Saturday, 26 November 2011

Revolution Hijacking in Egypt: An Historical Parallel

Tahrir Square Friday, Nov. 25 during prayers
Lorianne Updike Toler

A dictator is overthrown.  Those close to him step into the power vacuum as a "temporary organ to facilitate the power transfer." Yet days, weeks, and months pass by.  Even close to a year later, the "temporary organ" shows no signs of being temporary.

Sound familiar?

The situation I am describing is not, however, that of Egypt, where tens of thousands of protestors have again gathered in Tahrir Square to demand the military step down from power.  I am referring, instead, to the "stolen" Romanian revolution, where masses protested against socialist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in the Christmas revolution of 1989.

In that revolution, as soon as Ceausescu and his wife were killed, Ion Iliescu and others in Ceausescuu's own ruling party stepped in and were supported by the people as a temporary expedient.  This "temporary" solution lasted seven years.

As one scholar has explained, "Iliescu was successful in Romania, because the pressure of the disorganized population was too weak against the manoeuvrings of the elite....Socialized in the spirit of mass authoritarianism, the population had no kills or habits either to form parties or to offer organized resistance against those in power. Thus the opposition parties emerged not only tardily, but above all without political resources such as a party press, buildings, organizational patterns and a large membership."  (Attila Agh, Emerging Democracies in East Central Europe and the Balkans (1998), p. 263.)

As I witness the demonstrations in Tahrir Square from a distance, I applaud the Egyptians for demanding that their revolution not be hijacked by the armed forces.

Yet I am worried about the sustainability of such demonstrations.  Clearly, those who are behind the demonstrations know how to organize, but perhaps they can also apply their skills into organizing effective parties and NGOs that can maintain influence and allow participation in deliberations *not* in the out-of-doors and get a good night's sleep.  

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