by Sarah Rifky
June 29 – July 9, 2013
Αn edited string of status updates from personal entries on Facebook
I had the most bourgeois dream about the end of capitalism: I came across a Christian Dior display, and realised the line had turned from haute couture to ‘basic’ merchandise (assortment of tampons and a Braun-produced female epilator, the old model, rebranded as Christian Dior). When I asked why—in the dream—I was told that’s the only thing women could still afford to buy: the essentials.
In other news
A good friend sent me an email asking very simply “How do you feel about it?” and the below blurted out. Rough round the edges, but here it is.
Appropriately from Istanbul, where I landed earlier today.
These are not my words. These are not my memories.
I talk to J. and I tell him that I have forgotten whether or not I was pregnant, only to realise suddenly that I am pregnant with a city, not a human baby.
There is a pedalo boat. I get into it. If feels slightly altered in shape. I get on and climb on the back of the deck. The vessel flies. We started flying over a city I had given birth to. We are flying over Cairo. At first slowly, then really fast in swishing roller-coaster movements, pausing briefly here and there. I hold on with firm grip to a rod behind me and try and try to use my other hand to film with my phone. I am scared I will fall off, but am adamant about filming, yet my left hand holding the camera phone and my fingers get in the way of the viewfinder. What is striking is that what I see is a super-clean HD version of the city. Cairo animated.
The strongest sensation that remains is flying over the clean city.
Three days later, this is the account of the city.
Piggy banks with millions of pounds, clairvoyant Wikipedia pages, hearts in the sky, a popular love affair with the armed forces, photos of protestors with flags and apaches—none of this is photoshopped. Green lasers everywhere, UFO and angel sightings, people kicking other people off buildings, and more. Ministerial shuffles and cabinet changes, on an hourly ticker, it is 1936. “We are mad in peace, we are mad in turmoil,” says a translator.
Driving all the way to Sinai to chase nonexistent militants, posting BREAKING NEWS “The arrest and detention of a political leader!!!” while the very same person arrested walks onto a public stage to deliver an address. News desk editors, between waking and dreaming, witness illusion as it underlines memory (or the other way round) and make note of how fear punctuates sentences. Flags, flags, flags, flags. They don’t tell us apart.
And just as we are about to rise from a sea of flags, a flag the size of a city descends on a sea of millions and millions of people. It blankets the nation and numbs everything, from above.
In other news
Flicking channels, Gamal Abdel Nasser gives a speech addressing the US: “We don’t want your money, we shall do as we please.” It is July 2013. Frantic editing on Egypt’s spectral horizon, associated typos and imagination…
The next morning it says: The army deploys shoppers… Another headline reads: Brothers fire birdshorts. In another room, the editor rhythmically updates the headline throughout the day: 30 dead, 35, 40, 43, 50…
What counts today, counts tomorrow.
Imagine 15 years from now, how many parents will look into their children’s history books, and exclaim: No! This is not what happened! Adult conversations of “can you imagine what they teach the kids these days?” Judging by the amount of variance in present political narrative I would like to imagine history accounts as You-Choose books, where you reach the end of the page and chose the continuation of the story you feel most (ethically) inclined towards.
Have you seen:
The act of killing?
An act of killing?
An uncountable act of killing?
An unaccountable act of killing?
The unaccountable acts of killing that are taking place right now?
Be careful what you vote for. Be careful what you wish for.
Surreal albeit refreshing, in my first encounter outside Jakarta airport just now I am asked where I arrived from and if I speak Bahasa. I don’t. I am from Egypt. Question mark. I try again: Misir? (Indonesian for Misr). Where is that? I enunciate: Africa? I gesticulate: Pyramids? The stranger, politely: I don’t know. I smile and shrug. This world can be endless with things we don’t know.
The meaning of the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence is not immediately obvious. The misunderstanding in natural law by which a distinction is drawn between violence used for just ends and violence used for unjust ends must be emphatically rejected. Walter Benjamin criticises violence.
If you chose right.
If you chose read.
Halt the hero-love: this is not salvation!
The first good news in days. Mohamed ElBaradei has been appointed head of government (prime minister or VP, conflicting reports). Nonetheless, please contain the euphoria. He said: this was a painful measure. And it is. Think about the amount of conciliation we need to undertake, never mind all the work that needs to be done. I’m signing off for the night, good night from the future. Indonesia is five hours ahead of Egypt (also metaphorically).
Necessary, painful measures. Violence-tinted happiness. Call me an idealist, call me an idiot, I don’t believe in the inevitability of what we are going through this very moment.
The hysteria, I hate the euphoria, the petty fighting over words in another language without an etymology, on the ephemeral timeline of a generic interface, I hate that we are not doing enough, that there is a lack of willingness to call things by what they are, to point to where things don’t work, to accept some failures, to lose shit, to gain things. The increase and extremity of sexual violence as reported with cases of rape last night, again; the unreported or under-reported goings on (witness accounts only and marginal coverage), the military abduction of Muslim Brotherhood figures and the blackened out media. The solace of the words “this is just a temporary thing that needs to happen to start a clean slate” is precisely the thing about patronising patriarchy I hate in Egypt and everywhere really—from households to hospitals to institutions to the state to God. And I hate to make a counter-expression so boldly but it’s true. It is really aggravating. And to that automatic thought some have just had: “No, I love Egypt as much as you, if not more. So give me a break, I’m not leaving.”
…. and this is precisely why the euphoric hysteria was disconcerting, the rites to divide, and divide, to violence.
Despite my anxiety somewhat bemused by baffled CNN anchor to Egyptian general: “But this is not how democracy is supposed to work?!” General explains: “The story is very simple … we didn’t want to wait three years.”
Sorry, I didn’t get it. What is it?
Cette un coupe glacée revolutionaire.
There is great jubilation in the hours during which reason is suspended and replaced by a confused hope that ceases to overcome the short term the Brotherhood has attempted to rule over Egypt. In the margins of that (Read: Lina Attallah’s “Back to the Margins,”-http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/12480/back-to-the-margins) there is discontent, fear, disbelief and doubt in the outcome of the hours to follow the—undoubtedly popular —military and police-backed disposal of the allegedly already disposed president.
In many critical notes I am really missing the popular position of what people’s take is on the army and the police vis-à-vis both the past and the future, since seemingly there is a happy popular implication with the once-upon-a-time enemy (Read: “A Year of the SCAF: A Timeline” by Wael Iskandar, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/3091/).
I already hear protests to the compressed sentiments from the margin, however the lack of wider consideration of the implications of now is worrying beyond comprehension. This blurting of feeling on my own timeline is a small punctuation to euphoria, to take a deep breath, and to keep the door ajar to doubt and hope towards democracy, freedom and social justice without moralistic and selective and strategic allegiances with the very forces and systems the downfall of which we seek, towards a better future, towards any future.
It is strangely calm in my mind, it is eerie. There is a heavy, sad and sober feeling of arriving at the point of my anger from last week. It comes full circle, where it is normal to be angry and upset at the atrocities, the loss, the death, the violence, the politics, where it had felt *not normal* to be angry and upset at *happy events*. There is no surprise, there is no shock. There is just synchronicity of feeling suddenly and a little solace in the resurgence of empathy and humanity among friends who condemn the latest events, regardless of quasi-ideological inclination (if we can call it that). It kills that it takes people being killed to imagine a future of freedom and justice. No freedom, no justice will ever come from compromised ethics and flawed politics.
There is no reference.
This is an edited string of flash-status updates from personal entries on a Facebook timeline during the period of June 29 and July 9, 2013. I am grateful for the humour, imagination, words, friendship, on and offline presence of many friends, in particular Lina Attallah and Alia Mossalam, freely quoted throughout and without whom this post would not be.