The greatness of art lies in its ability to read the future. What most people perceive as the daily reality of living; the artist has the ability to see what everyone else cannot, even though it passes in front of their eyes every day without them taking any mental note. A few years ago, “This is Chaos”, a film by the late director Youssef Chahine, predicted, with surprising accuracy, the events that Egypt has experienced this year. Chahine explored the reality of what he saw at the time, where the features of chaos began to take shape from corruption, the influence of power, and public unrest. This culminated in the final scene of the film, in which the people come out and storm a police station.
In reality, the spectacle of a mass of people coming out to revolt, as was the case on the 25th of January, embodies in one form or another the final scene in Chahine’s film. The happy ending is represented in the ability of the people to change the regime through peaceful demonstrations, despite the repression they were exposed to, and in a relatively short space of time. They then begin a new phase, reviving hope with their feet placed firmly on the right path to end the roots of chaos, and build a modern state based on democratic principles. At least, this was supposed to be the main objective of what happened.
No one expected this to be easy, or happen overnight, the change and rebuilding process is usually harder and more difficult than the moment of revolution itself. Never in history has wholesale change occurred within a few months, or without pitfalls. There are many examples across the world, most recently the experiences of the eastern European states, many of which are still in a state of transition.
However, there is a difference between the difficulties of change and its hardships, and the continued and expanding chaos in Egypt. Difficulties have solutions, but chaos only leads to deadlock and no possibility of making steps forward. Rather, we are facing the danger of a relapse into a worse situation, or engaging in a disaster made by our own hands, and paid for by future generations.
Another clear case of this chaotic situation is what happened last Friday, known as the “Friday of Correcting the Path” in Egypt. In reality, what happened became the latest “mistake” on Egypt’s erroneous path. The Israeli Embassy was stormed, alongside attempted attacks on the Saudi Embassy, Ministry of Interior, and Security Directorate in Gaza. Even part of the neighboring Orman Park was set alight, according to some reports. It is as if Egypt was beset by a blind, irrational anger that seeks to burn everything and everybody for no reason.
The result is we have a country that seems intent on self-harm. Its external image has been shaken; appearing as a failed state that cannot protect the diplomatic missions on its soil. Likewise, the image of the people and those who run the country has been tarnished, and no one in the world is sympathizing with what happened. After the scenes of violence which occurred, the January 25th revolution has lost part of the glowing reputation that it gained. Internally, ordinary people have become more inclined to resort to decisive action, and emergency law has returned.
There is talk now about a counter-revolution and external forces conspiring to bring Egypt to the brink of collapse. We do not know if this is true or not. However, what is certain is that the responsibility for this chaos and the current state of blind anger lies with the state of confusion within the country. The storming of the Israeli Embassy came against the backdrop of days of rousing media sentiments, and adulation from politicians and the government, with regards to what happened the first time a young man climbed the Embassy building and brought down the flag. He transformed into a popular hero. This was instead of saying from the beginning that it was wrong, and had a negative impact on the reputation of the country, with regards to its ability to protect the embassies established on its soil, which exist under international agreements. It is true that there is outrage at the deaths of Egyptian soldiers in Sinai, but there are ways to react other than blind rage and clumsy responses, which only lead to disaster.
Chaos also gives way to distraction. The goals of the January 25th Revolution are clear; justice, democracy and building a state of law. This is a very difficult process as we can see from the different visions of the secular, Islamic and left-wing political forces. For this to happen we need focus and great effort. Yet suddenly, we see Israel’s interference on the scene, preoccupying the Egyptian people with something else. It is as if by lowering the Israeli flag, Egypt will be able to build a modern state.
This sense of distraction can also be seen in the form of excessive focus upon the trials being conducted for symbols of the former regime. These trials, regardless of their importance to the people, should not be treated as if they were television series, and distract attention at the expense of the most important issue, namely building for the future and safely crossing the transitional phase. This is the responsibility of the various political forces that participated, adopted or acceded to the objectives of the January 25th revolution. The revolution must adopt a united program or view as much as possible, rather than conflicting opinions, in order to cross this phase. Egypt is not – as an Arab friend likened it – a country whose people come out onto the balconies to hurl insults at each other.