The fulfillment of revolutionary demands is conditional on the emergence of grassroots social movements and on the utilization of the political sphere in a way that better reflects societal inclinations.
This is not feasible without the recreation of democratic political currents. These currents were not permitted to really engage with the people or develop their own potential in previous eras of political repression.
The January 25 revolution was definitely an exceptional event. Millions protested in Egypt’s squares to remove the dictator. It was for sure an act of “political” mobilization with an innate scheme for the creation of a new state, sanctioned by the people, and responsive to their demands and struggle. It was also a moment of establishing a new citizen-state relationship, particularly evident when the people battled with the oppressive security apparatus to control the streets, and finally won. In short, it was the historical moment when the people declared their existence.
This revolution was not as spontaneous as some would like to believe. It was the culmination of a long democratic struggle, at the forefront of which was a young civic movement that was able to usher its plea from the margins to the center. The revolutionary cry was then echoed by a wide segment of society.
The quandary of the January 25 revolt was not in its spontaneity, but in the scale of mobilization. This is particularly significant given the meager presence of popular organized movements in this rather fragile society.
Prior to January 25, Egyptians had been living under emergency law, unable to express their dissent except through fragmented cases of disturbance. There was also no single movement that was able to translate this societal dissent into a project capable of lobbying for the people’s collective will. The revolution came as a conscious adventure by the people to change their miserable reality, impose their will, and produce an alternative scenario for their future.
The revolution was also not a conspiracy as some claim, even if its demands matched the interests of some regressive forces, including the military, which joined the revolutionary chorus twice. The first was after January 25 to end the expected inheritance of the presidency by Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal, and the second was following the June 30 popular uprising to end the Brotherhood’s senseless rule.
Other foreign interests have at times coincided with the revolution’s demands. This was the case with the United States and Qatar in the case of January 25, and Russia and Saudi Arabia, who supported the ousting of Mohamed Morsi following June 30. We have to acknowledge the fact that it is not totally abnormal for such interests to coincide, in order to be able to curb the side effects of such incidences on the revolution, instead of making naive romantic claims about how the revolution is being “hijacked.”
The revolution was not able to achieve formal power. It succeeded, however, in opening a different political space by disrupting the state and opening the doors for the reforming of the state-societal relationship. Society was able to recreate itself in this highly critical moment amid revolution. The doors were also opened to the creation of a political sphere that reflects the people’s diverse political inclinations. However, this sphere is still young and rather conservative, confined to urban centers and restricted primarily to the middle classes.
The revolution provided the opportunity for the re-birth of many democratic groups. Their success is, however, contingent on their engagement with rapidly changing events, rather than remaining stagnant. They also need to engage with the public through organized political initiatives that open up possibilities for the involvement of the people in political life.
Reconstructing the left
In this context, the reconstruction of the left is a core revolutionary issue. The left is possibly the only current capable of engaging with the political, economic and social questions of the revolution all at once.
This is because the emancipatory core of the revolutionary condition cannot be realized without a new left that is capable of representing this project. The left is the political current that is most conscious of the needs of the poor, and oppressed segments of society, including those subjected to class-based, religious, or sexual discrimination. It could, therefore, represent such groups inside the democratic camp and even revolutionize this bloc further, while fighting the dominant tendency to adopt mere cosmetic reforms.
The new left has to work on two fronts, namely it has to participate in formal politics and engage with grassroots social movements. By working in this way, the left would politically represent the peoples’ aspirations instead of waiting forever to reach power in order to influence policy.
Nevertheless, this process of reconstructing the left is pretty complex. Left-leaning parties are burdened with their own internal problems, which are hampering their ability to play an effective political role. Despite the fact that the January 25 revolution has given the left a precious opportunity to re-envision itself, leftist politics have remained captive to a heritage of “vanguard” rhetoric and tailpiece projects. It is as if they have surrendered to state — and possibly societal — resistance to progress.
It is therefore about time that the left seizes this historical moment to engage seriously and audaciously with the new reality. There is a necessary and challenging struggle ahead in order to change our political miseries.
It is important to note here that socialism is our aspired long-term alternative to the capitalist system. We also believe that it is not a preconceived alternative, but one that will be shaped by the coming struggles against — and accompanying structural changes of — the capitalist system.
It is, nonetheless, quite unrealistic that the Egyptian left will be able to achieve these socialist aspirations alone. The issue does not lie in which socialist economic model to adopt, or in the composition of transitional policies or programs; all programs of left-leaning parties are very similar in terms of policies. The issue lies in the role that should be played by left-leaning parties and other progressive forces, especially in the midst of the enlightening context of the January 25 revolt and its reverberations.
This is the first part of a three-part series, which will be published over the coming week.