Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 August 2011
Issue No. 1061
Opinion
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Abdel-Moneim Said

The morning after revolution

The revolution is one thing, the future another. Now it is time to focus on the latter, so the former can bear fruit, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Do your recall the film The Morning After starring Jane Fonda about the next day after the world is destroyed? It was later followed by other films such as The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. In these and other films humanity had to face extraordinary circumstances after the world as we know it is obliterated, after major earthquakes or massive floods or even a change in the earth's climate, forcing human beings to relocate like migrating birds when there is nowhere left for them to live.

The situation isn't as dire after a revolution in a country and society, but some come close to these circumstances as exemplified by the revolutions in the US, France, China, Iran and the Bolshevik revolution, where the condition of society is turned head over heels. The same seems to be taking place in many Arab states where revolution is at various stages. Some have overthrown the regime, such as in Tunisia and Egypt, while others are still at the stage of initial clashes where the regime feels it's not too late but the people believe that, like in other countries, the hour is undoubtedly coming.

In all these scenarios, thinking about the morning after is negligible and in the case of the Egyptians they were not only satisfied with overthrowing the president and his aides -- they also put them behind bars and prosecuted them. Now it's important to prepare for the next phase, or the morning after. Nearly seven months after the revolution, conditions are nowhere near this stage; instead, there is mobilisation by all political players in the country.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is trying to maintain the country's sanity and keep its promise to transfer power on a set date. The judiciary, one of the country's sturdy institutions, is trying to do what no other revolution has done before -- prosecute the perpetrators (supporters of the former regime) in front of normal judges according to the law and with justice. Bureaucracy, as always, is also robust and continues to offer what it has always done in the past in terms of cabinet formations or appointed governors.

On the other hand, many forces are competing to sponsor million-man marches of various hues and colours, some are religious others civic while others still are a mixture of this and that. In the midst of all this, the media and elite are in a state of frenzy; at times singing the praises of the revolution and at others pride in Egypt.

In truth, these forces should not be singing the praises of Egypt incessantly -- sometimes the focus is the country's history; or the revolution and the Arab Spring; or its good people and their moral and courageous character; or the genius of timing; or the genius of place; or its nationalist character. This is all acceptable within reason, and there is no harm in taking pride in one's identity and patriotism, but at the same time it is dangerous because it veils from us the truth about Egypt. It is a backward country that in 200 years was unable to catch up with advanced states, once only European and in the West, but that today are found in Asia, Eastern Europe, South America and even some African states.

The condition of Egypt begs this basic question: How can the country become equal with the developed world? The revolution opened the door for political progress, while constitutional amendments have brought us closer to a democratic system. But it is critical that these amendments do not land us with a fascist religious regime. Let's watch and see what political developments occur in the coming phase. If Egypt succeeds, democracy is merely a political system that makes power transparent and responsible, but for what?

The answer is a vision for advancement to where other states have preceded us. Oddly enough, no one in the country is discussing this issue. In fact, the word "development" -- whether in terms of materials or human resources -- has all but disappeared from the lexicon of debate. No one is talking about what they really want for Egypt, because it will remain the same even after the trial of Hosni Mubarak and others.

The facts about Egypt will remain the same: Egypt's population will reach 90 million next year; 28 per cent of them are illiterate; 21 per cent below the poverty line; the north is more developed than the south; Egyptians live on seven per cent of the country's entire area; the youth will flee beloved Egypt and drown every few months on the shores of Europe; many million-strong marches will be held raising a variety of banners; the songs and programming on television will love Egypt and sing its praises; but the facts will remain the same, nothing less but even worse.

It's almost the same story in Tunisia and other Arab countries in revolution or non-revolution, where the main gain of revolution is to release the energies of the country from their shackles and remove from power a minority monopolising power, preventing its liberation and unfairly distributing economic wealth and political power. But economic wealth and political power are found in societies for a certain goal or goals aiming to transform countries from one condition to another, from one level to another.

Revolution in the Arab world tends to postpone thinking about this phase until after ousting the incumbent regime, which is contrary to revolutionary protocol in other countries that act to change what is in place and not merely overthrow the ruling regime. Even if we accept that overthrowing an Arab regime is one of the most difficult goals to achieve, part of this difficulty is based in the fact that revolutionary forces do not propose genuine alternatives -- except in the political realm. Even more perilous, is an unwillingness to think about true alternatives.

Hence, Arab states where revolution has accomplished the first step must now focus on "the morning after" without delay, in order to block regressive forces from pulling the revolution backwards. In countries that are still struggling with clashes and altercations, it is possible that incumbent powers could pre-empt the forces of revolution not only by liberating the entire political process, but also by adopting a genuine economic and social programme for development and fighting corruption. Arab countries where revolution has not yet occurred must realise that it is on its way, unless they use the opportunity to pre-empt all political and social forces by adopting fundamental reforms and not just superficial ones.

Before the French Revolution, conditions were almost identical in terms of political and social maturity, but the French carried out a massacre and jeopardised the independence of the entire European continent for two decades. Other states, especially Britain, had their own style of revolution that incorporated political reform and technological revolution by supporting civic society and economic development at the same time. Britain was able to pre-empt the morning after even without a revolution.

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