A Revolution Turns One
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2012
Updated: Friday, January 27, 2012 04:01
On Jan. 25 of last year, the people of Egypt rose up to demand freedom and a different course for their country.
They went to the streets of Suez, Alexandria and Cairo, without religious or personal motives, but rather because they had lived in a country that denied them freedom and dignity. They wanted to see change. In 18 days, the world saw Egypt transform from a country that was governed by a pharaoh to one that had a future and — for the first time in decades — hope.
A year later, Egypt's first democratically elected parliament held its inaugural session. The emergency law that has prevented Egyptians from exercising their right to peacefully assemble is being lifted. Egypt's parliament is scheduled to appoint a 100-member committee that will begin the process of writing a new constitution. For the first time in Egypt's history, the head of state will be limited to two four-year terms.
But all this change came with a price. Many people died for this cause, some of whom were our age. They were just beginning their lives, yet were willing to sacrifice everything so that their children would have the life they never could. Those are the true leaders and heroes of the revolution. Egypt's transformation must continue for them.
However, it is not only Egypt that has seen this change. Scores of Yemenis, Libyans, Syrians, Bahrainis, Moroccans and — even before Egypt — Tunisians have taken to the streets in the name of freedom and dignity. Yemen is in the first stages of the transition into democracy. Tunisia, like Egypt, had its first-ever session of parliament and is beginning to write a new constitution. Libya has seen the death of Muammar al-Gaddafi and the beginning of a new era. Syria and Bahrain continue to demand their freedom in the face of oppression and tyranny.
But even after so much has happened, there is still much work to be done to realize the goals that defined the Egyptian revolution.
The next government must write a constitution that sets out the rights of all citizens to freely express their minds and practice their religions openly. It also protects the rights of women. Furthermore, the government needs to root out corruption in order to promote a functional democracy.
Egypt will also need to start building a new society from one that is broken, starting with the development of an education system that will allow its citizens to be competitive in the modern world. This system will have to begin at the K-12 level and ensure that every child attends a structurally sound school. Egyptian universities also need reforms that ensure that every college student has the opportunity to excel.
Currently, a substantial percentage of Egyptians live on an income of less then $2 a day. Focusing on economic opportunities remains critical to realizing the goals of the revolution.
Some say that Egypt is incapable of this change, that its citizens are by nature unable to live in a democratic and open society. But one year ago, who would have guessed that the Egyptian people would storm Tahrir Square, demanding freedom? I have no doubt that Egypt and the whole Arab world will continue to shock the international community.
Nabeel Zewail is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service and is on the board of the NAS Arab Society.