The use of the internet in 2011 was overstated by the West, which talked about a social revolution. It was a false characterization because of the reduced internet access for a majority of Egyptians and because it seemed like an attempt to “Westernize” that protest.
That’s right. The Western narrative, in which the Arab Spring was a product of the internet, has served to limit the phenomenon, to treat it with extreme superficiality, simplifying it. It’s an easy story to sell and it concealed Western responsibility: To focus attention on social networks has enabled Western governments, which have for decades supported these dictatorial regimes, to clean their consciences, to drive away the moral responsibility of our oppression. People use the internet for organizational purposes because of the lack of other places of political expression, but it was only a virtual space that opened the way for the real one: the square.
The Arab revolutions in this sense are nothing but part of a larger phenomenon, overall, against different regimes from the Americas to Europe to the Middle East. The Egyptian movement is still alive, in the making, part of the protests of young people in different countries against decades of injustice masked by the Western concept of democracy. We know that concept translates into support to el-Sisi, who receives weapons in abundance and modern espionage systems.
Today, three years after el-Sisi’s coup, will the growing protest movement — from students to journalists to the southern protests for water — lead to another change?
Today’s protests are a continuation of those of 2011. But to understand them we must make a distinction between the two different forms of resistance arising from the two regimes, that of Mubarak and that of el-Sisi: the art of presence and art absence. Mubarak’s dictatorship left open a minimum of political organization, exploited by people to express themselves: the protest was present, visible. With el-Sisi’s regime that has changed. It is hermetically closed, suffocating the base. Because of that the prevailing method today is what I call the art of absence as a form of resistance: invisible, underground and therefore underestimated by a regime that will be surprised by its explosion. Increasing groups of citizens are working underground on different issues, from education to health. An example: When hundreds of young people were arrested for protests against the sale of the Tiran and Sanafir islands, people donated money to secretly pay the fines and make them drop the charges.
Over time, these small movements — water, forced disappearances and torture, university life occupied by the armed forces, abuses against the press and civil society, the economic crisis and inflation — will form the social base for the fall of the regime. That time is not yet come: The anger is spreading to ever more sectors of society, but the system is still too strong because of the regional and Western support. But when the cracks that are appearing widen, the people will do to el-Sisi what they did to Mubarak.