On 25 January, Egypt celebrates two national anniversaries that are separated from a chronological point of view by 59 years.
Moreover, the national context of each is quite different. What they have in common is the unfinished quest of the Egyptian people to establish an independent, sovereign, democratic republic.
On 25 January 1952, the Egyptian police had stood, valiantly, battling a far superior force of British troops in Ismailia. It was a military confrontation in which no one had doubted, at the time, which party would prevail.
The British overran Egyptian police barracks after Egyptians had refused to surrender to a British ultimatum. In honour of the fallen from the Egyptian police, and in recognition of their bravery and courage, Egypt has celebrated 25 January as Police Day.
Most Egyptians have considered this particular anniversary as a day of national pride, especially in the context of their struggle for independence from British occupation.
From that distant date to a more contemporary one — that is, 25 January 2011 — much water went under the bridge within Egypt and in the Middle East, and I would add, in the international system as a whole.
For one, there was a revolution that had taken place in Egypt three months after Battle of Ismailia, on 23 July the same year whereby the Free Officers took control and launched a revolutionary process that culminated in the overthrow of the monarchy and declaration of the establishment of a republican system of government on 18 June 1953.
That singular historic event has defined Egypt ever since, notwithstanding the many political, economic and social changes that the country has experienced. And that brings me to the second anniversary, the 25 January popular upheaval of 2011.
If Egypt has reached unanimity on the historical significance of Police Day, there is hardly a similar unanimity on the proper place of 25 January 2011, to the extent that Egyptians differ, and sometimes irrationally, on the linguistic designation of that day and how to integrate it in the framework of modern and contemporary Egypt.
Officially, and in the 2014 Constitution, it is designated as the “January 25 Revolution”, side by side with another political earthquake in the political history of Egypt, namely the 30 June 2013 Revolution.
However, and taking into account the huge political, economic and social toll of the events and political developments in 2011, many Egyptians have come to deplore the day.
They contend that its impact on the social and political fabric of Egypt has been devastating. If it was considered, at the time, by a certain majority of Egyptians — a majority that no longer exists, I am afraid — as part of an illusory “Arab Spring”, hardly anyone of consequence in Egypt today considers it as such, save some of those who took to the streets back then, leaderless and without a well-articulated, popularly-accepted political and economic way forward with the aim of radically changing the way the country shall be governed.
Beginning 28 January 2011, a radical movement, the “Muslim Brothers,” took command on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, and other big cities in the country, especially Suez.
The promises and dreams generated by 25 January uprising of 2011 were nipped in the bud, no later than only three days, on that fateful day of 28 January.
The irony is that whereas on 25 January 1952 the Egyptian police had proved its relevance to the national struggle raging against a foreign occupier, in 2011 nothing of the sort happened.
President Franklin Roosevelt had described the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, on 7 December 1941, as a “Day of Infamy”. I think 28 January 2011 could be considered in the same vein.
On that day, 25 January was highjacked by the “Muslim Brotherhood”. And all political forces in the country danced, willingly or unwillingly, to its tune.
The majority in the streets were not aware that their aspirations for a more open political system, and more social justice, were being drained by a movement that has never believed in political parties nor in democracy.
It was out to take on the State and its institutions, to bring them down and start the establishment of a “Caliphate”, and Egypt would be the first block in this outdated and archaic historical architecture.
Expectedly, and unsurprisingly, Egyptians rebelled against this vision on 30 June 2013.
On 19 March next, Egypt will widely celebrate the centennial of another revolution in its history.
The 1919 Revolution had broken out against British occupation and for the independence and the sovereignty of the country. Its leaders succeeded in wresting a nominal independence from Great Britain on 28 February 1922.
A year later, they had framed a constitution, inspired by the Belgian constitution, to begin an experiment in democratic rule in what is called by some Egyptian political forces and historians as the “Liberal Era”.
A precise definition of what “Liberalism” in Egypt means exactly never arrived. In fact, this state of affairs bedevilled Egyptians for the last 100 years.
The Egyptian version of liberalism has equated, in practice, to the “winner takes it all” principle — that the exercise of political power is a zero-sum game.
This is probably why, across those one hundred years, from monarchy to a republican system of government, we as Egyptians have not succeeded in establishing a sustainable and effective democratic system where checks and balance and the rule of law reign supreme, and where the peaceful and orderly transfer of power is assured at intervals laid down in a binding constitution that is respected by all political parties and forces.
When such a day dawns on the banks of the Nile in Cairo, the lofty promises of Egypt’s revolutions and popular uprisings in the last 100 years will be finally fulfilled.
This historic challenge calls for nothing less than revolutionary leaders that firmly believe that this is Egypt’s destiny and only destiny. When that day comes, we will rest certain that we will have had our “rendezvous with destiny”, quoting a famous phrase of president Gamal Abdel-Nasser in the early days of the 23 July Revolution.
Until the fulfillment of that distant promise, Egypt will always be in revolutionary fervour.
*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 January, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: A date with destiny