Busy with a strenuous move of both house and offices this last week and thanks to a telephone company that mucked up, I was left without both phone and internet. Cell phone connection is slow, so surfing social media sites is not exactly tempting in the middle of such an endeavour. It is for this reason that I had not been on twitter for days when last night I felt a calling that there was something urgent I was missing. Today I could no longer take it and took the enduring cellphone road to twitter – only to read the shocking news, that Bassem Sabry had died on Tuesday at the age of 31 years and was buried yesterday evening in Cairo. It was a blow. The idea that he won't be around anymore, that I won't see him on my twitter timeline or read his well phrased thoughts in articles ever again, is hard to bear. The devastating side to the word death is the forever. It is this which we cannot take.
I can easily think of how, whenever I applauded him for some excellent writing, he always reacted with thankful surprise, as if he could not believe that anyone could be so impressed by his words. I had yet to see vanity in Bassem Sabry. And I remember when under SCAF's transitional rule that hideous video was published, showing an alleged foreign spy enter a café in Cairo only to be embraced by smiling young Egyptians who innocently fell for his evil tricks – it was Bassem who publicly pointed out that this piece of revolting propaganda was already flawed in that no Egyptian would warmly embrace a stranger like that in a café. "We Egyptians just aren't that friendly, it's a fact", Bassem said. When it came to being honest about Egypt and the Egyptian way, Bassem was the one. My parody of that video he found so amusing, that he asked for permission to put it up on his blog, which he did. He had humour and the ability to accept that one should laugh about oneself too, when necessary.
All these are just bits of memories that linger in the mind and heart but won't alter the fact that he is gone. Egypt has lost a voice of reason, of modesty and responsible contemplation and a great political analyst above all. In times of incredible division and polarisation, Bassem Sabry was a comfort to listen to. As many others, he became less vocal on twitter in the last months, perhaps needing time of quietness amidst the growing insanity, but he became more active again in the last weeks. And his last tweet two days ago was the call to help a girl who was in need of a blood donation.
Now he himself is gone and sorely missed by those who liked and loved him. And while hardly any death in Egypt in the last years – and there were many – ever seemed to make sense, his death seems to be the most senseless of all.
What strikes me heavily, besides trying to come to terms with his irrevocable disappearance, is the age at which he died. 31 years is horrifically young to go and inexcusably unfair to a man who had so much to give, who was willing to invest so much in making a human existence worthwhile. As always the unanswered questions arise: Why does life deal such blows? Why is hope so often crushed? Why do the good die young but the tyrants are never struck by lightning? Is it really too much to ask of life to just once reverse the order and let those who are evil at heart go early and leave us the ones we so badly need to make this world a better place?
Apparently so. Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, who killed his people in the tens of thousands, is spilling his hate still at 90. Bassem Sabry, who never hurt a soul, had to die at 31. If ever we had been in doubt if there was injustice in life, here's a new update. Thanks very much.
So what is left is devastation, loss of hope, fatalism. All the things Bassem would not have wanted us to have. His way, while not denying the negative realities, was optimism. The unshaken determination and belief that Egypt would one day have a future worth experiencing, worth living, and that the road was thorny and full of unexpected backlashes but needed to be walked to finally one day reach a better life for all.
When the good die young, our hopes seem to crumble. For the young are the future, the chance for progress, the inspiration for a change for the better. When Bassem Sabry was laid to rest yesterday, to many of those who attended his funeral it must have felt as if hope and future of Egypt received one more heavy blow and died with him. So many wonderful people Egypt so badly needs for her future were either killed or jailed or left the country in the last three years. With such a brain drain, who is still left to do the job? When a voice like that of Bassem Sabry falls silent too, it might feel as if no hope is left anymore.
If Bassem could talk now, I am sure he would tell us that he did not want to go this early. But at the same time he would quickly pass over his personal feelings on this and tell us that losing hope is the last thing that should be on everyone's mind because of his demise. After all – he might have left, but his thoughts haven't. His words are still there to read, his ideas for a better future of Egypt still valid and to be found, his voice of reason still carries on and was not silenced by his death. Would Egypt lose hope now and believe that he was silenced forever, it would say unfavourable things about how serious we took him when we read his words. How can we believe they don't exist anymore? How could we not see that his thoughts, the tools for a better future, are still within our reach? No, Bassem has left, his way hasn't. He left us his legacy of 31 years to hold on to, and hold on we should. The point is not that he died. The point is that he lived. In just mourning his loss we might forget the blessings he gave while he was around. There is so much to remember, so much to think about, so much to contemplate. He left more than one could ask for in such a short time of life. He did not go. His body did. His spirit didn't. If Egypt wants it, it is still there to have and to hold and to make the best of it, as Bassem would have earnestly wanted.
As H. A. Hellyer put it in his very personal tribute to his friend: "If you want to honor his memory, I suggest you do what he did: Start building something beautiful and just put the hate away."
Bassem would have loved this.
Come, stop the mourning. And take the cue.