Egypt’s inexorable revolution

Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Ismail Serageldin, July 17, 2013.

Egypt is once more doing things in its own unique way. After millions of Egyptians went into the streets and in 18 days that shook the world succeeded in toppling the regime of Hosni Mubarak after 30 years of rule, they came back again in their millions into the squares of Egypt and toppled Mohamed Morsi after one year of rule.   

Mohamed Morsi was Egypt’s first elected civilian president, propelled to power in free and fair elections organised by post-Mubarak military rulers after 18 months of transitional governance. The people rejoiced in the election and the handover of power from the military to Morsi on 1 July 2012. They backed him in his bid to assert civilian leadership over the military. But soon, through a series of ill-advised actions, the Morsi government seemed to most Egyptians more intent on serving the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood than on bringing the country together. The Muslim Brotherhood, and the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) it created, alienated all political factions in Egypt, even Islamists in the Salafist movement who largely share their vision of an Islamic Egypt.

Feeling blocked in their desire to change course, and some even feeling betrayed by the narrow agenda of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and FJP elite, the people felt obliged to resort to this democratic and largely peaceful tactic of collecting signatures and coming out in peaceful protest. Despite spurts of violence and the likely continuation of strife in the short term, we all hope that we will move on to create a real, inclusive and properly functioning democracy, and open a new era for Egypt and its people.




… A CAN OF TUNA: … //


This was a spectacular revolution that no one — repeat: no one — has seen the likes of. Bigger and larger than the crowds that ended the Mubarak regime, this movement, organised (again) by unknown youthful leaders, mobilised all of Egypt. The movement drew its legitimacy from individual papers signed by millions and millions of individual citizens. And on the date of the rendezvous, 30 June, the crowds were in every city, and the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters could only marshal two relatively small crowds in two squares in Cairo after bringing their followers in by bus from all the provinces. This was an unprecedented display of “people power” in largely peaceful demonstrations, holding up national flags and demands for freedom and democracy, and today, no one can say anymore (as they tried to say after the Mubarak ouster) that the huge crowds were only due to the Islamists joining the revolution.

This was no “coup”. The judges and lawyers, the army, the police, the religious leaders, including both the Coptic Pope and the Sheikh Al-Azhar (representing Sunni Muslims), civil society and most of the parties, except the FJP, as well as the artists and intellectuals, and the vast majority of journalists in the media simply rejected the Islamists and their plans for an Islamic state. And the people of Egypt refused to wait another three years to say so.

Once more, the army refused to fire on the people, and this time refused to allow any private militias to do so either. This was no coup. This was the Egyptian revolution getting its second wind, correcting its path and ensuring a new birth of freedom on this ancient land.

We can only hope that this time, we all take the time to draft a proper constitution first, and then proceed to new elections in the light of that constitution, rather than rushing to new elections while still contesting the current constitution and the way it was “rammed through”. We can only hope that supporters of the deposed president do not resort to violence to try to turn back the clock.

It is also time that all — repeat: all — Egyptians come together in national reconciliation and work together for a better future. But whatever happens, it is clear that having taken matters into their own hands twice, the Egyptian people are not willing to let anyone ignore their wishes anymore. The actions of every Egyptian in these crowds today exemplify the words of Henley’s “Invictus”:

  • It matters not how strait the gate,
  • How charged with punishments the scroll,
  • I am the master of my fate:
  • I am the captain of my soul.

The writer is director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
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