Nine years have passed since Egypt’s 25 January Revolution, and this compels me to contemplate that historic moment in a nation that has not risen up since 1919. A popular revolution is generally the most honourable human action in sociological terms, because it is usually a response to official injustice. Revolutionary movements, therefore, are often preceded by analyses and investigations of the root causes of the problems and their solutions, as well as the revolution’s goals.
When people rise up against a regime wielding hard power represented by security forces or soft power in the form of control over livelihoods, it is usually because those in power spread largesse to favourites rather than the deserving; deprive whoever they want of whatever they want; honour whoever they want, and imprison and humiliate whoever they want. Revolutionaries by nature then become the noblest of people because they know the likely consequences of their actions in terms of repression; they know that it is likely that they will not live to see the fruits of the revolution; they sacrifice their money, time and lives so that the truth prevails and others may benefit.
“Bread, freedom, social justice, human dignity” was the demand of the Egyptian people in 2011. This led to the country’s prisons being filled with the best and purest minds of a generation.
The 25 January Revolutionaries planned to make a difference; they succeeded, and launched a movement for change in the Arab world. In the process, their actions have helped to shape international policies since 2011, both good and bad. While the Tunisian Revolution was the first, it was Egypt’s that drove such changes, bringing to an end governance structures in place since the colonial days of the 20th century. The January Revolution highlighted the governance values that people are still fighting for.
The tactics used by the current regimes, as well as the colonial states, focus on stripping away local value systems through oppression, the media and human vices. That’s how they chip away at society and kill it with corruption.
Nine years is not a long time to judge our revolution, as it is still growing, maturing and correcting mistakes. We must not listen to those who underestimate the popular movement of 25 January, 2011; who say it was not a revolution, either out of hatred or because they are plotting against it. Civilised societies know the true meaning of revolutionary movements and the popular demands that push millions to take action.
The French Revolution (1789-1799) went through many stages, failures and successes, but in the end those who underestimate our revolution in Egypt still classify what happened in France as the greatest revolution known to mankind. We too are going through many stages, with failures and successes. What is required now is to take advantage of history, not to cry over it, compare, gloat or even beat ourselves up about it.
We must acknowledge and then correct our mistakes and pick up where we left off. The various political trends must align themselves together and put the interests of Egypt over and above partisan interests. To achieve this we must adopt an inclusive discourse that promotes the national narrative, and sets out the necessary steps to save the people from catastrophic social, economic, political and foreign relations policies. Above all, we must challenge the potential tragedy that awaits Egypt when the River Nile — the lifeblood of our country — is used to fill the reservoir behind the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam and man-made drought and starvation ensue downstream.
However, the calls for unity do not appear to be aimed at achieving such desired goals. The opposition is still addressing itself and has not yet picked up on the tension affecting the people, who themselves have not yet found any opposition party to trust, not least because the regime removes frontrunners every day.
Our duty, therefore, is to develop new revolutionary cadres possessing the necessary awareness, sophistication and knowledge to revive the revolution with creative ideas. They must not be bound by the crises of the past and personal differences that unfortunately define the paths of revolutionary work. They should create trusted paths for a popular support system that will carry the revolution once again.
This requires the means to protect the revolution and its popular support from arrogance and excess, as well as to establish a correct understanding of the meaning of “revolution” and how to deal with opponents. The revolution and the revolutionaries and their supporters must be bolstered against foreign interference at every level. If this situation is not yet under control, the new leadership much be free to choose the best time to reignite the revolution.
One Chinese intellectual said of the French Revolution fifty years after it took place that, “It is too early to judge a revolution when it is still taking its first steps.” We need to internalise this, and be in it for the long haul.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 28 January 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.