February 6, 2011

Impasse in Egypt?

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 3:27 am


Things have reached a critical stage in Egypt. If things stay the way they are right now, the democracy will fail to achieve its immediate, hitherto non-negotiable demand that Mubarak leave. This in turn will bode ill for the integrity of the constitutional reform process that’s supposed to follow. If the regime can hold out and defeat this demand, there’s no reason to think it won’t try to roll back all its concessions, as well as undertake reprisals against those who protested.
Mubarak is still intransigent, even going so far as to rescind a pledge that he was quitting his political party. The army leadership also seems to have decided it won’t force him out. And today it’s even more clear than before that there will be no real US pressure on him to go anytime soon.
So the protestors remain where they always knew they were – on their own.
As we suspected, the pre-existing “leaders” who have managed to claim some level of authority to “represent” the demonstrators are starting to sell out. We already saw the collaborationist proposal of the self-appointed “Wise Men”. Today we learn that the Muslim Brotherhood has explicitly sold out on the key proximate demand: That Mubarak’s resignation is a precondition for entering into negotiations. Now they say they’re willing negotiate without this precondition being met. This doesn’t directly compromise the integrity of the protestors, for whom the MB was never a legitimate representative, but only at best a fellow participant. But if the recognizable figures all cave in, that’s bound to create division among the democrats in the Square, who are already under increasing pressure from the army to end the demonstration.
There are also reports that “normal” Egyptians, whatever that means, are sick of the disruption, think the protest has already won, and that it’s time for things to get back to “normal” while the reform process plays out. This is obviously the same propaganda we heard from the thugs many days ago. Nevertheless, it’s plausible that there are people who feel that way. To whatever extent it’s true, that’s more pressure on the protestors.
So what can they do now?
If they’re going to stay in the Square, they’ll need a more formalized organizational structure. This will be necessary to ensure food, water, shelter, and sanitation. Other responsibilities are maintaining the barricades, fraternizing with the troops and discussions with the officers, vigilance against threats (whether it be army gambits to push them out, or new thug attacks), articulating the democracy’s political philosophy and demands to the world. For that matter, they’ll need to articulate the philosophy for themselves.
To do all this, they need a Council of the Square. Maybe they could even constitute a political assembly right there in the Square. This could even commence the work of constitutional reform, inviting other participants to join them in the Square. Maybe that could be a way to try to reverse the dynamic of attrition of leaders – since Mubarak is definitely not president of the Square, a negotiation could be held there which is not under his auspices.
That’s just political symbolism for starters and wouldn’t yet be reality. Many would scoff at it. But if we’re ever going to make headway with the ideal that only the people can exercise sovereignty, and that they must start to do it democratically, then we must use whatever means are available to defy the existing illegitimate structures. We need to do it even in the face of ridicule and complaints, which I agree can sometimes be harder to face than police truncheons.
The demonstrators have set in motion a tremendous event, but as always it’s up to their affirmative ingenuity and activity to keep moving forward. Today the threat looks to be not violent repression but attrition (but as the citizens are well aware, as they’ve said over and over, if they succumb to attrition, the repression is likely to then round them up afterward). They need to take another big risk. This risk is to keep holding the Square, as the one indisputably democratic stronghold of Egypt. Everyplace else is in the state of flux. The government is in flux. Public opinion is in flux. It’s hard to tell whether or not the army leadership is in flux, or if it ever was. But for over a week the Square has not been in flux. Democracy has, however fleetingly or permanently, found a home. We all see it with our own eyes, eyes which may sometimes have become weary in the past, but which today must sparkle with the fire of this reflected image. For once the image has left our minds’ eye and hails us from reality. Nothing can change this new inspiration to our work.
Now we see if democracy can build upon its victory by finding a way out of this impasse. 


  1. Mubarak has many advantages. He has between $40 and $70 billion in personal wealth. He has control of the police, and, being a military man himself, has control of the US defense contractor- armed Egyptian military. While that large group of Egyptian people are out demonstrating, scrounging for food and growing poorer, Mubarak is being waited on hand and foot. Other than for the assault on his ego, he is really quite comfortable. At this point in his life, it is not inconceivable that Mubarak believes that he can’t lose, and, at 83 years of age, he may have the will of a suicide bomber who believes in his own immortality.

    It won’t take long for even those people, who have been sympathetic to the protesters, to have grown tired of the of the way the protesters are disrupting the average Egyptian’s daily life. The majority of Egyptians are probably now more concerned with their daily survival than they are with the importance of ridding the country of a tyrant. Once Mubarak’s reptilian brain senses the winds of public opinion shifting against the protesters, and senses the protesters’ doubts, their inner divisions and their growing weaknesses, he can send in the military and the police to take back the cities. Once Cairo is cleared out, with or without violence, the protesters in the other cities will most likely leave on their own accord.

    Mubarak could come out of all this feeling more invincible than ever. We’ve seen this time and time again. When the Wall Street banks crashed in 2008, the players responsible for that crash came out wealthier and more powerful than ever. The average American never considered that the banksters owned the Presidency, the Congress and the military. It has been the American people who have suffered, and suffering will also be the fate for those Egyptians who dared to protest against their nation’s brutal kleptocracy.

    It’s as if much of the world is degenerating into a state similar to that of 1861 post-feudal Russia. There is a more finite elite ruling class, serviced by an ever metastasizing, powerful Government class, with both groups working in concert to extract all possible wealth from the working class.

    Comment by black swan — February 6, 2011 @ 7:36 am

    • I think the time for stark violence is past. They’ll now try to wear them down, applying more and more social pressure.

      Comment by Russ — February 6, 2011 @ 9:53 am

  2. The least that has happened is very important; that people all over the world who want information on how a police state is organized, have it. They have that and more.

    Comment by LeeAnne — February 6, 2011 @ 8:27 am

    • It’s already a great breakthrough, no matter what happens from here.

      Comment by Russ — February 6, 2011 @ 9:55 am

  3. Here’s a good personal account from a democratic protestor.


    Comment by Russ — February 6, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

  4. Last night I had a conversation with a friend who convinced me that I had fundamentally misjudged the MB as a legitimate representative of the lower classes in Egypt. His described them as having a fundamentally bourgeois leadership which intends to sell out its constituency- his flippant description was “they want to operate within neoliberal paradigms and accumulate capital like everyone else, they just want to do it with headscarves on, and yeah, some soup kitchens”. He indicated that I should be paying more attention to Egyptian worker’s councils, who have apparently taken over several factories last year and laid much of the groudnwork for the protests. I don’t have any good references or descriptions at the moment, but I’ll see if I can dig anything up. It sounds like these councils are where we should keep our attention if we want to see what direction the protests will ultimately take.

    Comment by paper mac — February 6, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

    • I’ve been looking for information like that too, based on some fleeting references I’ve seen at WSWS and a few other places, but details are hard to find. I’ll keep looking, and I hope you can find something.

      (I’m not sure which source would see its interest in playing up any anarchist manifestations. Everyone is far more interested in the theme of reformist political demands. It wouldn’t surprise me if that really is the main character of events so far. But like you said, we also hear tell of actions which may be seeking more fundamental economic change.)

      I don’t know much about the MB’s real intentions. It seems plausible that under such repressive conditions a “pragmatist” (in the Orwellian US “progressive” sense) leadership may have calcified. In that case, it’s likely they just want their cut of the loot, like the self-proclaimed “wise men” almost certainly want.

      All those aspects seem to be fitting into the pattern of the half-baked pseudo-revolution I mentioned.


      But it seems like the MB came out of that meeting practically calling it a sham. So maybe they’re not just looking for an opportunity to sell out. I guess we’ll find out eventually.

      Comment by Russ — February 7, 2011 @ 6:01 am

      • My understanding is that the Nation has dispatched someone to report on the councils, so there should be a reasonably good report on them out in the next little while, I’ll post if I hear anything more.

        Comment by paper mac — February 7, 2011 @ 9:46 am

      • Thanks for the heads up, and here’s something on the strikes which broke out today.


        I plan to write something about those tomorrow morning.

        Comment by Russ — February 8, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

    • According to all the evidence we’ve seen, the Liberation Square protesters have an incredible level of organization. There are field hospitals, multiple rings of security, picketed blockades, food and drink purveyors, even cell phone recharging stations. Some protesters are guarding rooftops and acting as lookouts. This sort of organization doesn’t happen without practice. I think it’s clear the earlier labor protests — which have been largely under the radar for those of us in the West — have educated a generation of pro-democracy Egyptians in protest tactics. That hard earned experience may be the only thing holding the Liberation Square protest together now that the heady rush of initial action has faded.

      I think it’s also clear that to whatever extent the labor proto-unions are behind this, the protesters have made a conscious decision to avoid even the vaguest kind of grandstanding and publicity seeking. It may be the obverse of the “upraised nail” theory — all the leaders were jailed, so now there are no leaders. Leaders are targets and clearly not needed anyway. This means there’s no one to sell the protesters out, no one to be bribed or coerced. It seems like an incredibly effective tactic, but as we see it also seems to result in stalemate when the opposing force is unwilling or unable to resort to mass slaughter.

      However this plays out it’s clearly a massive success for what may be a new style of organic, leaderless uprising.

      Comment by reslez — February 7, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

      • All of it has been working extremely well, and it’s proven how a mass protest can largely organize itself.

        Now we’ll see how well they can organize themselves to stay in the Square on a semi-permanent basis.

        On the other hand, how to break out of the impasse with this intransigent regime is a tougher problem. In everything I still operate under the assumptions that the protestors didn’t do all this in order to get the same regime without Mubarak, and that even if the regime does follow through on its pledges for “better elections”, the regime will do all it can to maintain itself through those elections.

        (Nor would a “new” regime made up of Elbaradei, the “wise men”, and neoliberals among the MB, along with all sorts of Mubarak vestiges, be a significant improvement. It would still keep on the same police state, I’ll venture.)

        Comment by Russ — February 8, 2011 @ 6:49 am

  5. […] Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: egypt — Russ @ 6:11 am   On Sunday I wrote about how it looks like an impasse in Freedom Square. The democracy may have to settle in for a […]

    Pingback by Egypt’s Example, and the Future of the Relocalization Movement « Volatility — February 7, 2011 @ 6:11 am

  6. […] brinksmanship, but the democracy is in a much stronger position than it was several days ago. Then, the idea of a march on the presidential palace looked more like an act of desperation more likely […]

    Pingback by New Critical State in Egypt « Volatility — February 11, 2011 @ 3:12 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: