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Some impressionistic thoughts on the unfolding Egyptian revolution

STOP PRESS:  He’s gone!

The volatile situation in Egypt is thrilling, inspiring, unpredictable, dangerous, engaging, enraging and confusing.  All over the world people are desperately searching for information, trying to find trusted news sources, trying to make sense of what is happening.

It’s not easy. Events are moving fast now, perhaps coming to a first dramatic climax over the next 24 hours. Not surprisingly it is to the rolling news services many of us turn for up-to-date information.

In the fast flowing rapids of revolutionary upheaval there simply isnt the time and resources for patient editorial censorship of everything by the mainstream media. Useful nuggets of information about what is being said on the streets, who is doing what, continually leak out into the mass media.

I’m wondering how many people reading this have BBC News 24, CNN or perhaps, most useful of all  the Al Jazeera live stream on in the background.

Al Jazeera were the first international TV station to report on the formation of the newly created Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions.  Al Jazeera also reported on the generalised strike movement, beaming their reports live into Tahrir Square, giving great heart and renewed vigour to tired protestors on the streets of Cairo.

The Guardian’s ‘blog’ with amalgamated updates has also been useful for gauging what’s happening on the ground, as well as who is saying what internationally.

Robert Fisk is perhaps the finest analytical journalist reporting from Egypt.  His articles, published daily in the Independent, and collected here, are indispensible for their rare combination of on-the-spot reportage and intelligent analysis.

The consistently excellent leftfield TV station Democracy Now! fronted in the US by Amy Goodman has a reporter Sharif Abdel Kouddous on the ground in Cairo filing regular reports.  Noam Chomsky is among the regular guests analysing events on Democracy Now!  The TV station has also reported on the powerful Egyptian workers movement.

Alan Woods, a dogged old Trotskyist, and former International Organiser for the Militant Tendency in the 70s and 80s, has been collating some interesting information (see ‘Workers Take The Lead’) about the escalating strikes in Egypt, and the social impetus of the movement.  Like with everything you have to read this sort of article critically, wade through the usual antediluvian lingo and ‘conclusions’, and cross-compare with other sources.  But there’s valuable snippets of information in there.

It’s human nature to speculate. Some on the left may be hoping for a Chavez-esque figure to emerge from the ranks of the military as happened in a popular revolt in Venezuela in 1992. Reports are coming in today of splits in the armed forces and that a group of army officers have decided to come over to the side of the popular revolution. Some of these officers may even address the protests at some point. Should any of them endorse the social demands of the people as well as the democratic demands – and put their soldiers and hardware on the side of the people – I suspect such views would get a tumultuous reception.  Alternatively, the military officers loyal to the old regime may order troops to open fire.  Mubarak and his decrepit regime would have no scruples about initiating a bloodbath if they thought it could save their wretched skins.

Revolutionary movements have their own unique internal logic. There’s no predetermined road maps available. Ideologies are swept up in the tumult.  For instance, conservatives the world over labour under the delusion that the neoliberal economic tide is unstoppable and permanent. Yet where in Egypt is their unstoppable monolithic ideology today?

From a broader political perspective it can’t seriously be assumed that every impoverished nation on the planet will accept their lot indefinitely.  People need to eat and look after their families. This is simply not possible if a powerful elite are creaming off the wealth. That goes for dear ole blighty as much as anywhere else.

One key factor in all of the unrest and confusion – which the BBC and most of the western mainstream media wont discuss – is the fact that the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel have invested far too much in the Mubarak-Suleiman regime to be happy about a popular revolution jeopardising their client state’s so-called stability.  It is this factor alone that explains the completely clueless prevarication of President Obama. Behind the backs of the Egyptian people Obama does everything in his power to ensure a smooth transition of power into the hands of the corrupt military thug, Omar Suleiman.

Popular democracy – unconstrained and uncorrupted – is incompatible with American foreign policy, whether in Egypt or anywhere else.  Democracy is only of use when it can be manipulated to US needs. Despite his previous ‘Audacity of Hope’ rhetoric Barack Obama has completely bought into the US neoliberal mantra.

FWIW when the dust settles I suspect Mubarak will be ousted, possibly this weekend, and a huge democratic victory will be achieved by the people.  Then, behind the scenes, as always, American influence will bust a gut, and use huge financial resources, to make sure a compliant Egyptian democrat is installed in power, someone who will smooth the transition to  business as usual. That’s why I’m sceptical this revolution will go beyond removal of the Mubarak regime. But even so that in itself  would be a fantastic achievement, an essential democratic tool for social justice, and a fine example for other Arab people to follow.

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  1. Dougie Strang says:

    Great piece Kevin.
    The situation is riveting, and in terms of broadcast media coverage, I find myself increasingly turning to Al Jazeera rather than the BBC. I’m sure it has it’s flaws, but it’s so refreshing to view the world from a non-anglo perspective. I agree that there’s much to be pessimistic about, in terms of the pressures that will be brought to bear from America etc, but nonetheless, the ousting of Mubarak will be electrifying.

  2. Dave Coull says:

    My wife has been in regular contact with an Egyptian guy who three weeks ago was saying unfortunately the Tunisian revolt would not be repeated in Egypt, well since then he has been badly beaten up by pro-Mubarak thugs, has been spending all his time in Tahrir Square, and has of course completely revised his view that “it couldn’t happen here!” The most interesting thing about the Egyptian revolt is not the exotic stuff like pro-Mubarak goons on camels, but just how familiar it all is. The Islamic fundamentalists have been sidelined – and with them, the “war on terror” rhetoric of western authoritarians. There have been reports from Egyptian anarchists and libertarian socialists, for example
    and of course, so far as the mass-media is concerned, Al Jazeera can be more informative than the BBC. There is just one word in your piece I would take issue with, Kevin – you say the Egyptian revolt is “a fantastic achievement, an essential democratic tool for social justice, and a fine example for other Arab people to follow”. I would say the word “Arab” is superfluous in that sentence! It’s a fine example for other people to follow.

  3. Dave Coull says:


    Links to an article about the effect of the Egyptian Revolution on Africa. “Across the continent, Mubarak’s fall isn’t being read as the end of the Middle Eastern autocrats. It’s being read as the end of autocrats. Period.”

  4. Yes, but what has this all got to do with the price of fish, as one might say?

    “People need to eat and look after their families. This is simply not possible if a powerful elite are creaming off the wealth. That goes for dear ole blighty as much as anywhere else.”

    Quite so. But who are the powerful elite which is creaming off the wealth and how is that occurring? Of course there are specific factors in the Egyptian case, but the North African uprisings have apparently been triggered by certain common factors, among which there is one which may be said to have a more general application, which is why the reference to dear old Blighty is so very pertinent, I venture to suggest:


    “(…) conservatives the world over labour under the delusion that the neoliberal economic tide is unstoppable and permanent. Yet where in Egypt is their unstoppable monolithic ideology today?” Quite so. And where will it be in Scotland as food prices rise alarmingly as a result of orgiastic casino-capitalist commodity-market speculation while incomes fall and the asset-stripping frenetically implemented hazardously deep public-spending cuts of the economically ultra-liberal regime in England take their toll in opposition to the will of the people, who do not support that government, as will no doubt be demonstrated emphatically at the Scottish general election in May:


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