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Amr Ezzat
Fadi Awad

During the nights following the 28th of January, when the ‘popular committees’ took over the security of the Egyptian streets, each came up with a password which one needed to say in order to be let past. Astonishingly, the one chosen by the committee, which was securing my own street was “Do you know Amr Ezzat?” When I was asked this question on my way home for the first time from the Tahrir occupation to take a shower and change my clothes, I answered affirmatively, with a half-smile. But surely not every Amr Ezzat is the one I know. I didn’t know the neighbour whose name became synonymous with the street in a moment like that, but I knew very well the activist/writer/blogger/journalist who would become one of the figures of the betrayed Egyptian revolution, and, in my opinion, one of its most important torchbearers.

For Amr Ezzat to become the one I know, he had to diversify his education, starting with engineering, where he encountered the various existing (or  potential) intellectual and political currents in the Egyptian society at the turn of the century. Engineering wasn’t the last destination , since his calm reflection was thirsty for philosophy, which he ended up studying. His religious inclination in his early twenties pushed him towards learning jurisprudence and sharia through the religious “institution” formed outside the realm of the Egyptian State. 

For Amr Ezzat to become himself, he had to engage with the communication revolution of the early 2000s; he had to blog, and the title he chose for his blog had to be so personal, idiosyncratic, simple and free as it is: Ma Bada Li (What seemed to me). He only writes what seemed to him. Is writing anything but that? Despite all the masks the writers hide behind?

Yet another (parallel) link to ICT and social change: Having graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, he had to travel across the country – cities, towns and countryside – to follow up with the structural safety of mobile phone’s station’s facilities that ensured the communication between the people in this century’s mode. This face-to-face nationwide experience I went hand in hand with marking his technical and online presence at the heart of the contemporary communication revolution, a civil engineer at the helm of the then nascent Egyptian blog sphere–in which he was and still is one of the most active elements.

Wanting to write, another shift is made, this time a career shift, to the press, naturally enough, becoming quickly a prominent voice from a new generation of Egyptian journalists that took a special and fresh interest in observing the society at large and investigating its phenomena, breaking with the “conventional” press. His contributions to the  the “Colours of Life” page in the Shourouk daily were mainly long and in-depth stories that belonged to a new kind of journalism in Egypt that he explored further in other outlets–  Al Masry Al Yawm and Mada Masr for which he writes opinion pieces. 

For Amr Ezzat to become the one I know, he had to realize that one of the central questions in the Egyptian society is the social and political conflict around religion. He benefited from all the intellectual tools he acquired from jurisprudence, sharia, law and politics to become a religious freedoms defender, either by publishing reports and articles or moderating dialogues between the different conflict parties. He does all of that with the concern/thrust and endeavor of the researcher keen on – without falling into the indecent generalizations or structural illusions –  exploring the authoritarian fallacies,  debunking them on historical and logical grounds, and on observing the similarities between several small phenomena to come up with a general pattern that applies on many of them, reflecting the space-time stage in which it takes place.

For Amr to become Amr, he had to be both so ordinary and exceptional, able of seeing the whole and the parts without one dominating the other and without reductionism or vulgarizing. For example he spoke of the ‘conditional accessibility’ as a state’s way of dealing with the islamists and the ‘cowardly daring’ as the way a group of the Egyptian opposition deals with the state. Or take his beautiful neologism; Sondokratia (Ballotocracy, Muslim Brotherhood era) about the elections that look democratic and independent from the outside while they don’t give a damn about democracy and all they do is absolve the state’s obligations towards the society.

For Amr Ezzat to become the one I know, he had to be well-versed in logic, in the sense of the relations between concepts, and in syllogism, but also in argumentation and dialectic. He knows the art as it was founded by the great authors, namely the scholars of the seminal sources of jurisprudence, therefore becoming that argumentator, who doesn’t lose temper and doesn’t lose the thread of his argumentation. I refer here particularly – in addition to his writings – to the monthly “Forum of Religion and Freedoms”, which he organizes and moderates at the “Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights”. 

Amr is also well-versed in rhetorics. For me, the most beautiful thing in him/he does is perhaps his language, and its rhetoric, in the sense that it is highly contemporary, ridiculously lucid, and at the same time able to address the most complex theoretical subjects. The contemporary here doesn’t only mean catering to the cultural taste of a targeted reader as much as it means the creation of the rhetoric moment itself. 

I remember Amr Ezzat describing the prologue of the current Egyptian Constitution – full with all kinds of ”obsolete” figurative language pomp – as “idiotic”. What I understood from that description is the harsh sarcasm in favor of another style. He knows that sarcasm is the figure of speech which can provide a headline for the historical moment we are living–he calls for that, writes that way, and perhaps this is how he lives. Wasn’t it him, who kept the locks of the bathrooms of the Tahrir Square when the revolutionaries invaded it, without any of them, nor even myself, recognizing how significant that way of recording the historical moment was. Could it be more ironic?

Fadi Awad is a book editor, linguist and lecturer at Ecole Nationale Superieure in Paris 

Translated from Arabic by: Kenza Rady

Amr Ezzat is also columnist for Al-Masry Al-Youm and a human rights activist from Cairo. Amr participated in our Cairo Longform Workshop in 2015, whereof this longform “Room 304” evolved. 

amr cover with title
Cover artwork by: Omneia Nageeb

Room 304 or How I Hid from My Dear Father for 35 Years

180 min

Room 304 or How I Hid from My Dear Father for 35 Years

180 min