Three cheers for Egypt’s revolutionaries

Brad Nelson , Tuesday 19 Apr 2011

The possibilities and opportunities for Egyptian politics are due to the tireless work and dedication of the revolutionaries for a better country, a goal that will ensure their vital participation in the journey ahead

In various Western and non-Western media, including several articles
in Al-Ahram, there has been much recent criticism of and worry about
Egypt’s revolutionaries. In particular, by the end of March, pundits,
bloggers and scholars wondered if the revolution was sputtering, and
blame was placed on the alleged lack of organization and dearth of
political savvy and experience within the January 25 movement.

But anyone who had their ear to the ground knew far better than to
underestimate the revolutionaries. What the critics and skeptics
overlooked is the revolutionary spirit that seems to be embedded in
the hearts and minds of those who campaigned and demonstrated so
courageously for political change. Indeed, it is this observation that
should cheer anyone with at least a passing interest in Egypt.

The revolutionary spirit is a mindset and an energy that emboldened
Egyptians to engender the emergence of an entirely new internal
political landscape. And it currently yearns for the kind of political
change—really, political progress—that produces a marked improvement
in the lives of all Egyptians. This revolutionary spirit has taken a
life of its own over the last two months. A part of this is because
the revolutionaries have now tasted freedom, want more of it, and
desire to have it sustained and protected for the future. But another
part stems from the successful ouster of Hosni Mubarak. This event
showed the revolutionaries that they now matter in Egyptian politics,
and that their efforts can lead to positive outcomes.

It is this revolutionary spirit that has kept the pressure on the
governing authorities, which has led, in turn, to further successes
for the January 25 movement. Just think about it. The NDP and State
Security Investigations has been dissolved, Mubarak and his sons
detained and questioned, Ahmed Shafiq dismissed as prime minister, and
political prisoners released from prison, among other events. For only
a few weeks of work, this is an especially impressive list of
accomplishments.

Going forward, sure, the revolutionaries will disagree with each other
on some issues and support different political candidates for public
office; that is already happening. And they must guard
against jealousy of those who eventually garner more attention and
political power.

But as of now, and this is very important, they stand united on many
of the major issues of the day—which include a preference for a slow,
deliberate transition to national elections, an end to the emergency
law, the creation of an interim presidential council and the
exclusion of former NDP members from the National Dialogue.
Furthermore, as the massive demonstrations of 8-9 April show, the
revolutionaries are a force that is still engaged in politics and
remains mobilised for political action.

With this in mind, it is reasonable to say the revolutionaries are
capable of making a profound impact on Egyptian politics. Let us
look at a few ways in which they can, and likely will, contribute.

First, because the revolutionaries embrace and support non-violent
principles and tactics, as well as the ideas and institutions of
democracy, they will function as a bulwark against extremism
and any actor or group resistant to political reform. The
revolutionaries will not be co-opted by either faction. And they will
ensure that Egypt’s new democracy will not be hijacked by unsavory
elements.

Second, the revolutionaries will be an essential part of the public
discourse. Now that they have the freedom to do so, the
revolutionaries will forcefully articulate their political, economic
and social interests, demands and grievances. Additionally, the
revolutionaries have numbers on their side, which means that their
words and actions must be taken seriously.

Third, by vigorously participating in Egyptian politics, the
revolutionaries will help to fashion a democratic Egypt that is
uniquely and organically Egyptian. Salient ideas, laws, institutions
and policies will no longer be determined by detached elites or
Washington. The revolutionaries will ensure that the foundations of
democracy are openly and freely discussed and debated before any final
decisions are made. In this way, Egypt’s democracy will more closely
than ever before reflect the will of the people.

Fourth, the revolutionaries will aim to provide effective oversight
over the government and its affiliated institutions. By forming
political groups and parties, by getting elected to public
office and by participating in the public discourse, they will be in
a good position to provide the sunshine that is so needed for
democracy to work fruitfully. And their healthy skepticism of
governing officials and centralized power will greatly aid in these
efforts. Specifically, the revolutionaries can be active players in
addressing corruption, illegal activities, imbalanced state-society
relations, the types of policies enacted, and so on.

Fifth, the presence of the revolutionaries in politics will help to
make Egyptian governments and their policies more legitimate. The
youth, labour, women and religious groups, among others—those who
were formerly underrepresented in or excluded from Egyptian
politics—will be able to join and participate in formal and informal
political channels. This means Egyptian politics will begin to mirror
the diversity of Egyptian society. Governments that emerge from such
settings are more likely to be backed by widespread public support.

Certainly, before Egypt completes its journey toward democracy, there
is much work still to be done. And there will inevitably be pitfalls
along the way. But the revolutionaries have given Egyptians hope that
progress on this journey will happen sooner than later. To be clear,
they will not be the main motor behind the decisions made in Egypt,
not now and probably not for a while. As critics have pointed out,
there are groups and institutions that are more organized and these
forces will acquire political power and guide Egypt’s reform
processes. The potency of the revolutionaries will be found in another
role. They will mould, shape and influence Egyptian politics. So while
the revolutionaries might not drive the reform process, at least for
now, they can importantly help to steer it in the right direction.
That bodes well for Egypt’s future.

The writer has a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State
University and is Co-Founder and President of Center of World Conflict
and Peace, a think tank with offices in Columbus, Ohio (USA) and
Jakarta, Indonesia.

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