Impasse in Egypt: Is the fourth revolution a failure?

Khaled Al-Dakheel

Published — Monday 3 December 2012

Last update 3 December 2012 6:41 am

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BETWEEN Sept. 9, 1881, and last Jan. 25, Egypt, as the Egyptians say, experienced four revolutions: The Orabi Revolution, the Revolution of 1919, the July 23 Revolution, which began with a military coup in the summer of 1952, and finally the current revolution of Jan. 25.
The first three revolutions failed to achieve their objectives. The Orabi revolution failed because it ended with the British occupation of Egypt. Likewise, the 1919 revolution failed because of mainly the British colonization, as well as the cooperation between the palace and the occupiers.
As for the revolution of 1952, its failure is attributed to the military control in the country. Finally, the revolution of Jan. 25 now is facing a real dilemma. Will it end up having the same fate?
When answering this question, you must consider the fact that the revolution of Jan. 25 is the first popular revolution in the history of Egypt. For that reason, it differs greatly from the revolutions that preceded it in three important aspects: First its stimuli are internal and popular against the tyranny of the political system that existed, and it lacks the external stimuli (colonization) that was the case with the previous revolutions, especially the Orabi and 1919 revolutions.
Secondly, it is, like the rest of the Arab Spring revolutions, a revolution without political, organizational or even intellectual leadership. This is a dominant source of disorientation.
Thirdly, the elite that sparked the revolution (Youth of the Revolution) have not yet detonated the needed elements to control its leadership, to prevent the division around it and to move it forward toward the achievement of its objectives. These elements include organization, popular grassroots, history, money, and a network of relationships. Therefore, the revolution command moved directly (perhaps temporarily) to the divided leaders and organizations, which have nothing to do with the ignition of the revolution, nor even the concept of revolution itself.
This is not applicable only to the Muslim Brotherhood, but also to the Nasserists, the independents and the supporters of the Wafd party, who all joined the revolution, even if their enrollment times varied from one group to the other. Perhaps the closest to the Youth of the Revolution in this respect is the “Kifaya” movement, which contributed in creating the mentioned conditions.
There is a clear consensus about the rejection of tyranny, and taking Egypt toward democracy and the rule of law — but differences and distrust are dominating the scene about almost every thing else.
What specifically is this desired democracy? What are the legal and moral references that must govern this democracy? What is the role of religion in this democracy? Could it be a democratic state linked to religion, whatever the form of this link? What relationships should exist between the law and the Shariah? What are the rights that the state must abide by and maintain? What is the relationship between these rights and the religious or ethical values?
These are some of the most important questions that underlie the differences and divisions plaguing Egypt these days. Clearly the social and political conditions in Egypt do not allow for confronting these questions directly, and do not give an equal space of freedom to each group to answer these questions freely. This means that the revolution is not yet complete, or has not yet reached the peak. There has been a revolutionary event, but it is still fenced by the social and political reality that existed before the revolution. Furthermore, the revolution so far is a political revolution against tyranny. This is clear. But is it also a revolution against the social and cultural foundations, on which this tyranny flourished and survived?
The Brotherhood, for example, along with the Salafis, believes that Islam is a religion and the state, and accordingly, there is no contradiction between religion and democracy for them.
They will differ later, but this is not the time of difference. What brings them together now is the lineup in the face of civil power. Secular civil forces have another opinion, but it is not one opinion, and they cannot fully express their opinion on this issue. These forces are divided more than the split between Islamists. What brings them together, rather, is their willingness to stand in the face of the Islamic trend, just as the Mubarak opposition united Islamists and civilians together. The Islamists bypassed prohibiting democracy, but they want a democracy that does not collide with the constants of the Shariah.
Civilians assert their Islamic identity. Each team does not want to face the fundamental question of the dispute; therefore there is room for each team to maneuver. In this regard, there are other powers that also have interests in what is happening, including the independents, the so-called “deep state,” and opponents of the civilians and the Islamists from every angle. The Brotherhood is wary, after winning the parliamentary and presidential elections that someone wants to paralyze the state institutions to topple them from the inside. The current civil society accuses the Brotherhood of trying to dominate the state with members of the Brotherhood. In the midst of this, the two teams are heading quickly to the point of confrontation.
What is pushing things in this direction is the announcement by President Muhammed Mursi regarding the recent constitutional declaration. He was right in the search for a way out of the paralysis that infected the state, which lacks a constitution, Parliament, and has a presidential institution that is in a turbulent relationship with the judiciary and the opposition. Before the Constitutional Declaration is issued, he could go to the people, address them directly, and appeal to them by putting the announcement for referendum.
Instead he decided alone what the resolution should be, which is against everyone, and as a result, collided with everyone, thus confirming the charges of his opponents. Now, even if the president was right, he cannot ignore the tens of thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, demanding the abolition of the declaration. The most characteristic feature of the Jan. 25 revolution is that it is a popular revolution, and this is probably what makes it the only true revolution in the history of Egypt. The popular presence and patience by this audience, despite all differences and divisions, and despite the passage of nearly two years since the fall of the former president, gives it momentum. Thus, it is not wise to collide with it. In terms of this popular presence, it does not necessarily mean supporting the opponents of the Brotherhood; it only means the refusal of the Brotherhood’s political options. In this case, this means that clashing with them is a clash with the spirit of the revolution.
The truth is that the options are settled now on both sides. The civil society team committed itself to the overthrow of the constitutional declaration, and in order to achieve this, it is ready to take all steps of escalation that the situation may require.
On the other side, the Brotherhood refuses to withdraw the declaration and has chosen to go to the people for a referendum on the final draft of the constitution voted with their allies in the Constituent Assembly, which is still in dispute between the parties. It is true that the Constitution must be replaced through consensus among all parties; but the forces that led the revolution failed miserably to do so for nearly two years.
There is no longer any option except for one of these three: Either dialogue must take place to break the impasse, everyone must accept the results of the people’s vote on the draft of the constitution, or a clash can occur that could develop into something worse.
Here comes the real test of the feature of this revolution: the popular spirit. People are split and the division of the elite, as it seems now, means that Egypt is heading to civil clash. If this happens, it does not necessarily mean that the revolution has failed, as it is still too early to make a judgment like this. It does, however, mean that it has moved into a new phase, and it will be a very different stage than before. The question then is the following: Which team will lose the bet? It will not be long much to know the answer to the question.

— Courtesy of Al-Hayat newspaper

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