February 15, 2011

Some Preliminary Ideas on the Egyptian Revolution So far

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 4:00 pm


1. The people who went to the streets are not the destitute, but rather those who hold a decent economic position but feel cramped. They experience pressure either pushing them downward or blocking their attempts to rise.
This highlights the question of how decisive a factor food (and fuel) stagflation has been here, and how decisive it’ll be going forward. We’ve already seen several years’ worth of demonstrations over artificial blockages to food security. (There’s more than enough food, but corporations and governments set up price barriers to exclude billions from easily accessing it. This is the basic goal of food globalization.) As the masses become more used to these assaults, more used to demonstrating, and place food stagflation within the context of globalization as a systematic policy, the uprisings will less and less have the character of “food riots”, as the MSM disparages them, and will become larger, better-planned, and embedded within the broad front of political revolution as we saw in Egypt.
2. The street democracy was primarily a political convocation and made political demands. Once again we see how in the first rush of demonstration, the people experience true democracy with exhilaration. It inspires, it fulfills, it drives. This graphically exposes what a sham our “representative democratic” forms really are. Those aren’t the food of life. They don’t make us experience our humanity. Only the vibrant, fully lived democracy can do this. It’s the highest, finest, most satisfying communal experience humanity has ever known. For those wondrous moments, it makes us whole. It’s so potent, even its reverberations down through history, or as experienced through the present communications media, convey and bestow some of the blessing.
Under such an intoxication, it’s natural to focus on the enshrinement of this political freedom. It may even seem like a subtraction from the moment to focus on economic grievance. Perhaps the task of a fundamental transformation of the economic dispensation seems too daunting to think about at first. At any rate, the first cadre of street demonstrators tends to focus on political demands. So it was in Egypt, although increasing strike activity bolstered the political uprising and eventually powered it to its first great victory.
3. This trend of labor unrest goes back several years. That Egyptian workers have alone defied the police state for so long and under such a media blackout is the most unsung story of heroism in this revolution. Compared to that, going to the streets last week must have been more of a carnival.
Seeing the great political movement at least temporarily joining their longstanding strike movement, the striking workers put themselves at its service. They submerged their demands in the political movement and seconded its political demands. They did this in the expectation that the political movement’s advance would help their own economic movement’s advance. More on this below.
4. The regime is inefficient and clumsy. This is a standard feature of successful revolutions. The regime was clueless about the situation, even after the mass street protest broke out. Belatedly noticing it, Mubarak wavered between pledges of reform and threats of repression, but the people correctly didn’t believe he was capable of following through on either. Mubarak’s promises were consistently too little, too late, and at any rate not believable as anything but sham. His threats were the classic mixture of a collapsing regime: Brutal enough to infuriate the people further, but too uncoordinated and haphazard to successfully put down the uprising. Malevolent in intent, incompetent in execution: This is the classic state of a brutal, stupid leadership ready to fall.
The vaunted police may actually have been hollowed out by embezzlement and stupidity. The rank and file riot police, who are supposed to be well-trained elites or at least motivated regime ideologues, may in fact have mostly been ill-trained conscripts. Many may have shed their uniforms early in the protest. Meanwhile, the regime chose to use its committed cadres not for direct crowd suppression, but for provocation activities, looting, mugging, vandalism, arson, and organizing mobs of scum to throw rocks. That should give an indication of the quality of personnel the regime was reduced to leaning upon, and the quality of its own mindset.
At the same time they made the mistake of sending the army in among the democracy and then leaving it to sit there, bombarded with the good will and friendship of the people. I assume the idea was that the mere sight of the tanks would scare off the demonstrators. When this predictably failed, the result was the worst of both worlds, from Mubarak’s point of view. It would already have been dubious to order the rank and file troops to open fire on the people. Any general who ordered it would be courting a mutiny, which would immediately have escalated things to February 1917 levels. Basically sending in the troops without a plan, as if you wanted them to do nothing but fraternize, could only increase this likelihood. At the same time the idea that the army was among them, was with them, and the sight of the troops often running interference for the demonstrators against the uniformed police and the thug mobs, could only further hearten the people and bolster their resolve.
Mubarak bluffed and failed miserably. It’s no surprise that when he finally did try to give an order for the troops to attack the democracy, they simply ignored it. The order was considered so absurd and depraved, the troops could disregard it without fear of repercussions from their officers. They didn’t even bother to mutiny, Mubarak had so stripped himself of authority.
More on the army below.
5. In Egypt the call to go to the streets was coordinated by political and perhaps labor activists. It’s still difficult to parse the intentions of these activists, but at the least they wanted to overthrow Mubarak and his NDP. More on them below.
6. Once the people were in the streets, the movement was spontaneously self-organizing. Although the basic idea of assembling at set points and from there converging on the Square was laid out in prepared material ahead of time, and the idea of using the mosques as embarkation points on the first Friday was also preplanned, from there the massed democrats of the streets had to make it up as they went along, and they did so with great ingenuity, discipline, and spirit. They met every challenge the same way, from keeping their processions moving to confronting the riot police to greeting the tanks to protecting the Museum and other worthy public property to defending their neighborhoods to dealing with police looters and muggers to fighting the mobs to building the barricades to manning them in shifts to preventing the tanks from moving to the more mundane and more difficult challenges of arranging food, water, shelter, medical care, and sanitation. They did all this with great skill. Through it all they remained non-violent except in direct self-defense. They also spontaneously found religious amity, with Muslims and Christians protecting one another’s prayer sessions and even joining together for some collective services.
7. At all times, self-confidence and self-respect remained high, and often surged. Most pivotal, and most indicative of true fighters, they escalated their resolve and demands at every new obstacle, every provocation. That’s the exact opposite of the dynamic with which we in the West are familiar, when we look at our existing “political” types. There’s zero sign of the revolutionary spirit among them. I think most of it will have to come from those who have renounced existing politics completely, and especially from those who are completely new to politics.
8. The whole thing has depended upon the forbearance of the military. That should be obvious, but it’s weird how many people I see discussing that as if they just discovered it, because Egypt is for the moment under military rule. They act as if they just had an epiphany regarding something which was obvious to most of us from day one, and they see this as a bad sign.
But the historical fact is that revolutionary, as well as many reform movements, often depend upon the state instruments of violence not to practice anything near their full violent potential. To give some obvious examples, both the Gandhi and King movements depended upon this forbearance. That’s one of the basic parts of the revolutionary mix, upon which the success of the movement rises or falls: Are the troops ordered to open fire, and if so do they obey? Positive answers to these may not be sufficient, but they’re usually necessary. It’s funny how many observers seem not to know this, and regard the current state of affairs as a sign of the movement’s failure, when this is only the beginning.
9.  Western governments and media were helpless. They had no words, not even the slightest idea how to respond to this. “Do I lie and embrace a democratic movement, hoping to help destroy it behind the scenes? Do I disparage it? Openly or subtly? Do I even believe this is democracy? It’s just troublemakers, right? Riled up by Islamists and foreigners, just like Mubarak says? Mubarak’s not a dictator. His son is the friend of our worthy banks. Suleiman tortures for us. Maybe he’d be better as head of state. What about Israel? What about the Suez Canal? What about our oil? What is our $1.5 billion a year buying, if it can’t deal with a street mob? What the heck is that they keep chanting? ‘Democracy’? No, we’re democracy, right? That’s what we always say. It must be true. Mubarak’s a democrat too, just like us. Do I tell the truth and reject this obnoxious movement? Maybe an orderly transition would be better. Can’t they just shoot them down? Or would that be too embarrassing to us all? Surely nobody in the West would care, right? Muslim Brotherhood equals bin Laden. What kind of corporate opportunities will this open up in Egypt?…”
Disgruntled confusion.
10. The democracy won its first great victory. It toppled Mubarak and seems to have prevented Suleiman from seamlessly taking up his position. Obama and Hillary’s “orderly transition” was defeated.
The next real political demands are an end to the state of emergency, prosecution and disgorgement for all Mubarak criminals, a new constitution, and new elections. All striker demands must also be met. The army has already suspended the Mubarak-corrupted constitution and dissolved the fraudulent parliament.
But beyond this, the army’s indications have been underwhelming at best, menacing at worst. With Mubarak gone, the Council has resumed the call for the protestors to go home, since “your demands have been met”. They’re again trying to dismantle the democratic structures in the Square. The tents are gone, the barricades may be gone. The people are still there, but they’re being pushed to leave.
The Council also threatened to ban strikes and labor demonstrations, although the last I saw they hadn’t yet gone ahead and done this. Instead they bought time by declaring Monday a holiday, while Tuesday was already a holiday.
The Council also at first said it was going to rewrite the constitution in ten days and submit it for a referendum. Last I heard, this impetuous scheme has been replaced by the appointment of a jurist to supervise the writing of a new constitution. This is hardly the democratic constitutional convention the democracy of the streets must have been thinking of. This kind of instant constitution, made to order by technocrats, has never had any authority anywhere.
According to what I read this jurist is a pillar of the legal establishment, the same type as the “wise men” who offered a tepid set of demands on arrogated behalf of the democracy (they had no authority to do so, that’s for sure) which didn’t even demand Mubarak’s ouster.
When we consider this, the picture starts to resolve. We see how the prefabricated action figure Ghonim appeared on the streets at a critical point as if by magic to start striking heroic poses and making lame demands, including his recent calls, aping the generals, for the democracy to adjourn and go home, since the process is now in the hands of adults. (I heard the A6Mers also said Go Home Hippies and Strikers.) Many of them were willing to sit down with Suleiman when Mubarak was still in place. (And Elbaradei seemed upset he wasn’t invited.)
To make a 1917 comparison, it looks like this whole crew is analogous to the Kadets, the Constitutional Democratic party of liberal politicians and professionals. They never had any ambitions beyond some basic political reforms, but intended to leave the evil property structure intact. Their main preoccupation was to freeze the revolution in place and then euthanize it. They still had great enthusiasm for the war and wanted it to continue.
That’s just an analogy, but it seems fairly close to what we’re seeing so far. The people must be vigilant against such hijackers of their revolution, lest they allow them to betray it. In particular, they seem set to betray the democracy’s brothers in arms who continue on strike.
11. Protest action should shift to supporting all strikes, just as last week the strikers shifted their focus to supporting the political revolution. Under global kleptocracy the struggle of the workers is the same as the struggle of the cramped middle class. This cramp the middle classes feel is simply the same robbers of the workers now directing their crimes at them. From here on we shall surely hang together of hang separately. Unfortunately, political reformers have a nasty historical record of selling out the real economic struggle. But the Egyptian movement has been so overflowing with good faith so far, I have every confidence that it’ll rise to this challenge the same as it has risen to all others.
12. Finally, as I’ve written several times already, the democracy must not take its hand off the wheel and let the “normal”, designated forms and processes resume their normal course. The democracy is a new normal and must sustain itself as such. It must remain in session. The Committees must remain in existence and ramify themselves. They must continue with their quasi-governmental activities. They must support the strikers, on the street, in the factories, confronting the army leadership, offering themselves as mediators, but always on behalf of the strike demands. (The strikers should be organizing councils as well to coordinate with the political and community councils and ensure that these don’t sell out the strikes or neglect them.) They must confederate as a democratic Commune parallel to the pre-existing forms, claiming co-equal legitimacy with them.
Today the people of Egypt want a better constitution and representative government. Their best way of achieving this, and at the same time of seeing how they can grow beyond this as well, is to keep their positive democracy of the Square in living session. It can serve as the voice, the watcher, the promise of action if the people’s rightful wishes are subverted, and most of all the promise of this new, lived political freedom which has flowed as the essential lifeblood of this movement since it took to the streets. 
This is the only way the democratic revolution can continue as a living force, fulfilling on a daily basis the great promise with which it fired the hearts of millions who went to the streets, and of billions who watched, who knew, who felt with them, who now aspire.


  1. Paul Roberts, at Information Clearing House, asks the question:
    Has There Been An Egyptian Revolution?
    By Paul Craig Roberts


    It is probably a good idea to have some sort of direction; can it be that democracy introduction into a society accustomed to repression via dictatorship may simply lead to anarchy?

    Comment by wilwon32@gmail.com — February 15, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

    • If by “anarchy” you mean chaos (which is a false synonym), then sure it’s possible if the forces of reaction try to subvert it that way. That’s what the thug looters and mobs tried to do during the demonstration – cause it to collapse into chaos, or at least smear it with that perception outside Egypt.

      But so far the movement has done a great job of maintaining its own democratic order, in spite of the regime’s best (worst) efforts to destroy that order.

      Comment by Russ — February 16, 2011 @ 3:13 am

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by liberalideals, Jon Good. Jon Good said: Some Preliminary Ideas on the Egyptian Revolution So far « Volatility: Through it all they remained non-violent … http://bit.ly/ghUVhv […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Some Preliminary Ideas on the Egyptian Revolution So far « Volatility -- Topsy.com — February 15, 2011 @ 10:10 pm

  3. If this article is credible, perhaps, George Soros is going to influence the outcome in Egypt.

    The Junk Bond “Teflon Guy” Behind Egypt’s Nonviolent Revolution
    By Maidhc Ó Cathail

    Maidhc Ó Cathail writes extensively on U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East.

    It may be a bit early to try to predict the outcome.

    Comment by William Wilson — February 18, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

    • Thanks, William. I’ve heard plenty of dubious stuff about who wanted to influence the outcome and why. My basic idea is still that various neoliberal wannabes who were outsiders in Egypt either helped foment this or have glommed onto it. Now they basically want to become bigshots themselves, being co-opted to the regime rather than overthrowing it. In the end the thing would have been just a change of some of the personnel at the top.

      That’s why I keep looking for the people to stay active, stay in revolutionary session, support the strikes, form councils, and keep these activities at street-level control. Don’t let the would-be “celebrities” hijack the event for their personal power gain.

      Comment by Russ — February 18, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

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