Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Year One Of The Egyptian Revolution


There will be gobs and gobs of text filling the pages, websites and on air coverage today about the 1 year anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution. A lot of it, particularly in North America, will be stupid, low level stuff - fears of the Islamists taking power, etc etc. Very little of it will have a deeper sense of the continuing dynamic heart of the revolutionary process that is unfolding in Egypt and which will likely continue to unfold over the next several years. I'd hate to be one to join in the stupidity and there is also lots and lots of excellent coverage out there, including eyewitness coverage on the ground in Tahrir. So, I will just summarize what I think are the three or four main points that are most important and often forgotten or avoided.

1) The Egyptian revolution is the most important political event since the fall of the former USSR. Because Egypt is an ally, in particular its military leadership who receive $1.3 billion, there is considerably less enthusiasm for bigging up the Egyptian revolution than there was the collapse of the rival Soviet empire in 89-91. But let there be no mistake, the revolution in Egypt - and throughout the region, lest we forget that there are active revolutionary processes still taking place in Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, etc - will profoundly reshape the world and the political alignments in a way no less profound than 1989. If it reaches its full potential - hell, if it reaches half its potential - this will be the biggest blow to US imperialism since Vietnam (in a different way of course) and perhaps larger since the Middle East is much more strategic to US interests.

2) This ain't over by a long shot. The fall of Mubarak was really just a beginning. It reconfigured the balance of class and political forces inside of Egypt in a profound way but the old regime is still in control. And the revolution, though it ebbs and flows, is nowhere near to exhausting itself. There are challenges for sure - for both sides - but there will be an extended period of jockeying and realignment that takes place over the next few years. Watch, in this next phase, for the Muslim Brotherhood, now in control of Parliament to face increasing challenges as their very moderate leadership fail to deliver on the aspirations unleashed by the revolution and they increasingly try to put an end to the revolutionary process. If the left is smart and works with the most militant and active sections of the Brotherhood, particularly the youth, I expect to see some splits (rather than just individuals as has been the case up to now, even if there have been large numbers of individuals) of significant size that move towards a position that Egypt needs a second revolution.

3) The class struggle is key. All eyes are on Tahrir, which has incredible symbolic power in the revolution. That is why the generals have tried to so hard to discredit the Tahrir sit-ins. But Tahrir is just the symbol. The real power of the revolution has always been with the very large working class in Egypt. It was when the working class moved into open struggle with an explosive strike wave that the generals gave Mubarak the shove. And it has been the ebbing and flowing of the strike waves over the past year that have won de facto trade union rights, built an independent union movement of hundreds of thousands practically overnight (no small thing - it makes them the first and largest mass democratic organizations in the country) and forced issues onto the agenda like a maximum and minimum wage, the right to strike and protest, etc. As the revolutionary process continues and matures, watch for the growing importance of the labour movement in Egypt and its spokespeople to become the high profile leaders of the revolution.

4) What happens in Egypt will determine the fate of the struggle elsewhere. We know that the revolution that began in Tunisia lit a fuse that spread to Egypt and then throughout the region. In Yemen there are now strikes in the military against the defense minister, a relative of the recently resigned president. In Syria all signs indicate that the state is beginning to disintegrate with shelling of rebel neighbourhoods in the capital city of Damascus taking place, as well as strikes and sit-ins around the country. But Greece is right next door to all this. And Italy and Spain are right across the water. If the revolution deepens and becomes clearly a class revolution against austerity and neoliberalism that starts to win important and visible victories this can't but inspire a spread of enthusiasm and tactics to Europe. Already, the Occupy movement and the indignados movement in Spain have to be seen as directly inspired by Egypt's Tahrir movement. If the working class takes centre stage in Egypt multiply the Tahrir effect by ten.

With all that in mind, I think it's an understatement to say that we live in exciting times. Happy Egyptian Revolution Day!
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