1919 Revolution: “Egypt, occupied by Great Britain in effect since 1882, achieved its independence from colonial rule only in the aftermath of sustained protests. In the wake of the 1919 revolution, and after two years of stalled negotiations, the British abolished martial law and granted Egypt unilateral nominal independence from colonial rule in February of 1922. Despite this, the British continued to maintain control over the security of imperial communications, the defense of Egypt, the protection of foreign interests and minorities, and the Sudan. The 1919 revolution had two stages: the violent and short period of March 1919 that involved large-scale mobilizations by the peasantry in rural areas that were suppressed by British military action; and the protracted phase beginning in April 1919 that was less violent and more urban, with the large-scale participation of students, workers, lawyers, and other professionals.” (Omnia El Shakry at Jadaliyya)
1952 Revolution: “Egypt’s 1952 military coup and revolution led by Gamal Abdel-Nasser and the Free Officers ousted Egypt’s decadent monarch, King Faruq, and put Muhammad Naguib as President of the new Republic in his place. An understanding of this period of Egyptian history helps to clarify somewhat the ambivalent attitudes towards the military in Egypt, and the initial expectations of protestors that the military would help protect them from Egypt’s violent security and police services.
Interpretations of Nasserism have centered on the state apparatus. Discussions have focused on the authoritarian-bureaucratic state structure, characterized by a highly state-centralized process of socio-economic development, a corporatist patrimonial state bourgeoisie, a single-party system bolstered by a repressive state apparatus, and a populist nationalist ideology. This political formation, interpreters argue, proved incapable of radically restructuring the Egyptian state, society, and economy, as signaled by the failure to build a fully industrialized, capitalist or socialist, liberal democratic nation-state. This is the classic ‘authoritarian military dictatorship model’ we have been reading about in the press. But such a monolithic model fails to adequately capture the complexity of Nasserism.
Nasserism was equally characterized by an ideology and practice of social-welfare, premised upon the state apparatus as arbiter not only of economic development, but also of social welfare. Such a social welfare model was premised on an ethical covenant between the people and the state, a social contract in which the possibility of revolutionary or democratic political change was exchanged for piecemeal social reform and the amelioration of the conditions of the working classes. It was further based on a view of ‘the people’ (al-sha’ab) as the generative motor of history and as resources of national wealth (the motor of its development, as it were); and an interventionist policy of social planning and engineering. Social welfare, of course, should not be understood as a benevolent process whereby the state shepherds citizens in their own welfare. Rather, it entails the social and political process of reproducing particular social relations, often based on violence and coercion, at least partly to minimize class antagonisms.” (Omnia El Shakry at Jadaliyya)
2011 Revolution: “Rather than view the spontaneous eruption of protests on January 25, 2011 as signaling the absence of ideological or political cohesion, we can view it instead as the product of an unprecedented historical assemblage of complex forces and contradictions. As Mohammed Bamyeh noted in ‘The Egyptian Revolution: First Impressions from the Field,’ the revolt has been characterized by a large degree of spontaneity, marginality, a call for civic government, and an elevation of political grievances above economic grievances. Thus, we have seen the participation of a wide range of groups with differing ideological orientations but nonetheless coherent and articulate in their demand for an end to the ancien regime. These have included strong elements of trade unions and other labor organizers, such as the April 6 movement (named after its call for a General Strike in support of the workers in Mahalla). Indeed, since 2008 there has been a tremendous upsurge in labor and union organizing. But labor movements do not exhaust the types of players involved—including, of course, the new social movements (whether leftist, feminist, legal-judicial, NGO based, or social-media galvanized organizations) discussed in Paul Amar’s ‘Why Mubarak is Out,’ as well as the Muslim Brotherhood who have publicly declared their commitment to a civil and pluralist government.
Those on the ground in Egypt know what they want: an end to Mubarak, and end to the emergency laws that have strangled political expression in Egypt since 1981, a civil government with a new constitution guaranteeing elections and the curtailment of political power, and trials for those involved in the massacres of the protesters. Despite the machinations of the West, it is clear that what will simply not do is an insinuation of ancien regime forces of any kind into a post-Mubarak Egypt, whether neo-liberal robber barons, counter-revolutionaries, or political opportunists. The voices from Tahrir, Alexandria, Mahalla, Suez, and Minya must be heard in their call for a ‘reversal of the relationship of forces.’ In other words, this is a people’s revolution.”—Omnia El Shakry, “Egypt’s Three Revolutions: The Force of History behind this Popular Uprising.”
The Egyptian Revolution of 2011: a truly democratic, non-violent social revolution made, in the end, by all sectors of the Egyptian populace persevering in the face of fear, threats and intimidation, lies, economic uncertainty and insecurity, repression, Realpolitik and conventional power politics, Islamaphobia, violence.... We are privileged to be witness to this remarkable moment in history.
The nonviolent revolutionaries of Egypt have achieved one of, if not their foremost, short-term goals, namely, the removal of Hosni Mubarak from office as President of Egypt. Mubarak “gave up” the Presidency. It is a sweet day in Egypt, indeed, across the Arab world. In fact, all of us around the planet who believe in democracy and social justice have cause to join our brothers and sisters in Egypt in this moment of celebration. The highest political power in the land now formally rests with the Egyptian armed forces. Egyptian activists are right to feel--as one of them said on Al-Jazeera while I’m composing this--that “now, anything is possible.” Egyptians have discovered afresh that with intelligence, passion, courage, and determination, they too can, as individuals-in-collective-and-concerted-action, “make history.”
“He has been from 1993 until last Saturday (29 January 2011), when he was appointed vice-president - he was the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, which is similar to the CIA, but actually with much closer ties to the military. And he had, starting in the first years of the twenty first century... He’d really been very much in the shadows - he was Egypt’s spy chief, and that was, in fact, his title, from 1993 until just very recently. He also became, when the ‘war on terror’ started, and the centrality of Egypt to the United States is ‘global war on terror,’ he was very much, perhaps, the most important person in Egypt for the United States, particularly as I would say, in his ties with the CIA. But he did, however, come out of the shadows in the early two thousands, because he started taking over a number of important dossiers in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, including the dossier for Israel, and in fact if one does a Google image search on ‘Omar Suleiman,’ the overwhelming majority of pictures that will emerge of him are him shaking hands with various Israeli leaders. So he’s definitely ‘Israel’s favorite Egyptian,’ one could say that, and he has been helping the Egyptian/Israeli... The crushing of Gaza, for example is very much a somewhat shared project between Israel and Egypt. So Suleiman, for example, has been responsible for the demolition of tunnels through which both weapons and foodstuffs have gotten into a besieged Gaza.”
And why have we heard precious few of those in power, or their sycophantic servants in the mass media in this country for that matter, say anything critical of Suleiman? Perhaps this explains it:
“The reason Omar Suleiman is so liked by the United States and by Israel is because of the fact that he’s been ardently anti-Islamist. One could say, if he was in the United States, he’d be a Fox News type [laughs] of personality, in terms of his anti-Islamism - And very much loves to ‘rattle the saber’ around Iran, so he’s very popular among American neo-conservatives who aspire to see Iran as our next military target. And that’s partially why he's been so willing to participate in the crushing of Gaza, which is currently controlled by a Hamas government.”
The appointment of Suleiman to vice president was thus an uncommonly shrewd move on Mubarak’s part, as Hajjar notes, for “he knew that America knows Suleiman — at least American administrators, political leaders in Washington, and the neo-cons, who are very influential in America. And appointing Suleiman would assuage Israeli anxieties, because he’s also known to be someone who’s ardently committed to maintaining the peace treaty with Egypt.”
In addition to the article by Hajjar linked-to above, see the interview with her, also at Jadaliyya, here.
* It’s an auspicious occasion to return our attention to some recommended reading from a previous post relating to issues, constitutional and otherwise, that the people of Egypt will face in the coming months and years in the “transition from Tahrir Square to democracy:”
Jon Elster, Closing the Books: Transitional Justice in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Jon Elster, ed., The Roundtable Talks and the Breakdown of Communism (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1996); Jon Elster, Claus Offe, and Ulrich K. Press (et al.), eds., Institutional Design in Post-Communist Societies: Rebuilding the Ship at Sea (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Tamir Moustafa’s The Struggle for Constitutional Power: Law, Politics, and Economic Development in Egypt (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Bruce K. Rutherford’s prescient book, Egypt after Mubarak: Liberalism, Islam, and Democracy in the Arab World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); and Cass Sunstein, Designing Democracy: What Constitutions Do (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). There may be some lessons to be derived from the following book as well: Mona N. Younis, Liberation and Democratization: The South African and Palestinian National Movements (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000). Indeed, while many of the transitional problems faced by post-apartheid South Africa were (and are) clearly of a different order than those Egyptians will face, I think the South African experience is worth studying in-depth. Perhaps later I’ll find the time later to post some titles from the growing literature documenting and critically examining that experience.
Last and by all means not least, see the posts by Clark Lombardi (the first three) and Tamir Moustafa (the last) at the Comparative Constitutions blog (a project of ConstitutionMaking.org): here, here, here, and here.
**Update: At Jadaliyya, Bassam Haddad writes that “It appears that Omar Suleiman, the recently appointed Vice President, will have no role in the emerging political formula, but details have not yet surfaced.” Let’s hope he’s right.
Update no. 2: Hani Shukrallah provides the revolutionaries with a “to do” list at Ahram Online.
Update no. 3: See the “Statement by the Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations” – 2/12/2011: Long Live the Egyptian Popular Revolution...Roadmap for a Nation of Rights and the Rule of Law