Optimism is a “duty” if the Egyptian revolution is going to succeed
If you want to take part in further discussion about the revolutions in the Middle East and their impact on Western policy, come along to our FIRST WEDNESDAY SPECIAL: Changing world – conflict, culture and terrorism in the 21st century on Wednesday, 7 September.
There has not yet been a full revolution in Egypt, but it will be the sense of optimism and possibility of change that brought the country to its current state that will enable the people to overcome the challenges ahead.
There is a need for massive economic change, the army remains "on top and in the driving seat" but British-Egyptian actor, producer and activist Khalid Abdalla said at the Frontline Club on Tuesday that it was his "duty" to remain optimistic because that is what had changed since people took to the streets on 25 January and toppled President Hosni Mubarak 18 days later.
"Right now, in terms of a revolution, in terms of a revolutionary spirit, the ability to go down into the streets in huge numbers to force sweeping change, to believe that that is possible right now, we are in a hiaitus," said Abdalla.
"There is a confusion right now amongst activists and people who were working to make change as to whether we begin to focus on elections, or do we still focus on many of the important human rights issues, like military trials and freedom of speech."
Brian Whitaker, The Guardian‘s Middle East editor from 2000-2007, who is currently an editor on the paper’s Comment Is Free section, said that when he was researching for his book What’s Really Wrong with the Middle East there was a sense that there was nothing that could be done:
"The real revolutionary change that’s happened is that that has simply gone away. There’s now an attitude that there are things that can be done if enough people get on with it."
Dr Maha Azzam, associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House agreed that optimism and energy were "fundamental" in order to carry through change and bring about revolution.
But the situation remains a "mixed picture" because of those elements of society that want security and stability, said Dr Azzam, who said it was important that the activists continue to set the agenda in the face of attempts to quell the opposition:
"The street is in the more powerful position because it can still twist the arm of the military, by which I mean the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, because they are in a vulnerable position. They’re of a dying generation, both in terms of age, but also in terms of its mentality and politics. Each time it’s felt it’s cornered it made concessions. It’s not an easy task to put on the activists, but the street is theirs, the right to protest is a democratic right and so long as they continue down that path, they can embrace thier objectives and push for them."
Rosemary Hollis, professor of Middle East policy studies and director of the Olive Tree Programme at City University, said that it was now "completely beyond the power" of Westerners to control the narrative:
"It already was, and now the Arabs have risen up and said even less so because the revolutions were against the dictators that [the West] kept at its convenience."
But no one in the region is buying the idea that more liveral capitalism the way the Europeans do it is the answer, unless the Europeans recognise that they have had certain advantages structurally, globally that are going to have to be given up now.
… the structural changes that will have to be made will go down very poorly with with the liberal capitalist governments in Europe because they will want to say the poor will have to take the pain in order to restructure the economy and of course the rich have to get richer because you have to encourage them to invest."
Khalid Abdalla agreed that there was a strong relationship between what happened in the Middle East and the crisis of capitalism world over and that what was happening in the Middle East was a "restructuring of discourses" that was forcing the West to reappraise itself, not just its relationships with the region but in many policy areas.
Currently activists are under attack and being accused of being foreign spies or funded by foreign regimes said Abadalla, adding that there were problems with well meaning people coming from the West wanting to help or donate funds.
First of all there is the major issue that coming to Egypt can be unhelpful because right now it is being used politically, but also secondly, I don’t think the West on the whole and its NGOs and policy makers have yet woken up to what the revolutions in the Arab world are telling them to realise about themselves and I think that’s something that will take lots of time.