Three years ago today it was the day after; the day after fighting in the streets for 18 days to hold Tahrir Square. The day after we witnessed the fall of one of the most established dictators in the Middle East, Hosni Mubarak. It was the day after in so many ways, but in many more important ways it was the first day.
It was the beginning of our struggle to define and direct a revolutionary Egypt, a nation that moved towards achieving the goals a thousand Egyptians died demanding in the weeks previous, and countless more had struggled for under decades of military authoritarian rule. Today remains that day. After years of struggle and many mistakes we still stand at the beginning of a long and difficult journey to build the Egypt we dream of and bring an end to those who work to defend the Egypt that has killed in body and spirit so many of Egypt’s dreamers.
The regime we demanded the fall of three years ago remains in power and it is aggressively reasserting its authority at this very moment. After six decades of failed military authoritarian rule built with the veneer of cheap and hollow nationalist rhetoric we continue to witness such propaganda emanating from the regime today.
We have made a number of mistakes over the past three years and it behooves us to review critically our errors so as to not repeat them and to strengthen our struggle in the years to come. Defensive rationalizations of the failures we have witnessed defends no one and desecrates the memory of those who have died in our struggle. There is no greater insult to them than our failure. If a field marshall comes to rule this country with an iron fist on the back of a violent and vengeful security apparatus we may be left to assume in years to come that all who died alongside us and suffered at the hands of jailers and torturers did so in vain. Rejecting that outcome should be our greatest motivation for finding where we have gone wrong and seeking new paths to righting those mistakes.
Our first lesson: the regime is the regime is the regime. No, the army will not quietly voluntarily cede power and return to its barracks. No, a coup will not “correct” the path of the revolution. No the use of force in politics will not produce a democratic political order and no we cannot hope to co-opt elements of the regime that oppressed us temporarily to deliver future long-term liberation. Freedom will not be granted and we must take it forcefully. Depending on the military to remove the Muslim Brotherhood was a mistake and has been the single greatest coup (forgive the pun) for Egypt’s counterrevolutionary forces. Today, this is beyond dispute. Those who still seek to justify the July coup do so out of an inability to admit their mistakes. So long as we refuse to recognize this counter-revolutionary coup for what it is we will be left wasting our energy defending and justifying what is indefensible and unjustifiable rather than building a movement that demands a true, fully civil, state that democratically rules this country and defeats political parties we dislike with politics rather than massacres and mass arrests.
Lesson number two: institutional politics may be the game of the corrupt, but it is also essential to our future. If we do not build alternative political parties and engage directly in the electoral process and central policy debates that face this country, we cannot cry foul when we find ourselves and our fellow revolutionaries marginalized from the democratic process. It is true that democracy is more than elections, but that has never meant that elections and their results are irrelevant to democratic rule.
It has always been tempting for activists in Egypt and internationally to romanticize the street. Mass mobilizations are exciting and power visual manifestations of political will, but they do not deliver services, they do not build schools and they do not pay health care bills. Finding a legitimate path to participate in ruling the state is the only way to achieve those goals and it means building parties and truly organized grassroots organizations across the country in every province. There can be no denying that such a task is extremely difficult and we are all aware of the limited material resources at our disposal, but it remains the case that such organization is essential.