[Viewpoint] Rewriting the history of Egypt

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[Viewpoint] Rewriting the history of Egypt

Cairo is slowly returning to its normal state. Banks and stores, which had closed operations for more than a week as turmoil reached unprecedented levels in the history of Egypt, recently opened their doors. Companies and factories are quickly normalizing their operations. The nightmare traffic situation in Cairo, a symbol of the city, is back.

In fact, traffic conditions have worsened in recent days. Traffic jams are common, and it sometimes takes many minutes just to move a block. The reason: Protestors are still gathering in Tahrir Square, located in the center of the city. Barricades placed by soldiers also remain, adding to the mess.

These temporary conditions, however, are not enough to explain the current problem when it comes to traffic. Cairo’s traffic conditions and transportation system have not changed in the past 20 years. It is only natural, therefore, that the city is suffering from traffic jams.

The Egyptians have endured hardships for a long time. Thousands of years ago, they had to endure murderous labor conditions to build the pyramids for their pharaohs. In Egypt, everything belonged to the ruler. It was only in the 1950s that the modern concept of ownership was introduced.

A civil society, of course, does not exist. The people have long endured oppression and censorship at the hands of the ruling class, fearing punishment.

The protests at Tahrir Square are not simply to resist the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. They represent a rebellion against the idea that endurance is their destiny.

Saad Hagras, managing editor of the liberal newspaper Al Alam Al Youm, stressed, “The current crisis is the first people’s revolution in the history of Egypt.” He said the Egyptian people have never resisted the ruling class. He also said the country’s history will be divided between the period before Jan. 25 and after. On Jan. 25, the people first gathered at Tahrir Square after reading postings on Twitter and Facebook and text messages on phones, and Hagras said it was the turning point of the country’s history. Whether Mubarak steps down or not is no longer the question, he said.

The current situation is also a challenge to the country’s tradition. When I make a request to hotel staffers in Cairo, they always kindly say, “No problem.” But they never come back with answers. When I ask them later, they say they did not understand or give other excuses.

The first thing that I requested after arriving at the hotel this time was an Internet connection. They said “just wait a moment,” and days passed. It would have been better if they said it would be impossible from the beginning. In Egypt, nothing gets done and also everything gets done. They often say it is possible, when it’s not.

And they are aware of the tradition. That’s probably why the country earned the nickname “Arab’s IBM.” The IBM stands for the popular phrases of the Arabs - inshallah (God willing), bukra (tomorrow) and malish (It doesn’t matter; don’t worry about it.)

When they cannot finish the job today, they can always do it tomorrow, so that’s bukra. When they make a mistake, they repeat “malish” to dodge responsibility.

The protest at Tahrir Square is a challenge to the Arab’s IBM. That’s why the Tahrir Square protest has a profound meaning for Arabs: The Egyptian situation is now shaking the entire Arab world.

Tahrir Square has already become a sacred place. Despite the inconveniences of passing the soldiers’ barricades, tens of thousands of people visit the square every day. It is a new trend to take a family photo at the square. Every night, thousands build tents on the cold concrete ground and camp there. When daylight comes, they laugh and sing with more people to promote freedom and democracy.

Under the emergency decree of the Mubarak administration, the interior minister has the power to arrest those who are deemed threats to peace and the safety of society without warrants. It is the pillar that has supported the Mubarak regime until now. But the Egyptians on Tahrir Square have escaped from the fear and expressed themselves freely. It is a first in the history of the country.

At Tahrir Square, they are having the extraordinary experience of being one, going beyond differences in religion, class, gender, generation and political affiliations. They will continue the protests until Mubarak steps down. The people at Tahrir Square are rewriting the history of Egypt, overcoming the long tradition of endurance and the wall of fear.

*The writer is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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