Watching Mohamed Fouad, the singer, open last Thursday’s trading session at the Cairo Stock Exchange was especially worrying. It came only a few hours after Egyptians had stayed up all night celebrating their partial, temporary victory. On the previous day, Egyptians had just managed to remove a president who was blocking their revolution. So why would the Stock Exchange, on that day of all days, choose one of those old regime performers who had spent so much time on television crying about Mubarak’s downfall?
This anxiety is not misplaced. In revolutions, symbols mean everything. When state officials recycle figures and even celebrities of the old era in prominent public roles, it is a very bad omen indeed. It is not that we want these figures gone. But we just do not want them as symbols of anything anymore.
The scene at the Stock Exchange is cause for worry because the sudden reappearance of feloul figures such as Fouad might encourage others to try to roll back the gains of the revolution, some of which are genuine. Some of these people might even hope to regain their old Mubarak-era perches. But these fears are offset by initiatives coming from other sectors that have hurried to push back against the new regime before it gets a chance to settle into its new throne.
The workers of Suez hurried to announce their right to make demands, in part to test the intentions of the country’s new rulers. They have been able to do this because they rightly believe that it was the workers’ movement that proved most decisive in toppling Mubarak. Their support for the new regime is based on certain defined conditions. For instance, they have demanded that when appropriate, certain businessmen be barred from travel. They have also called for a stop to practices that grant business owners unfair bargaining advantages, just as they have asked for amendments to an unjust labor law that has resulted in thousands of workers being fired from their jobs. They stopped abiding by the legislative amendments that effectively turned a blind eye on corrupt practices. They continue to insist on new laws that would grant labor unions more freedoms. Similarly, the right to form independent unions is now a non-negotiable demand.
“The Voice of the Midan Students” did the same thing in Alexandria, showing again that they did not go to the streets to give political cover to the Army and that they will be a thorn in the body of the new regime if the demands of “bread, freedom, and social justice” are not met. They demanded new student election rosters and have sworn that they will not abide by the old ones.
Perhaps it is too early to say anything about these preemptive initiatives to establish basic rights—but they are significant nonetheless. Those social forces that made the January Revolution have yet to reap its fruits and now they have returned with the will to forge the rights they are owed. We will see groups pursuing a range of social and regional and class interests. No doubt these initiatives will widen. Each revolution will spread and merge with the others to form something shared.
The truth is that the new regime is between a rock and a hard place. The difficulty lies in the great hurry that groups will impose on the timetable. These groups have just been burned by the Morsi regime and have lost most of their patience. At the same time, the new regime has an opportunity to make good-faith initiatives to slow down the waiting period. It could begin this way: instead of merely amending the discredited constitution of the Muslim Brotherhood, they could announce the drafting of a new constitution guided by the social and economic demands of the revolution.
Likewise, the time is ripe to get rid of the Brotherhood-dominated Shura Council and strike a new balance within the state. There is much that the new regime could do in this regard, if it wanted to. A rebalanced state needs to be based on the following principles:
- Lift taxes on those with limited incomes, as well as stipulating a gradated rate of taxation.
- Halt sales tax increases on services and commodities, since this puts an unfair burden on the weakest segments of society.
- Impose taxes on capital gains, and on speculator trading on the stock market.
- Shift budget priorities away from the Interior Ministry (which had been the favorite of the Muslim Brotherhood) and toward spending on education and health
- Provide a safety net for the unemployed.
- Impose and enforce minimum and maximum limits on wages.
- Increase the level of support directed to Upper Egypt. The region was largely absent during the January Revolution but now stands at the forefront of rebellion.
The revolution is still in good health. Millions of feet marching under the hot June sun have given it new life. I saw this with my own eyes in Ittihadeya as the crowds waited breathless to hear the Armed Forces’ announcement. Near me was a woman whose humble clothes gave away the fact that she came from a popular district. She was talking to her daughter on a cell phone, and her daughter was telling her that her husband was asking where she was. The woman raised her voice, “You tell him that Mama’s talking to the President right now!” Everyone who overheard the conversation laughed. I did not think it was funny—because I knew she meant exactly what she said. She knew that she was an active participant in the negotiations that were taking place at the highest levels of state. She knew that her presence in the street, among throngs of other people, made all the difference in getting rid of the President. She knew that if she had not been there, the generals would not have been able to get the upper hand in dealing with the Americans, and would not have been able to get rid of Morsi.
Later, in Tahrir, I saw young men setting off skyrockets and others filling the skies with the green light of their laser pointers. I saw young women trilling and veiled women dancing and singing wedding songs while everyone clapped and celebrated. There, as I was leaving, I saw two young men standing in the middle of it all. They were loudly debating whether to join in with all the celebrations, or whether it was nothing but a military coup hidden behind massive crowds. Their argument finally reached an impasse, when one of them yelled, “You think that we will shut up if the military tries to cross us? They will not be able to. We will not let them.”
Have faith in yourselves, you who made the revolution. Even if they wanted a coup, let’s give them revolution!
[This article originally appeared in Arabic in El-Sherouk daily on 7 July 2013. It was translated by Elliott Colla.]