00 General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s coup in the summer of 2013 left behind vast swaths of emptiness in its wake. Like a pause between breaths that stretches on for too long, or a river so dark that even reflections sink into it, one can't help but feel the spectral presence of all that remains missing. The mass assemblies that had so spectacularly filled Tahrir are now absent, forms of affinity that had emerged now falter, the fires of the barricades have been reduced to fumes, and too many bodies have been disappeared, vanishing into the dark recesses of the regime’s prisons or into the voids of unmarked graves in the shifting sands of the Sahara desert. The battlefield of the coup is the battlefield of memory, a surface that extends across the dimension of time that is filled as much with rich complex landscapes as with gaping trenches. Security forces hunt after those who dare to recall and revive the indeterminacies of the assemblies, and yet, like the information that manages to escape from the swallowing gravity of black holes, the memory of the assemblies finds ways of persisting and radiating.
01 Since I left Egypt in the summer of 2015, the repression of the regime has intensified to such a degree that I’ve chosen to anonymize the people that I spent time with and conversed with because I feared that they would be targeted for repression for participating in my project. As a form of cryptodocumentary, I’ve chosen to engage with the memory of the revolution in the same way that memory manages to survive in Cairo: in encryption and obscurity and in the way it evades particular forms of recognition. This happens on a conceptual level in my abstraction, transformation and obfuscation of various details and materials, but also in the technical production of the project itself. While I was still living in Cairo, I not only had to capture images and record conversations clandestinely, but also had to diligently encrypt my digital files so they could not be read by the regime if they were seized. In addition, it was necessary to use various techniques to encrypt and anonymize my internet connection and email conversations after it became clear that the regime was performing extensive monitoring of network traffic. This project, and your reception of it, is one way of proliferating as well as preserving the memory of the assemblies in encrypted and abstracted form, hoping to create the conditions where one day such encryption will no longer be necessary.
02 Following Sisi’s rise to power, the emptiness of his regime has taken on temporal dimensions, attempting to retroactively empty the past of the revolution by destroying its memory that persists in the present. This has taken form in the renaming of the coup as the "Second Revolution," as if it was the historical corrective to the first uprising. Acquitting former dictator Hosni Mubarak of almost every criminal charge against him, jailing hundreds of revolutionaries indefinitely, erasing the graffiti of the martyrs, and banning all marches or demonstrations that memorialize the revolution all mean to vacate historical time of everything that had found life within the manifold assemblies of Tahrir. Beyond the past, Sisi desires to empty the future itself of its ineradicable and wild multiplicity. The regime is fueled by fantasies of a securitized present that is infinite in its duration, yet empty of the deviations and dynamisms that necessarily accompany the passage of time itself.
03 Submerged in the emptiness of the regime, scattered memories still litter the streets from years of revolt. Walking through alleys, I stumbled upon the debris of the uprisings: A discarded riot shield, sitting in a gutter caked with layers of thick dust from the sandstorms that occasionally rumble through the city. A black and white poster denouncing military rule, now partially covered over with election advertisements adorning stern faces and bright colors. A mural depicting martyrs of the revolution, defaced with thick brushstrokes of black paint. Where downtown meets the Nile, the National Democratic Party Headquarters, which had been set alight during the January 25th Revolution, continued to tower above the corniche, its scorched interior home to large flocks of migrating birds until its eventual demolition by Sisi's regime.
04 I think it’s clear now that the revolution in Egypt was less a rupture in the previous order than it was an opening of new continuities that are still in the process of becoming actual. It initiated a polysynchronous conflict made up of a diversity of tempos, speeds, and intensities of struggle. Emerging and vanishing, blinking in and out of existence faster than perception or moving so slowly that they appear entirely still, it is easy to lose track of the various durations of the revolution that spiral together in the present like storm systems converging in the sky.
05 Even if the revolutionary period seemed to be in the process of withdrawing into the depths of Sisi’s emptiness, the ineradicable excess of its memory nonetheless continue to endure in various durations in the present. During an afternoon tea with the filmmaker
"There's a presumption that because we've had this good time together that we will be able to survive rougher times, and that's been proved not to be the case. There are key differences that find a meeting ground in certain points, and people are able to get on well together, and later on they diverge. Which makes you at the same time want to search out why, because again, you've had that experience of something that was frankly extraordinarily beautiful." (The desire to hold on to the experience of "something that was frankly extraordinarily beautiful" in the "rougher times" of the coup takes on different forms. What all of these forms share in common is their reliance on the production and cultivation of obscurity. Subtly, sometimes imperceptibly even, memory finds duration in the ways that it escapes notice.
06 If the January 25th Revolution survived the coup, it survived through the enactment of practices that resist the regime through maintaining forms of indeterminacy and imperceptibility. These small and fragile resistances additively and subtractively carve out and reproduce the conditions for obscurity within which bodies can again find one another and remember together away from the perception of the regime. You could say there’s an entire obscure repertoire at work, composed of different weapons, tools, gestures and practices: Evasion, avoidance, encryption, translation, obfuscation, deception, confusion, concealment, and escape.
07 Memories can be more or less fixed, either organized in historical chains of apparent causation or persisting in diffuse fogs of indeterminacy. At times, memory constrains and delimits forms of life in the present by virtue of the bounded historical conditions that it preserves. At others, memory disturbs, emerging as a form of deviation, turbulence, indeterminacy, swerve, wildness, that is fundamentally noncausal and nonlinear, producing novel conditions of possibility that cannot be anticipated in advance. This second form of memory is what I call the Memory of Possibility. As a result of this possibility of memory, situations are never entirely reducible to their causal relations, and the potential effects and affects of the past can never be entirely exhausted. Rather, pasts persist in their ineradicable potential to indeterminately matter in the present, an excess that sets into motion the production of new histories and futurities.
08 The memory of the assemblies is not just of the various sequences of revolt, but rather it is the memory of possibility itself. This memory, wherever it persists, gives duration to the assemblies by preserving the conditions of their indeterminacy. In this way, the memory of possibility is not relegated to the past but rather is a lived differential experience in the present between pasts and futures. In other words, memory is a form of mediation between the present and its possibility. Memories, and the conditions of possibility they carry with them, are contingent in the sense that they are never a given, but must be cared for, defended, and at times even encrypted or hidden away. The past is ineradicable, but our relation to it, in the form of memory, is incredibly fragile. The political conflicts following the coup have been defined by their struggle to remember the assemblies, to preserve what they set into motion and cultivate their indeterminacy, tactically and necessarily in fogs of obscurity.
09 In an apartment looking out over green gardens and walled embassies, I met with the human rights advocate
"I like talking to historians who see history in a very long arc and keep reminding us that we’re still in the middle of it, in the middle of that first bit. We don’t really know what impact this idea that you can actually overthrow a dictatorial president will have. We also don’t know what will happen with this generation of kids who were at the age of 17 or 18 when 2011 happened. And that’s their introduction to politics. And that’s their understanding of what people power is and what the state is. We don’t know what they’re going to be like in 10 years time. Or what their expectations of politics are as well." (The long arc that poietically manifest in diverse practices which give them duration in time. For
10 The memory of possibility, the survival and duration of a past and future otherwise, is something that has persisted despite the deep intensities of state repression. Organizing to produce obscure and opaque milieus within which memories endure has manifested as a form of resistance against a military that means to totalize its control over and regulation of the practice of remembering. Remembering is revolutionary in this context not only in the ways that memories and those that remember survive the violence of the regime, but importantly in the encounters, exchanges and proximities that necessarily arise from the practices of remembering themselves, practices that also come to produce novel conditions of possibility for living, surviving, assembling, and revolting. Remembering is a form of resistance that both precedes the power of the regime and exceeds the regime's organization, moving us to consider not only the way new practices of living become possible within the fleeting periods of turbulent riots and wild assemblies, but also within the prolonged revolutionary forms of remembering that forcefully carry unresolved pasts into the present.
11 In one of my conversations with the artist Wust El-Balad, they suggested that the revolution had not entirely vanished, but rather was undergoing a process of translation as a means of surviving the violence of the regime:
"I think this has to do with the fact that at a certain point in time, we had public space, we had that freedom. But now it’s being translated, in this period where we no longer feel that we have it. It’s being translated into establishing small spaces and projects. Of course, you have the other people who are depressed, you know. And that’s normal. That’s their character. Others have left. And others are saying ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with this, I’m stopping everything.’ I don’t think that it’s right to say the conditions of the revolution no longer exist. I think it actually continues because of the presence of this repressive regime and I think it will continue. There are ways of doing more subtle works." (In the desperation of post-coup Cairo, the process of the assemblies "being translated" into smaller spaces and projects has also emerged as a survival strategy. These subtle translations allow for the practices and relations of the assemblies to continue in obscurity and escape the policing practices of the regime. Translation, which implies both movement in space and between formal registers, is also a means of encryption and evasion. The transversal movements that have taken place between the Midan and the café, between the café and the home, between the home and the university, between one body and another, allows for the memory of possibility to adopt different forms as it moves, subversively populating the emptiness of the regime with its indeterminacy in the form of "more subtle works."
12 One of the crucial ways that the revolution finds continuity is by occupying zones of indeterminacy, the spaces of undecidability and indecision that preserve the fragile conditions of survival for memories, relationships, and imaginations that can no longer survive as legible or out in the open and instead find refuge in obscurity. Techniques of translation, encryption, obfuscation, abstraction, evasion, and camouflage are used as means of sheltering pasts that haunt in they way that they are not yet entirely passed. My time in Cairo was focused on tracing the haunting noise of these surviving possibilities that failed to conform to the militarized present through their preservation of the undecided. Preserving forms of indeterminacy under the repressive torrents of the coup is a way of giving duration to memories in material, affective, and relational forms.
13 Because the regime is currently in the process of repressing these spaces of memory when they find them, I’ve chosen not to address them in their specificity in this project in order to not draw the security forces' attention to them. Nonetheless, I can still approach them in less descriptive and more general manner. Cafés, bars and restaurants, cultural spaces, apartments, and universities all provide fragile shelters for the memory of possibility. Circulating through these constellations of milieus, bodies are still able to assemble together and encounter one another in the shared practice of remembering. Partially encrypted away from the regime and from the emptiness that now fills Midan Tahrir, bodies assemble at intimate scales, carrying forward the relations of the revolution in translated forms. Continuing to assemble in this translated way is a practice of remembering, of refusing to let the past and the future be rendered absent and empty. These milieus are where practices of care, cultivation, and preservation give duration to the memory of possibility.
14 Many spaces scattered around Wust El-Balad manifest as anomalies to the imposed controls of the police and military. Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh, the nearby
15 Another important obscure technique that has emerged as important is the production of various forms of noise within which memory can hide and survive. During one of my conversations with
"Almost all the testimonies are anonymous, but that's not enough. We also need to change the story and make sure that the survivor is removed from the context, and that their perpetrator cannot go back and seek revenge. A lot of the testimonies resulted in us being approached by the government. So we need to be very careful about this. And we need to consider that a story is not only about an incident, it's not flat. It takes time and is a process. It does not start at the time of the incident and it does not end there. So we try to take this into consideration when we write these stories. We know that having names linked to stories is much stronger, but we can't do this because it puts them in danger. So we need to accept the fact that we need to make stories that are anonymous and change a lot of details in the stories. We really want to ensure the safety of our clients. So we change a lot of details." (The tactic of changing details in testimonies as a means of anonymization has been one of the effective ways of preserving memory under Sisi’s regime. Altering details in this way resembles introducing noise into a signal, making it harder to individualize or identify survivors while still allowing their memory to circulate and resonate.
16 Later on in an activist café along the Nile I was able to meet with
17 In a city where Sisi’s regime desires for everything to be apprehendable and surveyable, to be ready for inspection and subject to approval, finding ways for memory to be encrypted within forms of noise and abstraction has become an urgent task. The practice of producing noise and abstraction weaponizes memories by giving them duration while stripping them of their capacity to be used to justify future repression. Here it’s important to again make clear that memories never exist on their own but rather are materially created, reproduced, supported, and at times extinguished. Memories can take on forms that allow them to be shared by some while remaining illegible or invisible to others. They can be transformed or reshaped, encoded or translated, hidden or revealed, magnified or diminished. Some memories have entire governments that support them, while others are kept alive by one person alone. This is what renders memory irrevocably political: its diverse formal possibility and radical historical contingency.
18 In many cultural and art spaces in Cairo, people continue to gather to reflect upon the events and experiences of these last years, drawing upon memories that have taken form as photographs, plays, sculptures, drawings, installations, and videos. In these spaces, history and futurity are often difficult to distinguish because of the degree to which they’re entangled with one another: past events have a tendency to stir up desires for new ones, just as new events transform our relation to what is past. During one of my conversations with
"Of course spaces of memory are important because otherwise we don’t have a way to capture what’s happening. What's happening is going to be a second or a moment without any traces. Those traces are what we need in order to be able to reflect. If we don’t have those traces we don’t have anything to reflect upon. So the practices of those spaces are actually the translation of what’s happening, a kind of production that can be criticized. And by criticized I don’t mean evaluate, I mean to see what’s beyond. To see how can we move from here: ‘What is here?’ Here for me is actually only read through this kind of production. Otherwise, it’s a moment that ends. Those traces are the only thing that keeps this historicity alive in a way and lets us get back to those moments and try to figure out what happened and why we are here. We need to know how we got here and see how we can move from here. We need to understand how we got here because obviously we’re not happy and obviously we want to get out of here. But, how we got here becomes a very important question." (The forms of indeterminacy that emerged from the assemblies are preserved in this material memory of them, creating the possibility for them to take part in the future "translation of what’s happening." What’s of significance here is that memory is a differential that lets us see the actuality of the present situation as well as "what’s beyond it" in the past and future in order to "see how we can move from here," a mediated process of collective orientation. While Sisi’s coup has managed to impose security measures that disaggregated and dispersed the assemblies of the squares, the memories of those assemblies persist in forms that continue to preserve the conditions for the emergence of future assemblies.
19 Memories find life and duration through the embodied practices of individuals and communities, but also include materialities and milieus that are far more complex and queer than what we would simply call bodies. The monuments built of stone, the photographs, videos, sounds and texts circulated and distributed in pulses through networked fiber optic cables, the scars, the chants that cut through the air and echo off of the sides of buildings, the still-wet spray paint dripping down the surface of a police barrier, the used tear gas canister laying in the gutter: all of these constitute forms of memory, ripples and wrinkles of what is past but not yet fully passed, forms of matter that may possibly still come to matter.
20 Some memories emerge very rapidly and vanish just as fast: when a gun is fired at a demonstration, the initial sound causes everyone to rush and find cover while groups of dogs start barking without hesitation, echoing through their cries the sound of the initial gunshot and carrying it forward through time. Other memories have longer and less immediate durations: when walking through Cairo you inevitably meet people with missing or glass eyes, a memory literally carried in the bodies of many who took part in the street fights of the revolution when cannons mounted on trucks blasted high pressure water onto the faces of the crowds and police routinely targeted the faces of revolutionaries with their birdshot and clubs. The present situation of Cairo and the people that live within it are conditioned by these memories that constitute the conditions of possibility for the city itself.
21 While above ground formal organizations and public figures have faced increasing forms of harassment, scrutiny and violence from the regime’s security forces after the coup, including searches, raids, and closures, the informal networks and groups that emerged following the revolution have managed to largely evade them. While talking with the lawyer
"But that's the interesting thing and that's the hard thing because these kind of groups that have been emerging in the past few years, I think part of why they're strong is because they're not a formal entity, they're not an organization, and they don't have to justify their kind of work that they're doing to the state, or be very careful with what they do and what they don't do, so this is why they're strong." (This informality, the ability to assemble but not appear to the regime as an assembly, manifests as a form of obscure technique that helps groups to survive. Because they don’t have to "justify the kind of work that they're doing" to the regime, they can engage in practices that would otherwise not be tolerated, and can even experiment in ways that would not be possible otherwise. The decision to become collectively opaque is predicated on the notion that the memory of the assemblies can be preserved in forms of social organization themselves. These collectivities aren't what we could call positive collectivities in the sense of being built up around forms of positive identification, but interestingly are a form of negative collectivity that does not rely on forms of identification but instead on affinity, desire, and intimacy.
22 It’s worth making clear that despite the regime’s repression, some people have chosen to perform their work visibly in the open in what are unquestionably performative acts of resistance. This includes people whose work requires them to be public in some way, such as lawyers who must interact with courts and bureaucracies, reporters that feel they must be accountable to their readership, or non-governmental organization's staff that interact with international human rights groups. It also includes artists, filmmakers, actors, and writers that choose to make themselves and their work recognizable and openly visible. Their visibility puts them at risk and places them under the regime’s scrutiny, but it also helps more obscure practices stay that way by drawing the attention of the regime away. Perhaps more importantly, it should be made clear that lives are never lived entirely invisibly or visibly, but rather only in varying degrees of opacity that differentially shift across different spaces and times; whether something should be visible or invisible in a given context is less an ethical question than it is a tactical one.
23 There have also been forms of assembly that take shape in the seclusion of private spaces. Dance parties, dinner gatherings, afternoon teas, or even reading groups that are organized in people’s flats across Cairo become spaces where the possibilities and memories of the assemblies continue to unfold. The activist and writer
"All of those micro areas of autonomy like the Borsa are disappearing, one by one. There is this loss of those spaces where people could meet, where different identities and kinds of action could meet, and people could talk to one another or even just see each other. People turn back into their flats and apartments, relying more on intimate friendships and family and less on strangers. I don’t think it’s impossible for politics to emerge here. People feel the public sphere is comprehensively unsafe, so they turn towards other more private spaces to meet and have conversations and establish new kinds of spaces. Out of what is coded as private life, you can still have forms of political resistance building up. I think for it to happen again in the open, it will take some time." (In the dispersed yet interconnected constellation of milieus that have taken hold across Cairo, memories still find ways of being circulated and at times even celebrated. These microassemblies, small gatherings that manage to elude notice, can be repositories where there can still be "forms of political resistance building up" even when political resistance in the streets feels impossible.
24 Lives are framed by the plural and ongoing histories that they arise from and have inherited in the form of memory, and are also framed by the futures that they help to call into being. Each act is figured by, as well as prefigurative of, complex differential relations all unfolding across the present of the coup, the past of the revolution, and the future of Egypt. In the manifold practices that remember the assemblies, we can glimpse how heterogeneous and unresolved pasts are enmeshed with the plural futures of the city's diverse inhabitants, each vibrantly modulating the conditions of possibility for novel forms of life and practices of living to be fashioned within.
25 Memory is political not in the way it simply preserves the past but rather in how it comes to produce and transform the past, present and future in the act of remembering in repetition. Everything said again - repeated - is saying something anew. To repeat a demand, a question, a dream, a memory, is not to simply reproduce a past expression in the present, but rather to say it as if for the first time. The uniqueness and singularity of every passing moment ensures that any repetition of the past manifests as having a different presence in the present, and so repetition also ineradicably carries a radical difference along with it. To repeat is to again set into motion unfinished, undetermined and unresolved pasts into the present, the effects of which are often less of a reprisal and more of a surprise. The life of a memory repeated is a life of novelty, anomaly, and creativity.
26 Sisi’s regime desires quiet, calm, stillness, security, a city that is entirely absent of life, history, and futurity. Yet the revolution persists in the lives of those who endure and carry the indeterminate memory of the revolution forward in fragile collective practices. The possibility of memory is intimately tied to the question of survival itself, and only manages to persist through profound interdependence and struggle. The many lives that continue to be lost to the violence and destruction of Sisi’s security forces live on in the practices that remember them and call those lives to matter. Memories are never merely present in this way, but are always situated in tides of reproduction, circulation, and exchange that make porous the boundaries that both separate and tie together in forms of assembly that remember.
27 In Sisi’s Cairo, to survive the violence of the regime is itself an act of resistance. One of the most simple and important ways that the memory of the assemblies persists is in the endurance and survival of those that took part in them, allowing for their relations and memories to continue to circulate across and through the milieus of the city. When bodies have organized spaces that exist as forms of exception to the emptiness of the regime, spaces where bodies can assemble together, care for one another, and remember together, they add to constellations of subtle acts in fogs of obscurity that are part of much more prolonged and distributed forms of solidarity and care that people lend each other over spans of years or even entire lives, an aggregate that not only preserves the manifold possibilities of life but also preserves the memory of possibility itself.
28 The regime’s violence means to make it impossible to remember the assemblies, or the wild possibilities and indeterminacies that were manifest within them. Ultimately, the regime desires to eradicate the memory of assemblies entirely by annihilating the lives of those who insist on remembering, as well as emptying spaces where memories are cultivated, preserved, and defended. Situating memory as the grounds of revolutionary resistance means remaining open to the ways in which memory comes to affect the world in ways that we cannot anticipate. It means helping to create the conditions for the preservation, cultivation, translation, obfuscation, encryption, and proliferation of memory itself. The memory of possibility, and the revolution itself, endures in the lives of those who remember, together.