February 2, 2011

The Egyptian Revolution

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 2:55 am


Answering their own call, over two million people demonstrated yesterday in Cairo, Alexandria, and a long list of other cities. This great movement is not only sustaining itself, it’s growing. How long has it been since we’ve seen anything like it?
The people have set the pace every step of the way. Every act has shown their self-respect, self-discipline, resolve, and will to power. They’re reacted to every show of weakness, and every display of disdain, arrogance, and obstinacy on the part of the enemy by fortifying their absolute will to drive out the tyrants. So far the only thing they said they would do but which they postponed when the army frowned was to march on the presidential palace. The crowd has otherwise engaged in a masterful negotiation with the army which has won them everything they demanded. This has been a combination of optimism and friendly greeting, fraternization, and carefully chosen probings and challenges which eventually induced the army to openly declare it would not open fire.
That has been a significant negative political achievement, neutralizing a possible confrontation with the military, leaving the police isolated, bereft of support, and forced to switch from openly fighting for the streets to changing to civilian dress to become thugs, subversives, spies, professional looters, terrorists. If we were calling this a war, then these are enemy soldiers wearing the wrong uniform. Their actions are certainly worthy of such a designation. As we read of more and more such thug violence, it becomes clear that the people may need to escalate their actions to whatever level the thugs force them to, if they’re to preserve their revolution.
As I said a few days ago, if we’re in the “they fight you” stage of Gandhi’s described evolution of the conflict, then here we’ve been seeing the evolution of this stage in real time, as the criminals first sicced the police on the people, then had to call in the army, and when the army leadership decided it was too risky to try to fight, they were reduced to having the police fight, not even as uniformed thugs but as gutter vandals and muggers. No one can ever emphasize it enough, this really is what happens if you stand up to bullies and refuse to back down. They quickly become helpless, unless they’re willing to go all the way. If the people stand as one great leaderless mass (so the system can’t target specific activists) and refuse to back down, the handful of hacks and gangsters becomes helpless. 
Then there’s the marvelous affirmative activity of the people, who have been organizing themselves to perform security (against the police looters), transportation (like organizing bus transport for yesterday’s March of the Millions), sanitation and street cleaning, food distribution, and medical and emergency care. The level of organization for these actions ranges from spontaneously formed groups to semi-permanent Popular Committees operating in a quasi-governmental way. I still haven’t seen any political consciousness among these councils, though.
For a complete contrast, Mubarak and his patron Obama have been behind the curve of events the whole way through. Mubarak’s performance has been pathetic: First he blustered, then tried the carrot-and-stick, then scapegoated his government, then brought in a putative strongman successor (I’m not sure if Mubarak thought Suleiman could or would rescue him personally, or whether that was already starting to bow to the will of Washington to ease him out), then made a ridiculous speech which said nothing, then pretended to offer social democratic style reforms, and all the while grudgingly hinting that he might “step down” at the end of his “term”. All this was pathetic most of all because the people rendered it pathetic with their unflagging hostility and ridicule. (I read that the demonstrators added contempt to hatred after Mubarak’s inept and obnoxious speech.)
Obama has been even more lame. His notions of hanging onto his stooge and/or having Serious People conduct an Orderly Transition reached the level of farce yesterday. On Day Of Wrath Eight, Obama thinks a promise from Mubarak to step down at the end of his term can be acceptable to the crowd. I bet in his mind that’s a truly magnanimous gesture. And then there’s Obama’s own flunkeys in a race to the bottom over who can be most incompetent in trying to mouth pro-democratic words while letting their indelible hatred for democracy to glare through in spite of itself. Hillary Ribbentrop has been leading the way, although it was tough overcoming the VP’s early lead after he chirped that Mubarak’s “not a dictator” and would only grudgingly entertain the notion that some of the people’s demands might be “legitimate”. But of course only duly designated nabobs are to be judges of such “legitimacy”. Since then they’ve kept Joey in a bunker with a lollipop to suck on. It looks like, while we didn’t get Sarah Palin for VP, we got the equivalent Sarah Biden.
Then there’s everyone else’s obsession with finding Leadership upon which to fixate. All government types, all elites, the MSM, liberals and other authoritarian “leftists” – they all need to glom onto a Leader. That’s the only way they can organize their perceptions and thoughts. But it’s been slim pickings indeed. I saw one Leninist-wannabe reduced to meekly inquiring, “Is there any reason to think Elbaradei’s leadership should be rejected? Can’t we be cautiously optimistic about him?” So there’s been some comedy in all this as well.
Why is this going so well after the demonstrations failed in France after such a great beginning? Here’s some differences.
* This has been basically leaderless and spontaneous. The French efforts were the opposite – mostly under the direction of existing hierarchies.
* In France, even though there was rank and file support for a General Strike, the leadership was content to schedule designated Days of Action but otherwise leave it up to individual groups of workers to decide if they wanted to strike on any given day (and the leaders only grudgingly consented to even this). The implicit message was, if you treat things as business as usual except on the designated strike day, that’s fine.
In Egypt, there’s no sign that anyone is flagging from the will to permanently go to the streets until the job is completely done.
And if they also realize that their street councils have all the makings of a new government and society, it’s possible this will become the job itself. The negative shall have evolved into the affirmative. 
* The protestors’ demand has been simple and all-encompassing: Get Out. No promises, no “reforms”, and not just one figurehead but the whole regime. Get Out. They’ve stuck to this with exemplary tenacity, refusing to be distracted by the endless diversions and ploys Mubarak and Obama have tried.
In France they were trying to “negotiate” with criminals. They weren’t even demanding reform, but asking the regime to refrain from an austerity assault. In other words, they started out begging for far less than what Mubarak has offered the Egyptian demonstrators, and which the people of Egypt have flung contemptuously back in his face. Given such a vast difference in political self-confidence and self-respect, is it any wonder the Egyptians are on the verge of winning a victory far beyond the conceptual horizons of the French protests?
(Of course, where it comes to self-respect the gulf between Egypt and France is as nothing compared to the abyss which separates Egypt and America.)
Maybe it was too much to expect a decadent old society like France, domesticated* in the worst sense, to say anything like Get Out, instead of specifying a tame demand within the context of a circumscribed tactic. [*We consider having become members of the temporary middle class to have been a great achievement of civilization. Yet the middle class existence in itself evidently enervates and cows people to the point that they then fail to resist their eventual liquidation. It creates the preconditions for its own destruction, even independently of the premeditated class war plan to destroy it. The middle class turns out to have been one big veal pen.]
But however true that is (and I think it’s not irretrievably so, but there’s lots of cobwebs to clear before we become fully awake), we see how following Leaders always dooms us. The basic conceptual issue with, for example, business unions (any union which accepts capitalism as the way things are) is that they’re automatically corrupt in principle even before we get to the question of conventionally corrupt personnel. The union sees itself (at best) as “bargaining” to sell the workers’ labor. It signs a contract, and then sees itself as that contract’s co-enforcer, along with the capitalist. Its ability to enforce the contract against its own members is the basis of its “authority”.
Given such a pre-corrupted position, it’s no wonder that when unions organize strikes and protests the most important thing to them is to impose limits on the strikers. That’s what they did in France. The unions decided ahead of time that they were going to cave in on every demand. They only wanted to pretend to put up a fight to justify the existence of their own hierarchy in the face of increasing pressure from below. But their main preoccupation throughout was to keep the protests within the bounds they had decided upon ahead of time. They succeeded in this treason. They succeeded in diffusing the upsurging will to fight. Therefore the strikes failed.
So that’s where Leadership gets you.
A true leadership would at most take responsibility for making some basic plans for an uprising, but would be clear that once the people are in the streets, the momentum of the streets will decide all.
That seems to be what happened in Egypt. As the dissemination of well-designed training manuals evinces, there was careful preparation ahead of time. But all that did and all it was meant to do was to get the people off to a good start. Once everyone’s out in the streets, it’s all up to them. There are no limits, no boundaries, no horizons, but those of the people’s ability to imagine things and the will to fight for them.


  1. From a Stratfor alert:

    The opposition immediately rejected the pronouncement. Each political concession offered during this crisis by the Egyptian political establishment — which until this point had ruled with absolute authority since the 1950s — has only emboldened the opposition.

    Note how every system commenter keeps referring to “the opposition”, as if this is a political party or something. That’s another example of the hierarchical framing they need to synthesize in order to comprehend events at all.

    But that quote describes a great truth I described in the post:

    Every concession has only emboldened the people.

    When was the last time you saw this dynamic anywhere other than among the criminals? This is turning the normal dynamic completely upside down.

    Right side up.

    Comment by Russ — February 2, 2011 @ 5:18 am

  2. “we see how following Leaders always dooms us”

    That, with the possible exception of Gandhi, is, unfortunately, so true. Through the evolution of most of these modern revolutions, a charismatic leader emerges, who, ultimately, proves to be just another narcissistic megalomaniac. The oppressed majority seems to be constantly looking for a “strong man” whom they can then deify. Hopefully, it will be different this time in Egypt.

    Comment by black swan — February 2, 2011 @ 7:48 am

    • I hope so. Gandhi was an exception who proves the rule, since he wasn’t seeking hierachical power.

      But yes, that’s the rarest kind of leader.

      Comment by Russ — February 2, 2011 @ 8:47 am

  3. It’s become next to impossible to log on the Al Jazeera, but I found a live feed. It looks like the worst case scenario is unfolding. In other words, “The Empire Strikes back”.


    Comment by black swan — February 2, 2011 @ 8:02 am

  4. The protest is deteriorating into rock throwing and street fighting. That wonderful video of the protesters picking up their trash has become yesterday’s news. This does not look like it will end well. The protesters’ leadership vacuum has given the pro-Mubarak forces a large opening. The dictator’s forces are riding through the crowd on horseback as if they were Russian cossacks. The peaceful anti-government protest is dead.

    Comment by black swan — February 2, 2011 @ 8:38 am

    • It was always likely that sooner or later the people would have to deal with vermin like this. The regime always scours the sewers and cesspools to dredge them up.

      So now the crowds who faced down the police and the army are going to let themselves be dispersed by thugs? I know these are guys who are paid to brawl, but the people have to be able to beat them off.

      But yes, however predictable, it’s unpleasant to see it happening.

      Non-violence is of course only as good as the situation which affords scope for it. If a thug is coming at you with a club, you’d better grab a pipe and use it.

      As has been true from the start, there’s vastly more of the people than there are of the filth.

      Comment by Russ — February 2, 2011 @ 8:45 am

      • Think about it. Mubarak is allowing the world to see him flex his muscles. He is sending a message in his own behalf and in the behalf of all the other dictators in the world. He is saying that if you screw with us, we will crush you. Pro-Mabarak supporters have taken over three military vehicles and are driving into the crowd with them.

        Comment by black swan — February 2, 2011 @ 9:05 am

      • It’s the people who now need to send the message that after fighting the police and staring down the army they’re not going to let a gang of vile thugs beat them when victory is in sight.

        The people need to crush them.

        The gangs have certainly been organized by the same police who spent the last several days looting and mugging, and are being led by them. Screen shots of IDs pulled off beaten thugs at Lambert’s live blog.


        The people hold the square.

        Comment by Russ — February 2, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

      • Reaction is always the important part. Revolution is, in large part, the act of provoking counter-revolution. We’ll see whether the people are organized and resilient enough to resist. It doesn’t look like they have any intention of going home, yet.

        Comment by paper mac — February 2, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

      • Yes, a successful transformation will need to overcome whatever level of aggression the reaction musters.

        So far the people have shown how intrepid they are in dealing with every other challenge. We’ll see what they self-organize to overcome this obstacle.

        The call ought to be to fight through to the square, while the square itself is, for the moment, a fortress. But it can be reopened.

        Comment by Russ — February 2, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

  5. A video in which the real live Beavis and Butthead discuss the situation in Egypt on Fox News—-priceless! And Americans listen to these people. Scary.

    Comment by black swan — February 2, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

    • I can only imagine the confusion at Fox News. It’s probably an even more schizoid version of the Obama/general MSM confusion, hesitation, and disgruntlement.

      Comment by Russ — February 3, 2011 @ 4:40 am

  6. I remember you writing something about this before, Russ —

    The dictators insist we need them to preserve order. But the only way they can maintain their rule is through inflicting chaos and violence. Their promise to preserve order is just a threat: try to get rid of us and our goons will attack you and your families en masse if necessary. It’s the same black sarcasm I associate with corporatism. The very worst of humanity.

    Sometimes when I consider the future of humanity I see nothing but a grinning skull.

    Comment by reslez — February 2, 2011 @ 10:19 pm

    • That’s the whole disaster capitalist (and disaster power) scam in a nutshell.

      But I think we can do better than that skull in the end.

      Comment by Russ — February 3, 2011 @ 4:27 am

  7. Excellent post, Russ, thanks. This is very encouraging. I’m gradually becoming an anarchist, (or maybe a Christian).

    Chris Floyd has damning comments about US-Israeli complicity in the growing mayhem in Cairo…”unkind” words about the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Israeli leaders must be soiling themselves as they contemplate their guilt.


    But the violent suppression appears to be failing because the people refuse to capitulate to the bullies—probably because they have no leaders to negotiate and compromise away their core demands.

    Comment by Doug Terpstra — February 2, 2011 @ 11:34 pm

    • I just came here to post some of Floyd’s stuff. Glad to see it’s already done.

      Incidentally, I was interested to read in Chris Hedges’ “Death of the Liberal Class” about the Catholic Worker movement, founded in the First Great Depression. Hedges’ account indicates he believes it is one of the few Catholic groups in the West which still legitimately engage with and assist the poor. They are themselves anarchists. So maybe you are gradually becoming both an anarchist and a Christian?

      Comment by paper mac — February 2, 2011 @ 11:59 pm

    • Thanks, Doug.

      And thanks (to you and paper mac) for the Floyd link. He’s had some good commentary on this.

      I agree that the more violence they attempt and threaten, and the more the people are able to stand up to it, the more it will be the people who gather confidence and strength from it.

      I just wrote about that in my latest post.


      Anarchism goes well with most of Jesus’ teachings, but of course not with an organized church which has a hierarchy that must be obeyed.

      Tolstoy was the most famous Christian anarchist. He started a large movement based upon it.

      He preached non-resistance, though, which would be rejected by most anarchists. But it’s certainly in the spirit of the Mount of Olives.

      Comment by Russ — February 3, 2011 @ 4:35 am

  8. “9:06 am Anti-Mubarak crowds have changed their chant, now saying: We want the murderer Mubarak to be hanged or tried.”


    That’s some on-message chanting!!

    Comment by paper mac — February 3, 2011 @ 2:23 am

    • This resolve to escalate in response to the thug escalation shows the same spirit as has animated the democratic movement from the start.

      So I regard it as a healthy sign.

      Comment by Russ — February 3, 2011 @ 4:36 am

  9. 3:00 AM Thursday. Now the bastards are shooting them.

    According to the French journal _Liberation_ (at 6:30 AM Thursday French time, and so 12:30 AM EST) “Trois personnes ont été tuées par des tirs au cours des trois dernières heures» (three people were killed by gunfire in the last three hours)

    However, despite these shootings, when protestors were asked by a reporter from Al Jazeera what it would take for them to leave and go home, each person who was asked this question said that things are now past the point of no return, and they are not leaving until their demands are met.

    Comment by Frank Lavarre — February 3, 2011 @ 3:10 am

    • They’re holding firm, taking what’s thrown at them and overcoming it. In other words they’re doing the same thing they’ve done all along.

      Comment by Russ — February 3, 2011 @ 4:38 am

  10. The military is being used to starve out the exhausted occupants of the square allowing only ambulances in and active behind the scenes.

    The Interior minister is objecting to permission given the military to act.

    The crack-down is on. One blogger who is arrested and his blog shut down is quoted as saying ‘they will kill us one at a time -round everyone up -and 6 months from now run phony elections. That’s the believable scenario.

    The military is stopping journalists and foreigners, searching offices. Democracy Now. Amnesty International are made to lie on the floor and have their sim cards removed.

    The horror from the ‘safety’ of my own home, is that my government’s face, John Kerry, Hillary, Obama are duplicitous, fraudulent, and ultimately unbelievable, transparent and corny. They are really lousy actors.

    How can they be regarded as anything but enemies of the American people; traitors. John Kerry’s first words from Davos wanted Americans to believe that the conflict was between demonstrators and ‘the military.’ That is the American plan obviously, never mentioning the security police who are the reigning terrorists among all Egyptians.

    The Senator also dropped the obligatory Al-Qaeda meme awkwardly totally out of context. So, obviously, this is what the US propaganda machine wants the American people to believe.

    Comment by LeeAnne — February 3, 2011 @ 9:06 am

    • I didn’t see anything about the military trying to starve them out. In fact I read a few minutes ago that more people were entering. (It didn’t say anything about more food deliveries, though.)

      I hope your information was inaccurate, but it’s hard to tell with so many conflicting accounts.

      Comment by Russ — February 3, 2011 @ 10:41 am

      • I don’t have any information Russ. I should be more careful about how I word my comments. So I apologize to you.

        “Starving out’ is what I surmise the strategy to be when there are reports that ‘only’ ambulances are being permitted into Tahrir Square by the military.

        I watch Suleiman on Al Jazeera talking to the unconscious, the propaganda consumers who want to get on with their comfortable lives, threatening the protesters, and defending the status quo.

        It is absolutely chilling. I can honestly say I have never felt this close to absolute living EVIL, almost contaminated with it. The man in action, knowing the context, is terrifying.

        So, it is best for me to put some distance between myself and these pictures, thankful for your work Russ and for the other sources; the links you’ve provided.

        Comment by LeeAnne — February 3, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

      • You’re welcome, and no need to apologize. By information I meant the report that they weren’t letting food in, which I didn’t see anywhere, though I’m sure there’s lots I miss. I did read just a little while ago that there was more food coming in, though.

        Comment by Russ — February 3, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

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