Last month, Egypt celebrated the fourth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution. Four years have passed since that Tuesday afternoon when the foundations of the Mubarak regime were shaken by popular protest and democracy-empowered collective action. Honestly, it was very difficult at the time to envision that the events that took place on that day would lead to the reality Egypt lives at the present time.
How 25 January 2011 gave birth to a series of proceedings that were concluded now is actually the result of several variables, actions and facts, but the outcome of the January 25 Revolution is certainly different from the slogans raised and the demands chanted on that particular day.
However, I am not about to go over the different dimensions of the past four years in Egyptian politics and society. I only believe that it is about time we started rethinking our perceptions and understandings of what took place in Tahrir Square from 25 January to 11 February 2011 — or in other words, the January revolution.
If the ouster of Morsi opened up a debate over terminology (the revolution/military coup conflict), then the events of January 2011 should have been far more contentious in terms of common wording and political phraseology. It is quite common nowadays to hear statements like “The revolution is dead,” or “The January revolution was stolen by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists,” or “The revolution was consumed by conspiracies and plots organised by the old regime and forces of the counterrevolution." There is a sort of an unspoken consensus that the January revolution did not deliver the goals it had envisioned, summarised in the slogan “Bread, freedom and social justice” — or in other words, an effective democratisation process.
But this unspoken fact is not the result of the past four years as much as it is the result of the 18 days that took place in Tahrir Square in January 2011. The real problem was not the set of proceedings that followed those 18 days; the real problem was the pattern of revolt that took place in those 18 days and its direct political outcome.
The actual realisation of the January revolution’s goals required serious alterations in state structure followed by a series of laws and decrees that would alter the structure of social classes. But what happened during the 18 days was a movement that demanded action from the state — a popular protest that kept applying political pressure until the hardcore state gave in to its most basic demand (the removal of Hosni Mubarak as president). The events that took place after that moment were all a matter of power politics, trivial political processes and state readjustments of minor realities.
There is a big difference between a “state” and a “regime,” and what happened in January 2011 was neither politically coercive nor socially influential to change the foundations of the “state” that were laid down in the 1950s. But it certainly applied sufficient political pressure to overthrow an already collapsing “regime.”
What Egypt needs is a democracy that starts from below, one that will require years of civil work to build micro political entities and initiate meaningful political participation. However, the outcome of January’s revolution was a democracy from above, one that Egypt knows very well and one that is bound to turn into fascism as soon as it is challenged. How can the long civil struggle to build real political entities begin is the question that needs an answer. But until then, there is no reason for the Egyptian “state” and its democracy to be any different.
But despite the big gap that separates those who sought a different and a deeper brand of democracy and those who seem satisfied with whatever minor changes that took place, a common ground of anti-violence must exist between the two parties.
Acknowledging the political contention that exists at present does not stop either side from condemning the vulgar terrorism that reaps the lives of innocent Egyptians. But in order for this common ground to be productive and help in countering terrorism, it must condemn violence on all levels. It must see that the lives taken during riot dispersals are as important and as innocent as the lives taken on the Sinai front. Political difference does not require or necessarily entail a conflict over humanity. But humanity cannot work if we condemn violence in one instance and acknowledge it in another.
The writer is a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.