Overthrowing the tyrant is the ‘easy’ part of change. It’s easier to foment revolution. The indecencies and tyranny are felt by all. Passionate, articulate leaders come to the fore (often at great personal risk) and motivate enough people through their suffering and rage to fight for change.
After the hangover of victory passes though, you’re very much like the aquarium fish at the end of the film ‘Finding Nemo.’ You managed your escape out the window and cross the road into the safety of the harbour, forgetting you are still trapped inside a plastic bag. That makes the iconic end line, ‘Now what?’ even more prolific.
Hey Egypt! You’ve just gained your freedom after 31 years of a tyrannical dictator’s iron-fisted rule Egypt! Now what?…
Installing a working governmental system after the euphoria of conquest is the real heavy lifting of governing and leading. Few want to stand in the front of the room, fearing the same fate as the predecessor. So overly democratised systems come briefly to the fore (listen up Occupy!) before those, who are themselves very well organised, figure out how to work the system to their advantage.
President Morsi of Egypt was one such individual. Hidden essentially underground for decades, his formerly outlawed Muslim Brotherhood were part of the silent fabric of many cities and villages in Egypt. When the Revolution occurred they were the big winners for their seeming moderation and… willingness to quietly help rebuild.
Those who conducted the revolution met and talked. And they talked and talked and talked and talked!
The Muslim Brotherhood got a head start on campaigning for Parliament. They worked within the system (even an undefined one) and they were remembered for helping and thus rewarded with a majority of seats in the new Parliament. And everyone knew it would not be easy.
You had a huge international show-trial of former President Hosni Mubarak to contend with (that frankly could have gone either way because of those loyal to him inside the system). There was the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) filled with Generals loyal to a status quo that had enriched them personally and still held ultimate control because they had the guns. And there was an existing judiciary keen to fight any radical changes (so they dissolved the Parliament as unlawfully elected). So there was always going to be a dis-connect inside this new, old country.
Last week’s power grab by Morsi has people protesting again in the street. They now fear he will become, like Mubarak, a dictator. So the nation’s judges are promising to strike as their action dissolved Parliament earlier this year seems muted and the military once again controls business as normal and sits watching quietly on the sidelines, just as they did in late January and early February of 2011 during the 1st revolution.
And yet there has been enormous progress inside Egypt. The fragile 30+ year peace with Israel, although tested a few weeks ago, still tenuously holds. The trial resulted in Mubarak and his sons likely never leaving prison alive (although many demanded death for his crimes). A Parliament and President were elected. And next year a Constitution will likely be drafted.
While these internal skirmishes could as easily derail everything, they can also be seen as part of the normal growing pains for a new nation.
One need look only as far as the US’ own fight for independence to see that freeing oneself from a dictatorial past (or in the US case – the Crown) is rarely a smooth upward climb. The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Even with the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the new Colonies/states were faced with recalcitrant British troops on it borders causing problems and no currency with which to conduct inter-state/colony commerce. Even the tax system was broken in several states leading to moments like Shay’s Rebellion to prevent farmers from losing their land for non-payment of tax.
The US Constitution took until 1787 to be ratified. Those pursuing a state’s rights vs federal system engaged in prolific fights to defend their preferred course. The US lived through a period where they were governed by state assemblies under the Articles of Confederation which established a Congress on its way to a Constitutional Convention. But there were many issues and stops along the way.
There may have been a Treaty between the Colonies and Britain, but the external and internal disputes were every bit as threatening to the fragile US as Egypt now faces. To them these crises were every bit as potentially destructive to a new nation as the internal strife now facing Egypt after 20 months post-Mubarak.
So when a breathless commentator on FOX worries about the Islamic factions taking over the Middle East’s largest nation state, everyone should take a step back, take a deep breath, look at history as a teacher and watch the process of self-determination for the first time in 7,000 years take hold.
Egypt is a wonder. It is also a tragedy. And it is often both at the same time. The lessons will be repeated until learned. Everybody should now just leave them be and let them become the nation they choose to become.
Read about the 18 Days of the Egyptian Revolution in Egypt Unshackled by Denis G. Campbell. Available in paperback and e-formats from amazon.com amazon.co.uk amazon.de, iTunes and fine, independent booksellers everywhere.