The two erupted under very different circumstances but had the same goals.
Despite how much time has elapsed, the 62nd anniversary commemorating the 23 July Revolution in 1952 still reminds us of its morals and lessons. If we draw a comparison between the 23 July and 25 January Revolution of 2011, we see the latter as an integral part of a series of Egyptian uprisings beginning with the 1919 Revolution. In fact, the 25 January Revolution complements the 23 July Revolution, though both erupted under very different circumstances. The 23 July Revolution started amid Cold War tension and a state of polarisation between the socialist camp led by the former Soviet Union and the capitalist camp led by the US. As for the 25 January Revolution, it began under the influence of a unipolar world system, globalisation, democratic movements and the global flow of information.
Conceding the fact that there is a common thread connecting the two revolutions, both of which erupted against foreign control and local dictatorship, there are also significant differences among them as well. The 23 July revolutionaries managed to rule through a new system they established after the old regime collapsed and the king was ousted. On the other hand, the 25 January Revolution’s advocates could not rise to power and instead the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had to rule for a time. Then the Muslim Brotherhood took office. In all cases, the revolution’s supporters remained out of the picture in the new system that followed. The 23 July Revolution’s advocates had a coherent strategy and shared common principles that led them to achieving their goal, while supporters of the 25 January Revolution did not have any particular strategy.
They were stuck to vague principles that could be tampered with by those looking after their selfish interests. The lack of organisation and clear ideology that characterised the 25 January Revolution was considered an advantage for some people, but for others it was a curse that impeded the revolution’s progress and made it subject to manipulation by those who were richer, more powerful and more organised.
Through their understanding of the structure of society, the 23 July revolutionaries stood firm to the principle of social justice and wanted to guarantee fairness to the marginalised sectors of society such as peasants. This concept of social justice was the cornerstone of their vision. A few months later, the agrarian reform law was issued restricting agricultural land property rights while redistributing lands among peasants and poor people. The political course ran parallel to social development in a positive and most constructive way. This is why political decisions were taken alongside those social and economic.
While it’s true that social justice was the 25 January Revolution’s focus, it had no clear vision concerning how to achieve it. Consequently, it allowed the regime that followed to manipulate this particular type of justice to keep matters as they were in the past. The local, regional and international circumstances that accompanied the 23 July Revolution provided it with a clear vision of the conflicts mapped internally and abroad, whereas the conditions surrounding the 25 January Revolution were different and new, where borders between peoples and countries had practically disappeared. The prevailing slogans adopted in the 25 January Revolution were those related to democracy and human rights. It was deeply affected by the collapse of ideologies and traditional ways of thinking that inspired other revolutions with a vision.
Abdel-Alim Mohamed is a counsellor at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.