Egyptian Society is Preparing for the Next Phase: Democracy
In Egypt today, torture is common in prisons, the authorities rely heavily on security forces and power institutions are still being manipulated. Does this spell the failure of the 2011 revolution that ended president Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in power?
It is well-known that any ruler placed in power by a revolution will not rule democratically. If that ruler decides to exercise democracy, he or she will usually fail. If, on the other hand, this ruler happens to belong to the previous regime or to the revolutionaries or is an independent, the result would be the same.
Nobody thinks of democracy when the seat of power is shaking. We have seen it happen in the French revolution, the Russian revolution, the Iranian revolution and many others.
Let’s go now to the streets where the revolutionary flame still burns vividly. It is true that there are no demonstrations or confrontations with the security forces. Rather, it looks like the Egyptians have chosen to confront their obscured and obscure past, traditions and way of life instead.
In a revolution, everything is questioned. The revolution touches all aspects of one’s life, the economic and social as well as the constitutional, intellectual and religious. Ten years from now, all of those dimensions would have changed.
Who would have thought that Egyptian society would quietly swallow the floating of the Egyptian pound and the unprecedented inflation? Nevertheless, that is what has happened. I have never witnessed anywhere else in the world this strange acceptance of the necessity for economic reforms.
I was in Egypt when that happened. I was stunned when my taxi driver told me that he had decided to bear it and remain calm because he wanted to “preserve the country”. A vendor swore to me that he cannot stand the current regime but was willing to bide his time out of “fear for the fate of the country”.
The Egyptian revolution is at a standstill because a bunch of people decided to bring back to life old political reflexes for the sake of the country. The resulting oppressive and slow-moving reality will eventually come to an end. In the meantime, the social masses are readying themselves for the inevitable political changes. Today, people are re-examining everything they held to be true.
Nobody in Egypt had dreamt that one day the country would have a constitution of the calibre of the new one. Eventually, governments will change and the Egyptians will taste the sweet rewards of their new constitution.
Before the revolution, Egyptian women silently endured conjugal violence, sexual harassment in the street and even rape. Nobody really spoke of these taboo subjects. After the revolution, the taboos have disintegrated to an extent unfamiliar to the usually conservative Egyptians. Today, any young women can go on television and denounce her father’s incestuous practices or describe the horror of being kidnapped at night and repeatedly raped by a gang of thugs or just speak of the son she gave birth to after being raped.
Since time immemorial, Egyptians have been religious but recently they have been sifting through their religious heritage, which has been contaminated by radical thinking. Egyptians are tolerant by nature but, over some years now, a thick layer of extremist ideologies has been built around this trait. Paradoxically, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt unknowingly brought about the beginnings of the social revolution.
Once Egyptians realised that Salafist ideologies do not represent them, calls for re-examining and revising religious discourse were heard. Those who read Farag Fouda or Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid were far from imagining that ideas put forth by these intellectuals would someday be at the centre of the legitimacy of the government. The brave researcher and reformist Islam Behery would not have enjoyed his tremendous popularity were it not for the timing of his appearance on the public scene. It happened when the Egyptians were taking a critical look at themselves.
Today, atheists, homosexuals and alcohol consumers need no longer hide behind high walls to enjoy their freedom. Girls are taking off their hijabs without guilt or social pressure and parents’ authority is no longer sacred.
Today, the generation gap in Egypt is at its fullest. The revolution has widened the gap between a generation brought up believing that wearing the hijab is part of being moral, that Sahih al-Bukhari is the second holy book after the Quran and the entire world conspires against Egypt and another generation believing none of that.
There is, however, a real counter-revolution opposed to these changes. Al-Azhar University, for example, wants journalist Ahmed al-Khatib sent to jail for daring to reveal corruption inside the venerable institution. In reality, he revealed more than corruption. He showed how deeply entrenched was political Islam inside the educational and religious institution. Before the revolution, al-Azhar was untouchable.
Today, revisionists such as Khatib, Behery, Ahmed Nagy, Fatima Naoot and Ibrahim Eissa enjoy wide acceptance in a society weary of Salafists and their demagogy.
Egyptian society is preparing for the next phase: Democracy. In Tunisia, the West was able to convince the population that switching to democracy can happen overnight. The result was an unhealthy cleavage with the Islamists laying hands on society and the economy and figures from the old regime dominating the political scene. Tunisia will continue to suffer from this cleavage for a long time.
The same cannot happen in Egypt. Here is an ancient country where the state apparatus has been in place and functioning uninterrupted for 5,000 years. No popular uprising can overturn Egypt. The revolution was simmering since 2008 and erupted three years later. Its fruits are slowly ripening. The Egyptian society will eventually enjoy them, Egyptian-style, of course.
Ahmed Abou Douh is an Egyptian writer. His article was translated and adapted from the Arabic and was initially published by the London-based Al Arab newspaper.
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