Posted February 1, 2011
This report came in from Atef Said, who wrote about Egypt’s long labor history for Against the Current in September 2009. There he concluded with predictions of exactly the kind of converging political and labor struggles that are now rocking the country as we can see in Al Jazeera’s live coverage.
A Few Things the American and Western Publics should KNOW About the Egyptian Revolution
by Atef Said
1) This is a mass revolt that includes all Egyptian provinces and cities, even little villages. Historian Joel Beinin describes this as a “tipping point” in the Egyptian history. Such a wide-ranging, major revolt has never happened in Egypt and it is perhaps greater than the Egyptian revolt of 1919 against the British Occupation. Hence, please do not believe the mainstream media in the West and especially in the U.S. that continues to describe the events in Egypt as a passing crisis. This is the typical, depoliticizing language of western governments and mainstream media. Yesterday, about half a million demonstrators were in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. In Alexandria, no less than two hundred thousand people were demonstrating. In Mahala, about 150 thousand people were on the streets. In Suez and Mansoura, Fayoum, and many other major cities numbers were about 40 to 50 thousands at least.
2) ALSO, please know that the language of “reform” being encouraged in Washington, D.C., and European capitals at worst means endorsing Mubarak, giving him time to maneuver, steal the revolution, and/or suppress the demonstrations. At best, it is designed to allow superficial changes that do not fundamentally respond to the demands of the Egyptian people. People in Egypt in the hundreds of thousands have one slogan: WE NEED THE END OF THIS REGIME. Mubarak is a tyrant who has run the country for 30 years, since the first year of PRESIDENT REAGAN’S administration (!!!) by using emergency law. His rule has been marked by forged elections and widespread corruption. At the same time, he is regularly portrayed in the West as a moderate leader and friend. Reports by Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, among others, have documented the bloody history of Mubarak’s rule. Note that the internet was shut down by the government of Egypt since January 28 until the moment. Even China worries about doing such a thing in 2011. And Western governments still talk to the regime in the language of reform. Also insulting and indicating Western complicity is the language that “all sides” need to stop the violence, since demonstrators are unarmed, at least 200 of them have been killed, and well over 1,500 have been injured.
3) The idea of a “chaotic” Egypt with widespread looting is part of regime propaganda. Yes, looting has occurred. But as with the situation in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, corporate media exaggerate chaos and looting to the detriment of focusing on the larger substantive patterns and dynamics, and the causal factors. People I’ve spoken with in Egypt and hundreds of leaked Twitter reports reinforce that these are exaggerations designed to distract from the main patterns and issues. Moreover, most of the folks who have been caught looting and spreading violence are members of Mubarak’s secret police and thugs. These individuals work with his regime to forge elections and attack demonstrators. About two million people, largely men, work in this secret police force. Egypt under Mubarak spends around $1.5 billion a year to finance this security apparatus in a country with a debt of around $500 billion as of 2009. For example, in Tahrir Square, people created a human shield and worked with the military to protect the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, the Arab League Headquarters, both in Tahrir Square, at the same time Tahrir Square businesses have not been looted. The only place that was burned in the Square was the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party. People have organized neighborhood watch groups nationwide in order to protect private and public property.
4) There is a dominant narrative that if there is regime change in Egypt, this will bring a radical extremist government. This narrative is spread by Mubarak’s regime, Israel, U.S. government officials, and the mainstream media in the U.S. This is absolutely not true. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood refused to participate in the January 25 protests, watched for three days, and then decided to join them. In 2005, the MB struck a deal to win 88 seats in parliament — according to interview with their former leader. Youth in the streets denounce the religious chants encouraged by the Muslim Brotherhood. A common slogan in the demonstrations nationwide is: We need a democratic civilian government, not a sectarian government, not a government of thieves. On January 30, Mubarak pressured Christian leaders and the al-Azhar Shaikh to say in public that they still support Mubarak. Today in response, many Egyptian Christian demonstrators carried crosses. Some demonstrators have chanted: Shaikhs and Popes, shut the Fuck Up. Christians and Muslims were injured and killed together in these demonstrations. No single Muslim Brotherhood leader who was interviewed in the media dares to claim the revolt for their organization. They cannot steal this revolution.To be fair to the Muslim Brotherhood, they have paid a heavy price under Mubarak’s repression. Moreover, they are known to be quite pragmatic in their politics.
This is history in the making. An opportunity to side with people’s right to democracy and freedom. If you care about freedom and democracy, 1) spread the news to overcome the information blockades and mainstream messages; 2) express solidarity with the Egyptian people as often as you can; 3) write to your government representatives, newspapers, blogs, and other media venues, telling them you refuse to have your money used to back a dictator and repress people’s legitimate grievances; 4) protest in front of Egyptian embassies worldwide and or before other houses of power, especially of Western governments whose leaders support Mubarak and have supported him since 1981! It is all of our democratic right to question our government’s support for bloody dictators!
2 responses to “What you should know about the Egyptian Revolution”
This article is an edited version from “Twenty-first Century Socialist Feminism,” Socialist Studies, (Spring 2014). It appears in the March/April 2014 issue of Against the Current.
I highly recommend Joel Beinin’s 2010 book on Egyptian labor.