Their recent upheaval would certainly have been different, perhaps dramatically different.
In the past month, the people of Egypt—inspired by the recent democratic revolution in Tunisia and preceding emergent revolutions in Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, and Syria—have undertaken a revolt of truly stunning proportions, one that includes men and women from all class strata, religious and ethnic origins, and ideological commitments. They managed to rid themselves of a longstanding and brutal dictator worth over $40 billion and supported by the collective power of the United States, European Union, Israel, and the Arab Gulf States.
Now that two Arab dictators have been vanquished by the collective will of unaffiliated protesters, many American commentators have been forced to rethink their assumptions about the supposedly tribal and authoritarian Arab mind. Such commentators, sometimes conservative but often liberal, fancy themselves guardians of a civic and political enlightenment that in reality is misinformed in addition to being conceited and imperialistic.
Nevertheless, given the ardor and self-confidence of the notion that American values exemplify democratic modernity, let us imagine a few potential outcomes had the pioneering people of Egypt followed the example of today’s liberal American Democrats.
Final installment of Al Jazeera’s excellent Egypt Burning series.
As the calls for regime change move into their third week, Egyptians have broken down the barrier of fear. Cracks between the protesters have started to show, but resolute protesters are standing firm on their call for the president to resign.
After seven days of mass protests in Egypt, a people’s movement has taken hold throughout the country, demanding the end of Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in power. A day-by-day account of how Egypt has been set alight by a mass revolt against President Hosni Mubarak.
A joyous night in Cairo. What bliss to be alive, to be an Egyptian and an Arab. In Tahrir Square they’re chanting, “Egypt is free” and “We won!”
The removal of Mubarak alone (and getting the bulk of his $40bn loot back for the national treasury), without any other reforms, would itself be experienced in the region and in Egypt as a huge political triumph. It will set new forces into motion. A nation that has witnessed miracles of mass mobilisations and a huge rise in popular political consciousness will not be easy to crush, as Tunisia demonstrates.
Arab history, despite appearances, is not static. Soon after the Israeli victory of 1967 that marked the defeat of secular Arab nationalism, one of the great Arab poets, Nizar Qabbani wrote:
Corn ears of the future,
You will break our chains.
Kill the opium in our heads,
Kill the illusions.
Don’t read about our suffocated generation,
We are a hopeless case,
As worthless as a water-melon rind.
Don’t read about us,
Don’t ape us,
Don’t accept us,
Don’t accept our ideas,
We are a nation of crooks and jugglers.
Corn ears of the future,
You are the generation that will overcome defeat.
How happy he would have been to seen his prophecy being fulfilled.
In an excellent piece on Al Jazeera, Lisa Hajjar notes that ‘Suleiman has long been favoured by the US government for his ardent anti-Islamism, his willingness to talk and act tough on Iran – and he has long been the CIA’s main man in Cairo.’
The protests that overthrew half a century of autocratic rule in Tunisia are spreading. The governments of Egypt, Algeria, and Yemen are feeling the wrath of decades of repression as people take to the streets and demand freedom.
Zizek is in fine form on the Riz Khan Show. In a recent op-ed he noted that
the most shameful and dangerously opportunistic reaction was that of Tony Blair as reported on CNN: change is necessary, but it should be a stable change. Stable change in Egypt today can mean only a compromise with the Mubarak forces by way of slightly enlarging the ruling circle. This is why to talk about peaceful transition now is an obscenity: by squashing the opposition, Mubarak himself made this impossible. After Mubarak sent the army against the protesters, the choice became clear: either a cosmetic change in which something changes so that everything stays the same, or a true break.
The revolutionary chants on the streets of Egypt have resonated around the world, but with a popular uprising without a clear direction and an unpopular leader refusing to concede, Egypt’s future hangs in the balance. Riz Khan talks to Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek about the power of popular dissent, the limits of peaceful protest and the future of Egyptian politics.