Revolution edited: “Back when” Egypt dared to defy

Editor’s note: We found it hard to solicit pieces commemorating the January 25 revolution, mainly because we seem to have hit a certain boundary in revolutionary prose. A moment of deep ambiguity accompanies three years of thinking, doing and rethinking. But in the spirit of resisting this submission to boundaries, we went back to what our columnists wrote us at our previous publisher Egypt Independent during the 18 days of the revolution and we asked them to revisit their writings. Some wrote reaction pieces, others edited them and others rewrote them.

February 11, 2011 iswas a monumental day in history. The resilience and resolve of the Egyptian people havehad briefly shown the world how a revolutionary movement can rise up to sweep all that lies in its paththe head of state and create a newnew, albeit temporary, reality. I understand thisThis sounds like hyperbole, but the pasthyperbole because it is hyperbole. Those two weeks were not exactlyshould have been a time for conservative assessment.

With the resignation of Mubarak and the passing down of all authority to the military, the people of Egypt appeared to have forced their will against all odds and in a manner quite unexpected to most prognosticators and analysts. The revolutionaries, from computer savvy techies to bus drivers, and from housekeepers to engineers, defied colossal obstacles to achieve this decisive victory.

They defied a deeply entrenched and corrupt police system that was designed to dehumanize and instill fear in them. They defied 30 years of Emergency Law that incriminated them in even their most inalienable rights. They defied competing intelligence agencies actively concocting ways to undermine any opposition. They defied systematic torture and brutality, delivered by baton, tear gas, rubber bullet, live round, and the whip-wielding camel-rider.

The Egyptian revolution defied a matrix of regional political interests from Israeli pressure and Saudi intransigence to US equivocation. The unyielding strength of the protesters forced the US administration to undergo one of the most startling U-turns in diplomatic expression in many years. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton stated that the Egyptian government was “stable” and Vice-President Biden asserted that Mubarak was not a “dictator.” The tone would change dramatically as the Egyptian people who poured into the streets and liberated Tahrir Square in their millions renderedthe droves rendered, for a moment, the realities on the ground. For once, the Egyptian street, usually either ridiculed or lamented, erupted in a show of force at the time unparalleled in the nation’s history.

Most of all, the revolution defied definition. It was practically impossible to attribute the movement to any clear singular ideological thrust besides supporting freedom and social justice. The revolution was not advocating communism nor was it pushing for further neoliberalization. It was neither an Islamic revolution nor a secular one. The infamous Muslim Brotherhood was neither a trendsetter nor absent in the revolution’s development. Even the Iranian Republic, which saw an opportunity to benefit from the Egyptian revolution’s criticism of American complicity, could not at the time convince the revolutionaries or anyone else that this was an Islamic movement. The revolution continued despite the world conspiring against it. Only the Danish Prime Minister called for Mubarak to step down before the official announcement came through.
. Today it seems the downfall of Mubarak is an occasion for commemoration everywhere but Egypt.

The Egyptian revolution may have trumped both Malcolm Gladwell’s reluctant and depressing realism about the power of social media to create change and Clay Shirky’s hyperactive enthusiasm and technological determinism. While the revolution may have been mobilized on Facebook and Twitter, it was sustained by millionsmany who had never touched a computer in their lives. While it was the online activists that built communication bridges to the world, it was during the government-imposed five-day internet blackout that the size of demonstrations
swelled significantly.

This is a revolution that refusesrefused to submit or conform to tradition and hashad briefly resisted every kind of co-option or tarnishing. The protesters could notcan now be accused of being radical, foreign-trained operatives. They could notcan now be accused of being unruly mobs of violent thugs. They could notcan now be accused of being members of an indoctrinated group. Despite theThe regime’s stubborn attempts to undermine the revolution, it remained largely facelessrevolution have undermined its once facelessness and universaluniversality.

Despite the role of Mohammed ElBaradei, Ayman Nour, the Facebook superhero Wael Ghonim, and other notables in fomenting support for the sustained demonstrations, the revolution once asserted its independence, its democratic values and its disinterest in the cult of megalomania. Today megalomaniacal cults of personality have prevailed. It became clear from the outset and remained the case throughout that this revolution wished to be independent from any political force that may hijack it and undermined any glamorization of heroes and leaders. It is Shortly thereafter, the revolution was hijacked once by the Muslim Brotherhood and then by the military. At the time, it was a revolution that seekssought the support of the military but iswas opposed to military rule. Today the revolution wears military fatigue.

A revolution started largely by a population that just a few weeks agoprior showed their solidarity with a simple click of a “Like” on a Facebook page. Today they have becomeThey were the nucleus of a once powerful movement that hashad temporarily shattered all barriers before the Egyptian people, forcing even the most powerful institutions to buckle at a name like Khaled Said. Today Khaled Saids are a plenty and the institutions barely flinch. In just 17 days, the Egyptian revolution defied everything from tyranny and imperialism to patriarchy, tribalism, sexism, and ageism only to recreate them three years later.

It even defied the natural order of revolutions. At its height, it naively did not attempt to take over the main institutions of government and assert its triumph over the state. Rather, it simply asserted the stubbornness of human perseverance and liberty in the face of unbearable pain and agony. It naively did not try to undo the constitutional order with disorder but rather respected the need to demand change and expected that its show of force would be enough to guarantee the legitimacy of these demands. It ebbed and flowed from crescendo to trough with every call to action from the youth to every demoralizing and condescending speech from Mubarak and other government officials. The world has swayed back and forth with the protesters, each time taking a deep breath before each day or rage, redemption, departure, march of millionsmany.  

Either way you look at it, the story of the Egyptian revolution iswas exceptional. Whether you get to it through anecdotes and testimonies or through the mind-boggling numbers of protesters. The number of demonstrators in Cairo alone exceeded a million[insert dizzyingly large figure here] on more than three occasions and the total number of protesters across the country may have reached 8[insert unrealistic number here] million on one occasion–10 percent of the populationoccasion. These are numbers that eclipse both the French and the Russian RevolutionsRevolutions, and any revolution anyone can think of. The story of the revolution is a colossal media story. It is Katrina, the Chilean Miners, and the fall of the Berlin Wall all in one incredible amalgam of intrigue that reaffirms the temporary triumph of humanity followed by the disparaging humility of defeat.

For more than two weeks, we havehad listened to reluctant skeptics comment about the unlikelihood of this day, but, alas, it has come. TheyToday, we must admit theirour egregious failure to predictunderstand one of the largest popular uprisings in history. TheyWe must admit they underestimatedwe overestimated the most exuberant manifestation of the long clichéd notion of “people power” in our lifetime. The Egyptian revolution has humbled many anus all analyst and demoralized many an inspired many an observer. From learned academics to leaders of global superpowers, all have had to mincebang their words for fear that their prophecies may falterheads on the wall. Egypt has resuscitated the utility of civil disobedience only to put it to rest once more, and revived the old once-tired mantra of “viva la revolución” only to ridicule it later.
Today, the January 25 revolution is being buried alive by popular demand thanks to the utopian naiveté of the revolutionaries, the conniving brilliance of the military, the blind arrogance of the Muslim Brotherhood, the calculating patience of the former NDP cadres, and the miserable desperation of the Egyptian people.

Viva la revolución.”

The original version of this article was published here on February 12, 2011.

Adel Iskandar 

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