Monday, 14 February 2011

Long Live the Egyptian Revolution!

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
- Epitaph on a Tyrant, WH Auden
The original "day of departure" came in Egypt 11 days into the revolution and a massive demonstration gathered in Tahrir Square. Alas, Mubarak managed hung onto power much to the chagrin of the Egyptian people for another week. A 30 year dictatorship and the prospects of a family dynasty have been derailed for Hosni Mubarak after less than 20 days of protest. It looks as though Mubarak has been biding his time to see to it the loot can be secured - estimates of which range from $25 billion to $70 billion - and a successor can be found. Of course the Obama administration favoured an "orderly transition" from Mubarak to a "temporary" government headed by Omar Suleiman, a transition which would be purely symbolic and leave the neoliberal project unscathed. Suleiman is another military hard man and has served as the Chief of Military Intelligence. A closer reading of such a credential reveals Suleiman helped run the kidnapping and torturing ring, casually referred to as "rendition" in the West and sanctioned by the US in the name of the "War on Terror".

In the end, Hosni Mubarak was forced to leave without his dignity after attempting to bribe the people with pay raises and risible concessions to sustain his rule. Power has effectively been handed over to the military. The streets were soon filled with chants like "Egypt is free!" The endemic torture of civilians by the state is intolerable and has gone on long enough, without a peep of opposition or criticism in the West. This is a criminal regime which had children electrocuted in front of parents. But for Melanie Phillips at least Mubarak is "our nasty piece of work" and Glenn Beck has compared it to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, insinuating that Mubarak's fall will lead to World War III. Everyone from Islamists to gays has been persecuted by the ruling party, some held for decades in prisons like al-Gihaz. But for the Right the uprising is really about destroying Israel and undermining the greatness of the white man. This attitude is racist for it assumes the Arabs are incapable of a spontaneous mass-movement to pursue positive change in the Middle East.

The demands of the January 25th Leadership are as follows:
1. Repeal of the state of emergency, which suspends constitutional protections for human rights, immediately.
2. The immediate release of all political prisoners.
3. The setting aside of the present constitution and its amendments.
4. Dissolution of the federal parliament, as well as of provincial councils.
5. Creation of a transitional, collective governing council.
6. The formation of an interim government comprising independent nationalist trends, which would oversee free and fair elections.
7. The formation of a working group to draft a new and democratic constitution that resembles the older of the democratic constitutions, on which the Egyptian people would vote in a referendum.
8. Removal of any restriction on the free formation of political parties, on civil, democratic and peaceful bases.
9. Freedom of the press.
10. Freedom to form unions and non-governmental organizations without government permission.
11. Abolition of all military courts and abrogation of their rulings with regard to civilian accused.

Where are the neocons now? There is a dead silence from these people, no word of human rights or the promotion of democracy abroad. Instead these chickenhawks, who were so eager for us to invade Iraq for the sake of "freedom" and "democracy", are running with the line that a democratic Egypt will enable the Muslim Brotherhood to rule. Neoconservatives like Tony Blair described Mubarak as a "force for good" and Douglas Murray basically called for a "revolution without a revolution". Independence not Islamism is the real worry of these people. For these people a democracy ought to exist in Egypt, but only if American-Israeli interests in the region are not opposed by the elected government. Even though the Brotherhood has the support of less than 150,000 people in Egypt. The revolution is not just secular and democratic, it is calling for social justice. The "virus" has already spread, to paraphrase Kissinger, are protests in Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and Syria. The Obama administration and the Cameron cabinet are currently pretending they were always on the side of the Egyptian people against a vile dictator, it's enough to make you sick.

There are still pro-democracy demonstrations being held in Egypt calling for free elections, the military regime should hold elections soon and prepare to hand over power. A democratic Egypt would not necessarily give birth to a new Islamic Republic, a broad coalition of opposition parties was formed in 2006 which is commonly ignored by the press. From the liberal Ghad Party and Nasserist Karama Party to the Revolutionary Socialists and Kefaya, not to mention the National Alliance for Change recently formed and the Tagammu Party. The worries about the Muslim Brotherhood are a disguised form of the fear of an independent state in the Middle East, which could set a positive example to neighbours as well as an organised opposition to Israel and maybe even a bulwark against neoliberalism. The main priority of the US is to secure the flow of 2 million barrels of oil a day through the canal, but also to ensure the tacit alliance between Egypt and Israel remains intact. As the revolution spreads across North Africa and throughout the Middle East, the likelihood of a violent counter-revolution is raised.
Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquisable number!
Shake your chains to earth, like dew
Which in sleep had fall'n on you:
Ye are many - they are few
- Mask of Anarchy, Percy Shelley
With Shelley's great poem in mind we can note that the lions have risen in unvanquisible number and have shaken their chains to earth like dew but still the West wonders "What are we to do?" It took a full on revolutionary convulsion to vomit Mubarak all over Uncle Sam's carpet in Egypt, but it is not over yet as Egypt is still waiting for it's first free elections. The transitional government has relaxed the curfew and has banned government officials from fleeing the country. The neoliberal project is under threat and the Israelis are still worried about "stability". Since the fall of Mubarak - who ought to be tried on Egyptian soil by Egyptians - the army has dissolved Parliament and the Constitution, which were both compromised to the interests of the NDP, but we can't overlook the fact that the military is dependent on the US for equipment and training not to forget $1.5 billion in funding. The presence of Suleiman in the shadows is a source of comfort for Washington and Tel Aviv, whereas the public presence of General Tantawi reassures the Egyptian people with his nationalist credentials.

It is possible that the counter-revolution is underway and that the Egyptian army are a willing participant in it, though it is hard to say at this point. What is definite is that the struggle is not over yet. Substantial political change can only come out of democratic change which can only be produced by revolutionary means at this point. Reform will not necessarily produce democracy and even if it does it will only be a shallow kind of democracy seen in the Philippines and Chile after the fall of Marcos and Pinochet. The fact that half of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day will not be changed by the "orderly transition" yearned for by the chickenhawks in the US and Britain. Democracy in the Middle East is only favoured in the press when it is beneficial to American-Israeli interests. People have not fought for centuries across the world for the right to vote only to see it rendered impotent. This is the reason that the way Egyptian elections were rigged in 2010 was such a travesty. All the while Western newspapers were more concerned with shark attacks off of the Egyptian coast.

It is still hard to believe that this grass-roots movement began in Egypt on Facebook in 2008, originally to support industrial action and the right to strike, following the arrest of Israa’ Abd el-Fattah. Both Facebook and Twitter were vital in the early days of the revolution, until the internet was blocked by the state. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be tweeted apparently. Though Juan Cole agrees that the base of the revolution is indeed the labour movement, Cole adds that the alliance between blue and white-collar workers (which has been vital to the pro-democracy movement) emerged in 2006. This solidarity eventually brought together not only textile workers and lawyers, but united the most militant sections of Egyptian society together with the most moderate against the ruling elite. The billionaires, a lot of whom have taken refuge in Dubai, will return and see no other alternative for capital accumulation than a close relationship with Western interests. The battle for political change may have been won, it's not clear yet, but the class war has yet to be.

Without pissing on the "strawberries" of this revolution let's look at the three possibilities of the consequences of the collapse of the Mubarak regime as seen up by Juan Cole. First of all, the Egyptian bourgeoisie and military nomenklatura around Mubarak survives him to retain more or less in power, and further protests over time are repressed. Secondly, new elections which are set upon by the Establishment and capital dominates these elections whilst the military remain a power behind the scenes. Thirdly, a genuine social and political revolution wherein substantial amounts of wealth and power are redistributed from the elites to the masses. In the time being, let's stand in solidarity with the people struggling for democracy in the Middle East and salute the victories thus far. May the revolution which began in Tunisia spread, as it has to Egypt, sweep away all the dictators of the Maghreb and the Middle East. It has been long enough and the region is in dire need of real change, economically as well as politically speaking.

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