Yussef El Guindi’s Arab Spring: Revolutions, Upheavals, and Critical Critiques

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The distinction between “revolution” and “upheaval” is that the latter sweeps up with it both the good and the bad, just as the turbulent wind does with both green leaves and withered ones, the fruitful tree and the barren one. A “revolution,” however, retains what is useful and derives strength thereof. It does away with what is useless, worn out, that which impedes vigor, shuts out fresh air, and stands in the way of renewal and development.[2]

If al-Hakim’s thesis is correct, what befell his native Egypt was much more of an upheaval than a revolution. Instead of a new regime that did away with the useless order that stands in the way of renewal and development, the two leaders that followed Mubarak’s abdication have led to further instability and, worse, a return to the status quo. Instead of democracy, Egypt finds itself under yet another military dictatorship that provides order at the cost of silencing any dissent. According to Public Radio International correspondent Matthew Bell, “Unlike during the Mubarak era, the Sisi government has taken a uncompromising approach toward the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organization. Whereas Mubarak gave the Brotherhood some leeway to function as an underground political movement, the current regime is taking steps to eradicate the Brotherhood as a political player altogether.”[3] The hopes of the revolutionaries have been stifled by the re-emergence of a military government that has a complete intolerance for dissent.

El Guindi’s plays examine the conflict from multiple angles. In the 2014 one-act monologue titled The Tyrant, an imprisoned man named Habib sits on a chair beside a table on which rests a projector, a water pitcher, and a glass. Habib speaks directly to the audience that was invited to attend what he calls an “observation.”  He warns audiences that they, too, will be made a spectacle of. He tells the audience he does not fear the death that befell other dictators, only that he will die before a proper accounting of his acts is made known. In the course of the monologue Habib excoriates the audience, accusing them of backing his regime while he was needed then allowing his ouster as soon as he was no longer of use. He asks, “at what point do you good people become liable for the crimes done in your name?”[4]  Before retreating to his cell he tells the audience he is free in his mind and it is they, and not he, who are actually locked up.

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