I write now from Sarajevo. I sat yesterday in the Srebrenica memorial museum. While men were jumping off Cairo’s October 6 Bridge to escape the gunfire closing in on them from all sides, Gen. Ratko Mladic was staring at the camera, speaking to history:
“Here we are on July 11, 1995, in Serbian Srebrenica, just before a great Serb holy day. We give this town to the Serbian nation; in memory of the uprising against the Turks. The time has now come to take revenge on the Muslims.”
I wander the streets alone. Every building is still mapped with the scars of war. I drink alone at the opening gala of the film festival I am attending, thinking of a woman in the museum video.
If I had cried out, if I had screamed that they couldn’t take him. If I had grabbed him. If I had done something. I don’t know. Maybe I would be able to live with myself.
* * *
It’s June 27, 2013. We’re sitting in Estoril, at the corner table under the television. Of the six of us, three genuinely believe that the marches on June 30 will be very seriously attacked; that it is the perfect moment for the old National Democratic Party networks to throw the country into chaos and force the military to take control again. There is talk of kill lists. I spend hundreds of pounds on goggles I hope will keep the birdshot out of our eyes. I don’t want to march that day. I want Morsi gone, but the voices we are hearing are all remnants of the old regime, what we call feloul, and online instructions are circulating insisting no one chant against the military or the police. But all my friends are going, so what choice do I have? To watch them die on television?
We read it wrong. The blood that the Army, the regime wanted was not ours. Not this time. Is it because we are now irrelevant? Or because the backlash would have been too strong?
And on July 3, just as they did on Feb. 11, 2011, the military staged a coup. In February they removed Mubarak to sap public pressure and demobilize people. And it worked. What happened this time? Did the street pressure force the Army to act, or did the Army create the street pressure through Tamarod to get what they wanted?
* * *
Can the side without guns ever win?
An Iranian friend once assured me that reform, rather than revolution, is what we want. That revolutions are only won by those most violent.
The first thing I read when I woke up today was Adam Shatz. He wrote, “Egypt’s revolutionaries mistook their belief in the revolution for the existence of a revolution.”
But what do we have if not our beliefs? They are the foundation of our actions, of our identities. And it was transformative: the belief we all shared, for a moment, in each other. In an eternity of disappointment and greed and malice, that moment, that moment in which being human was finally worth something, in which having a community was preferable to being alone with a book, had a value that will never be lost. You cannot underestimate how important these two and half years have been for people, how empowered, how unafraid people were. The existence of the revolution should not be confused with the existence of a political leadership and process. The revolution is dead when we say it’s dead. The revolution is dead when we will no longer die for it.
My apartment in Cairo is in Bab al-Louq, and every time I go to the supermarket I see the doorway I hid in on Nov. 22, 2011, during the first battle of Mohamed Mahmoud Street. I smell the cloud of tear gas filling the street, see the locked glass door, and the flashes of police gunfire coming closer and closer in the reflection. I hear the crack of a shotgun reloading, louder and louder. And I hear, with perfect clarity, my thoughts:
Turn. Take it in the back. Maybe you’ll survive. Stand up straight. Stand up. They will remember you. It’s your turn now. People have given more. People have given their eyes. Alaa is in jail. They faced it bravely. Bravely. Stand up straight. They will remember you.
I cannot stand up to death today. Today I am a coward who can only write. I see the revolution being dragged away to be shot over a shallow grave and I don’t know what to do. But I do know that, before it’s too late, we will grab it, we will fight for it. We have to, or we will never be able to live with ourselves.