A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Bliss Was it in That Dawn ...": From Revolutionary Enthusiasm to ... What?

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!--Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
                                                                            Wordsworth on the French Revolution

Wordsworth captures the enthusiasm of the initial revolutionary fervor of the French Revolution, even among some Englishmen. But that Revolution evolved into the Terror and the guillotine, the Directory and Bonaparte. On the first anniversary of the Egyptian uprising, many of the revolutionaries are disillusioned (though not all), and many Westerners who initially applauded Arab spring are disturbed and apprehensive by an elective Egyptian Parliament in which the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more conservative Salafi Al-Nour Party hold 70% of the seats. The Army and the Islamists have declared today to be a day of celebration of the Revolution (as if it is something that occurred, and is completed); the young revolutionaries have declared it a day of protest, to fulfill and complete an unfinished revolution. We'll see how the day turns out.

Certainly democracy is messy, and the elections, though they went fairly predictably, did not produce the sort of revolutionary change the young idealists dreamt of. Many in the West see the results as dismal: bad for the US, bad for Israel, and yearn for the certitudes of the Mubarak years.

Later today I'll be doing a roundup of opinion pieces on the revolution's anniversary, but I think a responsible historical view would be that a revolutionary movement is a process, and we cannot control its direction; on the other hand, an elected Parliament is something new, and provides a counterpoint to the military council; this will be a year of bartering and maneuver over a new constitution, and a new President. Meanwhile the young revolutionaries are still there, and the masses of ordinary Egyptians, though perhaps most interested in stability, will also hold the new government to account, as they ultimately, after 30 years, did the old one. If the Islamist fail to make life better, they may find their majority in trouble. To those who fear they will seize power and hold it, that this election will have been, "one man, one vote, one time," I would say that 1) there is no evidence of that, and 2) I think that underestimates just how much Egypt changed a year ago. Once people know they can bring about revolutionary change, they will have the option of doing it again if the new system fails.

I am not totally complacent about Egypt's prospects, but I'm not going to view with alarm until we have some kind of evidence that the worst scenarios are transpiring The West didn't make this revolution, and it's not ours to shape. Tahiyya Misr.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Whoever ends up governing Egypt will have to deal with an economic crisis that is growing more serious by the week -- higher unemployment, higher prices for the wheat and oil Egypt must import, growing population, declining foreign investment, declining foreign exchange reserves. A thankless job. And you can be sure the masses of the poor will not thank anyone -- SCAF, young liberal activists filling the cyber sphere, Islamists filling the seats in Parliament. Woe to those who may think they are winners.