From Al Ahram:
Between success and failure
Elections, by definition, are not a means to make revolutionary change, but they are about the only hope left, given the ground the revolution has so far lost, writes Eman Ragab
Egypt's revolution offered a model for a transitional phase unlike that in both Tunisia and Libya. Egypt is the only post-revolutionary country to wwbe run by the military rather than an interim national council. This difference had a significant impact on the course of change in the post-revolutionary period, as the army was instrumental in sapping the revolutionary impetus of the youth movement that led the people during the first 18 days of the revolution. It also succeeded in abridging the revolution's demands to the task of handing over power to a civil authority by non-revolutionary means, which is to say by an electoral roadmap. The strategy worked to dissipate the energies of the revolutionary forces and to generate a general depression and pessimism among all who had supported the revolution. The gloom is palpably evident on the Facebook and Twitter pages of a number of Egyptian activists who are now wondering whether the January Revolution is breathing its last or what development will prove the final straw that sends our revolution to the dustbin of history.
It may be premature to speak of the success or failure of the Egyptian revolution after only nine months. The transitional period, which will presumably bring the radical changes that the revolution called for, is far from over yet. In fact, it could easily last five years. Nevertheless, an interim assessment at this stage is useful in order to establish a benchmark.
The Egyptian revolution never sought to dismantle the state, contrary to the impression that various media sought to disseminate in the period since the fall of Mubarak as job-related strikes and protests increased and criticism of the performance of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) mounted. The chief aim of the revolution was twofold. It sought to effect a radical change in the ruling elite by replacing the elite that formed around the ex-president and his cronies with one that was more representative of -- and responsive to -- the Egyptian people. Simultaneously, it sought to revolutionise the map of political forces, and specifically opposition forces.
Unfortunately, the revolution is not faring very well in either respect. The character of the ruling elite has changed little from the previous era. Most of the ministers and administrative heads in the governments formed since Mubarak stepped down were drawn from the second and third tiers of the Mubarak era leaderships. The public was merely not familiar with their names. The remainder came from political forces that may have been in the official opposition but that often found it convenient to strike accommodations and conclude alliances with the regime and that ultimately proved crucial to its perpetuation in power. These forces were, primarily, the Muslim Brotherhood and the conventional paper opposition parties. The fact that they accepted the rules of the game dictated by that regime, played the game to score political gains for themselves, and did nothing to contest the legitimacy of the Mubarak regime ultimately means that they were very much a part of the regime whose entire edifice should have been brought down with the revolution. Instead, they leaped aboard the revolution well after it began and picked up steam without them, and soon claimed for themselves the right speak in its name. Meanwhile, the true heroes of the revolution -- the young men and women who had the courage defy the regime on 25 January, who spearheaded the mass protest movement and who succeeded in building up its momentum until it acquired revolutionary force -- were deliberately eclipsed. I should stress, here, that this is in no way intended to refute or diminish the importance of the part these forces played in supporting the revolutionary activists following the attack now known as the "Battle of the Camel."
We also find that the current ruling elite has preserved the generational hierarchy of the old. No youth movements, such as the Revolution Youth Coalition, are represented in the government and they have little more than token representation at the municipal level. This situation contrasts to that in Tunisia where, for example, the 35-year-old blogger Slim Amamou was given a ministerial position in the government that was formed after Bin Ali departed. Therefore, if the revolutionary youth had a plan for Egypt, that project never had a real chance to get off the ground for the very simple reason that they were excluded from all effective say. Furthermore, the practical consequence of their deliberate exclusion was that they dispersed and were reabsorbed into the conventional parties through which they are now attempting to promote change by non-radical means. In this context, one can readily understand why the Muslim Brotherhood youth organisationally split-off from the Muslim Brotherhood and joined other political parties instead of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing.
The political map, at this moment in particular, is largely shaped by the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The conventional political forces, from which emerged the political parties that are engaged in the campaigns, have dominated the scene, which, moreover, features many of the same faces that used to run for parliament in previous elections under the old regime. No revolution in form or substance has occurred in the Wafd, the Tagammu Party, the Nasserist Party and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Perhaps the one significant change in the political map is the official end of the National Democratic Party (NDP). But it is increasingly clear that this is little more than a formality, for ex-NDP members are now running on the tickets of other parties, notably the Wafd but also the Misr Al-Nahda (Renaissance) Party, Al-Horreya (Freedom) Party, and the Tanmiya (Development) Party. Also, among the 24 new parties that are on the list of the Political Party Affairs Committee, many are little more than clones of already existing parties. In addition, several forces that once remained aloof from political involvement, such as the Salafis and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, have now entered the political arena, while the Muslim Brotherhood, following its legitimisation, has become the new NDP in terms of the number of its headquarters spread across the country, its organisational and mobilising capacities, and its campaigning expertise.
From the discourse of these forces, it is clear that their primary if not sole concern is the scramble over the parliamentary pie and their prospects for power, for they have obviously forgotten the higher demands of the revolution which should have taken priority during this period. The Islamist groups, in particular, have shown precious little concern for the revolution's principles of "dignity, freedom and social justice" as they jockeyed for position. To them it seemed that their interests would best be served by siding with SCAF and the government against all critics, rather than by supporting non-religious groups in their calls for social justice. As a consequence, SCAF and the government have remained relatively free of the sustained pressure necessary to compel them effectively to address such social justice issues as the legitimate rights and urgent needs of workers. It is not surprising, therefore, that labour strikes in both the private and public sectors have proliferated during the past few months.
One also observes that much of the current political contention is focused on issues that the revolution transcended. As attacks against churches mounted in the post-Mubarak phase, the concept of citizenship, equality between Muslims and Copts, gender equality and other such moral principles receded. These very principles were prime among those that set the revolution's high moral tone and that proved a major key to its sustainability and success. Yet instead of remaining united behind these principles, political forces have split along the same old ideological divides over the relationship between religion and the state and whether Egypt should be a civil state or a theocracy. Moreover, these polarities intensified with the contention over a set of supra-constitutional principles, altering the criteria for the composition of the constitutional assembly, or other means to ensure that the constitution enshrines the fundamental humanitarian principles that the revolution both championed and embodied. So instead of being able to concentrate on the formulation and implementation of a clear vision for how to rebuild post-revolutionary Egypt politically, economically, socially and culturally, society became bogged down in issues that cast the country several steps backwards.
The forthcoming elections may rescue the Egyptian revolution from its current state of fatigue and discouragement. It will certainly be a final test of the ability to make a radical change in the ruling elite and to provide for a fair representation of youth in government and in the political map as a whole. The test will be a strange one, primarily because the electoral process is inherently a non-revolutionary mechanism to create change. Be that as it may, the revolution's hopes are pinned on it.
The writer is a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
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5 months ago