A New Intellectual Is Born
While the intellectuals, call them traditional, old, or patriarchal, were attempting to reform what had previously existed, there emerged a new intellectual, whose political consciousness was formed in the town square and whose rhetoric sprang out of the core of the revolution. This young intellectual was totally indifferent to the institution and all the chances for symbolic or economic capital that were available to him or her. The “pulse of the street” was the guiding compass for the new intellectuals, who remained in constant engagement and communication with the political fluidity, getting inspiration from successive incidents. Hence, their imagination and expression kept parallel to such incidents. On the other hand, the traditional intellectuals kept trying to revive the spirit of revolution in well-worn institutions, believing that such institutions may eventually respond. Thus, they fixed their vision without moving a step forward.
Gradually, the new intellectuals managed to restore some art forms to the public—a public that had been completely alienated from arts due to the former regime’s policies. The new intellectuals continue to advance and gain new spaces, in the real and the symbolic sense, while the “old” intellectuals return to their “old” lives, which are dependent on holding seminars, writing articles, and issuing calls for conferences that aim at uniting the cultural community. Meanwhile, the right-wing trend has continued its fierce attacks on freedom of art and creativity.
It should be noted that the generations that took to the street on January 25 and developed a political consciousness did not emerge from the womb of the cultural or political institution. Consequently, following the revolution, the official cultural institution earnestly tried to assimilate those youth through official statements affirming that it is the youth who will take the lead, or announcing the formation of a youth committee and the like; statements that affirm formal existence, but that fail to assimilate such a massive energy of youth—a youth who have employed a totally new language that is unintelligible to the institution. Hence, their forms of expression seemed wild and predominant, and by definition grounded in the rejection of institutionalization. As the emergence of these generations was surprising for all, experts and analysts started to affirm that all the youth who took to the streets were “unpoliticized,” as if engagement in politics were a suspicion that must be warded off. In addition, it seems that the defi?nition of politics adopted by analysts and experts was so narrow and classical that it failed to encompass the new nature of political work carried out by those youth. Protesting on January 25 and raising certain demands was a political action par excellence that everyone sought to black out, since acknowledgment of it meant the failure of the policy of nonrecognition adhered to by all politicians regarding the parallel world that had been forming in front of them, but which they dismissed as “virtual.”
January 25 was the turning point in the definition of the intellectual. The new intellectual, who grew out of the spirit of January 25, appeared to be that youth who would write a poem, face the bullets, move along the streets denouncing the practices of authority, and then return to sing with a band. Therefore, with the outbreak of the revolution on January 25, it was confirmed that there were thousands who would express their opinions in various forms, provide analyses for what was going on, and offer alternative choices and new approaches. They all chose to take a stance instead of remaining silent. What is more, from the margins to which they were confined, they managed to disturb the center and even penetrate it. In fact, the rhymed chants, bearing strong objections to and a total rejection of current policies, replaced the subtle and detached political analyses that had abounded in the media under state control.
Besides, Twitter and Facebook comments allowed immediate commentary on any official speech, so much so that in some cases the authority had to comment in reply or harass the commentators. To a certain extent, modern means of communication turned into an alternative arena for fueling the conflict in the era of the Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, there was an increase in independent gatherings that assumed different means of expression and that did not attempt to cooperate with official sites, as was done by the old intellectuals, who participated in events held by organizations such as the Independent Culture Coalition, which would hold an artistic ceremony on the first Saturday of each month. The new generation renounced the institution, which is a key point in cultural analysis of the status quo, and proceeded to smash the concept of symbolic figures, which largely confounded the institution. Thus, through a vision involving minimal agreement on the basics, at least politically and culturally, the patriarchal authority was transformed in most cases into a target for ridicule and cynicism. Yet, what is more important is that the institution lost credibility among a new generation, for whom its restrictions were no longer acceptable.
The rejection of the institution expresses the revolutionary choice that allowed the new intellectuals to fully declare their opposition to the military through all available means: marches, sit-ins, posters, blogs, chants, short films, and testimonies. Yet, the art of graffiti remained among the most important forms of expression, and even transformed into an area of conflict between the new intellectuals and authority. The graffiti drawings that covered the walls of Cairo were registering stances, expressing protest, and establishing a new discourse. Therefore, it was natural that the authority set out to scrub off the drawings, only for them to be redrawn by the revolutionaries the next day. Graffiti artists have become targets of an authoritarian regime.
The trajectory of the new intellectuals is reminiscent of that described in the article written by the American cultural critic Cornel West, who participated in the 1960s civil rights movement. In the article, titled “The New Cultural Politics of Difference,” West addressed the policies adopted by the black cultural activists in presenting their culture and creativity to the community, which led him to elaborate on the challenges that faced them. He pinpointed three challenges: intellectual, existential, and political. Since the new intellectual shares marginalization with the black intellectual—of course in a different political context—the three challenges mentioned by West can be utilized in order to understand the present Egyptian context. Here, the intellectual challenge depends on how theorization is carried out and, in turn, on understanding these new avant-garde policies and how the circles surrounding the work are magnified.14 As for the existential challenge, it lies in the way the new intellectuals manage to afford the resources for their persistence and to procure symbolic capital in the cultural field; that is, the essential and necessary skills in the field. Yet, West adds, discipline and perseverance are necessary for success, without an undue reliance on the mainstream (taste or the institution in this case) for approval or acceptance.15 Regarding the third challenge, the political one, which the vanguard managed to handle proficiently, the objective was right before their eyes. This vanguard has made staunch alliances for the realization of democracy and freedom in their society. This needs more explanation since it was the challenge that underlay the whole endeavor.
The protesting actions of the new intellectuals suggest a different relation between art and politics. Recently, critics such as Gerald Raunig have used the term transversality16 to describe new terrains of open cooperation between activist, artistic, social, and political practices. Such new alliances, even if temporary, set to de-territorialize the disciplines and fields they work across. Transversality is not a form or an institution that one joins, but rather it is continually constituted through events that require and trigger certain acts of alliance where art and the revolution connect. It is a relation that manifests itself in practices that spring from every place, with no center and no reproduction. They emerge in the cracks, the in-betweens, and in the most unexpected moments; yet, they are not linear at all. There is no hierarchy either for art or for the revolution; on the contrary, there are temporary overlaps that Raunig describes as “micropolitical attempts at the transversal concatenation of art machines and revolutionary machines” (italics added).17 They are carried out by different factions of society, and they are immediate struggles in the sense that people criticize instances of power that are closest to them. Most important, they conquer, by accumulation, the totalization and individualization of the regime. Foucault explains that such struggles assert the right to be different, and they undermine everything that makes individuals truly individual.
On the other hand, they attack everything that separates the individual, break his links with others, split up community life, force the individual back on himself, and tie him to his own identity in a constraining way.18 Having managed to redress the gap between the individual and the collective is one of the most notable successes of the new intellectuals. To lobby collectively while protecting individual identity has subverted the discourse of the regime that has always tried to cement the discursive, social, and cultural barriers so as to keep its power intact. The point of strength of these “new” protests is that they are transversal; they are works of art that are not works of art. They are “collective actions undertaken by non collective actors,” as Asef Bayat has stated.19
Over time, since 2011 and up until now, the concept of “the intellectual” has changed, being no longer confined to the writer or thinker, but rather extending to include all the new expression and protest forms pursued by the new generation. It seemed as if the new intellectuals had managed to achieve an accumulation of experience and to develop their discourse, though they did not reject the idea of just retaliation for martyrs, which is directly linked to the concept of justice. From the outset, the new intellectuals rejected any form of domestication, either within a party or an institution (Felix Guattari has developed the concept of trans- versality in face of the “party” as the ultimate political organization), which made most blocs emerge in the form of a “movement” without any conventional organizational framework, as can be seen in the April 6 Movement, ultras groups, Bahiya ya Masr (Beautiful Egypt), Askar Kadhibun (Lying Generals), Ikhwan Kadhibun (Lying Brotherhood), and many others. This rendered the emergence of the Tamarrud Movement understandable in light of the poor performance of Mohammed Morsi’s government,20 regardless of the fate of such a campaign.
The use of the word youth in reference to the new revolutionary generation bore many patriarchal characteristics, as it implied vigor and lack of experience in the face of reason and wisdom. At a defining moment, the term even turned into a tactic in President Morsi’s penultimate speech, when he declared that a youth assistant would be appointed for every minister in an attempt to placate the youth, who did not accept simulated solutions and were not lured by the president’s positions at any stage since the outbreak of the revolution. The only option in their eyes was the original concept on which the revolution was established: bread, freedom, and social justice. However, the problematic issue for the new intellectuals, who adopted a radical discourse and a different vision, and who pursued unprecedented means of expression that combined the local and the global (including even the Black Bloc Movement), remained: others’ incomprehension of the new intellectuals’ attitude, whether that other be the old intellectual, the military authority, the Muslim Brotherhood, or even the recent regime headed by Abdul Fatah el-Sisi.
Of course, the old patriarchal intellectuals were somehow in solidarity with the new generation, and forcefully supported them in certain contexts, though they maintained political neutrality, watching and analyzing, until authorities directly assaulted them. And so they started protesting against the “Brotherhood- ization” of culture. What is strange about the role of the intellectuals is that the process of state Brotherhoodization had actually begun earlier, but the threat did not seem pressing for them until such a process extended to the “cultural” sector.
Hence, it can be said that the new intellectuals have managed to build the foundation for a new world, which was not easy, since they paid a high price (detention, assault, defamation, death, and legal and military trial). Thanks to these new intellectuals, who imposed through their persistence a different political discourse, the populace’s cultural discourse started to produce a different vocabulary in form and content. Despite such a largely manifest novelty, the institution remained tenaciously wedded to its old discourse, which gives full credit to the “youth” in press releases, but totally forgets them in real practices. Thus, the institution was (and still is) aware of the importance of new forms and means of expression, and the new intellectuals were (and still are) convinced of their being a sheer tool for the implementation of an old agenda. Therefore, the schism between the old and the new still exists, and the task of resolving it, not to mention the cost of undertaking such a challenge, is huge.