I don’t think there’s one Egyptian who hasn’t paid some price over the last six years in the conflicts and crises the country experienced following the January 25 revolution, though the price certainly differed from one person to the next
Some gave their lives in defense of a right or principle or for the security of the nation and its citizens’ safety. Some of these continue to risk their lives every day. Others lost their eyes or limbs, and scores of people fell victim to vague laws, unfair trials, and political conflicts wrapped in a cloak of legality.
Even more people saw their businesses falter, their enterprises upended, and their jobs lost, and families bid farewell to children who went searching for another country. Those who didn’t lose their lives, freedom, or business lost friends, neighbors, and relatives amid conflicts that divided the country into opposing camps.
If we add the economic crisis, political resentments, and terrorism, the question of whether the January revolution was a blessing or a curse inevitably arises. Was it a victory for the people or a conspiracy against the nation? A step forward that opened the gates of freedom, equality, and justice, or a setback to incremental reform that could have achieved more than we have now?
In my view, these are the wrong questions to understand what happened in Egypt or to issue a judgment on the January revolution. Popular revolutions, especially when lacking organised leadership, cannot be measured by direct, short-term results because they aren’t a conscious, planned act. They are a sudden transformation of unknown outcome expressing a severe dysfunction in society, despair of gradual reform, and irresolvable economic, social, and political contradictions at the moment of eruption. That was Egypt in January 2011.
The revolution, then, was neither right nor wrong. It was inevitable. Regardless of the gains and losses, the January revolution will stand as the expression of the moment when Egyptians chose to break their fetters, dream of change, and abandon fear and passivity to take to the streets demanding freedom, equality, and justice. If such demands and dreams seem distant today, we can’t deny that millions of people took to the streets and squares. It doesn’t mean that what happened is a foreign conspiracy, and it doesn’t diminish the sacrifices Egyptians made.
So was it all for nothing? Not in my opinion. Despite the difficulties and challenges, Egypt today is not the same. We have hard-won, rich experience from which we have learned. We’ve fought several electoral battles. We have party experiences that brought a new generation into politics, a good constitution that can be built upon no matter how the state disregards it, and constitutional legitimacy based on both January 25 and June 30.
We have a continual dynamism in a society looking for a way out of the present crises, and we have young people who continue to cling to their right to freedom and the rule of law. We have mistakes made by all political currents, and we’ve learned from them. We have artists, writers and thinkers that seek out new paths whenever the state tries to nationalise and appropriate channels of expression and creativity. And we have a patient, steadfast people able to overcome all crises, but they have legitimate demands that must be met.
If change is a dream that has haunted Egyptians for six years even as it faced numerous setbacks, it doesn’t mean that it’s only attainable with a new revolution and with people again taking to the streets. Change is possible, and necessary, but by different means that seek to meet the hopes and aspirations of Egyptians while also respecting their desire for security, stability, and incremental change.
The struggle to achieve the interests of the nation and citizens is not only about bravely standing in the street, but about patience, tireless work, perseverance, and determination to reach one’s goal even if a takes a while. It involves a willingness to negotiate and make progress step by step.
All peoples disagree about their history but they can’t deny it. The January revolution is part of our common contemporary history, and it’s the foundation on which our state today, and its constitution and legitimacy, are based. When we succeed in turning the page on conflict over it, we can begin to forge a new consensus that will allow the country to move forward, overcome its political and economic crises, and join together to fight terrorism instead of remaining divided.
*The writer holds a PhD in financial law from the London School of Economics. He is former deputy prime minister, former chairman of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and former chairman of the General Authority for Investment.
A version of this article was published in Arabic in El-Shorouq newspaper on Monday, 23 January.