The Egyptian revolution: take two?

What happened on January 25, 2011 was not a revolution. What happened last week was reminiscent of January 25, but led by people who see a closing window of hope for their struggle. Maybe history of a different kind is finally in the making.

By any estimate, despite wishful thinking, what happened on January 25 2011 was not a revolution. As a few months passed by after January 25, 2011, the coercive apparatuses of the state came back and crushed protests; often it was bloody. The events between January 2011 and up until last week were considerable cause for discontent. A constituent assembly was infiltrated by the executive, protests continued to be crushed, strikes were demonized, justice was not delivered and the coercive apparatuses of the state continued to be held unaccountable and to commit crimes of torture. Some people slipped back quietly into their ordinary lives, some travelled, others married in a hope to forget.

These events all have an uncanny resemblance to the events of the late 70’s. Arwa Saleh, a major student activist of the self- dubbed ‘70’s student movement’ detailed that same eerie atmosphere after students had occupied Tahrir and started to pressure Sadat. She details how student activists of her clique converted to various religions, often many times, some became insane, others immigrated and others married and started a new life. Arwa Saleh herself later committed suicide as a result of Sadat’s crushing crackdown after that intifadah. It is looking back at such events that one can begin to understand what is going on within certain circles of Egypt’s activist movements.

It is perhaps what that same feeling of discontent and anxiety that many activists, who have long sided with the Muslim Brotherhood on their policies on Palestine, watch with extreme disgust Egyptian efforts to ‘mediate’ and bring the Israeli conflict to an end. The way that the whole incident was framed was to deliver a victory to the MB; to show that their President was well versed in the international arena, so well versed that he managed to “stop” in its tracks the mounting enthusiasm for a ground incursion by Israel. This reified Israel’s practices and accepted its right to 'retaliation'. Few understood that this was a copycat policy initiated by Mubarak, that the IDF continued to disproportionally punish Gaza through air strikes and drones and that resistance by Hamas, legally protected under international law, was demonized.

The siege on Gaza continues to this day - Gaza lives under seige as it has been living since 2007 - and yet Egypt’s efforts to ‘mediate’ the conflict are celebrated. Egypt’s foreign policy under Mubarak has in fact been solidified and institutionalized; much to the disquiet of those who had hoped for change post-‘revolution’. Egypt’s reward in consolidating the Camp David order, which back then was a bribe from the USA in the form of an annual subsidy from Washington, is a handout of $4.8 Billion dollars from the IMF. Protests against the IMF continue to fall on deaf ears, in fact, NGO’s invited to a joint EU-Egyptian taskforce to discuss loans from the EU had their invitations rescinded last minute: only regime-sponsored NGO’s attended.

All of this has changed since last week.

President Morsi, facing increasing resignations from the constituent assembly, came under significant pressure. Opposition parties began to coalesce around one unified demand, that of the need to disband the constituent assembly: they began to see eye-to-eye. Protests, not too small, were planned and one was mobilized for significantly by al tayar ‘al sha’by in Tahrir square. In response, Morsi issued a sweeping constitutional declaration changing the Prosecutor General and granting immunity to the constituent assembly and the Shura Council. This would in effect overrule any verdict by the Supreme Constitutional Court. A verdict from the SCC is in fact scheduled for delivery on December 2. But Morsi didn’t stop there: he granted himself immunity from litigation and made his acts, in legal terms, those of a ‘sovereign’ character. He now wields exclusive power over the three branches of government.

In response Egypt’s judiciary called for a strike and several court circuits in Alexandria, Damanhour, North Cairo, Minya and Fayoum have gone on strike and refuse to resume their cases. Judges on loan to the prosecutor’s office have announced that they wish to return to their courts and to have nothing to do with the Prosecutor General’s office. Tahrir Square has been filling up with protestors since then, some of whom are finding themselves locked in clashes with the police.

This is all the evidence Trotskyites might need of the permanent revolution. However, in the wake of Morsi’s new constitutional declaration, a much-hushed up law was issued regulating trade unions and syndicates. Its critics claim that under it they will never have complete autonomy and will be subject to regular intrusion by the Minister of Manpower. Its draft form appears to be identical to one which was rejected by the Independent Trade Unions, an organization that is currently on strike in Tahrir and has set up several tents along with other political parties. Yesterday several satellite channels were not able to broadcast due to ‘disturbances’ that were not elaborated on. Conspiracy theories aside, the incident is quite reminiscent of January 25, 2012. In fact the common denominator seems to be how Morsi like Mubarak unified the opposition. It comes as no surprise that not so much as a whimper came out of the EU or the USA; their interests are well known and Morsi after all did them proud in the previous Gaza conflict. His reward will be the cash that will be opened up to him by way of international creditors. These loans, even the most optimistic experts admit, will result in even more loans and more economic disparity.

A major protest is planned on November 27. It is likely not to be the last and that the sit-in at Tahrir will continue. The headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party’s(FJP), have been burned down in several governorates. In Damanhour violence continues at an alarming level. This violence should not be dismissed as childish or the work of the remnants of the old regime. There is a palpable sense of opposition and frustration among Egypt’s population. No revolution comes without paying a price. Needless to say no one was distraught when the ancien regimes party headquarters were burned down. Such a shift may be occurring now in society as people understand that in their struggle against the ruling capitalist class in Egypt there seems to be a closing window of hope. The Muslim Brotherhood's economic policies seem to be an exact copy of Mubaraks; they are even creating their own business conglomerates. Hassan Malik is the new Ahmed Ezz. Will the unions and syndicates follow through with the final blow that killed Mubarak during the 18 days in 2011? Will they go on strike? That remains to be seen but history seems to be in the making, with some judges going on strike.

About the author

Karim Malak is a Research Assistant at the Political Science Department at the American University in Cairo (AUC). He is the former Political Assistant at The Carter Center (TCC) Democracy Program, Cairo. 

Read On

Our continuous coverage of the Arab Awakening.