Thursday, 3 February 2011

Chaos under Heaven.

  "There is great chaos under heaven – the situation is excellent." - Mao Zedong

Hosni Mubarak sent the baltigi (ex-prisoner cop drug addicts) in to suppress the demonstrations after announcing that he will step down at the next election, or more accurately, he will not seek re-election in September (in theory). So from the initial "concession" of throwing out the administration and keeping the dictator, Mubarak appeared to have accepted the end of his rule albeit on his own self-pitying terms for the sake of pride. The announcement was rightfully met with rage from the Egyptian people and there were soon reports of clashes in Alexandria. Then came reports of cops and hired thugs riding camels into Tahrir Square to attack the demonstrators, the appearance of acceptance was just an illusion. Condemnation of this in the West has been shamefully timid, it is a clear attempt at suppression by the NDP. David Cameron was cautious in his words "If it turns out that the regime in any way has been sponsoring or tolerating this violence, that would be completely and utterly unacceptable."

In defence of the Mubarak regime Tony Blair has crawled out of his hole to describe Mubarak as an "immensely courageous and a force for good" and warned against revolutionary change on the grounds that the Muslim Brotherhood could seize the country. Not surprising really as the British government has supported the Nationalist regime for years. Blair was so keen to invade Iraq for the sake of disarming a brutal dictatorship, which is coincidentally the second largest producer of oil in the world run by a disobedient tyrant. The fall of Saddam was a "liberation" for the Iraqi people because it allowed the US to implement economic reforms favourable to multinational corporations in Iraq. The fall of the NDP in Egypt could threaten the neoliberal project that the invasion of Iraq was a part of, as the demonstrations are not just for freedom and democracy but social justice as well. As the protesters demand jobs and a safety-net they are a threat to the project, all currents of independence are a threat and any bulwark against such threats will do.

The media are still running with the line that this could be the Egyptian "Islamic Revolution", even though the April 6th movement is secular and democratic, we're told to expect the emergence of an Islamic state. The revolutionary contagion which began in Tunisia seems to have rushed through Egypt and into Jordan, as well as Yemen, with most governments making concessions to avoid retirement in Saudi Arabia. Incidentally a revolution of this kind in Saudi Arabia would be a pleasant sight. Meanwhile, King Abdullah of Jordan has dismissed his government after 3 weeks of protests. Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for over 30 years, has also vowed not to seek re-election in 2013 though it looks unlikely if he will keep his promise. So the grievances in the country go back to the 70s when Sadat began to "open up" the economy, out of the economic reforms sprouted endemic corruption and a need to control the masses. In death Sadat provided Mubarak with the excuse - namely fighting terrorism - to control the population through martial law.

Under Nasser, Egypt was a non-alligned country and economic policy was progressive. There was substantial real development and standards of living improved for most Egyptians. The average wage doubled from 1960 to 1970 and the middle-class was formed which would become the backbone of the regime. The "open door" policy of Anwar Sadat essentially institutionalised corruption and led to a sharp decline in economic growth and real development. Class power in Egypt shifted from the middle-class to the ultra-rich and a gulf exploded between the ostentatious business elite and an impoverished populace. For nearly 40 years of neoliberalism the Egyptian people have been left to rot, unemployment is rife and inflation is relatively high. Mubarak claimed "I have exhausted my life in serving Egypt and my people. I will die on the soil of Egypt and be judged by history." Actually Mubarak has exhausted himself serving the business class, history has judged him and now the sky is black with chickens coming home to roost.

"The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it drop." - Che Guevara

The abject thuggery of the NDP is a defence of neoliberalism and the state which sustains it. But as Juan Cole has pointed out the Egyptian government has lost the authority to exercise power through force. Curfews have been ignored by hundreds of thousands of people and the police soon became overwhelmed even though thousands have been injured.  The military have refused to shoot civilians and the state has resorted to using drug addicts to suppress the protesters. It looks as though the point of no return has been passed and Mubarak's "concessions" will not save him. The military have intervened to stop the pro-Mubarak muscle from attacking the demonstrators in Tahrir Square and that the legitimacy of the entire regime is on a tightrope. In a democratic society, theoretically, a government's legitimacy is rooted in the ballot box whereas in authoritarian states like Egypt the military is the source of such legitimacy. A schism within the regime between the NDP and the Egyptian military could bring down Mubarak.

There is a kind of secular nationalist tendency widespread among the pro-democracy movement whereas the Islamist strain, in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, is marginal and if there were elections tomorrow the Brotherhood might win over 20% of the electorate - less than 150,000 people. The argument that democracy will lead to an Islamic state is pure orientalism. The chants and singing at some of the demonstrations were nationalistic in character, not religious. It was only during the "Battle of Tahrir Square" that the cry of "Allahu Akbar!" was heard. The demonstrations actually began on National Police Day - to honour the police who died fighting the British in Ishmaelia. The regime accused the protests of being disrespectful to the martyrs, but the democrats in the streets don't see the men in uniform today as the embodiment of the police officers who fought and died as heroes in Ishmaelia. The point of no return has been passed and the people are no longer afraid.

The end of martial law in Egypt and the rise of democracy has the potential to shift power from the elites to the urban poor. However, there are numerous potential reactionaries with invested interests in the outcomes of this revolt. The Egyptian military are dependent on the US for equipment, let alone the British investments in Egypt and the "concerns" of neighbours, this is as true for Israel as it is for Libya and Jordan. Then there is the flow of oil through the Suez canal and all the interests tied up in fossil fuel. A reformed Nationalist government is preferable, which would explain the ambivalent calls for "reform" and lukewarm condemnation of the Mubarak regime coming from the West, at worst a less overt authoritarian model and at best a limited democracy where voting is meaningless. History tells us that the West, particularly the United States, has consistently blocked democracy in the Middle East in order to pilfer the region's resources.

It seems that the odds are against the Egyptian people, but the military are disobeying Mubarak out of frustration with the "sclerotic survival strategy" to tire out the people before affirming the state's authority. Mubarak current line coming out is that if he goes now there will be chaos. This is an appeal to the imagery built up around the President as a "force of stability", this is deeply ignorant of the chaos on the streets for which Mubarak holds responsibility. As Žižek has pointed out the argument that chaos will take over, if Mubarak is allowed to fall, because there are no alternatives is a fallacious defence of the status quo. The "chaos" of a democracy with newly formed parties is preferable to the "order" which Mubarak offers. As Mubarak is responsible for the lack of political organisation in Egypt, it was he who suppressed all possible rivals. We ought to be rejoicing that a tyrant is being challenged by a grass-roots movement. There is word that Mubarak might slither out of Egypt on Friday, if so good riddance but don't hold your breath.

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