RAMALLAH, West Bank — On Jan. 25, 2011, Egyptians launched a revolution that eventually ousted dicatorial President Hosni Mubarak. For over two weeks, they showed an astounding display of resilience as they occupied city centers across the country, most notably Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and executed a long twilight struggle against the tyrant.
Despite unfavorable conditions, demonstrators kept up the peaceful resistance day-in and day-out, always against the grain of the regime’s propaganda, the American media’s inaccuracy for the sake of profit, the cynicism of Gulf States nervous from the potential spread of revolution, and the willingness of regime-paid goons to resort to violence. On Feb. 11, America’s man in Cairo, who had for 30 years treated Egyptians like his private property, belatedly threw in the towel.
It wasn’t long before an important observation was made: Mubarak now gone, the old guard continued to run the country under the collective leadership of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). Egypt quickly understood that Mubarak had simply been the flowers on the chains.
The army hadn’t yet clashed with January 25 revolutionaries because the military elite and their US-backers had shrewdly calculated that the regime machinery could press on unabated, creating immense profit for a select few, if Mubarak was sacrificed. But Egyptians weren’t satisfied with the illusion of a revolution, and their struggle continued unhindered, now against the unabashed tyranny of SCAF.
Now the revolution took on a different character. Demonstrations were crushed, women were forced to take humiliating virginity tests, and civilians were killed.
By the time I arrived in Cairo in April 2012, almost a year and a half of rebellion had taken its toll: the economy was suffering, the populace understandably seemed exhausted, and the reactionary forces of political Islam, who had largely sat out the revolution, were attempting to co-opt the strenuous efforts of others.
Astounded by the discrepancy between the media’s neatly packaged, easily marketable images of iPhone wielding liberals fighting for Western-style democracy and the reality of Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood theocrats swarming Tahrir Square in rage after Friday prayers, I sought out an explanation.
“Every time we protest, we get crushed,” a university student who was active during the early days of January 25. “The military shows up, launches tear gas and assaults us. But when the Islamists show up, there isn’t a soldier in sight.”
Mubarak had allowed only the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists to organize under his rule in order to sell his dictatorship to the West and keep the American funds flowing. When militant supporters of Salafist presidential hopeful Abu Ismael attacked leftists in Tahrir, chanting “The Quran is our constitution,” it was understood that SCAF, eager to preserve their rule by cultivating fear in an already Islamophobic American government, was employing the same tactic.
The point came when SCAF couldn’t further delay presidential elections, the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, secured the office for their candidate, Mohammad Morsi.
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The Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi were indeed the legitimate manifestations of the Egyptian people’s democratic choice, but it was not long before the democratic mandate was betrayed. In November, Egypt scored a huge diplomatic victory by negotiating a ceasefire that ended an 8-day bout of violence between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
On Nov. 22, according to Al-Monitor, Morsi “released a constitutional declaration … granting himself the powers to issue any decision without any alternative authority in the country having the power to oppose or revoke it” and “the right to use all ‘necessary procedures and measures’” to handle counterrevolutionary threats. In effect, Morsi assumed the dimensions of Mubarak.
Despite repealing the declaration within a few weeks, outraged protesters understood Morsi’s true intentions: to rule rather than represent Egyptians. As Cairo-based journalist Joseph Mayton recently put it, “The Muslim Brotherhood is now leading the government and putting their own Islamic mark on the country, one that threatens the very idea of freedom and justice.”
Three decades of Mubarak’s dictatorship created a forlorn political landscape, but a new epoch of political participation has been ushered in: one in which Egyptians, stripped of their fear, flood the streets when their right to dignity and self-determination come under threat. It’s in this context that, on the second anniversary of January 25, revolution continues.
Patrick O. Strickland is the Israel-Palestine Editor for BikyaNews.com. His writing has appeared at Fair Observer, In These Times, CounterPunch.org, SocialistWorker.org, Al-Akhbar English, and elsewhere.