Just a little over a year ago, on the 25th of January 2011, a revolution was triggered by the people of Egypt. It was a revolution against dictatorship, totalitarianism and tyranny. Socio-economic conditions in the country were so unbearable that a change had to come and in that sense the revolution, one could say, was not entirely a surprise.
All efforts to make the change through the political system in place at that time were doomed to failure since the regime in power would always manipulate elections results. For example, there is no other explanation for the majority that the National Democratic Party, headed by Hosni Mubarak, gained after the 2004 elections other than that the result was fixed. And the same is also true for the result of the 2010 elections.
However, soon enough it became obvious to most Egyptians that the system that was in place was making up the results so that the same party and the same individual would keep returning to power. In due course of time, this increased despondency among ordinary Egyptians — with many thinking that their vote would have no effect on the outcome — resulted in an increasingly lower voter turnout over the years.
At the same time, economic conditions were such that a rising percentage of the Egyptian population was falling below the poverty line. The result was a gradual erosion of the size of the middle class, which was steadily shrinking, and further widening the gap between the rich and the poor. It was then clear that the regime was moving away from the aspirations of the masses to the extent that it was no longer seen to be representing the will of the Egyptian people.
In all of this, the freedom of the media was a crucial element. For years, the regime was spared from any criticism because it didn’t have to contend with the power of social media. However, one should not underestimate the role played by social media in creating alternative channels of communication and in allowing ordinary Egyptians to broadcast their opinion, both to other Egyptians and to the rest of the world.
The fact that the youth played a key role in the revolution is significant, since it is Egypt’s young people who are overwhelmingly computer literate and connected to the rest of the world via the internet. They were brought up with the values of respect for human rights and democracy, and are not familiar with restrictions. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter played a key role in mobilising Egyptians to come together to hold protests and demonstrations against the former regime, a process that began with a political demonstration on January 25, 2011.
It is for everyone to notice the major elements behind the success of such a revolution, which was spontaneous yet peaceful, and which gained the sympathy of all Egyptians.
A year has gone by but the road is still long. The building of Egypt’s democratic institutions has just begun with the election of a parliament that held its first session on January 23. Elections to the upper chamber of parliament (known as the Shura Council) are still to come, followed by a constitutional committee which will draft a new constitution. By June this year, elections for a new Egyptian president will be held and this will complete the institutional framework of post-revolution Egypt.
Other countries can learn from Egypt and how its people went about bringing revolutionary change.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2012.
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