The common, seemingly benign question “where were you during the revolution” leaves most partisans of the January 25 Revolution with a strong sense of unease. While it is obvious that the question, whenever it comes up, is almost always posed in reference to the 2011 eighteen days of national protests that led to the end of Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year rule, this innocent query fails to do justice to the belief that the revolution and the eighteen-day uprising are not one and the same. The phrasing of the question, moreover, proceeds on an assumption that the revolution ended with Mubarak’s departure, and that what followed was “politics as usual.” This assumption happens to coincide with a narrative that successive wielders of power have tried to sell to the Egyptian people over the past two years, namely one that purports that the revolution succeeded (and therefore “ended”) with Mubarak’s departure, and that dissenters need to vacate public squares and factories, and begin deferring to their “elders” among the politicians, the legislators, and the constitution writers. “Where were you during the revolution,” in other words, is a question that evokes our own fears about the counter-revolution and its efforts to build a popular consciousness that reduces the January 25 Revolution to an event of the past—one that warrants commemoration and celebration—and not a living phenomenon and an ongoing struggle that has ways to go. These concerns are heightened at a time when it has become acceptable in international media to call revolutionaries “anti-Morsi protesters” or “the secular opposition,” embracing the distortive view that the struggle for revolutionary change in Egypt has taken a backseat to ideological spats and partisan politics.
This is to say that partisans of the revolution in Egypt confront more than just a battle against the wielders of power as they continue to resist calls for transformative change, demands for social and economic rights, and efforts to create a meaningful social depth for the January 25 Revolution. They also face a serious battle against the hegemonic narrative that the days of revolution in Egypt are over, and that the country has re-entered into a state of normalcy in which contentious political action is no longer deemed socially or legally acceptable. Aware of the fact that the revolution’s biggest enemy today is the past tense, advocates of change in Egypt are refusing to celebrate the January 25 Revolution, and are taking to the streets and the squares to renew their commitment to “bread, freedom, and social justice”—the same words that brought the Egypt of Hosni Mubarak and Ahmad Ezz to its knees and that are seriously challenging the Egypt of Mohamed Morsi and Khairat El-Shater.
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