The Great Popular Revolution in Egypt - A New Era in the Arab World
By Dr. Tarek Omar
Lecture presented at the Eisenhower Institute, Gettysburg College, PA, March 3, 2011
The wind of change is sweeping through the Arab world as regimes long thought stable are facing popular revolutions and protests demanding greater political, social, and economic rights.
The Revolution in Egypt represents the cornerstone of this new era. Egypt, the biggest and most influential Arabic country, has enormous effect on the entire Arab world. The revolution took place following a popular uprising started January 25th, 2011 and continued until February 11th. The uprising featured a series of demonstrations, marches, acts of civil disobedience, labor strikes, and violent clashes between protesters and security services of Mubarak regime who ruled the country for 30 years. Protests took place in Cairo, and all major Egyptian cities. Millions of protesters from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds and religions demanded the overthrow of Mubarak and his regime. The youth initiated the uprising by mobilizing about 40,000 protesters in Cairo on January 25 - 27. They showed remarkable courage, strength and persistence confronting -peacefully- the oppressive security forces. Although the later, outnumbered the protesters, by large, they acted in a very provocative and brutal way by excessive use of force, tear gas, rubber bullets and even actual bullets. The partial success of the youth, encourage all other hesitant opposition parties and groups -including Muslim Brotherhood (MB)- to join the uprising on Friday January 28 and they called upon all Egyptians to join the uprising right after Friday prayer, calling that day “the Friday of Anger”. On that day, several million Egyptians -in all major cities- left mosques, after Friday prayer, right to the streets demonstrating and joining the youth; the uprising became a real popular revolution. Within four hours, the security forces were outnumbered, distracted in many locations, lost communication with their headquarters and failed to contain the demonstrators or even face them, so they completely withdrew and the demonstrators had the upper hand. Immediately, millions of protesters poured into Tahrir Square, in the heart of Cairo, kept it under their control for 18 days until they imposed their demands and Mubarak was forced to step down. Mubarak ordered the Army to take over the security in an attempt to save the deteriorating situation. The army vehicles and tanks showed up at almost all cities; however, the army behavior was friendly -and even supportive- to the protesters. The troops were protecting the people from thugs hired by the regime. Unfortunately, at least 365 deaths had been reported, and several thousand injuries. The capital city of Cairo was described as "a war zone," for 18 days. The government imposed a curfew that protesters defied and the regime was not able to enforce.
To the contrary of all previous expectations, economic demands were not the major fuel for the revolution; Egyptian protesters focused mainly on political issues. The primary demands are the end of Mubarak regime, the end of emergency law, freedom, human rights, and social justice.
International response was initially mixed, though most have called for some sort of peaceful protests and moves toward reform. The US and western reaction to the revolution was somehow affected by their concerns about the Islamist movements in Egypt, especially the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Uneven signals from most US policy makers and experts indicated significant discomfort to the idea that MB might play a role in post-revolutionary Egypt. While the right-wing media, conservative Republicans and Tea Party expressed a severe allergy and even Islamo-phobia toward the Brotherhood.
Many analysts in the west -and even inside Egypt- have shown different levels of fear about the possibility of hijacking the revolution by the Brotherhood and establishing a theocratic regime. I am not too worried about this scenario as I believe it has a slim chance; mainly for these reasons:
1. The Brotherhood did not join the revolution from the beginning; they joined it in its 4th day when it was clear that it will prevail, therefore they can never claim any leadership.
2. When they join the revolution, they soon realized that they are not a majority in the street -as Mubarak regime used to claim in order to scare the west- they represented about 25% of the demonstrators and this is why they followed the majority under the national slogans and never tried to raise their own slogans.
3. There is a major review and reforms inside the MB members (between the youth and old guards), where the youth are more interested in a modern-style Islamic vision, something close to the “Justice and Development party” in Turkey.
4. The MB (even the old guards) has denounced any terrorist acts for the last 4 decades. So, they are far more civilized and less harmful when compared with Islamic groups like Al-Qaeda, Jihadist, or Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia. These later radical groups have no chance in Egypt.
5. There is a major fundamental difference between Iran (Shiaa) and Egypt (Sunni). Among the Shiaa, the Imam (grand Islamic leader) is divine and must be obeyed; while in Sunni Islam, the Imam is a normal person.
In my opinion, the Islamic groups in Egypt don’t have a chance to establish a religious state. To be accepted in the political arena, they will have to move, as close as possible, to the Turkish or Malaysian Islamic style not the Iranian style; otherwise, no one will listen to them.
The social media is playing a major role in shaping the new era of the Arab world. Facebook, YouTube, and Satellite TV have transformed the landscape, informing people of what the rest of the world is doing and enabling protest movements and popular uprisings.
For decades, the Arabs have been on a course of misguided politics and severe corruption. Now is the time to allow talent to lead, privilege to spread and freedom to shine. Millions of youth dream of a better future, citizens are no longer scared to think and ask pivotal questions. This is not the time for observers to be cynical and suspicious of change. The people are proud and the tyrants are shamed, this is how it should be. The Egyptian Revolution, along with Tunisian revolution, has prompted a current revolution in Libya and influenced big demonstrations in many other Arab countries including Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq and Algeria.
So much has happened, so fast. In less than two months, two tyrants were swiftly deposed and the third (Gadhafi) is about to be deposed. All other rulers are reviewing their bets on the future; some are relaxing freedoms and others are compromising promises. Few leaders are introducing cosmetic change. Citizens receive money and the hungry receive bread to keep quiet.
This new era indicates many surprising “firsts”:
Political overthrow is peaceful,
Youth are organizing and leading the uprising,
Protesters are not projecting all the blame on foreign countries,
Women are playing an active role in the revolution, and finally
Mobilized crowds are exploiting national and logical symbols instead of religious ones.
Thank you very much.