One year on, Egypt marks start of unfinished revolution

It has been one year since protesters in Cairo set in motion Egypt's popular uprising, turning "January 25" into a battle-cry for revolution. But after 12 months of a rocky transition to democracy, few are ready to celebrate an unfinished revolution.


One year after the start of Egypt’s revolution on January 25, 2011, people across the world are expected to remember the unpredictable chain of events that led to the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak. But in Egypt many refuse to concede that the revolution is over – or indeed that it can be neatly tucked away into a date.

Ironically, January 25 remains National Police Day in Egypt. One year ago, opposition groups and youth movements picked that day assemble and direct their collective grievances against the Ministry of the Interior.

During the chaotic weeks that followed, “January 25” became one of the rallying calls for anti-regime protesters who clashed daily with police and Mubarak loyalists. Relayed by millions of people on the Internet, #Jan25 became the symbol of an entire movement and perhaps the most famous hashtag ever on micro-blogging site Twitter.

According to LSE scholar Charlie Beckett, January 25 provided the Bastille moment of the Egyptian revolution, meaning it created a symbol that was simple and potent enough for everyone to rally behind it – much as the fall of the Bastille prison had done for the French Revolution in 1789.

On the eve of the anniversary, many Egyptian protesters said they would not celebrate the revolution, let alone observe National Police Day, according to FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Cairo, Tamer Ezzedin.

“They are not going to celebrate the revolution because they say it is not over,” Ezzedin said.

Ramy Raoof, one of the revolution’s leading cyberactivists, counts himself among those who are not ready to commemorate January 25. “In the past year good things have happened, and also bad things. Even today people are taking to the streets, and this is still part of the revolutionary process,” Raoof told FRANCE 24 by phone.

For Raoof, the main struggle – ending the rule of the military council that took over from Mubarak – is far from over.

A rocky transition to democracy

On paper, few would dispute the fact that some progress has been made over the past 12 months.

Last August Mubarak was dragged into court in Cairo to face charges related to the deaths of hundreds of people during a crackdown on the protests that led to his ouster. Earlier this month, Egyptians wrapped up the last of three rounds of voting to elect a new parliament, and on Monday, Egypt’s first democratically elected parliament in 60 years finally convened for the first time.

“Egyptians are eagerly waiting for the military council to transfer powers to parliament. The military no longer has any legitimacy, and people say the military has been unable to lead the country over the past year,” Ezzedin explained.

That process began on Monday, when Egypt’s military rulers formally announced they were transferring legislative powers to the newly elected assembly.

Elections for parliament's upper house, the Shura Council, are to begin later this month and end in February. Then the two chambers will choose a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution.

The next major step in Egypt’s troubled transition to democracy will involve presidential elections to be held before the end of June, when the generals who took over from Mubarak are due to step down.

According to Ezzedin, even the opposition is divided over the timetable. “Some say we can allow the military to transfer power to a civilian government at the established date. Others say all powers need to be transferred to the parliament immediately,” Ezzedin said.

Muslim Brotherhood

While the vast majority of Egyptians believe in the legitimacy of their new parliament, the governing body also reflects the growing pains of democracy and the internal contradictions in a country of 85 million people.

Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood, by far the best organized political group in Egypt, won about 70 percent of the parliament's 508 seats. In a bitter turn of events, the liberal and left-leaning groups that launched the #Jan25 uprising got less than 10 percent of the seats.

Brotherhood lawmaker Saad el-Katatni, a botany lecturer from the central province of Minya south of Cairo, who was elected as speaker, sought to woo the revolutionaries when he addressed parliament on Tuesday, the AP news agency reported.

“Our revolution continues and we will not rest until all the goals of the revolution are met and we avenge our martyrs,'' Katani said. Yet the Brotherhood, as well as the more conservative Salafists, won on campaign promises to restore stability to the country and promote Islamic values, not to keep the revolutionary torch alight.

The activist Raoof, for one, does not seem overwhelmed by the tasks ahead. “It’s good to have big hopes and dreams, but we also need to be realistic about our goals and the time it will take to change 30 years of Mubarak’s regime,” Raoof said. “It is a long process and we need patience.”

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