This article was co-authored with Dr. Morad Abou-Sabe’, President of the Arab American League of Voters of New Jersey.
The Egyptian revolution of January 25th, 2011 created widespread euphoria of the kind only wide-eyed optimists enjoy. It was a moment in Egypt’s history that should never be forgotten. It evolved naturally after six decades of oppressive military rule of Egyptians who had – almost – given up hope of any chance for change. Increasing frustration and a yearning for freedom coalesced from the organized use of online social media.
Emerging suddenly and surprisingly, Egypt and the Egyptian youth rose to the status of world heroes. Wael Ghonim, the Google Executive, was one of the youths that gave the revolution a second wind at the very early stages. After his detention and interrogation for twelve days by the Mubarak security forces and his emotional television appearance, he returned to Tahrir Square and inspired the masses towards the push that ultimately led to Mubarak’s resignation. Ghonim was honored by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University recently for his leadership role in the revolution.
While the Egyptian revolution of January 25th was organized, planned and executed by a great number using online social media, they did not get to manage what they executed brilliantly, galvanizing not only the Egyptian People but also the world. With the naiveté of youth and with the pronouncement of the leadership of the Egyptian Army in support of the Revolution, the youth were happy to hand over the country’s governance to the military, represented by a 19 member Military Council.
Since February 11th, 2011, which marked the resignation of Mubarak, Egypt has been through ten months of a virtual cat and mouse game between the revolutionaries and the Military Council (SCAF), each trying to reach their elusive goals. It became clear to most Egyptians that SCAF was doing all it could to undo the revolution. Return to the old tactics of the Mubarak regime came in full view of all. These ten months of military rule have led to constant insecurity, rising costs for all the essential staples, decreasing employment, declining economy and the flight of tourists, who in January were flooding the Egyptian antiquities. The January 25th revolution was all but disappearing and being replaced by a systematic erosion of the few gains that followed, albeit for a very short period. Reversal of the revolution appeared in the actions of SCAF against free speech, the return to excessive use of violent interrogation of civilians by military police and trials of thousands of Egyptian civilians by the military courts. Meanwhile, the civilian courts were handling the members of the Mubarak regime with velvet gloves at a pace that would take years for any resolution.
The military council did not choose to bring security to the streets; violent crimes began to be a matter of course, which could be blamed on the remnants of the National Party membership who suddenly lost all privileges after Mubarak’s resignation.
For the average Egyptian, the change that came about after the revolution was essentially concomitant to bringing in chaos, crimes and instability to the Egyptian streets. Almost every Egyptian has either been directly impacted or knows someone who was actually assaulted, mugged, robbed or even killed by people who were likely the “hired thugs” of the Mubarak ruling party.
Success of revolutions is measured by the extent of change that is brought about in the lives of its people, the improvement of the country’s economy and the general progress and movement towards a free and democratic society. While it is a process that takes time, evidence of change is usually felt early on in the direction the country embarks on, as what already has happened in Tunisia.
In Egypt, the opposite was the case. The ruling military council, as a collective group of military generals, had no experience in running a government or a country. It exercised its powers through a caretaker cabinet without giving the cabinet any powers to execute its mandate. SCAF remained the sole power that collectively had the executive, legislative as well as the constitutional powers in the country. As such, nothing could be done to move Egypt forward without the explicit approval of SCAF.
It became a matter of course for the people to have to go back to Tahrir Square to put pressure on SCAF to pass a law or to move on any of the revolution’s goals that have not been attended to. More often than not, SCAF played the same game and only took any action, upon the return and or threat of return of the people to Tahrir square.
This piecemeal implementation of the revolution’s goals did not prevent SCAF from making its own plans and establishing its own roots in the governance of the Country. The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred two weeks ago, when a constitutional draft document was floated that showed the intent of the Military Council’s to retain superseding powers over any elected civilian government, including the President. In addition, the Military budget would be off the table for anyone outside of the military.
Clearly, all the suspicions that have been merely suspicions became the reality of the day. Under the Mubarak regime, the military had become an industrial complex of its own, controlling 12-18% of the country’s manufacturing and economic powers . This military industrial complex was also run as for-profit concerns, headed by the army leadership. Enormous wealth had been acquired by the high ranks of the military, a matter that could not be handed over to a civilian government, even if elected.
The revolutionaries recognized that matters had to be brought back under their own control. For the last ten days, the unyielding sit-ins at Tahrir square and many other town squares all over Egypt, demanded and succeeded in firing the Sharaf cabinet. The Sharaf cabinet, which had failed miserably over the last ten months as it acted as a secretarial office for the Military council, finally was removed from office under the demonstrators’ pressure.
It is clear that Egypt cannot be trusted to the military council, who is holding on despite the repeated demands for its removal and the retirement of its chairman Tantawy. It is obvious that they shall not yield to these demands, as it would only bring their fate to that of Mubarak and his clans.
SCAF has had a conflict of interest from day one and should not have been supported by the Obama Administration. Unfortunately, the administration thought they were preventing violence from erupting by supporting the military. It is unlikely that they were aware that the Egyptian Armed forces own intelligence reports on February 1st, had determined that the young officers refused to fire on the people. The Military Council had no option but to support the January 25th revolution and have since been trying to reverse it.
There is an opportunity for the Obama Administration to actively support this second Egyptian Revolution. Freedom and democracy shall not return to Egypt while the military that controlled the country for six decades has anything to do with it.
Parliamentary elections are starting in Egypt right now. These elections have no chance coming out with a representative parliament in any shape or form. The process has been flawed from the beginning – already, election ballots have been obtained in some of the Red Sea districts, before the elections even began. Evidence of bribery and corruption has also been documented, again before the elections had a chance to start. No matter what is the outcome, there will certainly be ample cause for concern. Is it déjà vu all over again?
A version of this article was published in The Huffington Post.