The Underside of Revolution

Essay by Tamer Mallat – 30 January 2013

Execution Metairie

Execution of the Métairie sisters, Nantes 1793 (Debay)

The passing of two years since the beginning of the January 25 Revolution, has done nothing to diminish the ardor of its obstinate partisans. What started as an adjuration for increased rights, dignity, and other such claims of modest, albeit essential substance, has in the course of two tumultuous years, been lost to a cacophony of superseding contradictions bereft of meaning and direction. The nonviolent revolution that came to mark the coming of age of the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa has undergone, in many cases, a severe metamorphosis. The contradiction and evolution lies in the shift from a historicist paradigm to one devoid of trajectory and vice versa, or the simultaneous confusion of both. 

Meaning has always been attached to phenomena and movement. History is often read through historicist Weltanschauung, and this manner of apprehension may take the shape of ideology; it can be anti-ideological or a-political; or it may, and often is, metaphysical. One of Charles Dickens’ Kafkaesque (before the age) characters, while awaiting the verdict of an interminable affair, expected justice to manifest (not serve) itself in a delay most divine when she uttered: “I expect a Judgment. Shortly. On the Day of Judgment.

And it is on the Day of Judgment that the revolutionaries of the Arab world can most likely expect such a judgment. For the apotheosis of this regional tremor will unlikely be felt by anyone currently alive. But in the age of a post-Hegelian understanding, is it wise to put one’s faith in the ideology of development, as it is so widely accepted?

The notion of development has spearheaded, for decades, and especially since the decomposition of the bipolar division of the world, the manner in which history is interpreted. This given understanding of the order of things – one based on the idea that societies can only move forward – has overshadowed attempts to deconstruct certain realities. A dull example is the developing/ developed country paradigm used to distinguish between states with mature institutions, economies and societies, and states believed to be on the track of reaching the set target criterion.

Development is in many regards a myth. The under or undeveloped nature of an entity – be it societal or institutional – does not necessarily place it on some linear trajectory guided by a metaphysical power concerned with the ultimate fulfillment of public good.

To however attempt to interpret the current historical trajectory as being one of decline is to echo the frivolous boastings of unoriginal cynics. And to speak of disenchantment or rationalization is to be methodologically impetuous, with utter disregard for the inexplicable workings of the street. Revolutions are not governed by laws. Nor are the sporadic explosions that compose them. The idiosyncrasy of our time is the timeless manner of its passing. Now we enter the historical no man’s land.

Today, hidden behind anonymous masks of black and white, rapacious revolutionaries march buoyantly to their triumph in Tahrir. Their vivacious red cap-clad French counterparts did so too some two and so centuries ago, as they waltzed the condemned down the streets of Paris to Madame la guillotine’s throne at the once glorious Place de la révolution, ironically renamed Concorde. These anonymous and masked men dance and dance the carmagnole (a slightly modernized and shaa’bi version), fervidly chanting songs of freedom and justice. As they dance their dance, and chant their chants – and all this with absolute revolutionary due process –, these honorable men carry out their justice; decapitating (and raping) dignity, whenever she dare find herself interrupting the sacred trance. All this, of course, with routine equanimity. Vive la revolution! Al-Thawra Mustamira! – These words you must chant, lest you wish to wind up amongst the unfortunate ladies that ventured too close to hell.

Tamer Mallat is the chief editor of He currently resides in Cairo, Egypt. Contact:; twitter: @tmallat.



Filed under Arab Spring, English

3 responses to “The Underside of Revolution

  1. Pierre-Ange

    So you’re not Hegelian, Tamer. Be careful, it can be depressing not to be one.

  2. Said Redouane

    I think that this analysis has a lot of philosophy. It’s a far to be factual. What makes it so complex.

    Thnk you

  3. In simpler terms, this is where Egypt is today: “Egypt: two years old.”

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