The popular protests in many Egyptian cities over the past two weeks cannot be considered as normal events, regardless of their size and spread. This is because merely participating in demonstrations means facing possible imprisonment or death under an oppressive and authoritarian regime that does not give any weight to basic human rights.
The coup regime has imposed itself on Egypt so fiercely that any kind of protest against its policies and practices is reason enough for arrest, murder or prosecution. It has built an iron wall of fear to demand silence, prevent any critical voice in the media, chase the families of opponents into exile and arrest tens of thousands of people, most of them members of or close to the Muslim Brotherhood. However, nationalists, leftists and liberals have also been arrested and suppressed simply for expressing views critical of the regime and its disastrous policies.
This unprecedented repression has created a terrifying police state, while exposing the weakness and fragility of the regime, which fears the return of “politics” to Egypt. The coup project was intended to kill politics, silence discussions about the country’s present and future, and prevent anyone singing to a different tune; the government knows that it has no solid legitimacy, and it knows its failures. It also knows for sure that any democratic debate, even at a minimal level, will expose it completely.
In light of this police reality, organising demonstrations has become an act of utmost boldness and sacrifice, and an exceptional decision. It is, though, a decision for which no individual writer, movement or party can claim to be responsible. The decision has ultimately been in the hands of the people, made by the men and women who left their homes and took to the streets, despite knowing how the brutal regime will react. It is they who are taking the initiative.
It is too early to say if these protests will force a fundamental change in the regime’s behaviour, but they have managed, within days, to force the coup government to back down on the issue of demolishing unlicensed buildings. This is something that would not have been achieved without the regime realising that the protests could develop into a general crisis across the country.
Thus we can say that the protests’ most important achievement is to break through the wall of fear that the regime’s brutality had created. Moreover, the people now realise their strength, which cannot be underestimated. This is the essence of the Arab Spring that the counter-revolution worked to destroy. The great Tunisian revolution achieved this goal when it was able to defeat the late President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and other Arab peoples realised that they too were able to take action and break through this wall in order to achieve their legitimate goals of freedom, dignity and social justice.
The greatest dreamers in 2010 did not expect that revolutions would take place that would topple Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi and Ali Abdullah Saleh, but they did. The most revolutionary activists did not expect the Syrian people to take part in peaceful demonstrations against a criminal, repressive regime, but they did.
They broke through that wall of fear in Tunisia and inspired the Arab masses across the region which are ruled by tyrants. Herein lies the importance of the achievement of Egypt’s September protests. The current popular demonstrations may not bring about major changes to the system, but they are undoubtedly the first step towards building a new political environment that removes the burden of fear little by little. Any peaceful struggle against tyranny almost always ends with a decision on points, not a knockout. In Egypt today, at least one point has been scored on the road to victory over tyranny, no matter how long the journey takes.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.