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Egypt and the black hole - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A university spokesman, who studied Middle Eastern affairs at one of America’s universities, said “don’t ask me about what direction the Arab Spring and the situation in Egypt will take, because from the beginning we did not expect this [to happen]. For years, we believed that the [political] situation must change, but we did not foresee what happened.” The spokesman added “for long years, Egypt – despite all the indications to the contrary – was like the black hole that is known in astrophysics, it attracts everything and nothing can escape it…to the point that we thought of reducing the number of programs related to studies specializing in Egypt after the issue became monotonous.”

This statement summarizes the prevailing state of anxiety and confusion in the region with regards to the successive developments that have taken place. We have seen Egypt moving from a state of dormancy and stagnancy with officials remaining in their positions for decades and the situation resembling that of clogged arteries, to the implosion and collapse of the regime – which surprised everybody – culminating in Egypt moving to a state of complete fluidity, with a number of surprising events taking place within a short period of time. We have seen strikes and million-man marches, a government working under extreme pressure, trials [of members of the former regime], tales of corruption that beggar belief, and minister being replaced after just weeks in office. This is not to mention the deafening political dialogue that is taking place and which is accompanied by loud shouting by everybody participating in this, from ordinary citizens, left-wing political figures, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists, and the revolutionaries, in addition to old established political powers and the newly established political power of the youth.

Contrary to the belief that was established during the previous period of [political] inertia or stagnancy, namely that [Egyptian] society fears change, a quick look at the history of Egypt gives the complete opposite impression. There have been many revolutions in this society; they are akin to volcanoes that erupt intermittently, surprising us by spewing lava, however the process leading to this [eruption] takes place underground and is unseen. Egypt has witnessed 3 great revolutions in less than 100 years: the 1919 revolution, the 1952 [Free Officers] revolution, and now the 25 January [2011] revolution. In comparison, France has only seen one great revolution; however this was the mother of all revolutions, and has influenced all modern revolutions. This is not to mention the dozens of protests and uprisings that occurred during the republican era of Egypt [post-1952], including the 1968 protests, the protests in the 1970s (year of the fog protests), the January 1977 protests, and finally the unrest in the 1980s. With regards to most of these events, there were certain features that preceded them and which indicated that an explosion would be forthcoming. Anybody observing the situation in Egypt over the past two years – which saw an increase in the instances of strikes and unrest indicating that the issue had reached the end of the road – would have been able to predict that the situation in the country would, in time, reach boiling point.

Revolutions are political actions that indicate that society has not been able to put in place a political system that it believes can smoothly bring about changes through the institutes of society, according to the desires of the people, which therefore does not necessitate them taking to the street in order to impose their will and change the regime.

This is what happened with regards the 25 January revolution in Egypt, which most resembles the 1919 countrywide revolution. It is also similar to the 1952 revolution in that the military took part in this; however the difference is that in this instance the military was not the instigator of the revolution, but rather its protector.

This is a historic opportunity to shape the foundations of a regime, and put in place a new social contract, that will have the ability to implement [political] development and change smoothly through institutions that enjoy the trust of the public, and which contain mechanisms that allow a healthy political dialogue. It will be one of the greatest historical tragedies of modern times if we do not take advantage of this opportunity.

As for the current situation, there are two trends within Egyptian society. The first trend is afraid of the [political] gains achieved by the revolution being squandered, and is skeptical of everything. They are complaining of the slow response to the people’s demands, and are exerting pressure to ensure that the objectives of the revolution are implemented. As for the second trend, they are concerned about the lack stability, and the manifestations of this instability, namely the strikes and protests taking place [in post-revolutionary Egypt]. This is a natural state of affairs in such situations [post-revolution], and both sides are correct to have their misgivings. However there must be a meeting-point between these two extremes upon which everybody must focus, namely the form of the future state or republic, and how to arrive at this future as quickly as possible without wasting time on marginal issues. In this regard, a number of political powers [in Egypt] put forward the idea of constitutional or guiding principles, and this was adopted by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in its latest statement. This represents a project that – if implemented – would represent an important leap forward with regards to preparing the political arena for elections, and allow the political powers to correctly read the [political] situation in Egypt.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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