Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Dateline: 25 January

Post-revolution Egypt enters its third year with a heavy dose of realism, writes Amira Howeidy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Since 2011 Egypt has been running two calendars: the Gregorian and the revolutionary. On the latter is marked all manner of dates, not least tomorrow, 25 January, the second anniversary of the revolution.
Political anniversaries, of course, are arbitrary occasions. Often it seems their sole purpose is to feed an insatiable media. There is no reason on earth why 25 January 2013 should be a turning point, be in and of itself more significant than the day before or the day after. Or is there?
A lot is being said and done to commemorate the second anniversary of 25 January 2011. But despite the tidal wave of commentary, the oceans of ink, despite the numbers of people who take to the streets tomorrow or else sit at home listening to the pundits expound on endless talk shows, are we any closer to understanding what happened two years ago, let alone what is happening now? Was it a riot? An uprising? A people’s revolution? Was it one of those seminal moments philosophers like Alain Badiou qualify as a rebirth of history?
In two years Egyptians compensated for six decades of political deprivation by going to the polls eight times. The thirst for democracy was supposedly quenched by the arrival of an elected parliament and president. We overdosed on poetic justice when Hosni Mubarak and his clique appeared in the dock while the Muslim Brotherhood, their political victims, ascended to power. For months we conducted our lives to a soundtrack of heart wrenching songs and stories about the revolution’s martyrs. The media obsessed about the role of Egypt’s youth and their miraculous social networking.
A ruthless dictator had been overthrown after 18 days of protests. Why shouldn’t Egypt change within a similarly condensed timetable?
Two years later the rose-tinted spectacles are fading. Reality has impinged, not least in the form of an unprecedented number of strikes and sit-ins. The belief that the ballot box was the panacea for all Egypt’s problems has been shaken to its core. We have learned — are learning — that democratic practice is a process, and it needs more than elections to take root.
We also know that the largest and most organised political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, cannot shoulder Egypt’s disastrous legacy alone, even if they have yet to admit it. Perhaps they should take a lesson from their Tunisian counterparts. Ruling the country seemed easy, Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hamed Al-Jebali told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in an interview commemorating the second anniversary of the Jasmine Revolution. That is until he and his Nahda Party actually had to rule. It was only then they discovered how “very difficult and complicated” it was.
Following the Brotherhood’s ascendance the stereotypes of political Islam — transforming Egypt into an Afghanistan, expanding its popular base through successful social welfare networks — are inevitably being questioned. Differences within the Salafi current are undermining any assumption that “the Islamists” are a monolith. Indeed it is the Salafis, who lack any political heritage, that seem to be the fastest learning political players, striding ahead of Brotherhood, the leftists and liberals as they mark out diverging pathways, be it the embrace of realpolitik or of daawa and the implementation of Islamic Sharia.
The Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi’s battle with the opposition may be growing daily more bitter but that is no guarantee it can retain people’s interest. If voter turnout in the referendum on last month’s controversial constitution — 33 per cent compared to 41 per cent in the March 2011 referendum on constitutional amendments — is anything to go by the public’s faith in the political elite is fast eroding. Not that this should come as a surprise given the politicians’ failure to address the problems faced daily by the vast majority of the population.
As the revolution enters its third year the Egyptian flags that for months adorned windows and balconies following Mubarak’s ouster are nowhere to be seen. The Facebook-revolution narrative and concomitant glorification of youth has been replaced by a more encompassing concept of the people. The fate of Mubarak is a sideshow, though not that of his institutions, the military and Interior Ministry among them.
The negligence that characterised the performance of most state institutions before Mubarak’s ouster continues unchecked, compounding the problems of a tattered infrastructure. Trains continue to crash, buildings to collapse. The economy is in free-fall, with the Egyptian pound losing a tenth of its value in a single month.
All this has happened in the wake of a leaderless people’s revolution. But something else has happened too. For the first time in Egypt’s modern history public opinion matters: no elected government or president can afford to ignore, let alone suppress, the electorate.
Where we find ourselves isn’t simply the outcome of the 18 days it took to oust Mubarak, says Mohamed Othman, co-founder of ex-presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh’s Strong Egypt Party. “Mubarak’s overthrow only broke the door and allowed the revolution’s entry. It continues till this day.”
There have been many twists along the tortured path: sectarianism has reared its head, there has been violence against protesters. But these, says Othman, serve to reveal the true nature of what it is we’re seeking to bring down, including the military’s role as the regime’s “insulator” which has yet to fall. Such revelations have raised the demands and expectations of the people, he adds, and demonstrated that every achievement comes at a price, paid in blood and lives.
“The revolution was never about political reform, elections or institution building,” he says. The magnitude of the required transformations is enormous. “We’ve fixed things from above by electing an ordinary man who never dreamed of becoming president. We still need to fix what’s below and that will take years.”

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