It is only natural that a sense of national euphoria should follow a popular uprising that has toppled a tyrant who has been in power for 30 years. But what happens next to the country’s collective psyche is less clear.
The potential for great change exists, though, and conversations with many Egyptians suggest that even two months after the fall of the regime, there is still a tremendous pride and optimism, even if it is tempered by caution.
Shawky al-Akabawy, a prominent Egyptian psychology and sociology expert says that it would take years and a lot of work to turn the new-found positivity and national pride among Egyptians from a temporary high into a sustainable change.
“Sudden wars don’t allow people to take their time to change. Principles will cause change, not slogans,” said al-Akabawy, urging Egyptians to stick to the principles of the revolution in order to dispel the negativities that decades of oppression have instilled in the Egyptian character.
Basma Abdel Aziz, a psychologist at the Egyptian Mental Health Secretariat and El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, describes the Egyptian personality before the revolution as passive-aggressive and defeatist. Egyptians used to channel the anger resulting from their oppression in various wrong directions, she says, such as slacking at work or destroying public property, while simultaneously accepting the status quo.
Saneya Abdel Atty, a teacher, exemplifies that change. She says that she used to isolate herself in her house when she faced a problem. Now, whenever she has something to say, she heads to Tahrir Square.
“Before 25 January, I used to talk to myself. I would count my corrupt bosses and ask myself who to complain to,” says Abdel Atty. “Now, I still don’t know how to get my rights, but the difference is that I have Tahrir Square.”
Like many Egyptians, Abdel Atty’s relief is mixed with apprehension. “I am now living in a state of imbalance. I’m wondering whether the blood of the martyrs will pay off or go to waste?”
The triumph of the people’s will, which was crowned by Mubarak’s resignation in response to their demands, gave the Egyptian people a feeling of dignity and empowerment that many say has changed them drastically.
Al-Akabawy says that the revolution filled the people with pride, dignity and confidence after they succeeded in changing what they thought was unchangeable.
“I am not breathing air now, I am breathing freedom,” says Abdel Shafei Sirag al-Din, a protester. “Even if we haven’t collected the fruits of the revolution yet, the people are happy with the feeling of freedom and democracy, which they cherish more than the bread that the old regime used to humiliate us for.”
Architect Ahmed Anwar shares the same feeling. “I was numb before. Now I feel like a human being who has freedom and has a personality,” he says. “My voice finally came out. It’s enough for me that I became respected inside my country and outside.”
Many Egyptians had a gloomy outlook on the future before the revolution, but now a sense of hope has been ignited that Egypt and its people are headed for a better future.
Art student Radwa al-Ghoroury says that she had always loved Egypt but never felt that she had a future in the country, and was planning to emigrate after college. Now she believes that she may be facing a bright future in her homeland. “The determination of the people in the square inspired me to be determined myself,” says al-Ghoroury.
“After we were sure that there was no hope, the youth who started the revolution opened the door, and the whole population who had been suffering from corruption followed,” says Akabawy.
The removal of the fear barrier took a huge burden off the shoulders of Egyptians. Abdel Aziz says that Egyptians were finally able to speak out against their rulers, who they regarded as father figures before, making them off limits for criticism.
“After the revolution, I am no longer afraid of the government,” says Mohamed al-Sayed Fadl, a college graduate. “I saw that I was able to say no. I became stronger because now I know that no one can oppress us again. If we had an unjust ruler, we would be able to get our rights from him.”
Abdel Aziz says that the unrealistic expectation that some Egyptians had regarding the results of the revolution might lead to disappointment, which would halt the change in their personalities.
“We were surprised by the revolution and the fall of the regime, and we thought that life would be perfect after that, even though what has been accomplished is only a drop in an ocean,” says Abdel Aziz.
Nadia Hassan, a mother of five who lost one of her children in a car accident and was never able to prosecute the person responsible, risks experiencing such disappointment. She believes that she will never have to endure this feeling of injustice again. “Our youth performed a miracle that we weren’t able to do. They woke us up. What we lost is enough,” she tearfully declares.
The revolution also created a new sense of pride, replacing the shame that most Egyptians previously lived with.
“For the first time in 30 years, Egyptians are feeling that the world is looking at them with admiration and respect, which has restored the sense of national dignity that had been lost,” explains al-Akabawy.
Amira Khallaf, an English teacher, says that she is motivated by the feeling that Egypt is her country and that it’s her responsibility to develop it. “I never thought of Egypt as my country. I never felt that the streets were mine to clean, but now I feel that Egypt is mine and I will change it myself,” says Khallaf.
Many who were depressed by the thought that Egyptians are negative and unwilling to fight for change got a huge boost when they saw millions of people participating in the demonstrations that led to Mubarak’s fall.
“I felt I was trying to change the country on my own, but I was surprised to find that a lot of people share my vision, and now we can change it together,” says Sarah Abou Bakr, a marketing agent, adding that this realization returned hope to her and altered her state of mind completely.
Akabawy says that the extent to which the people’s hopes will be materialized during the next phase will determine whether this shift in Egyptian morale will last or fade away, leaving them in a state of despair similar to that which was common before the revolution.
Abdel Aziz believes that a radical transformation in the educational system, from teaching memorization and passivity to encouraging creative thinking and initiative, is crucial to sustaining a long-lasting change in the Egyptian personality.
But for now, more than two months after Mubarak’s resignation, the sense of hope and optimism is still there.
Talking to Mohamed Abdo, a state television employee, this hope and optimism is palpable. Abdo says he used to look at his seven-year-old son Khaled and his one-year-old Kholoud and wonder how they would manage to survive the tough future ahead. Not anymore. “Now there’s an energy, there’s a light. I know that their time will be better than mine, with a little patience.”