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Egyptian Youth vs. the Old Order

Revolutionary Zeal

by ABDEL-MONHEIM SAID

When the youth took to the streets on 25 January 2011, a full-fledged revolution was to follow, but no one knew at the time. No one knew that the frustration with the old regime was irreversible. No one knew that the river of discontent had broken its banks. As endless thousands joined the protests, the regime’s days were numbered.

It was almost a miracle, coming from a nation not keen on protesting, triggered by young people with hardly any experience in organising the masses. The regime had everything going for it: a police force trained to quash protests, an intelligence apparatus experienced in surveillance, and all the extra-legal and legal powers that come with dictatorship.

It now seems inevitable, but back then no one knew how things would turn out. The Islamists were at first hesitant to join, but did so when the scales started to tip in favour of the revolutionaries.

Eighteen days later, the president stepped down and the army took over at a very difficult time. From then on, there was no turning back.

When the transitional phase began, the revolutionary youth was too impatient to discuss the thorny details of how to put the house in order and get on with democratisation. They wanted Mubarak and his top aides on trial. They wanted people associated with the National Democratic Party out of government. They wanted to demolish the old structure, without considering the difficulties that this would pose.

Soon, the revolutionaries began asking for power to be transferred to a civilian authority. Some even called for the resignation of the prosecutor-general. This was the period that allowed other political factions — Islamist and otherwise —- to rise.

The Salafis emerged as supporters of military rule. Islamists put their organisational skills to good use, and made sure to stay on the good side of the army. Eventually, the Islamists emerged as arbitrators in cases of sectarian tensions, even when they had close links with those who triggered such events.

As the Islamic currents consolidated their power, the revolutionary youth split into dozens of alliances and began organising million-man marches in Tahrir Square. The marches ended up alienating many of their potential supporters.

While the youth wasted time coming up with clever slogans, the Islamists were at work preparing for elections.

Meanwhile, the youth kept pressing the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to hand over power to civilians. But what type of civilians?

As it turned out, parliamentary elections resulted in a sweeping majority for Islamists, and once the People’s Assembly met, SCAF practically abdicated some of its power to parliament. The Islamists have thus gained substantial power while the revolutionaries and the small parties they supported were left with crumbs.

As Egypt celebrates the first anniversary of the revolution, the crowds in Tahrir Square are still split. Some say that the revolution needs to go on. Others say that the military should leave power with no further ado. Others still want everything the revolution called for to materialise overnight.

The People’s Assembly, crucial for its dual role of foresight and legislation, is now in the hands of an Islamist majority. Meanwhile, the revolutionaries are still going strong, their zeal for change far from being exhausted.

The enthusiasm that drove the revolution is not going to whither anytime soon. And yet the process of building the post- revolutionary state has got underway. Is there any contradiction between the revolution and its outcome? Time will tell.

Abdel-Monheim Said writes for Al Ahram.