Egypt: What to Read (and Watch)

Posted February 10, 2011

As the front page article on this website states it would be silly to predict where this is headed, with so much still in motion. For example, in the process of completing this blog entry, rumors that Hosni Mubarak was about to step down were dashed – for the time being – with an enraging speech stating exactly the opposite.

And like most inspired observers and supporters of this popular outpouring, I am far from an expert on Egyptian politics or history. I’ve been playing catch-up in an effort to better understand the who, what and why of events in Egypt.

Here are some of the more insightful English-language articles (and videos) I’ve found. Some are analysis of the events of the past two weeks, some are mainly reporting that gives a feel for the character of the demonstrations, but many are from the past few years.

Roots of the Rebellion

The online publication Jadaliyya, by writers associated with the Arab Studies Institute, was new to me but is the source for many articles. Of course Al-Jazeera is an indispensable source for breaking news.

Egypt’s Three Revolutions: The Force of History behind this Popular Uprising by Omnia el Shakry, is a clear an accessible introduction to twentieth-century Egyptian history. El Shakry describes the context and social forces behind the 1919 nationalist revolution, the 1952 military, Nasserist revolution, and the 1974 economic liberalization before a brief but smart introduction to today’s revolution-in-process.

The Against the Current overview of
Egypt’s Long Labor History by Atef Said covers much of the same history with a particular focus on the struggle of Egypt’s workers to create working class organization. Of particular relevance for today, the intertwining of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation with the state under Nasser led to a strangling of independent workers action. Today workers confront neoliberal attacks on wages, conditions and commodity prices, political repression, as well as the lack of political independence of their official unions.

Also recommended is Lee Sustar’s overview of the roots of Egypt’s uprising in Socialist Worker.

While nobody expected the scale and power of the Egyptian uprising, political winds have been shifting in the country over the past decade and especially in the last few years. First, solidarity protests with the second Palestinian intifada of 2002 – the largest street actions since bread riots in 1977 – radicalized a new generation. Frustration and anger at the regime, relatively isolated in the late 1990s, grew following the US invasion of Iraq. An April 2005 interview with Egyptian socialists,
Egypt: The Pressures Build Up by Egyptian socialists (unnamed for security reasons), describes this changing attitude.

Alongside this declining political legitimacy of the regime, labor action increased in resistance to the downward pressures on the working class, most dramatically in late 2006 among textile workers in Mahalla. Mostafa Omar covered this in the International Socialist Review overview article,
Challenging Neoliberalism. A more detailed account, Revolt in Mahalla (also from ISR), was written by Egyptian socialist Hossam El-Hamalawy. In 2008, other socialists active in the Egyptian labor movement delivered a workshop on Class Struggle in Egypt which was transcribed for the same issue.

Organizations and social forces in Egypt

Paul Amar, associated with Jadaliyya, takes a detailed look at some sections of the Egyptian ruling class and of the armed bodies of the state, as well as the labor movement, social movements, and NGOs in his article
Why Mubarak is Out.

One reason why there’s high quality reporting in Socialist Worker, International Socialist Review, and International Socialism is the relationship the ISO (in the US) and SWP (in Britain) have with an Egyptian organization, the Revolutionary Socialists. Hossam El-Hamalawy describes the tactical relationship developed between the Revolutionary Socialists and younger members of the Muslim Brotherhood through some campaigns in Comrades and Brothers.

Juan Cole argues that the much-hyped threat of the Muslim Brotherhood “seizing power” in an echo of the 1979 Iranian revolution doesn’t stand up to historical scrutiny in
Why Egypt 2011 is Not Iran 1979.

Farooq Sulehria interviewed Gilbert Achcar about the question of the army and different organizations and figures in the opposition.

Beenish Ahmed examines the role of women in the protests in
Egyptian Riot Grrls: Finding the Feminine Face of Fury.

Dynamics of the revolution

Hicham Safieddine attempts to answer the question of why exactly Tunisia and then Egypt suddenly exploded in his article, republished at Links under the title Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt: How ‘spontaneous’ are they?.

One final recommended article from Jadaliyya, this one by Mohammed Bamyeh, describes some first Impressions from the field, written on February 6. So much changes every day, but it has a fascinating take on the spontaneity question.

The Wall Street Journal article Egyptians Share Secrets of Uprising looks at the tactics used by the Revolutionary Youth Movement, a new organization that has been formed (or has surfaced) during the protests.

The Revolutionary Socialists issued a call, Glory to the martyrs! Victory to the Revolution!.

Ahmed Shawki of the International Socialist Organization has been reporting from on the ground in Cairo. So far, he’s written Millions Against Mubarak on February 2,
The Regime Lashes Back on February 3, and The Struggle Surges Ahead on February 4, A bid to derail the revolution on February 7.


Finally, for those who prefer to watch rather than read:

Gilbert Achcar: Illusions About Egyptian Military Can Damage Movement

Tariq Ali: Solidarity with the Egyptian People

John Rees: Where Next for the Egyptian Revolution?

‪Egyptian and Tunisian People vs US Dominance‬

(and the entire feature on Egypt from The Real News Network)

…And, finally, the finale from a teach-in in New York City sponsored by the International Socialist Organization and Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition

Mustafa Omar:

(The teach-in also included talks by ‪Michael Schwartz‬ (25:10), Adaner Usmani(20:30), Arun Gupta (23:33), and Lamis Deek (20:23).)

What have you been reading and watching?


One response to “Egypt: What to Read (and Watch)”

  1. Matt Avatar

    the blog 3arabawy has been excellent for on the ground, arab language videos for an english language leftist audience, along with tweets and pictures. i check it several times a day.