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What remains of Egypt’s January 25 revolution?

Few are left to commemorate the popular uprising and fewer still see it as a defining moment of Egyptian modern history

Sonia Farid

Published: Updated:

On January 24, Egyptian state and private channels aired live from the Police Academy in Cairo a lengthy celebration of Police Day and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke of the sacrifices by officers to preserve national security and on January 25 the president gave a short speech from the presidential palace on the sacrifices offered by revolutionary youths to effect a real change.

While the January 2011 revolution erupted on the 25th to protest human rights violations committed by the police and to demand the toppling of the police state, six years later Police Day seems to have taken over once more at least at the official level. And with a large number of Egyptians questioning whether it was a revolution in the first place and others not remembering it at all, few are left to commemorate the popular uprising and fewer still see it as a defining moment of Egyptian modern history.

Hassan Nafaa, Professor of political science, said that mention of the January 25 Revolution in the official discourse has been dwindling over the years and that the same applies to most political parties. “This is expected since none of the revolution’s goals materialized,” he said.

“The military did not suppress the revolution because they wanted to stop the bequest of power scenario to make sure Mubarak’s son would not become president and when this plan worked, the old regime was back in a different form.”

Nafaa added that the revolution receded to the background because none of the revolutionaries is actually present in the public sphere. “In fact, the public sphere is now mostly occupied by people who do not believe in the revolution and who constantly deride it.”

Systematic campaign

Mokhtar Ghobashi, deputy director of the Arab Center for Political and Strategic Studies, argued that a systematic campaign was launched by regime loyalists, especially media professionals, to tarnish the image of the revolution and he particularly mentioned wiretaps involving leading revolutionaries. “There is no use whatsoever of airing years’ old wiretaps except to incite the public against the revolution through presenting it as a conspiracy that aimed at destabilizing national security and presenting the revolutionaries as a bunch of mercenaries,” he said.

Ghobashi noted that the timing of releasing the wiretaps reveals an attempt at distracting the people from remembering a revolution that “shook the whole world and not only Egypt,” as he put it. “Plus, where did they obtain those wiretaps from?” he wondered, possibly hinting that they might be fabricated.

Gamal Gibril, Professor of constitutional law, noted that despite several drawbacks, the revolution managed to make two critical changes in the political scene in Egypt. “First, it limited the presidency to two four-year terms so a president cannot stay in power as long as he wishes like what happened before,” he said.

“Second, it made the declaration and extension of the state of emergency contingent upon a number of strict conditions.”

Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, deputy director of the National Human Rights Council, said that while the revolution did not succeed in achieving many of its goals, it still made a substantial change. “The revolution put an end to the state of political stagnation that existed in the Mubarak era as the people became part of the public sphere and managed to get many of their demands through it,” he said.

Shokr added that drafting of a new constitution and holding presidential and parliamentary elections constitute extremely significant gains. “The revolution at least taught people a lot about their leverage and lobbying powers.”

Journalist Abdel Nasser Salama argued that there is no point remembering the January 2011 revolution whether by its supporters or detractors. “For the first group, the revolution was a source of frustration and for the second, it was a disaster, and now we are back to square one,” he wrote, adding that the Egyptian people are the real victim since they had high hopes that were eventually dashed.

For Salama, the revolution was a failure on all fronts, which becomes obvious in the immaturity of the revolutionaries, the greed of regime loyalists, economic and political conditions, and human rights violations “Celebrating the anniversary of the January 25 Revolution is a form of hypocrisy. Let us look for another date to celebrate and let us get over this one as we got over other past defeats. Meanwhile, January 25 will only be Police Day.”

No conflict

MP Mohamed Abu Hamed argued that there is not conflict between celebrating Police Day and commemorating the January 2011 revolution since both cases represent a struggle for freedom. “On January 25, 2011, Egyptians people took to the streets to topple a repressive regime and on January 25, 1952, Egyptian police officers fought British occupation forces,” he said in reference to the clashes that took place in the Ismailia governorate and in which British forces killed 50 policemen and injured 80.

“People in the two sacrificed their lives.” Abu Hamed argued that hostile sentiments against the revolution are partly attributed to the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood whose members “hijacked the revolution,” as he put it. “That is why official discourse should include a distinction between those who wanted freedom and justice and those who wanted chaos and destruction.”