In 2007-2009, Mahmoud Osman wrote two science-fiction novels that described a revolution in Tahrir Square in 2053. His vision became reality in 2011, but the Egyptian society preceding the 2053 revolt that he describes also bears a lot of ressemblances to the present one, as he explains in this text.
“…High solid linear walls protecting the perfect capital, defying nature’s sand dunes topography… Thousands of elevated security-watch towers determining the dominating city module… Ten octagonal Defense Ministry gigantic buildings defining the governmental complex skyline… An isolated colossal house of Parliament distant from any supposedly represented people… Empty monumental mosque and cathedral symbolizing the two religious authorities… An enormous dark mass diamond-shaped military hotel at the center of the entertainment areas… Hundreds of huge real estate development signs, addressing the elite, advertising exclusive luxurious residential compounds and promoting extravagant business, recreational, educational and healthcare complexes as well as embassies within diplomatic neighborhoods… A city as big as Singapore will only have one guarded access gate from each side… Only the chosen ones are allowed to pass these doors… The majority of citizens would be denied its entrance… Unlike its neighbors, the Egyptian state is now fully secured and safe from falling down.”
A capital, enclosed within a rectangular wall to protect it from its own people, seems like an extract from a Sci-Fi novel; however this is not the case. It is my mere description of today’s reality portraying Egypt’s new administrative capital announcing a new historical era!
In his 2018 speech, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi pointed out the danger threatening the country: “Couple of thousands of protesters could easily surround the ministries, house of Parliament and main city squares causing chaos and state collapse, and we cannot allow what happened during the “2011 Incidents” to be ever repeated again, hence the need for a new capital designed to secure all state pillars.”
In my first novel Revolution 2053, the Beginning (published in 2007), I tried to portray Egypt’s future socio-economic and political evolution during the year 2026. Driven by my architecture background, I attempted
to conceive the urban growth of Greater Cairo and detailed various futuristic architectural projects. I was inviting Egyptian readers to live a dark cruel future, to be motivated to change their present, in order to avoid it.
However, in my novel, my imaginary description of a city in the middle of the desert, within high-secured walls, was only part of an epileptic futuristic vision occurring to the main character. I thought that, in the year 2026, enclosing a whole city within a rampart, like a medieval fortress, would be a blunt unrealistic cliché extracted from a dystopian movie — spoiling the futuristic realm I was trying to maintain throughout the novel. So you can imagine my cold, shivering feelings the first time I drove round the very real, new capital walls last year.
The second part (published two years later in 2009), conceived and planned the necessary networking to form an accumulative collective consciousness that led to a revolution in “Tahrir Square,” but in 2053 instead of 2011. Despite the fact that it took, in the novel, two decades to form such fragmented, though unified, organization igniting the revolution; there was a debate in the final chapters about the danger of removing the old regime by non-politicized clustered groups without agreeing upon a clear political common project. The revolutionaries’ main driving goal was getting rid of the dictator with a justified sense of vengeance.
As if fate was mocking me, two years later, in real life, I found myself having the exact same debate with some of my readers, who were heavily involved in preparing the first protests that led to the 2011 Revolution. Unfortunately, similar to the novel, the revolutionary high spirit and the stupid reactions of the old regime escalated with an unbelievable pace, driving the confrontation to a point of no return. Despite being deprived from any time allowing rational strategic planning and a lack of proper organizational structure, I found myself caught with the most courageous noble anonymous persons in this country; risking our lives together and succeeding only to topple the regime head dictator. Amidst the euphoric celebrations and while the masses, by then finally fearless, decided to join the revolutionary conquerors in Tahrir Square, I returned home against the flow, questioning their understanding of the Revolution, and full of anxiety over the fate of the first national historical call for change.
Despite modifying the Revolution slogan by introducing “Bread”, prioritizing it over “Freedom” and replacing “Human Dignity” with “Social Justice”; the call for changing the old inefficient corrupt regime failed to lobby the more conservative masses. The Egyptians, with embedded rural settlers’ genes, feared the instability that led to the destruction of many countries all over the Middle East. The majority were not ready yet to assume responsibility, and take part in building a new political model for a “New State.”
Desperately seeking immediate stability, they were easily led into the trap and they elected the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the new rulers blinded by their elections’ success and backed up by the U.S. administration, focused only on seizing all three powers of the state. Their old rigid organization characterized by the law of “Listen and Obey” was fully controlled by few leaders taking decisions for all its members including the newly elected Egyptian President. Again without any political plan for a “True Change” and also not believing in peoples’ empowerment, they miserably failed even to replace the military dictatorship with a very similar religious one. The majority of Egyptians, initiated by unprecedented media freedom of speech and revolutionary spirit, condemned the new regime’s incapacity to make tangible improvements and blamed them for consecutive crises related to their basic needs. Many of those crises were even manipulated to be escalated by the old regime along with Gulf countries excluding Qatar (the Muslim Brotherhood’s main ally). Not only the Christians, but also the majority of Egyptians felt their national identity threatened by a fascist religious small group and decided to support the military, which was a more stable dictatorship, to overthrow the newly elected one. Meanwhile, the romantic revolutionaries, caught brutally in the middle, didn’t have an alternative political plan denying the need for minimum strategic thinking crucial to win the battle against unified organized opponents constantly learning from their previous mistakes to regain their power and control.
Eight years have gone by, and most of the Revolution icons are either killed, handicapped, kidnapped, imprisoned, exiled, or have fallen into despair back to their old isolated cocoons made of fear and solitude. While the police State is relentlessly taking vengeance upon all rebels, the Egyptians are facing fascism, injustice, and violations of human rights, substituting freedom with fear and liberal thinking with propaganda. In the last referendum, an oppressed illiterate woman I know, was even afraid to participate. She was certain that, although it was a secret voting, they would discover her disapproval and hunt her down.
The newly approved constitutional modifications allow the current president to stay in power, for double the time of his original fixed terms, and with more control over the judiciary. I hate to say that I did see this reign of terror coming, but then, I was accused of being an overthinking pessimist — which is already a form of futurist I suppose — one who did not believe in the Revolution’s divine, spiritual power.
It was during this apocalyptic nightmare devouring all humanity remaining that I was asked to contribute in this issue about political imaginaries of Egypt’s future if any. It might be a contrasting fact but living close to the time-defying Pyramids inspired me to foresee the future of this old civilization. I always sensed that these immortal tombs are the most powerful landmarks on Earth not only in the past but also for millennia to come. No matter which future path Egypt will take, these monuments will mysteriously retain their dominating eternal presence. Seeing them at the horizon always fascinated me with a complex sense of admiration and deep fear.
Back then, Egypt’s first settlers faced only one challenge: “How to manage excess wealth and regulate the flooding Nile water.” Blessed by perfect climate conditions throughout the year, vast fertile lands around the Nile valley and its delta surrounded by natural borders (two seas and a desert); Egypt flourished leading the humanity demarche. The Egyptians, through innovation, creativity, advanced sciences and technologies, created the perfect country system symbolized by the magnificent Pyramids as signs of extreme totalitarianism.
In 3200 B.C., it was one of the world’s oldest military forces that unified the divided country and its religions, determined its borders, appointed its central administrative capital, raised a flag, and declared Egypt as the oldest historical centralized State. Due to the agricultural settlement stability and ease of cultivation and farming, they had plenty of time to create one of the most admirable civilizations on earth. They invented writing, calculations, and through accumulative knowledge they founded their sciences of metallurgy, mechanics, medicine, chemistry and astronomy. They enjoyed painting, sculpture, literature, music, poetry and sports. For thousands of years they engineered a large portion of the remaining heritage of human architecture with the Great Pyramid, considered to be the biggest architectural project on earth from thousands of years till today. Seeking ultimate happiness and contentment, the first Egyptians conceived also the perfect socio-economic political system. Laws and the judiciary system were introduced to maintain stability and avoid chaos. The efficiently managed wealth allowed decent living for the whole population where nobody slept starving. There was enough time then, to contemplate and meditate on finding the superior divine motive behind all this, to reach a complex polytheistic religion that led later onto monotheism. Greed and natural resource abuse were heavily condemned, sending its practitioners straight to hell. However, this heavenly piece of land could not afford to lose all these incredible achievements through any anarchic chaos. Gods are not only up in the sky, allowing free humans to commit mistakes till Judgment Day. The Egyptian King, also a God, maintained justice and harmony in society. Being the God and simultaneously the Military Commander-in-Chief, he had the ultimate sublime power controlling both the political and religious authorities defining Egyptian destiny. The population, with nothing to do during the flood season, spent most of their time building the King’s magnificent tomb and his Solar ship to enable his after-life journey to bring daily the sun, the very source of life to his people. Deliberately violating the human scale, the frightening Pyramids reminded the citizens of how insignificant they were, in the presence of the eternal powerful pharaoh’s tomb dominating the country and securing its stability.
Unfortunately this first historical, powerful, centralized state capital did not allow the slightest involvement from its people. Therefore, it couldn’t withstand the sacred laws of nature demanding continuous change, improvement and adaptation to avoid extinction. Egypt’s striving for stability became its curse causing the loss of its sovereignty. This utopian country suddenly became the oldest long lasting colony on earth, invaded by practically all nearby dominant civilizations, from antiquity until the modern age. Since most Egyptians, who did not own anything anyway, were threatened by extinction, they surrendered and bowed to their consecutive invaders. Ironically the old State concept was resurrected from the ashes; and instead of Egypt becoming a Hellenistic colony, the Ptolemies became the new Pharaohs. The same happened during the Roman invasion. Egypt, unlike other conquered lands, became the Emperor’s sole property. For millennia, Egyptians were deprived of their national pride, flag, language and were denied the right to own land or to join any armed forces to defend their nation.
In his diaries Memoirs of an officer of the French army during the French expedition, E.L.F Hauet was astonished by the degraded, submissive human nature of the Egyptian farmers, deprived from dignity, after centuries of despotism and slavery. Bonaparte, being of the highest military rank and similar to all previous invaders, believed also in religion as a powerful governing engine and proclaimed himself “a worthy son of the Muslims’ Prophet” and “Favorite of Allah.” 200 years later, while studying at the U.S. Army War College, the current Egyptian President highlighted similar observations in his paper’s thesis Democracy in the Middle East, to justify the non-readiness, and even non-acceptance, of Middle-Eastern nations to Occidental democracy. A high-ranked General explicitly stated unofficially after the 2011 Revolution: “Those naive kids think they can own the country, Egypt is ours since the beginning of time and this will never change!” This fact is finally expressed with great ambiguity in the newly modified Constitution: “The army protects the people and the civil state of the country” — whatever that means.
So if for thousands of years the Military State, embellished by religion, had survived, why is a small group of revolutionary dreamers still calling for change and demanding a different future? The simple answer would be “survival instinct.” The conventional political model that miraculously worked successfully for a couple of million people over thousands of years, has failed drastically during the last few decades. The overpopulated nation of 100 million inhabitants faces dangerous scarcity of resources including water. After being the Roman Empire’s wheat basket, Egypt is now the world’s largest importer of this main bread ingredient essential to avoid famine and destructive unrest. Overwhelmed by complicated heritage of dragged unsolved problems, the fragile economy is facing a fundamental structural disequilibrium. For decades now, Egypt is counting on Egyptian expat transfers as well as loans and grants from the Gulf and Western countries. This very volatile and unsustainable situation could collapse chaotically under minimum pressure. And though the need for change is obvious, its type and scope are extremely blurred without any collective consensus. And what really complicates things more, is the failure of most democratic political models that are currently inclined more towards fascism, and are still unable to find solutions to the fast-changing, troubled world. So in times where citizens worldwide are losing faith in their governments and politicians, Egyptians, against all odds, face an existential challenge to find a new creative state concept and a social contract suitable for the new millennium. A decisive battle, between an eternal autocracy with profound historical roots — defending a failed look-alike state — and a tumultuous revolutionary present demanding a modern self-governed state, will determine the country’s future. What miraculous outcome could this lead to?
Today we are in the year 2053 celebrating, for the first time, our “Republic Centennial.” Egypt, wrongfully called “Republic” for a hundred years, is finally liberated from suppressing dictatorship. The marginalized public regained power and are now responsible for determining their country’s destiny. Our nation is freed thanks to the courage of thousands of martyrs over past decades. Without those noble citizens we could have never overcome our fear, this psychological barrier disabling all initiatives and silencing all calls for “Change”. Their sacrifices taught us that freedom is the origin of all human values and worth dying for. Their sacred spilled blood forged our collective consciousness that defeated the tyrant regime. We can now claim that we had reached an optimum balance between the sacred individual freedom and the willingly accepted, set boundaries, to allow the governance of our newly emerging liberated country. We can all now have a say in our new Constitution that is considered finally much more than just ink on paper. Our sustainable development and constantly enhanced quality of life witnessed the growth of our knowledge economy after ending the monstrous illiteracy. However, it is neither our innovative political model nor our new efficient decentralized administrative system that really matters. Both are specially tailored to meet our country’s specific nature and are constantly changing, striving for continuous improvement.
What really made the whole difference was a miracle occurring during the Egyptian Revolution rising in “Tahrir Square,” marking the birth of one of the most powerful collective, accumulative consciousness in history. While seven is said to be the suitable number of people for efficient brainstorming, the living squares somehow networked millions of liberated courageous thinkers forming one collective genius mind and a national conscience. Without leaders, the Square determined its clear goals, objectives and tactics while taking collective, strategic, faultless political decisions that exceed that of worldwide think tanks and the most intelligent strategic thinkers. I defy any person who lived this extraordinary, out-of-earth and time experience, to claim that their point of view was neglected or that they didn’t have a contribution in any consensus the Square reached. A truly unbeatable spirit that is capable, in just days, of freeing rapidly the country from millennia of slavery and the imaginary incompetence of citizen heritage. The Square’s spreading ideas initiated by millions, continuously teaching each other with unbelievable pace, grew the knowledge and power of the masses enabling them to take quick political actions. The highly efficient network between thousands of clustered individuals defeated the dictatorship that was deliberately alienating human beings from each other for centuries. Sacrificing individuals’ own interest for the Nation’s greater good, seemed perfectly normal within this magnificent public sphere. For the following twelve years the oppressing forces, desperately fighting for survival, spread fear and enclosed all Egypt’s squares, imprisoning all citizens approaching them. But secretly, the spirit of the Square was kept alive inside the souls and minds that had lived this extraordinary adventure and were forever mystically bonded together. They kept networking lively in permissible, real and virtual space without any set plan or pattern. In time, through various decentralized public initiatives and fueled by the dictatorship’s consecutive failures, the revolutionary spirit regained its power and finally burst through all of Egypt’s squares, ending the Pyramid kingdom’s eternal era.
Our successful ‘“participatory democracy” model actually revived the “representative democracy” declining worldwide, and we have now finally reached the optimum, balanced political governing system. At last the inhabitants of this ancient country are true “Citizens!” Those who are old enough to witness how it all began, should write about this legendary tale as a living proof of the peoples’ powerful capacity and possible mass empowerment; in order to inspire others to follow our demarche. The successful model of the “Square Spirit” would then be our gift to the world and our millennium contribution to humanity’s evolution on earth… ■