Egypt revolution second wave: achievements and letdowns

Salma Shukrallah, Wednesday 10 Aug 2011

With Mubarak, his sons and cronies finally in the dock, the second wave of Egypt's revolution, launched 8 July, looked triumphant. Ahram Online peers into the balance sheet of achievements and letdowns

Tahrir square
Protesters gather in Tahrir square in Cairo July 8, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

Egypt’s interim government has been seen to embark on several reforms of late. Changes recently made include a restructuring of the Ministry of Interior; a cabinet reshuffle; the appointment of new governors and the dismantling of the state controlled trade union, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation. The government has also made the trials of former regime figures, including that of Hosni Mubarak, public. It has prevented the police officers under investigation for killing demonstrators from working and referred Port Said’s head of security to the criminal court on similar charges.

These concessions came after what has been dubbed by many as Egypt’s “second wave of the revolution.” While the first 18 days of the revolution succeeded in toppling Hosni Mubarak, they did not bring about the list of other demands upheld in Tahrir Square. Concessions made to some of the other demands came months later and were accomplished gradually. The second wave of Egypt’s revolution may not have been as organised as the 18 days that toppled Mubarak, but its outcomes were many.

American University in Cairo (AUC) professor of political science Rabab El-Mahdi says “there are no rigid boundaries between the first wave of the revolution and the second. The down of one feeds the other.”

“When the military attacked the Tahrir sit-ins on March 9 and April 9 it culminated in the big demonstration on May 27 and then the July 8 sit-in came as a product of accumulated frustration that followed the revolution’s first wave.” 

Following the ouster of Mubarak several million man marches were staged upholding several of the revolution’s unfulfilled demands. At first, the demands mainly revolved around the trial of Mubarak and members of his regime. The slow pace by which the trials were taking place left many revolutionaries angry. The million man marches initially called for quick trials but they soon took in police reform and justice for the revolution’s martyrs as central demands.

On 28 June, tensions quickly escalated when several of the martyrs’ families heard that the government was honouring those killed in the revolution without their presence. The anger resulted in clashes that night as hundreds of demonstrators threw stones at the Interior Ministry. State Security cordoned off the area, chased protesters into Tahrir Square, where thousands had already gathered, and fired tear gas and shots in the air. Clashes continued until the next morning as thousands of demonstrators came out in solidarity chanting “the people want the regime to fall”, “the people want Field Marshal Tantawi out” and “down with the Interior Ministry.”

The two days of continuous clashes revived the demands related to the rights of martyrs and the need to restructure the Egyptian police system, which proved to be as brutal as before. Revolutionaries also started openly, and more clearly, questioning the role of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and Sharaf’s interim government. As a result of 28 and 29 June, a list of demands was quickly formulating and gaining consensus amongst the different political factions.

Another million man march was called for to take place on 8 July with differences over the constitution put to one side. All the revolutionary political forces united to push for the remaining unmet demands of the revolution. A call for an open ended sit-in to follow the march was also adopted by most of the political groups, but not by the Muslim Brotherhood who chose to participate in the march alone.

The sit-in participants released several statements listing their demands with several recurring throughout. The trial of police officers responsible for the killing of protesters, the public trial of corrupt ex-regime figures and their expulsion from all governmental posts, the trial of the Mubaraks, ending the military trials of civilians, drawing up a new state budget and revoking the anti-strike law seem to be demands agreed upon by all.

Concessions to several of the demands followed shortly after. Although resistance was expressed by the government at first, and some threats were also directed by members of the military council against continuous rallies and sit-ins arguing they hindered economic growth, many demands were eventually addressed.

As El-Mahdi explains, “when Essam Sharaf appeared by July 9 to state that the police officers accused of killing demonstrators will be banned from working, the interior minister came out to say that such action would be illegal and unacceptable. However, as the sit-in continued a decision was taken to conduct reforms with the Ministry of Interior despite objections made by the interior minister.”

“In fact all the concessions made were directly linked to the demands pushed for by the second wave of the revolution. The Mubarak trials were made public as demanded. Changes were made within the Ministry of Interior. The government put a plan to set a minimum and maximum wage. These are all demands directly linked to the sit-in,” El-Mahdi added.

While some of the demands were not directly met, compromises are emerging. One example concerns military trials for civilians. While they continue to take place en masse, those arrested when the Tahrir sit-in was forcefully dispersed by the military on 1 August were referred to a civil prosecution. Those arrested from previously dispersed sit-ins and demonstrations all faced military trials. 

Nevertheless, many still remain unsatisfied with the changes and the way the government is responding to the revolution and its demands. One activist remarked on twitter that the way the government was responding to the revolution’s demands is similar to “someone who makes coffee for his father when asked to make tea for his mother,” implying that the government is trying to circumvent the main demands by offering uncalled for changes. 

Lawyer and activist Rajia Omran says “some of the changes made were not responding to the demands of the sit-in. The government reshuffle was never called for and it was not part of our demands. Compensating the martyrs’ families financially was also nothing the families asked for, they never wanted a financial compensation but they demanded retribution. However, the officers accused of killing demonstrators were never banned from working as promised and they were not detained as requested by the martyrs’ families.”    

“Many of the demands have not been met. The military council released a statement that only three crimes will be tried in military courts, including rape, attacks against police and the illegal possession of weapons. However, the demand was to end military trials of civilians completely without exceptions and refer those who have been tried in military courts to a civil prosecution. Moreover, the minimum wage promised by the government was much lower than what the court had ruled in favour of. They set a minimum wage of LE700 although the court ruled for a minimum wage of LE1200, and they did not even apply the LE700 as promised. We received many promises but little action”, adds Omran.

Now that the army has violently cleared the sit-in and with Tahrir Square occupied by the military and Central Security Forces to prevent any fresh gatherings or protests, will there be a third wave in Egypt’s revolution?

 “The sit-in is not in absolute always the answer,” says El-Mahdi. “The sit-in had a curve. By the time Sharaf made the concessions, the sit-in had already reached its climax and then it started to dwindle.”

“The revolution is a long process and comes in many waves. Each wave has its climax and then downfall. The downfall of one wave feeds the next.”

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