“I am a revolutionary”

Jan 28, 2011: A protester beckoning us onto the battle for Kasr El Nile Bridge.

I am not a revolutionary. While I advocate revolution, I have not truly engaged in the ongoing/somewhat failing one since the 18 days of the initial uprising. Nor am I something that is “radically new or different” – as in “a revolutionary method for reducing carbon emissions” – as the second and more common use of the word suggests.

If I were a revolutionary though, I would hate to be labeled as one, and certainly would never want to describe myself as such. I’ve heard a couple of people describe themselves to me outright and with a straight face, saying, “I am a revolutionary.” While I smiled and nodded slowly, I couldn’t help think in the back of my mind: “You’re a conceited, self-congratulatory little prick, aren’t you?” And that’s not to mention the countless bloggers and Twitter folk who have basically taken “revolutionary” as their middle name now.

Whatever happened to the (slightly) more humble “activist”?

It seems to me that describing yourself as a revolutionary sounds a little too much like calling yourself a maverick or, to elaborate, “A fucking awesome, wild, cool dude.” There is something that is very unmaverick-like about that. It’s more than a little pathetic, if we’re honest.

Worse, the use of this term has only added yet another overly simplistic and easy to abuse division to an already tedious list of political factions: The Islamists, the feloul, the silent majority/Couch Party – and, of course, those adrenaline rush-seeking, Molotov-throwing, and generally quite unkempt revolutionaries: “the great enemies of the beloved wheel of production,” as we are continually told by the media.

Add onto that the number of bitchy cat fights that have repeatedly sprang up online and in the streets about who is a  “real revolutionary” and who isn’t, and you start to see the depth of silliness now associated with this word.

To be fair, that term has been imposed on protesters by the media just as readily as some protesters have gladly taken up the title. It’s a word that I think is now loathed by the majority of “non-revolutionaries” (i.e. pretty much everyone) and I don’t believe it’s just because the media has largely succeed in portraying them as fire-starting drug-addicts. It’s also because there is something about the haughty complacency that comes with the word “revolutionary” that touches a nerve – it rubs the so-called silent majority in the wrong way, I believe.

The sniffiness of the word is  even more evident in Egyptian Arabic. Sawragy: it’s all too easy to get fed up with its “I’m an unshaven hippie” connotations, unintended as they might be. The Spaniards did a much better job with their use of the term Indignado – because who isn’t indignant these days? Perhaps a similar word in Arabic is needed.

Either way, and for the sake of humility at least, please don’t use “revolutionary” to describe yourselves. And if you must, you can do it in front of the mirror, behind closed doors.

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