The cultural scene in Cairo suffered another setback on Tuesday, December 29, as two major cultural centers – Rawabet Theatre and Townhouse Gallery – were shut down by officials. According to Mada Masr, members from several different government agencies conducted a raid at both venues, which lie at the heart of Cairo and are a gathering place for the city’s young, liberal population.
This latest attack fits the government’s slow take-over of public life in Egypt. Ever since the military assumed the reigns of government in the summer of 2013, it has done away with NGOs, political organizations, and other groups that could serve as a rallying point for those opposing the counterrevolution. Since then, imprisonment, exile, and death have diluted the ranks of Islamists, liberals, and socialist revolutionaries. Many former revolutionaries have either moved abroad in recent years, or have detached themselves from political activity. “Unconditional surrender,” as one activist explained to Mada Masr, is the only option.
Even though many have chosen a sort of pragmatic surrender, not all have abandoned their revolutionary ideals entirely and have, instead, turned their energies to less sensitive issues.
As Dutch author, activist, and Cairene bike shop owner Dirk Wanrooij describes in his book Oproer: Kroniek van de Egyptische revolutie (translation: ‘Revolt: Chronicle of the Egyptian revolution’), in the wake of the 2013 counterrevolution, many activists turned away from openly political affairs and started supporting environmentalism, animal rights, and anti-harassment campaigns, which are less likely to draw the government’s attention.
Others have channeled their revolutionary energies inward. Following the counter revolution, popular Islamic televangelists have increasingly stressed the necessity for a “revolution of the Self”. Emphasizing the apolitical values of creativity (ibdāʿ), productivity (intāg), and coexistence (taʿāyush), the hugely popular preacher Amr Khalid has spoken of personal development, rather than united struggle, as the key to moving Egyptian society out of its current state of stagnation.
While this effort to reform the self is, on the face of it, very different from the public campaigns set up by former revolutionaries, it stems from a shared concern about the future of Egypt. This continued dedication of young Egyptians to the future of their country is a major asset. If only it was understood as such, by a government that was more concerned about governing its people and less about entrenching its own power.