On February 3rd, 2011, the day after Mubarak ‘loyalist’ thugs rode into Tahrir Square on horses and camels and started bludgeoning the peaceful protesters camping there, I wrote: ‘If (Mubarak) stays, the events of the past ten days will be referred to as "the uprising of January 2011"; if he goes, we will talk of a revolution. We owe it to these brave young protesters to make it the latter.’
Today, ominously, there are more and more references to
‘revolt’ in the media; just this morning, the New York Times referred to ‘ ’s postrevolt politics.’ Ironically, the context was an article about the reconvening of the first
democratically-elected Egyptian parliament, after sixty years of what effectively
amounted to one-party rule; at the behest of the first democratically-elected
president in the first contested presidential election, after sixty years of
yes/no referendums on the incumbent that invariably returned the sitting
president with an incredible 90% plus approval. Egypt
True, there is controversy over the eligibility, under Mubarak-era rules, of Muslim Brotherhood candidates to run for one third of the seats they won. But even an observer like myself, dismayed by the sweep of the legislative and executive by Islamist candidates, must admit that vox populi had spoken.
True also that the election of the president turned out to be not the end but the beginning of an intensification of the tug of war between the civilian president and the military establishment. Those who object to the
Constitutional Court ruling that invalidated
one third of the seats point out that the Generals made a power grab by
dissolving Parliament under the cover of a ruling by the Mubarak-appointee
court. Others, like Mubarak-opposition leader Mohamed Baradei, uphold the authority
of the Court on the principle of ‘a government of laws, not of men.’ This
brings to my mind the parallel with the Bush/Gore impasse of 2008, when Vice
President Gore bowed to the higher authority of the courts, regardless of the
widespread criticism of their role at the time.
So democracy is messy, even in the country that prides itself on being the city on the hill. Democracy, as we understand the concept today, evolved over centuries in specific contexts that, until recently even in the West, did not include women, colored persons or the uneducated. In a country with Egypt’s rate of illiteracy, where a vast swath of the disaffected, disenfranchised masses turned to religion as ‘the solution’, is it any surprise that the outcome of the first free elections disappointed the ideals of the secular-minded young liberals who originally launched the January 25th revolution?
But that does not negate the fact that it was a revolution, not a mere revolt. To suggest otherwise is to insult the memory of the young idealists who suffered, sacrificed, and died by the thousand to break the cycle of fear and autocracy, once and for all.