There are two calls for commemorating Jan. 25 in Egypt: one to celebrate and another to continue protesting.
It’s been a year since Egypt’s uprising, which took Tahrir Square as an iconic home and kick-started a revolution that’s yet to see its goals. The military council that took over after the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in February is calling for celebrations. The protesters that took to the streets en masse a year earlier see a lot of unfinished business. The call to celebrate, protesters say, is nothing but another attempt by the military council to further suppress a continuing revolution. The celebration would mean it’s finished, while in fact it’s far from over.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is another manifestation of the Mubarak regime, a fact that escaped many while celebrating the downfall of a president after 30 years in power. Some knew the military interests have been rooted in the oppressive regime since Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s coup d'état in 1952, but continued to hope for the best.
It wasn’t long when the SCAF’s intentions of suppressing the budding revolution were exposed beyond doubt. Their rhetoric, while glorifying the concept of the revolution as an abstract, was to vilify all actions associated with it. Strikes were against the country’s interest; they stopped the “wheel of production” at such critical times, the generals stressed. Workers should not voice their demands to get decent pay or uproot corruption in their institutions.
Gradually, a discourse viewing protests or any street action in a negative light crept in. Before we knew it, the SCAF was propagating the same Mubarak regime lies it had initially ridiculed. The protesters are either thugs or foreign agents working to destroy the country, the general said in mid-2011. And exactly like Mubarak, the generals are equating any criticism they get with an attempt to bring down the entire country. They’ve made themselves synonymous with Egypt.
In tandem with that scandalous plan was the reversal of some of the small gains that the 18-day uprising had achieved. As the chants of “raise your head high, you are Egyptian” spread, emanating a sense of regained dignity, the generals were slowly upping the degree of violence used against protesters. In the early hours of Feb. 26, they chased protesters with batons and electric prods. They apologised for the beatings, but a man beaten and arrested on that night is yet to be released.
The intensity of the violence increased and so did the fatalities. It culminated with three bloody months: 27 killed in October, over 45 in November and 19 in December. The main battle that Egyptians thought they had won in January 2011 appeared to have been lost again. The sanctity of life allegedly established by the martyrs sacrificed early 2011 — 846 by official estimates and over 1000 according to other independent investigations — was not solidified as a red line. The regime, this time represented in the SCAF, was ready to use excessive and deadly force to quell protests.
An oppressive regime is built on injustice; it feeds on the frustration, desperation and humiliating sense of vulnerability. The SCAF’s actions betrayed their plans to keep the regime as is. It did its best not to achieve any of the demands of social justice, whether in terms of fair wages, humane health care or reinstating equality in the legal system. Over 12,000 civilians have been referred to military tribunals, while SCAF insists to allow former regime figures to benefit from the slow procedures of civilian courts. And to make sure the hope brimming in Egypt’s streets on Feb. 11 is forever killed, it sealed its plan with blood — over 100 martyrs since it took power.
The SCAF’s brilliance was in setting public opinion up for accepting that, and in some occasions even cheering for the killing. People, deprived from security and suffering from a worsening economy, could accept anything to make their lives a notch better. The fact that the generals have taken the country hostage and been negotiating a ransom of no more protests is irrelevant to many. The fact that the generals are lying through their teeth by blaming the decline of the economy on protesters rather than admitting their faults has been smothered. The fact that grown men appear on state-TV to spew lies about events aired live on air and say they didn’t happen has become a side note.
As if in a play reaching its climax, SCAF’s discourse is used and tested in the so called trial of the century: Mubarak’s trial for involvement in killing protesters and financial corruption. The head of the SCAF, Hussein Tantawi, also Mubarak’s defence minister for 20 years, testified that Mubarak never gave the orders to the armed forces to shoot at protesters, dispelling a myth of the military protecting the people during the uprising. The army protected the revolution by not attacking it, although it was never asked to, according to Tantawi.
This month in court, Mubarak’s lawyer accused the foreign elements of killing protesters last year. The military courts are portrayed as a safe haven the lawyer wants Mubarak transferred to. And to add the icing, Mubarak is still the president of Egypt, the lawyer told the court on Sunday.
Mubarak’s trial isn’t just vindication, but an indicator for many of SCAF’s commitment to a new future — even for those who have come to hate the revolution or its side effects. But what was some had dismissed as a side note could be a turning point. A conviction could set a frightening precedent to the generals and any future ruler. An acquittal or a light sentence would expose a lot of problems to the majority of Egyptians, the least of which is the continuation of the old regime’s figures in power, on top of whom is the Mubarak-appointed prosecutor general, whose office presented a weak case against the ousted president at court.
Thus, taking to the streets again en masse is inevitable. But it remains unclear whether Jan. 25, 2012 will be a repeat of last year’s scenario. The state fear mongering of last year is pretty much the same, albeit fiercer. The tips for avoiding teargas, colored water cannons, pellets and rubber bullets are circulating, except with the added experience of a year of confrontations. Some are packing their sleeping bags and tents, preparing for another sit-in.
Despite the wide discontent with living conditions and injustices, it’s not easy to speculate if Egyptians, influenced by anti-revolution propaganda, would join their revolutionary brethren in the same numbers we’ve seen last year. Another wave of massive protests is expected nonetheless, where people’s dissatisfaction will triumph over state-rhetoric equating any form of protest or objection with lack of stability. Once people realize the lie they’ve been told — that sustainable stability is about creating new just pillars for the society — or once the lie become irrelevant to their suffering, they will take to the streets. That may not happen on Jan. 25. But I’ve been proven wrong before, exactly a year ago.
Picture: We Love Egypt - Jan 25