- By Mohamed El DahshanMohamed El Dahshan is a development economist and a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
We haven’t seen crowds like this in Egypt since February 2011. Some estimates suggest they have no precedent in the country’s history.
Reports, comments, tweets from marches all over Egypt seem to confirm that, and with the same excited tone: "There are so many people here I can’t see the beginning or the end of the march. Protesters are young, old, walking with friends or pushing strollers – even the occasional wheelchair. It looks like the whole country has taken to the street!"
And then the speaker, or writer, invariably ends with, "I love it!"
We did a little reminiscing this morning. Given the places, the crowds, the friends, it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed by memories of the 18 days of the revolution, and how we hoped, at the time, that we were on to something big. But then we hold back. Reminiscing is what you do when the job is over and, and, as circumstances remind us, it is far from being over.
Still, today is undeniably a day of remembrance. It’s a day to remember how we were afraid but defied our fear nevertheless. How we discovered that unarmed protesters are stronger than riot police in full gear, and that they can even bring the gargantuan state apparatus to its knees.
To remember that last year we fought against police brutality, corruption, lack of opportunity, and the unfair distribution of rights and wealth. And that a few of our demands were met, though most have not been.
It’s a day to remember our heroes and our martyrs, those who paid the ultimate price so that we can walk our streets with pride.
To remember how Egyptians were moved as we witnessed marchers around the world chanting their support, a display of global camaraderie from a world family we had forgotten during our years of dictatorial isolation. We discovered again that we belonged, and so we sent messages of solidarity to Japan, Spain, and the U.S. Occupy movement.
And it’s also a day to remember how, a year ago, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups chose to stay on the sidelines. (The Muslim Brotherhood, goaded on by its youth wing, joined a few days later. The Salafi parties stuck by their lack of revolutionary principles. Until election day, that is.)
It’s also a day of redemption, a moment for acknowledging errors made and affirming our will to correct them. Our chief mistake was to embrace the army. Egyptians, as members of a primarily agricultural society, once affectionately referred to it as "the army of peasants," meaning the army of the people, not the landowners. We soon discovered that the army didn’t have the best interests of the revolution at heart. It soon became apparent that the military leadership, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), was determined to maintain the status quo and to allow as little change as possible. As revolutionary forces continued to pursue their cause, the army slowly began to reveal its ugly face. As early as March 9, less than a month after Mubarak was deposed, the army attacked protesters in Tahrir Square, killing, arresting, torturing and violating. It has done so repeatedly since.
For the past few weeks, the state media and the unelected SCAF have led a fear-mongering campaign. Attempting to paint revolutionaries as criminals, they claimed that "plans" were being made to "set the country on fire" on January 25. Yesterday, however, the SCAF backpedaled, announcing the suspension of the emergency law in an attempt to pre-empt the protests. (Which raises a simple question: Why would you suspend the emergency law if there were a real threat?) The Muslim Brotherhood, reassured by its near-majority in the parliament, joined the anti-revolutionary chorus by accusing hordes of "anarchists" of fomenting "chaos" in the country. (Weirdly enough, the Brotherhood’s newspaper, in a front-page story, also accused said anarchists of donning Guy Fawkes masks, which it described as "Bandetta masks," apparently a corruption based on the U.S. film V for Vendetta. The Twittersphere had a field day with that one – see hashtag #BforBandetta.)
The turnout on the street today proves that most people no longer believe the army or state television. It is true that dozens of people wore masks — but they were masks of the martyrs. They showed the faces of Al Azhar Mosque religious scholar Emad Effat, murdered by the army exactly 40 days ago, of Mina Daniel, of Shehab Ahmed. This was a way of adding their faces, the faces of those who couldn’t be with us, to this family portrait of the revolution. Egyptians are chanting for an end to military rule, for accountability, for punishment for those who killed our children, for the rights of the revolution’s injured and deceased. They are also chanting for Syria’s freedom, and for Bahrain’s revolution.
Millions of Egyptians are in the streets today, all over the country. Thousands camped out in the square last night. Since 2 pm or so, there wasn’t a square foot free in Tahrir. Avenues are blocked kilometers away. One day all will be proud to say that they were here.
SCAF’s tyrannical behavior, ironically, has given Egyptians a deeper understanding of what is wrong with their country. Today Egypt’s revolution isn’t against Mubarak and his cronies. It is a fight to expose and dismantle the army-state apparatus, which tolerates no dissent and seeks to dominate, subdue, and enslave society for its own benefit.
Egypt’s revolutionaries are therefore gearing up for the next phase of their uprising. Judging by the overwhelming popular mandate issued from the country’s streets today, Egypt faces brighter days.
Wish your Egyptian friends a happy January 25. Tell them you admire their fight for freedom. And follow the live updates of today’s events on Al-Ahram Online‘s live coverage or via twitter, using the hashtags #Egypt or #Jan25.