Monday, October 10, 2011

The Egyptian Revolution… Between Citizens And The Elite

By Mohammad Salah
Ordinary Egyptian citizens stand perplexed before the post-revolutionary political scene, and ask: when do we begin to reap the benefits of the Revolution? They are surprised, because the parties that have leapt to the forefront of the scene are speaking in their name! If they were to blame those parties, the latter would accuse them of being followers of the former regime, although they are the ones who carried out the Revolution. And if they were to follow behind those parties, they would find the distance between the two of them to be quite great. Certainly the Military Council in Egypt makes mistakes, as it manages the affairs of the transitional period. Indeed, managing the affairs of a country the size of Egypt and laying down the foundations of a modern state, amidst the struggles of the political elites to gain a piece of the cake of the Revolution, in addition to the conspiracies engaged in by the remnants of the former regime, are matters that would baffle any governing body. What to say then when the Council is facing not only such matters, but is also coming under fire from any political faction that does not have its desires met by the military? The Egyptian army came out of its barracks on January 28 in order to bring the situation under control after the collapse of the police, and its leaders did not have in mind that one of their tasks would be to change the regime and topple the President. Indeed, until that day those gathered in Tahrir Square themselves had not realized that the protests, demonstrations and rallies had turned into a “Revolution” that would not rest until the regime was overthrown or changed. And despite the fact that the first military statement contained praise for the Revolution and asserted the legitimacy of the people’s demands, the way things later turned out placed the army in the forefront of the political scene, and in confrontation with all other forces. The army’s task then became not just to topple the regime without division occurring within its ranks, and to compensate for the collapse of other state institutions, but also to deal with the conflicting needs, stances, desires, goals and ideas of various segments of the population and political forces. Such a formula was and remains a difficult one, especially as the length of Mubarak’s rule, inasmuch as it had caused the “cancerous spread” of corruption in government sectors, had also made the majority of state institutions, including the political elite and opposition movements, suffer ills not much different from those of the regime, which considered itself to be “Egypt the state”. The regime fell by the force of those gathered in Tahrir Square, and the army did not defend it, nor was there a reaction from the Republican Guard, the leaders and members of which are supposed to be loyal to the President directly. It appeared afterwards that political forces and the political elites were divided, and that every faction acknowledged no forces other than itself in society with goals, ideas, principles, and perhaps interests that contradict its own goals, ideas, principles or interests. The situation reached such an extent that the Military Council could not make decisions that would satisfy all forces at once, and it became impossible for its policies, decisions and laws to be announced without arousing the anger of other parties, which would consider that a specific party had benefited from them. Thus the Council found itself to have fallen into contradictions it would have avoided had the political elites agreed to keep their disputes under control, and maintained a minimum of consensus over common grounds between their demands. The political elite overlooked an important truth that appeared patently in the “Go Back to Your Barracks” million-man march last Friday, and was reflected in the meager number of participants in Tahrir Square, compared to the real “million-man marches” witnessed from the moment the Revolution erupted up until Mubarak stepped down on February 11 – the truth that a “million-man march” can only be complete by the will of the people, not in order to achieve the narrow interest of this or that faction.
The political elite did not realize that building the state anew would be an object of discord between them, that the views of Islamists would not be accepted by Secularists, that the plans of the Leftists and Nasserists would be sure to clash with the ideas and the principles of Liberals and Rightists, and that the problems faced by the wealthy and the well-off were not the same problems faced by the poor and the destitute. The military has made mistakes, and will throughout the transitional period make others. But what have the Revolution’s symbolic figures done to preserve the Revolution from opportunists and from those who ride the wave, other than talking on satellite television? Between the Yes and No to the referendum on the constitutional announcement, then the elections or the constitution first, then the secular or Islamic nature of the state, then whether the military should stay or leave, then isolating all of the remnants of the National Democratic Party (NDP) or some of them, then the articles governing the constitution or disregarding them, we have reached the phase of Presidential elections or the constitution first! All of them are issues that do not involve multiple options, but only black or white. And with every choice made or decision taken by the military, one party will be satisfied and others will be angered. Thus the Military Council will continue to manage the transitional period in its own way, and the political elites will remain as they are, locked in struggle, while the symbolic figures of the Revolution fade away, those who call for failed million-man marches do not learn, and ordinary citizens feel that they have been let down by all parties, and that they perhaps need to topple all those who have let them down… that they perhaps need another revolution.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 10/10/2011

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