Chinese food on Revolution Day

There is one tradition that Muslims and Jews in the West agree on: They both like to eat Chinese food on Christmas Eve. It’s a way of marking a day that both acknowledge to be special and joyful, but without the big family dinner and all the attendant hoopla. It’s a gesture that contains just ...

Photo by AHMED MAHMOUD/AFP/Getty Images
Photo by AHMED MAHMOUD/AFP/Getty Images
Photo by AHMED MAHMOUD/AFP/Getty Images

There is one tradition that Muslims and Jews in the West agree on: They both like to eat Chinese food on Christmas Eve. It's a way of marking a day that both acknowledge to be special and joyful, but without the big family dinner and all the attendant hoopla. It's a gesture that contains just the right hint of detachment: "I'm happy, but it's not really my day to celebrate."

As I drove home in Cairo on February 11th, the second anniversary of Mubarak's abdication, I thought about that day when we embraced strangers, danced in the streets, raised flags higher than we ever did before, and quipped that "eight million protesters have now swapped phone numbers, and if anyone else tries to pull a dictatorial regime on us, the revolution would be just a text message away."

And then it occurred to me that I had just eaten Chinese food.

There is one tradition that Muslims and Jews in the West agree on: They both like to eat Chinese food on Christmas Eve. It’s a way of marking a day that both acknowledge to be special and joyful, but without the big family dinner and all the attendant hoopla. It’s a gesture that contains just the right hint of detachment: "I’m happy, but it’s not really my day to celebrate."

As I drove home in Cairo on February 11th, the second anniversary of Mubarak’s abdication, I thought about that day when we embraced strangers, danced in the streets, raised flags higher than we ever did before, and quipped that "eight million protesters have now swapped phone numbers, and if anyone else tries to pull a dictatorial regime on us, the revolution would be just a text message away."

And then it occurred to me that I had just eaten Chinese food.

Now, I wasn’t the one who had decided what we were having for dinner, but it couldn’t have been more appropriate. February 11 is supposed to be, at the very least, a day where every Egyptian, and particularly those who took to the streets two years prior, can sit back and raise a toast to themselves. We wanted it, we took it, and by god we deserve it.

But instead of pride, I felt an odd sense of distance.

Despite a heroic uphill battle that seemed — erroneously — to find its victorious pinnacle in February 2011, many of us feel that we have emerged from one circle of hell to fall into another, all the way into the ninth. Treachery. That leaves nothing but a bad taste.

Don’t misinterpret this as a lack of admiration for those events two years ago. Nor should anyone take this as evidence that we all thought our transition to democracy was going to be effortlessly easy.

Consider this: It’s two years after D-Day, and unknown bodies are still surfacing Warning: Graphic Image at the morgue with bullet wounds after clashes with the police. Activists are disappearing, snatched from protests and from their homes. And this embarrassing rag of a president, when not humiliating himself globally, is favoring the business interests of his political friends (whom he takes by the dozens on his foreign trips at my expense while building walls atop the walls of the presidential palace). All this tells me that we should not accept "being in a transitional phase." We are not even on the road towards one.

Though I chose not to join the protests and marches on this anniversary, I followed them closely and the news and images I received did nothing but add to the bitterness. A handful of people have sealed off the Mogamma, Egypt’s palace of government bureaucracy, from February 10th till today. A few young people, we saw on TV, attempted to cut through the gate’s hinges with the help of a welder — yes, a welder.

These are no revolutionaries. Hardly protesters. They use this denomination as a cover for petty crime; sadly enough, opposition leaders fail to dissociate themselves from such actions. 

I am not an opponent of escalation per se; 2011 wasn’t won by the sheer force of tweets after all. But all of this reflects a lack of both strategic planning and simple reasoning, which is even more costly in the face of a vicious and immoral adversary who’s cowering behind the newly reinforced wall of his presidential palace.

This is not how February 11 was supposed to be spent. It wasn’t supposed to be like that. And I, and many others with me, have no intention to forgive those who ruined it.

When the time comes — and it will be soon — we will bootstrap ourselves and get back to the street, whether campaigning or protesting, whichever becomes necessary.

Today, on a day that was supposed to be a celebration, I discovered hat my heart just wasn’t in it.

The Chinese food, however, was excellent, thank you for asking.

Mohamed El Dahshan is the Egypt blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here. 

M ohamed El Dahshan is the founder of OXCON, a consulting firm focusing on fragile and post-conflict countries; he is also a non-resident Fellow with the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in DC, and cofounder of Afrilanthropy, a philanthropic advisory firm. Twitter: @eldahshan

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