Hang on a minute with ‘the domino effect’

It is the deeper process of social transformation which should spread from one country to the other and not just some hollowed out ‘pro-democracy movement’.
Saroj Giri
13 February 2011

The Egyptian people wanted Mubarak to go and Mubarak has indeed been removed, so let us now move to the next dictator, next country!

Let us not see the Tahrir protests as a one-off show…  one minute Egypt, next Yemen, now onto Algeria or Syria. The real fight has only just begun in Egypt. From Cairo’s Tahrir Square, there are reports that many of the demonstrators who filled it for 18 days have rejected the military's appeal to dismantle the barricades and go home. In answer to the Army communiqués, point for point, there is now a People’s Communique No. 1. An alternative is being forged to army rule.

Already on Friday Feb 11, the day Mubarak’s removal was announced, while the Tahrir Square protests were swelling, protestors assembled outside the Presidential Palace, state television office and several other key installations. They were fanning out and intensifying – and still are. Protesters jubilant at the removal of Mubarak are now pausing to figure out if removal is enough: now some are calling for bringing Mubarak to trial. There is a feeling that things cannot now go back to business as usual without bringing the criminals and corrupt rulers to book. The protests are already undergoing a radicalization.

Despite their only claim so far being the decapitation of the Mubarak regime, these new interim rulers seem to be riding on the wave of the moral legitimacy of the protests. Yet the army is bound by the $1.3 billion it receives annually from the US. It has strong links with big business pursuing extreme neoliberal policies that have even alienated some ‘national capitalists’ such as the business tycoon Sawiris, sufficiently to join the protesters seemingly in support of their demands at least for a while. But the card that Sawaris is playing may be no more than a scary reminder of the planned nationalist development of Egypt’s Nasserite, which only appeared opposed to neoliberalism. As part of the Council of the Wise involved in negotiations with the regime, wasn’t Sawaris a little too ready to accept the continuance of Mubarak in the name of ensuring White House-inspired ‘orderly transition’?

The movement is surely far from over. While the dominant discourse of ‘pro-democracy movement’ and ‘orderly transition’ renders the deeper process of the movement’s radicalisation invisible, if we ignore this we will be shifting our attention elsewhere precisely at the moment when the movement is maturing and refining itself. It was anyways never one homogeneous movement from beginning to end, from say Jan 25 to the removal of Mubarak. The movement with each passing day was changing, learning, deepening and, thanks partly to the intransigence of the regime, radicalizing.

What must be kept in mind is that it was only when the movement had sufficiently intensified to create a general crisis not just of legitimacy but an actual overall crisis of the system, shaking the social order, that the regime had to give in and announce the removal of Mubarak – as damage control. More than heeding to the call of the protesters, this was about precluding their further radicalization.

Two factors were of crucial importance here. Firstly, the labour strikes with workers participating in huge numbers. Not only was the regime losing credibility but the system, the economy (transport and communication, banking, industries) was under threat of collapse. Paradoxically, a lull in protests sometime around Feb 6 became instrumental in charging up and radicalising the protests once they resumed. People returned to their homes and workplaces, a semblance of normalcy returned – but this meant that the next phase of the protest was better organised, better thought out and the struggle entered people’s workplaces.

Then, with people across the board from bus drivers to film makers protesting, Mubarak’s speech refusing to step down just further deepened the crisis. Well calculated to arrest the escalating radicalization of the protests, it was to stem this emerging crisis that Suleiman stepped in to announce the departure of Mubarak. The same process of radicalization, undeterred and full of possibilities, has ensured that the remaining protesters in Tahrir Square today refuse to pack up and leave. 

Often, spontaneous mass protests fizzle out, at best with some concessions here and there. This is what Mubarak must have anticipated when he refused to step down in his earlier address and offered sops like not contesting again in September.

What the dominant discourse of ‘pro-democracy movements’ does not allow us to see is that the anti-Mubarak protests, starting Jan 25, cannot be dissociated from country-wide protests and labour unrest, as well as the sheer energy, daring and legitimacy of the Tahrir protests. It is of crucial importance to demand an end to army rule and the institution of an interim government. The army should hand over power to this interim government and it is this government and not the army which should oversee the process of writing a new constitution and setting up a new government based upon it.

The ‘regime change’ in Egypt is being presented as exemplary in itself, to be emulated by other countries. But why should people struggle to replicate this in Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia or Jordan? There is no point getting carried away by a ‘regime change’, where the dictatorship of Mubarak is replaced by the ‘democracy’ of Suleiman/Tantawi, or worse where they start donning the colours of the revolution! Instead we should highlight the deeper process of social transformation and political change already under way in Egypt. It is this process which should spread from one country to the other and not just some hollowed out ‘pro-democracy movement’, code-word for not changing anything really. And whoever said that such deeper social transformation should take place only in Arab countries? Why not start with the US?

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