Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1253, ( 2 - 8 July 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1253, ( 2 - 8 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Commentary: Where the revolutionaries failed

Strategically inept, the hardcore of Egypt’s revolutionaries not only misread the political landscape, but also threatened the foundations of the state itself, writes Moataz Abdel-Fattah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Registering courageous stances instead of offering practical solutions creates false heroes who only manage to stay afloat because, like balloons, they are filled with hot air.

The “revolutionados” lost their chance because they were not fighting for the nation and the interests of the marginalised and underprivileged, but rather for themselves and their interests as a vanguard.

There is a difference between a revolutionary who understands the limits of revolution and a “revolutionado” who makes a career out of revolution and uses it to acquire moral or material gain, even at the expense of the welfare of the nation.

Most Egyptians lost sympathy with the leading figures of the January revolution, not only because of the media campaigns against them, but also because of the structural flaws in their thinking that led to some disastrous errors.

Their current belief that the Egyptian people will rise up again against the ruling authorities is another reflection of the deficiency. From their perspective, Egyptians are meant to serve the revolution rather than the revolution being meant to serve Egyptians.

If the revolutionados seriously wanted to serve Egypt and its people they would first engage in an exercise of introspection and contemplate the many mistakes they made. I can help them identify a few of these.

I recall how they lashed out at me when I voiced differences that signified to them that I was not up to par in terms of their purported “revolutionary purity”, which led them to forfeit the revolution due to faulty assessments.

Firstly, they refused build upon on the 1971 constitution. “No to patching up the constitution!” they cried. Dozens of other countries had amended existing constitutions after their revolutions, but then those amenders were obviously deficient in “revolutionary consciousness.”

So they rejected a constitution in which it was already stipulated that political parties could not be formed on the basis of religious affiliation or a religious frame of reference. This issue was the source of one of their greatest problems with the Muslim Brotherhood, but they refused to consider the existing constitution as a basis even though this was against their interests.

Then, when the ballot box also went against them and in favour of the opinion of leading religious trends, they refused to respect the will of the people and turned to the (military) bureaucracy at the expense of (popular) democracy. The promulgation of the Constitutional Declaration of March 2011 was the first incident that demonstrated their scorn for the people and for democracy.

Today, one should ask the revolutionados the following questions: Is the current constitution better than the 1971 one? Or would it have been better either to amend the 1971 Constitution, like the Indonesians amended their constitution after their 1998 revolution, or to adopt a temporary constitution for five or ten years, like they did in South Africa?

Is it the case that the members of that revolutionary vanguard do not read, understand nothing, and do not look beyond the narrow interests of their clique?

Their second mistake occurred when some of them cheered the so-called “8 April officers” for defying the armed forces command. To me, this meant that they did not understand the difference between toppling a regime and toppling a state. At the time, writing under the headline “The last column in the house”, I cautioned against encouraging divisions, vertically or horizontally, because to do so would demolish our country.

Some wise people then advised that reform of our solid and long-established institutions, such as the judiciary, the army, the police and the media, should take place from within, because to do so from the outside would destroy them.

I shared this opinion, which is why I called on the revolutionaries to make the move from the phase of purging to the phase of development, and from Tahrir Square to parliament and the ministries. Such advice fell on deaf ears.

They fell back on hackneyed Trotskyist like, “The revolution shall continue,” which to them meant, “The surgery shall continue.” This might been good for them, because as long as the surgical process continued their faces would continue to appear on TV screens and around intense political tables.

Once all revolutionary activities stopped and we began to reform, build and develop, their share of the spotlight would decrease and they would learn their real size in the electorate. I warned them of this at the time. They lashed out at me again.

The revolutionados did not appreciate someone holding a mirror up to their blemishes, which consisted of an ignorance of revolutionary literature and an unwillingness to consider other mechanisms for creating change, apart from taking to the streets, blocking traffic and staging sit-ins and demonstrations, even if this worked against the interests of the people they claimed to be fighting for.

Their third mistake occurred when the military administration at the time, after consulting the Supreme Constitutional Court, told them that the People’s Assembly elections of 2012 would be unconstitutional if the electoral list system were to apply to over half the parliamentary seats.

I was present at some of the meetings at which this problem was discussed. They acted as though the revolution was bigger and stronger than the state. The results of the polls produced a farce.

Eventually, when the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve the assembly, they cheered as though thrilled at the dissolution of an assembly from which the ballot box had blocked them and pleased with the disregard of popular will once again, although they were the chief cause of all of this.

Their fourth mistake was to stand divided in the presidential elections, when the choice was reduced to the candidate of the “old regime” versus the Muslim Brotherhood candidate. People warned the revolutionados at the time, if you stand united the revolution will be victorious; if you are divided, you will lose the revolution.

They opted for division, at which they excelled and served their political adversaries admirably. Those who agreed, “with a squeeze of lemon”, to make the bitter taste go away, as was said at the time, to support the Muslim Brotherhood candidate brought in some eight million votes on top of the five million Morsi had won in the first round, enabling him to beat his rival by the narrowest of margines.

If Ahmed Shafiq had won the elections in June 2012 there would have been no need for a 30 June 2013 uprising to overturn another regime. In all events, the Muslim Brotherhood was given the fullest opportunity. But they were voracious and they over-ate, cheated, choked from their gluttony and died.

The “lemon-squeezers” who had supported Morsi turned against him and rallied the people against Muslim Brotherhood rule, despite their poor political behaviour and weak strategic foresight that had brought the Brotherhood to power.

I never added my voice to the call for the 30 June Revolution and never tried to rally people to the streets for a political cause. This is because, quite simply, I have little faith in most Egyptian politicians: I do not trust the intentions of some and I do not trust the sapience of most.

But the question now is whether the people will trust the revolutionaries again. On 3 July 2013, the then-defence minister said that he was willing to call for early presidential elections. I was all in favour of that.

If the Muslim Brothers wanted to field a candidate again, so be it, I thought. But at least this time respect the will of the people who had already reported to the polls on five occasions only to find the voice of the ballot box overturned for some reason or other.

In all events, the revolutionaries emerged again with the cry, “The constitution first!” as though this was the key to solving all — or even some — of Egypt’s problems. It might be useful here to consider the current straits and difficulties of our fellow people in Tunisia.

The Tunisian constitution, which many now want to amend, has been of little help in dealing with that country’s dire conditions. But more to the point, I ask the revolutionados: How are you feeling now? Are you happy with the 2014 Constitution?

When the hot ball of government rolled back to the military establishment, the revolutionaries cried “coup” and once again they began to shout, “Down with military rule!” But my question to them is: Even supposing this is military rule, are you ready to rule if it falls? Or are you prepared to see the Muslim Brotherhood back in power?

Have you learned anything at all from your mistakes? Is anyone among you capable of assuming the responsibility? Would the majority of the people even give you their vote? Or would you take society hostage because of your flare for “mobilising” the street?

The rational person does not position himself in front of a train that is barrelling down on him and then cry out to others for sympathy. The train in Egypt — like Egypt itself — is moving fast, without brakes and on rusty rails.

Your death, imprisonment or repression will do nothing to help the nation. So instead of putting yourselves in front of that train, try to win some territory among the people and take advantage of the available opportunities for political action to earn their trust in you, so that you can begin to reform society from within.

For those among you who read at all, permit me to refer you to Gramsci’s literature on “war of position” and “war of manoeuvre.” Sadly, I feel compelled to set aside everything I wrote between 2005 and 2011 about reform to promote democratisation, liberalisation and sound governance in Egypt.

In those days we had a “state”, even if was rickety and corrupt. But today, thanks to the magnificent revolutionary decisions taken by the proponents of “knee-jerk revolutionism”, the state is frailer than ever. It is surrounded by militias at its borders and afflicted by structural ailments.

The last thing Egypt needs is another popular revolution. What Egypt needs is a moral, intellectual and scientific revolution, through constructive criticism and not the sledgehammer, through patriotic opposition rather than dismantling the nation in the name of fine-sounding slogans that are more akin to empty bubbles.

Reform is harder than revolution. It is much more difficult to build than to destroy. If only some people would learn this.


The writer is a professor of political science at Cairo University.


add comment

  • follow us on