Peaceful protests have erupted into violence, as Egypt seeks a new future. Much of the world has watched in shock, as Egypt was believed to be one of the most stable countries in the Middle East. How did this happen? As a Healer, I look beneath the politics of a community in order to address this important question.
An international correspondent, Arwa Damon, relayed the words of an Egyptian mother who spoke about the riots in Cairo. The Egyptian mother said, “This is my responsibility. This is my generations’ fault. It was my generation who chose to remain silent and tolerate corruption for the sake of stability. Now, it has become the problem of my son’s generation. It is our children bleeding in the streets.”
Her powerful insight carried both humility and lament. By humility, I mean the unnamed matron was able to clear away the obstructions from her sight. She was able to let go of denial and pride in order to recognize that history played a part in the riots. The feelings of outrage seen in the protests were not new. There has been a history which smoldered for decades. Egypt’s rage and fears did not originate with the thousands of young, bloody faces seen on TV. Young adults in their teens, twenties and thirties were born into a controlled, simmering climate. After ingesting that climate, they have become conduits for their parents, aunts, uncles, and elders by screaming the emotions that were never expressed.
The insightful mother’s generation has been fighting an inner conflict between anger and fear. Expressing the anger meant change. The path of fear led to hesitation, and the hesitation hid the building pressure, like a basement of kerosene that everybody thought was locked away safely. She felt a sense of responsibility, as if there were many conversations at the dinner table about how the people needed to reclaim their society. For her children, the current government is all they have ever known. It is the older generations that bore the burden of knowledge. They knew a different Egypt was possible because the Egypt of their childhood was different than today.
Yet the words of this mother also communicated a certain dread. Did she fear that one day, the basement of kerosene would eventually ignite? “This is my responsibility. This was my generations’ fault,” she lamented, as if her generation had missed an opportunity to face a power structure as it first took root.
I admire the humility and courage of this mother, for she has revealed a hidden transfer of burden from her generation to the next generation. She has begun to name the invisible burden which her children now carry. This invisible burden is a mixed bundle containing the unmet responsibilities of the older generation and the emotional, unfinished story of modern Egypt. Along with this burden comes those feelings of rage, fear, guilt, and passion seen in the protests. Now, the children of Egypt must embrace the work that their parents and grandparents could not do. How will the older generations support them?
As Egyptians begin to pick up the rubble from Tahrir Square, they will undoubtedly need the help of all their generations. Those of President Mubarak’s generation know that a different kind of society is possible. They can become the greatest believers in their children’s ability to lead. The generations of grandparents, who have watched the violence from their windows, can become the guides. It has been their lives which have held the greatest knowledge of past mistakes. By learning from history, we need not repeat it.
This is more than a political upheaval. It is the first step in a mass healing of a society. The poignant words of the brave Egyptian mother expressed ownership and guilt. But ultimately, one generation cannot be blamed for the creation of our societies. Growth requires that each generation participate and hold their share of the onus for communication, dreaming, and for implementing the best possible future for the babies in the cradle.
History shows us that riots eventually fade. When the dust settles, it will be time to mend the festering wounds which are still emptying in the riots. As the older generations tell the stories of their struggle, the younger generations can see that these riots were not random. Rather, it has taken generations of stifled malcontent to create the current streets of Cairo. The photo of a mother kissing her son dressed in riot gear brings me hope. It shows the deep family support that is possible, regardless of what side you believe in. My prayer for Egypt is that there may be a respectful space where all the generations can recreate their society as a unified family.