Tomorrow, the 25th of January, 2012 marks the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. The impact of last year went far beyond Egypt to reshape the world’s expectations of the role of “the people” in politics. To quote Nelly Hanna, who I ran into at MESA – “we [Egypt] are changing the world!”
The revolution in Tunisia was shocking and exhilarating — and then, for Hosni Mubarak to fall in only 18 days … there is absolutely nothing I can write that can convey the jubilation of February 11, 2011, and the roller-coaster ride of emotions ever since for all those watching with bated breath. Revolution broke out in Libya and in Yemen – and two more dictators fell – Qaddhafi slain after his mad campaign to destroy his own people, and Saleh — wheeling, dealing, lying and manipulating to obtain the immunity that Mubarak did not (formally) receive. The Syrian dictator and his cruel regime will likely be dismantled in the coming year, and then the fate of autocracy in the region remains to be seen.
In Egypt, Police Day always recalled the huge number of people employed by the police and the security forces (the latter estimated at 1 million – larger than any army). And yet, once the Egyptian people joined the ongoing demonstrations, it was fairly clear that they outnumbered the army and police, and while there were casualities, the violence could have been so much worse. The military assumption of power was intended to be temporary. And indeed, the elections for the Majlis al-Sha`b have taken place, not perhaps with the outcome that some wish, but in all, a much more democratic procedure than in any of the previous electoral charades carried out under Mubarak. Presidential elections will be scheduled and the Constitution will be rewritten, not least because Mubarak had sullied it with changes to bolster his own executive power and these must be removed.
There is much to hope for and much room for anxiety. Not a day goes by without my receipt of a bitter comment or message castigating the Muslim Brotherhood or the salafis for “stealing the revolution.” Well, it was their revolution too. They withstood detentions, arrests, torture, political machinations for years. Islamists are now more popular than most other political groups throughout the region at this particular time in history. Get used to it. Islamism is here to stay and we can hope and work for enlightened, intelligent power-sharing and cooperative solutions. Liberals, anti-Islamists, or those who oppose religious parties really need to stop engaging in takfir – just as others must not employ takfir against them. Liberty means the pursuit of differing political visions and democracy means learning how to compromise on, or bide one’s time to address these differences.
One might dream of seeing a bayan issued by the Freedom and Justice Party or the MB movement itself to the women of Egypt. Something to the effect of “we recognize the oppression that the women of Egypt have suffered, the legal discrimination they have sought to reverse and that their representation in Parliament is hardly fair for 51% of the population. We recognize oppression within the family, and that violence against women and girls is a serious matter. We don’t intend to undo legal reforms that have benefitted women.” One is not heartened to hear those voices that called for undoing the legal reforms of 2000 … Surely women’s future is as important as sending a message about the solidarity of Egyptians – Christians and Muslims together.
It was reported today that the Mushir (Tantawi) will cancel the emergency law. At long last! This is terribly important as the law buttresses the system of security courts and detentions without charge and the entire system of punitive, suspicious regard by security personnel of the public. It should impact free speech. There is a catch – he said it would be cancelled, except for instances of “thuggery.” Let’s hope that means attacks by the thugs on demonstrators.
Many scholars and experts have stated that the “revolution is not complete.” Well, duh. How could it be? The old regime is so well ensconced in business, financial and intellectual institutions, like, I hate to say it, but the American University in Cairo where the President’s representative, a retired general, called one day to tell my colleague not to use a particular book (you know the book I mean, some of you). And where Tom Friedman and Martin Indyk recently were guest speakers (why?) Of course there are lovers of freedom at that faculty and in others — but the networks of power and influence are not so easily dissolved.
Let us hope as well that in the new Egypt, there will be a new domestic approach to the problems of poverty and development for democracy does not necessarily mean capitalist democracy where a country with a huge low-income population and income gap can ignore the consequences of privatization and rising prices. Let us hope that it will mean a new foreign policy, where actions match rhetoric. For too long, hollow support of Palestinian rights has been juxtaposed with doing the bidding of Israel – closing the border, bombing the tunnels, and ensuring the safety of a regime at the behest of the Quartet. Perhaps the Egyptian people need a voice – at least a referendum on some of these issues.
Mabruk Egypt! Mabruk!