"The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall."~~Che Guevara
Like perfect storms, several factors have to simultaneously and collectively come together for popular uprisings or protests, even massive ones, to turn into a revolution. That is why only a few of them have been successful in world history. A revolution is, by definition, a successful struggle embraced by the masses that radically alters the existing political, economic, and social order.
The triumphs of the American, French, Russian, Cuban, and Iranian revolutions were the exceptions. While each one had its genesis in battling an oppressive or corrupt existing political system, each engendered its own unique features while satisfying distinctive conditions in order to produce a successful outcome.
One was initiated by an armed insurrection, but embraced by the public, against a tyrant monarch. Another was led by mobs producing enormous violence before settling down. Other revolutions had core ideological groups embedded in their midst that greatly influenced or manipulated their course of action before achieving their feat.
Likewise, the Egyptian revolution that erupted on January 25 in the aftermath of Tunisia's was marked by its own unique features. Although the declared goals of the Egyptian revolution have yet to be fully realized, its primary goal of overthrowing its dictator was spectacularly achieved within a historically short period of time. While it took 28 days of continuous protests to depose Tunisia's dictator, a country of 10-million people, it required only 18 days of massive demonstrations to accomplish the same in Egypt, a country of 85-million people.
The spark for Tunisia's revolution was Mohammad Bouazizi setting himself ablaze in the city of Sidi Bouzeid on December 17. It was a desperate act of protest against the authorities who insulted him and seized his sole means of sustenance. Remarkably, the downfall of Zein al-Abideen Ben Ali's regime four weeks later on January 14 was itself the spark for the Egyptian revolution, which erupted 11 days later. It was probably the only revolution in history that determined its commencement and announced its date to the world online. By February 11, the Egyptian regime had collapsed when its head, Hosni Mubarak, after much obstinate and arrogant behavior, was forced to resign in disgrace.
So what are the elements that distinguish the Egyptian revolution?
Historians will most likely debate for many years the various factors that came together to set off the uprising that turned it into a triumphant revolution. However, the most significant and distinctive features are outlined here. They are:
Popular revolution: The Egyptian people have taken ownership of this revolution from its inception. The youth movement that called for the protests before Jan. 25 admitted that they did not know what to expect. Although many opposition parties had called for demonstrations in the past, they only attracted a vocal but limited number of activists and elites. The popular support for these protests was at best timid if not totally ignored.
But in this instance when the young men and women, calling for the uprising on social media websites, moved to rally support on the ground from neighborhood to neighborhood, thousands of people from all walks of life joined in. They did not stop by simply announcing it online, but actually toured the streets mobilizing the people calling for wide participation.
Asma'a Mahfouz, one of the young activists from the April 6 Youth Movement said in her interview with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper that, shortly after the protests started, "I was printing and distributing leaflets in popular areas, and calling for citizens to participate. In those areas, I also talked to young people about their rights, and the need for their participation."
She continued, "I went to a street in Bulaq Dakrur (poor Cairo neighborhood), where I and a group of members from the movement intended to start protesting. At the same time, other members were doing the same thing in other areas. When we had assembled, we raised the Egyptian flag and began to chant slogans, and it was surprising when a large number of people joined us."
She added, "With increasing numbers joining us, we stopped for some time in front of Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque, and then we led the march to Tahrir Square. We found several demonstrations coming from different areas toward this one, and thus we decided to occupy Tahrir Square."
As the demonstrations continued, every day broke new ground. It started with the educated youth, both middle class and affluent. They were soon joined by the oppressed and uneducated poor. Within a few days, the protests swelled to include all segments of society, including judges, lawyers, doctors, engineers, journalists, artists, civil servants, workers, farmers, day laborers, students, home makers, the underclass and the unemployed.
Moreover, the demonstrations spread across Egypt like none in its history, not even the great 1919 revolution against the British occupation. The protests since Jan. 25 were not confined to Cairo or Alexandria or even to the main urban centers.