Remembering 30 June

Abdel-Moneim Said
Tuesday 20 Jun 2023

Abdel-Moneim Said marks the 10th anniversary of the revolution.


It is commonly said that Egyptians are averse to revolution. That is because they inhabit the banks of the eternal Nile, which nurtures them and the soil they’ve tilled for thousands of years beneath clement skies, making them content with what nature brings, be it the harvest or the demands of the ruler. In the millennia since the end of the pharaonic era, invaders and conquerors have come and gone. Generally they relied on the labour of the Egyptian peasant and his inherited skills at calculating the agricultural seasons and weather conditions. Thus, the caesars could stock the imperial silos across the Roman Empire and Saladin could rest assured his forces would be fed as they did battle with the Crusaders.

But the 19th century brought about an awakening. It began with the uprising led by Omar Makram which secured the rule of Mohamed Ali Pasha who, until then, had been just another Ottoman governor. The Orabi Revolution several decades later was more complicated. It was proof that the Egyptian nation was reborn. Modernism had given rise to new social classes and a shift in balance between Egyptians and the foreign ruling class. A multi-faceted political, economic and social elite was on the rise with intellectuals such as Abdullah Al-Nadim to articulate it. The 1919 Revolution marked the birth of the modern Egyptian state as we know it, even if it started out as a kingdom and not the republic it would become a few decades later. But even then in the early 20th century the world was growing more complex, and Egypt stood out for its modernity in a region still slumbering in ancient eras.

The 1952 Revolution was not a revolution in the strict sense of the term. It was a “blessed movement” led by army officers set on ousting the British, who had overstayed their welcome. But the Free Officers Movement turned into a revolution that would spread its wings over the entire Arab region as it pursued industrialisation and agricultural reform at home. The revolutionary idea faded, apart from protest movements that arose in the aftermath of the 1967 defeat when university students took to the street to call for war against Israel. A revolution of a different sort erupted with the bread riots of 17-19 January 1977. That wave ultimately ended with the assassination of president Anwar Al-Sadat by the Muslim Brotherhood because he had concluded a peace treaty to liberate Egyptian territory.

So Egypt has no mean record when it comes to making revolution. But the rarity of major grassroots uprisings when set against Egypt’s millennia-long history has made stability seem like eternal law. So when the revolutionary wave erupted on 25 January 2011, it seemed like a tsunami that would change things forever. The shock was profound and lasting, and it made Egypt look to the future much more than it had looked to the past. Then the Muslim Brotherhood appropriated the revolution. Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradawi assumed the podium in Tahrir Square, bringing to mind the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, their version of communist party politburos and their fascist counterparts, steered the process. It was renowned for its culture of blind obedience, so there is little that is worth mentioning in this regard apart from that fact that the Muslim Brotherhood platform of 2007 called for a revolution in Egypt modelled on the one in Iran. Suffice to say that the Egyptian people were worried by the scenes in Tahrir. So too were the Egyptian Armed Forces, by dint of their organic bond with the Egyptian people and their authentic identity.

The year of Muslim Brotherhood rule turned out to be quite exciting after their masks were removed and they simultaneously revealed an incredible degree of incompetence. When the grassroots “Tamarod” movement started to collect signatures on a petition calling for early presidential elections, you could feel a new spirit being born. One was reminded of the people’s campaign to collect powers-of-attorney for Saad Zaghlul almost a century earlier. At the time I was at a dinner with Ambassador Mohamed Refaa Al-Tahtawi who was serving as chief of presidential staff. I asked him whether the Muslim Brothers would respond to the people’s demand. They  (the Muslim Brotherhood) don’t listen to anyone, he said.

On 19 June, I received a phone call from Ambassador Omar Amer, the official spokesman for the presidency, asking me to meet with him at the Presidential Palace. When I arrived, he introduced me to Ayman Yasser, the head of the foreign relations office, who asked my opinion on the current situation. I said that, as I saw it at the time, the president had three possible courses of action: the “golden” route, which was to hold early elections; the “silver” route, which was to overhaul the cabinet and create an inclusive national front government; and the “wooden” route, which was to do nothing and let the situation go its own course, which meant revolution.

On 23 June, I was invited to give a lecture as part of the Armed Forces’  fifth educational symposium on the challenges facing Egyptian national security. Afterwards, one of the attendees approached me to tell me how I had ruined his day with the bleak picture I had drawn depicting the threats looming over the country, especially that of the Brotherhood. I met Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for the first time that day. He also spoke at the seminar, vowing that the army would never allow anyone to touch a hair on the head of the Egyptian people.

The details of what happened next are innumerable, but the landmarks are the marches of the 30 June Revolution, the meeting of national political forces on 3 July and their roadmap, and the mandate the Egyptian people gave to the minister of defence and armed forces to end the anarchy and break up the Rabaa Adawiya sit-in. Egypt had set itself on a new path, one in which revolution was armed with a grand national project for progress, construction and sustainable development. Nor was Egypt alone. Our Arab siblings were with us on the same path, just as they had been several decades earlier in the October 1973 War, which the Egyptians and Arabs fought together with arms, oil and mutual aid.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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