The revolution’s ghetto

Ziad A. Akl
7 Min Read
Ziad A. Akl

This is an uncomfortable topic. Over the past five years, the meaning, significance, and purpose of the 25 January Revolution has been constantly debated and revised. Egypt has transformed from a country festering with mass celebrations in February 2011 to one plagued with fear and uncertainty in February 2016.

Sometimes, I think  we ought to ask ourselves if the problem lies within the revolution or within the way we view it? Is it a matter of a historical turn of events or a procedural political manipulation of collective perceptions? Do we want to invest in the definite willingness for change begotten in Tahrir Square or do we want to quietly pray at the altar of stability?

I am not planning to try and answer those questions within this piece, actually, I am not even planning on discussing them at length, but what I want to say cannot be detached from the mere necessity of raising those questions and contemplating their answers.

During the past five years, the revolutionary coalition that existed during the 18 days in Tahrir Square was fragmented. The reasons behind this fragmentation are plenty and they vary according to political opportunities, elite alliances, internal challenges, and state intervention.

At the same time, few attempts have been made to resurrect the concept of coalition between revolutionary forces. The most effective of those attempts was the anti-Muslim Brotherhood coalition that existed from November 2012 to June 2013. Although several non-revolutionary forces and Mubarak regime elites were part of that broad coalition, it remains one of few attempts to create a common ground between opposition forces. It is important here to differentiate between the various groups that shared some common goals—mainly putting an end to the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule over Egypt—and the National Salvation Front, which was a coalition that several revolutionary forces refused to become a part of due to the presence of counter-revolutionary figures within the coalition’s ranks.

In the post-3 July phase, the Egyptian political landscape has become once more void of any meaningful opposition. Due to the several constraints placed on political activity and collective action, revolutionary forces faced tangible challenges towards coalition building and internal organisation. At the same time, the political process was put on halt for almost two years, and when it came back, the resulting parliament lacked political content and direction, let alone diversity.

The political coalitions manufactured inside parliament were simply a different means of showing support for the regime. Therefore, the need for political coalitions between revolutionary forces started to surface once again. Motivated by an obvious absence of alternatives, some politicians proposed initiatives for a revolutionary re-grouping. While the idea bears some importance and reflects political necessity, its actual implementation remains dependent on two sad facts.

The first is the increasing state capacity for repression, one that transcends the mere practice of violently cracking down on political freedoms and extends to politicised judiciary, draconian legislation, deliberate marginalisation and de-prioritising freedoms of assembly and association in the name of national security and anti-state conspiracies. The diverse set of tools used by the regime to restrain political activity has put enormous challenges to the idea of coalition building.

Once more, Egyptian political life has relapsed into a selective process of interaction between the state and political forces, which means that the room allowed for political forces by the state is not one governed by concrete laws and objective regulations, but rather by the regime’s perception of the political forces engaging in opposition. This pattern of interaction has resurrected the Egyptian tradition of the state-commissioned opposition.

That dynamic does not only limit the possibilities of coalition building, it also makes the credibility of any future revolutionary political coalition very questionable; which leads us to the second sad fact in Egypt’s political scene.

The second sad fact is how the revolutionary block itself transformed in a ghetto-like manner to exclude itself from public political presence. Most counter-revolutionary arguments and rationales use this fact to criticise revolutionary forces, claiming that those forces are divided, alienated, consumed by deconstructive cynicism, and victimised by their own lack of participation.

I personally believe those arguments to be not only faulty, but also extremely biased and inaccurate because how revolutionary forces act cannot be detached from the set of external challenges they have to face. How distant revolutionary forces are from participatory politics is closely related to the systematic process of marginalisation and repression those forces are subjected to.

However, one cannot deny the increasing isolating sentiments that are shaping the presence of revolutionary forces in Egypt at the moment. It is true that the overall political environment is not supportive of any active presence, but it is also true that revolutionary forces are becoming a minority-like closed community.

The point is not laying blame on revolutionary forces; I honestly believe that it is very difficult not to develop into a revolutionary ghetto-like community. However, the point is how we need to question the efficiency of forming broad political coalitions. It is about time to start considering a revolutionary coalition capable of lasting in the face of Egypt’s closed political opportunity.

Means, tactics, and strategies are argumentative, but the presence of such an entity is much more needed than broad coalitions that simply aim to exist rather than actually try and induce change.

Ziad A. Akl is a political analyst and sociologist. He is a senior researcher at the Egyptian Studies Unit in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

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Ziad A. Akl is a political analyst and sociologist. He is a senior researcher at the Egyptian Studies Unit in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
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