Amr Shalakany: A Week in Egypt’s Twilight Zone

Posted on February 3rd, 2011 by Katherine Franke

Amr Shalakany, a law professor at the American University in Cairo, who has written thoughtfully about identity, sexuality and nation in his legal scholarship, is in the streets in Cairo – protesting by day in Tahrir Square, and defending by night his neighborhood in Zamalek.  His reflections on the revolution in Egypt appeared in The Guardian last week, and in The New York Times today:

A Week in Egypt’s Twilight Zone

CAIRO — It is crucial to remember that almost no one expected the revolution sweeping Egypt today, least of all the people of Egypt themselves.  This fact has left anyone sane teetering dangerously, jet-lagged, in a freefall between two time zones.

For over a week now, some of us have been living in a post-Mubarak time-zone.  As early as last Friday, demonstrators and many policy analysts began to believe the regime had already crumbled, and that it was only a matter of time measured by days till Mubarak fled Egypt.  But Mubarak is still here.

I know in my heart that we are experiencing a national revolution that has nothing to do with any political party.

By contrast, the regime and its beneficiaries remain in an alternative reality, one in which “reform” can be promised and deferred.  From our post-Mubarak time zone, this seems a delusion of Soviet proportions, best captured in the scripted scenes constantly aired on government controlled public TV, whose headquarters are now tensely protected by the army as a strategic building, as if we were living a rerun of some Latin America coup from the 1960s.

For those in the Mubarak twilight zone — for whom it seems plausible that this president could remain for months while reform is promised — the Egyptian people can never experience human dignity nor have the courage to revolt against a corrupt ruler.  Indeed, this is what most of us thought a week ago.  But the Egyptian people did wake up, even if the regime was slow to awaken. It took this octogenarian ruler four days after the demonstrations started to even deign to recognize the people on the street. Then, with a calculated maliciousness his regime proceeded to withdraw the police from all of Egypt, releasing prison inmates and suspected petty criminals upon an unarmed and largely urban population,  all in the hope of frightening the people to their knees so that they might beg Mubarak to stay in power and save us from looming chaos and violence.

This dark scheme has failed monumentally so far. Despite the attacks and bloodshed in the square, Egyptian cities remain largely safe today thanks to the popular grass roots committees formed in every neighborhood.  For a people who have not spoken politics for 30 years, this has provided an unintended benefit.  We have begun to talk with one another in the police-free streets we patrol.  The scheme has nonetheless left the majority of people in a state of collective panic, even as Mubarak addressed the nation Tuesday.

I write these lines from a post-Mubarak time zone. I know in my heart that we are experiencing a national revolution that has nothing to do with any political party. This sweet taste of freedom is as undeniably beautiful and true as the surprisingly dignified voice I’ve rediscovered in myself, and in watching ordinary fellow Egyptians turn heroes before my eyes.  In this time zone, the hollow promises offered in Mubarak’s midnight speech are immediately understood as yet another cowardly move to further split the country and drive it into a bloodbath.  And so the past two days have been mired by supposedly pro-Mubarak demonstrators taking to the streets, infiltrating Tahrir Square with the seeming cooperation of the army, and then staging a full blown attack on peaceful demonstrators using machetes, guns, even camels and horses in a brutal scene of medieval carnage.  The battle for the square wages on into the Cairo night, and like many I fear the death toll the coming days will bring.

We don’t believe the violence will stop today or tomorrow: our famously obstinate president seems to have decided to teach us a lesson.  There is fear and tension about more violence as we approach this Friday’s prayers, but nothing short of Mubarak’s immediate departure will stop demonstrators, myself included, from taking to the streets for a tenth day in a row.  We are serious here:  We want to topple a corrupt regime and truly start a new page of government accountability to the people.

Mubarak will leave.  I can explain why I think so in measured analysis, but I really don’t need to because in my time zone he’s already gone — tonight, tomorrow, in three days, whatever, but gone he is, and what matters now is insuring a smooth transition to a truly democratic and socially just Egypt, where the regime stands trial for the cruelty of its force and the corruption of its ruling elite.


  1. Amr Shalakany: A Week in Egypt’s Twilight Zone

  2. Hello just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.

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