The chair of the committee tasked with rewriting the Egyptian constitution reflects on the birth of a new regime.
|The popular movement that toppled Hosni Mubarak lacked an organisational leadership [REUTERS]|
This is the fifth revolution in the history of modern Egypt since the 19th century.
The first revolution was the one that toppled Mohammed Ali. The second is of Ourabi in 1880. The third was in 1919. The fourth was in 1950. The fifth revolution is the present one of January 2011.
Of all the revolutions, four of them were a partnership between the people and the military.
All the people of Egypt agreed that these revolutions were effective, in the sense that they were rejecting a regime that governed them and were looking forward to adjusting the system.
We notice that the only revolution in which the army was not involved was the 1919 revolution. This is attributed to the fact that the army was absent; it was in Sudan, away from the political events in Egypt.
So in other words, the only successful Egyptian revolution is where there was no effect or influence of the army in participating in or protecting it – where the Egyptian army was away from the events in Egypt in Sudan. That is the 1919 revolution.
What we notice when we read the history of Egypt is the army was actually going along with the revolution in Egypt – and in this fifth revolution, which we are witnessing now, it came out to the streets after the withdrawal of the police on January 28.
The Egyptian army was actually supporting this movement and protecting public installations and buildings and protecting the movement of the people instead of resisting or oppressing it. And the army that came onto the streets was actually supporting the movement and no single bullet was shot at the time.
But there was a major and clear difference between the events of the July 23, 1952 revolution and the events of 2011. In the 1952 revolution, there was actually a coherency to the peoples’ movement. There, people shared a unified demand for the withdrawal of British forces from Egypt. At the time, the revolutionary force came from the army, and that decided the political battle against the regime of the time.
If we look at the events of the period between 1951 and 1952, we find that the popular movement – partisan and non-partisan – had an important force against the king and royal system. The momentum increased, but the popular movement to remove the royal system and there was the fire in Cairo at the time. The army came on July 23 to carry out this revolutionary act believing in its values and was supported by the people. So the main act supported by the people was carried out by the army in 1952, whilst the partner was the people in supporting that main action of the revolution.
On January 25, there was a major difference. The revolutionary action was by the popular youth movement, which suffered 150 deaths and more than 5,000 injured.
In the first three days of the revolution, before the police disappeared from the streets leaving a state of insecurity, and before the army took over the task of security, the army actually protected government buildings and responded to the movement with a great deal of understanding and coherence.
It would seem from this revolution that the main action was not by the army but the people. The great momentum they generated was surprising, along with the determination and resolve of the people, as well as the cumulative effect of toppling the regime.
The army was merely supporting; but the main actor was the people, and the army was the partner, facilitator and supporter of the people. It would seem from this that the popular movement had the precedence in toppling the regime of Hosni Mubarak, but did not have the leadership.
The absence of organisation
Although the popular movement was the one that toppled the leadership of Hosni Mubarak, it did not have the organisational, institutional leaderships to take over power and replace the deposed president.
There were official parties that were recognised by the regime, but they were very weak and could not formulate a main part in stirring the revolution or leading the revolutionaries or organising them. There were some intellectual leaders who were known for their patriotism, especially in the last seven years of Mubarak’s regime, and made good contributions in the revolution that we witnessed on the streets.
But all those leaders did not have any organisational links with the popular movement itself and would have no role in organising it.
There were some protests and popular movements organised by factory workers, civil servants and other groups over the past seven years, but numbered only in the hundreds during their protests and sit-ins. They had various demands, from economic grievances – wages and employment – to political ones related to freedom and the release of detainees.
That related to the idea of coming out – of demonstrating, the culture of demonstrations, and the culture of protesting. And this was on-going in Egypt before January 25. But the main event was on January 25. All those movements were scattered and separated, they were sporadic – that was the situation before the revolution
I saw something very important here. The revolution, with its masses, increasing numbers, defiance of the will of Hosni Mubarak, the awareness of the objectives and demands of the Egyptian people, its collective intelligence, its ability to escalate the political situation and its adherence to its objectives and peaceful nature, defied the authority that practiced oppression and killing. It distinguished between friend and foe, and we witnessed it ourselves with our own eyes.
But it had no single organisational leadership that was expressing its will, that was speaking on its behalf. The revolutionary sense was the dominant one and led to a spontaneous response from the masses without any organisational leadership. The lack of leaders organising the masses also had a positive effect – it analysed the ability of Mubarak, of the regime and its ability to use oppression against people.
What contributed to the success of the revolution is the great ability of the Egyptian people in one revolutionary state, to have a common sense of revolution. That sense, the Egyptian sense of responding to the revolution, is very useful, and replaced the organisational links in steering the people.
But all of this was one thing, and another thing that is important for a political authority to be toppled and be replaced by another, this deep sense of coherence and common cause had its effect in steering people and moving them. Now we are talking about the condition of a state that needs to be toppled. This is where it is easy because the sentiment of civil riot, which was widespread, made it possible to paralyse the government completely, and if this takes place the regime would fall. This is impossible, to take the reins of power when you have no strong organisation.
The revolution has an eventual aim, which is to seize the reins of power. It is impossible to have an institutional vacuum, because the authority is, at the end of the day, an institution, and there needs to be an organisational entity. This is why the official parties were not capable because they were not holding the reins of the revolution and the evolving organisational institutions will not be able to do that.
There was eager anticipation for the organisational action of a powerful institution in the few days preceding Mubarak’s departure from power. The Egyptian army tried to fill the vacuum on February 10, 2011. The 10th of February – not the 11th of February. The supreme council of the armed forces without the chairmanship of Hosni Mubarak – and Hosni Mubarak was the supreme leader of the armed forces. To protect the gains of the army, the ambitions of this revolutionary objective related to toppling the regime. That took place on February 10, 2011 and shows that the state was practicing authority outside the institutions of the constitution of 1971, because the supreme council was not of those institutions stated in the constitution that issues political decisions or takes political action.
The political authority was transferred by means of the revolution, and the supreme council convened without the leader, issuing the first political communiqué, announced to the people on the evening of February 10, 2011. When that communiqué came out, people were congratulating each other because it was a transfer of power – temporarily, but this is a different matter, but the state actually dispensed with the president.
The authority was transferred to the supreme council, the armed forces. The political authority was transferred by the legitimacy of the revolution and the army proved that it was holding the reins of power and was the legitimate ruler when Hosni Mubarak gave power to the army.
A communiqué was issued at the time to determine the nature of the authority; the nature of the body that has helped the reins of power; and its constitutional position. There was a communiqué stating that the supreme council of armed forces will hold power for six months and suspend the constitution. That communiqué meant that the supreme council will be in place of the president for six months, and the constitution is not abolished but suspended. There was going to be amendments of its articles. Then a communiqué was issued dissolving the parliament, the people’s assembly and the council to the legislative authority of Egypt. There were actually serious accusations of rigging before that.
This means that the supreme council would actually overtake the authority of those two councils and chambers as well as of parliament during this transitional period, which is estimated to be six months.
As we know, any constitution has general provisions about the rights of its citizens and freedoms, and then there are some provisions about the local governments – the two institutions of the executive and the legislative authorities.
So the supreme council was actually undertaking that role and announced elections in a more democratic fashion within the allocated six months. We know that the two institutions which were practicing the political action and making decisions were the presidency and the council of the general assembly. The first was toppled and the other two chambers were dissolved, so the supreme council was undertaking all the authority during the transitional period for those two institutions to be re-established in a democratic fashion in order to resume authority.
Thus, elections would take place for those institutions to be re-established, and then the people would take part in a referendum about the amended constitution in order to have a new constitution which reflects the political situation in Egypt after the revolution.
What has the revolution achieved?
The other point that I wanted to talk about is what happened? Everything I mentioned about the revolution’s transfer of authority has another question about what it has achieved and what it is expecting to achieve.
We could say that what emanated from the revolution was a number of political results which I think have become very clear and have been achieved in the main. The first is that these results, which involved toppling Hosni Mubarak and his family, ended any possibility of transfer of power to his son. And with the organisational and political aspect left the question now to talk about the authority of the state and the fall of the president himself meant that the state has changed, or that it was seriously going to change.
Also many of the figures of the regime have been removed and also the supporters of Gamal Mubarak, Mubarak’s son. This category of people were actually controlling the state for the past years with the support, blessing and protection of the president himself. Their influence was increasing gradually and they actually controlled the political system during those years. There was a vacuum for them and they managed to control and hold all the reins of power during those years before the revolution. That was the first example of those exercising power and the supporters of the president. This was the main result.
The second result was the political activism which managed to remove the political power of the police and removed the police, not in terms of its function of protecting but of its function of using its role which had increased over the past 20 years or so over the rule of Hosni Mubarak and the Egyptians know that several institutions of the state was still subjected to the authority of the police. The influence of the police permeated all of the institutions. This activism brought back the armed forces to the right position.
The third result, had this revolutionary act which brought forth a new generation of young people and put that generation, the top of the life in Egypt’s political scene and that generation will have an impact on the few in the next months and years.
Why do youth movements emerge?
I have tried in previous studies to monitor the movements of young people since the beginning of the 20th century. It seemed to me in this study about youth movements in the 20th century that the emergence of parties is obvious because it represents manifestoes and programmes, or economic concerns. It is known how parties emerge, and particular tribal affiliations. These affiliations actually lead to the emergence of parties expressing the interests of certain groups.
But when the youth movement emerges, and for its emergence to increase in Egypt over 20 years, then that poses a question – why do they emerge?
The emergence of youth movements happens when new objectives appear in society, new physical and social objectives that never emerged before. New challenges in society, that would require responses that never existed before and these objectives were unprecedented. That would lead to the emergence of youth movements expressing that political or social element that never existed before, that was new to the institutions of the state.
Youth movements emerge if the institutional groupings are able to express new emerging needs, or urgent demands. And this inability to be attributed to oppression of a previous historical period, in these circumstances, a youth movement emerges outside the frameworks of the present institutions and draws attention to the large numbers and their ability and activism. And through their existence, it actually marks the emergence of new institutions that will have impact over the future years.
Some of these youth movements were characteristic and appeared at a time when there were no revolutions. We witnessed the youth movements in 1906, and the National Party, Mustafa Kamal’s party, emerged at the time. In 1935 there was a youth movement as well, a new youth movement that appeared on the political scene in Egypt, and that is the 1919 revolution that did not bear any fruits and there was a need to prepare for other objectives that were not fulfilled by the 1919 [revolution].
So the youth movement appeared, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other movements as well. In 1946, there was another youth movement that emerged in Egypt, and the social objective was started by the leftist activists and included the concepts of social justice. And the left wing movements also appeared afterwards.
So the youth movements would also appear to give forth to new currents and organisations that never existed before. The 2011 movement is a youth movement and it spread and it was not only for youth, and was similar to other revolutions because it toppled a political system as a result of its revolution.
We had new movements in society whose impact would be seen in the future, but the revolution of 2011 was similar to the 1911 revolution and 1952 revolution. It started to change the authority and the political system, and it was able to change the system, or at least started to do so. So this movement was successful in changing the regime, or starting to change the regime.
These youth revolutions in its historical context changes within its historical context and reveals that things happen and change despite the impediments and despite the oppression by the political systems and oppression by the regime, because all these ways of oppression cannot eradicate one whole generation. When a new generation appears, it appears far from the oversights made by society.
I would like to clarify one point. All the political parties that were available at the time, the government how did it know about these political parties? They know the people behind such political parties, and they know all the things that are happening in those political parties, and they know how to lure those members and how to divide such people.
The other movements that were available had files on them, and the government would study and expand those files, and only after would realise and find out that there is a new generation that you do not know anything about. New people who have no files whose names are unknown and you do not know their leader, and so on and so forth.
So by the time you make files for those people, you will be toppled. It is too late. The youth movement is a movement that did not have anything written in files. It was unknown to the regime.
Hosni Mubarak’s regime tried to close all the doors that were trying to topple his system, and controlled the trade unions, the political parties, the institutions, the universities – all the political security was controlled by the police. And all the emerging political institutions were considered outside the law.
On the other hand, the protest movements between workers and the different institutions – whether the intellectuals or so on – did not have any organised movement, and did not have a voice that was loud enough to be heard and did not have points of assembly. What happened?
The spark of the revolution was the result of the youth movement that came up with an organisation that tried to lead the Egyptian people. It was successful because it was not a part of the political parties or the revolutionary intellectuals that were known in the country, and it is far from the eyes of the political system and the police – that is why they did not know how to deal with it.
So that reminds us of the saying, that when a crisis gets really bad, it will get solved eventually and will not be as bad as it used to be when it first started.
From this presentation there are two things we can talk about. It is possible for any corrupt political system to be toppled, and popular forces will appear and topple such a regime.
So every regime has its own legitimacy, and there will be ways and systems that would expose it as illegitimate. That is why on February 10, the legitimacy of the regime was toppled by the revolution.
The birth of a new child leads to tearing; that is what happens biologically. But what is important is to limit the tearing as much as possible, and that is what has happened here with the birth of the new regime. And that is why there was an establishment of a new legitimacy based on new political and social systems, and to get rid of the oppressing regime and to pave the way for a new transit period, or interim period, to go into a new era which will be presenting new institutions and new political parties – this is very important, to have new political parties, that will represent the requirements and needs of these generations. This is what I wanted to tell you. Thank you very much.
Tariq al-Bishri is the chair of the committee to revise the Egyptian constitution. The above is an address given to the sixth Al Jazeera Forum.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.