What is it about the cataclysmic first year of every decade of this third millennium? Events that permanently shake and shape the world stage. September 2001 needs no reminder. January 2011, the Arab Spring in Tahrir Square, Cairo. January 2021, the sacking of the Capitol in Washington DC. As I watched the inconceivable spectacle of a mob charging the very seat of American democracy, the sense of déjà-vu was acute and yet overpowered by the far more alarming implications. When a million Egyptians gathered in the streets to demand, first the reform, then the ouster, of the thirty-year autocracy of Hosni Mubarak, the uprising fell into the category of the familiar, the rational, and even the expected, along the pattern of similar popular revolutions in Eastern Europe and elsewhere around the world. But the mob assault of a few thousand
on the hallowed electoral process in the iconic Capitol building on January 6th, 2021, was truly unprecedented, an earthquake opening a chasm under our feet. Above all, irrational: a response to an alternative, conspiracy-fueled version of facts. And consequently, the chasm opening under our feet is dividing the nation into two camps with irreconcilable world views. Egypt’s 2011 Revolution presented no such challenge to reality, only irreconcilable positions on whether, or how, to bring about change. In America today, there is no consensus on reality.
The contrast is particularly salient to me right now, as I am in the process of writing a novel set in Egypt during the Arab Spring.