Egyptians Remain Resilient as Revolution Founders in Uncertainty
On January 24, 2011, Tunisia’s revolution looked like a fluke; I remember thinking that if anything similar happened in Egypt it would be crushed mercilessly.
But now that the first anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 uprising is upon us, it is clear how wrong that assumption was. Egyptians are sceptical about the completion of their revolution but they refuse to be crushed. Indeed, they continue to believe in their own ability to create far-reaching change.
Egyptians’ doubts about the revolution’s progress are evident in the percentage of respondents to Gallup surveys who say they thought their personal lives would improve as a result of former President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. Two-thirds of Egyptians (66 per cent) said in December 2011 that they thought their lives would improve because of his resignation. This percentage has improved from 51 per cent in September 2011, but remains somewhat lower than the 72 per cent who said so in June 2011.
Egyptians’ optimism about the country’s status internationally has also faded. Three-quarters of Egyptians (74 per cent) said in December 2011 that the country’s status globally would improve, down from 82 per cent in June. These responses register clear disappointment among Egyptians.
Public confidence in the country’s financial institutions and banks is also lower now than it was shortly after the revolution started. Gallup surveys in December 2011 found that 61 per cent of Egyptians have confidence in their country’s financial institutions, down from 69 per cent in March and April. Still, confidence in these organisations is greater now than before the revolution; 43 per cent of Egyptians expressed confidence in financial institutions in October 2010.
Egyptians’ feelings about the country’s economy in general have also deteriorated following an initial improvement after the start of the revolution. About 4 in 10 Egyptians said in December 2011 that the national economy was getting worse, up from 1 in 3 Egyptians who said the same in March and April. This concern about the country’s economy is another sign that people’s hopes and expectations are dropping in Egypt.
In addition to these economic concerns, Egyptians are less likely now than they were pre-revolution to say they feel safe walking along at night in the city or area where they live. In December 2011, 47 per cent of Egyptians said they feel safe walking alone at night. That is lower than in the Mubarak-era. In October 2010, prior to the uprising, 82 per cent of Egyptians said that they felt safe walking alone at night.
These negative shifts in opinion represent a number of challenges ahead. Much of this negativity may be attributable to plausibly unrealistic – although understandable – expectations of what Mr Mubarak’s resignation would mean in the short term. Egyptians’ hope for change was not strong in the later years of his regime, but it was intense after his removal.
Subsequently, expectations were higher. Inevitably, not all of them could be met as quickly as people hoped. Many are unsatisfied with change so far because the revolution’s goals have not been realised.
But there is reason to be optimistic. There is a definite psychological shift afoot in Egyptian society compared with the last months of the Mubarak era. For instance, in December 2011, 93 per cent of Egyptians said that if people worked hard they could get ahead in life. That’s a 12 percentage-point increase from October 2010. Despite everything that has happened, and the failure of Egypt’s rulers to meet the expectations and hopes of their population, Egyptians have a stubborn and deeply held belief in the ability of people to get ahead in life if they work hard. That is raw potential that Egypt’s leaders have yet to harness – a potential that remains one of Egypt’s greatest untapped resources.
I was in Cairo when the Egyptian uprising began a year ago. Egyptian civil society spontaneously and organically showed the world what was possible for human beings who believed in themselves. They provided volunteer medical care for injured protesters; they formed committees to protect their neighbourhoods; their instincts led them to fill many of the roles that the state evacuated overnight. Today, Egyptians still believe in themselves – if anything, they believe in themselves more than they did during the Mubarak era, and just as much as they did at the onset of the revolution.
This belief may bring hope and optimism to those who think Egypt has yet to succeed in its revolution. The country has not yet succeeded in reaching all of the revolution’s stated goals. But the Egyptian people have the tools to accomplish a great deal and teach the world something yet again.
HA Hellyer is a Europe Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and senior practice consultant and a senior analyst at the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre.
This article was published by The National on January 25, 2012. Read it here.