The world was surprised by the fast developments which took place in Egypt beginning on Tuesday 25 January; events which neither the Egyptian apparatus nor institutions were able to handle, neither could regional or international powers. Developments were quick and morphed from protests demanding “freedom, democracy, social justice” into a full blown people’s revolution demanding the ouster of the regime and its complete overhaul.
In all honestly, no one expected developments in Egypt to go this far, although the general trend in objective independent analysis indicated that the Egyptian regime had reached a critical point because of its strong desire to hand over power to former president Mubarak's son.
The notion of inheriting power was at the core of the activities of various apparatus and institutions, and many activities were tailored to achieve this goal.
At the same time, it became apparent that Mubarak’s regime succeeded in striking a deal with regional and international powers essentially saying leave us to shape domestic affairs how we please because we know our people best, and in return our foreign policies will be parallel to what effective world players – namely the US and major European powers – want it to be. This would imply adopting foreign policies which are agreeable with Israel’s regional goals.
In this way, Mubarak’s regime promoted a formula which stated that this regime is the only way to guarantee Western interests in the region – namely, the security of Israel and freedom of movement through the Suez Canal which would ensure stable oil prices.
This formula also stated that the only alternative to Mubarak’s regime (and his son Gamal) is anarchy and mayhem in Egypt, which is certain to springboard the Muslim Brotherhood to power.
This would simply mean the termination of the peace agreement with Israel and hence chaos in the region, because the Egyptian model would spread through the domino effect which the US has obsessed about since the end of the Cold War. This theory means, in this case, that if Egypt falls into the hands of the Islamists it would cause the rest of the states in the region to be overpowered by the Islamists.
It was apparent that “scaring the West” with this scenario was the main reason why Western states were unsure how to react to the Egyptian revolution at its inception. There was resistance in western circles, as well as Israel, to sympathise or morally support the revolution of the Egyptian youth.
But gradually it became apparent to Western capitals that this formula was flawed. Egyptian society is moderate, infused more with the Mediterranean culture than with the Arab Peninsula, and the revolt of Egypt’s youth is a civilian revolution.
Another salient, and oft repeated, feature of the revolution is that the Brotherhood did not participate at the outset, but rather remained on the sidelines monitoring developments. It did not expect “civilian” youth to organise revolutionary waves of protests which exceeded one million demonstrators in Cairo alone.
Later, it gradually began taking part in the protests and eventually tried to paint the revolution in its own colours, but this was rejected by the youth. Clear proof of this is that the banners raised in Tahrir Square carried civilian slogans and everyone united under the Egyptian flag only. Also, all sectors of society took part in the revolution; there were Muslim and Christian prayers in the square, and there were no sectarian incidents throughout the revolution.
At the same time, not a single Egyptian church was attacked despite the fact that security forces disappeared and abandoned all their posts including ones outside churches.
There is much talk now about the “counter revolution”; groups loyal to the ousted regime that seek to provoke chaos and terrorise the citizens, to compel the latter to give priority to security and stability at the expense of achieving the other goals of the revolution.
It is natural that these groups will try to reignite sectarian tensions which were present before 25 January. But many Egyptian public figures became cognizant of this fact and issued early warnings about falling into the “trap” of sectarian responses to incidents manipulated by remnants of the ousted regime.
Indeed, there were sectarian attacks in some areas which indicated a return to the tactics of state security officers who incite Egyptians to attack property owned by a Copt under the pretext that it is being converted into a church. Christian figures were also assaulted, such as the killings of a priest and a Christian doctor in Assiut. Another manoeuvre was revisiting the debate about Article 2 of the Constitution which states that “Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation.”
Yet it is apparent that there is a reassuring level of awareness among Egyptians whereby sectarian incidents were quickly contained, along with declaring that this is not the time to talk about canceling Article 2 and that this matter can be postponed until a new Constitution is drafted.
This does not mean that this is the end of sectarian tensions. On the contrary, they are most likely to be employed by instigators from the old regime and fundamentalist groups who rely on religion to gather supporters and mobilise them.
It is important to emphasise that the tone of the January 25 Revolution has begun to form the characteristics of a “new Egypt” made up of a civic state with multiple religions and sects.
An Egypt for Egyptians who carry its nationality, while religion is a private matter between the individual and his Creator. I believe the majority of Egyptians agree with this view. This is the majority who avoided participating in previous elections, estimated at 76.5 per cent according to official figures during the 2005 parliamentary elections. Within the next few weeks, Egypt’s political and party map will become more apparent.