Monday, March 07, 2011

Egypt's Ongoing Revolution

Undemocratic regimes don't consist of just one powerful person. They exist with the support of certain elements in society that profit from their continuation. Because of this revolutions aren't just protests which depose rulers, but broader social movements by which different social groups try to improve their position, whether economically, politically, or even culturally. Egypt is clearly following this trajectory, as protests since Mubarak's resignation continue to reshape the country.

The past few days have seen two high-profile developments in the departure of interim prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and the unveiling of Egypt's security apparatus following the storming of State Security offices.

Perhaps the most significant development for the future of Egyptian society, however, is that noted by Ursula Lindsey
"One of the most interesting (and hard to follow) phenomena of the moment in Egypt is the proliferation of demands for reform at the level of institutions and workplaces. At all sort of different organizations, workers are demanding the resignation of top officials and the institutions of more equitable pay scales.

"I just did a piece looking at this for the radio show The World. One of the people I spoke is my old friend Sabah Hamamou, who is one of the leaders of an effort to reform state newspapers. She and 300 other journalists wrote a letter of apology to readers for Al Ahram's coverage of the protests. The editors refused to print it so they called a press conferences and read it out loud."

Joel Beinin has also commented:
"Workers were critical in bringing the reluctant generals to the decision to ask Mubarak to step aside (or force him out, it’s unclear). They also continue to play a role by engaging in strikes since Mubarak’s departure...

"Certain kinds of anti-corruption demands also have a specific working-class component. For example, workers demanded the dismissal of the CEO of the public sector Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla al-Kubra, the largest textile enterprise in Egypt, on the grounds of corruption. And they won this demand after a three-day strike...

"The business cronies of Gamal Mubarak, the son of the former Egyptian president, people like the steel magnate Ahmad Ezz, have been dealt a strong blow. But they will not disappear so easily, and it is very possible to imagine that once 'stability' has been re-established they, or others like them, will return."

Flipping through al-Masry al-Youm is instructive. There are stories of protests by miners and postal workers, university students, bank employees, auto workers, and those with housing concerns, the disabled,the journalists noted by Lindsey, high school students, imams and mosque functionaries, pharmaceutical plant workers, and those are just in March.

At the same time, a counter-revolution is under way:
"A look at the most prominent discourse making the newspapers and airwaves during the last week indicates that the army (or parts of it) and elements of the old regime will resist attempts at meaningful democratic reforms. While paying lip service to the youth, the revolution, and the martyrs, the ubiquitous appeal in all the local media has been to urge Egyptians to get back to work in order to get the economy back on track – as if the economy was ever on track in the first place...

"In the Egyptian context, the counter-revolutionary 'who' is not too difficult to identify: It certainly includes those officers of the despised state security services who fear being eventually brought to trial (however unlikely that scenario is) for their participation in the systematic torture of Egyptians, as well as people in the intelligence service who are loyal to Omar Suleiman. It includes corrupt businessmen who fear future prosecution and forfeiture of their wealth, and high- and mid-level operators of the now-defunct National Democratic Party for whom it would be almost impossible to do a facelift in a new era. It also includes those media executives, editors-in-chief, journalists and pundits who “spun” the most for the Mubarak regime and who are anxious about their own ouster...

"In this counter-revolutionary discourse, Mubarak’s name is being invoked in nostalgic terms, whereas Wael Ghoneim, who emerged as one of the most prominent figures of the revolution, is being written and talked about as a foreign stooge, a member of the Free Masons, and even as a yes-man for the security services...

"The counter- or contra-revolutionary media blitz has been in full swing over the last week. Mona Shazly, whose program 10 pm has a large following, deserves to become an honorary member of the High Army Council for her recent performance when she interviewed three of its generals and only one young activist. She helped paint the military in the best possible light by allowing the generals to repeat the same vapid media catchphrases: 'forgive and forget,' 'we are all one,' and 'Egypt is above all.' It was a tour de force, which suggests that this police state might be able to get away with the same crimes that it has been committing for the last 30 years if public opinion is persuaded to embrace this discourse of forgiveness and the parallel discrediting of continuing revolutionary 'chaos.'"

Implicit in this is the assumption that the Egyptian military concluded that Mubarak was lost, but that his ruling structure as a whole, one from which they benefited, could still be preserved. Recent weeks have seen the army attack protestors. More dramatic, if away from the cameras, was the attack on Coptic desert monasteries which had built walls for their protection in the unstable revolutionary security situation. At issue seems to be the fact they did not seek government permission for this construction, but in practice it looks like the continuation of the Mubarak regime's policies which forbid construction on Christian religious buildings without explicit government permission. A deeper issue is the level of force used, which was clearly excessive and designed to send some sort of message.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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