25 January and 23 July: conjoined not disconnected

Waheed Abdel-Meguid , Thursday 10 Mar 2011

This year’s revolution in Egypt is a continuance of the democratic national struggle of the Egyptian people that dates back to the late 19th century

A strong bond links the revolutions of 25 January 2011 and 23 July 1952, and joins them to the 9 March 1919 Revolution. They are all phases of the Egyptian democratic national revolution that is rooted in the Orabi Revolution. Accordingly, the 25 January Revolution cannot be disconnected from the 23 July one, unless we condense the latter to the political regime it brought to power, which was not unusual at the time, but faltered and became an obstacle to later progress beginning in the 1970s.

The revolution on 23 July 1952 was an attempt to continue the democratic national liberation that was triggered by the revolution of 9 March 1919 (Independence and Constitution), which only partially accomplished this goal. The 1952 Revolution added other elements to this target, related to social liberation, and raised the priority of national liberation at the expense of democracy. It adopted a different view from the 1919 Revolution, which is also unlike the outlook of the 2011 Revolution, which upholds freedom as a priority since it is primarily a democratic revolution.

Nonetheless, the bond between the revolutions of 25 January and 23 July is strong, because the common thread in Egypt’s modern history is the democratic national revolution which has been unfolding in stages since the beginning of the 1880s when Egyptian officers shouldered the burdens and aspirations of their people. Since that moment in history, the connection between the Egyptian people and their army has never been undone. Historians do not agree about the details of the Orabi Revolution and some are sceptical about its most critical events, but this does not take away its revered place in the hearts of Egyptians for nearly 130 years. Since then, a strong bond was forged between the people and the army, who all came together to dream of a free, just and benevolent Egypt.

The position of the Egyptian army towards the revolution of the youth was a continuation of this relationship. The army embraced the people’s revolution, protected it and supported its legitimate demands. Much the same way that the people supported the move by the army on 23 July 1952, and transformed it into a revolution with their free will, appreciation of history and good sense. But progress stalled, as was the case after the 9 March Revolution, albeit for other reasons. Mistakes accumulated, which triggered a counter-revolution that curtailed some of the gains of the struggle of Egyptians since 1919, and prevented the accomplishment of other goals that were part of the struggle.

One of the goals of the 1952 Revolution, which the counter-revolution was unable to sabotage, was the building of a nationalistic army. Colonialism, which the 1919 Revolution was able to partially end and the 1952 Revolution overthrew entirely, once again reared its head in the form of Israel, which the ousted regime interacted with, as well as dealing with the US as if Egypt was not a completely sovereign state, because it wanted them to sanction the inheritance of power in Cairo. And while the 1952 Revolution disbanded agricultural feudalism, over the past decade, especially, a more dangerous land feudal system set in. The previous regime divided up large sectors of land owned by the people of Egypt among a clique that emerged during that period through an illicit marriage of power and money.

Both agricultural and land feudalism, which began in the mid-1880s and the end of the 20th century respectively, were based on the principle of “have-nots are undeserving”. But overturning agricultural feudalism was at the heart of the democratic national movement that was led by prominent landowners, and Egyptian industry was born out of that womb. Today’s land feudalism is part and parcel of the counter-revolution of democratic national struggle of the Egyptian people, which has been in motion for more than a century and a quarter, through a series of revolutions.

Moreover, the control of wealth over power in the past two decades became tighter and stronger than it was before the 1952 Revolution. As for the goals of achieving genuine democracy and social justice, the former was postponed because it was not on the agenda of the leadership of the 1952 Revolution. Meanwhile, the counter-revolution was easily able to obliterate what accomplishments were made on the second goal.

The 25 January Revolution is facing immense challenges as it forges ahead in the democratic national struggle to accomplish what the revolutions of 9 March and 23 July were only able to partially achieve. All three revolutions, not only the revolutions of 2011 and 1952, are landmarks in this struggle that at times ebbs but once again flows in sequential segments.

The history of the struggle of the Egyptians is a continuous movement where the present is linked to and affected by the past. Accordingly, it was natural that the 1919 Revolution built on the legacy of the Orabi Revolution, and that the 1952 Revolution adopted the values that the democratic national struggle strove for post-1919. The general principles declared by the 1952 Revolution soon after it took place were essentially an assimilation of the demands of the democratic national movement. At the same time, the goals adopted by the 2011 Revolution were in sum a new format of the principles championed by the 1952 Revolution in the struggle of the Egyptians. This is all an expression of the general sense of the struggle of Egyptians since the second half of the 19th century.

Anyone who construes a contradiction between the revolutions of 25 January and 23 July is mistaken, as were those who made a distinction between the 1919 and 1952 revolutions —either by maligning the former and attempting to erase it from history, or begrudging the latter and viewing it as a military coup to usurp power, rather than a sequence in the struggle for freedom by Egyptians. The three revolutions are all connected not unrelated segments, without which one cannot understand the democratic national struggle in our country. It would also be impossible to envision the future of the nation and democracy without using this as a starting point, because these are all conjoined links although they differed in priorities. In 1919, it was an issue of nationalism; in 1952 it was social solidarity, and in 2011 it is transformation to democracy.

From a historical perspective, the 25 January Revolution is the cumulative result of the revolutions on 23 July and 9 March —of which neither accomplished all their goals. That is the reason why Egypt was in dire need for the 25 January Revolution, to continue the mission of its two predecessors on the road to democratic national revolution. Accomplishing these goals will not be easy. But the 1919 and 1952 revolutions hold many lessons to safeguard the 2011 Revolution and enhance its ability to accomplish its goals, in the hope that it will be the last segment in the democratic national revolutions in our country.

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