Rethinking the January revolution

Hassan Abou Taleb
Sunday 14 Feb 2016

Those who say there is hostility between the regime and the youth are wrong. Nor is the youth united against the regime. Sensible voices know great changes took place, amid limited resources

More than five years have passed since one of the most important days in contemporary Egyptian history. Days when the masses took to the streets to demand the departure of the president, the overthrow of the regime, and the rights of freedom, dignity and justice.

This is exactly what happened 18 days later when the late intelligence chief Omar Suleiman read a brief statement saying that the president had decided to step down from office and delegate authority to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

That is when an entirely new chapter began for Egypt and Egyptians, known as the interim phase. It was supposed to last between six to 12 months at most. But events and political and security instability extended the timeline of the interim phase to 18 months, when the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate won the presidential race and officially became the president of the republic on 30 June 2012.

From the first moment of this shocking announcement, it was clear to Egyptians — including those who pretended to give benefit of the doubt to Muslim Brotherhood rule — that the group came to rob the country not govern it, to divide the people, to end its sovereignty, give away parts of its territories to foreign parties, and take unnecessary political and military risks.

Their main concern was to demonstrate obedience to the US, Turkey and Qatar. As the intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood became apparent, action on the party, public and institutional levels began to restore Egypt. Then came 30 June 2013, that ended the Muslim Brotherhood farce and its president.

Egypt began a second interim phase supported by the people where the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, venerable Judge Adly Mansour, was chosen as interim president. This journey was completed with the election of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in June 2014, and the election of a new parliament in late 2015.

Looking back at these five years one can take stock of the difficulties, suffering, unprecedented insecurity, the fierce battle against terrorism, the many martyrs who died in defence of the nation, overt and covert foreign meddling, and the accumulation of six decades of political marginalisation and economic retreat.

Also, the sagging administration of the state, scarce resources, the great and growing budget deficit of the government, the rising price of imports, the depletion of monetary reserves, decreasing production compared to growing consumption, as well as the raised aspirations of Egyptians and their impatience to reap the rewards of revolution, and their desire to improve their lot in the shortest time possible.

We should question the viability of what actually happened, and whether Egypt is on the right track despite the obstacles and challenges, especially terrorism and security conditions. Or has nothing changed and have we returned to pre-25 January 2011 conditions?

Some answers to these questions are biased and only see matters from a narrow and shallow angle, basing their views on incorrect assumptions. Namely, that the revolution failed because certain figures have not returned to the public domain.

Those who hold this view never ask themselves what is the real reason behind the absence of these figures, who suddenly appeared, were dazzled by the limelight and believed they were above the law and have the right to act without accountability. But when they collided with the law, they unleashed a crusade about what they describe as the return of Mubarak’s repressive regime.

They do not realise that the true meaning of revolution, namely affecting comprehensive change and fulfilling the legitimate aspirations of Egyptians, can only be achieved through hard work, increasing productivity, overcoming scare resources, reforming institutions, ending all threats, regardless of their origins, application of the law, submission to it, respect for it and holding all and any accountable, no matter who he is.

Also, releasing freedoms with responsibility, asserting citizenship and equality among all citizens, and not being arrogant about the basic needs of people in terms of security, employment, advanced education and dignified healthcare.

These requirements and others cannot be achieved overnight and will not bear fruit without a general conviction among Egyptians that building the future requires calculated sacrifices that everyone, young and old, will shoulder. The motto “it’s none of our business” that some use when they are asked to do more will just lead to more chaos, frustration and difficulties.

Some of those who are afflicted by Egypt’s course insist there is a crisis between the youth and the regime, which they view as repressive and that discounts the symbols of the revolution. This insistence is entirely unfair relative to what is happening in reality. The youth are not one deaf bloc who all follow five or six youth leaders who became famous in January 2011, waiting for them to lead them to another revolution. These are illusions built on overactive imaginations and denials of reality.

Part of the problem of those who participated in constructing the June 2013 regime, then changed their positions later because the spotlight was turned off or they were removed from centres of power or faced personal problems here or there, is that they are in denial that any positive change has taken place.

They act as if the goals of the revolution — bread, freedom and social justice — can descend on society overnight. They ignore the problems that accumulated over six decades and more, and present their visions as if the country has all the elements for progress, but the repressive regime is blocking it by removing the symbols of the revolution from leadership roles.

This is a false proposition because there is no hostility between the regime and the youth, and nor are the youth united against the regime as some claim. What is certain is that there are segments among the youth who understand the magnitude of change that took place over the past two years, and that the country’s resources are limited. They are also aware that institutions are working to improve conditions, create more job opportunities, and invest all their energy to end the country’s multiple crises.

The irony is that these detractors believe the police have not changed, and therefore the reasons behind the revolution are still in place and must be utilised to take to the streets. These people ignore the incredible sacrifices made by the police when confronting terrorist and violent groups that are either homegrown or are funded and incited from abroad.

Anyone, including the delusional Muslim Brotherhood terrorists and others, who believes that the scene of 25 January 2011 will be repeated in the same manner is mistaken.

The police are not oblivious and the army is not removed from the scene; nor do the people themselves believe there is an inkling of good intentions or nationalism in those who want to destroy their country and serve the interests of foreign powers in return for a handful of dollars.

The writer is a political commentator and senior advisor at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.        

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