Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Egyptian Revolution of 2011

1919 Revolution:
“Egypt, occupied by Great Britain in effect since 1882, achieved its independence from colonial rule only in the aftermath of sustained protests. In the wake of the 1919 revolution, and after two years of stalled negotiations, the British abolished martial law and granted Egypt unilateral nominal independence from colonial rule in February of 1922. Despite this, the British continued to maintain control over the security of imperial communications, the defense of Egypt, the protection of foreign interests and minorities, and the Sudan. The 1919 revolution had two stages: the violent and short period of March 1919 that involved large-scale mobilizations by the peasantry in rural areas that were suppressed by British military action; and the protracted phase beginning in April 1919 that was less violent and more urban, with the large-scale participation of students, workers, lawyers, and other professionals.” (Omnia El Shakry at Jadaliyya)

1952 Revolution:
“Egypt’s 1952 military coup and revolution led by Gamal Abdel-Nasser and the Free Officers ousted Egypt’s decadent monarch, King Faruq, and put Muhammad Naguib as President of the new Republic in his place. An understanding of this period of Egyptian history helps to clarify somewhat the ambivalent attitudes towards the military in Egypt, and the initial expectations of protestors that the military would help protect them from Egypt’s violent security and police services.

Interpretations of Nasserism have centered on the state apparatus. Discussions have focused on the authoritarian-bureaucratic state structure, characterized by a highly state-centralized process of socio-economic development, a corporatist patrimonial state bourgeoisie, a single-party system bolstered by a repressive state apparatus, and a populist nationalist ideology. This political formation, interpreters argue, proved incapable of radically restructuring the Egyptian state, society, and economy, as signaled by the failure to build a fully industrialized, capitalist or socialist, liberal democratic nation-state. This is the classic ‘authoritarian military dictatorship model’ we have been reading about in the press. But such a monolithic model fails to adequately capture the complexity of Nasserism.

Nasserism was equally characterized by an ideology and practice of social-welfare, premised upon the state apparatus as arbiter not only of economic development, but also of social welfare. Such a social welfare model was premised on an ethical covenant between the people and the state, a social contract in which the possibility of revolutionary or democratic political change was exchanged for piecemeal social reform and the amelioration of the conditions of the working classes. It was further based on a view of ‘the people’ (al-sha’ab) as the generative motor of history and as resources of national wealth (the motor of its development, as it were); and an interventionist policy of social planning and engineering. Social welfare, of course, should not be understood as a benevolent process whereby the state shepherds citizens in their own welfare. Rather, it entails the social and political process of reproducing particular social relations, often based on violence and coercion, at least partly to minimize class antagonisms.” (Omnia El Shakry at Jadaliyya)

2011 Revolution:
“Rather than view the spontaneous eruption of protests on January 25, 2011 as signaling the absence of ideological or political cohesion, we can view it instead as the product of an unprecedented historical assemblage of complex forces and contradictions. As Mohammed Bamyeh noted in ‘The Egyptian Revolution: First Impressions from the Field,’ the revolt has been characterized by a large degree of spontaneity, marginality, a call for civic government, and an elevation of political grievances above economic grievances. Thus, we have seen the participation of a wide range of groups with differing ideological orientations but nonetheless coherent and articulate in their demand for an end to the ancien regime. These have included strong elements of trade unions and other labor organizers, such as the April 6 movement (named after its call for a General Strike in support of the workers in Mahalla). Indeed, since 2008 there has been a tremendous upsurge in labor and union organizing. But labor movements do not exhaust the types of players involved—including, of course, the new social movements (whether leftist, feminist, legal-judicial, NGO based, or social-media galvanized organizations) discussed in Paul Amar’s ‘Why Mubarak is Out,’ as well as the Muslim Brotherhood who have publicly declared their commitment to a civil and pluralist government.

Those on the ground in Egypt know what they want: an end to Mubarak, and end to the emergency laws that have strangled political expression in Egypt since 1981, a civil government with a new constitution guaranteeing elections and the curtailment of political power, and trials for those involved in the massacres of the protesters. Despite the machinations of the West, it is clear that what will simply not do is an insinuation of ancien regime forces of any kind into a post-Mubarak Egypt, whether neo-liberal robber barons, counter-revolutionaries, or political opportunists. The voices from Tahrir, Alexandria, Mahalla, Suez, and Minya must be heard in their call for a ‘reversal of the relationship of forces.’ In other words, this is a people’s revolution.”—Omnia El Shakry, “Egypt’s Three Revolutions: The Force of History behind this Popular Uprising.”

The Egyptian Revolution of 2011: a truly democratic, non-violent social revolution made, in the end, by all sectors of the Egyptian populace persevering in the face of fear, threats and intimidation, lies, economic uncertainty and insecurity, repression, Realpolitik and conventional power politics, Islamaphobia, violence.... We are privileged to be witness to this remarkable moment in history.


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