, by SYED MUSAB IQBAL
He was taking me to Tahrir Square in his white cab. ‘It’s still close, sir,’ he exclaimed. You were there in the revolution, I asked him. ‘Yes, and who was not’ he asked with a smile. ‘But now it’s over and people should go back’ (pointing to those who were protesting at Tahrir and in front of Majlis till the last crackdown occurred).
Tahrir is an open space, often said to be the only open space in jam-packed Cairo. But now it is not just a physical space rather transformed into a space for expression and symbol of revolution. The Arab spring started from Tunisia, where a vendor set himself on fire as he was tired of daily torture triggering the revolt, while in Egypt the brutal killing of Khaled Said – a common Egyptian by the police marked the beginning of demand. Although only two of these countries succeeded in toppling the regime while others are still struggling and the ‘spring’ is getting bloodier with time.
The Egyptian revolution is very significant for multiple reasons. The claim of a space which became the heart of revolution and turned into a strong signifier for protest, expression and change while many other countries failed to find that space and hence an integral point.
The capability of Egypt and Tahrir to be self-organised is a very essential aspect. The people moved, gathered, chanted, fought and showed resilience under no banner, no ideology and no single leadership and showed a tremendous capability to self-organise and seek position and ground according to one’s own capability. ‘No one invited me here. I came by myself. And did what I was capable of,’ said an activist who helped the injured during the revolution.
One can say that women were the backbone of this revolution. They played a fantastic and historic role in this great historic event and contributed equally and gave sacrifice of all kind. And as Alaa Al Aswany, a famous public intellectual, argues, ‘You could see the difference between the Egyptians in Tahrir Square from the 25th to 11th. You see two million people, one third of them are females, and not one single sexual harassment. You have everybody, the rich people and the poor people. The mood was very liberal. When the time for prayer came, the people who don’t pray gave space for the people who pray.’
The women participation is very eclectic and dynamic till date. When the last clash began in mid of December last, women were equally targeted and became the victim of police brutality in broad daylight. The reaction from the women then again was very profound and solid. Thousands of them marched on Tahrir as a mark of protest and hundreds and hundreds protested in cities like Alexandria.
This is just not because they are women but above all they feel an Egyptian in them as a protester Noha El-Khouly says, “I came because I oppose violence against women; because I oppose violence against any Egyptian”.
The revolution also brought the high moral values into public sphere, and, as many argue, it gave birth to new morality. In November last people came on road for those who suffered, which were deserted without compensation and they were ready to face all kind of odds. Over forty of them lost their eyes and revolutionary Ahmed Harara lost both as the first eye was sacrificed in January and then the other became a prize of revolution in November but his spirit to fight never died.
In Mohammad Mahmood Street whose name was replaced by revolutionaries to ‘Eyes of Freedom Street’ witnessed fierce clashes and naked brutality of policemen and snipers leaving hundreds injured and many blind.
This revolution has kindled a beacon of dreams, audacity and spirit of struggle in the youth. All those men who once used to dream only of marrying and living a better life now find themselves in a passionate aspiration to fight for freedom, dignity and better Egypt.
The revolution’s one moment is over but it is along road to go as Gustav Le Bon argues, ‘The true revolutions, those which transform the destinies of the people, are most frequently accomplished so slowly that the historians can hardly point to their beginnings.’
While in this long journey Egypt looks divided in three popular views. While the common man feels that the revolution is over and election is a blessing and the country should move on. The driver continued saying ‘its finish, its over, khalas.... now we should focus on building new Egypt’; he was not unique in this thinking. Many among the commoners share the same feeling.
Political actors and parties are certainly different and they want to take as much advantage of this election as they can. As an analyst says that parties like Muslim Brotherhood take it as a historical opportunity, they are aware that in future there will be conflict with SCAF and with the remnants of old regime but they want to go ahead with the election and believe that once parliament is formed the problems will be reduced consequently. While the army has changed its position and behaviour since the election and wants to control the parliament, constitution-making process and guardianship of the state, inviting tension and conflict with the political parties. In the recent course of event Muslim Brotherhood has directly taken on the army, saying, “The SCAF has no intention of abiding by democracy or the will of the people… The party with a majority in Parliament has the right to choose the members of the constitutional assembly who will write the new constitution.” (The Egyptian Gazette, Dec. 11)
The opinion which today might not form a majority is of revolutionaries, intellectuals and members of civil society of whom many don’t believe in this election, highly critical of SCAF and feel that it is mere extension of the Mubarak regime. Some of them were continuing their protest demanding compensation for the victims, convicting the culprits and a more neutral PM hence blocking the gate of Ministry office for PM. One of the foremost demands included early presidential election. One of the important members of civil society and ex-advisor to Ministry of IT Dr. Hazem feels that the only way out to resolve the crisis is early presidential election. The problem here is that this group of people has become a kind of minority and a disconnect is developing between them and the common people. And intellectuals like Alaa Al Aswany believe that the ‘revolution must continue’ till people get freedom, dignity and bread. For many things have not changed and just the faces are replaced while in terms of demand nothing has been met.
The Tahrir has inspired many other protests and gave a new form to struggle. The street protest has gained a new meaning, value and ground from the Midan of Tahrir delivering a confidence to common man to fight for freedom, dignity and rights.