I remember a time when I thought I could never, ever leave my country. Like millions of other kids around the world, my love for my country was deeply rooted in my heart. Then, living in Tahrir (center of the Egyptian revolution), witnessing a revolution spark literally at my doorstep definitely did not help make me any less patriotic. I remember looking through the window as a 12-year old kid to see a policeman coming out of the van and fire at the unarmed protesters. They still protested, though, and the people kept coming to Tahrir. Eighteen days passed, and we witnessed what we would have never thought imaginable. Shooting protesters, unbelievable amounts of teargas, thugs on camels, hundreds of people killed and injured, and it only made the people stronger. It was clear: the protesters wanted a better future for this country, even if it meant putting their life on the line. Going down to Tahrir most days, I memorized all the nationalistic, patriotic, and revolutionary songs. On the 11th of February, 2011, ex-Vice President Omar Solaiman announced that ex-President Hosni Mubarak had resigned. Naïve as we were, we thought that meant the success of our glorious revolution. We screamed and teared up and ran down to Tahrir to celebrate. “Erfaa’ rasak fo’, enta masry”, everyone chanted and screamed, “Raise your head up high, you are an Egyptian.” When things calmed down and we went back to school, my school introduced the morning flag salutations, something we had never done before. I vividly remember being keen on standing the first in line to proudly sing the national anthem audibly, while most others kept quiet or sang in low whispers. The months following Mubarak’s resignation were full of pride, happiness, and more than anything else, patriotism.
Two years later, I remember when a teacher told me how he thought nationalism was something negative. Naturally, I couldn’t be convinced. Today, we’re over 4 years after the revolution started, and a murderous government that took power following a military coup is in power. Almost all the people we were all greatly inspired by during the days of the revolution are now either dead, in prison, left the country (either forced to flee or voluntarily), or really want to leave the country. Unsurprisingly, I no longer sing the national anthem or stand the first in line, and you wouldn’t hear me saying that I’d never leave this country either. So does that mean that I’ve given up on the cause? That I don’t want justice for all the innocent and honorable souls who lost their lives? Absolutely not; it’s just that my motives have changed. I am not going to fight for freedom and justice “for my country”, but because I believe in freedom and justice. I will not stand up for what is right “for my country”, but because my principles and religion tell me to do so. I will not fight for human rights “for my country”, but because my humanity commands I do so. The country we thought we fought for is where we saw our loved ones die or go to prison. It’s where the spirited youth bleed to death in the streets. And the Egyptians? Many of them are the reason why this is happening. The ones who celebrated and felt elated while the opposition was being killed and tortured are Egyptians. The people who called on military leader and current president Sisi to “fight terrorism”, in other words kill youth who have never held a gun in their lives, are also Egyptians.
It’s confusing, because when I hear that an Egyptian won an Olympic medal or reached a great position, I still feel that same pride. Maybe that is what patriotism or nationalism is, connecting and empathizing with people from your same background. Maybe nationalism could help unite the people of a country together, and motivate them towards building a better future for a country. Right now, however, all I know is whenever I hear a patriotic song or see the national flag everywhere all around the country, I remember the criminals who are using this as a cover to murder, torture, and imprison innocent people. At the end of the day, I do not even know what love for a country is: is it for the people? The land? The culture? Does not really make sense to me anymore, but whatever it is, one thing is sure: no one should die for that.