Anatomy of Egypt’s Revolution (Part Two)
“What do we mean by the Revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people.”
– John Adams in an 1815 letter to Thomas Jefferson
Historians and political scientists study revolutions and analyze their impact, not only on their societies, where the political, economic, and social order is fundamentally transformed, but also on neighboring countries and beyond.
The Egyptian revolution, though still in its infancy, promises to be such a phenomenon. Admitting its historic nature was none other than the U.S. President, Barack Obama, who lauded the Egyptians as having “inspired us,” and praised their revolution, which he said represented a “moral force that bent the arc of history toward justice.”
He further added, “The word Tahrir means liberation. It’s a word that speaks to that something in our souls that cries out for freedom.” He went on to describe the momentous event and its impact on the world, saying, “And forever more it will remind us of the Egyptian people-of what they did, of the things that they stood for, and how they changed their country, and in doing so changed the world.”
Like similar great historical events, the triumph of the Egyptian revolution will have direct and significant consequences on the country, the region, and the world. Unsurprisingly some of the conditions that factored considerably in the success of the revolution have now become facts on the ground, such as the larger role of youth and women in politics and public life. Thus they are discussed here as well. Here are some of the most important consequences of Egypt’s revolution.
The role of the people: For many decades, the Egyptian people have been marginalized and their interests ignored. Since 1981, the deposed president had ruled the country based on the state of emergency law, which virtually suspended most of the people’s civil rights and political freedoms.
It had built an enormous security apparatus using a convoluted, multilayered system that included uniformed, riot, and secret police, as well as intelligence officers and the dreaded state security personnel, consisting of well over one million people nationwide. The regime ruled by fear and intimidation, employing wide use of brutal tactics including torture and summary military trials that sentenced opponents to long years of hard labor based on political beliefs.
Dr. Ahmad Okasha, president of the Egyptian Psychological Society explained that throughout the Mubarak years “the collective psyche of the Egyptian people was damaged.” Furthermore, he added, “the majority of the people were in a deep state of depression.” They felt insulted and abused by the authorities, powerless to change anything in society, literally strangers in their own country.
So what the revolution offered the people was the opportunity to restore their sense of self-esteem, honor and dignity. Once the fear barrier was knocked down, they acquired a new sense of pride and empowerment that not only challenged the state monopoly on violence but also defeated it using solely peaceful means. With each passing day they became more determined to fight for their rights and quite willing to tender the sacrifices needed to gain their freedom.
Hence, once the people realized their enormous collective power and what they are capable of achieving, they never looked back and would not be disregarded again.
The role of the youth: By sucking the air out of the political space, the deposed regime employed all of its resources to divert the attention of the youth and channel their energies into non-threatening matters such as sports competitions (recall the Algerian-Egyptian conflict that consumed the country last year, lasting for months because of a soccer game) or exhaust people by encouraging mass consumerism.
But since the youth have played a significant role in setting off and sustaining the revolution, their role in society will never be the same. Egyptian youth under 35 represent over 60 per cent of society, yet before the revolution they were not taken seriously nor given much credit.
Now, not only are they part of the most significant event in their modern history but they will also have a seat at the table to determine their country’s future. Already they are a major part of every organization, coalition, and committee appointed or elected to determine the next state of affairs in the country. The ruling military council has already met with their representatives several times. All opposition groups have welcomed them in their parties, offering them leadership positions.
The role of women: Similarly, the women of Egypt have played a major role in this revolution. They demonstrated in large numbers, and were essential organizers, leaders, and spokespersons during all phases of the revolution, including during the most difficult times when they came under physical attack by the security forces and thugs of the ruling party.
They posted the calls for mobilization and uploaded their video blogs on the internet. They distributed leaflets and urged their neighborhoods to protest. They were subsequently beaten, injured, and some even sacrificed their lives. They chanted and led demonstrations against the regime.
Some were doctors, working side by side with their male counterparts treating thousands of the injured in the streets. They were part of the protection and security committees, patting down female protesters to ensure their safety. In short, they were part of every important function of the revolution. The women of Egypt have found their voices and will never return to the margins of society again.
The rejection of sectarianism: One of the most tried and successful techniques of authoritarian regimes is to exploit the major fault lines in society, sparking religious, ethnic, and racial tensions. The deposed regime has often played up and sometimes even instigated the Muslim-Coptic tension in Egypt.
The former regime is even implicated in an incident earlier this year. Egypt’s state prosecutor is currently investigating the role of the Interior Minister and the state security apparatus in last month’s bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria that killed dozens of people. The attack exacerbated the religious divide and threatened social cohesiveness.
However, the revolution has demonstrated in no uncertain terms the popular rejection of sectarianism, as Muslim and Christian communities joined together as fellow citizens protesting the repression and corruption of the regime that has afflicted them all. They marched, sang, chanted, and prayed together. They shared meals and defended each other. Millions of Egyptians witnessed a Muslim imam and a Coptic priest speaking together on the importance of national unity in Tahrir Square.
Ahmad Ragab, a prominent columnist and political cartoonist, observed that when he saw in Tahrir Square a Christian woman pouring water to help a Muslim man make ablution in preparation for prayer, he knew then that the revolution was to succeed.
Prominent Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders praised and defended the Copts while Coptic leaders hailed them in return for their cooperation and sacrifices. Egyptians now believe a new dawn of Muslim-Coptic relations has emerged based on mutual respect and shared citizenship.
The revival of a value-based moral system: Throughout the eighteen days of protests people who were interviewed at Tahrir Square and elsewhere kept referring to a new atmosphere and new attitudes by the people. They talked with pride about the civilized behavior displayed by the demonstrators.
People genuinely cared for and respected one another. They shared their meals and helped each other without expecting any compensation. They felt like they were part of one family. Although millions of people were in the square, there were no reports of fights or robberies. Young women spoke about how young men shielded them from the batons or the rubber bullets of the security forces, or the stones and Molotov cocktails from the goons of the ruling party.
The organizers took pride in the fact that all decisions of the activities of the revolution were based on mutual consultation and democratic principles. Every organizer and group was given the opportunity to voice his or her opinion and vote.
Thus, a new code, dubbed the “revolutionary ethical code,” was established and recognized by all. It encompasses values such as freedom, justice, equality, democracy, participation, solidarity, honesty, transparency, responsibility, and sacrifice- values, which many people had abandoned before the revolution upon feeling that they had no stake in a society ruled by bullies, thieves, and crooks.
The end of dictatorship: The downfall of Hosni Mubarak is not just the ouster of a dictator, but the end of an era that was marked by authoritarianism and cronyism. Egyptians believe strongly that this era is over and can never return.
They have learned that their strength was demonstrated in the streets and they no longer fear any threats by the security forces. If need be, they are willing to go back to the streets by the millions to stand up to the repression of the state. They believe that if they were able to topple Mubarak in eighteen days, they could bring down any future dictator. But they have pledged not to allow any future leader to become one in the first place.
The appreciation of freedom: Millions of Egyptians celebrated and cried with joy when Mubarak resigned on the night of February 11. As reporters from all over the world interviewed countless people dancing in the streets one word came out of their mouths: “we are free.” There is nothing more precious in life than gaining one’s freedom after being shackled by a repressive system or enslaved by a brutal dictator.
The power of this revolution is that it freed the people of Egypt from the yoke of tyranny. Once people taste freedom, it is next to impossible to deny them that exhilarating feeling.
Spreading a culture of democracy: An important consequence of the Egyptian revolution is that, unlike earlier uprisings or protests in Egypt such as the ones in 1968 or 1977, the people’s priority from the inception of this revolution has not only been to topple the regime but also to replace it with a democratic system and a strong civil society.
All opposition parties, including the MB, but especially the movements dominated by the youth, have pledged to honor and practice the rules of a democratic system. They have displayed extraordinary examples of adhering to a culture of democracy as diverse groups came together, united in their political goals but quite different in their tactics. Despite their many differences, they were able to maintain discipline and unity. Majority rule prevailed.
Examining the demands of the revolution, it is clear that spreading a culture of democratic governance was at the center of most of them. Some examples include: a political system based on checks and balances, an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, guarantee of individual freedoms, human and civil rights, free elections, peaceful transfer of power, right to form political parties, transparency in governance, and equal economic opportunity.
Asserting Independence: Since at least the late 1970s, the U.S. has declared that Egypt was its “strategic partner.” This was a euphemism for Egypt becoming a client state for the U.S. in exchange for $64 billion in direct aid over three decades, and another $18 billion in debt relief. Most of this aid did not directly help the Egyptian people but was for the benefit of the military as well as the regime’s cronies.
Egyptians saw in horror how their country’s foreign policy was subjugated to U.S. interests to the detriment of Egyptian interests or their Arab obligations. They were frustrated throughout this period to see the stature and influence of their proud country dwindle, as Egypt became a tool of American foreign policy.
In all issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinian infighting, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, Lebanon, Iran, Libya, or Sudan, Mubarak’s Egypt was sure to act as the enabler of U.S. foreign policy at the expense of its own national security.
For instance, it was Mubarak who led the efforts to block all Arab peace initiatives to end the crisis in the first Gulf war and thus enabled the U.S. to wage war against a fellow Arab country with devastating consequences. Similarly, it was the capitulation of Mubarak on nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East in order to please the U.S. that allowed Israel to maintain its nuclear arsenals cost free. He was a full partner with the U.S. and Israel in the siege on Gaza depriving 1.5 million Palestinians from basic livelihood.
In all likelihood, revolutionary Egypt will not be a U.S. client state. Once a civilian democratic and transparent government is in place, Egypt will resort to its historic role of being a leader of the Arab world as well as in Africa, the Muslim world, and the lesser-developed countries more broadly.
Once Egypt’s independence is asserted by its new democratically elected officials, unjust and biased U.S. or Western policies would be challenged. No longer will the wishes of the Egyptian people be ignored for the benefit of one person, or stifled for the interest of a foreign power.
Supporting the Palestinian Cause: Clearly, the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty has been one between the leaders, not the peoples. The reason the experts consider it a “cold peace” is because the Egyptian people never believed that Israel wanted or promoted peace. They believe that the Zionist state sought to neutralize Egypt from the conflict so as to annex more Arab territory, especially in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
Throughout three decades Israel felt secure enough from its southern flank that it twice crushed the Palestinian uprisings in the occupied territories (1987-1991 and 2000-2003). Moreover, it invaded or bombed several Arab countries and capitals including Iraq (1981), Lebanon (1982, 2006), Tunisia (1988), Syria (2007), and Gaza (2008-09). Thousands of fellow Arab civilians, especially in the Palestinian occupied territories and Lebanon were massacred without the people of Egypt even having the ability to protest in the streets.
Egyptians were not even allowed to object to Egypt’s sovereignty in the Sinai being stripped under the 1979 treaty. Despite a court order in 2007, they could not stop Egypt’s natural gas from being shipped and sold to Israel with a huge subsidy at a seventy per hcent discount. Meanwhile, in 2009 their government was building an underground iron barrier, financed by the U.S, to seal the border with Gaza, while closing the Rafah crossing to maintain the illegal siege against the people of Gaza.
According to a recent Jerusalem Post report, the Egyptian April 6 youth movement, which played a major role in the revolution, said that if “the military doesn’t meet our demands, we’ll be on the street again.” Among the group’s demands was “the halting of natural gas shipments to Israel.”
The Israeli prime minster is right to worry about Egypt’s foreign policy after Mubarak. His long honeymoon (and Palestinian nightmare) is most probably over. Most of the Egyptian opposition groups strongly support Palestinian rights and detest the Israeli government’s policies.
For example, when the Egyptian Coalition for Change was formed in April 2009, the members of the coalition included the April 6 movement, the Kifaya movement, al-Karama, al-Wasat, and individual members of the Muslim Brotherhood. This coalition was the nucleus of the January 25 revolution. One of their planks was the annulment of the Camp David Accords.
This may not happen overnight though. But if Israel continues to maintain its occupation, apartheid regime, and aggressive policies against the Palestinians, it might come to pass, slowly but surely. Once formed, the new democratic government in Egypt will no longer be relied upon to do Israel’s bidding, nor will it be susceptible to the pressure of the Israel lobby via the U.S. government.
Furthermore, Israel’s underlings within the Palestinian Authority are certain to be severely weakened, as they can no longer depend on Egypt’s support against other Palestinian factions. Israel can no longer announce an invasion against Gaza from Cairo like it did in December 2008.
In short, a major shift in the strategic equation of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the entire Middle East has just taken place as a direct consequence of the Egyptian revolution.
Influencing the Arab World and the region: Undoubtedly, the success of Egypt’s revolution in the aftermath of Tunisia’s has already had a tremendous influence not only on the rest of the Arab World, but also on the entire world especially, Muslim countries.
To date, similar protests have swept Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Libya, and Iraq. Other countries are also threatened, including Syria, Morocco, Mauritania, and the Sudan. The common refrain in all of these protests is Egypt’s common chant “The people demand the fall of the regime.” Pro-Western groups in Lebanon have lost their power as Saad Hariri’s government was dissolved. Hezbollah and its coalition partners have now assumed the upper hand in forming a new government.
Yet if some regimes survive the massive protests underway through repressive measures or far-reaching reforms, the Arab World will still never be the same. Because of Egypt’s tremendous influence in the region, most Arab governments would have to move toward more freedom, democratic governance, and transparency over the coming months and years.
These changes might result in either a major shift in U.S. and Western foreign policy especially with regard to the Palestinian cause, or lead to a serious rift between the West and the people of the region to the detriment of the interests of the former.
The role of the military and security forces: One of the major consequences of the revolution is the redefining of the role of the security forces in Egyptian society and the consolidation of the military’s function.
By maintaining a state of fear for decades, the security forces have already lost their credibility and effectiveness with the people. Justifiably, the revolutionary powers are demanding to reconstitute these forces on the basis of a new social contract within a democratic society.
Under instruction from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Interior Ministry has already pledged to re-train its officers, and re-orient its mission to the “Police is in the Service of the Public,” rather than the security of the regime. Still a huge demonstration by many deserters of the security officers took place demanding the arrest and trial of the former Interior Minister, blaming him for much of the violence and repressive policies of the past.
But regardless of whether these expressions of remorse are genuine or not, the relationship between the people and the security apparatus will never resort back to its prior master-slave relationship.
As for the military, it has maintained its historic position of not attacking or shooting at its citizens. It is now well established that during his waning days Mubarak wanted the army to intervene on behalf of the regime to suppress the protests as the security forces were being pushed back. But the military, to its credit, refused and remained neutral, even pledging to defend the protesters.
If the military were to fulfill its pledge to transfer power to a civilian rule within six months after democratic elections, it will then have solidified its reputation with the Egyptian people as the last protector of their rights and freedoms.
Undeniably, the Egyptian revolution, with its peaceful, disciplined, and civilized attitudes, has become an inspiration to people around the globe. As Martin Luther King Jr. once observed “A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world.”
Egypt’s revolution is not only destined to touch the world, it has already been embraced by it.
In part III, Al-Amin will examine the challenges facing Egypt’s revolution. Part One can be found here.
ESAM AL-AMIN can be reached at email@example.com