my opinion piece published in Al-Ahra Weekly on 11.07.2013
In search of the true Tahrir
Inner awakening, as well as political struggle, are necessary if Egypt is to move forward, writes Shohdy Surur, the son of the late Egyptian poet Naguib Surur
A day before the army took control of the situation in Egypt, I wrote the following bilingual post on my blog at Facebook.com/shohdy. “World events are boring and humdrum, an orchestrated routine. The protest actions joined by millions in different parts of the planet can create an illusion of significance only within the framework of a mind-game, the rules of which are never questioned much less broken by an overwhelming majority of the protesters and their sympathisers. The puppeteers remain unseen, and the threads of the manipulation of consciousness are lost beyond the horizon of reason where yawning starts and an insect-like buzz starts to be discernible to the ears.”
“The scale of ‘shifts’ and ‘movements’ is truly mesmerising. It seems like doomsday and apocalypse is near at hand. Look deeper. Open your eyes. Then open them again and have a look at the plate in front of you. Search your pockets. Ransack the cloak of your personality. Submit yourself to intrusive and humiliating self-surveillance. Stalk yourself out. Tear off your mask. Test yourself for integrity. Exit from the Game!”
My brother, an ardent supporter of the protesters in Tahrir, was quick to respond to me in private with curses and threats. I responded in my regular manner mocking him with kindness and affection, trying to distract him from the outside world and focus on the universe within. My unwavering stand only made him angrier and more bitter. There is great depth to this tale of the only two sons of the great Egyptian poet Naguib Surur becoming so far apart and almost on opposite sides of the social divide that has split our father’s beloved land.
Naguib Surur was a great Egyptian patriot. His eloquent and poetic praise for this perennially vibrant land fills the corpus of his works, and it was exemplified by his entire life. My father was outspoken and merciless in his exposure of the “wolves” and “thieves” who had tormented and eliminated the best of his fellow men for millennia. He became an uncompromising enemy of the regime more than 40 years before it was overthrown by the 2011 revolution. He was tortured and persecuted by its agents, ostracised by the establishment during the last 12 years of his life, and most likely killed in a Damanhour hospital in 1978. Read his works and see for yourself why he is now regarded by many as a visionary and a pillar of reason during the dark epoch of military rule in Egypt.
The military ran Egypt for more than half a century, and it was very unhappy rule. It kept Egypt well behind its Mediterranean neighbours in almost every aspect of development, as well as far behind such democracies as India, Brazil, Thailand and other countries that have had a better chance to shape their own futures free from the lies and hindrances of military rule. By definition, the military can never promote Egypt’s true aspirations nor can it protect the subtle matter of national accord that belongs to a much finer realm of consciousness.
However, it is not my intention to blame the army outright for this latest coup, far from it. I do not regard the Egyptian army to be a faceless monster looming above a fragile democracy. On the contrary, I am aware that this national defence force is comprised of valiant men ready to give their lives for the people and the land of Egypt. And yet it is also obvious to me that the Egyptian army is not an independent force on the world map, but is itself part of a complex global security arrangement to which it is subservient, while the levers of this greater military machine are hidden from view.
My point in writing from my self-imposed exile is different. In 2002 I left Egypt, fleeing a trial that had zero probability of acquitting me of the charge of “spreading pornography on the Internet”, which is how the prosecution described the explicit poem Kussummiyat Naguib Surur that my father literally wrote with his blood in the aftermath of the 1967 defeat. I left Egypt with the conscious decision never to go back, not out of a grudge but because at the time I thought of my mission in Egypt as having been completed. A great diversity of ideas, experiences and flows of consciousness awaited me in the outside world.
“Religious people fear hell, while spiritual people have walked through it” (Frank Warren). Heaven and hell are within us and not without. The course of our lives is merely a continuation of our thoughts, which are conditioned by our past choices and actions. We are never alone in our minds but are carried forth by the irresistible force of the collective flow of consciousness, in which we partake from early childhood and during the course of our entire lives. In order to see reality as it is, and not as we want or fear it to be, we must quit the habitual flow of consciousness and observe the processes running in our minds. Patient observation of our own minds is a powerful tool of awakening.
After having spent seven years away from Egypt, I found myself in the Indian city of Bangalore, and there at the predawn hour I heard the Muslim call to prayer. The voice was pure, inspiring and not amplified at all. The feeling I experienced at that precious moment can only be described in spiritual superlatives. This was probably the most memorable azan of my life. Indian Muslims certainly have a lot to share with other Muslims with regard to spiritual development. Unfortunately, the perception of Islam among many of its followers almost lacks the notion of overcoming or transforming human nature. Sufis have the opposite notion, and it is no wonder that Sufi wisdom is attracting so many sincere seekers after truth.
Awakening from the dream we call life is inevitable for every one of us at this portentous and opportune time. Awakening invariably brings recognition of the fact that each and every one of us is leading a never-ending battle for awareness and that all of us wish to be happy and escape suffering. Awakening dawns on us with the realisation of our inseparable unity and mutual dependence. Awakening releases our inborn power of compassion.
Unless we want a global military dictatorship to be established on our planet, we should never resort to armies in order to resolve our conflicts. Instead, we should actively seek accord, underline common interests, and downplay differences. We have the tools and the knowledge to do just that, as well as to work for the coming of the new age of harmony that awaits humanity.
Muslim brothers and sisters should not stress their allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood, and their opponents should not stress their anti-Islamist woes. These are obvious threads of manipulation, as far as I can see, and they are threads that lead to the as yet invisible puppeteers who are increasingly being exposed to the light everywhere in the world, with millions of men having unwittingly become clownish puppets of forces beyond their comprehension or control.
Look deeper into that murky void and you will see that the hierarchical structure of the New Global Order resembles that of the Pyramids of Giza. At the foundation of this pyramid-like social structure, people are disempowered by those at the top, the latter being separated from them by several layers or media of oppression. This hierarchical order has been being continuously constructed since time immemorial, and there is nothing “new” about it aside from its efficiency and its scope, brought about by military and economic progress.
However, other aspects of technological progress counterbalance the omnipotence of the puppeteers at the top of the pyramid. Informational breakthroughs have given us unprecedented capabilities for networking and coordination, even if, at the same time, the very same communication boom has enabled more surveillance and control and, of course, has increased the scale of the manipulation of the masses.
Disinformation goes hand in hand with information. Millions of people take to the streets to protest against their conditions and for the sake of protest. The awakening of the people is a powerful cliché, but true awakening is an individual affair, and the supposition that a great number of people can wake up while staying individually asleep is little short of hilarious.
Man is not a political animal but a spiritual being. The point is that we should consciously shift our attention from the outer world and focus on the inner life amongst the fractions of our fleeting egos, which is the first step to that pass we call spirituality. Momentous shifts are indeed occurring in the world, but it would be naive to suppose that massive, highly manipulated events can swiftly relieve human suffering or improve all our lives.
In other words, the true Tahrir is within us, and Tahrir Square is merely its outward projection, if liberation is the aim. In political terms, national reconciliation is a must, but it should start with individual, honest and persistent attempts to curb the turmoil within and to seek accord amongst the struggling ego-ambitions within our own selves.
My father never had the chance to communicate his ideas to a wide audience during his lifetime, and after his death the publication of his works was routinely sabotaged by the establishment. I regard it as my right to speak in his name, just as I am aware of his spirit dwelling within myself. This is exactly what I have done in the paragraphs above.
I will conclude this very personal, and also very impersonal, article with a reference to a line in the poem I was tried for during the time of Mubarak — wu elli qatal Shohdy huwwa galladak ya Sayed Qutb. In other words, Naguib Surur said that the ones who had tortured the atheist leader of the Communist Party of Egypt to death were the very same people who had also killed the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Naguib Surur regarded both of these martyrs to have been true Egyptian patriots.
Be aware, my brothers and sisters. Be vigilant and seek accord within and without.