By Ismail Serageldin*
This is the last of a three-part series reflecting on the third anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution of January 25, 2011, launched by millions of people from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds, demanding the overthrow of the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who had been at the helm of affairs since 1981. Click here to read part one and part two.
ALEXANDRIA (IDN) - In its hour of anger and loss, Egypt is turning to General Abdel Fattah El Sissi, who has just been given the title of Field Marshal, and who is leaving his post as head of the Armed Forces to become a candidate for the presidency under the newly approved constitution. Barring some totally unforeseeable event, it is a foregone conclusion that he will sweep the polls in a landslide. He will become Egypt’s next elected president.
He will face enormous challenges and he will need the support of one and all to deal with the violence in our streets, the corruption in our highest offices, the neglect of our institutions, and the shameless efforts to circumvent the law. Will he indeed be the strong and visionary leader who will surround himself with ability and talent and meet these challenges and guide Egypt beyond the current crisis in our land? I sincerely hope so.
Will he be the rare providential man, who will show the restraint of a George Washington, and allow a nation of laws to emerge, rather than succumb to the seduction of ambition and the corruption of power that the autocratic state and its repressive machinery can so skillfully nurture? I sincerely hope so.
For the sake of Egypt and the Egyptian people, who have suffered much and still pursue that elusive dream of an inclusive pluralistic society, will he be the leader who can end terror and then lead our national reconciliation? I sincerely hope so.
Will he be able to deal with the deeper issues that have riven the body politic of Egypt, and which have created anxiety among our elders, aimlessness amongst our unemployed youth, and a vacuum of virtual despair among the many who look to religion not for political guidance but to give an inner meaning of their lives? I sincerely hope so.
Forever Renewed, Forever Young:
But whatever happens, I am certain that Egypt has come to a cross-road. The tide of political Islam has been stopped. The Islamist project is receding, but the specter of the autocratic state and its repressive machinery is rising anew. It may be tamed by our new constitution, our new leader and our new parliament and a reinvigorated judiciary. The elusive dream of an inclusive pluralistic society may be ultimately at hand. But it may not. And another wave of youthful Egyptians will have to reignite the torch of freedom and lead the country anew, now or a generation from now.
Youthful dreams shape our views, our hopes and make it our purpose to create a better world, a world of beauty and of justice and dignity. I was myself a child of the sixties, where these dreams lit up the planet from Paris to Cairo, from the campuses of America to the lands of Africa, from the fields of Asia to the favelas of Latin America. Dreams that did translate into the end of colonialism, the end of apartheid and significant advances in human rights and women’s rights everywhere.
Yet when we grow up, many of us find ourselves complicit in maintaining the conventional, the passé, and the bourgeois values that we once detested, despised or dismissed. Those who scoffed at the absurdity of bourgeois values see their own world transformed into bourgeois absurdity. Revolutionaries with beards and long hair, tie-died t-shirts and jeans, became the CEOs of corporations, bankers, political leaders and bureaucrats that they once despised and attacked. Rebellious youngsters become parents of rebellious youngsters. or such is the cycle of the generations. And every generation brings forth its dreamers and its revolutionaries.
Our youth, are the real guardians of the values of humanity. They reinvigorate revolutionary fervor every generation and they dream new dreams suited to their times. They have shown their mettle in these three years of the Egyptian revolution. I have always had an abiding faith in youth, and I continue to do so. Like Robert Frost, I say:
Now I am old my teachers are the young.
What can’t be molded must be cracked and sprung.
I strain at lessons fit to start a suture.
I go to school to youth to learn the future.
Youth, yes, but also the young at heart. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up our ideals wrinkles the soul. The years may mark our face, diminish our physical vigor, whiten our hair and limit our eyesight, but we can remain young at heart… for you are:
As young as your faith, as old as your doubt;
As young as your dreams; as old as your cynicism;
As young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear;
As young as your hope, as old as your despair.
You will remain young as long as you believe in the beauty of your dreams, as long as you believe in hope, cheer and courage… Only if you give in to pessimism, and lose your heart to cynicism, then, and only then, are you grown old. And then, indeed as Douglas MacArthur said… “You just fade away.”
And the Egyptian revolution itself is still young. It is only three years old. Much remains ahead, unwritten in the book of time. Whatever the future holds, I know that it is only by holding on to the values of human dignity for all, equality for all, liberty for all and creating the institutions of a republic of laws based on freedom and participation that the promise of the revolution will be redeemed, its dreams – at least partially – fulfilled. And I know that it is the Egyptian youth of today and tomorrow who will make it happen.
*Ismail Serageldin is Director of Egypt’s centre of excellence, Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria). He is a member of IDN’s Editorial Advisory Committee. He was a former Vice President of the World Bank and Chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. He has published over 60 books and monographs and over 200 papers on a variety of topics. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Cairo University and a Master's degree and a PhD from Harvard University and has received 33 honorary doctorates. [IDN-InDepthNews – February 28, 2014]