Lessons from history: Egypt's 25 January revolution

Lessons from history: Egypt's 25 January revolution
Comment: Egyptian film star Khaled Abol Naga was in Tahrir Square in 2011 with thousands of fellow Egyptians. Here, he remembers what was learned, and what has been lost since.
5 min read
25 Jan, 2017
Egyptians celebrated the downfall of one autocrat; they will do so again [Getty]
We have a lesson to learn from history.

History tells us that revolutions share similar patterns, and Egypt's 25 January Revolution of 2011 is no exception.

The French revolution slogan, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", echoes with what the revolutionaries of Egypt repeatedly cited as being most proud of; a sense of fraternity and pride to be one among the masses that marched to Tahrir Square; a sense of equality and importance of each and every one in the marches; and a liberating mood that imbued the masses with a sense of belonging after breaking the barrier of fear.

The Egyptian chant, that later became its slogan: "Bread, Freedom, Social Justice", also perfectly echoed the French revolutionaries.

The parallels are many, and both movements had their own pivotal moments; the storming of the Bastille echoes with the storming of the State Security Investigations Service headquarters in Cairo, the Tunisian Revolution domino effect on Egypt echoes with the American Revolution effect on the French hope and belief in the potential of revolution, and so on.

On the anniversary of a great revolution that marked an awakening of the Arab people against years of stagnation and decades of mismanagement of wealth and resources, there are lessons to be remembered too: The biggest gain of the 25 January revolution was the collapse of the barrier of fear.

The most demoralising defeat for those who participated in the 25 January, would be the return of an even thornier barrier of fear, enforced by a more brutal and merciless regime.
It is pathetic that the current government is threatened more by freedom of expression than by its incompetent management of the economy
There is another side effect to the return of the rule by fear: As I travel all over the world, I meet great Egyptian talent - people who either left the country or plan to do so very soon. Depleting Egypt of its talent is bleak side effect of such a climate of fear.

While the government appears to be using such tactics as a defence mechanism against any possible return of revolt, no one feels safe in Egypt today.

Children are imprisoned indefinitely for wearing a T-shirt with an anti-police brutality logo. Writers and TV hosts have been chased out of their jobs for views that run counter to the government. Celebrities and 25 January icons face defamation campaigns for being vocal against injustice.

It is pathetic that the current government is threatened more by freedom of expression than by its incompetent management of the economy, or violent extremism in Sinai!
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An important lesson we learned was that fear kept our nations stagnant for years, no positive change is possible in such an environment, while the regime seems to have learned all the wrong lessons from 25 January: That fear is a way of rule that, it claims, keeps the country stable.

We learned that ownership of our country was returned to us when we claimed our right to freedom of expression, when the opinion of each and every one of us is considered important and equal. The regime though, learned that protests should no longer be allowed, and that an iron-fisted rule is required to ensure that there will never be a repeat of 25 January!
We learned that ownership of our country was returned to us when we claimed our right to freedom of expression

We learned that the internet and social media are great public spaces to gather around, exchange ideas and be organised as people, while the regime learned that the internet and social media are a threat. It appointed "online platoons" to wage counter-campaigns and disrupt this public space.

The lessons we learned from the revolution versus those the regime learned, are quite different and mostly opposing.

The aspirations of Egypt's internet generation that started the revolution are clear. It is a generation who became aware that Egypt deserves better management, a generation not easily fooled or controlled by regime propaganda - no matter how persistently and ferociously the regime keeps trying. 

This is a generation who chose to protest on 25 January; the "National Police Day," as a statement against their brutality.


Such refreshing and peaceful ideas of protest flooded Egypt like a clean ocean wave, gaining momentum, sweeping away a stagnant 30-year-old regime like a tsunami. But like all tsunamis in one direction, it was also followed by an ugly receding wave in the opposite direction, a wave of darkness and chaos.

Charles Dickens' opening of A Tale of Two Cities best describes this pattern of swing from good to evil in a fascinating contradiction during the French Revolution: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…"

Revolutionary times are times of radical opposites taking hold. The French Enlightenment was followed by the Reign of Terror, a horrific period of great bloodshed and violence during the French Revolution, until the fall of its instigator, Robespierre.

The fall of Egypt's Reign of Terror is inevitable, history tells us - the notorious killing of the French guillotine did come to an end, and so too, will the horrors of killings, abductions and defamation campaigns carried out by Egypt's current government.

History teaches us that the fall of our Robespierre, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, is coming.

Khaled Abol Naga is an Egyptian actor and film producer.

Follow him on Twitter: @kalnaga

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.