Failed Revolutions, Premature Temporalities: Arwa Salih and the post 1967 generation in Egypt

By Mohammed Ezzeldin
Submitted to Session P4614 (Generations, Ruination and Memory in Egypt 1952- 2011, 2016 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
The questions of failed uprisings and unfulfilled revolutions have been key analytical optics in the modern historiography of Egypt. Whether in the anticolonial struggle, postcolonial emancipation, 1970s uprisings or in 2011 revolution, major historical narratives were marked by the schemas of lack, incompleteness and premature foreclosures. Yet, one still need to inquire about the lingering questions, revolutionary residues of these experiences, and ask: how can we orient ourselves historically and temporally to amputated openings and suppressed emancipatory potentials?
In order to engage these questions, I will revisit the biography and personal accounts of Arwa Salih, one of the militant leaders of Egyptian student movement in 1970s. She belonged to a remarkable generation whose political activism began at the heels of the devastating military defeat of the Arab armies in the Six Day War in 1967 and was cut short with the implementation of draconian neoliberal policies following the crackdown on the popular uprising known as the bread riots in 1977-an event considered by some historians as a precursor to the 2011 revolutionary scenes.
Between 1967 and 1977, Egypt witnessed a series of popular upheavals and riots spearheaded by various student movements that tried to bring an end to dictatorship, authoritarianism and patriarchy. While their struggles reached a peak, the country moved away from the nationalist-socialist anti-colonial framework towards a laissez faire neoliberal position, peace treaty with Israel and solid alliances with the United States.
Due to those radical sociopolitical and economic fluctuations, Salih and her comrades found themselves suddenly in a disorienting world moving in a different direction not in sync with the struggles and sacrifices of their youth. She described her generation as the premature (al-mubtasarun) in her seminal book of the same title. The premature designates the unrealized potentials, incomplete projects and unfulfilled promises of a failed emancipatory project that her generation embodied.

Stuck between an older order that was crumbling and a new order that was still in the making, Salih’s generation found itself in a stalled situation where the future is no longer linked to the past.

Building on contemporary debates on revolutionary afterlives (Ross 2002, Wilder 2015, Comay 2011) and futures past (Koselleck 2004, Scott 2013), my paper will engage the life and legacies of Salih and her comrades, not as a conventional social history but to configure a new temporal modality and historical sensibility depart from the schemas of failure, loss and lack.