Egyptian writer Khaled Al Khamissi was one of those who thronged Tahrir Square in Cairo during the 2011 ‘Egyptian Revolution’. Six years on, he told HT on the sidelines of Kolkata Literature Festival how the revolution failed and why he does not see another revolution in the forseeable future.
It’s been six years since the Arab Spring. How has Egypt changed?
I object to calling it Arab Spring. Protests were not unique to the Arab countries in 2011. Similar protests took place in Greece, Spain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and several other nations. Protests in 2011 were a global phenomenon.
Tell us what happened to the Egyptian revolution of 2011?
It failed. No real change took place in the socio-economic and political spheres. Economy is under great stress, as poverty and unemployment are increasing. A lot of changes have, however, taken place in the cultural sphere. People continue to ask questions and demand real change in the regime.
Would you elaborate on the impacts on the cultural sphere?
There are so many new voices since 2005. A lot of bookstores made way for shoe stores over the past two decades, but a great number of new bookstores opened 2005 onwards. The underground music movement started flourishing as well. These activists played a crucial role in the 2011 protests and the protests, in turn, opened up a new world of ideas. There have been so many new music groups, theatre groups and poetry groups and new publishing houses. The language of art and literature has completely changed.
What is the present government’s attitude towards cultural activists?
The present regime is not directly targeting cultural activists. They are trying to ensure these activists get no money to organise events. Those who do not share the ideas of the regime do not get state funding. We are not allowed to accept funds from foreign institutions and need permission from the social welfare minister to receive funds from Egyptian companies.
When you have no funding, you have to depend on the public to funds events. But common people have too little money in hand to spend on culture.
What happened to the literature festival you organise?
The Mansoura Reading Festival where some of the Egypt’s prominent literary stars were to read from plays, novels and poems was scheduled in December 2016 but had to be postponed because my application for receiving funds from a company run by a friend is lying with the department for about six months.
Is Egypt waiting for another revolution?
I don’t think so. In 2011, protesters had no vision about how to make the government implement such demands as ‘dignity’ and ‘social justice’ or what are the parameters. Demonstrations became the goal, whereas it should have been a way of reaching the goal.
Since the protesters had no clear idea of how their demands be implemented in real life, the counter-revolutionary camp seized power. And I do not think the Egyptian people still have any clear idea about that. It’s going to take time before people conceptualise how they want things to be changed.