Egypt: That a Revolution, as Yet Undefeated, May Succeed
The political alliance that currently rules Egypt, that is, the Muslim Brotherhood, old regime remnants, and some businessmen, agrees with the opposing members of the dissolved NDP on one fundamental matter: June 30 is a counter-revolution. It is directed against the January 25 Revolution. The former view the affair as a coup since its opponents overlap with those of the January revolution. The latter, on the other hand, wish to propagate the idea that yesterday's revolt of popular rage is a grassroots corrective to the January revolution that paved the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood to government. They hope to show that the revolution itself is essentially wrong.
The swelling popular momentum and its contingencies have evidenced that the revolution will continues its program of abolishing the existing system, a program that many have courted for now nearly two and a half years. The remarkable effectiveness of youth initiatives, a myriad of which have hic-upped to a halt before fruition, have sprung on a stifled political climate that is full of resentment. The January revolution has not yet realized a single success, with the exception of the ouster of Mubarak and a few of his men, and the dissolution of his ruling party. In the meantime, SCAF and following on their heels, the Brotherhood, took care to reproduce the old regime, politically, economically, and in the security services. These reproductions were carefully tailored to prevent the translation of changes in the balance of social and political forces (at the hands of millions of ordinary people breaking into the world of politics) into actual authority. Not even one basic reform of the wage system, the redistribution of wealth, or corruption has been realized. The police have undergone no reforms whatsoever, and the security’s grip on society is as tight as ever.
And the poor continue, above all others, to shoulder the deterioration of economic conditions resulting from the insistence of the new rulers on making policy in accordance with the seasoned monopolistic interests that control them. The presidency of the republic informs us in its estimations in "One Year Into the Egyptian Presidency: Steps and Challenges,”, that Morsi's reign has witnessed 7,709 protests and sectoral actions, and 5,821 demonstrations and confrontations. They count these as challenges to their rule. The presidency does not relay to us the demands of these historically unprecedented mass mobilizations. Were it to do so, it might nakedly reveal itself as the direct enemy of the revolution that it purports to represent. Protests against corruption, the maldistribution of services, the servants of the old regime, or illegal police activities would indeed be a pillar, and not a challenge, for any authority that derives its compass from the revolution.
The great and late British historian, Eric Hobsbawm, born in Alexandria, spoke of mid-nineteenth century Europe, following the final triumph of the French revolution. In the Age of Revolution, he noted that the legal regimes of slavery and serfdom:
(except as relics in remote regions as yet untouched by the new economy) would have to go, as it was inevitable that Britain could not for ever remain the only industrialized country. It was inevitable that landed aristocracies and absolute monarchies must retreat in all countries in which a strong bourgeoisie was developing, whatever the political compromises or formulae found for retaining status, influence and even political power.
As for the relevant revolutionary law, the historian writes:
Moreover, it was inevitable that the injection of political consciousness and permanent political activity among the masses, which was the great legacy of the French Revolution, must sooner or later mean that these masses were allowed to play a formal part in politics. And given the remarkable acceleration of social change since 1830, and the revival of the world revolutionary movement, it was clearly inevitable that changes—whatever their precise institutional nature—could not be long delayed.
The popular momentum we have witnessed over the course of the year is the guarantee of the future. It announces to us above all that the revolution, despite the fact that it has not yet succeeded, has not yet been defeated.
Continuing the Revolution, and the Gift of June
The forces that called for the offering of June are by no means homogenous. They include those who are the direct enemies of the January revolution. They are veiled in hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood, and they aim to consolidate the old regime but with a restored and higher status for currently excluded wings. They welcome a return to the embrace of security forces in the form of a direct intervention by the army. But the majority of the June forces who took to the streets oppose the Brotherhood for exactly the opposite reason. They oppose the Brotherhood for continuing and reproducing the poverty, exploitation, and tyranny so salient and so influential in people’s everyday lives.
The fact is that the January revolutionaries themselves did not enjoy much in common beyond their unified call for Mubarak’s departure, and even then, this consensus only emerged toward the end of the uprising. And who says that successful revolutions require homogenous revolutionaries? History reminds us that the proponents of the American revolution and even the French revolutions that changed the course of history aimed to restore an old order. In On Revolution Hannah Arrendt tells that this was the case until “in the course of both revolutions, the actors became aware of the impossibility of restoration and of the need to embark upon an entirely new enterprise.”
In the revolution of 1905 in Russia, it was the call for demonstration and an appeal to the Tsar from a workers’ syndicate established by the secret police that was the detonator of a popular uprising. This resulted in the workers’ control of their factories through direct councils, followed by the establishment of an elected parliament. Working class consciousness was heightened in battle and broadened the scope of the demands and movement far beyond the accommodation of the Tsar and towards revolution.
The June offering has placed before itself the goal of ousting President Morsi whether from the streets or through early presidential elections. But is this a realistic goal? The ruling regime, led by the Brotherhood, is tactically militant in dealing with popular rage and political opposition, precluding room for maneuver, much less mid-level political solutions.
For Morsi to resign or to accept early presidential elections, a major change is necessary in the balance of forces. The president would have to enjoy the endorsement of Mubarak’s bases. Such a change can only happen in one of two ways. The first would be the choice of those committed to murdering the revolution. It would entail the re-entry of the military establishment through the scenario of bloody confrontations or otherwise, to impose the resignation of Morsi and the installment of a substitute through a reconstitution of the old regime’s alliance. This path would make conditions far worse for social and popular forces that aspire to continue the revolution.
The alternative scenario is of the variety that does not accommodate rulers, or their epigones who provoke political battles through jasmine tea sessions or missions knocking on the doors of Washington. Its calculus resides in practice: a mass and massive ascent that does not content itself with mobilization in the squares, but rather struggles against the rulers in their economic authority through the general strike. It is a blitz made possible only through open, clear and visible confrontation against the alliances that work on reproducing the old regime in power, in any and all of its components, in competition or cooperation, from the Brotherhood, to the military, to the older remnants of the regime itself. This blitz would be a blow. Its victory would open the door to a new politics and a new order whose institutions, ruling parties and prevailing democratic and organizational structures are created in the battle, and not before it, for the struggle conditions these structures, and not the opposite.
Short of this assault, the June offering remains a pressure point whose importance lies in the size and significance of popular and broad-based mobilization, and whose growth increasingly circumscribes the policies of the counter-revolution in both its wings. It would be a pressure point that paves the way for another, forthcoming and inevitable battle, under a single banner representing our revolution: the people demand the downfall of the system.
[The article appeared in Arabic in El-Sherouk. It was translated by Sarah Hawas.]