The first lesson from the Egyptian revolution

Salwa Ismail on the fall of the Mubarak regime, and the new politics emerging in Egypt

February 16, 2011
5 min read

It remains too early to draw out all of the lessons of the Egyptian revolution. However, given what has been achieved so far, Egyptians can offer the world a first lesson from their revolution. Undoubtedly, there will be other lessons to be learned especially as the process of revolutionary change continues.

The first and most important lesson is that a peaceful revolution is attainable when the people of an entire nation collectively break down the wall of fear and join hands to protect one another and act as one. The revolution did not have one single leader or one group leading the people. Rather, the people led themselves. It is true that the Egyptian youth spurred on their co-citizens to stand up against oppressive rule, but they did not lead in the conventional sense. Alongside the youth, the people became their own leaders. Egyptians as individuals and members of the nation assumed their historic responsibility to act together to translate their striving for freedom and dignity into reality.

All the people who joined in their millions insisted on maintaining the peaceful character of the revolution and on refusing to meet violent provocations with a violent response. Yes, they were angry, but they were dignified in their anger. Heroically, passionately and in an epic protest which grew everyday and promised to bring out on the street every member of the nation, they were tested in their patience, endurance and resilience. Magnificently, they refused to blink and be stared down when threatened with terror. Steadfastly, they rejected the temptation to return violence with violence.  Armed only with their determination to hold their ground, they confronted police brutality in a fearless manner. Police bullets which cut short the young lives of some of their number only added to their resolve that their rising would not be in vein. In this sense, all the security apparatus’ instruments of control were destined to fail in the face of the popular revolutionary will which asserted itself throughout the national territory.

To understand this resolve and resilience we must consider what the Egyptians set out to do. Their revolution was against Mubarak as an embodiment of a system of government and rule. The protesters’ most powerful slogan “the people want to bring down the regime” captures the essence of their action. The people asserted themselves as historical agents who assumed responsibility to bring about a radical transformation and unleash a process of necessary revolutionary change. Egyptians rose against the corrupting effects of the unbridled greed of parasitic capitalism and against the methods of rule that were undermining the ethics and norms that they valued most: norms of truth, justice, equality, freedom and dignity. They finally spoke as one against the theft of national resources and against humiliation by the repressive police force. Their brilliance has been in their insistence that, as conveyed in another slogan, Mubarak and his regime were batil, meaning illegal and illegitimate.

In doing so, Egyptians rose against the wide scale destruction inflicted on them and on the country by this regime. Living under a system of rule that undermined all ideals of equity and justice and functioned by intimidation and violence, Egyptians came to fear not only for the security of the person but also for the corruption of their sense of ethics and shared humanity.  In recent years, they were confronting conditions of physical and ethical degradation and they considered that they, as a country and a people, were on a precipice and needed to stop themselves from falling. And they did precisely that.

In a long conversation among themselves, Egyptians decided that they did not like how they were being governed and that they wanted to govern themselves differently. In this conversation, they also entered into a covenant of sorts to begin to undo the damage and destruction of thirty years of Mubarak’s regime. In their daily gatherings, they have been forging a language to speak of themselves as citizens free of sectarianism, prejudice and fanaticism. One has only to listen to the Friday sermons in Tahrir Square over the last few weeks to get a sense of the new language being spoken. In these sermons, preachers asserted that the revolution had no religious drive, though it preserved the ethics of the religions of the people– of both Islam and Christianity.  They also underscored that the goals of the revolution are to achieve freedom, justice and democracy. These sermons express the language of politics that was being forged in Tahrir Square and in other squares up and down the land.

As the central space of the revolution, Tahrir Square has been lived as a space of the co-existence of Egyptians of diverse religious beliefs, lifestyles and political leanings. In this space, they have articulated their vision of an inclusive and free society and have worked together on their mission to liberate themselves from oppressive rule. In this revolution, Egyptians turned all their city squares into liberation squares. They deserve their hard-won victory. “The people have brought down the regime”.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History


25