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.