08 March 2011 Politics

Amn Dawla: Is Egypt another France, Russia, or Germany?

The accounts from bloggers and tweeters out of Egypt today are absolutely fascinating. Thousands of protestors have converged on the Amn Dawla (State
Security) Headquarters in Cairo’s Nasr City neighbourhood:

“Tonight Egyptian protesters managed not to only to encircle the fearful building by thousands but they have also entered it for the first time not as detainees blindfolded but actually as victorious revolutionaries who had enough from that castle of terrorists.” - Egyptian Chronicles

I won’t waste my breath telling you what’s happening, as there are already lots of on-the-ground accounts, first-hand videos, and news stories. What I want to focus on is where this could be going.

When I heard the news and saw a couple of the first-hand videos, I was amazed at how peaceful everyone seemed to be. Sure, there was lots of yelling and people running about, but that seemed to be more a case of excitement than aimless looting and plundering. After all, if you were suddenly inside the secret police headquarters, with free access to secret files, videotapes, and equipment, wouldn’t you be excited? In fact, the only destructive behaviour I saw in these videos was the forcing open of doors into offices where documents were held. Check it out:

But, back to my original question, where is this going? I haven’t the faintest clue, but a few possibilities have popped up in my head. This moment - the storming of a formerly repressive institution - has been a turning point for many a revolution. Let’s take a look at some examples from history.

First, France. In July 1789, the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris was ransacked by protestors who stocked up on weapons. This led to the storming of the Bastille, which, speaking broadly, ended in bloodshed. Needless to say, I don’t want another Robespierre followed by Napoleon in Egypt.

Second, Russia. The Bolsheviks’ looting of the Tsar’s Winter Palace in 1917 didn’t cause much bloodshed (compared to the French example), but it was definitely intended as a violent confrontation. Had the cossacks not handed over the palace so easily, many more would have died. This day was a defining point in Soviet history, laying the groundwork for the murderous, autocratic reign of Stalin.

Third, Germany. On January 15, 1990, protestors broke into the Stasi headquarters in East Berlin and basically started trashing the place. The destruction was short-lived, as peaceful protestors gradually convinced their fellow dissenters to stay peaceful and keep a cool head. As in Egypt, much of the documentation had already been shredded by the secret police.

Of these three examples, I think Germany’s most closely resembles Egypt’s situation. And I hope the Egyptian revolution will come to a similar conclusion. Twenty years later, Germany is widely regarded as a global leader in their economy, manufacturing, and alternative energy, and standard of living. Egypt was once the centre of the world’s innovation in art, science, religion, and culture. Let’s hope Egypt gets restored to its former glory from the bottom up.

Sam Nabi

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