Egypt's Jan 25 Revolution Revisited and to be Repeated

Published January 24th, 2012 - 03:00 GMT
Egypt on the anniversary of Jan 25 is still changing. Photo: Reuters.
Egypt on the anniversary of Jan 25 is still changing. Photo: Reuters.

On the eve of January 25th, the anniversary for Egypt's awe-inspiring "Jan 25" Revolution, we look back on a year ripe with burgeoning change and one long stop-starting protest. While the euphoria of 2011 has somewhat receded, we fully expect the Egyptians tomorrow to be giving themselves a pat on their back for what they have achieved- including the primary aim of namely getting rid of Mubarak- and what they have yet to achieve. In the meantime, a reminder of the flashpoints of the revolutionary year of 2011 for Egypt, bearing in mind that the 'revolution' is still ongoing as of January 2012.

A revolution in sequels: Round 1, Round 2. 

So far, Round one of the Revolution saw the people demanding in no uncertain terms the fall of Mubarak. Round two has the same people locking horns with a new opposition in the Supreme Council of the Armed Fores (SCAF), who they have found to be a poor alternative to the thuggish regime before. SCAF was appointed to power for the transition bridging the country to eventual civilian rule. However, the flavor of this interim governance has been one marked by violence and oppression and a people versus army binary. The same Egyptian people who forced the hand of former president Mubarak from power, are now keen to move forward SCAF's timetabled handover of power to the 'people' per say. SCAF does not want to be rushed.

Egypt recently held parliamentary elections that will choose the people whose job will be to write the country's brand new constitution, but there is the question of whether the military will indeed hand over to civilian governance in June as promised, or even sooner as hoped by the, by now, impatient protestors. 

Until the time of the scheduled presidential election, the revolution continues, but the people have come a long way in this spectacular year brimming with promise and will certainly want to emotionally mark this anniversary.

Al Bawaba remembers the touchstones in pictures of Egypt's journey from January 25 2011 to January 25 2012. 

We recall the moment of 'surprise' truth,  when Mubarak finally caved in to the people's clamor and abandoned his Cairo seat and home. Unlike Yemeni's Saleh who took his leave of office (at least temporarily, but undoubtedly irrevocably) with his own apology and statement of departure for 'medical' reasons, Mubarak delegated this matter of communication to his Vice President (VP).  In a one-minute announcement on state television, VP Omar Suleiman declared Mubarak's resignation and pronounced the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as in charge of running the affairs of the country.

From 25 Jan 2011, the uprising that captured the world’s gaze was essentially a series of civil disobedience protests that rasied a whole slew of grievances, including police force to corruption and lack of free speech, the state of emergency law, military trials and detention without charge, to high unemployment and food price inflation. Non-violent civil resistance was shaped in a series of demonstrations, marches, and (a long-term pattern in Egypt) labor strikes. Millions from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds demanded the overthrow of the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. While predominantly of a peaceful nature, the revolution had outbursts of violent clashes between security forces and protesters. The cost of the initial revolution's success was not cheap in human life: Some 850 people died and around 6,000 were injured by the use of live ammunition, rubber bullets and teargas. 

Mubarak now faces drawn out trials that may lead to the death sentence for ordering the killing of civilians in Egypt.

While revisiting the journey of a country steered by ordinary citizens hungering for change, we also ask whether the revolutionary aims of the youthful vanguard have been translated into palpable change a year later. While there is an urgency felt by some people to see the back of military rule ahead of the agreed timetable, others will patiently trust in an orderly change that should come without more bloodshed.

Politically, the nation has undergone upheaval with the former president Mubarak stepping out, a transitional military council-run governance taking interim power, and parliamentary elections almost complete. Just yesterday on the 23rd of January 2012, the newly voted in predominantly Islamist parliament held their first session. Formerly under Mubarak's reign, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was officially banned, if semi-tolerated. The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) of the MB, together with some Salafi factions, will be cooperating under the SCAF-led auspices until they transfers power to civilian rule - or literally to an elected President early summer.  Change has been slow coming in Egypt. In Tunisia the pioneer of the revolutionary-minded Middle East, change both started and maybe was felt sooner.

The future is Islamic

The future can confidently be declared to be an Islamic one from this post-parliamentary election vantage. Only yesterday, 23rd January, the elected majority Muslim Brotherhood members took their seats together with fellow Islamist Salafis who claimed a significant share. Secular parties including the youthful 'Tahrir' elements that were newly politicised, did not fare so well and have understandable future concerns. The Salafis, ultraconservative Islamists, have proposed banning women and Christians from holding office, halting the sale of alcohol and of course, the favorite scarecrow, of cutting off the hands of thieves. However, they have a lesser share of power than the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood. Experts in the region expect the Muslim Brotherhood majority to push for an inclusive and more moderate reign than expected from a conservative Muslim party. The ultra conservative Salafist contingent of parliament, the Nour party, might push for a more extreme agenda, but the Muslim Brotherhood majority will want to set an example to match that of Turkey's Islamist party. They will likely have learnt from Hamas's 2005 fall-out with the international community as well as Algeria's experience with Islamist party.

Economic past and outlook: ongoing struggle

Egypt’s economy continues to struggle under political and social instability visited upon the country. According to a report, the Egyptian economy grew only 0.2 percent in the first quarter of the current 2011/2012 fiscal year.

The rate of growth, says BikyaMisr, dropped between July and October, substantially below the previous quarter, which saw another slow month, at 0.4 percent growth. The decline in growth was down to a lack of tourism coupled with a nosedive in manufacturing and construction.

The gas pipes flowing out of Egypt to Jordan and Israel were sabotaged in several blasts to the detriment of revenue.

Economy experts together with political leaders engaged in Egypt's journey are raising alarm bells. They are under-confident in an economy that continues to struggle and whose immediate future looks troubled and bleak.  

Families and overall household consumption remains low: “It seems that households were not as responsive to the economic recession and the increased unemployment as expected".

The rise of the unemployment rate has only deepened the crisis. Officially it is now at 11.9 percent, the highest it has been in 10 years.

In fact, it is disturbing to report that the actual unemployment rate in the country is much higher, a state of affairs weighing heavily on the shoulders of those looking to the future.

Why revolution, What next?

What drove the people to stomach and continue to risk further violence and not shrink back in fear for their lives?  The answer, probably hunger...whether primarily physical, for food, or for better quality lives.  Before 2011's rage, the people encountered unbridled corruption, and a poor economy that gave rise to high unemployment and food price inflation. The minimum wage was pitiful.

The primary demands from protest organizers, it was made clear, were the end of the Mubarak regime and the end of emergency law.

After that, freedom, justice, a reasonable non-military government, and a voice in economic policy. 

Some of these demands have as of yet come to nothing in translation. But some of this change can only be implemented when the new government comes into life.

Jan 25 Update

Field Marshal and head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Mohamad Tantawi, on the eve of the 25th January, 2012 has made some more than nominal concessions - to be active as of the portentous day of January 25th itself. These include the lifting of the state of emergency that has been in place for thirty years, and outlawing detention without charge as well as military trials. All of which were sore points still festering and rankling with citizens who had tirelessly campaigned for these rights to be restored last year. These outstanding issues just this last month were widening a wedge between people and army. This conciliatory or good-will overture may make headway in keeping the people placated, and on better terms with the army, until mid-year presidential elections.

So far, a bold rumor has it that the new Islamist takeover brings a conservative membership of 'lower iQ'd' politicians into power. What has been acknowledged is that many of these now MPs will need extra training and support - since many have not had political careers in practice as such until now.


By Dina Dabbous



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