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The Egyptian Revolution, A Year Later

About 13 months ago, on a winter Saturday morning, we assembled at a small office in Talaat Harb square, merely feet away from Tahrir. We discussed how our party, El Ghad, would participate in the “Revolution” planned to start three days later, on Tuesday January 25, a day known as Police Day. Some of us questioned each other: you can plan a demonstration or a sit-in or even a general strike, but how can you label a set date and time for a “Popular Uprising,” let alone a “Revolution,” as we had started to call it?

Around mid-January, we and hundreds of others had started to promote the “Revolution” on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #Jan25. We gathered key party activists from all over the country to coordinate activities, chants, banners and try to prepare for what would happen. We searched for one word that would capture the spirit of what we wanted. Some friends from other movements had demands such as “setting minimum wage” and “dismissing the infamous minister of interiors,” but we thought it was too late for that.

At the end, we settled on one word: “Erhal,” translated as “Leave” or simply “Out.” We prepared red cards with OUT printed on them, like those used in soccer matches when a player is sent off for violating rules of the game. Indeed, the regime headed by Mubarak had violated every article of the Constitution and every law. Our party witnessed the enactment of an entire book full of oppression tactics against the opposition.

Egyptians have never been famous for being punctual. But January 25 was a date that we kept. Egyptians rose in millions and from the massive crowds emerged a “collective mind” that spelled out unified demands for the revolution which no political leader or party was allowed to negotiate. The rest was history.

But is the Egyptian Revolution really history? I came to Harvard’s Institute of Politics to share my experience with a study group, adopting a theme that suggests that the Egyptian Revolution is far from over. It is true, that Friday after Friday, Egypt activists or “Revolutionaries” assembled in Tahrir and other squares which came to symbolize the revolution in various parts of Egypt They pushed the regime, or what remained of it, to give in to demands for change, inch by inch. It is true that the nature of the relationship between the people and authority in Egypt has changed forever. That itself is the greatest achievement of the revolution and the core guaranty of its success.

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But we are far from looking in the eye those who sacrificed their lives for the dream of a new Egypt, where freedom, social justice, human dignity and democracy are more than simply chants, but a way of life. We are far from saying to them, “your dream has been brought to life.” Our promise is far from fulfilled.

The broad title of my study group is “Tahrir, Revolution in Progress.” Some critics would label Egypt’s Revolution as the “Unfinished Revolution.” I think that recent events prove that although the revolution is not complete, it will continue for months and even years to come.

The future of Egypt is determined not only by the movement, but also by how the regime and its new political allies navigate their discourse in the months and years ahead. My study group will also look at the emerging players and process, and investigate possible future scenarios for Egypt and the region. It will explore the parallels between the Egyptian Revolution and the Occupy movement in the US and other countries to answer a key question: are we approaching a wide paradigm shift in the way democracies work around the world, or is this wave of protests simply hype that will soon fade out?

I believe that we may be seeing the beginning of a new world where individual people, empowered by technology, will play an active role in shaping public policy on a daily basis. But for now, I am more concerned with how the Egyptian Democracy movement will manage to turn that inspiring momentum, commitment, and willingness for sacrifice into an organized political force that can peacefully shape the future that Egypt deserves.

Wael Nawara is leading a study group as a Visiting Fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics Thursdays through March 8.  He is an Egyptian writer, politician and co-founder and former secretary general of Egypt's El Ghad Party (2005-11).

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