How Can We Save the Revolution?

On the afternoon of February 11th, I was walking down Kasr el-Aini Street toward Tahrir Square and some of the protesters gathered around me to ask me what I expected to happen. While I was chatting with them, I suddenly heard loud screams. I was worried because I had heard similar screams when snipers started shooting demonstrators in the early days of the revolution, but this time the screams had a different effect. A woman in hijab rushed out of a fruit juice shop and shouted, “Mubarak’s resigned.” I don’t recall in detail what happened after that, because I, with millions of others, hurried off to celebrate the victory of the revolution. It was a scene of joy and pride that Egypt had not seen since the war of October 1973—a deep and authentic emotion that drove grown men to weep like children. I stayed celebrating with the demonstrators in Tahrir Square until the early hours of the following day. The demonstrators began to disperse and at that stage a few voices spoke up to say that we shouldn’t leave the square until the demands of the revolution had been met in full. This appeal fell on deaf ears. Most of the people thought that the revolution had triumphed by forcing Mubarak to step down, and after that they should give the military council a chance to meet the demands of the revolution. We were all grateful toward the military council, which had taken the side of the revolution against the tyrant and had refused to open fire on the demonstrators. I now believe that the biggest mistake the revolution made was when the demonstrators left Egyptian squares as soon as Mubarak stepped down. The revolution should have formed a representative body whose members would have met the military council to supervise implementation of the revolutionary demands.

Mubarak’s departure did not mean the overthrow of the regime. We only have to consider how the Egyptian government has maintained the State Security apparatus (after changing its name to National Security), or Interior Minister Mansour el-Eissawi’s desperate maneuvers to protect the police officers and snipers who killed demonstrators, or the appointments of provincial governors who belong to the old regime, to realize that it was only Mubarak who was overthrown, while his regime continues to govern Egypt. To be fair, we have to recognize our debt to the military council for protecting the revolution, but to be accurate, we also have to remember that the military council has never shared the vision of the revolution and has met demands of the revolution only under intense popular pressure. The reason for that may be the culture of the military council’s members, which is based on obedience and respect for orders. The wishes of the military council have always been different from the wishes of the revolution. While the revolution brought down Hosni Mubarak as the prelude to removing the old regime as a whole and creating a new revolutionary system, the military council appears to have agreed to overthrow Mubarak in order to preserve the old regime. This gap between what the revolution wants and what the military council can achieve is the reason for all the problems we now face. If the military council had carried out the demands of the revolution from the beginning, Egypt would now have made a start toward a democratic transition. We should make clear here that our criticism of the policies of the military council in no way diminishes our respect for the armed forces, but the military council is now performing the functions of the head of state, so we have a right and a duty to criticize its policies.

After Mubarak stepped down, specialists and patriotic intellectuals offered the military council detailed studies on how to get rid of the old regime and pave the way for a real democratic system, but the military council did not respond and was very slow to take the steps necessary to protect the revolution. This gave those affiliated with the old regime a golden opportunity to conspire against the revolution. The conspiracies against the Egyptian revolution were no doubt backed by Arab and other countries that for various reasons do not want Egypt to complete the process of democratic change, which would make Egypt into a regional giant leading the whole Arab world. For six months there has been a succession of conspiracies against the revolution, as if to punish Egyptians for bringing about a revolution for the sake of freedom and dignity. Police officers loyal to Mubarak have succeeded in frightening people by neglecting their duty to protect life and property from attacks by thugs, most of whom have close ties with the remnants of the old regime. At the same time the government media, most of which are affiliated with the old regime, have constantly portrayed the revolution as responsible for the country’s economic crisis. This is completely at variance with the facts, because the Egyptian revolution has not been in power for it to bear responsibility for the economic decline. The revolution handed power to the military council, which bears prime responsibility for everything that has happened in Egypt since Mubarak stepped down.

Demonstrations and sit-ins have continued to press the demands of the revolution, and after intense pressure the military council has complied with some of them, most recently the demand for the public trial of Hosni Mubarak. Although seeing Mubarak in the dock was a great success for the revolution, what happened during the trial gave cause for anxiety. The relatives of those killed in the revolution were prevented from attending the trial, thugs who supported Mubarak were allowed to pass armed with bricks, which they threw at the relatives, and the security agencies intervened to exclude particular, named journalists and lawyers from the trial. At the end of the court hearing the television cameras showed pictures of Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, and brutal former Interior Minister Habib el-Adli, coming out of the courtroom as if they were coming out of the cinema. They were laughing, and their hands were not tied as the law requires. In fact, the military police commander and the senior police officers who were present saluted the former minister as if he were still in office. At the same time military policemen were attacking the families of the dead and their sympathizers in Tahrir Square to break up their sit-in with great brutality. I myself heard Egyptian girls telling how they were insulted and beaten up by military policemen who had no scruples about going into the Omar Makram mosque wearing shoes during daylight hours in Ramadan to arrest people taking part in a peaceful sit-in, people who are now treated as enemies of the state. Some young revolutionaries went to Tahrir Square the next day to break the Ramadan fast and were again attacked by military police, who insulted and abused them exactly as if Mubarak were still ruling Egypt. After that, Tahrir Square was completely closed and occupied by dozens of troops, as if the military council were telling us, “You’ve seen Mubarak in the dock. From now we will not allow you to demonstrate or even to object.”

The Egyptian revolution is now going through a truly critical phase and if we do not save it, it will be changed into a coup. Revolution means comprehensive change, while a coup means limited change at the top. If we don’t move quickly, Mubarak will be gone and a new ruler will come under the same system, with the same mentality and the same practices. We must admit that the successive conspiracies against the revolution have exhausted millions of Egyptians who were expecting their circumstances to improve six months after the success of the revolution. We only need to compare the mood of optimism that prevailed after Mubarak stepped down and the state of anxiety and fear of the unknown that now prevails. The crisis has been compounded by certain Islamists who believed that pleasing the military council was the sure way to take power and who have become virtual spokesmen for the council. They laud the council night and day, approve of everything it does, and say nothing about its mistakes, however grave they might be. The current weakness of the Egyptian revolutionary forces has provided an opportunity to strike more blows against them, and the fine young people who through their courage changed the destiny of Egypt and the whole region have faced a stream of baseless accusations that they are working on someone else’s behalf. The Abbasia incident was contrived in order to attack the young revolutionaries: young Mohamed Mohsen was killed and hundreds were injured. The wave of repression and insults against the demonstrators has continued, as if the Mubarak regime were taking revenge on them as the cause of his overthrow and detention.

What is to be done now? I believe that there are three steps need to save the revolution:

Firstly, all the revolutionary forces must unite now and without delay. A group that represents the revolution must be formed, in order to submit its demands to the military council and at the same time to control the demonstrators so that there is no indiscipline that can be used to attack the revolution.

Secondly, we have to agree on the minimal demands needed to ensure fair elections and then keep insisting on those demands and pressing the military council to meet them. I would like to stress here that putting pressure on the military council does not at all mean insulting it or calling for its downfall, because the military council, in spite of its performance, of which we do not approve, is the last bastion of the nation and we will never allow it to be breached. These demands are: an end to the trial of civilians in military courts, the release of all those detained in military jails, the dismissal of the current public prosecutor and the appointment of a new one from among leading members of the judicial independence movement. The judiciary must be purged of judges who supervised rigged elections or who are proved to have collaborated with State Security. The police force must be purged of corrupt officers and those accused of killing demonstrators must be suspended from duty until their trials are complete. And lastly, the election law must be amended in line with the demands of the political forces. These demands are indispensable to guarantee elections that reflect the will of Egyptians, and to compromise on these demands would simply mean that the next elections will be rigged.

Thirdly, if we succeed with these demands that ensure clean elections, we must call for elections at the earliest possible occasion so that power is transferred to an elected civilian government. There is no longer time and it no longer makes sense to go into long debates about the constitution and its guiding principles. All such debates will delay a transfer of power to the people and add to the divisions between political groups, and in the end will not take us anywhere.

If we want to save the revolution, we have to take these steps immediately. The 1,000 Egyptians who were killed, the 1,400 who were blinded, and the 5,000 who were injured, as well as the 1,000 who went missing, most probably murdered in the early days of the revolution, all made their sacrifices for the sake of comprehensive change, not for partial reform; for the sake of a real, full-scale revolution, not just for a coup that changed one tyrant for another under the same old system. Achieving the demands of the revolution is the only way to the future.

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