TEL AVIV – Revolutions throughout history have proven to devour their children. Their final outcomes are seldom congruent with their prime movers’ intentions. Too frequently, revolutions are hijacked by a second wave, either more conservative or more radical than what was first contemplated by the initiators of change.
What started in France in 1789 as an uprising of the middle classes in alliance with the sans culottes ended up with the return of the monarchy in the form of Napoleon’s dictatorship. More recently, the first wave of the Iranian revolution, under the presidency of Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, was by no means exclusively Islamist; the second wave, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was.
The question for Egypt is whether the agenda of a truly pluralistic democracy – proclaimed by the avant-garde young protesters at Tahrir Square, the admirably self-empowered Facebook and Twitter generation – can prevail against the resilient forces of the past. Indeed, according to a Pew Research Center poll, only 5.5% of people have access to Facebook, while 95% want Islam to play a major role in politics, 80% believe that adulterers should be stoned, 45% are practically illiterate, and 40% live on less than $2 a day.
Ideally, the new democratic order should be based on a common platform adopted by the forces of change, both secular and Islamic, and on a transition pact between these forces and those representing the old system, first and foremost the army. Indeed, one of the Egyptian revolution’s odd features is that it now operates under the exclusive trusteeship of a conservative army.