Big Brother in Cairo 2017
Over the past few days, I’ve been consumed by a feeling that I am the character Winston Smith from the novel 1984 by George Orwell—constantly under Big Brother’s surveillance, permitted only to think in the shadows.
Unlike Winston, I do not have a notebook of memoirs filled with dreams of resistance against the Egyptian regime. Yet this feeling wouldn’t leave me after I came across a passage I had written in 2014.
Was it really me who wrote, “Weak is the regime that invents fantasies and scarecrows, and loses patience with a television hosts or flares up at a columnist. That seeks to gag the opposition and amplify those who worship its praises and cheer it on, and tyrannizes and tortures in the name of war. A branch that, like its root, cannot comprehend that the revolution continues, and though we may be discouraged at times, we believe that despair is treason, and that we will prevail, if not now then in time.”
But things have changed, and that faith has been uprooted from its place in the heart, replaced with the mantra: “May we be granted a visa.”
Big Brother is watching you. Do not publish your manifestoes on Facebook, lest your newsfeed catch you red-handed, in the midst of a thought crime. Yes—you contemplated freedom… do you not know that war is peace? That freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength? Hold your silence, for everybody is silent, lest you share the fate of Emmanuel Goldstein. You have committed every possible crime, treason, and act of sabotage to disturb the peace in paradise.
Big Brother promised he would not raise prices, and therefore he will not raise prices… the prices are the same, do not believe otherwise. I know you are suffering from the rise in prices since the pound flotation, but I assure you that it was not Big Brother who raised them, but the merchants… those damn merchants, always filled with greed.
Big Brother is watching you. Do not publish your manifestoes on Facebook, lest you be caught red-handed, in the midst of a thought crime.
“Until they became conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled, they cannot become conscious.”
But… comrades, look, we’ve received some good news! The standard of living will improve in six months. That is a promise from Big Brother himself, and as we know, a promise made is a debt unpaid. If Emmanuel Goldstein returns from Vienna to remind us that Big Brother already promised to resolve the most pressing issues facing us within two years, don’t believe him. You have no other choice. Do you understand me?
“‘If there is hope,’ wrote Winston, ‘it lies in the proles.’” But I write: “The ruler knows that he would not last a day in power if fear disappeared from the people’s hearts, so he invents monsters to hold the people prisoners to phantom fears of his invention, to ensure his longevity.”
Have I really come to resemble Winston? Like him, I believe that “Until they became conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled, they cannot become conscious.” The matter is truly complicated—or as Emmanuel Goldstein put it, “We are completely lost!”
I do not deny that, at times, I don’t really think I resemble Winston, and question whether all these thoughts that fill my head are no more than fantasies. For I have never gone so far as to say that, “In the end, the party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it.” But sooner or later, that is what will happen.
Even if Big Brother declares “I do not want one plus one to equal two; I want one plus one to equal three and five and nine,” I will never believe it, it is impossible.
It seems as though I truly do not resemble him, and am simply suffering from some kind of fever. I will not pretend that this doesn’t please me, and yet I confess that I too suffer like Winston… ah Winston Smith, you who haunts me to no end these days. But I respect you. Your response to O’Brien’s question, “How does one man assert power over another?” represents me. Truly Winston, a man asserts power over another by making him suffer. Asserts power over society as a whole. We will suffer and say, “Somehow you will fail. Something will defeat you. Life will defeat you.” Or you might be defeated by an island or two… or box of baby formula.
This regime that seeks to build a police state; I shan’t repeat it again—that fear consumes you, that you are like a balloon, filled with nothing but hot air, ready to burst with just one needle’s prick, and it will all be over for you. You will follow all those who preceded you. I am struck with boredom, and I have lost my enthusiasm for change. But I will not say, as Winston did, “it is all right, everything is alright, the struggle is finished. I have won the victory over myself. I love Big Brother.”
But, regrettably, we are like heretics, walking into the traps set for us while we openly declare our heresy—nay, take pride in it. How can you fail when all your opponents are in prison… and all the media supports you? Do not envy Abdel Nasser, for he now envies you.