B S Raghavan

Facets that set the Egyptian uprising apart

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on November 10, 2017

Like millions round the world, I too was at the edge of my seat mesmerised by the tsunami-like upsurge of the Egyptian people sweeping away the 30-year long, supposedly unshakable, authoritarian regime of President Hosni Mubarak. There is already a steady downpour of learned commentaries on the repercussions and ramifications of that historic event, and, I am in no mood to inflict my own, except that for now, I find myself on the same page as the US Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) who said: “I don't think anybody should be getting too carried away with a victory lap today…You have a military in charge that has yet to prove it knows how to manage this kind of transition.” And well may he sound rueful: If the turmoil envelops the rest of West Asia, it will be the US that will have to carry the can.

My mind also uncomfortably harks back to the reaction of 18th Century British Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, in a similar context when everyone was euphoric over some such development in Europe: “They may be ringing their bells now,” said he sadly, “but they will soon be wringing their hands.”

Leaving all that aside, in this column, I am going to confine myself only to some gripping facets that belong to a class of their own.

Epochal significance

The corpus of political literature is replete with references to the ‘will of the people' and ‘the consent of the governed' being the only sources of the ‘just powers' of governments. What hitherto were nothing more than words on paper sprang to life right before one's eyes: There can be no doubt in anyone's mind, after the miracle wrought by the people of Egypt, about the cataclysmic consequences rulers of whatever description — despotic or democratic — will face if they treat people like dirt, forgetting that they are every moment accountable to them.

The epochal significance of the revolution does not lie merely in the validation for the text-book concepts that it provides. It lies in the ingenuity of the protesters who got round the attempts of the authorities to gag them with highly innovative and inventive counter-measures.

When Internet and cellular service, which helped them stay connected, were cut off, they made full use of fax, dial-up modem and ham radio, and charted their moves based on information and video shown by Al Jazeera, CNN and other channels. In the absence of anything else, they fell back on word of mouth which, as they found, was faster at the local level than even the electronic gizmos.

Searing cauldron

It lies in the spontaneity with which a mass of humanity, without any organisation, infrastructure, amenities or leaders, roused itself in fulfillment of a righteous cause (democracy) and a noble mission (restoration of fundamental freedoms) that had irresistibly drawn the vast concourse of people together as one person.

It lies in a far greater measure in the unity they unwaveringly maintained for as many as 18 days (the exact duration of the Mahabharata War at Kurukshetra!), daring the might of a dictatorship, and overthrowing it in the end.

The most impressive part of the upheaval was also the most incredible: With millions stirred to their depths in Cairo, Alexandria and other places in Egypt, there was every possibility of things going amiss and violence erupting and engulfing vast areas. But, no: The searing cauldron of emotions notwithstanding, the massive throngs never deviated from the path of non-violence. Wonder of wonders: This was not as a result of any manifesto or declaration issued in advance, but seemed to be an affirmation, as if on cue, of the spiritual grandeur of the movement itself.

And finally, the finely nuanced response of the Military and the Security Forces which managed to walk on the razor's edge without compromising their loyalty on the one hand and hurting the people's sentiments on the other.

Published on February 13, 2011

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