Egypt: Power, the January 25 revolutionaries, and responsibility

H.A. Hellyer writes: During the 18-day uprising in 2011, the revolutionaries gained a certain type of power. Their theoretical perspective, though imprecise, became manifest through popular mobilization. With that, the revolutionaries were able to fundamentally disrupt the workings of the state, provoking and forcing it to change direction, resulting in the removal of Mubarak. At the same time, they also missed the opportunity to harness and develop that power.

In 2011, when the military’s transitional road map was put to a referendum, the revolutionaries had considerable political capital. That capital, however, was not capitalized upon. Revolutionaries generally mobilized for a “no” vote, but provided little in the way of a plausible alternative. They lost the vote. Their failure to properly express a well-developed political vision meant they missed a key opportunity to set the agenda of the post-Mubarak period.

A year later, the revolutionaries had the option of coalescing around a single candidate for presidential elections. It is likely that such a candidate would have prevailed. Instead, the revolutionary vote was split, leading to a run-off between Mubarak’s last prime minister, and the non-revolutionary Muslim Brotherhood. Some will claim the revolutionaries played a critical role in that run-off, by ensuring the former regime candidate lost. They did – but the very occurrence of such an abysmal run-off would have been impossible had there been a single, pro-January 25 revolution candidate.

Arising from that election was a presidency that the revolutionaries eventually, and correctly, opposed. Pro-revolutionary figures were the first to demand presidential elections: a laudable, democratic escape route from the prevailing political impasse, with revolutionaries en masse endorsing the demand. There were, however, other, less scrupulous forces that opposed the Brotherhood’s presidency. The key political party opposition umbrella was the National Salvation Front, which later backed the Tamarod group that called for the June 30 protests. More of the revolutionaries should have focused more intently on pressing Front members to distinguish themselves and the Front from more insidious forces, as well as interrogating Tamarod and its backers.

In short, at a time that could have made a critical difference, the revolutionaries did not realize the need to take initiative. As the protests to fulfill the democratic demand for presidential elections drew nearer, it was only a small group of revolutionaries that were dubious about the outcome. The rest merely made various public calls against military intervention when they should have focused on holding the main umbrella group, the National Salvation Front, to that anti-intervention principle as a condition, and established protocols to be followed if that intervention happened. That was their only leverage. [Continue reading…]

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