How A Leading Egyptian Historian Found Himself In The Middle Of A Revolution

Historians in the News
tags: Egypt, Tahrir, Khaled Fahey



After over a decade of teaching in the United States, Professor Khaled Fahmy arrived in Cairo a few months before the Egyptian revolution. A leading historian of modern Egypt and an expert on the Middle East, he would find himself unexpectedly at the center of one of the most pivotal moments in the region's history.

Fahmy joined thousands of others in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where 18 days of intense protests finally caused Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down after three decades in power. After Mubarak's fall in February of 2011, Fahmy continued to be an outspoken activist and writer on Egyptian affairs, accusing both the Muslim Brotherhood of former President Mohammed Morsi and current President Abdel Fattah Sisi of corrupting what the revolution tried to achieve.

Fahmy, who is now a visiting professor at Harvard University, spoke with The WorldPost about the events of Egypt's revolution and the successes and failures of the Arab Spring now that five years have passed.

You returned to Egypt just months before the revolution began after working abroad for years. What was Cairo like during that period before the uprising?

There was something in the air. When a friend asked me in late 2010 what brought me back after so many years of living abroad, I responded that I felt something was happening. 

I wasn’t even thinking politically. I was thinking there was something among the youth when it came to literary and artistic production. New films, a new kind of music, new literature, regardless of the topics, were irreverent toward political authority, and of religious and political tradition.

At the same time, on a political level, the actions of young people after the killing of Khaled Said, the Alexandrian activist, were unprecedented. There was something very new about this type of civil disobedience, of young men and women both in Alexandria and Cairo wearing black, holding hands in silent marches and turning their backs to the cities in protest.

To me, as an academic and a historian of modern Egypt, that resonated. I could sense that something was happening, but of course I never predicted that it would take the shape it did. ...




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