Egypt: Once Upon A Revolution

It is sad to see the massacre and debacle going on in Egypt. I was one of those who wholeheartedly supported the Egyptian revolution in 2011. I eagerly joined many well wishers for a solidarity rally at the Trafalgar square in London to show support for the Egyptians who were revolting against the tyranny of Mubarak. I even made a video of the rally.

I believe in the conscious, collective power of a determined people to demand for progress in their society and make a change. I also understand that this collective power can be misused in a way that could lead to retrogression.DSC00088

One of the highlights of the 2011 Egypt revolution that many chose to celebrate was the part where Christian protesters acted as body shields for their fellow Muslim protesters to allow the Muslims protesters say their daily prayers at the protest ground. Many laud this as a true sign of unity and religious tolerance. Yes, it was a nice gesture but, I was not so impressed.  Not that I did not like that they did it, but to me, it was a glimpse of problems to come. Of course the revolution was a mass action, a life defining protest, they were in it together for better or for worse and they had a common enemy, so it was in all their interest to protect one another. Although I can understand why so many saw this gesture as an icon of religious tolerance but I just did not think it was all that.

For me, I was more concerned about the mixing of religion with revolution. I would respect a revolution where people did not have to take breaks to offer prayers to a Skydaddy. I would love to be part of a revolution where we all take collective responsibility for the success or failure of the revolution without offering prayers of assistance or sacrifices to a Skydaddy. A revolution consisting of a highly religious number of people who takes breaks to pray would to me, signal a problem that would most likely arise in future. A problem of religious delusion, that could cause the deluded to infringe on human, political and civil rights of those who don’t obey the instructions of their religion. If you were ok to take breaks during a revolution to offer prayers to a skydaddy, there is a high likelihood that you might be ok in future to take the other commandments of the skydady seriously, including the commandment that women should not be heard in public, that adulterous women should be publicly stoned, that honour killings are OK and that gays should be beheaded.  I will be weary of going into alliances with such people but then, what choice does one really have when it is a spontaneous mass revolution?

In that case, it would be great to have a road map and  be prepared that the revolution for a progressive, democratic society does not stop with the success of a spontaneous mass revolution where majority takes time out to pray every now and then.

As much as I admire the courage of the Egyptians to take their fate in their own hands and demand a revolutionary change, I wonder why they did not go the whole hog to have a revolution manifesto or at least make one up during the revolution.  Was it just about ousting Mubarak and its cronies or was it  supposed to also be about paving the way for a democratic society?

Yes, the revolution was spontaneous, in fact the Arab springs were mostly spontaneous and it caught on, ably aided by the use of social media.  Democratic means should have been used to secure the dividends of the revolution, after all the aim of the revolution was to secure a democracy and all that it promises.

e01_08967231 EGYPT-REVOLUTION-2011

I find it difficult to understand how a people who fought so hard for a democracy could go to the polls and vote in a religious party. I still do not understand how a religious party was registered to participate in an election made possible by a mass revolution that wanted a democracy.

The separation of State and Religion is a tenet of democracy; it is an important tenet of democracy. Why chuck away all that gains of a revolution by registering  religious political parties and also go to the polls to vote in a blatantly religious political party..

The Egyptians should know that they cannot eat their cake and have it. You wanted a democracy, you went to the polls and you voted in a president to serve for 4 years. You  cannot just turn around after a year  and say “You know what, we no longer want you, we will take to the street to depose you.”  This is not how democracy works.

Ousting Mubarak was your revolution and Morsi is your democratic mess. You just have to learn to live with it and manage it as best as possible until his constitutional term is up. Staging a ‘revolution’ to depose a constitutionally elected leader and inviting the military to take over is undemocratic to say the least.

African countries have had enough of military juntas and the woes they bring. One reason the continent is backward today is the incessant intrusion of military governments on its affairs. It is at least a good thing that the African Union immediately condemned the so called revolution to unseat an elected leader and the imposition of a military leader in Egypt.

Gone are the days when Africans take to the streets to celebrate military coups.  Awful experiences have shown times without number that coups do not bring Africans any good tidings. It seems Egypt did not get the memo.Mideast Egypt

Now, the new military regime is massacring the opposition and anyone who crosses its part. The opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, is also trying to claim back its party’s constitutional right to serve or rule as the case may be.

If it all started as peaceful sit-in-protests as claimed, the military was very wrong to violently disrupt peaceful protests, rendering so many injured and many dead.

I wonder why some Egyptians were surprised that the military acted so violently, what were they expecting, a democratic dialogue? When you invite in a military junta, what you get is military style governance, not a democrat inviting the opposition over for tea.  You really cannot eat your cake and have it.

Revolutions aren’t a dime a many, it takes massive effort to successfully pull one off, and it also claims lives. Revolution is never the first cause of action, in most cases, it is the last resort.

There are institutions within a democracy that the Egyptians could have used to bring their elected leader and his Muslim Brotherhood political party to order or at least curb their unwarranted enthusiasm.

The workers could have strengthened their trade unions as a means of political control and dialogue.  Trade unions could have been an avenue to bargain, negotiate, protect and protest workers rights which invariably include issues like employment rights, civil rights, women’s rights and sexual minority rights. Also organizing within trade unions are a veritable way to fight against government corruption.

Human rights groups and civil societies should have grown stronger after the successful revolution. Youth networks, women’s networks and other social groups should have joined forces to network and map out a democratic manifesto for the cDSC00085ountry that takes into cognizance, all stakeholders. The adopted programs could have been pushed via the ballot boxes.

Rather than develop all the sociopolitical structures that a democracy provides, Egypt chose to rely only on the last resort, mass revolution, as the answer to all problems. It is not, it never will be.

Too many interests are at stake. We can be united to fight against a common enemy, but once that enemy is gone, we will have other enemies within ourselves to combat , therefore we can never be so united as to always only have just one enemy. Taking to the street every time to eliminate our enemies would only lead to chaos and anarchy, because in most cases, we are our own enemies and the enemies are us.

It is indeed sad and I hope that the Egyptians get their acts together and salvage the situation before it escalates into another horrible nightmare. I do hope Egypt gets out of this devastating mess, enough of the bloodshed on this planet!


  1. Meggamat says

    You stated that democracies should not be able to remove leaders before their terms expire, but doesn’t that lead to bigger problems? perhaps it isn’t so unfair in a presidential system like Egypt, but what about parliamentarian systems? The people of the UK do not elect our PMs, only their constituents elect them (as MPs), so if a prime minister turns out to be evil or tyrannical or insane or otherwise unfit to govern, should the people of the UK have to put up with it for five years, or should there be a vote of no confidence. I cannot speak on behalf of people living in providentially run federations or countries, but I am glad that my prime minister can be removed if necessary.

  2. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Martin Waddington- Thanks. I have been meaning to write about the situation in Egypt but just couldn’t find the words. I am a fan and staunch advocate of revolutions, so this is quite sad.

  3. Yemisi Ilesanmi says


    You stated that democracies should not be able to remove leaders before their terms expire

    No, I did not state that, what i stated was

    You wanted a democracy, you went to the polls and you voted in a president to serve for 4 years. You cannot just turn around after a year and say “You know what, we no longer want you, we will take to the street to depose you.” This is not how democracy works.

    There are procedures within a democracy that provides for the removal of elected officers. There is the ‘Vote of no confidence’ , ‘Recall’ and there is ‘Impeachment’. These are all legal routes that can be explored. Democracy provides for ways of removing elected leaders.

    If we took to the streets to demand resignation of an elected president every time something goes wrong, we mock democracy, we trivialize revolutions and we create instability.

    I am happy errant leaders can be democratically removed, and as a last resort, we have the street. We also know that when it comes to revolution, we should be ready to pay with our lives and that of our children, after all revolution is not a tea party. Which is why it is important that we use all the democratic means afforded us by democracy before trooping to the street in a ‘do or die’ manner.

  4. Joe G. says

    I agree that I was supportive of the rallies out in the streets, but then I kept hearing about religion being a part of the protests. It was unclear to me if at least some people were not so much interested in democracy, but another form of government, something akin to a theocracy, instead of the dictatorship they already had. Of course I wasn’t there nor am I an expert on Egyptian culture or politics, but nonetheless I was skeptical of the intentions of some of the protesters.

    African countries have had enough of military juntas and the woes they bring.

    Gone are the days when Africans take to the streets to celebrate military coups. Awful experiences have shown times without number that coups do not bring Africans any good tidings. It seems Egypt did not get the memo.

    That’s a good point. That’s the impression I’ve gotten over the last few years from African students, acquaintances, and colleagues.

  5. lorn says

    Some of what we see there is a mismatch of experience between the Muslim Brotherhood, with decades of experience organizing and propagandizing, and a the wider voting public with little experience processing the machinations of the experienced professional liar and power politics of a well established political machine.

    Morsi used the oldest trick in the political playbook, he lied his ass off. He promised an even hand and political openness to get votes and reneged on his promises once in office. From the first days in office he has worked to make sure the entire government, top to bottom. was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood with a shot at establishing sharia law in the next few election cycles. This isn’t what he promised. This is not what the majority of people who voted for him pictured happening.

    The people of Egypt were deceived. They were deceived because the opposition parties were all quite weak and inexperienced. They were incapable of fighting the sort of rhetorical war necessary to scrub the political playing field clean and expose the truth behind the rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    To have a functional democracy you have to have a loyal opposition parties strong and vigorous enough to keep the other parties honest. In this case The Muslim Brotherhood had decades of experience and well established campaign structures. The other sides were well intentioned amateurs. This against a background of people with little or no experience of what democracy was and how it is supposed to work.

    This should have been anticipated. Fact is that when you first try something you almost always fail. The key is to fail in ways that leave the opportunity of progress open. When you first learning to ride a bicycle you choose a nice grassy field to limit the damage when you fall. You do this because you know you will fall and breaking your leg, as opposed to scraping a knee, would stop progress.

    Had he kept his work about respecting other groups electing Morsi set back progress for, at the very least, four years. But the way he stacked the entire government, top to bottom, with Brotherhood loyalists, means reversing that rand would have taken decades. It also meant that there might have been no more elections. Once he cemented his power base the government could simply declare an emergency and ended the democratic process. This before or after declaring Egypt a Muslim nation, instituting sharia law, and handing the judiciary over to the mullahs. It isn’t like we haven’t seen that before.

    The Egyptian people saw that with each passing day their hopes of a pluralistic and democratic society dimming. Morsi was imposing his own parties control over every part of the government. His election wasn’t supposed to be winner-takes-all but that is how he played it.

    So the public exercised the ultimate veto. It wasn’t as if they had any alternatives. There is no constitutional way for them to depose him. The laws are not in place. So they exercised power the old fashioned way, they revolted and the military came along a couple of days later. No, it is not a constitutionally approved path. But it beats waiting for the Brotherhood to consolidate power, co-opt the military, adopt sharia law, declare the nation an Muslim state, and then for the majority to try to reverse course. That would be far bloodier.

    Yes, there will be bloodshed. Revolutions are messy. and devilishly hard to get right. And yes, the Muslim Brotherhood has something of a point about subverting a democratically elected leader. But there was no Egyptian constitution or national consensus to establish what the rules of the game are so the Brotherhood can’t cry foul because there are ultimately no referees, other than the people. It is the majority who have cried foul. It is the people who form governments, establish constitutions, and elect leaders. It is the peoples tacit acceptance of authority that gives the authorities their power.

    The people of Egypt have every right to keep tearing structures down and rebuilding until they get something they can live with. They toppled Mubarak and gave Morsi a shot. Unhappy with where he was taking he nation they drag him down and try again. Hopefully this next time the public will be wiser. They have every right to tear down and rebuild governments just as a child has the right to fall off a bicycle while learning to ride it. There is no sin in failing. The only possible sin is to not try again. Allowing Morsi to consolidate power could have ended any chance of trying again. More like driving the bike off a cliff than skinning a knee.

  6. Dr.Cheeselove says

    For me, I was more concerned about the mixing of religion with revolution.

    I’m glad you brought this up because this has been niggling at me for the last two years. Like you, I was supportive and hopeful for the Egyptian revolution, but then I started to worry about mixing nationalism and patriarchal religion. Remember Magda Aliaa el-Mahdy, the nude revolutionary? I was a little bit surprised that many so-called liberal supporters of the revolution were so pissed off at her for posting naked pictures of herself online. They said that it wasn’t the time for that kind of protest, that it would alienate religious conservatives, that she wasn’t a real revolutionary because she had western privilege, hipster privilege, atheist privilege, etc. They were practically blaming her in advance for single-handedly ruining the revolution.

    Spoiler alert: It’s never the time for women’s rights as far as religious conservatives are concerned. And I can’t think of a single example of a revolution hijacked by patriarchal religion that ended well, but I can think of many examples where it ended very badly.

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