Egypt Today, One Year Later
A Revolution Revisited
By Carl Finamore
January 21, 2012
Submitted to portside
Cairo, Egypt - One year ago in February 2011, getting
to Egypt wasn't that easy.
Back then, my London flight crew suddenly refused, in
midair, to layover in Cairo. Instead, we touched down
in Athens where the airline did not actually even have
formal landing rights. As a result, we were confined to
the aircraft as it sat on the tarmac.
I was anxious to get to Egypt so it seemed like an
We all wondered what all the fuss was about. Of course,
most of the Cairo-bound passengers were native
Egyptians and they, along with me, had a pretty good
But it was only some twelve hours later after arriving
in Cairo that I actually discovered the exciting news.
Apparently, while we were cruising comfortably in the
skies at 35,000 feet, President Hosni Mubarak was not
having one of his better days on the ground.
Of course, as the whole world knows, he was
unceremoniously thrown out of office.
It was February 11, 2011 and the dictator's 29-year
rule ended after only 18 days of widespread public
protest. As few can forget, unrelenting mass protests
of millions began in Tahrir Square on January 25 and
quickly spread throughout the country.
Mubarak ruled Egypt longer than anyone else in the
modern era and, now, he was suddenly gone.
Tahrir Square, Now Part of Egypt's Glorious History
The whole world's rapt attention had been, in
particular, focused on the compelling struggles at
Tahrir Square. At times, the battles took on the look
of a brutish siege, with the people rallying time and
again in valiant defense of democracy and freedom.
Determined to shape a better future, Egypt's idealistic
youth took the lead but were soon joined by large
sections of the working class, all together pitted
against thuggish security forces mounting last
desperate acts of violence to salvage the privileged
Still, even after witnessing the intensity of the
televised street battles and inhaling the confident air
of inevitability projected by the brave protestors, the
forced resignation of the despot was stunning.
It came as a complete emotional shock to a people who
never in their lives, nor in their otherwise glorious
ancient past, ever experienced democratic rule.
Everyone understood this was more than a coup. Millions
were demanding a historic shift in how they were ruled,
not just in the last several years of presidents
Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, but in the last several
At the same time, ending Mubarak's rule had enormous
practical consequences because he and his cronies
controlled so much of the economy.
As a result, it was quite normal that people's
enthusiasm was mixed with some fear and trepidation
about what the future would hold.
For example, tourists were leaving the country en masse
in 2011 after January 25. By the time I finally reached
Cairo at this time last year, the huge and expansive
airport was nearly empty and the streets of Cairo
almost completely devoid of visitors.
It was truly both remarkable and eerie.
But I soon discovered that it was not only flight crews
and tourists who were nervous and anxious about events
that, seemingly overnight, toppled an otherwise
It was also the people of Egypt themselves who even
more acutely felt these same anxieties. This great
country of 81 million was collectively anguished about
And for the millions of revolutionaries and reformers
who risked their lives, their anxieties would only
increase over the next year as their dreams were about
to clash with the harsh realities of entrenched power,
primarily in the form of the army's Supreme Command of
the Armed Forces (SCAF), to whom Mubarak handed over
Some Things Change, Some Things Stay the Same
Today, flight crews routinely layover in Cairo and the
airport appears not nearly as vacant.
But, probably the biggest observable change in Egypt
today is nothing quite so tangible. The most
significant change is the consciousness of the people.
Any cursory reading of current politics in Egypt
clearly reveals a far greater clarity from last year
regarding the dangerous and duplicitous role of the
army. The Egyptian military is increasingly exposed as
the single institution holding together remnants of the
old regime and putting the brakes on reforming economic
and social life in Egypt.
In February 2011, the army was hailed for its refusal
to carry out what credible sources described as
Mubarak's insistence on an attack modeled on the 1989
Chinese army massacre of students and workers in
Refusing these orders gained the army incredible
authority among the people at a time when all other
institutions of the old regime were collapsing and in
disarray - the parliament was dissolved, the cabinet
dismissed, local municipal councils disbanded, the
police and secret police in flight, and Mubarak's
National Democratic Party outlawed - its huge
headquarters building, a towering symbol overlooking
Tahrir Square, burned and scorched.
The army was and is the old powers' last and best hope
Time is on Their Side, or Maybe Not
Now, one year later in January 2012, the military is
fighting for time while its allies regroup.
Some are former partners with newly refurbished party
labels running in local and national elections. Others
include Mubarak's loyal and subservient national trade
union federation along with the notorious security
forces - both unabashedly corrupt entities that are,
nonetheless, successfully resurrecting themselves with
the protection and encouragement of SCAF.
Others prominent political groups are old adversaries
like the Muslim Brotherhood that cautiously but
steadily seek accommodation with SCAF, hoping in return
for some favorable political leverage in the parliament
from the powerful military who still wield executive
constitutional rights to appoint the prime minister and
The Muslim Brotherhood and other more conservative
Islamist parties won a majority of delegates in the
just-concluded third and final round of parliamentary
voting. This is extremely noteworthy because it leaves
the army and the Islamist parties as the best organized
political forces in the country.
This is the most significant backdrop to the political
battles taking place as I arrive in Cairo today.
The country's most apparent political reality is,
therefore, also its most glaring contradiction - while
the army's stature has plummeted, its power has not.
How this disconnect is resolved will determine Egypt's
future for many years to come. The utter inability of
the military government to address the democratic,
social and economic demands of the January 25 movement
remains the paramount issue.
The open hostility of the military rulers to the rights
of women, to the desires of youth dissidents and to the
needs of millions of impoverished workers is ample
evidence that the basic social problems of one year ago
remain unresolved, just as the basic power structure
This is the vividly accurate social reality that the
much-ballyhooed parliamentary elections have not and
cannot change in a country where the military still
retains the real power.
Without a doubt, there is an escalating
counterrevolution in Egypt, led by the country's
military rulers. Can Egypt's youth leaders and working
class create genuinely independent trade union and
political organizations of the oppressed in time to
effectively halt this counterrevolution?
This is the crucial challenge at this critical moment
for the popular movements and it led me back to this
great city and country to see for myself how it all
unfolds on this, the first anniversary of the people's
Carl Finamore is a delegate to the San Francisco Labor
Council, AFL-CIO. He is in Cairo meeting with labor and
social justice activists with letters of introduction
from his Local Machinist union and the SF Labor
Council. He can be reached at [log in to unmask] and
his writings appear on
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