Campbell: Egypt’s Spring Becomes a Long Hot Summer

Dennis Campbell writes in a guest column for Informed Comment :

Egypt’s Spring Becomes a Long Hot Summer

Democracy is messy.

Freedom is contagious.

For 18 days in January and February, the world sat on the edge of its seats watching an Egyptian people yearning to breathe free. The overthrow of Hosni Mubarak by a plucky band of pro-democracy youths remains a great story and the signature moment of 2011’s Arab spring.

Listening to pundits today though, you might be forgiven for thinking it never happened. As we watch the evening news and talk shows, ruthless dictators in Syria and Libya attack their people with impunity. On the basis of protests and internal squabbles, they are quick to proclaim Egypt’s revolutionary gains on the brink of collapse and point to an intransigent military clinging to wealth and power as their ‘proof.’

And yet this week the world saw the resumption of the remarkable trial of former President Hosni Mubarak for deaths caused by his orders during the uprising and his sons Gamal and Alaa were in the dock for massive corruption, looting the country of billions.

Lying on a stretcher inside the metal defendant’s cage, the military government and courts wanted to be seen conducting this trial with openness, dignity, speed and fairness. They needed to show that despite many bumps along the way, freedom is on track in Egypt and there is a price to be paid for past behaviour.

When I wrote the book Egypt Unsh@ckled, I faced a dilemma. I wanted to tell all sides of an amazing story by interviewing those closest to the event. However, as time passed further and further away from the actual event, speaking with people who were either in the Square or helped organise the protest, there was a palpably increased level of weariness, anger and suspicion in their voices.

If I spoke to a somewhat secular Muslim he would complain conspiratorially about the Copts (Coptic Christians) and offered to “tell me what was really going on.” If I spoke to a Copt, she would speak in a whisper about “the Muslim Brotherhood and how they were doing work in the community that was not to be trusted since they were just trying to buy votes.”

I eventually had to stop talking to people in the Square because they were caught up in the ‘sausage-making’ of a new government. Many busily listened to the outside world and, frankly, forgot what they had accomplished together just a few short months earlier.

As I researched the US Constitutional Congress’ disputes in the years between 1776 and 1787, members of a newly forming US government met in much the same way Egyptians do today. They dealt with thorny issues such as the role of church and state, a free-standing military and form of governance in much the same way the people of Egypt now meet continually to discuss the direction of their new country.

Those Colonists took 11 long years to sort it out and still many amendments were added to that base document based on changing real world realities and precedent.

Egypt has had six months.

They need time to seize this important moment and the next and the next. Based on the seriousness of those with whom I spoke over the last several months, learning how to lead will come through tough experience. It is one thing to win independence as a faceless and leaderless movement. Now, to govern, they must find a way to keep their idealism whilst swallowing doses of pragmatism to remain serious and relevant.

As has been said, one campaigns in poetry and governs in prose. Their story of perseverance over the 18 days was pure poetry.

Let us remember the journey of the reluctant hero (Wael Ghonim, the Google marketing executive) who slayed the dragon (Mubarak). His release and television interview lit the candle that ignited a spark and enraged a nation. It re-ignited a movement that was losing public support and teetering on the brink of collapse. They then collectively toppled the Mubarak regime three days later.

Let us also remember the epochal story line of good vs. pure evil as thugs on camel and horseback unleashed a medieval level of violence where rocks and petrol bombs flew through the air like deadly snowflakes and the walking wounded were treated in a makeshift field hospital before rushing back to the front.

Remember the moment when all hope looked lost during that third week. Parents urged the youths to stop now, they had achieved their goals, the government was changing, a new cabinet was meeting. The pro-deomcracy youth though knew that if they quit, they would be hunted down and killed. It was that moment in every great film where hope faded and things look their darkest before the dawn.

Remember the massive chain of humanity in Tahrir and Suez, Ismalia and Alexandria locking arms and stretching into the sea outside of an empty Presidential Palace on that final day.

And finally, remember the sheer joy and celebration on the faces of everyone that night when they realised they had survived it all.

That is what the Arab spring is about, hope translated into real, heroic change.

Denis Campbell is Editor-in-chief of UK Progressive magazine and author of Egypt Unsh@ckled: Using social media to @#:) the System (How 140 characters can remove a dictator in 18 Days)

[Kindle edn. available here] published by Cambria Books. He is based in Wales where he provides commentary for the BBC and others.

6 Responses

  1. Thanks Juan. Please let your readers know amazon.com is working out bugs in their system and orders will be shipped immediately not 1-3 weeks as it says.

  2. We in the US are still trying to figure out how to make our government work. For example, do the rules by which the Senate and House operate need to be changed? These rules are not part of the Constitution, but they affect our governing process on a daily basis. I imagine Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and ultimately Syria will have to deal with these questions, and they should be allowed enough time to do so.

  3. It’s so vital to understand, what is so often not understood, that the fight for independence or liberty is not the revolution. It is the forming of a new way of life. Thanks for the reminder.

    As I read U.S. history I wonder if the advantage the founding fathers had was the need to communicate in letters. Letters take time, and at the time, used not inexpensive resources so a precision of thought and economy of words were warranted. Do you think the speed and universality of social networking may impair the process of building a sound post-revolutionary government? Does social networking increase the risk of tyranny of public opinion? You are justified in responding, “Buy my book and see.”

  4. Do I recall rightly that a number of American politicians and “Statespersons” had their knickers in a twist about the NERVE of the people of Egypt to put their old Pharaoh on trial? Here’s one little snippet, from our Secretary of State:

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) 06/01/11 – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday the United States hoped Egypt would ensure due process when former President Hosni Mubarak is put on trial in August.

    The United States was also concerned over reports of a crackdown on journalists, judges and bloggers, Clinton said, adding that Egypt appeared to be drifting from the ideals expressed during pro-democracy protests centered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

    Mubarak was ordered to stand trial in August for the killing of protesters during the uprising against his rule.

    While emphasizing that it was up to the Egyptians to decide whether to prosecute Mubarak, Clinton said any trial should be conducted to the highest standard.

    “Obviously we want to see the rule of law,” Clinton told reporters.

    “We want to see appropriate due process and procedures followed in anyone’s trial, and particularly in such a highly charged trial as that will certainly be,” she said during an appearance in Washington with Brazil’s foreign minister.

    link to townhall.com

    A connoisseur of irony might find a particularly piquant set of examples in this obviously deeply held conviction of our almost-President. Ask Bradley Manning and so many others how it works here in the “Land of People Dumb Enough To Actually Believe They Are Free.” Tried to use your cell phone to organize a flash mob recently? Especially in San Fran?

    Gee, with all these Kleptocrats being knocked off their thrones by pissed-off, abused, plain old citizens, you have to wonder if even our Fearless Leaders maybe have just a frisson of unease in the pits of their bellies, and hope to instill a widespread belief in the populace that the “rule of law” and that due-process thing that they so flagrantly deny to others ought to be accorded them if Homeland Security and the armed services and Xe and Halliburton can’t keep the lid on the pressure cooker, that the fairness and justice they gleefully deny to others will be the precedent, procedures and rules of decision in the event they face their own righteously angry crowd.

    Note that there’s practically Zero coverage of this remarkable event in the MSM. (Sssshhh, don’t give the rabble any ideas…)

    Is Hypocrisy a certifiable religion, or just a convenient political construct? The Gospel according to Gingrich, et al.: “Do as I say, not as I do.”

    • Do I recall rightly that a number of American politicians and “Statespersons” had their knickers in a twist about the NERVE of the people of Egypt to put their old Pharaoh on trial?

      I can’t speak to what you “recall,” but there isn’t anything remotely like that in the passage you quoted.

  5. Is that the best “impeachment” you can offer?

    You got anything substantive on the “careful-watching” level of interest of Our Fearless Leaders in expecting the Egyptian authorities to extend the protections of the “rule of law” and “due process,” presumably of the “American” kind that no longer actually exists for the most of us, to a dictator with bloody hands and a long history of really large corruption? Especially that strange notion that an Arab, largely Muslim country, where the legal system is a mashup of, get this, Sharia law, and the Napoleonic or Civil Law Code, neither of which have a lot to do with the British system we borrowed when it was kind of at its Nadir of Justness, ought to be applying what, Common Law traditions and the Bill of Rights, in acting out a marvelous stable-cleaning. Criminal procedure under a Napoleonic system is rooted in the “inquisitorial” process, which might seem a little strange to a person who watches a lot of “Law and Order” episodes, or even Court TV.

    You got anything to offer on that front? Or on the point that the US government supported and aided and abetted Mubarak and of course many other dictators to, ah, “suppress” the “rule of law” rather vigorously against the local population? Oh, that was all “in our national interest,” wasn’t it? Wasn’t it? A simple yes or no will suffice.

    But of course the new governments of the people, from the people, are expected to hew to a much higher standard, since The People rebelled, and ran their insurgencies, from a higher moral plane.

    Not to worry, though — Reactionaries always end up on top. It’s all that baksheesh, you see…

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