A state of law
Why do people keep discussing the causes of the new Arab revolution? The real question is why did it take so long to happen? An even more important question is whether the revolution will achieve its objectives and succeed in bringing about complete change. Some people are already concerned over both the short- and long-term course of the revolution.
We have to keep in mind that revolutions tend to proceed in fits and starts. But let's not forget that revolutions can also be nipped in the bud. The immediate enemy of the Arab revolution is repression, whether by the police or the military.
Revolutionary and repressive forces are now vying to control the streets. The explosion of anger we've seen recently in our streets was overdue. And what kept it from happening for so long was that repressive regimes were in full control of the streets.
These regimes controlled everything in the public domain. The regimes controlled the moral and material aspects of society, and the very ability of the public to take action. Their purpose was to keep the masses from getting together, keeping them separate and disconnected, like grains of sand scattered in the wind.
Then people took back the street and things were never the same again. What was born in Tahrir Square, and in other "liberation" squares around the Arab world, was a new spirit, the beginnings of a new state of affairs. We're finding out who we are, for our identity had been hijacked for years by the counter-revolutionaries of the Sadat and Mubarak eras.
The day we took control of the hallowed ground of Tahrir, a pyramid of repression began to fall, a mighty structure that collapsed like a house of cards. The dissolution of the State Security Intelligence agency is just the beginning. What we need to do now is obliterate its methods and make sure that its ghost is not going to come back to life, ever.
The time of slavery is over. The police state that kept us in fear for decades must never return. That state ended, and now we need to eradicate its intricate structure of laws, its very way of life and thinking.
For the Arabs to be free, for the 400 million Arabs to wake up in a world where their opinions are heard, is still a dream. But the thieves, murderers, and power fiends who have been in control of this region for so long are already on the defensive. Their names and faces are soon to become things of the past, their memory just a fading thought.
Still, the revolution's battle with repression is far from over. Beware the incomplete revolution, for it can be worse than the counter-revolution. So we need to move on from slogans to action. We have to stay focussed in order to establish a state of law. We need to build a state that is run by legitimate institutions. We need to get rid of the old institutions, tainted and corrupt as they are, and replace them with forward- thinking and accountable institutions.
We cannot do this by copying previous experiences or the practices of other countries alone. We have to come up with something that suits our own purposes. This is a historic challenge. For the first time ever, we would be trying to build a law abiding state. Our independence-seeking nationalism, with its modest, partial, and distorted beginnings, will have to turn into something more modern, more solid than ever before.
A lot of the old baggage has to be ditched. We have to establish the authority of the law over all other existing powers. Our ministries of justice would need to undergo a complete overhaul. We need to rewrite the laws if needed, and we need to enforce them for a change.
What the new Arab revolutionaries want is to restore dignity to the people. In Tahrir Square, the people asserted their power, but their true triumph is still to come -- to turn their hard- won freedom into things that last, into a state of law. Let's not lose sight of this goal.
History tells us that revolutions often stumble and fall. The French Revolution took decades before it turned its objectives into a workable democracy. From the moment of the storming of the Bastille to the moment when social rights were fully legalised, it took nearly two centuries.
Hopefully things are different now. With the communications revolution, perhaps we can pack these two centuries into a few months. Perhaps we are mature enough to defend our freedom. After all, the revolution may have come as a surprise, but it didn't come out of the blue. The land of change has not been barren in this part of the world. It's only that the tree of freedom took too long to bear fruit. It took another generation of young and educated people to set off the spark, to tap the Arab well of discontent.
This revolution is not about ousting the head of a regime. It is about introducing lasting changes in our way of living. We cannot forget that, and we mustn't let others divert us from our goals.
The institutionalisation of the revolution is our foremost task. It is also our best defence against counter-revolution. We have to establish a system of justice, promote a culture of equity, and keep our politicians accountable. That's why we need a constitution that defends the principles of the revolution and protects its course. Justice is needed in all fields, economic as well as political and cultural. This is a task that is much needed in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.
Let's call a spade a spade here. The Arab world doesn't have a culture of freedom and justice. It doesn't have a clear vision for democracy. It's not clear about its tasks in the post- repressive era. It will have to start from scratch.
We need to create a new reality governed by the law. This is a tough task and one that calls for participation by the entire nation, by people from all walks of life. The first step would be to figure out the best way to keep popular representation free from sectarianism.
A debate has been going on between those who want the old constitution amended and those who want a new one done from scratch. The fact is that any legislative institutions inspired by the constitution of the ousted regime would be tainted. To complicate things further, the remnants of the National Democratic Party (NDP) are still very much alive, and the new political parties representing the revolutionaries are still in their infancy. For now, the electoral campaign is dominated by the remnants of the NDP as well as the Muslim Brotherhood.
This presents a host of practical difficulties for the people who want to free politics from the control of religion. The Salafis and similar fanatics are still intent on mixing religion with politics.
We have shaken off the yoke of repression. But our victory will not be complete until we have a modern, secular state.