Voice

Egypt's January 25 Redux

On January 25, 2011 on the Middle East Channel, Ashraf Khalil marveled from the streets of Cairo about "sheer size of the turnout, which was larger than anything I've seen in 13 years of covering Egyptian protests." From Washington, I pushed back against skeptics who doubted that Tunisia's revolution would spread to Egypt, as I noted that, "the images and stories of protests today have been impressive, both in numbers and in energy and enthusiasm. The Egyptians are self-consciously emulating the Tunisian protests, seeking to capitalize on the new mood within the Arab world."

Over the following 18 days, the Middle East Channel published a remarkable range of analysis and commentary about the unfolding Egyptian revolution. It featured not only outstanding reporting from the ground but also incisive analysis from the Middle East Studies academic community -- who stepped up in a big way to help inform public debate at a critical time. Nathan Brown, Shadi Hamid, Sherif Mansour, Emad Shahin and Daniel Brumberg assessed Washington's response. Vickie Langhor called on the Obama administration to side with Egyptian democracy, as did Tarek Masoud, Ellen Lust and Amaney Jamal. Geneive Abdo pushed back against those who saw echoes of Tehran 1979. Helena Cobban talked to the Muslim Brotherhood, Ellis Goldberg checked in with the business community, while MEC co-editor Daniel Levy surveyed the implications for Israeli-Egyptian relations.

Nathan Brown laid out the Egyptian constitution's rulebook for change, while Tamir Moustafa asked whether Egypt needed a new constitution to have a revolution. Michael Hanna laid out the reasons to doubt Mubarak's intentions. Sheila Carapico shrewdly observed how al-Jazeera's relentless focus on Tahrir framed understandings of the revolution. In one of Foreign Policy's most widely read, and arguably prescient, early contributions, Robert Springborg warned that the military's role in the transition meant that by February 2 the chance for democracy in Egypt had already been lost. Ambassador David Mack warned observers to curb their enthusiasm. I offered a stream of commentary from Washington. And all of this is only a small part of what appeared on Foreign Policy over those critical weeks. 

This week, the Middle East Channel is proud to offer a wide range of commentary looking at an Egypt one year after the outbreak of the revolution. Among the highlights, including a few from last month for perspective: 

More is coming over the course of the day, and I'll update the post as those pieces go live. 

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Egyptians take to the streets on the anniversary of the Revolution

Egyptians take to the streets on the anniversary of the Revolution

Today, Egypt marks the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the revolution that ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak. The national holiday, formerly know as "Police Day", has been declared "Revolution Day" by the ruling military council who called on Egyptians to "preserve the spirit of January 25, which united the Egyptian people, men and women, young and old, Muslims and Christians." On the eve of the anniversary, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), announced the contested "State of Emergency" would be partially lifted beginning on Wednesday. The end to the emergency law, which has been in place for the better part of 30 years, is one of the common demands made by protesters. According to Tantawi, the law will remain in place in cases of "thuggery."According to Hossam Bahgat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, "Thuggery" is just the military's word for Mubarak's "terrorism. It is even more vague and overly broad and is used to give the police broad powers." Protesters have begun assembling in Tahrir Square, demanding an end to the military rule and accusing the SCAF of hijacking the revolution. Pro-democracy activist Alaa al-Aswani wrote in al-Masry al-Youm, "We must take to the streets on Wednesday, not to celebrate a revolution which has not achieved its goals, but to demonstrate peacefully our determination to achieve the objectives of the revolution." Meanwhile, besides political tensions, Egypt's new parliament faces a financial crisis, with increasing debt, lagging economic growth, surging inflation, and a devaluating currency. Magda Kandil, executive director of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies, said, "The situation is dire." While it had previously written off a deal with the International Monetary (IMF), the SCAF has reinstated talks over a $3.2 billion loan.

Headlines  

  • Yemeni Islamist militants have withdrawn from the town of Radda, taken over last week, in exchange for the release of prisoners and the formation of a governing council.
  • Shiite activists in Bahrain organized an attack against security forces in several villages after a leading cleric's sermon was taken as a "call to arms."
  • The only U.S. marine convicted of killing 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha was spared a prison term, defending his actions as required "to keep the rest of my marines alive."
  • In talks with U.S. officials, Russia said it is opposed to unilateral sanctions but "open to constructive proposals" to end violence in Syria.
  • Jailed Palestinian Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for attacks on Israelis, has made a rare appearance in court, testifying in a U.S. civil lawsuit against the Palestinian Authority.
  • The heads of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams clashed during their fifth day of meetings in Jordan over an Israeli presentation on security arrangements.
  • Daily Snapshot

    Egyptian demonstrators wave their national flags alongside those of Libya, Tunisia, Syria and Palestine, during a demonstration in the coastal city of Alexandria on January 25, 2012, to mark the first anniversary of the revolt that toppled the regime (AFP/Getty Images). 

    Arguments & Analysis

    Last night, the Middle East Channel attended the White House's State of the Union "tweet up". Though the Middle East was scarcely discussed in the speech, Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, took one of our questions.

    MEC: What is President Obama's message for Tahrir Square where Egyptians are gathering right now?

    Ben Rhodes: We did a statement today. But basically tomorrow is an important day -- it's one year since the anniversary. We are taking a number of steps to support Egypt's transition to democracy. We've seen a number of important steps in recent days: the parliament; the announcement by [SCAF leader] Tantawi that they're going to get rid of the emergency law. So our message is [that] we support their transition. We're going to be there on the other side of it. We're supporting the government as they take steps to implement the transition, and we want to see them follow that road map. We want to see Egypt as a model for the rest of the region.

    'Why women are at the heart of Egypt's political trials and tribulations' (Hania Sholkamy, Open Democracy)

    "Egypt would be better off if it could continue to shed the oppressions of the past, including the hegemony of state sponsored spokespersons for women's rights. The attempts to whitewash the failure of equitable social policies by imposing gender justice as a fig leaf not only failed, but created public antipathy towards women's rights to social justice. But these sceptres from the past need not haunt the present and future of Egypt, and must definitely not provide an excuse for our current state of denial in which women are actually at the heart of the political process, but are formally hidden behind all -male structures and institutions. Shame on the religious, secular and all other parties for their complicity in this affair!" 

    'A test for Egypt: Hearing all voices' (Michael Wahid Hanna, International Herald Tribune)

    "The military clearly believes it has the support of Egypt's majority, and wants to minimize the risk of losing it. These tactics were in evidence most dramatically in October, when the military forcefully dispersed a largely Coptic demonstration, resulting in 27 deaths. Even Mr. Nabil's release seems calibrated: it carried no admission of error by the army, and is being read here as an effort to deflate dissidence during the anniversary. The army's violent actions last year are more significant. If they were meant to stigmatize a few unpopular opponents in order to justify repression, much of Egyptian society has to some degree been complicit. Majority public opinion has not turned against the generals, who say repression is a defense against "hidden hands" that threaten "stability.""

    'Egypt's unfinished revolution will succeed' (Mohamed El-Erian, CNN)

    "Completing their revolution will be not an easy, quick, or smooth process, but it will happen. Egyptians' collective determination will ensure that, in the revolution's second year, the country will get a new constitution, hold proper presidential elections, and benefit from a functioning and representative parliament. Having completed the transition, the armed forces will return to their barracks and to safeguarding the country from foreign threats. Any attempt to divert this legitimate process will be met by millions of Egyptians taking to the streets in protest. Make no mistake: Egyptians are committed to completing their impressive revolution, and they will."