This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 19/02/2011
Egyptians have never agreed on anything as much as they now agree that Egypt post-25 January 2011 will not be the same as it was prior to this date. There are a host of signs that attest to this fact. An entire regime, or at least the majority of it, has been toppled, and not one ministry has been untouched by this, although the armed forces continues to play their role in running the country, and the judicial system continues to recommend constitutional amendments, but is now [also] doggedly pursuing many figures implicated in corruption.
Other than this, everything has changed! It would not be impossible for the president to return, or even for us to discuss the most absurd political story in the history of modern Egypt, namely the hereditary succession of the president's son [Gamal Mubarak]. This [revolution] has left a multitude of members of the ruling National Democratic Party as soldiers without generals, whilst state-owned and official media have started to look for a new way to survive, particularly in light of the attacks they are now being subject to, internally and externally. This is truly a moment of revolution, and law and order in Egypt is still struggling to return to the scene. The revolutionaries are fighting amongst themselves to avoid a fate experienced by all revolutions throughout history which sees the post-revolutionary situation in the country oscillating between chaos and dictatorship. These revolutionaries are trying to establish an irreversible democracy achieved by a myriad of guarantees. The revolutionaries believe that a democracy such as this will protect against political and economic deviations, as well as cure all social ailments.
However the revolutionaries in Egypt are unfamiliar with the views of philosophers like Plato or politicians like Churchill on the subject of democracy and its complexities. What they have is an international reference with regards to [the implementation of] the Swiss, British or US versions of democracy after Hosni Mubarak stepped down and the provisions of the constitution are amended. This explains why the revolutionaries' demands are all focused on a peaceful transition of power, the forthcoming constitutional amendments, and the forthcoming [presidential] elections that would see Egypt entering the 21st century eleven years late.
This is an exciting scene. The new Egypt has started to unfold, but the main characteristics of the dawning era have yet to reveal themselves, in comparison to the previous era which was characterized by the president's hegemony, not just with regards to power but also the makeup of the [political] parties, newspapers, satellite television channels, and even late night [topical] talk shows. Egypt is, with great effort, walking between different [political] powers and forces who are all trying to find their footing in this new post-Mubarak era.
Just for the record, the revolutionary setting still exists. Although the revolutionaries have departed Tahrir Square, they have pledged to come back. This place has now turned into a sacred shrine holding memories of glorious days. People now frequent Tahrir Square draped in the red, white, and black, of Egypt's flag. Nothing can spoil this sense of joy and jubilation, except of course, the sight of empty hotels, dismayed factory workers who do not know when they will be able to get back to work, and worried citizens whose money is tied up in the stock exchange and who have no clue whether they will see this money again or not. However the January 25 Revolution has gone down in history, and Egypt is a different place than before. Today, this historic event is waiting to be immortalized by the historians' pens; however ironically, this revolution was not sparked by the pen, but rather by the keyboard! In any case, historians will have to examine three [political] forces that temporarily came together [to bring about the revolution], however in reality these are three separate entities. They came together in Tahrir Square at a crucial moment in Egyptian history; a moment bristling with tension, joy, hope for the future and fear of the unknown.
The first force is the power that incited this revolution and the major force behind it, let us call them the "Google" youth; they are the Egyptian middle class who are connected to the outside world, explicitly flying the flag for democracy and civil rule. This group's hatred of the old regime runs deep, and it continues to think well of other [political] forces, believing that democracy will solve all the complex problems through the magic of the free and fair ballot box. Perhaps this force has some doubts about the army's commitment to this ideal, but there is no other force but the army that can guarantee a peaceful transition [to democracy]. Other than this, the Google youth show remarkable tolerance and good intentions toward the other [political] powers out of a deep-seated belief in the concept of pluralism. This group believes that the deviations that are appearing here and there, or dictatorial inclinations that emerge every now and than, are nothing more than the product of a former regime accustomed to lying and slander.
The second political force is all those affiliated to the old [political] system. The president and his cronies may have gone, but the political parties, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all government and public sector employees, remain in place. In addition to this, all of Egypt's major problems, as well as the country's demographic and geographic situation, also remain in place. These problems remain as unshakable mountains, and they have not budged an inch for they are the result of an enduring legacy. This second political force operates in their own way, which is not so different from the past. What is different is that each bloc or party is [now] attempting to extend and expand its own powers and influence. The [Egyptian] Wafd party are still eager to lead a liberal current, however this party's components have changed and this party will never be the same. Neo-liberals in other parties like the El-Ghad party or the Democracy Front party can do nothing more than attempt to obtain the support of more youth. As for the bureaucrats, they have managed to expand, and in just one week install approximately a million new civil servants who are enthusiastically raising the slogan of justice. As for the Muslim Brotherhood, they are discussing their next move and redoing their calculations about the new powers which have surfaced overnight after they believed that the collapse of the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the ouster of the Mubarak regime signified the right moment for them to reap what they had sowed. Surprisingly enough, the NDP disintegrated only to be replaced by the Google youth.
The armed forces are the third force in this equation. They have a long history of seizing power, whilst also serving as the guardians of the former regime right up until its dying moments. Now the armed forces are serving as the guardians of the new [political] system. This is because the professional Egyptian army has never belonged to any regime, but rather been the army of the state, an everlasting entity. So far the army has handled the transition process very wisely, managing to gain everybody's confidence from the first moment. At this point in time, and despite suspicions by some who believe that historically whenever the army manages to seize power it never hands it back, all political powers are aware that they must move from this revolutionary period to the next stage, regardless of the inherent risk involved. After Mubarak stepped down, power was transferred to the army which has now become the source of authority. However, the armed forces were successful in reassuring everybody that the Supreme Military Council will not be another Revolutionary Command Council seeking power, but rather a force that will implement wide-ranging reform with the minimum of pain.
The three forces mentioned above represent the new Egypt which was born from a revolution against a [political] system that, in essence, lasted for six decades. If things go smoothly over the coming six months, we will be able to see what this new Egypt looks like! Let's wait and see.