Egypt’s ‘Settlement Day’ vs ‘Army Day’

The revolution continues to evolve and grow and once it’s settled, it will be one of the greatest in history.

The four finger salute is "among the most feared symbols after the July 3 coup", writes Larbi Sadiki [Reuters]
The four finger salute is "among the most feared symbols after the July 3 coup", writes Larbi Sadiki [Reuters]

Police Day, January 25, 2011 marked the beginning of Egypt’s revolution when large-scale protests toppled a 30-year dictatorship. Today, October 6, ironically on Army Day, Egypt’s revolution continues with massive demonstrations against the military, regardless of political or religious ideology.  

What is certain is that Egypt’s revolution has not finished, but it has evolved in strategy, shape, and scope. The location of the protests have physically and symbolically moved, its shape has become decentralised and atomised, and its new – and capable leaders – are millennial students still in university.

Settling the score may need more than a single day to reclaim a “stolen” revolution. Whatever happens today, Egyptians seem to be marching again fearlessly. Only the fearful ones, today and until they exit power, willingly or unwillingly, are the executors of an ill-thought coup that has mired Egypt’s mighty army in an unnecessary fight against its own people.

Re-mapping revolt: agency and geography

The streets of Upper Egypt are heaving with daring defiance. In some parts, the momentum has been such that demonstrators have reached the tens of thousands in a matter of days. One gain from the January 25 revolution – now almost erased from media and official discourses – has not vanished: fearlessness.  

This became obvious when the army over-mobilised in a small rural Egyptian town. As such, the periphery this time seems to be moving inwards towards the centre, in every sense of geography and power, converging upon Tahrir, the capital of protest as it is now dubbed in public parlance.

This re-routing of revolution derives from the army’s fairly successful method of controlling geography, closing all routes to Tahrir, and stopping transportation on protest days. After absorption of initial losses   due to the heavy toll inflicted on civil society and the Muslim Brotherhood, including two massacres in three months since the June 30 tamarrod (rebellion), anti-coup forces shifted the terrain of the “battlefield”. People in Upper Egypt and the Sinai, for instance, are keeping up the flame of moral protest against the coup.

Two things should be noted:

  • A kind of “atomisation” effect is deliberately used: diffusion of protests even in small numbers over a huge geography is calculated to keep the junta on its toes – the security forces deployed, including thugs, plain-clothes police, and the army are being worn out by this re-routing of the revolution or protest, having being forced to fight on so many fronts.
  • Through diffused networks – both analogue and digital – the opposition has been able to multiply their message to a wide audience across the country. Impressively, their efforts have proven successful in a landscape where the local media is either gagged or carries on as if everything is normal.

Since the July 3 coup, Egyptian protesters have been demonstrating non-stop, and of late their numbers are swelling, cascading into the streets for hours on a daily basis. The risk to life and freedom has not kept them away. Families display defiance by taking their children to march, showing that Egypt today is a highly politicised society bursting with civic spirit.

Deposing an elected president and overthrowing an entire system with some claim to legitimacy and large following was not going to be easy – or easily forgotten – by the fearless public.

Yawm al-Gaysh vs.  Yawm al-Hasm (Army Day vs. Settlement Day)

What a paradox that on the day Egypt’s army gave the Israeli’s a piece of their mind on the battlefield in the 1973 October war, the top brass is under siege by millions who want them out. And the risk of the army engaging civilians cannot be written off. The iconography of gallantry built over decades of the military in a country that fought four wars in Israel is at risk should the army and its leaders continue to be mired in a senseless fight with society. SCAF’s (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) image is in tatters.

Thus the nation-wide rallies planned by Egypt’s mushrooming anti-coup forces planned for today, October 6 – Victory Day – ( Yawm al-Intisar or Yawm al-Gaysh : Army Day) rallies must be giving the junta nightmares.

Deposing an elected president and overthrowing an entire system with some claim to legitimacy and large following was not going to be easy – or easily forgotten – by the fearless public.

Whatever the outcome, the rallies are keeping up the momentum of moral protest. Even if October 6 does not turn out to be what it is designed to be, the so-called Yawm al-Hasm (Settlement Day – as in settling a score –  Decisive Affirmation Day ), will be a day of reckoning of sorts. It is calculated by anti-coup forces as a twofold method:

  • Politically, it is a reminder to society that the state of play since July 3, when President Morsi was ousted, is unacceptable for millions of Egyptians; and
  • Psychologically, leverage against the coup leaders, civilian but mostly military, by incessantly taunting them – literally making them shake in their boots. Especially of late, the image of the military boot pushing down on citizens and on democracy galvanises reclamation of freedom and dignity.

Students’ political activism

The new wave of protests is not leaderless. Students are providing a great deal of leadership. This is a different and new phase and episode of a continuous revolution which refuses to plateau. Once “settlement” is achieved, whenever that might be, Egypt’s revolution will be one of the greatest in history.

The new episode is marked by the emergence of students’ political activism – which is not new. What is unprecedented is the concentration of their message: anti-coup and refusal of subjugation, and denouncing a “militarisation” of schooling – including raising the flag and salute-type activities.

The build-up has been mounting since the opening of the new academic year for universities and schools. This episode of the Egyptian continuous revolution reveals new tactics, determination, and rallying moral cries. The visibility and role of students bode well for this stratum as recruiting ground for future leaders in political activism.

There are endless groups with various names, secular and Islamist, who are driving the new wave of protests. This is part and parcel of al-harak al-sha’bi (popular movement).

All universities display anti-coup activism. Organisations of endless civic bodies in universities and schools can be gauged by the number of sit-ins, mock protests, use of “butterfly effect” protest techniques, light and fast display of defiance in strategic locations – basically, hit and run-style protests to evade detention while spreading word about political disaffection. Art exhibitions, use of street theatre and human chains are all used as well.

The gist of all of this is to entrench a sense of public disobedience. One type of civic activism calls for engaging with the coup chiefs and administration by refusing to pay water and electricity bills. Others promote boycotting Cairo’s metro, money withdrawl from banks and disrupting service to mobile networks who have supported the coup.

Rabi’a: sign and morality of defiance

There must be four fingers constantly on General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s mind. It is among the most feared symbols after the July 3 coup. A brilliant yet minimalist symbol for resistance to the coup – public displays can land people in jail. The four fingers are at once simple and brilliant.

  • Simple: The symbol translates the word rabi’a (four) into a recognisable sign. And thus signifies the stand in the Rabi’a Aal-Adawiyya square, the bastion of Morsi supporters’ stand against the coup and the site of the junta’s first massacre after the overthrow.
  • Brilliant: As a symbol, it introduces local iconography. Just like Churchill’s powerful sign holding the first two fingers in a “V” shape, the four fingers conveys standing up for one’s rights and for what is right and lawful.

Also, as an ideal it stands for sharing in the grief of those massacred and a commitment to oppose an illegal act that is proving by the day a “con job” given the incompetence of the administration in place, the massacres committed, and the continuous use of draconian measures against protesters – including in schools where jingoism and chauvinism are being resisted. 

A revolution may be stolen for days or months, but never for years. That is the message of today’s protests. The army chiefs are slowly but surely being check-mated. In Egypt, the revolution continues.

Dr Larbi Sadiki is a specialist in Arab democratisation, revolution and transitions, and has been an academic at Australian National University, Exeter University, Westminster University and Qatar University.

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