The January 25 Revolution in Egypt
The January 25 Revolution in Egypt encountered many of the dilemmas that other revolutionary movements had experienced. After successfully overthrowing the old regime in 2011, revolutionaries attempted to produce a new leadership that could lead Egypt toward achieving the peaceful exchange of power; building a functional, democratic parliament; and abolishing the absolute authority of an authoritarian ruler. The young leaders of the revolution faced the challenge of stepping into the realm of politics for the first time and had to act as professional politicians immediately after overthrowing Hosni Mubarak. They were in a race against time to gain the trust of the people.
Many Egyptians claim that the January 25 Revolution was an external conspiracy against Egyptian national security and economic stability. However, throughout history Egyptian revolutions have typically been the subject of conspiracy theories. In his memoirs, the Azharite scholar Abdul Wahab Al Najjar describes how British occupation authorities claimed that the Egyptian Revolution of 1919 was a German conspiracy against Britain.23 They falsely accused Germany and the Turkish Union of funding and supporting the revolutionaries. Western revolutions have also been accused of being conspiracies of a small group of elites to usurp power. Brinton explains how the French Revolution was called the “Masonic Conspiracy,” while many Russians still believe that the Russian Revolution of 1917 was arranged by a ruthless minority of Bolsheviks to achieve their own political gains. A popular British conspiracy also surfaced following the American Revolution to discredit its aims.24
While many Egyptians believed in the idea of “constitution first,” many claimed that the January 25 Revolution failed, as it did not lead to the drafting of a new constitution after the overthrow of Mubarak. However, given the political and social unrest that emerged in Egypt after the events of January 25, and which is in fact still present, no constitution can credibly promise success. At this critical phase, new leaders should prioritize their goals in a way that can lead to building the social foundations for democracy and freedom. After overthrowing the Mubarak regime, Egyptians struggled with a new kind of oppression: that created by the Muslim Brotherhood. From the beginning of the January 25 revolution, the brotherhood did not share the dreams of the people for social justice and human dignity. The brotherhood joined the revolution at a later stage, with aims of replacing the old, corrupt regime. In spite of the fact that the January 25
revolution offered it the chance to operate naturally in Egyptian society, the Muslim Brotherhood proved that it was only interested in seizing power. The brotherhood failed to lead Egypt through its postrevolutionary turmoil and refused to cooperate with other political parties. It destroyed all possibilities for collaborative work with other national elements of Egyptian society and ignored the fact that its legitimacy as an elected authority could only be protected if it represented the interests of all Egyptians.
According to Sharp, “Authority is perceived as legitimacy.”25 Authority allows a person or institution to be accepted as superior in one way or another. Individuals or institutions with authority are seen to have the right to command and be obeyed or followed. Governments cannot successfully continue to hold power without acquiring people’s consent or approval. If such consent is lost, immediate and radical reforms should be adopted by the regime to regain its legitimacy. The Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including its elected president Mohammed Morsi, could have saved Egypt from the political and social turmoil that followed the ouster of Mubarak. It was possible, at the time, to call for early presidential elections, followed by parliamentary elections under the supervision of a transnational but neutral government—a process that would have required the brotherhood to be held accountable for its actions. But Morsi and his followers were obsessed with attaining political power and opted to sacrifice Egyptian security in the pursuit of it.
Still, the mistakes made by the Muslim Brotherhood, either when they were in power or before, do not justify the current actions being taken against it. The systematic repression of the party and the attempts to incriminate all its members will only repeat the mistakes of the past. In fact, such practices threaten national unity. Mahmoud Al Nukrashi had tried to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood in 1948, seizing its assets and incarcerating its members, yet this did not end the movement; the brotherhood merely continued to operate as an illegal underground organization. The long years of prohibition did not weaken the group. In fact, if Al Nukrashi had chosen to bring the members of the Muslim Brotherhood to a fair trial—to expose their crimes to the public—he could have saved his life and the lives of countless other Egyptians. Instead, he was assassinated by the brotherhood after the ban was implemented.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders should be prosecuted for their crimes through fair trials that guarantee their legal rights. Such trials will assist in restoring the reputation of the Egyptian legal institutions and help rebuild the credibility of the state. Egyptians, who refused the old regime for its dictatorial practices, should not adopt those practices against other Egyptians in order to maintain peace and security. The revolution is not a cleansing movement; rather, it is a step toward a free and democratic Egypt, where people accept each other regardless of their beliefs by working together to achieve the goals of justice, freedom, and dignity.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s failure to ensure peace and order has even created a kind of nostalgia among many Egyptians for the days of relative calm under Mubarak. Some have gone even further by accusing the revolutionaries of destroying national peace. Such groups are misled by the belief that their suffering is the product of the revolution. Unfortunately, far too many were ready to surrender their freedom and civil rights, even welcoming acts of repression against other Egyptians, in exchange for an end to the chaos and unrest that is currently a fact of life in Egypt. Simply put, people are unaware of the fact that they are just forcing history to repeat itself.