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Egypt song: A battle-cry for 'the revolution' to go on

'Look closely, you'll find a voice that vows to defy silence and the soldiers of Haman,' sings Yasser Elmanawahly on Egypt's uprising anniversary
An image grab from 'What to do,' a music video by Egyptian singer Yasser Elmanawahly (YouTube)

Egyptian singer, songwriter and musician Yasser Elmanawahly released a new song in January, dedicated to the fourth anniversary of the Egyptian uprising that led to the overthrow of long-time president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.  

The new tune, entitled 'What to do?', tells fellow Egyptians that "The revolution is a fight with the devil / Not a moment of silence and few words" – suggesting that the uprising hasn't ended in success or failure yet but rather is still ongoing.

The song, whose music was composed by Elmanawahly but whose lyrics were written by Tamer Abu Arab, calls on pro-reform activists to "Stay put during the battle," because "If you're afraid you'll die twice," in a reference to an old Arab saying which implies that excessive fear is like death.  

"The tyrant's weapon is your feeling of despair / So don't strengthen him with your silence," urged the song's final couplet.  

However, Elmanawahly, who has been singing about the revolt since its outset, also felt that free speech has become much more restricted during the past year, preventing him from making more songs.

"Those who have talents need freedom in order to be creative. You can't have creativity when people are being jailed for silly reasons," Elmanawahly told MEE by phone on the eve the fourth anniversary of the mass Arab Spring protests in Egypt.

"I have written many songs that I have not recorded or released," he said, because "we live in chaotic times, and at the end of the day we are but human. We have our limits."

Among those songs is a tune called 'Let them have fun', in which he mocks the country's pro-state media for what he alleges is their "wild imagination in making up lies". In that song, he invites those "who teach patience" to come and learn patience from Egyptians, who have to put up with local media.

It is not the first time that Elmanawahly has poked fun at the country's media. In a 2011 song named 'An infiltrating minority', he criticised government-run television because "When blood was being spilt / [TV] was broadcasting images of the Nile."

His new tune comes one year after another song, which is also critical of Egypt's military establishment, called 'Rima' and whose lyrics claim that the state "Rima is back (to her old ways) after the change / With an old tale, that we've witnessed times before / With raised batons and banned speech / People are dying from bullets and hunger."

When asked about how things in Egypt have changed since that song – and since the military overthrow of elected president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 – Elmanawahly said that "while the state has become intolerably worse, people in general are becoming less naïve than they used to be. People are no longer convinced [with government narratives] and are challenging the new taboos."        

"You have to remember that there are many circles of interest that are benefiting from the current system and they are keen that the regime remains unchanged - more keen than the regime itself," charged Elmanawahly.

"It is also difficult for some of the elderly people to try to change course because they have been used to the prevalence of severe corruption for over 30 years, and military control for 60 years," he added.

However, Elmanawahly said he remains optimistic because "the youth are becoming increasingly aware of the things which are wrong in their daily lives. They know that such an environment that they live in shouldn't be the norm," pointing to the state of the economy and a crackdown on peaceful dissent.

He also said that due to the longstanding influence of the media, many people suffer from what he called "Ikhwanophobia" (an irrational fear of the Muslim Brotherhood that goes beyond normal political or ideological disagreements), but "even that has become less now, with more people with different – or no – political affiliations coming together."

Lyrics by Tamer Abu Arab: [Translated into English by Mamoon Alabbasi]

What to do?

Injustice has become unbearable

Till when

Will hope remain alive?

Amidst bullets

I am being squeezed

It is true that I am not broken

But sometimes

In despair and fear I'm held captive

Where can salvation be found?

Salvation is in my certainty

That we shall be able to return

That the voice of justice is loud

Stronger than that of gunpowder

Take a look at people's faces

How many of them are absent of smiles

With rights lost, they say, not found

Take a look at people's faces

How many of them are absent of smiles

Forget about counting their numbers

See how they never end

Look closely, you'll find a voice that vows to defy silence and the soldiers of Haman*

Stay put during the battle

If you're afraid, you'll die twice

The revolution is a fight with the devil

Not a moment of silence and few words

Your weapon is the dream and blood of Mina**

The dream of every free Egyptian who died

The tyrant's weapon is your feeling of despair

So don't strengthen him with your silence

[*Haman is a supporter of the Pharaoh, mentioned in the Bible and the Quran. **A reference to Mina Daniel, a blogger and activist who was killed during the 'Maspero massacre' in October 2011.]