The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Happy anniversary, Egypt

So, it's already been a year since the Egyptian uprising began, and the crowds and marching in towards Tahrir in numbers that might surpass in the 18 days. Mabrouk, ya Masr!

The original January 25 Police Day protests were meant to be about Khaled Said, police brutality, and general fed-up-ness with the regime. The Tunisian revolution turned them into the largest protest in Egypt in decades, with the same slogan that all Arab uprisings would eventually adopt: the people want the fall of the regime. The turnout surprised the organizers, and when they came back a few days later on January 28, hundreds of thousands of Egyptian crippled the police state, burning down dozens of police stations, forcing the regime to send in the army. But the army, although it was sent in to end the protests, made the calculation that it could not do so. The sclerotic Egyptian regime made a first attempt at maintaining itself through Omar Suleiman, but the protestors forced the military to reconsider that scenario, and it forced the departure of Suleiman along with Mubarak. We still know too little about how that decision was made, and I think it's fair to say that there was a military coup against Mubarak. But, since then, there's also been a real, ongoing, revolution.

Much ink will be spilled on this day. My own take is here, referring to this video – I'm optimistic.

The best op-ed I've read so far, parly because it is written by a man I consider to be the most powerful Egyptian on earth, Mohammed El-Erian, the CEO of the mega investment fund PIMCO whose interviews can make or break markets, is this one. (Egypt would be lucky if El-Erian should one day decide to play a role in his native country's politics.) El-Erian writes, echoing my own thoughts:

What Egyptians are experiencing today is not new; it is familiar to many countries that have gone through a fundamental systemic change. After all, revolutions go far beyond popular uprisings and the overthrow of old regimes. They are dynamic processes that must navigate a number of critical pivot points, including, most importantly, the move from dismantling the past to establishing the basis for a better future.

Some contend that Egypt will not be able to undertake this shift. But, while I acknowledge their arguments, I think that they misunderstand what is fundamentally at play in the country today.

Doubters note that what remains of Egypt’s internal and external institutional anchors serve to retard the revolutionary process rather than to refine and accelerate it. They believe that the country’s growing economic malaise will strengthen the argument for sticking with what Egyptians know, rather than opting for a more uncertain future. Finally, they point to the wait-and-see attitude of Egypt’s friends and allies.

These are all valid and important considerations, but they are not overwhelming. Rather, they are headwinds that can and will be overcome, for they fail to capture a reality that is evident from the sentiments of a broad cross-section of society. Egyptians will not settle for an incomplete revolution – not now, and especially not after all of the sacrifices that have been made.

I think another nice op-ed, critical of both Egyptian government society, is this one on Mikael Nabil by my friend Michael Wahid Hanna, that looks at the mixed feelings towards the Nabil case because of his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I had touched upon that in this post. The more important part of what's happened in Egypt is a moral revolution, but it remains hampered by many national myths that will have to be re-examined over the next few years. 

Today what's important is the big picture, not the next few months of political games and negotiations between parliament, activists and SCAF. This revolution was partly about Egyptian society reaching a tipping point, with enough people (partly because of the youth bulge, but not only) beginning to see the world around them in a radically different way then the country's rulers. This is a fundamental point that is more important that Islamists vs secularists or army vs. civilians.