Tahrir: Bamboozling the bride

International Herald Tribune Cairo Daily News

July 7 2011

Philip Whitfield

‘Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure: Married in haste, we may repent at leisure.’ That was William Congreve in his comedy of manners The Old Batchelour, 1693.  It’s probably sacrilege to bring it up, but let’s explore the issue as it relates to what is now called the Arab Awakening.

It takes nothing from the earth-shattering 18 days that solidified Egypt’s national mood to bring about the downfall of a scoundrel and his apparatchiks.  Rather it may explain the division in society that has followed.

Best to begin at the beginning. The Ancients were possessed with discussion about friendship, which they said was the essential of a good society. Aristotle divided friendships into three: utility, pleasure or goodness.

Later Plato, Socrates and Epicurus were to ask what the relationship was between friendship and power, jealousy and exploitation.

These issues lurk in the shadows of Egypt’s post-revolutionary malaise. The coming together in Tahrir Square and elsewhere of people from diverse backgrounds was a July 4th moment as Americans experience it. Even KFC was there.

Just as everyone’s Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day or lovers on Valentine’s, the world celebrated being ‘Egyptian’ during those momentous days in Tahrir Square – the expression of a universal desire to give the ruling classes its comeuppance.

Summed up, the world felt as journalist, lawyer and nationalist activist Mustafa Kamil (1874-1908) felt: If I weren’t an Egyptian, I would have wished to be an Egyptian. His words struck such a chord that the current Egyptian national anthem (Bilady) is believed to have been inspired by his speech.

What’s gone wrong? Why are we seeing tawdry images of street vendors clashing with protesters – tents and tires on fire on a roundabout where people of all faiths joined as one to revere creation?

The philosophers offered the explanation that like being attracted to like was an important though not essential ingredient of friendship and probably was doomed in rivalry. They looked at the notion of opposites attracting. But they considered it impossible for the just and unjust to be friends.

The debate raged. They concluded that good was attracted to good because each was enjoying each other’s goodness.

Aristotle stuck with the issue and came up with the definition of friends as people who shared goodwill towards each other. People working in jobs together exemplified utility friendships. Pleasure friendships were people playing football.

The problem with these two kinds of friendships is their reliance on an outside source: work or football, which if it goes away generally leaves the friendship bereft.

Aristotle said the third friendship is based on love of someone for whom they are, which Aristotle called character or virtuous friendships that will last.

Furthermore, the Roman philosopher Cicero said these friendships endured because the fruit of their friendship was a parity of concerns, concluding that the best friendships were between good people who reflected each other’s goodness.

The danger in tomorrow’s mass gathering in Tahrir Square is that these gatherings are tending towards threatening. Your neighbor in the square might turn on you. Gangs hang in the side streets.

On their minds is the extraordinary scene in court on Tuesday when three former ministers were acquitted of corruption. Relatives and friends cheered: Long live justice.

One of the defendants’ lawyers said: The verdicts fall under the legitimacy of the justice system and not the legitimacy of the revolution.

I think he’s missing the point. The revolution is all about overhauling the partisan, blatantly flawed system of justice and replacing it with justice that has the people’s respect.

Letting fat cats off scot-free isn’t justice. It’s the legacy of corruption that has pervaded the Middle East since the year dot.

A foretaste of tomorrow came from Adel Soliman, head of the International Centre for Future and Strategic Studies. Soliman said: The message for Friday is that revolutionary sentiment in Egypt has not yet calmed, that the revolution’s demands have not been met and that it insists on seeing them met.

Egypt’s new era began in a heady euphoria, justifiable, understandable and worthy of pride regaining dignity, self-respect and independence.

The incessant demands for individual gratification are degrading. Quarrelling over who comes out ahead is baleful. People are becoming increasingly cantankerous.

Where is the friendship that was so uplifting when Tahrir Square celebrated the revolution? How can the spirit of the Arab Awakening be rekindled?

As each week passes, no leader emerges calling for an all-Egyptian solution. Once- unified political parties have splintered – a plethora packed with poseurs. Religious differences have emerged as critical factors.

If one faction feels abused, rather that discuss their grievances, they descend on the other with stones and more deadly weaponry.

Isn’t there anyone out there with the courage to offer the hand of friendship to bridge these divides with healing balm?

Are we witnessing a shotgun marriage, conveniently satisfying an urge, but grounded on self-interest that forsakes mutual respect?

The Tahrir bride deserves blessing not hornswoggling – deceitful bamboozling.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin.

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