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Maytha Alhassen

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Revolutions Take Time: Reading Reactions to Re-ignited Egyptian Protests

Posted: 11/29/11 03:58 PM ET

On November 21, Donald Trump's tweet "Egypt is turning into a hot bed of radical Islam. The current protest is another coup attempt. We should never have abandoned Mubarak," was facetiously re-tweeted by many Arab world observers and even Tahrir square protesters. My
question to Trump is, what revolution are you comparing Egypt's to? And how is a pied piper dictatorship that robbed its own population daily, pushed the desperate to build shacks on graveyards and in garbage dumps and also embezzle billions in international aid from the U.S., better than a vision for a new political arrangement that will be by the people and for the people? This coming from a gentleman who previously expressed running for the highest office in the nation but yet shortsighted enough to value what its founders vigorously fought against.

The danger in Trump's statement is not just in its value of dictatorial rule or for its ridiculing of a population that deserves such a dictatorship with police state rule, but more so in its ignorance of the time it takes to have a revolution. And this notion of the "revolution was short-lived" is not exclusive intellectual property owned by Trump, but has been part of real estate other public figures have built their analysis of Egypt on. Even certain international news organizations led with tweets asserting "Egypt's Second Revolution." However, our own national genealogical history brilliantly indexes how oversimplified both those understandings of revolutions are.

The United States Revolution started as organized opposition to the British Parliament's attempt to tax the colonies ("no taxation without representation") in 1765, the Stamp Act of 1765, although there is scholarly dispute about the actual "start." And it was not until 11 years that Thomas Jefferson penned a Declaration of Independence from British King George III's United Kingdom that 56 other delegates signed on to. However, the end of the war was not until 1783 and there was still no formal political structure till the ratification of the Constitution in 1789. So it took around two decades to overthrow a colonial monarchy, create a political code and then establish a government. Another historic political movement that same year tells a similar story. In 1789, demonstrators stormed Bastille, marking the start of the French Revolution, a revolution that eventually saw a government replacing King Louis XVI's rule, who was executed in 1793, in 1799, the year of Napoleon's coronation. And to be more culturally applicable, we can delve into Arab history to draw similar examples of protracted and even bloody (but not even coming close to the bloodshed of the U.S. revolution against UK) resistance movements that overthrew colonial powers and subsequent dictators that replaced them.

Yes we live in a different world and time that allows us to receive "up to speed" info from multiple tweets on Twitter instead of wait for the info from an anchor on the 6pm news, where youth in Benghazi can organize resistance movements through Facebook groups, where less than a year after images of celebration from Tahrir square can inspire a youth frustrated with student loan debts to protest in Zuccotti Park, one that has enhanced international connectivity by way of advancing technology and enriched understandings of belonging to global citizenry in ways that differed from our generation of ancestors' collective consciousness. But even still with a rapidly changing world that might have transcended a certain zeitgeist, history can aid in
unraveling tangled understandings of the present. Just like a finely crocheted blanket, history is not just a knot, a moment. It is a series of chosen moments over a chosen geographic space we chose to study. So may our educated perspectives be informed and compassionate of that simultaneously constrained and privileged insight. We must also become intellectually equipped to accept that revolutions take time.

And let us also not forget that Egypt has its own unique history of kingdoms, colonization, monarchies, uprisings and yes, revolutions that need to be factored into our analysis. Also, this current revolution in Egypt did not haphazardly ignite in Tahrir square on January 25th of 2011 or through a couple of Facebook invites. This revolution has been years in the making. Ask Google marketing executive Wael Ghonim who created the Facebook group "We are all Khaled Said" in 2010 after the blogger was violently beaten to death by Egyptian police. Or ask the Nobel Peace Prize nominated youth leaders of the 2008 initiated April 6th Movement how many years they have organized challenges to a regime that has responded with torture, detention and imprisonment.

In all this editorializing I am sure some might have noticed that what I have yet to do is part of the most important task in analyzing revolutions, defining what exactly is meant when we invoke the word 'revolution.' And for that I have no explicit answer. Even historians remain constantly contesting these dates and spans of the aforementioned French, U.S. and Arab regional revolutions. But what I have come to believe is that these movements in the Arab world will deepen and complicate our understanding of what a revolution looks like and how long it takes to construct a newly imagined nationhood of people.

 
 
 

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