Eren Topcu/Demotix. All rights reserved.
Over two million people have fled the havoc in Syria and sought refuge in bordering countries; at least one million of them are children, estimated the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) back in August 2013. Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq are the top five countries where most have resettled. Over the past several months, however, the exodus has shifted to Europe. For the majority of Syrians searching for a safe EU haven, the journey starts in Turkey where refugee smuggling blossoms. Today, Bulgaria counts over 10,000 refugees, an atypical surge this European border country was unprepared for.
Despite financial help from the EU, the Bulgarian government has consistently preferred to engage in exacerbating the situation. Intensifying influx of refugees in the country prompted the opening of more camps to host the newcomers. These hellholes are in incredibly squalid conditions, but this is where the Bulgarian government welcomes asylum seekers. In October 2013, Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev played the tough guy and sacked the head of Bulgaria's Refugee Agency for “failing to handle the influx.” Yet, reception centres continue to be overcrowded, Syrians undergo an administrative hassle for weeks, and food, clothing and medicine are largely funded by donations from ordinary citizens.
The official excuse for not providing humane and dignified conditions for the refugees was “tight finances.” Bulgaria is indeed the EU's poorest member, and media outlets have asked whether the country should shelter even more people in need. Yet, Bulgaria has recently received 6.4 million euros (8.8 million USD) from the EU's Refugee Fund and 2 million euros (2.7 million USD) in aid from the Czech Republic and Slovakia; funds specifically dedicated to managing the Syrian refugees influx. Thus, the “tight finances” should not be a barrier any more.
In a recent interview with Bulgarian daily "Capital", Vincent Cochetel, Director of the Bureau for Europe of UNHCR, highlighted the government's mismanagement. Although UNHCR has offered to supply food and clothing for the harsh winter season, the organization faces a solid mess orchestrated and nurtured by the government. The millions of EU aid are managed by Bulgaria's Ministry of Interior prior to reaching the State Agency for Refugees. The latter, however, is unable to wisely use them as it is still in the process of hiring people who will in turn decide upon the use of this money - decisions which will then transform into public tenders. All this takes time, and EU aid is to be used before the end of April 2014. It is likely that Doctors Without Borders efforts also face bureaucracy and sluggishness. While the Bulgarian government continues its white-collar exercise in futility, life conditions for Syrian refugees just worsen.
Wall(s) of shame
This description of the government's efforts hardly does justice to other bolder moves. In order to curtail the migrant influx, the government is building a 33-km long, 3-meter tall fence in the mountainous region of Elhovo (close to the border with Turkey where about 85% of people are crossing). Referred to as a “temporary engineering installation,” the wall is said to cost 3 million euros (4 million USD) and would serve to redirect refugees to official border checkpoints. UNHCR thinks the wall is counterproductive as it will only push people to engage in more dangerous practices to enter the country. These barriers have proven effective; thus for instance, since Greece completed a heavily-guarded 10.5-km barbed-wire fence in 2012, smugglers have focused their activities on Bulgaria.
As these families and children in a desperate search for shelter seem to represent a serious threat to national security, the Ministers of Defense and of Interior have engaged in mobilizing significant numbers of police and army personnel both along the border with Turkey and within the country. In a press conference end of November 2013, the Minister of Defense praised the decision to deploy the army and police: “At the moment, with the current heightened police and army presence on the territory, the amount of people crossing through the Bulgarian border without permission has diminished significantly.” As with the wall of shame, it appears that funds are not too tight here: sending police to the border and sustaining their activities there actually cost double the budget of Bulgaria's State Agency for Refugees.
The government's latest bright idea was to build closed camps, that is detention centres, to receive incoming refugees. Such measures are illegal according to EU legislation; detention without criminal charges can only last for a short time and after a judge has issued a precisely worded warrant. The Interior Minister appears to have a selective memory and wildly varying ethical principles: while he is perfectly fine welcoming people fleeing war by putting them in a prison, he has appealed to the EU to remove Schengen restrictions on Bulgaria. In his bargain for visa-free travel for Bulgarians. Here, the Interior Minister claimed that the country's role – “guarding the [EU] border … and neutralizing the risks for Europe” – should be rewarded as “[i]t will be unjust to keep those who guard the gate outside the house.”
The Defense Minister estimated that each asylum seeker costs the country 1,084 leva (558 euros, 758 USD) per month, mostly in administration and facility costs. When reported by media, the number was interpreted as money asylum seekers received directly. Registered refugees actually receive only 65 leva (33 euros, 45 USD) per month to cover expenses.
The clarification, however, did little to quench the nationalist party, Ataka's obnoxious declarations. Ataka, VMRO and other far-right factions have used refugees to ignite xenophobia, and at least three racially motivated attacks have been reported. Ataka has been noisily protesting against incoming refugees, threatening “civil war” and happily alleging openly on the media how migrants are actually criminals sent from “Black Africa” to disrupt Bulgaria's national union and alter its ethnic homogeneity. After an Ataka MP warned the country that Syrian refugees were “cannibals” and that their presence was designed to disguise an “Islamic wave” supported by American and Turkish interests, a group of Syrian refugees have filed a complaint before the State Commission for Discrimination.
Such delirious and dangerous rhetoric has unfortunately turned out to be rather fruitful: on November 9, a new nationalist party was founded promising to “cleanse the country of foreign immigrant scum.” Additionally, according to a poll by Alpha Research, 83% of Bulgarians see the influx of refugees as a risk to national security. Support for Ataka (23 seats in Parliament) has doubled in October-November. Ultra-nationalist factions have seized the opportunity and formed 'citizen patrols' to check whether migrants “comply with the law of the State”. Some of these claimed to have official authorization by the authorities. The government 's best effort so far has been to “urge calm.”
Despite pervasive hate speech and a governmental program riddled with weaknesses, but supposed to deal with the influx, Syrian refugees and citizens who help them were granted the Human of the Year award. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights NGO, organizing the awards, honoured these people for “their strength, faith and courage [needed to] leave home and country, and risking death, inhumane and humiliating treatment, to attempt to live in dignity. [The reward also honours] Syrian refugees' resistance to injustice and their determination to not be victims, but human beings.”
Every day strange news keeps issuing from post-coup Egypt. From the imprisonment of a student for having a ruler with the Rabaa sign on it, to the accusation of a puppet for planning terror plots; the news has turned into some sort of dark comedy. However, one of these daily news items that stopped me in its tracks was the espionage charge against Dr Emad Shahin, a respected and internationally recognized Egyptian political scientist. After the revolution, I followed Dr Shahin’s publications and attended some of his public lectures. I also had the opportunity to meet him in person and travelled with him to attend a political forum organized by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Virginia, USA.
Anyone who has dealt with Dr Shahin knows that he is professional, non-ideological and objective. During that forum he criticized the Freedom and Justice Party on some issues. However, he also criticized the political opposition for some of their practices. While I did not agree with all of his points of view, I couldn’t deny that he had reasonable arguments. I respect him for steadily observing the political scene in Egypt from a different angle during these difficult times. He is one of those critics who force you to take his criticism seriously.
Dr Shahin is one of the people who disapproves of the military coup in Egypt and he has made this clear through his articles and posts about the violations and abuses that took place after last July’s coup. He was not standing with or against any political group or faction, but for core values and principles that any professional political scientist, let alone decent human being, would stand up for.
But apparently professionalism and objectivity have no place in Egypt after the military coup. You may laugh or cry on reading the charges brought against Dr Shahin. The current regime in Egypt is not tolerant of any voice of dissent irrespective of who voices it. Any criticism of the junta today is a sign of disloyalty and betrayal. If you are an Islamist, you will immediately be accused of terrorism and if you are not an Islamist, as in the case of Dr Shahin, you will have a long and convoluted list of charges brought against you. This applies to anyone who doesn’t pay homage to the junta, whether he is supportive of Morsi or an opponent like the liberal politician and academic, Amr Hamzawy.
To make the picture darker, even reporting on the voices of those critics can put you under the same umbrella. Despite the mild coverage of the Anti-Coup movement in Egypt, journalists - especially foreign ones – have become a target by the regime, just for reporting a critical point of view or holding a camera recording at an Anti-Coup rally. The Al Jazeera English team imprisoned is the most famous case, however the numbers keep on rising. The latest is the case of a Dutch journalist, Rena Netjes, who had to flee the country, with assistance from her embassy, after being accused of what can only be called ludicrous charges. This systematic targeting led Dr Shahin to flee the country, following the advice of his lawyers, because they themselves don’t feel secure in situations like this.
The battle in Egypt now is no longer merely about an ousted elected president or a counter-revolution taking place. It is about fundamental human rights being violated publically and systematically by a military regime that seems intent on taking the Middle East’s largest and most populous country back to the dark ages of repression and dictatorship.
The Syrian revolution was not a coincidence or an inheritance. The only thing we inherited in this revolution was its rationale. We saw a way to move from the monopoly of a single ruler to political and intellectual plurality.
The revolution over the past three years has changed in many ways; there is barely any resemblance between the current and early stages. Now, nothing separates the free body of the revolution from ideas; the people were thirsty for the revolution, it occupied their wildest ideas. The years of the revolution have changed life in Syria; exiles inside and outside the country trade blood for dreams of a better life, indeed, a profitable trade and a new form of slavery.
The conditions for an uprising existed but the revolutionary theory capable of withstanding painful effort without being exhausted, was missing. The social and economic structure established by the state was crumbling. Hence, a foundation was urgently needed to build a support base in preparation for the chaos both in theory and in practice that was likely to flood through the system and from the rebelling street.
Identity and belonging were readily offered up as part of a belief system, regardless of how far they were from reality. Many identities were woven by groups trying to patch up the mistakes made by government, while sometimes even attempting to justify them, ethically and politically. Zooming out on the revolution makes us understand the kind of speech adopted by the state. It is based on destroying the social structure, making it appear as one unit of conflicting groups and ethnicities. The state propagates itself as the only unifying power and the only guarantee of the existence of this unity.
However, the streets will contradict this speech. The inevitable revolution will result in crystallizing national identity as a thorough and necessary socio-political plan. This will demolish the old pillars of identity and control the fast rhythm of revolutionary action, which has been missing, historically, for a long time.
Currently, new ideas are being born. Much of what we knew and lived with, with regard to values and principles, is crumbling. There is very little room for ideas and plenty of room for extremism. In order for us to be our new selves and to be what we aspire to be, we have the chocie: either live according to our own laws in an epic struggle for survival and rejuvenation, or stay as we are and keep what we have.
Death is not a necessity in revolutions, however, it has become a tool used to invoke emotions and religiosity in us by many local and foreign powers which have invested in and profiteered from our open wounds. Death is not a prerequisite for a revolution to spread. If you zoom out on the revolution, it’s evident that the state used religious rhetoric prior to the revolution in order to exhaust Syrians and convince them that change was impossible. In this process, God becomes the sole comforter and saviour for whose help everybody awaits.
On the other hand, during the revolutionary process, Syrian nationalism was a critical front. The state deliberately distorted and dehumanized the people by describing them as terrorists and extremists. Furthermore, Islamist segments of the opposition used religion to fuel the revolution towards fulfilling their ambitions of power. This is how religion was used to justify the carrying of weapons. There had to be justification for this violence in the forced absence of national identity and political awareness. Thus, freedom as the demand and as an aim of existence, died out. Then, Jihad, with its foreignness to the real situation in Syria, took over.
Many factors entered the revolutionary framework; some were culturally familiar while others were alien, however, they were all striving for power. The one aspect, uniting all the Syrian people, which is constantly rejuvenated, is the organic desire for freedom and justice in the framework of a real national state.
Thanks go to Reem Al-Kashif for this translation from Arabic.
Palestinian workers continue their daily wait to cross into Israel. Demotix/Hussain Abdel Jawwad. All rights reserved.
In his address to Davos last week, US Secretary of State Kerry described his vision of Palestinian and Israeli business people returning the following year and pitching ideas to investors from the Palestinian Economic Initiative, an economic plan which his office designed to run in parallel with on-going peace talks.
But the US-backed Initiative will struggle to meet expectations, because its overarching political purpose is based on the mistaken premise that prosperity will lead to peace. Both at Davos and in other international forums, John Kerry has continually emphasised the importance of an economic track for the Israel-Palestinian peace process. The $4 billion Palestinian Economic Initiative, announced last May, aims to increase the GDP of the West Bank and Gaza by 50% over three years, primarily by driving private-sector led growth.
The Palestinian economy does badly need change. Unemployment is up to 21%, and in Gaza more than 40% of people do not have adequate access to food. Strict restrictions on the movement of people and goods continue to stifle economic activity, and up to half of the Palestinian population still rely for their basic services on UNRWA, the UN agency that administers for Palestinian refugees.
Similar economic plans in the 1990s and 2000s have attempted this before, most famously after the 1993 Oslo peace agreement and from 2008-2010 under former Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad. The economic booms achieved during these years were shortlived, leading donors like the World Bank to conclude that growth could only be made sustainable through a vibrant Palestinian private sector. Persistent Israeli restrictions on Palestinian imports, exports and travel, together with unfulfilled aid pledges, are two additional reasons often cited in explaining why these plans failed to propel lasting economic growth. Economic plans to develop Palestine are designed for a political purpose.
Many supporters of the peace process believe that improving Palestinians’ lives will make them more willing to support peace with Israel. An official report on the Palestinian Economic Initiative by the Quartet on the Middle East declares that practical, visible changes to the lives of Palestinians will boost the credibility of the political negotiations. In the 1990s the World Bank president James Wolfensohn, linked the success of the peace process to improved job prospects for Palestinians. But an economic plan will not improve Palestinians’ opinions of the peace process or of Israel, even if it is successful in improving their quality of life.
Rather, in the eyes of many people in Gaza and the West Bank, development and investment projects are part of a larger trend that they disagree with: a corrupt and unfair situation in which a privileged few benefit disproportionately from the money that is donated to or invested in Palestine. Corruption and inequality in the Palestinian territories are a significant factor behind public scepticism and cynicism about the aid and investment that economic plans bring. Palestinians are well aware of corruption in business, and their negative views are exacerbated by socioeconomic divisions. Economic inequality is high: the richest 20 per cent of the population hold over 40% of the income share in the West Bank and Gaza, according to the latest World Bank data. Most of the population will be conscious that investment in sectors such as tourism and energy will first benefit the wealthy. Both aid work and private sector activity are associated with an elite group who dine in expensive restaurants, receive their education in Europe and the US and frequently visit Israel for meetings and leisure.
High levels of inequality and negative associations with foreign aid are far from unique to Palestine, but in this context they mean that an economic initiative will not win Palestinians over to support a peace agreement. If plans like the Palestinian Economic Initiative are to succeed in improving prospects for peace, then Palestinian scepticism about aid and investment has to be addressed.
This will require greater transparency, accountability and equality of opportunity in the way that investment and aid funds are channelled into Palestine. Many Palestinians, if they are familiar with the initiative, are upset that they were not adequately consulted when it was being conceived. Feeling that their input has not been valued will make Palestinians far less inclined to take note of the plan’s positive aspects, and conversely makes them more likely to believe that the US-backed peace talks are not a legitimate process.
A high profile consultation with the public in the West Bank and Gaza should take place, and the conversation needs to involve a wider range of people, including academics, activists and labour representatives – not just business leaders. Finally, diplomats must continue their current efforts to ease Israeli restrictions on Palestinian mobility, trade and employment. Greater freedom of movement can have a powerful symbolic meaning and positive impact on public attitudes, just as it will be essential to lasting economic development.
On the third anniversary of the 25 January revolution, there was mayhem. The youth who crafted the revolution found themselves sidelined and voiceless. Fatalities reached 49 and arrests reached 1079 according to official counts. Several attempts at protest were successfully dispersed by security forces who opened fire against protesters in various neighbourhoods, injuring and killing opposition protesters regardless of their political affiliation.
Meanwhile in Tahrir Square, Egyptians who had voted 'Yes' for the constitution went to celebrate the anniversary of the revolution with police and military forces. Those Egyptians did not just vote 'Yes' to passing the draft of the constitution and to supporting the road map; but to guaranteeing a temporary security that would sustain human rights violations against the opposition, while indirectly giving the green light to de facto ruler Minister of Defence Field Marshal Abdel Fatah El Sisi to run for presidency.
In the same week that the opposition was forcibly silenced, Egypt found itself with a new field marshal who is backed by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to run for presidency. Both state owned and private media are blessing such a move and calling the field marshal, “the man suitable for this phase.” The billboards that were spread all over Cairo calling Egyptians to vote 'Yes' have changed to pictures of the field marshal with the slogan of “the will of the people”, which is ironically the same slogan used by the campaign of ousted President Mohamed Morsi roughly translated as, “the renaissance is the will of the people.”
Independent revolutionary youth who disapprove of both military dictatorship and Islamist fascism find themselves in a real fix. A serious gap has been created between the dreams of the youth of a democratic state and the post 3 July current scenario.
The independent youth were ridiculed and abandoned by the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012 during the struggle against SCAF. Now because of the failure of the revolutionaries to create an alternative democratic project; they need to either pick the side of the Muslim Brotherhood, joining their resistance to re-install the ousted president to a presidency they conceive as a failure, or take the side of SCAF and the so called “liberal parties” that support Sisi for presidency and call for the annihilation of any trace of the “terrorist organisation” of the Muslim Brotherhood, regardless of the human rights violations this may lead to.
This situation has led to the withdrawal of the revolutionaries from the political scene, which was evident from the 98.1% 'Yes' result with a 38.6% voter turnout in the referendum. The presence of independent youth in the streets has been decreasing steadily since the military-backed ouster of Morsi, as they refused to cooperate with the youth of the Brotherhood who call for the return of Morsi and were moreover busy with following up on the detainees who were arrested for breaking the protest law, issued by the Cabinet in November 2013.
The general psychological state of those youth who strive to maintain their independence is depression along with a strong feeling of resentment towards the outcome of the 2011 revolution that once called for "Bread, Freedom and Social Justice" and which has now - three years later - fallen far indeed from this standard.
The political action of the independent youth is now limited and disoriented, with a general tendency either to escape through immigration, isolation and excessive consumption of intoxicants or a kind of suicide through irrational clashes with security forces that can so easily lead to detention or death.
A call for reconciliation
One of the reasons for this situation is the lack of political will that would represent the aspirations of the youth and at the same time convince the average Egyptian of their competence. The deep state that was created by Mubarak’s 30 year regime was able to unseat any conceivable candidates capable of holding executive positions, although Egypt is full of resourceful technocrats who have been educated at elite schools and have occupied leading positions in regional and international entities.
Some kind of reconciliation between the currently disoriented youth and the democratically competent technocrats is necessary, especially with presidential elections coming up. The independent youth still have an opportunity to select and back a team of democratic technocrats with whom they can work hand in hand on an alternative project. This support for a technocratic candidate might be able to salvage what remains of the dreams of the revolution and gradually win it back from the both the military and the Islamists.
This alliance would then need to work out a mechanism that creates an equilibrium between the normative dreams of the perfect revolutionary utopia and the empirical realm of the dire current situation of the country. Such a reconciliation could at least guarantee to the independents that their agenda involving transitional justice, and the founding of a democratic law-abiding state that respects human rights might one day become a reality.
One step was already taken last September with the formation of the Revolutionary Front that comprises independent individuals along with several movements and groups like 6 of April, the Revolutionary Socialists, and others who denounce both military rule and the Islamists. Activating the Revolutionary Front and bridging the gap with democratic technocrats could strengthen what remains of a truly liberal opposition. It would be a crucial step forward.
By Reem Abbas
Ameera is not used to being idle, for years she has worked a few jobs at a time. Working as a tea lady on Nile Street in the evenings and as a henna lady during the day, sometimes even working at beauty saloons in the morning; all in an attempt to make ends meet. The mother of three has a huge responsibility: she is separated from her husband who only supports their children from time to time and she is also obliged to support her mother.
Last week, on Wednesday, Ameera was coming back from Nile Street after midnight, as she starts work there at sunset and caters to her customers until well into the night when business picks up. Nile Street is, after all, one of the few places in Khartoum that never sleeps. Ameera gathered her belongings, got into a Raksha (Tok-Tok) and headed to her house, not too far from her workplace. As she came closer to her house, she was stopped by policemen who asked who she was, where she was going and why she was late.
Ameera spoke politely to the police officers and agreed to accompany them to the police station. There, she told the officer that she was a tea-lady and worked a night shift at Nile Street. She was asked to sign a statement saying that she will never work until this time again. Ameera obliged, signing the statement, although there is no law specifying work hours for women or men in Sudan.
On her way back to her house, Ameera passed by the same checkpoint and was stopped again by the same group of policemen. This time, one of them approached her and said : why did they let you go? She told him that the officer made her sign a statement and let her go. After all, she did not commit anything against the law. The soldier approached her and asked her to go home with him. She refused and added that she would still refuse even if he threatened to kill her with his kalashnikov.
When another soldier began to approach them, the soldier who had propositioned her, began screaming at her, telling her that he would slap her in jail because she had insulted him. He then beat her up, with a blor to her chest, and a grip on her arm until his hand left marks, slapping her twice and trying to suffocate her until she pushed him away.
When she still refused to go with him, telling him that she did not believe that he would take her to the police station based on what he had said earlier, he called a police truck. Ameera was taken, by force, to the police station, where she was kept sitting in the complaints room until Friday evening. She refused the two meals they gave her, while waiting for the bail process. Although they told her that any ID, even a worker’s ID could bail her out, the ID of her relative was refused when he came to the police station. They asked for an employee’s ID instead.
It has been a week since Ameera last went to work. She fell sick after she was released and is now too scared to go back to work. Ameera is worried every time she remembers the five accusations the soldier filed against her. He accused her of insulting his family and insulting “God and religion”, standing in the way of justice, accusing him of stealing the money she had made that day and most importantly, tearing off the pin from his uniform.
Ameera said she didn’t do any of these things, that she would never insult her own religion and doesn’t even know his family to insult them. Furthermore, she said he tore off his pin before he went to file the complaints. The money she made that day was lost during the detention process, and now she doesn’t have money to buy milk for her children.
Last week was the third anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution, this anniversary, unlike previous ones, pushed me into a process of remembrance. Reflecting on last year, our dream has turned into a nightmare; the worst massacre in modern Egyptian history took place, the counter-revolution is back with a vengeance, and worst of all, with popular support. The face of Egypt has changed, de-humanized, and I feel that I have become de-sensitized to the daily occurrences of grave human rights violations. This sense of alienation can at times be overwhelming.
When remembering the start of the revolution, I wondered what we would have said had we known the future; so what lessons could the revolutionaries draw from this ordeal, what can future generations learn from our experience? This is an attempt to answer this question.
Lesson one, know your enemy. When the people of Egypt took to the streets in early 2011, they were not fully aware of the nature of the regime they were up against. The Egyptian 'military' regime managed to mystify power relations within the Egyptian polity, ruling through its junior partner, the National Democratic Party (NDP), while using the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), as the illiberal opposition. This lack of revolutionary consciousness allowed the military to deflect the revolution, and slowly strangle it, converting it into a reform movement. This lack of awareness of the nature of the MB caused the revolutionary forces to fall into a number of significant traps; one of which was supporting Morsi in the second round of the presidential elections instead of boycotting, mistakenly hoping that he would rule in a democratic fashion.
Lesson two, know yourself. It is important for the revolutionaries to be aware that they do not represent Egypt, nor the Egyptian people. 'The people' as a single unitary entity does not exist, rather, a composite of different classes that have different interests and views. It is essential for the revolutionary forces to understand that they themselves represent a certain class, namely the urban middle class, that is naturally opposed to the interests of the military-croney capitalist alliance. This idea of class consciousness, in opposition to the ruling classes, could have reduced the ability of the military to outmaneouver the revolutionary movement, and impose a “false consciousness”, as the case is today.
Lesson three, extend your hegemony over all possible allied classes. Looking back at the history of European social change, and the bourgeois revolutions, one can safely argue that these only occur through the ability of the bourgeoisie to extend hegemony over possible allied classes; taking their class interests as their own, they were able to recast European society in their image. As the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci argues, this can be achieved through two parallel paths. First, is the ability of a certain class to adapt to the interests of other classes, extending its hegemony over its allies by extending beyond the demands of the middle classes to cover the demands of the lower classes. This means that the call for political reforms is not sufficient: tthere has to be social and economic reform. Secondly, transformation can be achieved through ideological hegemony: in other words, the revolutionary class needs to convince other classes that they can lead, and this can be achieved by deconstructing the ideological base of the current regime, coupled with erecting an alternative ideological construct that can act as the basis of the new order. It is not enough to know what you do not want, you have to know what you want. The rejectionist nature of the Egyptian revolutionary movements makes it much easier to outmaneuver, and its inability to extend its hegemony to other classes makes it much easier to isolate.
Lesson four, define your aim, this defines what kind of a movement you are. In order to steer the revolution away from being degraded into a reformist movement, the revolutionary’s main aim has to be to take over the organs of the state, most importantly, the coercive arm of the state and use it to recast society according to revolutionary aims. The aim of the revolutionary forces should not be to dismantle the state, rather to use the machinery of the state. This can only be achieved if the state becomes populated by allies or members of the revolutionary movement and once the struggle against the current regime is won in the realm of civil society. One only needs to remember the events of the Iranian Revolution, which only achieved success when the coercive arm of the state, namely the Iranian military, was successfully infiltrated by the Iranian Revolutionary forces at the time. Any aim, other than taking over the apparatus of the state, degrades the movement into a reform movement that aims at pressuring the existing regime, rather than replacing it.
Lesson five, the revolution is an act of coercion. Charles Tilly, in his study of European State formation, highlighted the highly coercive nature of the French Revolution as it attempted to re-mould French society in its own image, using the swelling apparatus of the French state to crush the resistance of the anti-revolutionary forces, and other classes that were not allied with the revolution. In order for the revolution to be successful, it needs to use the apparatus of the state in a highly coercive manner to destroy the social, and economic base of its enemies. In the case of Egypt that would have involved the confiscation of the military’s economic empire, and the purge of the coercive arm of the state.
Lesson six, the revolution has an international dimension. A revolution in a country like Egypt, a pivotal state for a number of global powers, most importantly the United States, will make a number of enemies. The revolutionary forces in Egypt, as representatives of the progressive nationalist forces in the country, will inevitably clash with these global empires. One only needs to remember operation Ajax in Iran in 1953, when the United States sponsored a coup to remove Prime Minister Mossadeq, a man the US considered to be in opposition to their interests. Considering the alliance between the US and the Egyptian military, the revolutionaries should not expect any help; they should take into consideration the role of the US in propping up the current regime. Hence, a clash with the US is almost inevitable.
Lesson seven, a revolution is like a natural event; it is difficult to predict and most importantly, to control. As the contemporaries of the French Revolution observed, the revolution is like a volcanic eruption, the best one can do is attempt to direct and maneuver the flow of lava. Looking at the revolution from this perspective, the need for organization becomes paramount. The revolutionary forces should organize in a manner that would allow them to become more effective, and push for organized political action. The Egyptian revolution of 1919, is a good example of the ability of a charismatic leadership to organize the masses and push for organized political action; from strikes to demonstrations. Also, when the revolution erupts, the need for establishing parallel governance structures is critical for success. As was the case during the Iranian Revolution; Khomeini managed to establish a parallel governance structure, which was essential to his taking over power, replacing the government appointed by the Shah before his exile.
Lesson eight, you have to become radical. The revolutionary forces need to maintain what can be termed a “Jacobin Spirit”, the vigour to push the movement to its logical conclusion; to replace the current order, rather than reform it. It is necessary to be radical and uncompromising with the aims of the revolution. The aim is to recast society in the revolutionaries own image, nothing less, which is a mammoth task.
I would like to close this article with a quote, that seems appropriate considering the current situation, and provides us with a succinct enough summary of the road ahead for revolution in Egypt:
“To tell the truth is a revolutionary act”- Antonio Gramsci.