Egypt’s revolution is stuck in a rut
July 14, 2011 by admin
You could say our revolution has stalled. Or you could say a revolution is not an event, but a process – and that our process needed a push. As I write the revolution is once again gathering pace in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Arbaeen Square in Suez and Qaed Ibrahim in Alexandria, and streets and squares across Egypt. A march has been called for 6pm, and various escalatory activities are under consideration.
With hindsight, we left the streets too early. We were victorious, and yet we left with nothing. When we managed to push out Hosni Mubarak and the army took over, we should have stayed and demanded that power be vested in a government of the revolution. But we had no defined “leadership” that could speak on our behalf to the military, and we had no government in waiting ready to take power. But that was also the beauty of our revolution; our leaderless, authentic, grassroots, peaceable revolution.
We have ended up with Scaf – the supreme council of the armed forces – as acting president. Not a problem, except that they’ve stripped our caretaker cabinet of power. The interests of the revolution coincided with the interests of the highest levels of the army in one area: removing the possibility of Mubarak’s son Gamal coming to power. The revolution achieved that. Gamal Mubarak is in Tora prison, awaiting trial for profiteering, along with his brother and some members of his once extremely powerful parliamentary “strategy committee”.
The army promised to protect the people and implement the aims of the revolution. But really, with Gamal Mubarak out of the picture, the interests of the military top brass were with the continuation of the old regime, with perhaps some minor sprucing up. So first they tried hard to hold on to the cabinet that Hosni Mubarak had left in place, headed by General Ahmed Shafiq. When the people rejected that, the military accepted our candidate for caretaker prime minister Professor Essam Sharaf, but stripped him even of the power to change his office staff.
And so on every front the revolution has met obstacles. Our great aims cannot be achieved overnight – but our demands for “bread” and “social justice” can be helped along by some measures. Yet an attempt to impose tax on profits made by speculating on the stock exchange has been blocked. An attempt to halve the subsidy granted to fuels used in cement factories (which sell their goods at a profit of 65%) was blocked. Meanwhile, we are told that there’s no money to provide a minimum wage, and that no one can find out what the maximum – government employee – wage is in order to cap it. Our declared aim of “human dignity” requires the dismantling and restructuring of the ministry of the interior and the entire security apparatus that has humiliated the citizenry for so long. It hasn’t happened, and the ministry now refuses even to carry out normal policing duties. The hated state security service, which was meant to have been dissolved after protesters stormed its offices and seized files, has re-emerged as the “national security service”. And the unconstitutional central security forces have been redeployed on the streets. The 500,000-strong baltagiya – paramilitary forces, long in the pay of the interior ministry, who achieved their finest hour on 2 February in camel-mounted attacks on protesters – are still out there, wreaking havoc. The security situation discourages tourism, and so also holds up our economic recovery.
And we also have a raft of problems and issues created by the way the police – and now the military – have dealt with the revolution: we have some thousand shaheeds (martyrs) killed since 25 January; another 800 young people have been blinded by shots to the eyes; 1,400 have received disabling injuries; and a further thousand are missing – probably killed. Nobody – not one police officer, paramilitary thug or sniper – has been found guilty of these crimes. And yet the army, rushing in to arrest protesters or suspected trouble-makers, is quick to put them – young civilians – on military trial and sentence them. There are now more than 10,000 young people given sentences of one to five years by military courts.
The new wave of protests that is re-energising the revolution has as its impetus the demand for justice: trials for the Mubaraks and their retinue, and for the killers of our children. And a rejection of military trials for civilians. But at its heart is the desperate need to push our revolution out of the rut it’s in. Scaf has just announced that it will continue to run Egypt and warned anyone against attempting to vault to power. General Mohsen el-Fangari – who was acclaimed in February when he accorded our young martyrs a military salute – had shoes raised to him on Tuesday when he frowned and waved a finger in our faces.
We have now invited Scaf to share power with a civilian government: not, this time, a caretaker government, but a revolutionary government that will start the process of implementing the great social aims of the revolution, and that will oversee our progress to free and fair elections in the autumn. Our spirits are still high. We still believe the revolution will prevail. We are in a better place now than we have been for the last 40 years. The country, for all its troubles, is more at ease with itself.
Thousands of families have paid a terrible price for bringing us even this far. To begin to make sense of this sacrifice, we have to go further; we have to make sure this revolution works.
By Ahdaf Soueif