After having taken the air last week in the American press, I continue my enterprise of self-oxygenation with the Egyptians. I recently met a group of former activists from the Tahrir revolution which brought about the fall of the Mubarak regime in 2011 and the establishment, a year later, of an even more repressive military regime. The way in which they considered, from afar, the demonstrations in France and the quarrel of legitimacy which derived from it seemed to me worthy of being reported.
Disillusioned veterans of a lost battle, they showed real knowledge of the events unfolding in France. They had followed everything, without any conviction, a bit like watching the episodes of a mediocre series on Netflix while waiting to sleep: the demonstrations against the pension reform, the vote in the Senate, the use of 49.3, the motions of censure , up to the interview with the president.
Coldness and curiosity
I was impressed by their curiosity but even more by the coldness with which they contemplated the subjects which, in our country, give rise to the most heated polemics. The pile of rubbish makes them smile, the much-commented violence of the police barely provokes a shrug of the shoulders, the scandal of the so-called “preventive” arrests does not really shock them, the words deemed “incendiary” by the president did not surprise them.
I thought I would find myself exposed to the usual refrain about the land of human rights and freedom where I was lucky enough to live. But no. It was no longer a question this time of reminding myself that, in a country like Egypt, there would have been dozens of deaths, that the mere existence of an article like 49.3 engaging the responsibility of the government, unless a majority was not formed to counter it, was a prodigy of democracy and that our criailleries against the tyranny of power were only the whims of spoiled children. That was no longer what they were telling me.
Less shocked than us
It seemed to me listening to their comments that it was the whole political process that had ceased to interest them. Worse, they had ceased to believe in the possibility of political action, and this disillusion was not due to the particular regime under which they themselves lived and from which they had suffered but to the nature of power, whatever the regime, democratic or no, and regardless of the country. Thus the distinction between “the crowd” and “the people”, underlined by Emmanuel Macron shocked them much less than in France.
The classic political theory to which the president referred, according to which the authority of government derives from the sovereignty of the people but is exercised mainly through their elected representatives; the very idea of a social contract, therefore, which would establish not only the laws, the democratic procedures but also the civic behavior of each, all of this now seemed absurd and obsolete in their eyes.
Don’t read the newspapers anymore
My friends in Cairo no longer vote or read the newspapers, which does not mean, as I thought, that they are no longer interested in politics. Each of them expresses himself on Twitter and is informed on social networks where he comments with passion and in real time on the events. For them, power is never legitimate, and its opponents would no longer be so if they organized themselves to contest it legitimately, that is to say through the institutions whose imposture seems to them proven.
The Times had at the time summarized the danger of this aporia on a cover devoted to Tahrir Square. We could see the compact crowd of Egyptian demonstrators spread over the entire surface of the magazine, a line separating the image in two. On one side of the line we read, “the best demonstrators in the world” and on the other “the worst democrats in the world”. This cover was a warning.
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