The Egyptian Revolution: the desire to be peaceful – and normal – must prevail

Who was the child of Mubarak's speech: each of his Egyptian "children", or the juvenile terror who just won't give up his toys? But the "revolutions of the normal" are too powerful not to prevail
Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
11 February 2011

UPDATE: Joyous scenes! The people have prevailed.The regime is not down yet but it has been decapitated by the 25 January movement which has refused intimidation and suffered more than 300 dead and won thanks to its immense power and restraint. 

Thanks to Al Jazeera’s wonderful live streaming from Tahrir Square my hopes were raised and my love of freedom danced with the celebrations in the square that anticipated Mubarak’s resignation yesterday. Now, in the early morning, I feel restless, unable to sleep, dulled but not exhausted by listening to Mubarak’s speech from another planet.

Did he mumble about a transfer of power to Suleiman? Did he open the way for the US and the military as they insist on a “real, clear transition process”? Who cares about such questions? They presume what is intolerable. Change cannot take place on the Mubarak regime’s terms. Torturers, thugs and despots are not qualified to welcome in the rule of law (that would jail them) or oversee free elections (that would humiliate them). Their one interest is to prevent such outcomes. 

“I speak to you from the heart like a father to his children.”

It was patronising, sickening, weirdly disconnected from reality but also itself infantile. Who is the child not letting go of his toys?

Then Suleiman appears. His demand to the “heroic young people” to just “ Go back home” at least had a certain clipped style. He seemed marginally less disconnected, making me think Mubarak is drugged, both on the accumulated residues of three decades of crushing his enemies and by more immediate substances pumped into him to keep him from shaking and ensure that his lips don’t wobble too much.

If so he is no longer the smart dictator but the cover and the shield for the entourage of his associates he has implicated in his regime of crimes - propped up by as much by their wish that change not happen as by his own supposed determination.

At least Obama has made it clear he does not support shooting down the people. Let's see if his apparent instruction prevails. Mubarak’s expression of regret for the deaths of the young innocent protesters – his own children, of course – makes it harder for the Army to instruct its soldiers, who will have watched along with everyone else, to turn their guns on the demonstrators. Who can hardly have turned into the massed agents of a foreign power overnight.

Can the army, or the crack units of the Presidential guard, shoot down the people? They can, of course. But what would be the motives of those who give the order to open fire?

As the commander of the Cairo region General Hassan al-Roueini went to Tahrir Square to say "All your demands will be met today" a retired Egyptian General told Al Jazeera that it was “A revolution to restore the situation as it should be”.

Everyone knows what that phrase means, even if it is to be betrayed. It does not mean to "restore" the situation. It means to move to a state of affairs that there never has been in Egypt. The revolution that would make it a normal country with the rule of law, for example, and relatively fair elections, and not needing to feel ashamed when describing how things are in Egypt to those from other lands. These are simple desires. Their lack of utopianism gives them strength - and dignity, the catchword that claims no more or less than humanity in the face of the inhumanity of the regime.

Mubarak is a military man. Yet everyone wants the army to be on their side. The revolution needs the pillar of the state if it is to succeed.

This suggests that we are witnessing what I’ve described as a ‘Revolution of the Normal. One should not quote oneself and I'm not for a moment suggesting I'd foreseen anything with the awesome depth and steadiness being shown by the Egyptian people of all classes. But as time is short, this is what I argued on the twentieth anniversary of the revolutions of 1989, “It is a strange kind of revolution, you might say, that depends upon hoping that the regime will cooperate. But this is to project the image of the previous kind of classic revolutions ‘from below' onto what took place in 1989 and has continued since…. educated but with employment hard to find, increasingly independent minded and articulate, benefiting from digitalisation and the web where yet newer forms of what is normal are unfolding (over half the world's population now have mobile phones), a peaceful crowd is gathering.”

The peaceful crowd is not for socialism or for sharia. It doesn't want to start again with a year zero. It will grow increasingly angry if its demands are not met. But the peaceful crowd is not motivated by a chiliastic sense of righteousness. Their passion of those who take part in the crowd is to join history, to become part of the normal struggle of people everywhere for humanity and livelihood. It is a simple desire: to put an end of blatant corruption and incompetent despotism.

But how to achieve it? Everyone knows that violence breeds further violence with all the dehumanisation that follows. Hence the quite profound desire to be peaceful not insurrectionary and also the immense, physical presence and direct force of this demand for dignity, on the part of the demonstrators.

This surely must prevail.

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