Still Waiting for the Revolution

The question that must be asked is whether the Egyptian masses have any reason to celebrate; the answer is 'not really.'

Elie Podeh, Limor Lavi
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Elie Podeh, Limor Lavi

January 25 - the date on which the protests that toppled the Mubarak regime began - will be celebrated in Egypt as a holiday, the ruling military council has decided. There is more than a little irony in the fact that what was known as "Police Day" in the former era will henceforth be "Revolution Day." But beyond that, the question that must be asked is whether the masses have any reason to celebrate.

The answer is "not really."

Most of the revolution's goals have yet to be realized. True, former President Hosni Mubarak and other senior officials of the former ruling party are now behind bars, but both the exposure of their corruption and the legal proceedings against them are far from over. And in their stead, Egypt is now being ruled by a military elite that refuses to give up power until it has enshrined a special role for itself in the future constitution and ensured the protection of its economic interests.

In the meantime, it continues to violently suppress demonstrations, try civilians in military courts and punish journalists who criticize it. There is even evidence that the military was responsible for conducting virginity tests on female demonstrators in Tahrir Square, and as well as for inciting against and killing Copts.

Egypt has had four governments over the last year, but not one of them was capable of dealing properly with the country's security, political, economic and social problems, which have only grown since the revolution. In the streets, chaos reigns. Aside from demonstrations by various groups and violent clashes with the security forces, crime levels have soared. The media regularly reports on prisoner escapes, kidnappings for ransom, armed family feuds, a takeover by criminal gangs of the cooking gas and gasoline distribution business, arms trafficking, drug trafficking, organ trafficking and more.

The chaos in the streets has led to a decline in production capacity and a rise in unemployment, as well as large drops in tourism and foreign investment and an increase in inflation. All of this has contributed to a sharp drop in growth. Moreover, Egypt has received neither the foreign aid it was promised by both Arab and Western states nor loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But despite its budget deficit, estimated at about $10 billion, successive finance ministers have granted various benefits to the citizenry in response to pressure. And the crisis in relations with the United States sparked by Egypt's legal investigation into civil-society organizations that receive foreign funding threatens to undermine its annual American aid.

From a political standpoint, the first elections have turned the Muslim Brotherhood (and the Salafists ) into key players in the political arena, for the first time. Secular, liberal, leftist, female and Coptic candidates, and especially representatives of the young people who led the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, have been pushed to the margins.

A constitution has yet to be drafted, but the battle over its wording has already led to an outbreak of violence and worsening polarization.

The revolution's goals have also not yet been achieved in the realm of foreign relations; Egypt is too preoccupied with domestic issues. The first foreign minister to take office after the revolution, Nabil Elaraby, did conduct what looked like revolutionary diplomacy: He opened the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, forged closer relations with Hamas and expressed willingness to renew relations with Iran. But since he left, policy has returned to the channels characteristic of the former era.

Popular expressions of hostility toward Israel have increased, but the military council has stood firm against this popular pressure. Even the Islamic parties hastened to send reassuring messages pledging to honor the peace treaty, though they will try to make some legitimate changes in it, mainly in the provisions relating to the deployment of forces in Sinai and the deal to supply Israel with natural gas.

If revolutions are judged by their results, then in Egypt, no real revolution has yet occurred. Still, change is measured over the course of time, so any conclusions about how "revolutionary" the change has been would be premature. It seems that only after the constitution has been drafted will it be possible to more accurately assess the degree of change.

In any event, much time will pass before the ordinary citizen will be able to reap its fruits. Will the masses wait patiently, or will they head to Tahrir Square for another round?

Elie Podeh is a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University. Limor Lavi is a doctoral student in that department and head of the Egypt desk at MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Read this article in Hebrew.



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