Rites of Spring: A chronicle of Egypt’s uprising comes to grips with political reality

Hussein Ibish in Bookforum:

Cover00Henri Lefebvre’s notion of “Revolution as Festival,” which the great French political thinker developed in his account of popular uprisings of the twentieth century, continues to inspire today’s global Left and its ideas of “people power.” Cultural theorist Gavin Grindon cannily sees this vernacular spirit of celebration in “the global cycle of social struggles since the 1990s, from Reclaim the Streets to the Seattle World Trade Organization Csarnival Against Capitalism, Euromayday and Climate Camp to Occupy’s Debt Jubilee.” And this same narrative—which at times approached a shared, lived reality—informed many domestic and international perceptions of the early “Arab Spring” uprisings of 2011, particularly those in Tunisia and Egypt.

Most of Ahdaf Soueif’s new book, Cairo, participates wholeheartedly in this celebratory, utopian account of the eighteen-day overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and its aftermath. But as Soueif traces the still-unresolved and unstable arc of Egypt’s unfolding saga, she comes away—as Lefebvre would have anticipated—with a much more subdued evaluation of just how this festival may end. Looking back on his own youthful idealism, Lefebvre—with an obviously heavy heart—recalled how “a few years after the Russian Revolution,” the French Left “naïvely imagined the revolution as an incessant popular festival.” And in Soueif’s account of Mubarak’s downfall, there are hints of a similar leap of imagination. “Everyone is suddenly, miraculously, completely themselves,” she writes of the uprising. “Everyone understands.”

More here.