Tahrir Square: Round 2

December 2, 2011

Military, Political action

In recent news, Egyptians have again taken to the streets of Tahrir Square to protest the current political system. This may seem familiar to many of you; that is because yes, it has happened now for the second time within the calendar year. This past spring, deemed the Arab Spring, we witnessed political uprising in Egypt that led to the eventual toppling of President Hosni Mubarak and his party. This time around, Egyptians have gathered to protest the Military ruling body and the concurrent lack of democracy in Egypt even after the overthrow of Mubarak earlier this year. The people still have not gotten the free elections and democratic parliament that was intended to be designed after the Arab Spring. Left with what many say is no other choice, the CNN article describes the movement as “Down with Military Rule” and that “resistance is the only solution.”

Egyptians protest in Tahrir Sqaure to resist the Military rule.

Reading these articles and seeing the new headlines about Egypt sparked a little concern as to the instability in the Middle East and Northern Africa; it also got me thinking about this topic in relation to the writing of Amartya Sen, “Development as Freedom.” Sen describes development and freedom as two ideas bound together as one, and writes that developed countries are those in which the people have freedom to pursue personal interests: “development can be seen, it is argued here, as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy.” One term that arises again and again is the idea of capabilities, which are the tools and abilities people have to be free to pursue a full human life.

There is a difference between possibilities and abilities, he says, when it comes to political freedoms. Many people have the right to vote or obtain a job or food, as a few examples, but are not even close to having the ability to obtain these goods. We see this on a large scale close to home in the United States. Many poor, lower-class people have all of the same rights as the wealthy in America, but do not have the ability or means to say find a job or have a meaningful voice in the government. Sem addresses the equalization of capabilities, and giving everyone equal ability to pursue interests and goals will create a sense of freedom to obtain a complete life. If countries offer citizens freedom in every sense of the word, and are therefore developed nations, people can better themselves, their lives, and the standard of living. He writes:

Expanding the freedoms that we have reason to value not only makes our lives richer and more unfettered, but also allows us to be fuller social persons, exercising our own volitions and interacting with – and influencing – the world in which we live.

In essence, a developed country is one that is free; and to be free, people need to not only have the opportunity, but the ability to pursue personal goals. Once freedom is obtained, one can better him or herself and the standard of living.

This brings me to the current concerns arising in Egypt. I asked myself, are Egyptians free? Was the revolution in the “Spring” worth it? Clearly something is wrong if the people are back at it again protesting out in the streets. Yes, they toppled President Mubarak in favor of a democratic election process, but at the moment they still are left without the democratic part of the government they risked their lives to obtain. Sem explains one of the deprivations of freedom as “a great many people in different countries of the world are systematically denied political liberty and basic civil rights.” Freedom is a blurred concept in Egypt right now, but according to the words of Sem, he would say that they are far from free, and in that case not developed. Under the military regime that took over after Mubarak’s fall, many of the freedoms desired during the revolution are still not offered. One protestor, Amin Mahmoud, says the military is preventing any revolutionaries from the Arab Spring from voicing opinions (limiting free speech), and are “torturing a lot of young revolutionaries, accusing them of being traitors.” Imagine that just because you have said something radical or different from the norm, you would be considered a terrorist. To any outsider, it would seem that Egyptians still are not free under the military rule, and many people are denied the capabilities that encompass freedom.

Egyptian protesters detained while gathering in Tahrir Square.

This idea of freedom can be seen in many ways, though. Some may think that freedom is relative to the situation, and freedom in America may not be perceived the same way as in the Middle East. To open up the argument, after 8 months are Egyptians free now under military rule after overthrowing Mubarak? After hearing the arguments of Sem, does Egypt have any possibility of improving society, or is it impossible under this system until they finally have the ability to attain the freedoms of democracy? Can this second revolution taking place in Tahrir Square today be justified as their attempt to obtain the freedoms that act as the gateway to a better life? It seems as though the situation is subjective, and we will have to watch as the events unfold and see if Egyptians are promised more freedoms or find a better life.

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3 Comments on “Tahrir Square: Round 2”

  1. rastaphoto Says:

    At the same time activist in America gets beaten up by police (even at university campuses)
    Freedom is relative

  2. phillipschermer Says:

    I’ve found the Egyptian Revolution to be somewhat of a dichotomy. The first time around, the military was celebrated as the country’s savior. The leaders of the military were the liberals who believed in freedom and were willing to side with the protestors. Yet, as was predicted a long time ago, Egypt’s political process came to a head this past week. One thing that intellectuals in the Western world were discussing even prior to Mubarak’s resignation was that if the elections were held too soon, that the organizations that were the most organized (as opposed to the ones who reflected most closely the values of the general public) would win office. Although I cannot claim to be an expert on Egypt, I think that the military leaders fear the implications of a conservative Islamic party ruling the new government. The first political party in office is going to hold enormous say over the political direction of Egypt for decades to come. They will be writing Egypt’s constitution, and whether the author is a secularist or a deeply religious Muslim will have an enormous impact on the final quality of the Constitution. For this reason, I believe that the Second Egyptian Revolution requires greater inspection.

  3. hoeylue Says:

    After toppling Mubarak from his thrown the Egyptians showed that change is possible if the people want to and when the time is proper. What follows next is up to their own will and decisions, and no matter what follows next, it is still going to be better than the suppressive and harmful reign Egypt has experienced under Mubarak. The only thing that needs to be ensured though, in order to make a real change to the situation before, is democratic elections, free speech and the spreading of the idea of liberty among the people. This way, even if the highly feared Muslim Brotherhood comes to power, they would have come to power in a legal way. The only thing that the newly emerging Egyptian politics, in its vulnerable and premature standing, should be careful with is accepting help from different actors and countries around the world. Obviously everybody is interested in making profit form this defenseless situation of Egyptian politics. This could include economic help which is tied to certain conditions that later help the economy of the supporting country or political interest, for example the U.S.’s and Israel’s interests to have regime in Egypt that supports their views and their goals in the middle east. Either way the Egyptians should be very careful from whom they accept the help.

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