Sunday, August 21, 2011
The Day After The Revolution
By Abdel Monem Said
Do you remember the movies “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012” which all dealt with the end of the world? In these films – and others – human beings had to face exceptional circumstances, with the world being thrown into chaos, following major earthquakes, massive floods or significant change in the Earth’s climate, forcing people to leave their homes like migrating birds in order to survive.
Things aren't this severe in cases of revolutions, although some have come close. This is something that we have seen in the chaos and upheaval following the American, French, Bolshevik, Chinese and Iranian revolutions which dramatically transformed the lives of the people in these countries. The same seems to be happening today in several Arab countries where each home-grown revolution is experiencing a different stage. Some have already succeeded and are in the post-revolutionary stage, like Tunisia and Egypt, whilst others are still embroiled in the stage of civil conflict, like Yemen, Libya and Syria. A third group are still in the initial stage of revolution, with the regimes not believing that their time is up, whilst the people – emulating the revolutionary mood in other countries – believe that the time [for political change] has come.
In all the cases mentioned above, there were few deliberations about what would happen the “day after tomorrow.” In the Egyptian case, the revolution did not stop at overthrowing the president and his aides but it then placed them in prison and on trial. Consequently, it has become imperative to prepare for the next stage or the “day after tomorrow.” Even though only seven months have elapsed since the outbreak of the revolution, Egypt is no longer in a revolutionary state, rather we find Egypt in the midst of political mobilization, with all parties preparing themselves for the political game in Egypt. The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is trying to maintain stability and rationality and fulfil its pledge to transfer power within a declared time frame. The judiciary, one of Egypt’s most calm and tranquil establishments, is attempting to do something that no other revolution has ever managed to achieve, namely bring the members of the former regime to trial in a fair and just manner. Bureaucracy, as usual, has remained untouched, continuing in its accustomed manner with regards to cabinet appointments. On the other hand, a number of [political] blocs are competing to organize million man marches of various shades: including religious marches, civil marches, and sometimes a mixture of both. Amidst all this, the media and the elite live in a state of vociferous observation. At times, they sing the praises of the revolution, whilst at other times they extol the merits of Egypt.
Actually, there is no reason to extol the virtues of Egypt all the time in this manner. They praise Egypt’s past, and its glorious history; its present, namely the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring; its people, who are known for their courtesy and politeness; its geographical position; its famous ancient civilizations; and it’s national identity. Such extolments might be reasonable within limits – and it doesn't hurt to be proud of your national identity and to exhibit a strong sense of belonging – however, from another perspective, this might be extremely harmful because it hides the truth about Egypt, which is an underdeveloped country that has failed over a period of 200 years to catch up with the world's advanced nations, whether we are talking about Europe and West, or Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America. The current situation in Egypt raises an important question: how can Egypt catch up with the rest of the world? The revolution has opened the door for political advancement and the constitutional amendments that have been implemented means that the political system in Egypt is one that approaches that of a democratic system. The important point is to make sure these amendments will not lead to the establishment of a fascist religious regime. In any event, we shall see what will happen in the political arena in Egypt during the forthcoming period. Even if Egypt succeeds in paving the way for real democracy, we know that this is nothing more than a political system that ensures that government operation is transparent and responsible. But the question is: what will this government be responsible for?
This is where the vision for advancement, which other countries have already achieved, comes in. It is strange nobody in Egypt has discussed this issue to the extent that the word "development" whether in its physical sense or human one has almost disappeared. Nobody says what they really wish for Egypt because it will most probably remain the same even after the trial of Hosni Mubarak and his aides. The hard facts about Egypt won't change: the overall population will reach 90 million next year, 28 percent of whom will be illiterate, and 21 percent of whom will live below the poverty line. Lower Egypt is more advanced than Upper Egypt, particularly as the people of Egypt only inhabit 7 percent of the total area of the country. Many Egyptian youth [illegally] attempt to flee Egypt by boat, only to end up drowning off the shores of European countries. Countless million man marches will be staged [in Egypt] and scores of flags will be raised. Dozens of TV shows and songs will be produced extolling the virtues of Egypt, but the harsh reality will remain the same, if the situation doesn’t get even worse!
The situation is not much different in Tunisia, and in other Arab countries that are witnessing revolutions, as well as those that are not. The main benefit from any revolution is to unleash the potential energy of the country and bring down a minority that monopolized power and prevented the development process, keeping the country’s wealth and resources for themselves. Economic wealth and political power must be used for one reason, namely to help a country develop and improve.
Arab revolutions have made a habit of postponing any thinking about the forthcoming stage until after they have ousted the regime from power. This is something that contradicts revolutionary traditions in other countries. A revolution is carried out to implement certain objectives that will differentiate the future phase from the current one, not just to overthrow the ruling regime. If we accept that Arab regimes are extremely difficult to topple, we must acknowledge that part of this difficulty lies in the fact that Arab revolutionaries do not offer a genuine alternative, except in the political domain. What is even more dangerous is that they do not want to even think about any real alternative.
Therefore Arab countries on the threshold of a revolution must think about the "day after tomorrow" now, in order not to give the reactionary elements the opportunity to weaken the revolution. As for the countries still struggling through skirmishes and confrontation, the opportunity still exists for the forces of the revolution to overtake the ruling regime, not only by liberating the entire political process, but also by proposing a serious economic and social program for development and combating corruption. With respect to the Arab countries where revolutions have yet to break out, they must be aware that this will happen unless all political and social forces grasp the opportunity now in front of them and implement radical – rather than superficial – reform. During the French Revolution in Europe, circumstances were almost similar in terms of political and social maturity, but the French revolutionaries perpetrated horrible massacres, destabilizing the independence of the entire European Continent over a period of two decades. As for other countries where revolutions took place, let us look at Britain, whose revolution was conducted in its own special manner. Political reform, technological revolution, reinforcement of civil society and economic progress were all merged in one package in Britain. Britain managed to safely circumvent the “day after tomorrow”, without even carrying out a traditional revolution.This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 21/08/2011