On February 22, 2011, the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies hosted an academic discussion regarding the Egyptian Revolution, looking at the revolution from a variety of perspectives. The discussion opened with Dr. Azmi Bishara stating the objectives of the discussion, and ended with the call for additional discussions. The speakers included brought a wealth of knowledge in various fields, enabling the topics covered to be incredibly diverse, ranging from real-life experiences in the revolution, the use of literary works in the revolution, and academic research based works, such as looking at Egypt's relationship with Israel.
The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) held a session of intellectual discussion on Tuesday February 22, 2011 centered on the research agenda relating to the popular revolution in Egypt and its effects on the region as a whole.
This discussion session was attended by a select group of Egyptian intellectuals and activists, a number of specialized academics, and the center's scholars.
In the opening remarks, Arab intellectual Azmi Bishara, general director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies identified the purpose of this seminar on the Egyptian Revolution, as well as others to be held in the future. Bishara said that the objective of these activities is to attempt to understand the variables that prompted some Arab peoples to rebel against the regimes in their countries, and to frame the question with the premise that structural similarities between Arab regimes are paralleled by commonalities among the dynamics of the Arab street, which include a popular and emotional Arab partnership that moved in succession with a revolt that started in Tunisia, shifted to Egypt, and then on to several Arab countries.
Can We Generalize from the Egyptian Case?
Bishara also noted that it is imperative to distinguish between the dynamics and laws of the revolution on the one hand, and democratic transition on the other. He questioned the possibilities of generalizing the Egyptian experience, and whether the crisis of governance in the Arab states can be seen as one and the same.
Dr. Bishara stressed that the objective of the exchange is in no way an attempt to think "on behalf of" the Egyptians, which necessitated - from the start - the grouping of diverse sections of the Egyptian society, in this and other gatherings that are taking place in more than one Arab country, including, most obviously, Egypt. Bishara added that the purpose of inviting these personalities was to learn from their vision and personal experience during the popular revolution, warning against leaving this task to Western think tanks that have habitually imposed their reading of the Arab scene, and its future horizons, based on their particular agendas and visions.
The Most Important Feature of the Revolution is its Formation of a New Youth Core
Dr. Sabri Hafidh, well-known London-based literary critic and visiting professor at Qatar University, said that the Egyptian Revolution presented important signs that need to be considered in order to understand the causes of the revolution. He also stressed the importance of safeguarding the gains of the revolution, and being aware of the currently ongoing attempts to divert the dynamic of change from its original path, whether such attempts came from members of the ancien régime or from some Islamists. He considered the revolution's most important feature to be the formation of an effective youth core that surpasses traditional party structures, and could form a base for future political life in Egypt. He also noted that the role currently given to the Egyptian Army should be a transitional one, expressing his wishes for "New Egypt" to end the negative legacy of the former regime, especially when referring to dubious relations with the Israeli occupation.
Husni Mubarak's Regime Supported Israel with 38 Billion Dollars
Dr. Abbas al-Tunsi - a professor at Georgetown University-Qatar, which is affiliated with the Qatar Foundation for Education and Sciences - followed, noting that the previous regime in Egypt contributed greatly to Israel's welfare, development, and the advancement of its economy. He revealed that the state of Israel has gained large sums from this relationship, which could be in the environs of $38 billion.
He detailed the matter, arguing that there are overt subsidies consisting of around $3 billion, which is the difference between the price of gas Egypt sells to Israel and the international market price, in addition to over 8 billion US dollars that Israel saves because of the Egyptian Army guarding the shared borders. After the signing of the Camp David accords, the situation improved further for Israel, which was capable of shortening the military service for its citizens, leading to large savings that could be diverted into the development of industry, agriculture, and education, thus initiating an economic prosperity. This sole process benefited the occupation regime by more than 17 billion US dollars, al-Tunsi argued.
On a different front, Dr. Muhammad al-Shanqeeti, researcher at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in the Qatar Foundation, said that Dr. Azmi Bishara contributed - through his comments on Al-Jazeera channel - to formulating a clear concept of the revolution, and to placing the movements in Tunisia and Egypt in the category of revolutions, and not mere protest movements, as some tried to portray them in their early days. He added that this definition also contributed to the formation of the notion of "national identity" that conforms with the wider Arab identity. He also posed a number of questions on the role of the state, and whether it is broader than that of the regime in Arab countries, and the fate of the Islamist movements in the process of democratic transition.
Meanwhile, Thomas Georgisian pointed the importance of being aware of the influence of the literary, poetic, and cultural legacy in the agitation of peoples. He noted that the discourse enshrined by the former regime, and aimed at obscuring activist consciousness from the younger generation, has practically collapsed after it became evidenced that the leaders of the revolution form a continuity with this legacy, which was preserved through patriotic songs and passionate poetry that dominated the era of the 1960s and 1970s.
An Arab, and not only Egyptian, Shout
Dr. al-Sadiq al-Faqeeh, expert in Egyptian and Sudanese affairs, said that the Egyptian Revolution is a generalized shout; not only Egyptian, but Arab in scope considering that everybody in the Arab World is affected by Egypt's role and stature, which extend beyond its geographic boundaries to the entire Arab Nation. He evidenced his argument by pointing to the Arab dimension of the slogans that were raised in Egypt, and the rejection of the isolationist trends.
The Former Regime Acquired its Legitimacy Abroad
Dr. Basma Abd al-Ghaffar, from the Islamic Studies Faculty-Qatar Foundation, spoke of legitimacy and its role in building robust institutions that are founded upon popular will. She noted that the people gave legitimacy to the process of change in Egypt, especially in light of the acute lack of legitimacy on the part of the regime, which relied on other sources that were often foreign.
The Practices and Corruption of the Regime were his Downfall
On a different note spoke Anas Hasan, director of the "Rasd" website and noted activist among the "January 25th Youth" movement, representing the youth of the Ikhwan. Hasan spoke of his personal experience in the revolution, whose success he contributed to, along with his colleagues in the "Rasd" network, which specialized in relaying the events of the revolution in coordination with Wael Ghoneim's "We are all Khalid Sa`eed" group. Hasan stressed that the information revolution and online social networks dealt a heavy blow to the former regime by allowing the free exchange of ideas across a broad spectrum of people, inside and outside Egypt, without the need for physical proximity. He confirmed that the revolution, while being improvised, did not operate haphazardly, and that the groups that led and participated in the revolt knew very well their demands and objectives, armed with an experience accumulated over years of protest experiments headed by Kifaya and April 6th movements. He noted that the results of the 2010 elections and the overt electoral fraud were the last nail in the regime's coffin, sparking in the youth a sense of urgency for the deposing of the President Husni Mubarak.
Other participants in the exchange included Dr. Abdullah al-Fakki al-Basheer, who commended Dr. Azmi Bshara for his role in shaping the concepts of the revolution, and for his bold discourse and the elucidation of several intellectual issues, which constituted a guide for the youth in their revolt, especially that most of them were not politically affiliated. He also stressed the importance of examining the specificity of the event from the point of view of communication technology and the urban character of the revolution.
Egyptian novelist Aisha Abu al-Nur valued the improvised character of the revolution and the central role of the youth in its eruption and spread, as well as the scale, it achieved once the different political formations started joining the revolt, all of which contributed to its success and denouement while it would have faced serious challenges had it been led by specific political parties.
The Cultural Legacy Had an Effective Role in the Revolution
In the same vein, Rana al-Tunsi, Egyptian poet and academic living in Qatar, spoke of the role of the cultural factor in motivating the people and mobilizing them to persevere towards their target until victory.
The participants agreed, at the closure of the session, on the importance of holding a new gathering, along with prepared ground rules for the discussion session, which could contribute to forming general ideas relating to Egypt beyond the Popular Revolution.