On the last day, in that small Belgian city, after the pressure of article-delivery deadlines had eased, our group of writers had more time and space to relax, be restless, reflect.
We—the participating writers and translators—had more of a chance to talk that day than on any other. By the end of the night, Yan finally seemed calmer, less anxious. I was amazed when she began talking about her life in China for the first time, about the sense of estrangement and the difficulty of fitting into a society where psychological violence was a fundamental value. It struck me as very similar to the social setup I was so familiar with in Egypt.
On the plane, I thought again of my conversation with Yan, especially the part about the kind of faith a writer might need in such societies as the ones we live in, where duality of values is the norm. When I arrived in Cairo I was stopped, as usual, for half an hour at the airport. Because of a stupid old political matter, my name has been placed on the so-called ‘surveillance lists.’ This has meant that for years now, since 2008, every time I leave or enter the country, the customs and passport control officers have to notify National Security, Intelligence, and Airport Security that I have crossed the borders, in or out.
This was the situation for me during the Mubarak era, and it continues to this day. One time I asked the officer in charge, “They say a revolution happened in this country—why is this still going on?” His response was that there is no solution to this problem.
I come back from Crossing Border. My memories of the days of the festival feel special, intimate; if it wasn’t for the weather and the flu, I would have felt like I was at my house with a group of wonderful guests and friends. But here, within the borders of what we call the ‘homeland’, the borders between groups seem harsher and more fierce than those drawn on maps.
I write this now with a mind divided, scattered among many different ideas and events. I am trying to summon the few days spent in The Hague and Belgium; I am thinking of preparations for this Saturday’s protests; and in front of me now, on the TV screen, a bunch of liars belonging to an authoritarian Islamist current are wrapping up the writing of what they call ‘Egypt’s new constitution,’ amidst public opposition. It is, in essence, a group of laws shackling all liberties—from freedom of creed to freedom of expression: an authoritarian document par excellence that Hitler himself would not have dreamed up.
This time, political differences have gone beyond the circles of the political elite, and are now creating a deep fissure in society. Since my return from Crossing Border, reports have been rolling in of violent clashes all over the country, not just in the capital. The newspapers are talking about preparations for a civil war on Saturday, when confrontations are expected to take place between those supporting the appointment of a new dictator, and those opposing it.
I will go out to the protests on Saturday in refusal of a new dictatorship. At the same time, I am thinking of my father, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Our relationship has regained a quieter tempo over the past few years, since we stopped discussing politics altogether. I wonder, will he really go out with the Brotherhood on Saturday to support the new dictator’s decrees?
Saturday’s protests are expected to be far from peaceful. I know that with certainty, and yet I can’t find a way out of my personal crisis. I don’t know how it is possible to cross the borders between myself and him, in a space where neither of us seeks dominion over the other.