi” began, an Egyptian metaphor of doing something one does not like for the greater good. The greater good in that case was preventing the-un-proclaimed- SCAF candidate Ahmed Shafiq from winning the election.
Egyptians chose Morsi believing that he offered a chance at a better Egypt. Others chose him for his much publicized Islamic background, regarding him as a God-fearing man. Almost all were shocked during his eleven month rule at the lack of vision. The expulsion of almost all non-islamist groups from the government and the constitution came as a shock. Followed by violations by the Ministry of Interior as well as Brotherhood members by the Presidential Palace in December 2012, against peaceful protesters, all this sent a clear message that the oppressive regime is still the same, but with an Islamic twist.
The deteriorating economy and the flailing governmental attempts at saving it are currently the crux of the matter. Poverty rates are increasing, price hikes occur on weekly basis and the Egyptian pound is, well, taking a severe pounding from the American dollar.
The situation is dire to say the least as bankruptcy looms on the horizon.
Mubarak supporters who remained mostly quiet for the last two years are becoming more vocal, vying for the “better times of the real president”. They not only ignore the poverty and death incurred by the Mubarak regime, they fail to see that he is the main reason why Islamists rose to power. He successfully wiped Egypt out of true opposition.
A person whose oppressive regime relied on a police that systematically used torture for political gain is who they are celebrating.
The current conditions in Egypt are horrendous, affecting every socioeconomic class. That does not mean for one second that Mubarak was a better choice. But what it means is that opposition figures have to step up and offer a valid alternative to Egyptians, to give them hope for they are quite desperate.
My generation has made an eternal change in the future of Egypt. We have successfully shown the people that change can happen and it has a high price. Younger generations are even more driven and more aware of what they want their country to be. School children as young as 12 criticise Morsi, the government and even the opposition. Teens organizing demonstrations against school administrations they believe are oppressive as the first sexual harassment complaint was filed in conservative Upper Egypt a month and a half ago. Becoming vocal is the most important gain of the revolution. The social change, that is yet to be correctly documented, is not to be ignored.
People who lament Morsi’s win should consider this; how could have Egyptians know the downside of the abuse of religion if the Brotherhood did not win? The last 11 months were the best awareness campaign for the downfall of the rule of self-proclaimed God-fearing men. Many Egyptians are now immune to the hypocrisy of pseudo-sheiks and come the next parliamentary election; this is expected to show in the polling stations.
We are paying a high price, in blood and in money, but that does not mean turning full circle and celebrating a tyrant.
In history books, those last two years, as well as the coming four years will go down as a formative time in Egyptian history.
So on 4 May, we should mark the change, evaluate the current condition, adjust the course as needed.
And most of all remember those who gave up their lives to oust a tyrant and put him in jail.