Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Revolutionary morals

The idealism of revolution must inform the new Egypt, writes Ammar Al-Beltagui

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Tunisian revolution breathed new life into the region, ending once and for all the oft-held belief that Middle Eastern rulers were demigods entitled to govern without reproach, empowered to rule without accountability, permitted to act through a web of foreign connections to defend the status quo. Across the region tyrants had been warned: step down or reform.
The crisis of government in Arab countries centres on tyranny and corruption. The Arab Spring was triggered by a uniform set of political afflictions. Tunisia was first, then Egypt, where the popular revolt of January 2011 gave back to the people the dignity for which they had long yearned. In the Egyptian collective mind pent-up anger had reached the point of explosion after years of economic, political and social imbalance in which the ruling regime, acting in cahoots with businessmen and bolstered by the might of its security services, trampled roughshod over the mass of people. A cobweb of international interests, a habit of dependence on outsiders and considerations of regional and international equilibrium had turned Egypt into a pawn in a global geostrategic game, one in which the country’s history, resources and cultural legacy were handed to the highest bidder.
This was a popular revolution, in the sense that it lacked ideological bias and political orientation. It was an attempt to give the people control of a political system that had gone astray. The regime which was overthrown had used the repressive apparatuses of the state to stay in power in defiance of the nation’s interests.
The regime’s entrenchement bordered on occupation. The revolution upset a power structure founded on excessive centrality and exaggerated control. Egypt was propelled forward by the revolutionary energy of its young people who, using the latest tools of communication technology, crowned years of strife with one final act of defiance. The seven years that preceded this final act had seen escalating protests and demands for radical change. Any attempts at reform from within — which dated back to 1952 — had been utterly discredited.
As we contemplate the significance of what happened we cannot but admit the old Arab system is doomed, that all attempts at reform have failed. The wheels of change now in motion are unstoppable. This, however, doesn’t mean that the ship of revolution is sailing smoothly to safe shores, or that the aims the revolution are within reach.
The Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions restored confidence to the people, injecting energy into their social action and adding political weight and revolutionary zest to their demands. In doing so these revolutions unwittingly undermined ideological differences and exposed the irrelevance of much of the partisan squabbling that went on before. The revolutionaries owed nothing to existing political parties or to those intellectuals who hastened — in the first days of the revolution — to pose as intermediaries between the revolution and the regime.
The revolutionaries paid almost no attention to the existing parties. They knew the opposition parties were symbiotically connected to the regime without which they could not survive. Yet the political elite still managed to step in and manage the transitional period, setting the priorities of political transition. The problems created by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took charge during the interim phase, may take years to undo, adding urgency to the tasks of building a new political system, restructuring state institutions, upholding transitional justice and pursuing national reconciliation.
What kind of revolutionary experience have we just gone through?
A youth movement has been born, nourished on rejection and protest and radical in its opposition to the deposed regime. This movement began with the formation of the National Front for Change (Kifaya) in 2004 to combat the bequest of power. Protests gained momentum with the judges’ uprising in 2006, triggered by election fraud. Then came the April 2008 uprising in Mahalla Al-Kobra. Organised action by students, workers, journalists and lawyers followed.
A culture of protest emerged, and it kept growing through the involvement of bloggers and symapathisers among journalists, judges and university professors. All of the above combined to plot a course of change outside the existing boxes and, by extension, beyond the reach of conventional politics.
As time passed the non-partisan elite of young people who are active in cyberspace and the social media developed their own discourse. Protest was fed by the renewal of the emergency laws, police brutality and Mubarak’s determination to stay in power. As education and health services deteriorated and the problems of poverty, unemployment, crime and corruption grew anger simmered across the nation. A catalyst was all that was needed it to boil over.
The catalyst was provided by, among other things, the blatant forging of the 2010 elections, the brutal murder by police of Khaled Said, the bombing of Qidisayn (Two Saints) Church and the torturing to death of Sayed Belal. When the Tunisian Revolution erupted on 18 December everyone held their breath. A few weeks later protesters took to the streets across Egypt, speaking their minds in unprecedented numbers, challenging not only the regime’s security forces but also its media fabrications.
The post-revolutionary phase remains less than fully understood. Some say that what we experienced was a revolt of one generation against another. Some argue that the new generation possesses technological tools — the egalitarian arena of cyberspace — that has allowed them to challenge the hierarchy of authority.
Certainly, we need to find a formula for coexistence, one that allows younger generations to choose their own courses of action, and to bring their own vision to life.
To create a new political system requires a formula for coexistence among various generations and disparate political components. Tensions that threaten domestic peace can undermine the future of the country. For a revolution to succeed we have to have a strong state and a strong society. In the absence of a strong state people cannot have the authority they deserve.
Everything indicates that a new phase in the history of the republic has begun. This phase, which began in January 2011, already includes the election of a president and legislative body, things we never experienced under Egypt’s first three presidents. At this juncture, it is best to remember that a revolutionary act is a moral act par excellence. The idealism of the revolution, unmistakable throughout the three weeks of the revolution in Tahrir Square, must inform the rebuilding of Egypt.

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