Nine months ago, Hosni Mubarak was deposed as president and absolute ruler of Egypt. The people overthrew an autocrat, and expected democracy for their efforts. So far, so good. Since then, the military junta (the armed forces council who have been in charge since) have been promising elections, promising some kind of change, but to no avail. This reached a head this week, when protesters occupied Tahrir Square yet again, demanding elections, yet again. Only this time, they are being oppressed much more effectively than the troops under Mubarak, since they’ve already ‘won’. After all, the revolution has happened, Mubarak has gone, so what do they have to complain about?
But ‘revolution’ has two meanings, you see. It can either mean a complete overhaul of the system, turning it on its head and changing everything, or a 360-degree turnaround, starting with an autocrat and ending with, guess what? An ever so slightly different autocrat.
The best example of this is, as always, the 1789 French Revolution. After the revolution, there were the various National Assemblies, until a state of emergency in 1793 meant that the Committee of Public Safety, which had Maximillien Robespierre as one of its members, became the absolute rulers of France. The state of emergency passed, but the Committee did not. Most notably, the Committee was responsible for the Terror, in which supposed enemies of the state were executed at a whim – the original Thought Criminals. Eventually the Committee was deposed, and several years later an impoverished Corsican noble and competent artillery commander, Napoleon Bonaparte, became Emperor of France, the absolute ruler and, to an extent, military dictator. Now, France went back and forth between constitutional monarchies, autocratic rulers and republics for about 100 years after that, until eventually becoming the shining pillar of democracy we see now. Similar events followed the Russian revolutions of 1917, or the Iranian revolution in 1979 – brief elation, confusion, a power vacuum, and simply not knowing how to manage a republic. This series of events is a perfect breeding ground for absolute rule.
We are starting to see definite parallels in Egypt. An unelected government with supreme power to look after things while a new constitution is drafted, an unsteady democratic system forming but looking weak and sickly… I see revolutions as being flawed by the very thing which others see as their best asset: their immediacy. Depose the autocrat in a month, and who rules then? The vacuum is filled by the most powerful faction around, be it the military, or the ‘heroes of the revolution’, or the religious leaders, and slowly they decide that, given time and subtle change, people will forget that things were different. The new systems that were forming are swept away by those in charge with the argument “things have definitely gotten better since the revolution, for everyone that is, not just us. We don’t need these reforms, things are going fine as it is.”
However, it may all change yet. The international community is pressuring the provisional government into holding elections within the next few weeks, and given the popular opposition to the military junta, one must assume – and hope – that they will take place this month, despite the original election date being two months ago. The main thing that the protesters have in their favour is that there is no national crisis for the interim government to distract them with. The French and Russian revolutions were followed by wars – civil and international – which meant that everyone had to unite together and put their trust in the government, while they changed and, ultimately, removed the constitutions, taking away all of the changes that the revolution brought about.
But as I have said, there should be elections within the next few weeks in Egypt, followed by the removal of the armed forces council and the introduction of full, representative democracy. That way, they’ve only got themselves to blame for whoever they get after that. I mean, we have heard all of this before, but it’s nice to think that, just this once, history might be wrong, human nature won’t prove to be quite so greedy, and a revolution will result in a free and democratic nation, rather than just a carbon copy of its predecessor with a slightly different ruling class and a slightly different autocrat. After all, this is not history repeating itself, but man, which is why there may still be a chance.