It took a few hours after noon on Friday, January 25, 2011, for the Egyptian state institutions to collapse in the face of a popular upraising unseen in the Arab world’s biggest nation in decades, after the regime’s repressive apparatus, namely the interior ministry’s central securities, was repelled and largely destroyed by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.
What happened in that afternoon surprised many, but I can’t say it surprised me. I lived for about a year and half in Egypt, from September 2007 to January 2009, between two realms: One was the Western type social environment of upper class rich Egyptians at the American University in Cairo, whose tuition fees were higher than those of many Universities in America. (I was on a fully-funded scholarship). The other realm was the social environment of variegated ordinary Egyptian middle and working classes that I interacted with in my work at IslamOnline.net and in the street. I was exposed to the two realms sharply divided along the lines of mainly economic status and religiosity.
At some point I came to know that what brought the opposing social and economic classes together in a unified state was repression. The government and the police were perceived by ordinary Egyptians as a fearful monster. One evening, I went to the Boursa area in downtown Cairo, close to Tahrir square, where I used to drink ‘Kousheri’ tea and smoke a pipe while reading a book. I found out that a police unit just passed by and confiscated all the chairs and tables from the cafes in the area. I walked into a café where I used to sit and I asked its owner, Said, about a chair, and he replied: the police took everything. There were a number of young Egyptians standing by when I replied for a laugh: F*** the police! The reaction I received was astonishing to me. Everyone stepped back with unquestionable marks of fear mixed with suspicion on their faces.
Having come from Morocco where police and security forces are often challenged and sometimes even beaten, I could not understand how destitute young men who have nothing to lose can fear the authorities . I could understand the fear of those who benefit from the system, but i could never understand why the wretched of the earth have to fear the authorities.
I was then beginning to take notice of the profound injustice that existed in Egypt. I noticed that the state administration was built upon a system of enslavement—Whoever was in a government position enslaves those underneath and those who were most enslaved were the ordinary poor Egyptians.
State institutions seemed to me completely corrupt and completely disorderly. During my first year, I did not have a residency. Every time I would lodge in an application, I had to wait for three months before I received a response saying: your address is incorrect, resubmit your application and pay a “fine.” Yet, I was a full time student, I worked I had a bank account, and according to the law I should have been banned from engaging in any such activity without a residency; but I never was, because there was what I called “anarchy–” nothing made sense..everything seemed arbitrary.
I remember when I told an Egyptian colleague at AUC that Egypt is a nation without a state. The definition of a modern state did not seem to exist, but this fact was concealed by forced silence or by the complacence of the rich upper class elites who shared interests with the corrupt regime and with the governing National Democratic Party. Two days ago after Egypt fell in total chaos, I logged into Facebook and I met online with the same old Egyptian colleague. He wrote to me: You were right; We are a nation without a state. What we thought was a state fell apart in a number of hours in the face of popular demonstrations.