Arab Earthquake

'al-Watan al-Arabi' by Chant Avedissian

Throughout yesterday messages were sent out from within the Egyptian regime to the effect that Husni Mubarak was about to resign. Millions went onto the night streets to celebrate the victory. Then, incredibly, Mubarak repeated his intention to stay. He lied about his contributions to Egyptian sovereignty and addressed the Egyptians as his children, to screams of derision. Despicable as he is, there was something of the tragic hero about him, tragic in the Greek or Shakespearean sense. The very traits which had thrust him to greatness – stubborness, brutishness, contempt for the people – were condemning him, with every word, to the most ignominious humiliation. He spoke from the gravel of his octogenarian throat, a man of the past adrift in a strange new world.

Tragic or not, it was certainly theatre – directed by the military. Communique Number One had already been delivered. Then this evening Omar Suleiman made a curt admission of defeat, for he too has been deposed (although he announced only Mubarak’s fall). The military’s Supreme Council is in charge.

Communique Number Three was delivered shortly after Suleiman’s statement. The army spokesman appreciated both Husni Mubarak’s service and the sacrifices of the revolution’s martyrs. For the latter he gave a slow miltary salute. He said the army was not an “alternative to the legitimacy that is acceptable to the people,” and that further communiques would lay out the reform process.

Victory provoked a wave of celebration amongst the millions in Cairo, Alexandria, Mansoura, Mahalla, Suez, chants and tears and whoops of joy stretching out across the Arab world. Beirut, Gaza, Ramallah, Amman are demonstrating in support of the revolution. Syrian state TV is broadcasting al-Jazeera’s live feed.

Is all this premature? There is very good reason for optimism. In the last three days revolutionary momentum has carried Egypt beyond the point of no return. Workers – in textiles and munitions factories, in communications and transport, in the electricity and gas sectors, from all the ministries – have not merely gone on strike: they’ve demanded the sacking and trial of their company directors. When the police in the Kharga Oasis or in Sinai or Upper Egypt have attacked the people, the people have burnt police stations. Once people’s dignity has been restored, nothing will silence them except justice.

What is happening now will boost the hopes of strugglers everywhere, not least throughout the Muslim world. But it has a special consequence for Arabs. For all their diversity, the Arabs are in many respects one people, linked by language, history and culture. Today they are more linked than ever, by their news station al-Jazeera, by Lebanese and Egyptian pop music, Egyptian comedy, Syrian period dramas, by the same tele-evangelists and TV presenters, by itinerant labour and the common police-state heritage. And by the same political passions.

The idea of Arabism was abused and grievously wounded by the ascent of police states which stoked petty nationalisms, retreated from pan-Arab causes (primarily Palestine), and promoted backward, mythical thinking. Arabism was stale state rhetoric, its official heroes the warlords of past and present. The people seemed to play no role, except in the quasi-fascistic evoking of their ‘blood’, their ‘eternal message’. Too many people stopped believing in themselves.

But Arab Tunis rose up. Inspired by Tunis, mighty Egypt rose. Today American control over the Arab region is collapsing. Palestine faces a different future to the one it faced yesterday. The Arab nation is back.

The picture is ‘al-Watan al-Arabi’ by Egyptian artist Chant Avedissian.

7 thoughts on “Arab Earthquake”

  1. Despicable as he is, there was something of the tragic hero about him, tragic in the Greek or Shakespearean sense.

    A tragic hero in the Greek or Shakespeare sense would imply some self-knowledge of one’s participation in one’s own demise. That is why careless newspaper headlines that say “Tragedy on 44 St.” are wrong, and a sloppy use of language. They are catastrophes or disasters. They are not tragedy. Tragedy implies self-realization, however hard it is to actualize. (Why 9/11 should never be called a tragedy.)
    Learned from the excellent book: Tragedy and Melodrama, by Robert Bechtold Heilman, one of the greatest books I ever read.

  2. Robin – a great and timely piece. I just wanted to draw your attention to the artwork ‘AL WATAN AL ARABI’, it’s by an Egyptian artist Chant Avedissian and not Rose Issa. Rose Issa Projects has exhibited his work in London. Thank you.

  3. Thanks, Zafar. I’ve changed it.

    MRW – I wish we could watch the final scenes, in the Mubarak bedroom..

    1. ;-) Robin. Actually, if it causes the downfall and disgrace of one of his sons in the years he has left — the Swiss funds are frozen, will the paper trail lead to more, and unravel the family? — and should this consequence be understood to be by his own hand, his own hubris, then he might develop into a tragic character.

      Great piece BTW. Most of your stuff is.

  4. “Today American control over the Arab region is collapsing”….Id like to believe that but unfortunately I cannot. Neither can anyone who honestly understands how the globalized world works. Now that the “people power” movement has acquired a military junta (containing all Mubarak’s hand selected men), why dont they ask them how they intend to overcome 50+% reliance on wheat imports (can you say AngloAmericanLeverage)and whether or not they intend to keep the pound pegged to the inflation inducing USD. Dont get me wrong, I make dua for Egyptians every salah and wish you the best, but I think there is a lot of emotion and very little substance to this “revolution.”

  5. Incisive as usual Robin – well done.

    Self-determination and sovereignty are linked to the will of the people but pandering to dictators for the sake of stability – instead of democracy – has been a Western faux pas the effects of which will reverberate still further in the region.

    Looking to the future I think Europe will play an increasing role across the middle-east in the longer term as American hegemony declines.

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