Monday 24 December 2012

Who Owns the Revolution?

We're approaching the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution and seeing how we are apparently still stuck with the same "revolutionary - felool" paradigm (felool being a term originally used for old regime remnants but one that has come to mean anyone who opposes revolutionaries and/or the Muslim Brotherhood), it is time to critically evaluate the positions of the different actors on the political stage. Many have claimed that the Egyptian revolution had distinct goals, clear ideals that can function as a way to measure and determine whether someone was revolutionary or not. However, it has become clear that the slogan "bread, freedom and social justice" can hardly fulfill that goal. Under the umbrella of the revolution were united people who hold completely different views about the very basics of political and societal organization. The only thing that united these people was a hatred for the old regime and this for various reasons which aren't all common to all of them. Some, for instance, don't seem to want to change the system as much as the people who were in it, while others hoped for a more thorough change. It is obvious in any case, that once that common enemy fell, the revolutionary movement disintegrated into several groups each holding on to a separate meaning of the revolution and claiming to 'continue the fight' for its sake. 

Celebrations in Tahrir Square after Mubarak stepped down

One of the accusations hurled at the Muslim Brotherhood was that they 'stole' the revolution (a variation has them 'riding' the revolutionary wave). This rhetoric, though comforting for revolutionaries who feel frustrated they couldn't transform their ideas into reality, must be viewed with scrutiny. For what does it mean to 'steal the revolution'? Regardless of when they joined the street protests, the Muslim Brotherhood at one point also stood in the squares and also screamed for bread, freedom and social justice, also demanding that Mubarak step down. Why would their interpretation of the revolution be considered inferior to that of the (other) 'revolutionaries'? Why can't the Islamists claim that the establishment of a theocratic state is in fact a way of fulfilling the demands of the revolution as they understand them? 

Similarly, as Maikel Nabil was talking at a university in Israel, some have taken it upon themselves to deprive him of the 'revolutionary' label. He has no right to call himself a revolutionary, according to them, because his beliefs aren't in accordance with theirs. And this regardless of whether he was in the squares like them, screaming the same words and calling for the downfall of Mubarak as well. 

What many fail to understand is that the only thing the people in the square had in common was a hatred for the Mubarak regime and a desire for change. What direction that change would go and what exactly it would entail wasn't something they all agreed on, not by far. There were different factions from the beginning, people who have little in common. Most well-known pictures of Tahrir square which were spread on the media show the full square from afar, even most videos show the same image of a unified collective screaming loudly with one voice. But zoom in and you see the true picture, with all its political colors and nuances. A Salafi, a revolutionary socialist and a classical liberal all stood together, but their unity would end once their common goal was achieved, their visions about the post-Mubarak Egypt diverge in an extreme way. An important side note here is that not all those who hated the corruption of the Mubarak regime were in the squares. The so-called "Kanaba party", people who didn't really join in street action, aren't all one block either. The reality is much more complicated than the simplified black and white version many are advocating. There were those who, while reviling the system and the way things were going, didn't believe a revolution would bring any relief. Yes, there were those who believed slow, piecemeal reform would eventually yield better results than what they considered an uncalculated, risky regime change. 

When the second round of the presidential elections was held, many dubbed it the ultimate test to determine someone's revolutionary score. Nevermind the fact that there is no such thing as a "unified political program for the revolution" upon which a so-called "unified candidate" can get all the revolutionary votes. And indeed, Morsi, Sabbahi and Abul Fotouh were all considered revolutionary candidates by their followers, even though their respective political programs differed greatly. In the end, Morsi was dubbed "the revolutionary candidate" even though his plans for the country were fundamentally and completely different from those of a liberal revolutionary or a socialist revolutionary. And that same "revolution" which was used to usher in the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, was later on used to justify the way they ruled the country. It was somehow expected that all revolutionaries accept this in silence or be dubbed felool, remnants of the old regime, supporters of corruption. They fell victims to the dichotomy they created wereby one is either a revolutionary who stand for justice or a felooli who supports corruption and nepotism. 

Well, it is time to let go of naive simplifications of reality and start realizing the complexity and diversity that exists in the Egyptian case. In the end, what counts should be the actual ideological opinions and concrete plans for the country the person or group in question has. This is the divide we should focus on, this is the divide upon which parties and coalitions should be built, not the empty revolutionary - felool dichotomy! It is outrageous that those who didn't support the revolution or who supported Shafik should be treated as morally inferior to the so-called revolutionaries. Not after it became clear that some revolutionaries would in fact use that revolution to usher in a new age of dictatorship, this time in the form of a totalitarian theocracy. Some of those who opposed the revolution from the beginning and who voted for Shafik later on did so exactly because they had predicted this scenario. The vast majority of those Egyptians aren't criminals, nor people who approve of corruption, they are simply people who disagreed with the 'revolutionaries' on how this country should be run and how its problems should be solved. Try and punish the criminals of the old regime, but don't alienate those who did what they thought was best for their country and continue to do so. They don't need to justify themselves or apologize for breaching the "revolutionary" code in order to be accepted among the ranks of those legitimately opposing the current regime.

Egypt now stands before a difficult struggle. A struggle for freedom from state oppression, a struggle against a government that wishes to put itself above the law, a regime that would trample basic rights under the pretext of 'purging' state and society from 'evil elements'. In this fight, the distinction shouldn't be based on the meaningless revolutionary - felool divide, but on something more pertinent in face of the current threats.  As I write this, a quote by George Orwell comes to mind, one that seems to have been written exactly for the situation we're in today: "The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians."

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