Saturday, February 12, 2011

Public Revolution, Procrastination and Writer's Block...

Anti-Mubarak barricade.
Photo by Peter MacDiarmid,
 from Michael (2011).

This is not a political blog. Nor is it a religious one. However, when the spirit to blog becomes weak, the curse that is the internet offers a plethora of esoteric distractions. For the last few years, my adopted hometown of Bangkok has been subjected to several public uprisings of various colours, stripes, and motivations. As a result, I've found myself taking an interest in similar events in other countries, particularly the ease and speed with which the internet delivers news at a pace that completely outstrips that of cable television. Recently therefore, I've been jacked into my laptop mainlining a three-way browser pile-up of the Guardian's instant updates, Al Jazeera's streaming video in English, and a motley collection of Twitter hash-tag threads, all centered on the action at Tahrir Square in Cairo, as a new digital generation of Egyptians shake off Mubarak's three decades of state dictatorship and political brutality.

Thus have I blogged little. I've also been reading an entertaining screed (part non-fiction, part "made-up") by Robert Twigger (2001), entitled The Extinction Club. Ostensibly, it’s about the Western discovery and subsequent conservation of the endangered Milu or Père David’s Deer (Elaphurus davidianus) of China. In reality, and in keeping with the introductory themes of this post, the book is also about writer’s block and the author’s life in Cairo:

…I’m sitting on the seventh-floor rooftop garden of my in-laws in Egypt. The garden is dusty, with a pruned kind of Astroturf underfoot, like the ponds of green furze used to signify grass on a model train set. The view is dusty and distant, as far as the sandstone cliffs at the edge of the city where the rubbish of twenty million people gets picked over and burned. Before the cliffs there are shell-like mini tower blocks, gray concrete apartment blocks, and big villas with rubble on their roofs. All over Cairo, whatever direction you look in, you will see piles of rubble on people’s roofs. Some of the rubble is obviously from the house concerned, but some seems strangely out of place, as if the owner has dumped the rubble there just to fit in. (Twigger, 2001, p. 4-5)

The Extinction Club
(Twigger, 2001).

The Extinction Club is an engaging read. On a whim, I typed Robert Twigger’s name into Google to see if he had a blog going, and not only did I find it, but he is currently in Cairo now, and occasionally posting about the momentous events happening there:

It goes in stages. You start laughing at the people with weapons. Then you pile up the sticks and the knives. I even found an old head-hunting dao from Nagaland – a real one my grandfather told me, and he got it there in the War. So I have my head-hunter’s machete by the door. Then you start carrying a weapon – a stick or a knife – to protect who you are with. And the door – first double locked, then you advise others to put the fridge against it, then the other day – after a lot of shots and sounds of running outside, my mother-in-law and I move the sofa, two armchairs, a suitcase and old sixteen mil camera case, some plywood boards from an old wardrobe to thoroughly barricade ourselves in. It was weird because I didn’t want to offend my mother-in-law by saying she was putting the chairs in the wrong place just as we are supposed to be fighting for our lives except it feels like moving the furniture about. Plus it isn’t science – who cares how the furniture goes – it just needs to be a massive pile of it. My son creeps in and calls it his den then he says for the first time he is scared. No you’re not I say. He looks down shamefaced. Then later I go into his room and he has barricaded his bed with all his toys. All of them. It is quite impressive but weird and a bit unsettling too. There are kids of seven and eight running in the street with bits of pipe and sticks. I saw one guy today with a pipe still with a tap at one end. It still didn’t look as funny as you’d think. (Twigger, 2011)

The accounts of state-sponsored brutality have been especially disturbing. In a harrowing piece for the Guardian, Robert Tait (2011) described the fate of those abducted by security forces and taken into custody:

The sickening, rapid click-click-clicking of the electric shock device sounded like an angry rattlesnake as it passed within inches of my face. Then came a scream of agony, followed by a pitiful whimpering from the handcuffed, blindfolded victim as the force of the shock propelled him across the floor.

A hail of vicious punches and kicks rained down on the prone bodies next to me, creating loud thumps. The torturers screamed abuse all around me. Only later were their chilling words translated to me by an Arabic-speaking colleague: "In this hotel, there are only two items on the menu for those who don't behave – electrocution and rape."

When things like this are happening in the world, and you become suddenly exposed to them because they are deemed newsworthy by the media gatekeepers, it can be difficult to find the motivation to do anything in the face of such adversity. In reality though, things like this are happening all the time and we either do not know about them through lack of exposure, or we do know, but ignore them because otherwise the continuous horror of what we do to each other every day as a species would drive us insane. Instead, we square our shoulders, turn our face to the sun, and attempt to keep on surviving. To quote Detective William R. Somerset (Fincher & Walker, 1995):

“‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”

Protesters in Tahrir Square.
Photo by 3arabawy (2011).


3arabawy. (2011). Barricades at Tahrir Sq entrance. Photo posted to

Fincher, D. (Director), & Walker, A. K. (Writer). (1995). Seven [Motion Picture].

Michael, M. (2011, February 2). Egypt PM apologizes for attack on protesters. Article accessed from

Tait, R. (2011, February 9). 28 hours in the dark heart of Egypt's torture machine. Article accessed from

Twigger, R. (2001). The Extinction Club. London: Hamish Hamilton.

Twigger, R. (2011, February 3). More from Cairo revolution. Message posted to


  1. As someone living in the quite peaceful UK (although we've had a few protests recently as well), your post made me stop and think about all the things that can happen.

    I hope the current situations can be resolved peacefully.

  2. Yup, here's hoping things now move forward peacefully in Egypt (and anywhere else)!

    One of the reasons I like living in Bangkok is the unpredictability of life in general, but during the protests last year, things were more than a little scary. When you find yourself checking Twitter for reports on no-go areas with heavy sniper fire, it's a fair bet that life has perhaps become too exciting...