They say that when the Sandinista revolutionaries stormed the palace of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, they only found his uniform flung over a sofa. It was too symbolic to be true, but it apparently happened. This image of hollowness and illusory power has ever since persisted in Latin American literature, most vividly in Gabriel García Márquez’s masterpiece Autumn of the Patriarch, in which vultures are seen hovering over the corpse of the dictator so that the city finally “awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur.”
The eve of June 30 looked like the aftermath of a similar downfall and that felt quite eerie. In front of the presidential palace were thousands waving flags and cheering and dancing and honking in a spectacle that felt carbon-copied from February 11, 2011, the day Mubarak stepped down. The air smelt of freedom and it was freakily contagious, for a few minutes after I wandered what kind of spell took hold of those loonies, I got seized by the exact same feeling and almost started envisioning that deserted palace infested by rats and swathed with cobwebs.
June 30 – a calculated adventure
June 30 was not much different. Unlike January 2011 when a revolution seemed like an uncalculated adventure, June 2013 made it seem like toppling the regime was only a matter of time. “Please stay in touch,” read a huge banner that delivered the people’s message to the president with such a confident tone that was more alarming than comforting. It only takes being in the middle of the crowd to grasp the rationale behind this collective state of mind that has spread like wildfire amongst millions in almost no time.
Taking a look at the people who took to the streets that day makes the equation much easier. Apart from the regular revolutionaries who since January 25, 2011 have taken it upon themselves to see Egypt turn into a real democracy and have vowed not to rest until they see this happening, almost every other segment of the Egyptian society, minus of course the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies, was out calling for the president to step down. This included those who were against the revolution from day one and believed that Mubarak was the only one fit to rule and would not have minded had he bequeathed power to his son, those who supported the revolution but linked its success to the intervention of the army and, therefore, did not mind replacing an autocracy with a military rule, those belonging to the so-called “couch party” and who followed the revolution from their living rooms and were against protesting in principle whether out of fear or passivity and regardless of how far they agreed or disagreed with the cause any given protest promoted, those labeled “lemon squeezers” and who strategically voted for the president in order to prevent his rival from winning and assuming he might not be that bad after all, and last but not least those who neither hated nor loved Mubarak or the revolution or the Muslim Brotherhood, but have simply been deprived of the most basic of their needs under the current regime.
On the ground
As for those who were for some reason or another unable to go to the presidential palace or Tahrir in Cairo or the main squares in other Egyptian cities and who could belong to any of the previously mentioned groups, they decided to stand in front of their houses holding placards that read “Go away” and “Down with the Muslim Brotherhood” and chanting anti-regime slogans. This trend spread across the entire country and according to eyewitnesses, including myself, there was hardly a building without its own little group of protestors. Some even protested from their balconies while those who were too old to stand simply brought out chairs on the sidewalks.
Taking another look at the demands of all those people is even more helpful in deciphering the mystery. The regime had done its best to sow the seeds of mistrust among protestors so that each group would feel the others are working against its interests. They basically did that through alleging that those who would take part in the demonstrations are either remnants of the former regime who want to undermine the revolution or proponents of the return of the army, a tactic that mainly aimed at repelling revolutionaries, who constitute the main impetus of the protests and the real danger to the regime and whose withdrawal was likely to abort the protest or at least diminish their effect. There were even rumors that protestors will be carrying pictures of Mubarak and calling upon the army to stage a coup. There was, however, one single demand that was shouted out at every corner of the country and that was nothing other than “Leave!”
This was the first time in two and half years that almost all Egyptians had a unified, precise goal and it was of no importance at all whether they have had this goal for long or have only decided to go for it a couple of days ago. It was simply not the time for settling scores and exchanging incriminations, but rather the time for learning from mistakes and rising above differences.
June 30 is the day that marked the initiation of the Egyptian people into political maturity. Nothing guarantees that their demands will be met any time soon, if ever, or that a nation-wide civil disobedience will materialize as desired or that the peacefulness of the protests will not be disrupted by the other party. Yet, everything guarantees that the people have reached a level of confidence in themselves and their cause that is bound to change the balance of power in the coming stage.