Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Five stages of grief

The revolutionary youth display all the classic symptoms of those who face death, from denial to anger to bargaining to acceptance, only not in stages but all at once, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

In 1969, the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published On Death and Dying, based on her studies of individuals’ responses to diagnoses that they are terminally ill. In this work she discusses what she identified as the five stages of how people deal with impending death.

The first is denial. The patient refuses to believe the diagnosis. She or he might deny the existence of the disease itself or, more frequently, attribute the diagnosis to an error, or even a conspiracy that ultimately led to faulty analyses and results.

In the second phase, when patients realise that denial is futile, they enter a phase of anger and obstinacy. They regard what was happening to them as unfair and ask, for example, why this had to happen to them in particular and not to others.

Third comes the “bargaining” stage. The obstinacy subsides and patients demonstrate certain flexibility, inspired by the hope, or even insistence, that it is possible to negotiate for more time, perhaps by trying new medications, even though patients are sometimes fully aware that such medicines do not exist.

In the fourth stage, depression sets in. It takes the form of an angry and resentful surrender that could include withdrawal from society, rejection of the company of others and immersion into a profound state of gloom. The fifth stage is acceptance, acknowledgement of the inevitability of mortality and a kind of resignation or a willingness to embrace one’s fate.

The Swiss psychiatrist’s theory gained considerable currency in the two decades after its publication, during which it was broadened to include all other forms of “loss”, such as the loss of one’s parents or other loved ones, or the loss of a high-powered job, or even inevitable retirement. Expanding the theory to this broader context, Kübler-Ross and David Kessler co-authored On Grief and Grieving, published in 2014.

Kübler-Ross and Kessler’s ideas pressed themselves on me recently when many in Egypt and abroad were commemorating the fifth anniversary of the January 2011 Revolution and similar events in many other Arab countries during that period.

Events from the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia are reflected in the situations that we observe with great alarm today. The “Arab Spring” ended with a group of failed states, another group of unstable states and a third set of countries in a state of anxiety and panic.

Such matters we have discussed before, and will certainly discuss again. But what concerns us today is the revolutionary generation that stirred such wonder and even admiration. Unfortunately, that wonder and admiration were short-lived and were eclipsed by pangs of disappointment, waves of panic and rivers of tears.

Otherwise put, the spring turned into smoke, fire and bombs, about a half a million dead, more than two million wounded and 14 million refugees and displaced persons.

Five years later, when you speak with that generation of youth who were there in those opening moments you will find not that they have collectively passed through the five stages of grief outlined by Kübler-Ross and Kessler, but rather that all five stages are interwoven and present at once, with the dominant condition depending on who you are speaking to at any given moment.

Certainly, denial is widespread when it comes to the flaws or shortcomings attributed to the revolution or revolutionaries. These failures are always the work of others, probably the generals or the Muslim Brothers. One of the accusations that the revolutionary youth finds most painful is the charge that they conspired through their relations with foreign parties.

Here you find either categorical denial of the resistance training in Serbia (Hillary Clinton’s memoirs also mention Estonia) or the argument that only six people took part in such training, which is a number so minute that it can not be called a “conspiracy” and could not lead a historical event of such a magnitude.

But the greatest denial among the revolutionaries involves the charge that after having toppled the rulers they had nothing left to offer. Either they think that the slogans they chanted — “Bread, freedom, human dignity and social justice” — were sufficient or they maintain that they were not given enough time to formulate programmes for change.

As for the anger, it is immense. Perhaps the greatest portion of it is still directed against the old regimes that they rebelled against. Although the regimes had fallen, their leaders put to flight or imprisoned and facing trial, they were still responsible for the revolutionaries’ setbacks and ultimate failure.

It was the Mubarak regime that had let the Muslim Brotherhood grow into such a giant. The presence of the Muslim Brothers in Tahrir Square together with the youth, or the deal that was struck in the Fairmont Hotel between the revolutionaries and the Muslim Brotherhood to ensure a Mohamed Morsi victory in the presidential elections, apparently do not merit mention as causes.

The anger then extends to everyone who they regard as deceivers, from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to the current regime that does not allow them to demonstrate where they want — or so they believe.

The bargaining took many forms. With the current regime, support, gaining some room for criticism and opposition, and adopting reformist courses formed one route to survival, accommodation and — when a degree of self-criticism was applied — a mode of give-and-take with the regime.

Bargaining also took the form of taking strength from abroad through human rights groups or by portraying a negative image of the regime in the international press. Care was taken to maintain a significant distance from the Muslim Brotherhood and, from time to time, condemning terrorist attacks.

But, ultimately, they held the regime responsible for these because it did not offer broader scope for political participation that, in this case, refers specifically to the rights to protest, stage sit-ins and go on strike. But there is no rupturing of the thread here. It remains permanently connected to the authorities, at one end, and to the people, on the other.

The people, the revolutionaries grant, no longer support them but, with time and with what they believe will be the inevitable failure of the regime, they will return once again to the ranks of those who were “faithful” to the masses.

Depression is widespread, especially among those who had once been in the spotlight. Now that the lights have faded and turned elsewhere, their thoughts are heavily tinged with despair. The “it’s no use” attitude is commonplace. The revolution they began was a last chance and that has gone, never to return.

There is also a large quantity of disappointment, especially in the people who once lifted the revolutionaries on their shoulders, only to reject them later and then forget them when they landed in jail alongside those they had rebelled against. Completing the package are doses of depression, languor and escapism.

Quite simply, Egypt in its current condition no long merits them. In an article in The Guardian, Alaa Abdel-Fattah relates that his greatest regret is that when the travel ban against him was lifted for a brief moment he did not seize that opportunity. But the option was chosen by others, who found refuge in Western countries from a world in which they had become strangers.

Acceptance is rare. If it has occurred, it was not among the first tier of revolutionaries. Most likely, it is common only among youths from the segment of the middle class connected with commerce. There participation in the revolution was a means of liberation from the bureaucratic state. In the end, they resigned themselves to accommodation and the search for a way to work and profit.


The writer is chairman of the board, CEO, and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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