“This is a revolution, not a party”
Posted on January 26, 2012
One of the most frequently stressed aspects of Egypt’s fractious and flawed transition to democracy is that Islamist parties have gained the most from the revolution. With two-thirds of the People’s Assembly vote going their way, governments and commentators from the Western Hemisphere have been vocal in the need for administrations across the world to support a Muslim Brotherhood/Al-Noor led parliament. We will support the Islamists, the caveat always runs, as long as their power is representative of public opinion. It has been an awkward shift for major players such as the US to undertake, with the realisation that Islamism is not diametrically opposed to democracy. Islamists love democracy in Egypt; they win.
In the run up to the anniversary of Jan. 25, much has been made of the way that Egypt is apt to be governed by an Islamist majority, one that has always, even under oppression, most closely accommodated the needs of civilians, be that through social provision or pastoral guidance. On the other side of the coin, features have ran on how the revolutionaries – a nebulous and troublesome term within itself – feel betrayed due to their demands not being met. Fine, Egypt may have a corollary of democratic executive power, but under Emergency Law and the threat of military trials, it is hardly Sweden.
Poverty and corruption, two pillars railed against during the 18 days, have increased in a year. The economic situation is deteriorating at a frightening rate; Egypt has frittered away more than half of its foreign currency reserve in 12 months and tens of millions of civilians are in danger of falling into extreme poorness.
The success or failure of 2011 depends, as ever, on who you ask. The diverging narratives that have emerged – variously, that Egypt needs to get back on its feet and the MB, in cooperation with the Army and its vast business interests (albeit back in its barracks) are the right people for the job; or, that while Mubarak may have departed, his brutal regimen of repression and nepotism has not – are distant, but not necessarily irreconcilable.
If we are to decide where the weight of public opinion falls – however inexact a science that may be – a good place to start might be yesterday, where more than a million people took to the streets of Cairo to mark the revolution’s anniversary.
The differing commemorative approaches by groups were marked, and more than merely symbolic. The MB erected a huge stage in the middle of the square, and its supporters monopolised a large portion of Tahrir early on in the day. Marches organised by various other factions deliberately started from geographically diverse locations, before making their way to the historic plaza.
For the MB, positioning themselves in the middle of Tahrir was a show of tenure, a consolidation of the gains they had made through due democratic process. For others, the marches across Cairo was a display of diversification, of harnessing disparate support from outside of Tahrir, both to counter the accusation that their popular support is limited to a small faction of tent dwellers and protestors and to perpetuate momentum complementary to their cause.
As tens of thousands of marchers – be they revolutionary or liberal, or espousing any other ideology – crossed Qasr al-Nil bridge, the two groups came together. Chants of “this is a revolution, not a party” erupted from the crowd, directed not only at the SCAF and its declaration that Jan. 25 would be a celebration but also at the MB, who, given their gains in recent months, might well have been in the mood for celebration.
For all the imagery produced by shots of a million or more in Tahrir a year on from the start of the revolution, the positioning and movement of different groups produced yesterday’s sharpest metaphor. The MB got their first – they were organised and have occupied a position of wide public – and electorally corroborated – support. The ‘revolutionaries’ were late to the party, in terms of the democratic process birthed by Mubarak’s ousting, and continue to mobilise to fight for their cause(s).
Of course, there are overlaps. Virtually everyone agrees that the rule of SCAF should end; it is the timing and manner of this where opinions differ. Political parties and the support they enjoy are unanimous that economic stability is paramount for Egypt’s future, but there are several takes on how this might be achieved.
In a way, the fact that yesterday’s turnout was so gigantic was significant enough within itself. It could be argued that people taking to the streets at all is more important than the reasons they had for doing so. But with motivation so entirely various, the tension between those who feel they’ve won the game and those who insist we’re still playing is not going away.