Amongst a crowd of readers and fans, Professor Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere signed his latest book, In the Eye of the Storm. The book, just released by Bloomsbury Qatar Publishing, includes an edited and categorised collection of previously published articles from his column in Tahrir daily newspaper.
Choukri-Fishere served as counselor to the Egyptian Foreign Minister between 2005 and 2007 before leaving to focus on research and writing
Sayed Mahmoud, journalist and writer, presented the book that includes an analysis of Egypt's current affairs, bearing the simple spirit required by the daily newspaper reader while also offering a concretely constructed analysis of political conditions in the country. Most interesting about the book, according to Mahmoud, is the narrative language, understood by the simple reader and tackling views about the revolution that toppled the political regime and also removed the elite that monopolised political analysis throughout recent decades.
Mahmoud went through the titles of the chapters, which are borrowed from literary language, such as "Drying the Swamps," showing a deep understanding of the simple people of the street. Choukri-Fishere uses the name "Abdou" for this figure, an average man who has big ambitions from the revolution but that are not reflected yet on the national scene. Mahmoud recalls the TV show when Choukri-Fishere presented a TV remote control to the host — inferring that nobody today can monopolise the truth.
Borrowing metaphors from the meteorological sciences, Choukri-Fishere speaks about the "perfect storm," where a number of phenomena combine and it's difficult to disentangle them altogether. He humbly says in the introduction that his intent is to do that within the book. Choukri-Fishere isn't impartial; he says publicly that he is biased towards the revolution and to its intent to remove the elite that has monopolised public life, Mahmoud explained. "In his description of the reasons for the revolution, prominent is the blockage of public space and the inability to pump new blood into it," Mahmoud said.
For Choukri-Fishere, the revolution isn't about an Islamist project or chaos, but is a struggle around power: some factions benefit from the struggle, therefore support a certain view of events. Analysis based on conspiracy is impossible to prove or refute.
Choukri-Fishere is not negative, but rather looks for the positive in what happened, and that is the right to choose, and that this freedom is the most important gain — moving from the paternalistic care of the state to the demands of the people for their rights, Mahmoud concludes, "The message to the elite that is now gone; do not look down on the simple folks in the street, and avoid addressing them from the TV screen."
Islamists reaching power is a way to social advancement, though not everyone finds this progressive, Mahmoud continued. Choukri-Fishere believes that the kind of Islamists in parliament would prevent the ascendance of the Iranian model: for one, the economic conditions are different. The Muslim Brotherhood's reform platform is hardly different from that of Mubarak and his National Democratic Party. This means Egyptians could enjoy the growth rates of Egypt in the past, but hopefully would be better able to distribute the gains across the population, overturning the economic pyramid.
"No one can drag the Egyptians again to unquestioned obedience under the state," Mahmoud said, referring to those still in Tahrir Square against the requests of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Responding to questions from attendents, Choukri-Fishere assured that he's not engaging in prophecy, but rather analysing dynamics and predicting their results. "Hidden hand" arguments (secret agents, foreign agendas, and so on) in his opinion reflect a strong resistance among some circles and interests to the momentum of change. But we must be careful, because these people and interest have no way out, and cannot be eliminated, unlike in the French Revolution; therefore they're left loose to disturb the peace. "Making peace with these people is critical, but carefully avoid their danger."
Referring to the "Deep Revolution," which is the title of the fifth chapter, Choukri-Fishere claims that the Egyptian people today are different from those that lived in past eras — their thinking is different, and without that the revolution would not have happened.
"Change today is everywhere, and the Muslim Brotherhood is also changing, and the entire Islamist camp is also changing. The Islamicisation has already happened. Egypt now has to face its demons. While in power, the Islamists just talk but must embrace action, and offer answers to real questions, like the traffic crisis and housing, but also on personal freedoms, gained by struggle not only talk about freedoms," Choukri-Fishere insisted.
"Revolutions aren't planned; even the Communist revolution wasn't planned as such. Revolutions just happen, and many currents try to direct them. It's a full storm, where all conditions meet. And then someone lights a match. Then, since blood in the veins of life is blocked, it's a matter of time before the entire machine bursts. Since none of the conditions that led to the first storm were addressed, we might be on the way to an even bigger storm," Choukri-Fishere said.
For Choukri-Fishere, we cannot reach the meaning of terms like "liberalism" and "Islamism" without having conversing and then doing something on the ground. We don't really know what is an Islamist state until now, he added.
A number of questions from the audience revolved around the presidential race and how some people voted against the revolution. The analysis Choukri-Fishere gave was that elections were divided across various lines: revolution and ex-regime figures; young and old; civil and religious, and across all these lines one could not simply classify everyone who voted for one versus the other as anti-revolution or anti-reform, or pro-revolution.
Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere is a former ambassador who worked in various countries throughout the Middle East, working now as a professor at the American University in Cairo. He has published five books, including two that were nominated for the Arabic Booker Prize — Intensive Care Unit and Embrace Over Brooklyn Bridge.