Philosophy and the revolution
Egyptian philosophers are studying the mechanics of the 25 January Revolution, Osama Kamal reports
What do revolution and philosophy have in common? The relationship between the two may not be immediately clear, but a half dozen philosophers attending a recent seminar at the Higher Council for Culture agreed that there were aspects of the 25 January revolution that were worthy of abstract contemplation.
Magdi El-Gezeri, professor of philosophy at Tanta University, wrote a paper entitled "Philosophy and the Revolution: A Dialectic Connection". Both philosophy and the revolution shared a respect for reason, he argued. Both challenged cultural, political and religious taboos, and tried to rearrange the human perception of reality. As Kant (1724 - 1804) once said, both revolution and philosophy aim to remove the straitjacket restricting the natural process of reasoning.
Philosophers, like revolutionaries, are often persecuted by authorities. For centuries, leading figures in science and philosophy have been told to renounce their views of the world or face dire consequences. Many were tortured and killed just because their ideas challenged the established patterns of thought.
The 25 January revolution, Gezeri argued, brought much-needed vitality and energy to the Egyptian intellectual scene. For 30 years, Egyptians were expected to withhold their judgement and accept that of their masters. As the former president groomed his son to inherit the country, the nationís ability to suspend disbelief was taxed to the maximum. The 25 January revolution embraced values that philosophers have propagated for centuries, including freedom, change and justice.
For all their similarities, revolution and philosophy differed in many ways, Gezeri said. One difference is that philosophers use pure logic to draw their conclusions. Their methods rely on abstract proofs and objective deduction, whereas revolutionaries work through intuition, emotion and subjective views.
Revolutionary methods are adventurous and risky, and the revolutionaries must be willing from the start to die for what they believe. The aim of philosophers, seeking the truth, is not one that is immediately hazardous, although it can put them on a collision path with the powers that be.
There are also differences in the vocabulary that philosophers and revolutionaries use. Philosophers prefer to use abstract, rigorous, and restrained language, whereas revolutionaries are known to revel in symbolism, sensationalist slogans and emotive declarations. Philosophers stick to words when they elaborate their views. Revolutionaries stray beyond the realm of language, using imagery poetry, music, and other forms of art to drive their point across.
There is also a difference in method. While philosophers prefer to work in isolation, developing their own methods of reasoning in quite surroundings, revolutionaries cannot do their work without speaking out loud. Revolutionaries need to collaborate with others, rally the public, feel the nationís mood and appeal to the instincts of the masses.
Still, Gezeri said, revolution and philosophy could converge. Modern philosophical doctrines, including pragmatism, Marxism and existentialism, believe in praxis. They advocate action as a way of enhancing human life. According to Karl Marx, the main task of philosophy is not to explain the world but to change it.
Ramadan Bastawisi, professor of philosophy at Ein Shams University, wrote a paper entitled, "Virtual Reality and the Revolution". The chronology of the revolution, he said, resembled the annals of oral history on which many people collaborated anonymously to produce one great epic.
The Egyptian revolution, Bastawisi said, was a break with the past. Yet it was more than that, more than a turning point in history. Reality was changing so fast that people were reacting instantly to new situations. This was unprecedented, and it went to show how potent the internet was in changing public awareness.
Before the 25 January revolution, many people assumed that virtual reality was subsidiary of ó indeed inferior to ó actual reality. Researchers such as Nabil Omar used to argue that the absence of physical presence undermined moral responsibility. As soon as the revolutionaries converged on Tahrir Square, however, the gap between the actual and the virtual closed. The physical caught up and complied with the cerebral.
Zeinab El-Khodari, professor of Philosophy at Cairo University, discussed "The Philosophy of the Youth Revlution". She argued that the revolution awakened the critical abilities of the nation and renewed its sense of respect for humanity. Through their respect for citizenry and their disdain of fanaticism, the revolutionaries rose above the prejudices of the past.
In a paper entitled "Toward a New Understanding of the Egyptian Revolution", Hassan Hammad, president of the College of Literature at Zaqaziq University, enumerated differences between the 25 January revolution and previous revolutions.
The 25 January revolution did something that was unthinkable. It announced its date in advance. And, with no clear leadership in place, it was spearheaded by affluent and upwardly-mobile professionals, not by the downtrodden who, or so everyone thought, were ripe for revolt.
This goes to show that the 25 January revolution was not about poverty as much as it was about political oppression. The entire nation felt humiliated and belittled. Discontent was therefore not confined to the poor and jobless.
Also, Hammad said, the revolution was bloodless in inspiration. If it were not for police brutality and the thrug-engineered backlash, casualties would have been insignificant. Triggered by a Facebook page, "We Are All Khalid Said", the revolution set a new trend in modern social upheavals. It showed that millions of people, acting in tandem, did not need arms to bring down a police state.
According to Hammad, the revolution was an act of catharsis. The revolutionaries did not just rise against the rulers, but against the moral frailty of the past.
During the revolution, Tahrir Square became more than a symbol of resistance. It acted as a platform for arts and an open air theatre and gallery, Hammad noted.
According to Hammad, the 25 January revolution went through four phases. First was the rise of protest groups such as Kefaya, 6 April, 9 March, and the National Assembly for Change, which offered a general framework for needed change. The second phase was the first three days of the 25 January revolution, when idealism and romanticism were in evidence. The third wave took place on the Friday of Wrath on 28 January, when other political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, added momentum to the movement. The fourth wave was the setback that followed, when special interest groups followed and sectarian strife erupted in places such as Manshiet Nasser and Atfih. As the Salafis brought a fanatical viewpoint to the political scene, some of the momentum was lost and some of the old lethargy and indifference began to creep back into public life.
According to Hammad, we are at a crossroads. We can either keep moving forward, holding fast to the original goals of the revolution. Or the setback would continue, with grave consequences for all.