By KANEEZ FATIMA
25th of January this year marks the fourth anniversary of the start of Egypt’s popular revolution that saw the downfall of long-time dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Four years on, and one has to wonder if there is anything left to celebrate. What started as an energized grass-roots youth movement has been met with a fierce counter-revolution, gradually dismantling the ideals of the revolution.
It was not hard to be swept away the mere euphoria that erupted from Tahrir Square starting January 25th 2011. There was hope, there was determination, and most importantly, there was an awakening. No more were Egyptians going to be dictated to, no more were they going to be subjugated. The nation had collectively decided to fight for its freedom. The chants of youth demanding the downfall of the very system that had thus far repressed them and robbed them of their rights rose from Tahrir Square and reverberated throughout Egypt.
Mubarak ouster, a turning point
The stepping down of Hosni Mubarak, and his subsequent detention, marked a turning point, with many declaring the revolution victorious. The situation became precarious soon after as the revolution underwent an identity crisis. Egyptians had been united in their one goal of toppling Mubarak and holding him accountable for his wrongdoings. But once that happened, cracks emerged. Diverging interests and visions began to compete over what a democratic Egypt should be like.
Mubarak had become the very manifestation of the system the populace had risen up against. But Mubarak was just part of the problem. He was a mere poster boy for a complex governing system with various institutions and interests. This system was more than the sum of its individuals. Hence, the downfall of figures like Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, Adly Mansour, Ahmed Shafiq, and even Hussein Tantawi did little to disrupt the operations of the very corrupt structures that had denied the Egyptians their rights.
Perhaps this has been the main failing of the Egyptian revolution. It managed to remove the figurehead, while it remained business as usual behind the scenes as others were left bickering over what the true ideals of the revolution actually were. The revolution was hailed by the very same institutions, organizations and individuals that once pledged allegiance to Mubarak. This was the biggest obstacle in the path of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Throughout his short stint as president he continued to grapple with a bureaucratic system filled with Mubarak-era officials, a judiciary that was loyal to the old regime, an army that saw its interests and power being threatened by democracy, and an unconvinced segment of the population that wanted a different path for Egypt.
Quest for democracy
The tug of war that began between Morsi and the system spelled instability for Egyptians. As the country’s economic woes went from bad to worse, many wondered if the upheaval in search of democracy was worth it. The warnings of a defiant Mubarak were ringing true. He had meant stability and security, while a revolution meant uncertainty. The growing pains of a new Egypt were not very palatable anymore.
Couple a defiant Morsi’s disastrous policies to ‘preserve’ the revolution and diverging opinions over what the revolution actually meant to achieve, and the odds were stacked against him. He hadn’t brought about the economic prosperity most had hoped the revolution would usher in. Moreover, his Muslim Brotherhood had taken over parliament and he was passing legislation giving himself powers that many likened to Mubarak’s dictatorial policies. As Morsi grappled with a system that was fiercely resisting a democratic transition from within, protests erupted again in what was called a second revolution and the army was in control again.
Was Morsi set up to fail, or did he do it all by himself? The answer is perhaps more complex than the question posed. But the fact of the matter remains: A democratically elected president was removed by the Egyptian Army. With Abdel Fatah el-Sisi comfortably placed as the new face of the old regime, the small gains made since 2011 have also been overturned. There is a crackdown on journalists, protests are being banned on university campuses, the judiciary is coming down hard on Brotherhood supporters and Sisi opponents, and Mubarak is no longer accountable for the atrocities committed during the 2011 revolution.
Glimpse of hope
Has the counter-revolutionary movement succeeded though? It’s too early to say. While it may seem that most Egyptians have willingly given up their freedom in return for stability and security, protests and sporadic uprisings are also continuing. The defiance that was witnessed within the Egyptian populace can still be glimpsed at in university campuses and at the end of Friday prayers. Just on Thursday clashes were reported on the streets of Cairo as angry Egyptians took to the streets upon hearing that Hosni Mubarak’s sons have been freed from prison to await retrial on corruption charges.
The current events need to be viewed as part of Egypt’s long path and struggle toward democracy. Hosni Mubarak’s removal was just one step in this journey. More obstacles will appear and will have to be dealt with. But what is key, is the will of the people. As long as their determination to usher in a new era of freedom and democracy remains strong, and as long as they continue to learn from each setback and re-strategize, then Egypt’s future is as bright as it was the day the people converged on Tahrir Square on the 25th of January 2011.