No conflict between the generations
While young people lighted the spark of the 25 January Revolution, credit for its success belongs to all Egyptians, writes Moustafa Orfy*
Young people, especially university students and no matter which period or country considered, tend to be the most honest and conscientious people in society. This is because they usually have no private interests other than their desire to achieve their best, as they perceive it, for their countries. The Islamic religion itself was first spread among young people, who advocated it and supported its Prophet, whereas the elder generations often abandoned him and his message.
Young people have also usually been the heart and soul of any revolution throughout history. By virtue of their age, they usually do not accept compromises or half-solutions that the elderly are most probably keener to consider with a view to protecting their own interests and what they have achieved for themselves and their families.
Retrospectively, if the present situation in Egypt returned back a year ago and you had asked a young man, say in his twenties, before 25 January 2011 whether he was ready to sacrifice 900 martyrs in order to force the former president to step down, the answer would probably have been positive. Meanwhile, if you had asked a member of the middle- aged or elder generation, the answer would probably have been no. He or she would probably have argued that it was possible to postpone the stepping down for some months in order to reduce the casualties by a half or a quarter, for example, or even to prevent the death or injury of just one person. In a nutshell, this difference of opinion between the generations signals the age gap between those in their twenties and those in their forties or even older.
Young people had the honour of lighting the first sparks of revolution one year ago. Highly appreciated efforts exerted by them led to change in the entire region, and we are still witnessing this change today. Young people organised and poured their energy into society in order to achieve the long-awaited Egyptian revolution. They also bore the full risk of implementing the protest on the ground in the face of one of the strongest and most oppressive security apparatuses in the world.
However, this is not the whole story, since we cannot ascribe the success of the revolution only to the youth. Instead, it was the whole of society -- women, men, children, and so on, in other words, a critical mass -- that brought about the political tsunami in Egypt that reached its aim on 11 February 2011.
Only with the aid of millions of Egyptians from every city in Egypt, from Damietta in the north to Aswan in the south, with all their strength and weaknesses, did the revolution reach its goal. It was these millions who made the revolution too strong to be defeated, especially after the previous regime's staging of the attack on the demonstrators in Tahrir Square on 2 February 2011. This reflected a high degree of political foolishness, and consequently caused more anger in the hearts of millions of Egyptians.
It was the support of those millions that was the main factor that pushed, perhaps forced, the country's armed forces to choose the right option by supporting the will of the people and disassociating themselves from the previous regime, which had in any case begun to melt away. Put another way, had it been the case that the revolution was led by a movement, or Intifada, of a few tens of thousands of young people alone without the support of the whole of society, then it would have been easily broken or crushed by the security apparatus in a matter of a few days. Not only that, but the heroes of the revolution would have been hauled up before the courts on charges of conspiring against the regime. The media would have called them terrorists and rebels.
Unfortunately, over recent weeks and months, a negative phenomenon has grown up in Egyptian society that has praised the youth while criticising the older generations. While there is no harm in the former, the latter is very alarming. The argument advocated by the proponents of this trend is that the older generations were subjugated for a long time, but they did not offer any significant resistance to this subjugation. It is for this reason that the younger generations have inherited the present catastrophic situation.
Even more bluntly, some today are arguing that people over the age of 40 in Egypt were silent until conditions deteriorated to what they are today -- a catastrophe for the whole of society -- and they did not have enough courage to take the risks that Egypt's young people recently did in confronting the regime. Unsurprisingly, this kind of exaggerated praise of the nation's young people and blame of the old has had the effect of spoiling some of those same young people.
Not only have some young people fallen into the trap of harshly criticising their elders, claiming they are not worthy of the benefits of the revolution, but they have also argued that the generation that observed the proverb that "fear is the way to remain safe" are not entitled to criticise or even advise the younger generation, which risked martyrdom in order that Egypt could live.
It is in this context that the following points should be made. First, national action or patriotic duty is similar to charitable work in the sense that there should be no room for hypocrisy or feeling superior to others in it. We should ask what the motive is of anyone who gives himself the right to assess the loyalty or patriotism of others. Perhaps the answer is a hidden desire to grant himself the opportunity to conceal something, or perhaps there is a hidden wish to reserve himself a place in the future at the expense of others around him.
Second, circumstances were totally different for those who started the revolution and for those who lived under the former regime under the previous decades. The economic situation during the first 15 years in office of the former president was relatively good, and it was only the continuously deteriorating conditions of the last decade or so that made revolution imperative. Until 1995 or so, development was proceeding reasonably well, and the country had achieved some success on the international and regional levels. It was only later during the last decade that the collapse occurred, especially in recent years, eroding the state both internally and externally.
Third, it was necessary for the people to suffer incrementally, in other words for ten years or more, in order for them to realise the impossibility of continuing to live under the former regime. This is the way that revolutions normally develop, since they require growing frustration and mounting anger if they are to take place, which was the case in Egypt. The example of the revolution in Tunisia also played a part in inspiring the subsequent Egyptian revolution.
Fourth, the new technologies, such as the Internet, satellite TV channels, mobile phones, and so on were not available to the older generations. It was for this reason that there was little chance for the young people of previous periods to provide themselves with the chance of gathering support, disseminating information, and calling for appropriate action. The new technologies were necessary for the revolution to be born, since the new social media and the Internet participated directly in the making of events and not just in providing commentary or follow-up, as would have been the case a few years ago. No one can deny either that the awareness of the young people who brought about the revolution may have been developed or created by the writings and struggle of opponents of the former regime over the previous 15 years or so.
Fifth, in addition to the above-mentioned factors, mention could be made of the fact that the grasp of the security or repressive state was at its peak during earlier years, when Egypt was in the grip of economic and social suffering and terrorism. It was only natural that when the security agencies were given the task of governing everything in Egypt their grip should have been weakened by the increasing burdens put upon them and the growing diversity of roles and responsibilities they were expected to take. This security weakness allowed the seeds of revolution to grow in a way that was previously impossible.
Other factors included the near-collapse of the security system in the all-out confrontation on 28 January 2011, and then there was the folly of trying to put the son of the former president at the head of the regime, something that served as a catalyst to ignite the anger in the hearts and souls of Egyptians.
Let us remember that a society that lacks compassion between the classes and generations is a society in crisis. Respect for the elderly has been among the most appreciated and noticeable social traditions of Egyptian culture throughout history. To put things more clearly, the fall of the Pharaoh should not mean abandoning some of the most positive inherited traditions of Egyptian society.
* The writer is an academic.