it is hard not to notice that the socio-political ambiance in Egypt is more than ready for welcoming the wind of change.
By Dr. Ashraf Ezzat / Staff Writer
Ever since the Tunisian uprising managed to topple the dictatorship of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and the people in the Arab world are wondering if the Tunisian scenario could be repeated in their countries.
Egyptians responded to the news of the overthrow of the regime in Tunisia with great joy and astonishment at the same time.
To most Arabs, Tunisia is another Arab country ruled by similar authoritarian regime such as theirs.
Tunisians are seen as Arab brothers who share with the Egyptians or Jordanians or Algerians for that matter the same political grievances and aspirations.
And if Tunisians have succeeded in revolting against the oppressive regime that has been ruling them for 23 years, why can’t Algerians or Egyptians do the same and revolt against many years of authoritarianism?
Egyptians were surprised by the news of the Tunisian revolution for the fact that they were not used to hearing any news about any political unrest in Tunisia let alone people taking to the streets and toppling the powerful regime of Ben Ali.
Egypt and the Tunisian Scenario
Tunisia to any given average Egyptian is just a recollection of a history of international football games Egypt played with Tunisia. But with football aside, Tunisians were not the kind of people that you would frequently read about in world news.
Unlike Egypt – a pivotal country in the Middle East with a long history of partisan participation in the country’s political life – which has been witnessing the emergence of a lot of opposition groups- kefaya group, April 6 Youth Movement and Muslim Brotherhood– and activists calling for a change of the ruling political system and which also witnessed the well known upheavals in jan, 18-19, 1977 known as the Bread riots[i] that rocked almost every major city in Egypt.
In Egypt- a country that has been ruled by one party and the same president since almost 30 years- it is hard not to notice that the socio-political ambiance is more than ready for welcoming the wind of change.
That is why people in Egypt and the rest of the Arabic world began to feel so emboldened by the success of the Tunisian revolution. And since the Tunisian uprising was triggered by the desperate attempt of self-immolation when a Tunisian set himself on fire as a protest over the hardships of the economic situations in the country, in the same way, we began to hear of similar incidents of desperate men trying to set themselves alight in Mauritania, Algeria, Jordan and several times in Egypt.
The suicidal attempts were widely reported by the local and international media which are still monitoring the volatile political situations in the autocratically- led Arab countries with a lot of anticipation that one of those countries would soon follow the Tunisian scenario.
But those suicidal attempts of desperate common people suffering from political and economic injustice haven’t managed to spark the expected uprising in a country like Egypt which witnessed 3 incidents of men trying to set themselves on fire[ii] in Cairo and Alexandria in less than 3 days.
It would be naïve on the part of the common people to try and trigger an uprising by simulating what first caused the people to take to the streets in Tunisia and it would be even more naïve on the part of the intelligentsia to expect the same.
Political revolutions don’t work by simulation; they are spontaneous in nature aimed mainly at a change of power. They have their own dynamics and mechanisms. Most Arab countries may share a lot of political and economic grievances but we must acknowledge that they differ socially and culturally and that what works for one country doesn’t necessarily work for the other.
A nonviolent uprising could happen in a country like Tunisia or Jordan but it would be difficult to take place that peacefully in countries with multiethnic groupes like Sudan or Yemen. People could revolt against economic hardships in the North African countries but it wouldn’t be imaginable to occur in the rich with oil Gulf States.
Grassroots movements and the power of the middle class
The remarkable observation– so far- about the Tunisian nonviolent revolution is the fact that it has been sparked by the people and still is maintained and keeping an ever-growing momentum by the very same people without the emergence or need for a revolutionary leader or even any opposition figures and more importantly without being infiltrated by any Islamist groups.
This grassroots revolution couldn’t have been realized without the solidarity and the political awareness of the growing and educated middle class of the Tunisian society.
The middle class segment of any society is the driving force of its socio- politics. You put that vital segment out of the political agenda and literally out of job and you are certainly to be sitting on a time bomb ready to explode any time like exactly what happened in Tunisia.
What is notably alarming about the Egyptian social hierarchy is the erosion of its middle class that’s been taking place throughout the reign of President Mubarak who has been in power since 1980.
And what is characteristic of the Egyptian social order throughout its long history is their dependence on a centralized government with a strong autocratic ruler. In their modern history, Egyptians have uprosen many times like in 1919 and 1952 against the British colonialism but they were always guided by revolutionaries like Saad Zaghloul and Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Monitoring the slow but steady strides towards change in Egypt
The wind of change will undoubtedly sweep across the Arab world once it has crossed the borders of Egypt. It is just a matter of time. But the people have to bear in mind that the genuine revolutions are neither premeditated nor simulated.
The use of internet and social media has contributed to the launching of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. A facebook group by the name of “day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment” [iii] has been inciting thousands of Egyptians and especially the young and unemployed to take to the streets on a big rally on next Tuesday 25th January protesting over the lack of democracy, high living costs, unemployment and the intimidation and lack of respect to the average Egyptian citizen displayed by the government and specially its security system of police which will coincidentally celebrate its national day on the same expected date of the rallies.
Last year, the name of Mohamed el Baradei, the former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has been circulated by opposition groups in Egypt as a possible candidate to succeed President Hosni Mubarak to Egypt’s highest executive position. ElBaradei did not make any clear statements regarding his intentions to run for the office; however he has demanded that certain conditions have to be met to ensure fair elections accompanied by changes to the constitution that will allow more freedom for independent candidates before he would actually consider running for presidency. And he actually started a national front calling for a change of Egyptian political life under the name of National Association for Change[iv].
El Baradei might not enjoy the charisma of past leaders such as Nasser or Saad Zaghloul but he is viewed amongst the Egyptians as honest and credible man, merits that are rarely endowed upon high officials nowadays.
What happened in Tunisia will always be a landmark in the change that is bound to affect the rest of the Arab world sooner or later. And which would ultimately affect Israel and could alter the shape of the Arab- Israeli conflict.
Will a country like Egypt – with its eroded middle class and with the lack of recognizable leadership -be able to break loose of the old stereotypes of yesterday and the inertia left by decades of authoritarianism and cross into new boundaries of freedom and democracy?
For more articles by Dr. Ashraf Ezzat visit his website at :http://ashraf62.wordpress.com/
[i] – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1977_Egyptian_Bread_Riots
Ashraf Ezzat is an Egyptian born in Cairo and based in Alexandria. He graduated from the faculty of Medicine at Alexandria University.
Keen not to be entirely consumed by the medical profession, Dr. Ezzat invests a lot of his time in research and writing. History of the ancient Near East and of Ancient Egypt has long been an area of special interest to him.
In his writings, he approaches ancient history not as some tales from the remote times but as a causative factor in our existing life; and to him, it’s as relevant and vibrant as the current moment.
In his research and writings, Dr. Ezzat is always on a quest trying to find out why the ancient wisdom had been obstructed and ancient spirituality diminished whereas the Judeo-Christian teachings and faith took hold and prospered.
Dr. Ezzat has written extensively in Arabic tackling many issues and topics in the field of Egyptology and comparative religion. He is the author of Egypt knew no Pharaohs nor Israelites.
In 2013 his short The Pyramids: story of creation was screened at many international film festivals in Europe. And he is working now on his first documentary “Egypt knew no Pharaohs nor Israelites”.