Egypt, the search for identity

Egypt revolution in 2011 did not only end a political regime and lay foundation for new regime struggling to achieve democracy, it was also a declaration of failure of social institutes governing Egyptian life for long time. The social explosion, representing itself in country wide protests, where millions of people have participated, was not only driven by political tyranny; it was in the same time a reaction to inherent conflict which has been developing under the surface for long time.

For several decades before the revolution, almost during all Mubarak regime, Egyptian society mainstream has been characterized by extreme conformity with social norms created and guarded by religion, heritage and state. These norms are very conservative by nature and have been the major player in shaping cultural and social views toward every thing, and have provided the main elements constituting collective and individual identity.

While conformity was at its peak of strength, another contradicting force was also developing and gaining more power and presence gradually; alienation.

The social forces shaping together collective identity of the nation, mainly religion, heritage and state, have played a functional role in structuring nation identity to conform with economical exploitation lead by small interest groups on the top of social stratification pyramid in Egypt. By playing such role, collective identity has gradually developed a force of alienation to contradict and conflict with the force of conformity created by the same identity.

These two major forces — conformity and alienation — have coexisted for long time while conflict between them is increasing to the limit where coexistence was no longer possible. The social explosion happening in 2011 was, in a sense, a victory of alienation over conformity.

Although Egyptian society has historic tendency to develop strong homogeneity in view, and to persistently guard against deviation, the phenomenon of alienation developing within the same domain where conformity is coming form, and leading to its collapse, has also been a part of the dialectic of Egypt history. Egypt has been through several cycles of civilization and decay during its long history where this same cycle has taken place more than once.

In ancient Egypt, institutions shaping nation collective identity — religion and state — have stablished a culture centralized around serving and financing the heritage of temples and tombs of the dead leading to increase of financial cost to the limit that might have contributed to the collapse of kingdom. By establishing such culture, and developing it to the extreme, collective identity has alienated individuals who have become the subject of economical exploitation which this identity has dedicated itself to maintain and justify.

It is not a surprise that the different views toward nation identity have been major forces driving political struggles in the years following 2011 revolution. Identity question hall be in the heart of all future changes in Egypt until current turmoil reaches another temporal balance point.

Samih Tarik

22 July 2015

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