Reform and radical change

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Revolution, by definition, consists in radical change to a current reality, whether in the State and its institutions, or its social and economic policies. Revolutions in the light of this definition constitute an exceptional, forced action, spontaneous or organized or a mixture of both, that takes place in reality when all other avenues for change have been blocked and attempts at reform have reached dead ends; at that point the way is opened to revolution.

In the case of Egypt, all attempts and reformist ideas to amend the state and its policies toward democratic reforms had reached a dead end. All calls fell on the deaf ears of the previous administration and its allies, whose only concern was to repeat previous statements and give the appearance of reform verbally, while ignoring the content of reform in actuality and this is what led to the revolution of 25 January, 2011.

In the case of the Egyptian revolution, it ended up with a mingling between the revolutionary will and aspirations for change on the one hand; and the road for reform of the state institutions on the other hand. The spirit and unbridled power of the revolutionary will focused on reforming the state institutions, and the demand that these institutions reform themselves instead of being seized and run by the revolutionaries themselves or creating alternative institutions to replace them .

Therefore the outcome of the revolutionary will and radical aspirations has ended up in reforming the standing state, thus combining revolution with reform.

This pairing between revolution and reform has conferred many advantages on the course of the Egyptian revolution, not the least of which is a smooth and relatively bloodless transition that avoided violence, chaos and destruction; guaranteeing the lowest possible cost for reform; and avoiding revolutionary radicalism and extremism in reform, as well as successfully overcoming the tendency to rule through intimidation and terror.

On the other hand, this aspect of the Egyptian revolution indicates two probable outcomes: first that the depth of change and reform will depend wholly on constant and vigilant pressure from civil society organizations, as well as chambers of commerce, social movements and political parties; and their constantly keeping an eye on these reforms and putting pressure to make sure they are in keeping with the goals of the revolution.

As for the second outcome, this pairing between revolution and reform opens the way towards the appearance of the counter-revolution, as it becomes possible for the old elites and organized allies to spread false propaganda against the revolution, stoking fears of longing for the old pre-revolution regime. This will involve mounting pressures from previous regime allies, businessmen, secret services and others who have interest in stopping reform and change.

The rapid fall of the Mubarak regime did not give the chance for the revolutionaries and revolutionary forces to organize themselves and to create alternative organizations, assuming this is their wish. Another outcome of the rapid fall of the regime was the impression that the revolution was finished and that it had accomplished what it set out to do; this, without any real change in or redistribution of the sources of ruling power, forcing the alienation of the revolutionary entities and paving the way for the most organized power to rule, the one having the most resources.

ًWhat is unfair in the case of the Egyptian revolution is the assumption that the engagement of the revolution in the process of institutional reform is the result of the revolutionaries’ awareness, both explicit and implicit, of the importance of the State in Egyptians’ lives, with its current institutions; and that the goal is not to put down these institutions, but rather to reform them and give them a chance to continue in a new environment that is consistent with the goals of the revolution.

Abdel-Alim Mohamed is a counselor at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.