Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif, 60, is the author of In The Eye Of The Sun and The Map Of Love. Her collection of political and cultural essays, Mezzatera: Fragments from the Common Ground, was published in 2004. Soueif’s political commentary in the past five years has propelled her into being one of the most prominent voices of dissent in the African country. She had predicted what is now known as the ‘25 January uprising’ last year itself. She had predicted them again — in an interview with TEHELKA — the night before the protests began. Since that interview, she has been in Cairo actively participating in the protests — both chronicling and shaping what could be one of world history’s most crucial events. From the ground, she tells us what the people of Egypt are fighting for.
IN 1981, Egyptian Vice-President Hosni Mubarak took power when President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. He put in place the emergency laws that we have now been living under for the 30 years that he has been president.
Under Mubarak’s leadership, the National Democratic Party (NDP) has become synonymous with corruption, inefficiency and thuggery. And through rigged elections the NDP had a stranglehold on government.
On the domestic front, the rule of this regime has degraded every aspect of the citizens’ lives: health, education, employment, transport, housing and welfare. Corruption at the highest level meant that the country was stripped of its assets and its existing institutions and infrastructure were systematically undermined.
The State was systematically pillaged while being burdened more and more with foreign debt. Corruption at the street level meant that the police ran mafia-style protection rackets. For the first time in its long history, young Egyptians were leaving their country in droves, risking death many times over to reach Libya or Europe.
On the regional and international front, Mubarak’s regime rescinded Egypt from its traditional role in its Arab, African and Third World context and transformed the country into a lynchpin for American/Israeli policies in the region. This has involved destroying Egypt’s positive relationships and, in fact, sparking tension with the African countries with which it shares the Nile.
It has involved being a dishonest broker in the Palestinian struggle. It has involved participating in and facilitating the Israeli siege of Gaza — against the will of the Egyptian people. It has involved permitting the CIA to bring rendered prisoners to Egypt to be tortured — a practice that has resulted in torture evolving into standard practice in jails and police stations across the country.
In order to run these policies, this regime has impoverished and brutalised its people, it has worked to divide them, setting Muslim against Christian and neighbour against neighbour, and it has maligned them to the outside world, representing them as hopeless, ignorant and fanatic, and in need of a strongman to control them.
THE COUNTRY has been discontented for 30 years. It has seen islands of civil unrest since the 1990s. In 2005, the popular movement, Kifaya, broke the barrier of fear by holding openly anti-Mubarak protests in the streets. The suppression was violent but the unrest spread to the point where for the past five years, every syndicate and every profession in the country has held protests and demonstrations. The ‘25 January uprising’ was the culmination of all this.
The Egyptian revolution will settle for nothing less than the removal of the entire regime
It started with a call by the admin of the Facebook page of ‘We Are All Khaled Saeed’ (a young man who was beaten to death by the police in an Alexandrian street) to use National Police Day as a day of protest — and it grew.
On 8 February, the military’s estimate was 9 million people on the streets of Egypt demanding change. The revolution — gigantic as it is — is genuinely a societal revolution. It is every faction of this society standing up and being counted and demanding the right to have a say in the running of our country, and to live and work with dignity. The demands are bread, freedom and social justice. The revolution is determinedly peaceable, inclusive, democratic and good-humoured. It is also implacable: it will settle for nothing less than the removal of the entire regime.
This is what our immediate future should look like:
• The regime departs.
• The head of the Constitutional Court (or a committee of judges that the square has already named) assumes the presidency.
• The new president forms a Cabinet of trusted experts in their fields. They have to be people with credibility in the square and to have no relationship with the NDP.
• A Founding Council is formed of trusted public figures, Constitutional experts, representatives of the young people and of the army — this council will draw up a new Constitution, or amend the old one.
• There will be a referendum on the Constitution.
• Elections at every level of central and local government will take place, on the basis of the new constitution, and under the supervision of the judiciary.
• No person who has served in the interim government may run for election.
• All Cabinet members have to be elected members of Parliament.
In other words, the people of Egypt are demanding a proper democracy with which to run their country for their own benefit and that of their friends.