Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Civil forces and revolution

Amid political polarisation the street has been resuscitated. Where will the new dynamic lead, asks Ibrahim Farouk

Al-Ahram Weekly

In the streets surrounding Tahrir Square one senses a sudden rebirth of civil forces. They have been resuscitated, as if by a miraculous kiss of life. It’s there in the numbers and energy of the marches, and the reclaiming of the revolutionary slogan, “Bread, freedom, social justice”.

Everyone is jumping on the revolution bandwagon; political parties, coalitions, unions, artists and intellectuals, those with special interests, and people who do not profess any political affiliation and are mostly young Ultras (football fans).

Marching in downtown demonstrations this non-partisan civil force is struggling to organise in the spirit of the January Revolution, repeating its demands for a civil state that works for a better life for every Egyptian. The banners and flags of one party or coalition or another are forever being hoisted — the Free Egyptians, Revolution Tomorrow, the Democratic Front, the Justice Party and Revolutionary Egypt. There are Nasserist parties such as Karama (Dignity), leftist and socialist parties such as Tagammu (Assembly), the Socialist Popular Coalition and the Organisation of Revolutionary Socialists.

Do these “civil forces” fall under the umbrella of political parties and the revolutionary coalition? Or is it that, despite the large number of political parties and coalitions that emerged after the revolution, swathes of public opinion have not yet found a home?

This 24 parties that operated under Mubarak were cartoon entities that orbited the regime. The ruling National Democratic Party headed by ousted president Hosni Mubarak was the only party that mattered, and it was disbanded on 16 April 2011.

Under Mubarak talk of democracy, pluralism, political diversity and effective civil society was nothing more than window dressing, fictitious slogans propagated under the aegis of a single party protected by security agencies and incorporating businessmen who featured prominently on the political and party scene under the pretext of representing different civil forces. The country was smouldering beneath the surface and eventually erupted.

Before the revolution a number of non-traditional and non-partisan civil forces had started to emerge, green shoots of a growing popular movement facilitated by the connectivity offered by modern technology and the Internet. There were 6 April, We Are All Khaled Said, the Ultras, youth groups and individuals belonging to movements such as Kifaya as well as liberal, socialist and leftist currents which supported these nascent youth movements and paved the way for the revolution among Egyptian youth that eventually became the revolution of the entire population.

These new civil groups represented a radical departure from traditional forces such as parties, unions and syndicates. They replenish one another and connect invisibly. There is little point viewing these new groupings through the prism of traditional civil groups.

They operate between revolution and more conventional political action. They occupy a space between the elite and the street and must be viewed within the context of the transition from a past in which silence was a strategy for survival and a present where shouting is the norm. What the future holds is a mystery, and a frightening one for the silent majority, the “Couch Party”, especially given the polarity between civil and religious currents. Meanwhile, political Islam bestrides the political scene. The president was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.

Each camp dreams of a future from its own perspective: one aspires to make concrete the goals of the revolution and build an authentic civil state that conducts itself democratically, without discrimination between different groups and factions; the other seeks a factionally supported theocracy. It is the latter camp that now wields the power of governance, decision-making and even the law.

“How long can they sustain their existence and failed policies by fighting us on the street?” asks Ahmed Al-Bahhar, a 20-something member of the Ultras who has participated in the revolution at every stage, including Mohamed Mahmoud, the cabinet headquarters, Abbasiya and finally the presidential palace.

Al-Bahhar’s question reveals the reality on the ground. Egypt’s young generation, including those who belong to leftist or even Islamist current, is neither satisfied with the traditional political elite (as represented by parties or groups), nor the proclamations of the religious current. They want a future purged of both. While traditional civil forces are looking for a roadmap to exit the crisis caused by polarisation the inflamed street is pushing towards other modes of action.

The National Front for Change collapsed when its members differed on how to deal with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) when it was in power. A popular alliance incorporating a number of civil parties was then formed during the parliamentary elections. When its raison d’être ended after Mohamed Morsi won the presidential election new groupings emerged.

SCAF withdrew from the political equation, leaving civil forces and political Islam in direct confrontation, battling over the drafting of the constitution and the composition of a Constituent Assembly that singularly failed to represent all sections of Egyptian society. In this heated atmosphere the National Salvation Front (NSF) was born. Key figures — Mohamed Al-Baradei, Hamdeen Sabahi, Amr Moussa, Al-Sayed Al-Badawi, Mohamed Abul-Ghar and others — joined beneath its banner, bringing together civil forces in a new structure that may eventually evolve into something else after first experiment as a united force — namely the referendum on the constitution.

The results of the referendum will reflect, at least partially, the ability of this alliance to convince and mobilise. But civil forces are far from congealing into a monolith and structural changes are inevitable, not least because political Islam is also regrouping under a new umbrella, the Coalition of Islamic Forces. Movement on the street, especially that led by those linked to the revolution and its goals, continues to shape all forces even if the impacts are sometimes not visible. Some analysts believe that the street is leading the NSF and other civil forces, guiding its agenda and steps by raising the ceiling of demands rather than pulling them down.

No one paid much attention to the numbers and names of coalitions, fronts, unions, societies and committees that supported the recent march from Talaat Harb Square to Tahrir called for by intellectuals. Instead they listened to the statement introduced by author Bahaa Taher and read by author Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid on the stage in Tahrir.

The statement declared that Egypt’s intellectuals and artists assert their “absolute bias towards the demands of the revolution and revolutionaries which are bread, freedom, justice and human dignity”. They pledged never to make “concessions about the blood of martyrs, freedoms and maintaining the state’s civil character which does not contradict the adherence of Egyptians to their religion. Since the beginning of history Egypt has been the cradle of unity and civilisation where religion built, not destroyed, civilisations.”

The march was called “Protecting Egyptian Identity” and demonstrators held up pictures of Egypt’s symbols of culture, art and creativity. As usual they were joined by many average Egyptians. No one cared if those sponsoring the march were members of the Revolution Artists Coalition or the Actors Syndicate or the National Committee for the Defence of Intellectuals, Creativity Rights and Freedoms or any of the other movements that had participated in organising the demonstration.

The heyday of coalitions has already passed. What counts now is action on the street. Even more important are the visions these civil forces project of an Egypt that can provide bread, dignity and social justice. The real weapon in the hands of civil forces is that they are part of the fabric of society, drawing on all its segments and age groups. The street’s consciousness goes beyond ideology and political agendas. If they can tune into this the momentum will be unstoppable.


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