An Egyptian song for all
By Mohamed A. El-Erian
El-Erian is the CEO of PIMCO. He spent part of his childhood in Egypt where his father was a professor of international law at Cairo University and then served as an Egyptian diplomat and was elected to the International Court of Justice in 1978. The opinions expressed are his own.
For centuries, songs have provided populist narratives of historical movements. And, every once in a while, a song comes along that also succeeds in capturing forcefully the raw emotions of the moment. This is the case today with “Sout el Horeya,” or the “Voice of Freedom,” sung by Hany Adel and Amir Eid.
Coming out of Egypt, this song skillfully encapsulates the strong drivers behind the ongoing transformations impacting the Middle East and North Africa. It is a “must hear” for all those trying to understand previously-unthinkable developments in the region, including western governments whose sophisticated intelligence services have been caught flat-footed and are now playing rapid catch up.
In powerfully plain language, the song speaks to the what, why and how of the Egyptian revolution. In a post on YouTube, the video version opens with images of peaceful protests in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square. The intention is a simple one — to remind us all that what is in play is a secular revolutionary movement involving citizens of all ages, classes and religions. This is not a movement that can be derailed by diversionary tactics seeking either to blame foreign involvement or to threaten the alternative of a repressive Islamic theocracy.
After visually reminding us of what Tom Friedman (one of the very best western commentators on the region) called a revolution made “in Egypt, by Egypt, for Egypt,” the lyrics of the song convey a simple message: “In every street in our country, the voice of freedom is calling.”
This dominant refrain is placed in a context that all those formulating policies must not forget. “For a long time we have been waiting,” “searching yet unable to find our place.” Suddenly, “barriers have been shattered” and our “rights are the most important pursuit.” And, in pointing to “the clarity of tomorrow,” the lyrics speak to “our weapon is our dreams.”
Toward the end of the song, a poem is superimposed praising Egypt’s youth for converting “winter to spring” and for delivering a “miracle that awoke a deadened nation.” The accompanying set of still photos is a reminder of the sacrifices made and of the supportive and highly-appreciated role of the Egyptian armed forces.
Egypt’s new policymakers, including the Cabinet formed over the weekend, would be well advised to internalize these messages as they guide the country on its new path towards greater democracy and individual freedoms. This is also true for Egypt’s allies and friends that are stepping up to try and help the country, after having been unexpectedly marginalized by a domestic movement that neither requested nor needed foreign assistance.
The song should also be of interest to countries elsewhere in the region. It has relevance for reforming governments that are seeking to proactively meet the awakened and legitimate aspirations of their people. It is also important for those that, erroneously and tragically, think that their old notion of overwhelming force can deny an energized movement willing to die for a better tomorrow for their children.
“Sout el Horeya” provides us all with concise and powerful insights into historical developments in an important part of the world. Let us hope that its messages are never far from the minds of those entrusted with the well-beings of millions in the Middle East and North Africa. If they are ignored, this will only delay the inevitable while greatly increasing human suffering and, in some cases, dangerously increasing the disturbing probability of failed states.