Has the January revolution achieved anything?

Bassem Sabry , Sunday 9 Oct 2011

Some are despondent that the January 25 Revolution has been usurped by the ruling military power, but this is a narrow view of the depth of the change the popular Egyptian uprising has created

If there is one thing that unites Egyptians these days, it is a pervading and distinctly sombre mood.

On one hand, there are many who feel that the January Revolution is being hijacked by the military regime and major existing political forces; that all the gains from the revolution are being lost and consigned to oblivion. Many of those people are even calling for another massive popular uprising, if that were at all possible.

On the other hand, there are those who are quite simply fed up with protests, the weakened economy, the perceived decline in security on the streets and roads, and the general feeling that the country has no real political compass and only an obscure and blurry outlook on all levels.

Among the latter people are quite a few who even express a degree of regret at the actual occurrence of the revolution itself, perhaps feeling that gradual reform would have been preferable.

One common question, often uttered in a state of exasperation, is “What has the revolution achieved, if anything?” Sadly, the answers many give are often unfairly negative.

But the fact is that all the melancholy has only unjustly disguised one of the most miraculous and profound achievements in Egyptian, Arab, and possibly even world history.

For the first time in as long as any Egyptian can gather, a former living leader is exactly just that: “a former” and “living” leader, and not one who was metaphysically removed from power through his own mortal finitude.

What is even more incredible is that it was the Egyptians themselves who had risen up against their leader of three decades and removed him from power in a revolution whose uniqueness was unlike anything the world had ever seen, and perhaps not even the Egyptians themselves knew what they were capable of in terms of ingenuity, strength, resilience, valour and audacity.

Even more incredulously, that same leader now stands trial behind bars with the members of his family and regime for all the wrongs that he and his regime are said to have committed, whether politically, economically or physically against protesters.

Egypt no longer has untouchable pharaohs, but has mortal human beings of flesh and blood who govern according to various checks and balances, and know they can’t get away any longer with whatever they want.

And despite every other grievance we still have, or have recently developed, so many other things have changed forever, for the better.

People organised in the streets to protect their own homes during the revolution, creating strong social bonds that never before existed, with much of that remaining to this day and connecting Egyptians together in a heartening manner.

And from January to this day, an incomparable explosion of literary and artistic creativity has captivated the nation, from galleries to street graffiti, guitars, vocal chords and pens.

For the first time ever, people know their vote counts, and they are being courted by politicians mostly in the proper way, through a struggle over their minds and hearts, and not their fears and pockets.

Egyptians know they are deciding themselves the fate of their country, and they are rising to the occasion, despite the many dispiriting falls along the way.

People are meeting in cafes, town halls and in other public venues to discuss, debate and learn about politics and democracy, and are assimilating all this new knowledge in an astonishing manner.

The more knowledgeable and experienced Egyptians are widely organising into volunteer groups working on spreading awareness, lobbying, or the development and promulgation of ideas that could transform Egypt for the better economically, politically, legally, environmentally, culturally, and in every other imaginable field, and are already producing many brilliant initiatives.

And no more is a political force, Islamist or another, being fully marginalised by the ruling regime, and true political parties are being born for the first time since Egypt’s liberal experiment in the 1920s.

People are finally encountering the former regime’s onetime scarecrow of political islam, and they are learning to find common ground and build bridges, and stumblingly rediscovering the art of constructive debate and compromise, whether with Islamists or with others.

Somehow, even the most hardcore of Islamist forces are cautiously beginning to embrace the core ideals of democracy.

Today, the right to free speech has become sacrosanct, despite all the remaining concerns and challenges. The media is now more capable than ever of discussing anything and criticising anyone.

And when traditional media fails, social and grassroots media have learned how to rise to the occasion, and show Egypt and the world what needed to be seen and often what needs to be done as well, and usually to staggeringly profound effects.

The right to protest and demand what is seen to be right has been deeply enshrined in the public spirit, and that right has been successfully used to great effect and continues to be so used every day.

People are mastering how to effectively organise to protect activists from unfair prosecution and persecution, and together with politicians they are getting better everyday at keeping the ruling regime in check, to one significant degree or another.

And while torture and excessive force by security personnel remain as occurring phenomena, they are clearly dying ones. In fact, people have become so unafraid and empowered that many police personnel themselves are the ones now complaining of popular harassment.

And what was unimaginable 10 months ago, the Egyptian revolutionary example has even become the inspiration for so many different protest movements around the world, all of which featuring Egyptian flags, and possibly even chants in Arabic.

And economically, the issue of improperly privatised companies is finally being addressed, economic corruption is being prosecuted, workers are learning how to unionise and demand better working conditions and rights, governmental sector salaries are now more closely monitored and revealed, and the question of the horrifying gaps between the most wealthy and the most impoverished is being addressed as the primary policy target by every competing political force on the ground.

Even the infamous land-grabs file is being thoroughly opened and investigated, with yesterday’s barons standing public trial, sending shivers down the spines of every would-be corrupt businessman.

Most importantly, Egyptians have relearned to love their country with less caveats, and invest in its development emotionally and physically. It is true that Egyptians have a lot to be disappointed with, but this revolution has broken almost every taboo in the book, and has already and forever changed and inspired Egypt, the Arab world, and the literally world itself, for the better.

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