Political idealism triumphs over Egypt’s cruel political reality

The power of an idea proved stronger than tanks, water cannon and bullets.

When I saw images of Tahrir Square's peaceful-but-angry protesters gathering in the hundreds of thousands, I involuntarily linked them in my mind to images of police mistreatment of citizens, such as a man with one foot inside a public bus and the rest of his body hanging out, risking his life to go home. I knew that among these protesters were Egyptians who spent a big chunk of their lives waiting patiently in line for subsidised bread. I knew among them were mothers who had lost their sons, sunk in ships in an illegal and desperate attempt to seek a better life on the other side of the Mediterranean.

When I saw the protests in Tahrir Square, pictures of Khaled Saied's fractured skull [warning: exremely graphic image], of Emad Elkebir being sodomised with a cane by a police officer, of protesters being kidnapped by plain-clothed National Democratic Party thugs sprang to my mind. I remembered doctored pictures, state TV lies and the massive media outlets funded by our money to act as the propaganda arm of former president Mubarak's regime. I remembered waking up every single morning of my life to Mubarak on the first page of al-Ahram state-run newspaper on our breakfast table.

When I saw the anger, frustration, determination, resilience and great hope in a better future in the eyes of protesters, I also remembered what those who dreamed of change had to face other than state-security intimidation – except until a few months ago, those who have dreamed of change were scattered, unconnected, unorganised and weak.

These millions of people trying to pull down the Mubarak dictatorship have been told that political idealism is one thing and political reality is another. Political idealism in this battle was represented by protesters camping in Tahrir, driven by the desire for fresh political change, democracy, restoration of their dignity and a better future for their kids. They were armed with nothing but faith, sheer determination and great courage.

Political reality favours short-term, fake stability at the expense of freedom, human dignity and social justice.

For a long time political idealists were accused of being naive. The power of their ideas – of liberty, freedom and justice – has always been underplayed. Ending the Egyptian dictatorship seemed like a mission impossible. It wasn't a fight against one man, but against all Arab dictatorships, Israel and the US, which all had vested interests in keeping Mubarak in power.

This scepticism was completely justified. Mubarak's authoritarian infrastructure was a brilliant combination of three things: military loyalty, horrifying state security and intelligence apparatuses, and a ruling party of billionaire businessmen who help with funding this whole process of maintaining the status quo in return for "economic favours". What is more, all this was internationally backed up due to Mubarak's good friendship with Israel – or, better said, Mubarak's unquestioned obedience to Israel.

Amid all these challenges, how did peaceful protesters armed with nothing but a love of dignity, freedom and social justice win this battle against political realism despite the arrests of its members, the torture and killings? How did the mighty state security force collapse in a matter of a few hours? How was a cabinet of wealthy businessmen dismissed in a matter of days? How did one of the world's worst dictators fall in just 18 days?

It's because the power of an idea proved much stronger than the power of tanks, water cannon, bullets, batons, tear gas and Molotov cocktails. When the idea is right, it can prove more resilient than an out-of-its-mind police state, which wouldn't hesitate before running over [warning: extremely graphic footage] peaceful protesters with ugly armoured vehicles.

I salute those who turned one of the world's strongest men into one of its weakest, as well as those who did not favour a fake stability imposed by the heavy hand of brutal security over a stability driven by social equality and political freedom. But, most importantly, I salute those who gave their lives so that others can enjoy a better one.

Osama Diab is an Egyptian-British journalist and blogger.

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Bertie Carvel's diary: What would the French think about infidelity to Doctor Foster?

The joy of debuting a new series, Rupert Murdoch's squeamishness and a sting in the tail.

According to the adage, the first thing an actor does when he gets a job is to go on holiday. And so, having finished our sold-out run of James Graham’s Ink at the Almeida and with the show (in which I play a young Rupert Murdoch) about to transfer into the West End, I’m packing my bags.

But before I can skip town, I’ve one more professional engagement: the press launch of series two of the BBC drama Doctor Foster, which we finished filming at Christmas. I’ve now seen the final cut of all five episodes, and I’m excited to share it with an audience. There’s no substitute for seeing other people’s reactions at first hand, especially with a show that got people talking so much first time around, and it’s electric to sit in a cinema full of expectant journalists and commentators and feel the room respond. Nothing beats this: to put so much into making a thing and then experience an audience’s unmediated, reflexive reaction. When it goes well, you feel that you’ve shared something, that you’ve all recognised something together about how things are. It’s a unifying feeling. A sort of bond.

Cheating spouses

Handling the interviews has been tricky, when there’s so little one can say without giving the plot away. (The first series began with Suranne Jones’s character Gemma, a GP, suspecting her husband Simon of having an affair.) What’s more, lots of the questions invite moral judgements that I’ve tried my best to avoid; I always think it’s really important not to judge the characters I play from outside, but simply to work out how they feel about themselves, to zero in on their point of view. There’s a sort of moral bloodlust around this show: it’s extraordinary. People seem to want to hear that I’ve been pilloried in the street, or expect me to put distance between myself and my character, to hang him out to dry as a pariah.

While I’m not in the business of defending Simon Foster any more than I’m in the business of attacking him, I am intrigued by this queer mixture of sensationalism and prurience that seems to surface again and again.

Shock horror

Oddly enough, it’s something that comes up in Ink: many people have been surprised to find that, in a story about the re-launch of the Sun newspaper in 1969 as a buccaneering tabloid, it’s the proprietor who considers dropping anchor when the spirit of free enterprise threatens to set his moral compass spinning.

I’ve never given it much thought before, but I suppose that sensationalism relies on a fairly rigid worldview for its oxygen – the SHOCKERS! that scream at us in tabloid headlines are deviations from a conventional idea of the norm. But what’s behind the appetite for this sort of story? Do we tell tales of transgression to reinforce our collective boundaries or to challenge them?

For me there’s a close kinship between good journalism and good drama. I’m reminded of the words of John Galsworthy, who wrote Strife, the play I directed last summer, and who felt that the writer should aim “to set before the public no cut-and-dried codes, but the phenomena of life and character, selected and combined, but not distorted, by the dramatist’s outlook, set down without fear, favour, or prejudice, leaving the public to draw such poor moral as nature may afford”.

So when it comes to promoting the thing we’ve made, I’m faced with a real conundrum: on the one hand I want it to reach a wide audience, and I’m flattered that there’s an appetite to hear about my contribution to the process of making it; but on the other hand I think the really interesting thing about the work is contained in the work itself. I’m always struck, in art galleries, by how much more time people spend reading the notes next to the paintings than looking at the paintings themselves. I’m sure that’s the wrong way around.

Insouciant remake

En route to the airport the next morning I read that Doctor Foster is to be adapted into a new French version. It’s a cliché verging on racism, but I can’t help wondering whether the French will have a different attitude to a story about marital infidelity, and whether the tone of the press coverage will differ. I wonder, too, whether, in the home of Roland Barthes, there is as much space given to artists to talk about what they’ve made – in his 1967 essay, “The Death of the Author”, Barthes wrote that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”.

No stone unturned

Touring the villages of Gigondas, Sablet and Séguret later that evening, I’m struck by the provision of espaces culturels in seemingly every commune, however small. The French certainly give space to the work itself. But I also notice a sign warning of a chat lunatique, so decide to beat a hasty retreat. Arriving at the house where I’m staying, I’ve been told that the key will be under a flowerpot. Lifting each tub in turn, and finally a large flat stone by the door, I find a small scorpion, but no key. I’m writing this at a table less than a yard away so let’s hope there won’t be a sting in this tale.

Ink opens at the Duke of York Theatre, London, on 9 September. More details: almeida.co.uk

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear