One night in Tahrir Square, during the revolution, I lit a cigarette and threw the empty box on the floor. An old lady came up and warmly greeted me. She identified herself as one of my readers and complemented my writings. I thanked her, but she suddenly stared at me and said: “Please pick this box up off the floor.” I was embarrassed. I bent down and picked up the empty box. “Throw it away where the garbage belongs,” she continued.
I did as she said and returned to her, like a guilty child. She smiled and said: “We're now building another Egypt. It has to be clean.”
This is one of many impressive incidents I experienced during the revolution. At one point, when were chanting to bring down Mubarak, a young man full of energy yelled perniciously against Suzanne Mubarak, the ex-president’s wife. The crowds immediately stopped him, insisting that they were demanding their rights and were not in the business of insulting others. Over the course of three weeks, there was not a single incident of sexual harassment or theft, even as one million people gathered in a single square. For the first time ever, protesters cleaned up the square where they had sat-in after their demands were met.
Why did the revolution bring out such refined behavior among Egyptians? In truth, the revolution is a great human accomplishment. Revolutions bring the out best in people and rid them of their most unethical practices. When people revolt, the threats they confront for the sake of their freedom and dignity immediately transform into better human beings. Revolutionaries constantly assert that they value freedom more than they value their lives.
The question is whether all Egyptians have participated in the revolution. The answer is a simple no. No revolution has ever included an entire population. Today, Egyptians fall into one of five groups vis-à-vis the revolution.
The first group is the revolutionaries themselves. These are the most noble people in Egypt. They revolted for the sake of freedom and they paid an exorbitant price for their country. Figures leaked from the Ministry of Health indicate that over 800 people died during the revolution and more than 1200 young men lost their sight as a result of tear gas. Thousands are still missing, some of whom may be martyrs. These great sacrifices are what motivate the makers of this revolution to insist on achieving all their demands. United by the experience of the revolution, these people have overcome a barrier of fear. Their political awareness is high, which allows them to make the right decisions.
Second are the spectators of the revolution. These are Egyptians who have suffered for many years under Mubarak’s unjust regime, but who were never ready to make sacrifices for their rights. They were preoccupied with their survival and the concerns of daily life. The most they could do was to complain, and hope for God to bestow upon them a good reformer. The revolution took the spectators by surprise; they did not participate in it and were content to just watch on television. They also vacillated between acceptance and rejection of the revolution. Initially, were misled by state-run media into believing that the revolutionaries were hired agents As the martyrs’ toll increased, however, the spectators began to sympathize with the revolution. But they were moved by Mubarak’s plea to die in his country.
The camel charge into Tahrir, on 2 February, and the ensuing attack on protesters caused the spectators to change switch sides again and support the revolution. The spectators want change so long as it costs them nothing. They want democracy without incurring any personal losses or changes to their lives. Psychologically, and intellectually, they live in the pre-revolutionary period.
Third are the counter-revolutionaries. These are Egyptians who realize that the revolution will do away with their fortunes and might lead to their trial and imprisonment. They come from diverse social backgrounds and professions and include ex-ministers, prominent businessmen from the ex-ruling party, state security officers, corrupt media figures, and small bribe-takers, among others. All these people insist on undermining the accomplishments of the revolution. They were comfortable with Shafiq, Mubarak’s devoted student, being prime minister. During Shafiq’s one month in office, not a single police officer was put on trial on charges on of killing protesters. Instead, the Interior Minister at the time, Mahmoud Wagdi, commended state security officers for performing their “national duties.”
When the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolved Shafiq’s cabinet and appointed a new revolutionary government, headed by Essam Sharaf, counter-revolutionaries started to feel threatened. The next day, they began destroying documents. State security officers disappeared and left their offices in order to incite chaos. They tried to sow tensions between the military and the revolutionaries and put pressure on Egyptian spectators, leading the latter to despise the revolution for the disruption, chaos and the lack of security that it caused. These factors would then be used as an excuse to adopt exceptional measures that would bring back the old regime.
Fourth is the Muslim Brotherhood, who participated with courage in the revolution, much like the rest of the Egyptian people. The Brotherhood’s youth played a heroic role in protecting protesters from attacks by the police and thugs. But the group suffers a chronic discrepancy—which has been the case throughout its history--between its deeply ethical membership and its leaders. Most Brotherhood members are good individuals, but their leaders place the interest of the organization above all else. As a result, the Brotherood has consistently taken positions against democracy and has supported all of Egypt’s autocratic leaders, starting with King Faruq. The Islamist group went against a national consensus and participated in Mubarak’s last parliamentary election, as well as in a dialogue with Omar Soliman—who sought to improve the regime’s image by sitting with token members of the opposition--during the revolution. The Brotherhood is now repeating its mistakes by standing with the National Democratic Party in supporting the proposed amendments to the Egyptian constitution, despite the fact that it understands such amendments will obstruct democracy and invalidate the gains of the revolution. The Brotherhood leadership supports the amendments because the movement will gain more seats in the People’s Assembly if elections are held quickly, a possibility they value more than anything else.
Finally, there is the Egyptian Armed Forces. The revolution would not have succeeded if it were not for the willingness of the army to side with the Egyptian people against a corrupt regime. Despite this, however, there are several unanswered questions about the role of the armed forces:
- What is the legal status of the deposed President Hosni Mubarak? Is he retired, or under house arrest? Does he have the right to use presidential palaces? When will he be tried for crimes that he committed against the Egyptian people? Why have his most important aides, such as Safwat al-Sherif, Zakaria Azmy and Fathi Sorour, not been legally pursued?
- The army is undoubtedly aware of the criminal activities that the State Security apparatus has engaged in over the decades, including detentions, torture, rape, and spying on citizens. Some State Security officers have been put on trial, a positive step, but most remain free and out of sight. These officers will do whatever they can to incite tensions and chaos, and they possess all the necessary tools to do so: weapons, experience, money, and agents. The burning of state documents, sectarian tensions, protests by Copts and Salafis, are all minor preludes to what remnants of the State Security apparatus are capable of doing in Egypt. Why does the military not use the Emergency Law to arrest state security offices and put them on trial?
- After Mubarak stepped down, a slew of “factional” were raised across Egypt. The primary reason for this is that many of those who hold positions of power in ministries, agencies, and universities, are corrupt and complicit with the Mubarak regime. Since many of these demands are legitimate, why does the SCAF not form a committee of independent judges to look into these complaints and refer cases to the general prosecutor? This is the only way to stop these protests. People must be assured that justice will prevail, even if not immediately.
- Why is the military rushing to end the transitional period? The common answer is that the military wants to finish this difficult task as soon as possible in order to resume its main task of securing the country. This argument is both reasonable and acceptable. But it would have been better to adopt the proposal, presented by legal experts, to appoint a presidential council composed of both civilian and military members to govern Egypt during the interim period. This would allow political parties sufficient time to organize themselves and ensure that parliamentary elections reflect the will of the people.
- It is common knowledge that a constitution is invalidated when the regime is represents falls. It is thus unclear why the military insists on patching up the old constitution. All political forces (with the exception of the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party) have rejected the constitutional amendments. What then is the point of insisting on these amendments and how will a referendum be held amid the deteriorating security situation? Why not follow the advice of constitutional law specialists to formulate a constitutional declaration and elect a constituent assembly to write a new constitution that reflects the will of the people? If the answer is that the security situation does not allow for elections, then the same could be said about the referendum. If we are capable of holding a referendum on the amendments, we are undoubtedly capable of holding elections for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution.
These legitimate questions certainly do not diminish our appreciation for the great role the armed forces have played. But Egypt is going through a critical moment, one that requires us to speak honestly, so that our country embarks on the future that it deserves.
Democracy is the solution.