The Egyptian model of democratic transformation

Emad Gad , Thursday 24 Feb 2011

The greatness of the 25 January Revolution was in returning to Egypt what it means to be Egyptian

The 25 January Revolution was replete with spectacular images whereby Tahrir Square became the famed Utopia many philosophers have dreamed about, and others propagated or predicted. We read about it but did not hope to witness it anywhere in the world, and certainly not in our country, which before 25 January was home to everything contrary to Utopia, to the extent that young men jumped at the chance to voyage on rickety boats to escape a nation that no longer could hold them after it was overtaken by all that is ugly and base.


The 25 January Revolution came at a time when everything in Egypt was for sale by a corrupt political clique and an even more corrupt media. Egypt was on the brink of sectarian strife; the events in Nagaa Hamadi were followed by El-Omraniya and then the bombing of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve, immediately followed by the incident in Samalut. The spectre of sectarian conflict was once again beginning to rear its ugly head in events that were almost identical to those in 1981 before President Anwar Al-Sadat was killed. Meanwhile, the majority of Egyptians had become very superficially religious, repeating religious catchphrases and practicing religious rituals. Clerics were at the forefront of these developments and were in great demand, always at the ready to issue edicts, statements and appeals.


At the same time, Egyptians were increasingly dividing themselves along religious lines. Religious slogans were raised in a variety of sectors and forums of civic activity, and everything in Egypt was tainted with religion, even in the sports arena and football. Our national football team and its competent coach Hassan Shahata were caught in this maelstrom after some media people exercised their hobby of religion and labelled them as “the team of kneelers [in prayer]”, and Shahata was quoted discussing the faith and conduct of his players. This was very disconcerting for several sectors of society who had bought the Egyptian flag, raised it, believed the team to be a national symbol, only to find that it was a “religious” team where the faith and conduct of the players were tantamount. Yes, it is Egypt’s national team, a team for all Egyptians because it represents Egypt and sings the national anthem. But because this is the era of painting everything in religious colours and using it for political goals, faith was imposed on sports as well as numerous other issues.


Yes, the Egyptian people are religious, in fact one of the most religious peoples in the world, but it was a genuine faith thanking the Creator in their hearts, and their conduct and actions were compatible with what was in their hearts. But in the age of superficial religiosity, image is more important than content, and clerics on both sides became part of the problem not the solution. They entered into forays and duels with each other, which created more fractures in the walls of the nation.


In this depressing and frightening environment the attack on the Two Saints Church in Alexandria took place on New Year’s Eve, and as we were reeling from the horror of it, Egypt’s youth shone a bright beacon of light on 6 January —Christmas Eve according to the Eastern Church. They called for joint action to protect Egyptian churches by forming human shields and holding candles on Christmas Eve. The call was a prelude to what occurred on 25 January 2011. The Candle Campaign was mostly composed of young people in their twenties who were not perturbed at all to stand for long hours outside the walls of churches. A large number of them even went inside the churches to listen to Christmas mass, and in many churches the topic of the mass moved from a religious theme to a national one.


While the image of Egyptian youth holding candles was very moving at a time when sorrow cast its shadow over the country, the sight of armed police outside churches was very painful. Why are these forces and armoured vehicles needed? To protect who from whom?


And then came the 25 January Revolution, representing the aspiration of Egypt’s young generation to create an Egypt they desire —an Egyptian Egypt, nothing else. In Tahrir Square, everyone took refuge under the flag of Egypt; the slogans were Egyptian, as were the people; joy overwhelmed everyone, conduct was ideal, smiles on everyone’s faces, a high level of forgiveness, despite some mistakes. Differences between Egyptians melted away with everyone united in national pride, which perhaps had not happened since 1973. The big difference was that in October 1973 we united behind an army fighting a war of liberation to recover dignity, but in January 2011 the battle was to reclaim the “Egyptianness of Egypt” or the battle to “Egyptianise Egypt”.


Egypt is our country that was usurped from us for four decades since Sadat came to power after Abdel Nasser. In Tahrir Square, I can confirm from personal experience, a historic step was taken to bridge the psychological gaps between Egyptians —distances were shortened. In the square, Muslims knelt in prayer five times a day with a human ring of Coptic youth to protect worshipers. In the square, Muslims for the first time attended Christian mass in a public place, followed by many others. In the same square, Muslims chanted Egyptian hymns using the words, “God bless my country” and “Peace, peace upon the people of Egypt”.


In Tahrir Square, the Egyptians found themselves and from there a new dawn broke, giving back Egypt its Egyptian character and giving the Egyptians back their cheerful spirit. There, the Egyptian sense of humour reached new heights and hope was born again. After watching the images in Tahrir Square, US President Barak Obama expressed his admiration of Egypt and its youth.


In Tahrir Square, began the formation of an Egyptian model of civilised transformation to democracy, an example that will lead the way for many countries around the world, not only in the region and the Arab world. It will influence lands that lie far from us geographically and culturally. I sincerely hope that this model will continue to flourish; the first step is to return to the traditional Egyptian model of religiosity, which is based on the core and the heart, not the superficial exterior.


I hope that quickly and spontaneously everything that is sectarian is replaced with that which is nationalist. I hope that Egyptians will take the initiative to remove anything that points to religious identity because it is not something that needs to be professed. I pray that Egypt’s flag is raised everywhere, in cars and from balconies, in the office and on the street. Under its banner we are all Egyptian and according to this spirit I completely believe that the revolution will achieve its goals. Egypt will reach the stature it deserves in less than 10 years and the scent of the “Lotus Revolution” will spread in our region and beyond.

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