The Second Year of the Egyptian Revolution

Article Summary
In the year that has followed the outbreak of the Egyptian Revolution on January 25, 2011, three centers of legitimate authority have emerged on the Nile: The SCAF, the Islamist-dominated parliament, and the revolutionaries. While the military and the Islamists jostle for foreign endorsements, the best option for those loyal to the revolution is to remain in parliamentary opposition, argues Fawwaz Traboulsi.

January 25, 2012 is, above all, a day of joy.

It is about the joy of Egypt's sons and daughters celebrating the mother of Arab revolutions in Umm al-Dunia [literally, “mother of the world,” referring to Egypt].

An Arab citizen cannot dream of freedom, bread and roses unless he joins - if not physically then through sights, sounds, symbols, and feelings - the millions celebrating the historic event in the squares and streets of the Nile Valley. The celebration is happening in the absence of the emergency law that had been in place since 1971. The primary demand of the revolution was achieved when Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi announced, on the eve of the [revolution's one year anniversary], the cancellation [of the emergency law].

The joy comes from the achievements: The head of a cancerous dynastic state was brought down. An attempt to transfer power to his vice president in accordance with an American-Gulf scheme - as has become a habitual [strategy] to rescue regimes from their people - was foiled. [This strategy] was applied in Yemen and now it is being attempted in Syria. A ministerial cabinet was brought down. Parliamentary elections were conducted. A constitutional transition process was begun less than a year after the revolution's outbreak. More importanly, the deposed ruler, his sons and his inner circle are being tried in a court of law. The scene of Hosni Mubarak sitting in court contrasts with that of Ali Abdullah Saleh leaving the country under American-Gulf sponsorship. All that Saleh admitted to were [failures in governing] - as if he had not committed all kinds of crimes against his people, the most recent of which included looting and massacres. It is as if he had invited the Yemeni people to a banquet and [then left them footing the bill]!

These historic achievements would not have happened were it not for a revolution whose slogan was "work, freedom and bread" and that marched to the rhythm of "the people want to overthrow the regime." Those achievements were due to demonstrations and sit-ins by millions across this vast country, where young people from all societal groups played a prominent role. Those achievements were extracted by the crowd's pressure, and by their strong cohesion, courage and steadfastness. The crowd brought dignity to the people, who finally found their voices after having been just numbers. The crowd defended the squares from closure and invasion. It thwarted repeated attempts to ignite sectarian strife, which [threatened to explode due to] the burning of churches and the Maspero massacre. Last but not least, it stood up to the blackmail warning that the revolutionary process should be stopped because of poor economic conditions, or for the sake of "societal security."

The second year of the Egyptian revolution has arrived. The scene is one of competition, dialogue and negotiations between three forces, each with its own legitimacy. Perhaps [the mission] of the Egyptian people and the revolution for this coming year is to reveal the true identity and objectives of each of these forces.

  • [The first force is] the Army (represented by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, SCAF). It was the cornerstone of the former regime. It draws its strength and "legitimacy" from its military power; its security apparatus; its monopoly on violence, and its continuity as the de facto authority supported by Arab, regional and international forces. The idiosyncratic relationship of the Egyptian army with the state is not found in other military regimes. It is an economic, productive and strategic power that has its own resources, facilities, and means of communication and transportation. It has a high level of autonomy in managing its affairs without any meaningful oversight from the political authorities or civilian institutions. The SCAF draws its legitimacy not from the revolution but from its role during the revolution, when it rejected orders to suppress the revolution by force - even though it has not shied away from using force and suppression when the transitional authority fell into its custody after Mubarak stepped down.
  • [The second force is] the popular legitimacy embodied by the National Assembly. It emerged from free elections that saw a high turnout and resulted in a major change in the country's balance of political forces. The combined Islamist organizations took more than three-quarters of parliamentary seats after the withering of the Wafd and National Democratic Parties. It is likely that supporters of these two parties voted for Islamist parties. It is important to note that these elections took place under an electoral system and a constitution that were both undergoing review.
  • [The third force is] the legitimacy of the revolution. It is based on the popular force that launched the revolution in all spontaneity but has since suffered and is suffering the bulk of the responsibility and sacrifices in order to ensure that building a democratic civil state based on the rule of law and elected constitutional institutions proceeds apace.

It is important to differentiate between popular legitimacy and the legitimacy of the revolutionary forces. The revolutionary forces have obtained fewer seats in the People's Assembly than their real weight in the street and society; and definitely fewer than their weight in the revolution which allowed the election to be held and conducted freely. In contrast, those with popular legitimacy won a share of parliamentary seats that exceeded their weight in the revolution.

The competition and conflict between the three forces can be summarized by the various meanings given to the word "civil."

The second and third types of legitimacy listed above [give the word ‘civil’] the meaning of a transfer of power from the military to civilians. But it’s not that simple, because there is a fourth kind of legitimacy. Just as a large part of the legitimacy of Arab regimes is granted and derived from abroad, there is a competition between the parliamentary majority and the new military junta to obtain legitimacy by presenting their credentials to the American-Gulf sponsor. The SCAF pledges to provide regional and border security and ensures that agreements (with Israel in particular) are part of "societal security." And to that, the SCAF adds a hidden commitment: [it presents] the army as a bulwark against "Islamist extremism." Also, the Islamic Brotherhood's parliamentary majority has promised to adhere to the policies of neoliberalism; the Camp David Accords; and "traditional relations" with Europe and the United States. So the United States has returned the favor with an official American source congratulating the Salafist Al-Nour Party on winning a quarter of parliamentary seats!

The second meaning of "civil" is about the relationship among the temporal, the religious, and the sacred in the constitution and institutions. This is where revolutionary legitimacy and parliamentary legitimacy part ways. They differ on the constitution, enshrining an explicit political and legal equality between Egyptians as citizens. They differ on equality between men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims in political rights such as voting or becoming a candidate, a public employee, a judge, etc.

Another anticipated disagreement is about legislation. The Salafists inaugurated the People's Assembly by giving the oath, but added: “We obey the constitution as long as it does not conflict with God's law.” The question is, who interprets "God's law"? The elected civilian authorities? A popular referendum? Or self-appointed religious authorities imposed from beyond the framework of popular elections and national sovereignty?

These are two issues at the heart of democracy before they become part of secularism, which is simply about the political neutrality of the state in religion, which, in turn, is not allowed to interfere with state affairs.

In conclusion, all evidence indicates that those three-quarters of parliamentary seats will prove unable to form a national coalition government [respecting] the minimum level of balance in the cabinet, because [there is] an absence of balance in parliament [itself]. Therefore, it would be better for the democrats, liberals, leftists and nationalists to leave the Islamist movement to rule alone and bear the full brunt of responsibility.

To be an Arab revolutionary these days is to sit in the opposition.

Found in: youth of the revolution, youth, tahrir, secularism, secular politics, secular, scaf, political theory, political islam, muslim brotherhood, muslim, islamists, egyptian revolution, egyptian opposition, anniversary of the egyptian revolution, anniversary

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