It’s difficult to miss the bombardment of main stream media coverage of the Egyptian uprising against the Mubarak regime. Admittedly, many have prognosticated that the dynastic dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak would eventually be challenged; albeit after 29 years, the Western press has likely taken Egypt’s pivotal geo-political role in the Middle East for granted.
The Washington Post has a live blog update summarizing the events from January 25th to date.
While we are fed a steady stream of images, reports and political punditry, there remain a few “burning questions” that remain unanswered.
Who started this revolt and who is leading it now?
You may have noticed that no one group has emerged to clearly articulate a coherent political ideology; except, perhaps, “Throw the Bum Out!”. Reuters reports that Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei has urged the United States to support calls for President Hosni Mubarak to step down, saying “life support to the dictator” must end. Reportedly, ElBaradei has the support of the Muslim Brotherhood which is subordinating its religious goals to promote democratic change, rather than fomenting Mubarek’s overthrow in order to gain political power in the aftermath. In light of the recent escape of 34 of its key members from the Wadi el-Natroun prison, the suggestion that the Muslim Brotherhood intends to establish some form of Islamic revolutionary state similar to the Islamic Republic of Iran are speculative, at best. Then again, the Iranian Revolution and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty both happened back in 1979 and it’s a very different world we live in now post 9-11.
While some painted a rosy financial picture in Egypt back in 2009 “Egypt sees limited impact of Dubai crisis” (Reuters), the meeting between President Obama and President Mubarak that summer did not churn out very much media coverage. As Kholoud Khalifa, 22, Austrian-Egyptian, journalist in an Al-Jazeera interview noted:
“Mubarak has always been an opportunist and this trip is no different than the rest.
That is not to say the aforementioned issues won’t be addressed, indeed, they will; but typically both parties will walk away with no resolutions and the same old rhetoric.
What I see happening is an attempt from Mubarak to strengthen ties between Egypt and the US, but not for national interests – rather for his own well-being.
Knowing that he doesn’t have much longer to live, he wants to indirectly introduce his son, Gamal Mubarak, as the new president of Egypt so as to make his transition to power as smooth as possible.”
Gamal Mubarak’s absence is notable, but you can’t blame him for hedging his bets and fleeing to London in the ensuing chaos; although this likely explains why Mubarak announced a new vice president, Omar Suleiman, on January 29th as his likely successor.
What is the Egypt revolt really about?
Given that the Egyptian police forces have retreated from the scene and the Egyptian army remains to fill the security vacuum, some Egyptians have resorted to neighborhood vigilantism to protect their private property and the Egyptian army units have secured the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo against possible looting of pharaonic treasures. It is more than simple anarchism, but potent symbolism, when looters and vandals rip heads of mummies.
It is also trite to suggest that Tunisia is the spark that started the fire in the Middle East and that Egypt is the powderkeg of a second Islamic revolt with historical antecedents. Dictators—even relatively benign or benevolent ones—are still dictators who oppress their citizens to retain absolute power. We all now the truism “powers corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If you don’t have time to become an Islamic scholar, at least there’s this handy Google historical timeline of Islamic revolts in history.
Don’t be too hasty, however, to dismiss the religious undertones to Egyptian dissent. As Samir Kalil Samir at AsiaNews.it discussing project of reform of Islam ” (see The seventh day ” article 26/01/2011 Egyptian Imams and intellectuals: Renewing Islam towards modernity)” notes:
“Another interesting aspect is that this project of reform of Islam was published Jan. 24, one day before the outbreak of demonstrations in Egypt. These protests have economic and political roots. This means that in addition to current politics, there is an intellectual current that is fed up with the Islam that has spread in the last 30 years in the country, an “externalized” Islam that puts the emphasis on external things (clothing, beard, veil, etc. ..). This shows that there is a global movement – both spiritual and political – in Egypt that wants to transform the country. And since it is a leading country in the Middle Eastern world, one can expect that the changes in act in Cairo will spread throughout the region. Perhaps the same demonstrations that are taking place on the streets of the capital will have an influence on this “externalized” Islam.”
When it is done, who can do it, where it can be done: the answer to these questions makes correct jihad from Islamic point of view. In this way the reformists condemn all Islamic terrorism, the attacks on the Church of Alexandria and Baghdad. It must be said that this interpretation of jihad is classic, but unfortunately there are very contrary interpretations that justify terrorism.”
As Samir concludes,
“In Egypt, the political power is not a pure dictatorship, but to maintain power it allies itself, giving ever greater concessions to Salafism. The political power shows itself to be “Islamic” to avoid becoming an object of criticism of Salafism, or the Muslim Brotherhood. But each concession reinforces this exterior Islam and results in other, new concessions.”
What is to be done?
In Chapter 25 “The Idea is the Thing” of the anarchist manifesto, Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism , Alexander Berkman observed,
“The economic and political conditions of a country are the fire under the evolutionary pot. The worse the oppression, the greater the dissatisfaction of the people, the stronger the flame. This explains why the fires of social revolution swept Russia, the most tyrannous and backward country, instead of America where industrial development has almost reached its highest point – and that in spite of all the learned demonstrations of Karl Marx to the contrary.
We see, then, that revolutions, though they cannot be made, can be hastened by certain factors; namely, by pressure from above: by more intense political and economical oppression; and by pressure from below: by greater enlightenment and agitation. These spread the ideas; they further evolution and thereby also the coming of revolution.
But pressure from above, though hastening revolution, may also cause its failure, because such revolution is apt to break out before the evolutionary process has been sufficiently advanced. Coming prematurely, as it were, it will fizzle out in mere rebellion; that is, without clear, conscious aim and purpose. At best, rebellion can secure only some temporary alleviation; the real causes of the strife, however, remain intact and continue to operate to the same effect, to cause further dissatisfaction and rebellion.”
It is impossible to predict what will happen next, but with fighter jets swooping over Cairo and crowds continuing to defy the 4pm curfew, something’s gotta give. Let’s hope that Mubarak heeds the will of the Egyptian people (and hopefully the counsel of his own advisors and military generals) and steps down, clearing the way for democratic elections and return to relative political stability in the Middle East.