Ahmed Abdel Muiti Hijazi is one of my favorite Egyptian progressives. Hijazi is not only one of the most prominent Egyptian modern poets, he is also a staunch secularist and sharp social commentator.
In an article (perhaps sarcastically) titled “This Miracle, how is it to be explained?” published in the Egyptian Al-Ahram daily newspaper, Hijazi warns of the perils of thinking of the Revolution as an impulsive popular action or an “inexplicable miracle”:
Note: (I will try provide a correct translation, as opposed to metaphrase, of the bits I quote from Hijazi’s article, in order not to risk loss of intended meaning)
We would be making a grave mistake if we relied on [what we see on] television and shallow journalistic commentary in evaluating the [results of] the Egyptian Revolution, and considered it merely an impetuous revolt, or an inexplicable miracle and reduced it to the [herosim of] youth who used modern communication technologies, the potential threat of which was unfathomable to and unchecked by the security of the ousted regime, to come together in Tahrir Square and call for change.
Such is a severely naïve and deficient rationalization [of the Egyptian Revolution], because it stops at the tool that the youth of January 25th used to rally around their cause, but it does not elucidate the strong motivations that provided those youth with vision, resolve and the requisite bravery to face a regime of which its brutality and viciousness they are certain, and inspired them to put the tools, technologies and networks at their disposal to use in this stand-off. The same tools, it could be argued, could be used by others to create a surrogate world that isolates them from their problem-ridden society and provides a self-exemption from their responsibilities towards that society.
What Hijazi is talking about, I believe, is the importance of not forgetting that digitally-empowered social activism stems from, is robustly entrenched in and preceded by a vibrant social discourse and a continuous grassroots-level ideological debate. The outbreak of a popular uprising is the culmination of the collective desire for tangible change; reinforced, accelerated and made more sustainable by the use of social media. Is this not what Malcolm Gladwell meant when he said that “high risk” social activism requires deep roots and strong ties” ? But (as I have previously discussed) he strangely dismissed the catalytic effect of social media on further cultivating such ties . It is important to keep in mind, as Hijazi explains, that those ties are already there (the common, innate human desire for freedom and general evolution of political systems into modern democracies, enmeshed with local social and political givens). What we are witnessing is the effect of new communication technologies on the pace and trajectories of activism rooted in those ties.
(In the rest of the article, Hijazi emphasizes the importance of preserving one of the most important gains of the revolution, which is putting freedom of speech and secularism (including relevant constitutional amendments) at the forefront of popular debate in a society long plagued with intellectual terrorism in the name of “religious taboos”.)