Does the hope that drives idealistic action fade as the harsh reality of the world extinguishes it? Can we as humans lose that hope? The perspective of an Egyptian father may help us understand.
“And the solution which a revolutionary period makes of this apparently invincible difficulty consists in the circumstance that such an immense volume of mass idealism is simultaneously released that the masses are insensible to the bitterest sufferings.”
Rosa Luxemburg; a key revolutionary in both Germany and Poland's socialist movements
Above is a quote from Rosa Luxemburg’s essay “The Mass Strike, the Political Party, and the Trade Unions”. In the essay, she refers to the evolution of mass strikes across a Tsarist Russia from 1896 to 1905, with millions of uncoordinated people across many cities geographically separated, revolting against their oppressed circumstances. These revolts would culminate in the political uprising known as Bloody Sunday in January 1905, the first spark in a flame that would set Russia alit until concessions in the October Manifesto quieted the inferno.
Reading this quote, the idea of a mass idealism, gripping people in such a way it forms an armor nigh impregnable struck me very deeply. What on earth could cause that idealism to envelope millions of people so strongly all at once, and to act with such unity in their purposes? The image evoked in my mind was that of my father, a reserved yet lighthearted figure whose political views are tempered with worldly experience and slightly tinged with harsh realism. And yet the image I see is the memory of him, on 11 February 2011, skipping and dancing through our home singing “الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام” meaning “the people want to bring down the regime”. On that same day, it was announced that Hosni Mubarak would resign and relinquish power over Egyptian government and society, ending weeks of protests and decades of government oppressiveness. My father’s actions were a little out of the norm, but his sheer joy and hope were boundless and utterly rare, so much so I remember it like a film.
"The people want the fall of the regime"
Talking with him revealed a lot about what that moment meant for him. A release of tension in his home country, knowing his family and friends were going to be okay. A sense of victory over a figure that to him in his words “had held a monopoly on violence since he was 11 years old”. And a sense of hope for the future, that Egypt and its people were on track to change their society and government for the better. Specifically on his expression, he talked about how it was something that he didn’t control or specifically do, it just happened. It didn’t need reason, just as his hope for the future wasn’t bound by reason either. The feeling of hope that connected him with his people and their shared sense of victory did not need to be explained to him, it simply was.
The union he felt with those protesting in Egypt was evident. The phrase he was proclaiming signified the people as a collective, that shared identity of “we”, acting with a single shared purpose and expressing their desire without inhibition. Without fear of those bitter sufferings and oppressive regime, they were expressing their hope uninhibited and acting on that hope. It is obvious that the hope shared by my father and the people of Egypt had existed long before the revolt itself, with the result of its final outward expression being so clear and loud.
But in that peak moment of rewarded hope and victory, I wondered what must come after. That fever of mass idealism that springs into action, that washes over a people in a torrential manner, must it not come to an end? I believe that the hope that acts as a well for that idealism does not disappear, nor can it.
Egyptian anti-government protestors wave flags as they celebrate in Tahrir Square
Waking up the days, weeks and months following the end of the revolution, my father’s unadulterated hope shrank from the wild dance and song it had been previously. He even admits himself that his hope for Egypt and its political state of affairs has ebbed and waned, with the current government proving to not be the step forward he had thought it was. But, he says, hope can never be extinguished. His hope, as an example of all people who hoped in Egypt, reminds me of a fire died down, the tall blazing flames a thing of the past but the crackling embers from which it once sprang still breathe with life. The hope of the Egyptian people is not a historical matter but a matter of the present. Those embers undoubtedly have the potential to bring forth once more the flames of revolution which have the power to bring people’s hopes into reality.
Revolution is a moment in time, but the hope which births it is enduring and as my father says, “For better or for worse, is a part of being human.”