Now the Revolution is a year old and some amazing things have happened because of it. Hosni Mubarak is no longer president and is now on trial from crimes against his people. The Emergency Law enacted immediately after the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 is slowly being rolled back. A freely elected parliament, consisting of multiple, legitimate parties, has been sworn in and Egyptians will soon elect their president.
The good is, of course, mixed with the bad. A military dictatorship has ruled over the country since the toppling of the Mubarak regime. Once hailed as the guardians of the Revolution, the military swept themselves into power and began to rule in much the same way that Mubarak had. Personal freedoms were curtailed, civil and universal rights infringed, military trials for civilians and unlawful detentions became common. And while SCAF is now slowly starting to speak of a transition to civilian rule, their specter looms over Egypt, the damage done and the threats of more to come remain in the air. Egyptians, however, have weathered this storm, as they have so many before, and still remain optimistic and strong.
Egypt's neighbors and its Western allies, on the other hand, look on with concern at the rise of Islamist parties in Egyptian politics. These parties, from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to the Salafist al-Nour party, took a commanding 70% of the vote in Egypt's recent three stage parliamentary elections. In being sworn in to parliament this past week, these parties have finally undone decades of oppression that forced them out of the political spectrum for much of the life of the military backed regimes that have controlled Egypt since the 1952 revolution of Gamal abd al-Nasser. Their presence, while not part of the stated goal of the 2011 Revolution, is certainly not a surprise, but neither is it an ill omen for democracy in Egypt.
Egypt is, to no one's surprise, a majority Muslim nation. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been functioning within Egypt, in one form or another, since 1928 and has established itself as not only an opposition movement, but also a champion of civil society. Gaining its strength primarily from among Egypt's poor, but also in reaching out to the urban professional middle class, the MB has held itself out as an opponent of corruption in government and civil services. The FJP similarly campaigned on government stability and economic opportunity, highlighting civil services, home subsidies for low income families, fair wages, and health insurance as its goals in the new Egypt. The MB has formed the Democratic Alliance with 11 other political parties to lend credence to it inclusionary, pluralistic, message for all.
The al-Nour party is, however, at the opposite end of the spectrum. It holds itself out as the strict Islamic party, but also as the party that knows that change does not happen over night. al-Nour campaigned outright on Islam’s role in government, but also on universal messages of improved healthcare, creation and expansion of vocational training programs, stronger anti-trust laws and increased government investment in research and development. al-Nour maintains more of an anti-Western message in its politics, but appears to understand that it cannot change Egypt into another Saudi Arabia overnight.
Many pundits in the West point the presence of the FJP and al-Nour as an ill omen for the future of democracy in Egypt. I disagree and see them as an obvious outcome to the removal of autocratic rule. The MB has been in the background of Egyptian politics for almost 100 years and to think that people would not turn to who and what they know when giving the right to choose was foolish. The simple fact that Egyptians were allowed to go to the polls and freely choose whom they wanted to lead them is a victory. That they overwhelmingly chose from among the Islamist bloc should be just as celebrated as if they chosen then same from the secular parties. The people spoke, we should now congratulate them on finding their voice.
More than that, I see them as merely a first step in Egypt's future. Authoritarianism is gone, but the people, especially those people who came to Tahrir on January 25th, and have returned many times over, are still watching. In the last year they have faced bullets, bombs, tanks, military tribunals and jail to say nothing of a government that could care less about them. Hundreds have died, many more have been injured, and all because they are willing to put themselves in danger for the future of Egypt. If they can stand up to Mubarak's thugs, SCAF and the professional army, they will hardly be daunted if called upon to sweep away the new regime. The West may be afraid of the men with beards, but the Egyptians are not.
Egypt’s Revolution is far from over, but it is a mistake to think that it’s first anniversary should also be its funeral.By Ted Graham, Aslan Media Columnist