Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

After 25 January

The January Revolution lost its way when some insisted on continuing to protest to bring down — rather than build — the state, writes Amr Al-Shobaki

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Every revolution has its own energy, capacity and political project. The communist revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries, for example, were revolutions that sought to overturn existing orders and tear down the state because, quite simply, they fostered an alternative ideological project that sought to establish the antithesis in the form of the communist state and an alternative socialist order.

It was only to be expected, therefore, that millions of people would fall victim to the communist revolution in Russia that was torn apart by a “revolutionary” civil war in which the Red Army battled its adversary, the White Army. As we know, the former prevailed and established the Soviet state and communist system.

The Iranian revolution of 1979 also followed that old model of major revolutions. It too had an ideological project that was derived from the Shia creed, and it kept the masses mobilised in the streets and more than 50,000 people were killed. Then, after the revolution succeeded, it executed an equally untold number of pillars of the old regime and totally dismantled all existing institutions of government. That revolution was the last example of immediate and total rupture with an old order.

With the fall of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc and the faltering of the Iranian revolutionary experiment, and with globalisation and changes in the structure of modern societies, the concept of traditional revolutions passed into history. It was not to be found in all the other experiences of change in the world in the second half of the past century.

Eastern Europe, Latin America and many African and Asian nations changed by means of what we might term reformist revolutions. They sought to change existing orders through institutional reform as opposed to razing everything to the ground, which came to be regarded as a sign of failure rather than success as had previously been imagined.

The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are examples of this concept in the phenomenon called the Arab Spring. Egypt’s great January revolution was embodied, above all, in the millions of people who poured into the country’s major squares. It was not necessarily expressed by those individuals or groups who were determined to impose the notion of “permanent revolution” on the people.

This idea calls for ceaseless protest, based on the theory that not only the old rulers should be toppled but their successors as well. It transforms revolution into a full-time profession and a right to exercise a mandate over everyone else.

The first lost opportunity of the January revolution began on 11 February that year. On that day, Egypt’s splendid youth started to clean up Tahrir Square. The action, unprecedented in the history of popular uprisings anywhere in the world, created a powerful image that declared that the protest activities had ended and that now was the time to build.

That historical moment reflected the desire shared by the majority of the people to oust the Mubarak regime by means of revolution, thereby putting a definitive end to the hereditary succession project and, once that was accomplished, to achieve other revolutionary demands by building on the basis of new alternatives. In fact, on that day — 11 February — Egypt was fully prepared to restart, as it ultimately did do, with any alternative figure from within the state, as long as he came from outside the “Mubarak dynasty” circles.

People at the time were ready to accept Amr Moussa or Kamal Al-Ganzouri as president. A considerable segment of the populace was even prepared to accept the late Omar Suleiman as an interim solution.

In addition, the vast majority of the people withdrew from the streets and squares following the removal of Mubarak. This was a clear manifestation of their confidence in their national army and it was a genuine grassroots choice. The notion promoted by some revolutionary currents to the effect that if the people had stayed in Tahrir Square “we would have brought down the government and SCAF” did not express the view of the majority of the people who had taken part in the revolution and who left Tahrir after 11 February.

Some lost opportunities were not just the product of the immaturity of some members of the revolutionary coalition. They were also due to the mistakes made by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that had assumed control after the fall of Mubarak. The most serious of all was its failure to fulfil its duty to put into place the necessary binding legal and constitutional frameworks before the Muslim Brotherhood — or any other group — came to power.

While it is true that SCAF did not attempt or conspire to remain in power, contrary to what some imagine, it did not take the pains to lay the legal and constitutional foundations for the political process before handing power to the Muslim Brotherhood. Amendments to the 1971 Constitution or the promulgation of a new one, a just electoral law, and obliging the Muslim Brotherhood to legitimise its status and guarantee its separation from the Freedom and Justice Party (which conditions the Muslim Brotherhood would never have accepted but which nevertheless should have been established by law) were all prerequisites for the success of the political process.

Unfortunately, what happened after 11 February was further anarchy, arbitrariness, and lack of restraint as some revolutionary forces linked the noble aims of the revolution with ongoing protest and calls for tearing everything down. Their actions in this regard conveyed a misleading image of the 25 January Revolution to the average citizen, who gained the impression that it was all about demonstrations and violence.

The lost opportunities began when we failed to appreciate that the fall of Mubarak on 11 February should not pave the way to the fall of the state and that our mission from that day on should have been unqualifiedly reformist. What was needed was not more revolutionary chants and protest demonstrations but rather an amended or totally new constitution, laws to promote change and politicians to lead the process.

Unfortunately, the ageing Mubarak regime had been incapable of filling the vacuum while the door was left open to the protest forces to grow, to persist with their daily campaign to knock down the pillars of the state, to call for the handover of power to a Muslim Brotherhood speaker of parliament in 2012, to shout that there can be no constitution under “military rule”, and to demand the downfall of everything — parliament, government, the army. The result of all of this was to hand the country to the Muslim Brotherhood on a silver platter.

The problem in the post-25 January period was that some people had not imagined that the weakness of the Mubarak state was what made them seem strong. This led them to believe that they were above the people and the state and to persist in their drive to topple and destroy instead of building and proposing alternatives.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brothers lurked behind the walls of their organisation, waiting for the opportunity to pounce and monopolise control. This they did when they came to power at a time when the country still lacked a constitution and just electoral laws, when their organisation was still not properly legitimised and after we had forfeited the opportunity of the revolution and the means to build towards its aspirations and aims.

As we commemorate its anniversary, we must not forget that Egypt needs to invoke the values and principles of the 25 January Revolution every day, to build not some revolutionary order but a democratic system of government.

We need to turn the values of the revolution and the energies of the Egyptian people that manifested themselves on 25 January and 30 June into constructive energies and a drive for genuine and surgical reform.


The writer is a political analyst at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and a former MP.

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