By Khaled Diab
The imminent fall of Egypt’s dictator should embolden Egyptians, especially young ones, to deal with the mini-Mubaraks that hold Egyptian society back.
1 February 2011
As someone who has striven to get his head around Egypt’s apparent political apathy, the ongoing Egyptian revolution has been like a breath of fresh air. At first, it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen, that this would be yet another of the false dawns of recent years. Even as late as the morning of Tuesday 25 January, the police – during their national holiday – were out in such great force that Cairo was almost in lockdown, instead of the usual gridlock, and the streets were deserted of protesters.
Many Egyptians, nervously and excitedly following the situation, feared that the promised “day of wrath” would deflate into a day of mild frustration; that the police would, as they normally do, outnumber protesters, as if it were the regime that was the aggrieved party demonstrating against an “ungrateful” population.
But Tunisia has provided Egyptians with the necessary spark of hope that the oppositions’ rallying cry of “Kefaya” (“Enough”) could truly be enough. And Egyptians from across the country and all walks of life have displayed courage, determination, camaraderie, solidarity and even humour in the face of adversity.
For a sceptic like me whose political rebellion has more often been in written words than in collective deeds, the drama and poignancy of the situation have been truly gripping, and I have caught myself fighting back tears: a weary-looking lone man holding up a sign which reads “kefaya” with a line of riot police behind him; protesters braving tear gas and beatings; ordinary, hard-pressed folk refusing to compromise with a figure they once feared, not to mention the solidarity and new sense of civic duty demonstrated in the volunteers securing law and order after the police abandoned their duties and melted into the night.
What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall in Hosni Mubarak’s office right now, to learn how a man can live with himself when 80 million people hate him, and to try to fathom why he still clings on to power while the game is clearly up.
“Yesterday we were all Tunisian. Today we are all Egyptian. Tomorrow we’ll all be free,” said Amira Mohsen, a young Egyptian journalist, summing up the heady public mood. But democracy, if it comes, will not be the end but just the beginning of a very long and difficult process of change.
To their credit, the protesters have proven to be politically deft and in no mood for compromise, thereby avoiding the risk of lobbing off the head of the regime only for the body to sprout a new one before returning to business as usual. Mubarak’s appointment of a vice-president Omar Suleiman (whose intended role may be to hold the fort until Mubarak’s son, http://chronikler.com/tag/gamal-mubarak/ Gamal, can mount a comeback) has backfired spectacularly as the million-strong march gathers pace as I type.
Nevertheless, even if full democracy is born on the banks of the Nile, this will not necessarily mean an end to authoritarianism in the country, because a legion of “mini-Mubaraks” are waiting in the wings.
Many of the opposition parties are possibly no better than the ruling National Democratic Party in terms of their attitudes to dissent. For example, Mohammed Badie, the new leader of the Muslim Brotherhood is the embodiment of the conservative old guard that is completely detached from the party’s younger, more open and reform-minded members. This has resulted in the Brotherhood’s senior leadership becoming increasingly out of touch with the popular mood, as was reflected in their refusal to sanction or officially take part in the current protests, a position they were forced by events to revise.
In addition to dictatorships in political circles, Egypt is also burdened with a fair measure of social, professional and intellectual authoritarianism, with mini-Mubaraks running families, businesses and universities through the kind of deferential patronage made unpopular by the big man himself (I should, of course, point out that there are plenty of Egyptians who do not practise nor approve of authoritarianism).
But there are signs of hope that Egyptians will succeed in gradually breaking loose of this more ingrained authoritarianism. Sick and tired of how they’ve been messed around by their elders and supposedbetters, the disenfranchised young generation is increasingly making its presence felt. In fact, the current wave of protests was instigated by young people, who have managed to deploy social networking technologies and low-tech resourcefulness to powerful effect. And now that they’ve found their voice, perhaps they will no longer be silenced or sidelined, although, in a worrying sign, the emerging “national salvation” government is mainly made up of greying men.
I hope Egyptians will discover a new sense of self-confidence and self-esteem and never allow themselves to be cowed by authority again and that those in power will realise that tolerance of difference and dissent actually makes a society stronger.
Nevertheless, the sad fact remains that, in a world where little democracy exists between nations, even if Egyptians cast off the yoke of domestic tyranny in all its forms, the battle will not be entirely over if their choices and wishes are not respected by the dictatorship of mighty nations and corporations.