Egypt will see this revolution through
April 15, 2011
If there is one feature that would best describe the popular uprising in Egypt that turned into a full-fledged revolution it is sheer perseverance. Since the start of protests on 25 January and even after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February, Egyptians have been demanding that Mubarak and his men be prosecuted and justice be served.
Dogged determination has kept protesters going back to Tahrir Square and other parts of the country in massive numbers to make their demands heard. On Friday 8 April, a popular mock trial of Mubarak took place in Tahrir, with an estimated 1.5 million people filling the square. The protesters vowed to move en masse to Sharm El Sheikh on Friday 15 April, if their demands were not met.
But before the prospective march could take place, the news finally came of the detention of Hosni Mubarak and his two sons along with a large number of his top aides for investigation. The charges included the misuse of power, the embezzlement of public funds and the murder of protesters. Wednesday 13 April was a day of high drama. But more importantly, it was the day that perseverance and sacrifices paid off.
Protesters have been vehemently calling on the ruling military council to prosecute members of the old regime, who were accused of sponsoring acts of thuggery and spreading chaos in the country. There was evidence that some of them were also involved in conspiring against protesters in the famous incident dubbed "Battle of the Camel" on 2 February, when paid thugs riding camels and horses charged into Tahrir Square.
The scene was both farcical and tragic, and it left a number of protesters dead and injured. There was widespread anger that these instigators were not promptly brought to justice. The ruling military council seemed to drag its heels. No serious action was undertaken until the recent mass arrests and investigations, which eased to some extent the mounting tensions between the people and the military.
The military council, however, will need to take urgent steps to restore people's confidence in it and avoid possible future confrontation. There were allegations of torture by members of the military police and videos showing a violent crackdown on protesters during the small hours of 9 April. The military promised to investigate the incidents but so far nothing has happened.
More worrying was the trial of Maikel Nabil, a blogger who collected pictures and videos posted on the internet and included them in his blog critical of the military. He was sentenced by a military court to three years in prison, to the huge dismay of the blogosphere which regarded this incident as the first instance of free speech violation in post-revolution Egypt. Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations have urged the military to overturn the sentence but with little success until now.
Another fierce battle of wills is also taking place concerning the nature of the political system that would replace the old authoritarian regime. Both the Islamists and the liberals are testing out their views and gauging their strengths in public, perhaps for the first time. While the liberals seem to have little popular base and need to expand their reach to other social segments, the Islamists don't seem to have won the minds and hearts of ordinary Egyptians lately. Some highly publicised media reports involving Salafis made them hugely unpopular on the street. When some Salafis were reported to have attacked and destroyed holy shrines, which they regard as places of idol worship, there was a huge outcry against them by ordinary Egyptians.
The most prominent Islamist faction, the Muslim Brotherhood, has lately lost a great deal of its credibility by allying itself too closely with the Salafis. At university student union elections carried out in the past week the Mulsim Brotherhood secured no more than 16% of the contested places on average.
In the past, the rigging of student elections was a routine practice under the pretext that a fair election would definitely lead to an Islamist takeover of universities. This was proven wrong. If general parliamentary elections were to be carried out fairly and without rigging or vote-buying, Islamist movements might not score much higher. But will there be the political will to ensure the fairness of the electoral process? That is the fundamental question to ask.
Egypt also does not exist in a vacuum. Both regional and world powers have vested interests in it. Autocratic regimes in the neighbourhood are battling the frightening spectre of democracy in Egypt because a democratic model might directly threaten their very existence. They are looking with increasing apprehension at the events unfolding in Egypt.
International powers that had counted on the longevity of the Mubarak regime had neither the vision nor the will to change their policies. These powers are all worried that a new order may not be as friendly or as compliant as the old one. And despite all their proclamations of support for the transition to democracy in Egypt, they may resort to various means to stop the process of change or at least attempt to channel it in such a way as to maintain the situation in the old mode.
But as the battle over Egypt's soul continues, nobody can underestimate the enormous challenges facing Egypt's march towards democracy. Nevertheless, we only need to remember that Mubarak was toppled in spite of his brutal security apparatus and the vast support of regional and international powers. But fall he did. And the catalyst of change was the sheer perseverance of ordinary Egyptians. Their courage in the face of bullets and tear gas was simply a tribute to human tenacity.
There are no signs that this resolve is waning. If anything, it seems to be growing stronger. In the fight of wills, it is perhaps this spirit of perseverance that will ultimately win the day, the speck of light at the end of an otherwise very shadowy tunnel.
*Photograph - Str/EPA: Egyptian protesters outside the Sharm el Sheikh International Hospital where Hosni Mubarak was admitted. Photograph: