THE EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION AND ITS LESSONS
Egypt, a prominent North African Arab country and a key Middle East country witnessed an unprecedented and monumental change today being the 9th of February 2011 after nearly 32 years of autocratic dictatorship under ex -President Hosni Mubarak. Egypt is a country of over 80 million people. The country is an epicentre of Arab world religio-politics. Egypt was previously governed by successive monarchs until about 160 years ago when Muhammad Ali dynasty came to power and ruled until 1951-52 when the last monarch, His Majesty King Farouk 1, King of Egypt, Sudan and Sovereign of Nubia, Kordafan and Dafur – as he was then referred to – was overthrown by in the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. Such was the greatness of the then Egypt that at some point in time, what was the Kingdom of Egypt encompassed modern day Egypt even stretching to modern day Sudan.
On 23 July 1952 the free officers’ movement under Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser staged a military coup that launched the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. King Farouk was forced to abdicate the throne and went into exile in Monaco and Italy where he lived for the rest of his life and died. After the 1952 Egyptian Revolution – although the young son of King Farouk succeeded him – but for all intents and purposes, Egypt was now governed by Naguib and Nasser and the free officers. On June 1953, the revolutionary government formally abolished the monarchy ending 160 years of the Muhammad Ali dynasty’s rule and Egypt was declared a republic. Nasser later ousted and upstaged Naguib and emerged the undisputed revolutionary leader of Egypt. Nasser, though a dictator in his own way endeared himself profoundly to the Egyptians and many people in the Arab world because of his populist and extreme pan Arab stance and anti Israel posturing.
Nasser took Egypt to three wars which he lost but retained his deep admiration in the minds of Egyptians and many people in the Arab world. He remained fiercely anti west and anti Israel until his death in 1973. After the death of president Gamal Abdel Nasser, his deputy/vice president, Anwar Sadat took over as the president and continued to rule Egypt until 6 October 1981 when he was assassinated by some of his guards allegedly under the influence of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Muslim Brotherhood in the world and the influence of Jamal al Islamiyya led by the fiery blind cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman – now serving jail term in American prison for the bombing of World Trade Centre in New York. After ex president Anwar Sadat was assassinated, he was replaced by his then vice president, former head of the Egyptian air force, Hosni Mubarak who became president of Egypt in 1981.
It was generally believed that late President Anwar Sadat was killed because he negotiated and signed a peace treaty between 1976 and 1979 with Israel brokered by then U S President Jimmy Carter. Ex President Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt with red hot, iron fisted and clad brutality until he was forced out of power today the 9th of February 2011 in what will now be referred to as “the Egyptian Revolution of 2011”. We do not know exactly how the ongoing revolution will ultimately play out but one thing we can say with unmistakable certainty is that Egypt will never be the same again. This article examines and discusses the Egyptian Revolution, the aftermath of the revolution and the its likely effects on the greater Arab/Middle East Region and the world alike and its lessons for Africa and humanity. The article seeks to put the revolution in its proper context and perspective drawing on the socio-political and religio-political dynamics of this volatile region. It is important that in an increasingly interdependent world, it becomes even more imperative to deal with political realities dispassionately and constructively and to transcend stereotypes. It is this writer’s opinion that the events in Egypt will radically alter/change the political landscape of the Arab world and the greater Middle East Region and further that the fears and concerns of the West and Israel about the Muslim Brotherhood is ill-conceived and misconceived. The writer believes that ex- president Hosni Mubarak and the West used the fear of the ascendancy and threat of Muslim brotherhood to sustain and perpetuate the corrupt, brutal and dictatorial regime of Mubarak in Egypt. The writer concludes with some suggestions for the way forward and urges especially few other African countries whose leaders continue to suppress their people and seek to perpetuate themselves in power to see reason, sound judgment and common sense and to embark on a speedy reform to transform their countries from autocratic dictatorship to a more reform based democratic system of government in their own interest and in the interest of their nations.
In every historical epoch, the political and intellectual history of every given people is determined by the socio-economic circumstances and the historical experience in which they found themselves. Every man has a right to decide or determine his destiny under normal circumstances and this axiom can be extended to peoples collectively in any given society and so it was that after more than 32 years of ruthless and corrupt dictatorship, the heroic people of Egypt took their destiny in their hands and liberated their country from the dirty claws of brutal, oppressive and corrupt dictatorship and today a new dawn is brought to Egypt. However, the history of what is called the Egyptian Revolution cannot be told without making reference to the popular revolt of the equally heroic people of Tunisia which preceded the Egyptian revolution a month ago which forced the ex military dictator of Tunisia, erstwhile President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali out of power as he fled Tunisia for exile in Saudi Arabia as his country was rendered ungovernable by the popular revolt of his people a month ago.
About 21 days ago, popular protest swept across the entire Egypt. The people were protesting against unprecedented youth unemployment, massive corruption, enervating and grinding poverty and infrastructural decay, rising food cost, state sponsored and practiced brutality and a general lack of freedom and democracy. Ex President Mubarak sent his police to unleash time tested and practised brigandage on his people to stifle their protest but the people persisted as the crackdown fail to cow and intimidate the people this time around. The protest and dissension rather than being abated intensified as thousands of people joined the protest from all over Egypt. His next tactics was to sent members of the interior ministry and his secret police as pro Mubarak demonstrators who charged into the crowd of protesters mounted on horseback and injured some of the protesters but this too quickly dissipated into nothingness as the protesters persisted and continued with their protest against the despicable and decadent, corrupt regime. His next line of action was to make spurious broadcast promising his people of much needed reform but that was not enough for a determined people who wanted nothing short of his exit from power. The country was literally slithering on a precipice of an all out war when after the much awaited announcement on Thursday during which most people thought and believed that the hated dictator was finally about to leave office, he maintained that he would cling to power until September. In this, we can actually see that the arrogance of power is no doubt the worst form of arrogance ever known to man!
Mubarak was finally forced out or rather forced to resign by his military council to save the country from total war ending one of most corrupt and oppressive regimes in the Arab world and the Middle East. Today the old Egypt is dead and a new Egypt is born. Mubarak’s regime was characterised by a high degree of opportunism, cronyism, kleptomania and a general and systematic and endemic corruption. Egypt was for Mubarak, Sussie, his wife and their family and his ruling cabal a private entreprise. He was even preparing his son to take over from him as he and his cabal ruled and ran Egypt as a family business. Genuine and legitimate voice of dissent was ruthlessly suppressed in Egypt under Mubarak as most of the Egyptian leading intellectuals and scholars were forced into exile. Extremism and conflict was spurned by the ill-governance of Mubarak. He and his cabal were adept and dexterous in conjuring up images of a militant Islam and spuriously using same to sustain, justify and perpetuate themselves in power and the West and the U S wittingly or unwittingly bought into this and in this regard, Mubarak sanctimoniously won for himself the epithet of “guarantor of peace” in the Middle East Region and a bulwark against Iranian ascendancy in the Region.
The fear that in the absence of Mubarak that a militant Islam would surface in Egypt and gain pre-eminence in greater Arab world and middle east region was part of a specious grand conspiracy to maintain and justify the status quo in the overall interest of Mubarak and his cabal and the West and the U S. The threat of radical Islamic fundamentalism, militant and anti-western in its nature and colouration and for a faith that is regarded rightly or wrongly by many as particularly prone to religious extremism, fanaticism, and warfare, played well into the hands of Mubarak and his pro western regime and his Western allies. In essence, Mubarak used the fear of the so called Islamic fundamentalism to speciusly perpetuate and legitimise his regime of over 32 years.
The near-total corruption of the Mubarak regime meant that billions of dollars in moneys from Egypt’s lucrative tourism, foreign investments and massive financial aid from his Western backers were squandered apart from using some of the moneys to bankroll the Egyptian military, which in turn was effectively used to sustain, maintain and perpetuate Mubarak’s misrule. Under Mubarak corruption became institutionalised in Egypt as a legitimate way of life and Mubarak and Sussie, his wife ran Egypt as a personal family. There near- total corruption of every conceivable governmental institutions and apparatus in Egypt means that life in Egypt like in most endemic corrupt countries in the world was a harrowing experience for the less privileged people in Egypt. The nation’s educational sector drifted into an alarming state of disintegration. Mubarak used the fear of Islamic fundamentalism for political advantage to sustain and maintain his regime and terror at the hands of the Interior Ministry and mukhabarat – the secret police - to instil fear in his people. Many prominent Egyptians fled to exile and were harassed even in exile by the dreaded Egyptian intelligence working in consort with the powerful interior ministry.
But the tide of freedom and justice cannot be held back for ever. Evil has a way to thrive and flourish but for a while. The fact about the inherent nature of evil in the context of Egypt and the regime of Mubarak remains that sooner or later the dam will burst and the people will came to their own and that was what happened in Egypt. The event in Tunisia had a ripple effect which in turn swept across the Arab world and hit Egypt with a bang. Tunisian people staged a massive protest that forced their dictator to flee Tunisia. The power of internet technology helped to mobilise the fearless Egyptian youths some of whom are unemployed and are filled with a profound sense of helplessness and hopelessness about their uncertain future.
As Egypt and Tunisia have proven, social media too can play a significant role given the tight control dictators typically wield over the official media. However, the power of technology has lessened the effect of such a grasp on the free flow of information. The protests commenced and intensified leading to the death of over 300 people yet the arrogant dictator, Mubarak, remained obdurate and continued in office. Few days ago every person expected him to resign but he chose to offer his people spurious palliatives so as to continue to cling to power and office almost plunging his country into a civil war. This shows that he is a very selfish and self-centred disingenuous man. If he had a modicum of genuine sense of responsibility and patriotism for his country and solicitude for his people, he would have long since resigned. But like most African leaders that are seemingly generally speaking, utterly devoid of scruples, Mubarak and people like him would rather plunge their countries into war like in Somalia or Liberia of the inglorious ex President Samuel Doe than do the right thing in the midst of clear and demonstrable popular opposition to their misrule.
The Aftermath of the Revolution
The consequence of a significant and typically unpleasant event that nearly led Egypt to civil war could have been avoided if leaders are responsive to the legitimate demands and aspirations of their long-suffering people. Here was a man who had power and its perquisites for nearly 30 years and is in his eighties and is said to have amassed billions of dollars yet he was not yet dome for. His people in a country of over 80 million have vociferously in a clear and unmistakable language expressed their disenchantment against his rule and their wishes that they no longer wanted him but he ignored his peoples’ demand, wishes and aspirations and insisted on maintaining the status quo by all means and at all cost. Mubarak was lucky he did not receive the revolutionary treatment meted out to ex Romanian president Nikolai Ceuceuscu and his wife, Elena by the long suffering Romanian people on December 25 1989 when in the course of a popular insurrection against his oppressive regime in Rumania they faced peoples’ justice and were both executed by firing squad. Nikolai Ceucescu was relying on his special dreaded security force known as Securitate in Rumania to save his regime but he was disappointed.
In the same vein, Mubarak relied on his military and his ingenuous intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, a larger than life figure in Egyptian politics of modern times. There can be no doubt that Egypt will never be the same again and the politics of the region will likely witness a tremendous change either peacefully or violently. The Egyptian people must now guard their revolution and ensure that it is not hijacked by some opportunists be they military or the civilian. The armed forces supreme council under the headship of field marshal Tantawi, a Russian trained military officer must vigorously purge all figures in the Egyptian political establishment that was associated with the ex president Mubarak and move ahead speedily to enthrone genuine democracy in Egypt. They should endeavour to institutionalise genuine democracy in Egypt by holding a free and fair elections leading to a democratically elected government as soon as possible.
The Lessons for African countries and Humanity
It is indisputable that the recent political upheaval in Egypt has shown that no condition is permanent. The rule unrestricted by law based on force, brutality and brigandage of his interior ministry has come to a sudden end and its lessons are legion. A dictator cannot suppress a determined people for a long time in the present-day world unlike before. Information, news and idea are potently powerful. Political consciousness and awareness in any nation is vital to safeguard peoples’ right and justice in any society. Thus, educating the masses and abolishing illiteracy will be the first goal towards true emancipation of any oppressed and subjugated people. The power of education and modern technology in the internet and face book etc makes it easy for people to communicate and organise and mobilise easily. The free flow of information of this age and time will ensure that people are reasonably well informed of what is happening around the globe. It is imperative for leaders not to overstay their tolerance in office and to gauge the mood of the people they govern and respect their wishes and legitimate aspirations. Leaders must ensure that they provide free and qualitative education in their countries.
On geopolitical level, there will be inevitable reverberations of what transpired or happened in Egypt and Tunisia in the entire Middle East and the Arab world. As Egypt is the mother of the Arab world, and indeed of the world as one popular old Arabic saying goes, thus whatever happens in Egypt will ripple and reverberate throughout the Middle East. Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Yemen and Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the so called oil rich gulf states should embark on fundamental political reforms with a view to giving their people greater freedom and democracy. United States and Israel should not overly exaggerate and amplify the threat of Islamic fundamentalism as represented by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The fact remains that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot dominate and control the Egypt of today where the overwhelming majority of the youth yearn for liberal democracy and pluralism in the context of socio and economic and political realities of today in that country. Fundamentalism, extremism and fanaticism thrive in ignorance, illiteracy and backwardness and Egypt of today is anything but backward or ignorant. The Muslim Brotherhood would have been acutely aware that they cannot impose their will on the entire Egyptian people for as the Quran says there is no compulsion in religion.
For Israel, there may be some legitimate concerns about how this transition to a new more democratic Egypt will end. Although it is not expected that any eventual regime that ultimately emerges in Egypt will abrogate the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, there is the possibility that as many Egyptians hate Israel with passion that an overly pro -Palestinian regime may adopt a hard-line stance towards Israel over the Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflict and this might aggravate tension in an already fragile and volatile region with far reaching effects on global peace and security. But it is in this regard that Israel should move speedily to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian question. The militant Palestinian group, Harakat Al-Muqawana Al- Islamiyya (HAMAS) which presently controls Gaza strip which borders Egypt may be tempted to move against the mainstream PLO that retains control of West Bank with a view to taking over West Bank and a sympathetic regime in Egypt will no doubt aid HAMAS in the Gaza and may not effectively police Gaza’s border with Egypt as the Egyptian security under Mubarak did in fact. This again can heighten tension in the region and could even lead to war and virtually destroy the fragile peace process in the region.
The greatest beneficiary in all these remains Iran at least in geopolitical context against the background that Egypt and Iran had been competing centres of civilization and power and influence from ancient times. But today Iran seems to have gained ascendancy in every facet of human endeavours. No thanks to the U S invasion and dismantling of Iraq under Saddam Hussein which checkmated Iran effectively. Iraq under ex President Saddam Hussein was a formidable bulwark against Iranian obsessive quest for ascendancy in the region. Egypt as the last major power competing with Iran is going through crisis of transition of a sort and it is difficult for us to fathom how this might end and Iran is further strengthened in geopolitical context. Objective Iranian intellectuals and scholars seem to be of the view that the U S has helped or rather the policy of the U S government has favoured their quest and efforts in regional pre-eminence. They argued that America has removed their threats.
Iran as we all know is sandwiched between Afghanistan in the east and Iraq in the west. Both countries represented some degrees of threat against Iran. While Iraq under Saddam, according to this argument represented a real, monumental threat to Iran; Afghanistan under Taliban represented not a monumental threat but a low level threat likened to the threat of Lebanon’s Hezbollah to Israel – a threat of enervation and exsanguinations of sort. United States by invading Iraq and Afghanistan they way she did and dismantling these regimes have removed these threats to Iran allowing Iran to pursue greater regional ascendancy which they claimed they have so far achieved in the Middle East and even beyond. In this regard, we hope that the armed forces supreme council in Egypt will with a sense of urgent pragmatism and realism speedily come up with a transition programme and organise and oversee a clean and fair democratic election in the interest of regional stability.
For the past 18 days it is estimated that Egypt was losing about $310m a day. Nature abhors vacuum and if the armed forces supreme council does not act in time, extremist organisation might seek to exploit and fill the vacuum and destabilize the country further. The armed forces supreme council under field marshal Hussein Tantawi should endeavour to respect the legitimacy of the Egyptian people and should in fact and reality lead the country to greater democracy, respect the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people and their demands and expeditiously implement within a defined timetable a result-oriented and democratically oriented political reform and transition programme in Egypt. They should dissolve parliament immediately, create or set up a transitional government to lead genuine reform and bar everyone associated closely with Mubarak from participation in the process at least at this time of great exigency. The Egyptian people and the international community must not allow the biggest popular uprising in modern history of the Arab world to fizzle out in nothingness.
As for corrupt African leaders especially those in the sub Saharan Africa who continue to suppress and impoverish their people, they should learn the lessons from what happened in Egypt and Tunisia and they should begin to innovate and implement genuine and authentic reforms in their countries otherwise they will sooner or later face the inevitable consequences of their short-sightedness and callousness. They should endeavour to use their resources to improve the living conditions of their people and give their people quality education. Failure to heed this call will lead them to suffer worse fate than Mubarak of Egypt and Zine el Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia. It is unfortunate that these corrupt leaders and their brigade of kleptocrats that surrounds them in their moral turpitude have been able to use ignorance, illiteracy, cronyism and deliberate, intentional well orchestrated impoverishment of the masses to pulverize the will of their people and stifle any voice of dissent while they engage in wholesale and riotous exsanguinations and splurge of the treasuries and resources of their countries. They are more ready to use their ill-gotten wealth and their security apparatus to intimidate their people. But as we recently found out in Egypt and Tunisia, the success of these bonapartist methods is not always guaranteed. I have heard that sub Saharan Africans are incapable of enacting a revolution like the one in Egypt and Tunisia but I am not sure whether this is correct. However, I will deal with this issue in my next article.
Clement Chigbo PhD.cand(ABD), an academic and a lawyer teaches and practises in the UK. Opinion, comments and criticisms to his articles are welcome. He may be contacted at [email protected], [email protected]