A spiritual reading of the Egyptian Revolution


Egyptian protestsThe Egyptian Revolution of 25 January. Instead of repeating a chronicle of events with which everybody already is familiar or offering an analysis of the revolution, which others more competent than I will have made, I have chosen to walk on ground that no one, as far as I know, has dared tread. This is a 'spiritual' reading of the Egyptian Revolution.

Some 200m from Tahrir Square in Cairo, a man runs forward from a flood of protesters to charge towards a police battalion. Dressed in black, they block the width of Rameses Avenue.

It is an absurd confrontation. On one side, a man with empty hands; on the other side, a well organised force equipped with batons, helmets, visors, and shields. On one side, moral force; on the other side, brute force. It would have been an unequal combat.

I can still see the young man, like a lion, throw himself against the wall of shields, face tensed, eyes flashing lightning, his heart steeled with fierce resolve. I could not ask myself from which side came force and power: from the side of the unarmed man, or from the side of the over-armed police.

The answer was clear. The man with empty hands was stronger than the battalion ranged against him. In this struggle between brute force and moral force, the latter won, and won easily.

The same story was repeated two days later on the Kasr-el-Nil bridge. There an armoured vehicle was forced to stop when confronted by a youth who stood in the middle of the bridge and defied the vehicle as it advanced inexorably towards him.

This youth was not alone. Behind him, a river of protesters was advancing with equal determination against armoured cars and police drawn up for combat. Amazingly it was not the crowd that retreated, but the police, disconcerted and disarmed by this fierce resolution.

In these two snapshots lie the key to this revolution and a summary of it. I realised, as did the world, that set in the face of armed force, there is a force of another order, infinitely more powerful and deep, the force of the spirit.

This same message was delivered in the biblical story of David and Goliath. The result of combat between the weakling who carried a simple slingshot and stone, and the giant Goliath armed with his armour and sword, was never in doubt. But it was the boy who won.

There are many modern examples of the paradoxical relationship between force and weakness. We need think only of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

All this shows that in our world, our history and our humanity exists a hidden force capable of sweeping aside everything in its way. We can ignore it or pretend to ignore it; we can try to crush, to suffocate it, to strangle or to break it. But one day it will finish up on top.

Jesus had this moral and spiritual force. He triumphed over evil by his sad defeat on the cross. The defeat was followed by a resurrection. There was nothing very glorious in it, because it took place amid the greatest of secrecy. To the eyes of the world nothing really happened on Easter morning. Only bit by bit became clear the power of this event which turned history upside down.

For the believer, Easter is not the simple reversal of a pitiable defeat. It is the explosion of a life stronger than death, a love stronger than hate, an energy capable of reshaping the future and triumphing over all.

It was this energy that last month inspired the passionate crowd in Tahrir Sqaure. It made the Tunisian people explode and inspired the series of revolutions in every nation of the region. Thirty years ago it overturned the dictatorships of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In a completely unexpected way it also led to the implosion of the Soviet Empire and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The lesson to draw from the Egyptian revolution is that we never have to drop our arms, be discouraged, concede defeat, believe ourselves conquered, or compromise with evil. We need never allow ourselves to be impressed by the great of this world, nor to be intimidated by force and power.

We can believe that a man with empty hands is stronger than an army ranged for battle. We can believe that one who fights for truth, justice and right will one day be victorious.

If we believe that, we can roll up our sleeves and commit ourselves, body and soul, to this combat, the only struggle worth considering. 

Henri BouladFr Henri Boulad SJ is director of the Jesuit Cultural Center of Alexandria. Translated from the French by Andrew Hamilton.

Topic tags: Henri Boulad, Egyptian revolution, ash wednesday



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Existing comments

If you believe that, climb down from your lofty towers on the 7th of April 2011 and join 'uspoorbuggas' on the ramparts in King Edward Park and roll up your sleeves to reclaim the light from an absolutely corrupt justice system ...

Greig WIlliams | 09 March 2011  

The following link shows that the religious tensions between the Muslim majority and the oppressed Coptic minority have not disappeared just because Mubarak departed.


John Ryan | 11 March 2011  

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