Understanding Egyptian Movement

This Article was published in
The Frontier Post (February 10, 2011)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

The law and order situation in Egypt seems to worsen by the day. The protesters have refused to accept President Mubarak’s contention of not standing for elections. President Mubarak in a nationwide address late on Tuesday evening announced to stay in office till September hand over power in a phased manner. Their major demand is that the President leaves office immediately before the opposition leaders come to the negotiating table. Meanwhile, the clashes between the protesters and the supporters of President Mubarak continue at the Tahrir Square in Cairo. The international community has expressed its concern over the rising violence in Egypt and demanded both of the Egyptian authorities and the opposition parties to refrain from violence. The protesters have announced to continue their demonstrations unless the President steps down, which means that more chaos and rioting is likely to happen in days to come.

This wave of public anger originally kick started by the uprising in Tunisia which forced Ben Ali to leave the country, has spread through the streets of Yemen, Jordan, Egypt and other countries. While the ruling elites in the Arab and Muslim world have been shaken out of slumber, the masses in general have welcomed the developments. This speaks volumes about the widening disconnect between the ruling elites and masses who have increasingly become critical of the way their countries are being run like family fiefdoms. The nature of political system and the domination of the state decision-making and resources by the corrupt elite have sowed the seeds of hatred and anger among the people. Added to this state of affairs is the political disempowerment of masses where they are merely used as tools to say yes to the public policy and the facades of referendums held to give longevity to the dictatorships.

While the emergence of awareness among masses about their rights is a welcome development, however, these uprisings run the risk of further deepening the divides and making situation even worse than before. In our zeal of impending change, we must not lose sight of bigger picture and long-term implications of our actions. There is a dire need to dispassionately review the entire situation as it unfolds and draw right conclusions. The following points are instructive in this regard:

There is difference between violence and revolution. Violence leads to negative change and begets rioting and lawlessness. Furthermore, it is instrumental in changing the set of oppressors. Revolution though accompanied by violence, on the other hand, is constructive force, which changes the overall power paradigm in favour of the disempowered and the dispossessed.

Another major difference between revolution and violence is that revolution is a process which seeks to implement a new philosophy. It is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Revolution has a strong and dynamic leadership to lead it who sees it through various phases. A revolutionary leader or set of leaders plans their movement, exercise influence on their followers and knows their limits. They carefully choreograph their actions to achieve the desired objective. The major weapon in their armory is a revolutionary program or idea which rallies people from different walks of life. Contrary to this, violence is abrupt, has no philosophy or leadership. The unending spate of violence leads to chaos and instability.

If we go by the history of revolutions in the world, we come to know that popular revolutions in Europe which were indigenous in character were led by ideas. They had clear destinations to reach and objectives to achieve. In case of Egypt, hatred for one man seems to override all other considerations. While this writer holds no brief for dictatorship and monarchy, but the fact of the matter is that the present movement for change in Egypt appears to be influenced by extraneous factors. Those supposedly leading the movement have not offered any program or reform agenda. There is hardly any credible leader to command respect and influence. Reports suggest that the extremist elements, banned by the Egyptian government, have resurfaced and are in the forefront of this movement. They have a vested agenda to veer the movement towards their declared goals.

If change is what is required as it should be, it must come from the internal ethos of people. The people have to build their capacity for change and bring about change in their value system, actions and thoughts so that a representative leadership may emerge to lead the movement in a positive direction. A movement without ideology and true leadership is destined to fail. We must not forget the outcome of fall of the Ottoman Empire whereby a Muslim empire was splintered into various countries which came under influence of colonizing powers and have had little say in their own affairs.