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Are we all Egyptians?

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Tahrir Square, February 2011

Tahrir Square, February 2011

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Acting in history isn’t simple. You never know what’s around the bend. Nonetheless, you have to act. You hope the chips fall where you want them to.

Sometimes the chips fall in a radically different way than you expected. Then it is time to regroup. You have to think again.

(Re)Appraising history isn’t easy – especially when it’s your own history and people’s lives are at stake. It must be done. Otherwise history repeats itself again and again.

The third anniversary of the Egyptian revolution is an obvious case in point. Tahrir Square focused the world’s attention. It was democracy on the move. Now the great reversal is in motion. Reactionary power has consolidated its momentum.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was first on the military’s hit list. Today the progenitors of the democracy movement are on the run or in jail. Professors haven’t escaped the long reach of the military either. The Egyptian government – with the support of the United States – has revived dictatorship in fascist style. Everyone has to be in lockstep or else.

Attempts at reappraising the Egyptian revolution are ongoing. A new series carries the apt title “Revolution Edited: ‘Back When’ Egypt Dared to Defy.”  The editorial note is instructive:

Editor’s note: We found it hard to solicit pieces commemorating the January 25 revolution, mainly because we seem to have hit a certain boundary in revolutionary prose. A moment of deep ambiguity accompanies three years of thinking, doing and rethinking. But in the spirit of resisting this submission to boundaries, we went back to what our columnists wrote us at our previous publisher Egypt Independent during the 18 days of the revolution and we asked them to revisit their writings. Some wrote reaction pieces, others edited them and others rewrote them.

One of the reappraisals is by Adel Iskandar, a Middle East educator and activist, who co-edited the important book, Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation, and more recently authored Egypt in Flux: Essays on an Unfinished Revolution. Iskandar wrote his essay in February 2011. It appears now with reappraising language inserted from the present. It’s a difficult read but then the revolution hasn’t exactly been easy either. Iskandar begins:

February 11, 2011 is/was a monumental day in history. The resilience and resolve of the Egyptian people have/had briefly shown the world how a revolutionary movement can rise up to sweep all that lies in its path/the head of state and create a new/new, albeit temporary, reality. I understand this/This sounds like hyperbole, but the past/hyperbole because it is hyperbole. Those two weeks were not exactly/should have been a time for conservative assessment.

Iskandar’s reappraisal is choppy. He changes tense, revises what he wrote, then adds new declarative sentences. Among the new additions:

“Today megalomaniacal cults of personality have prevailed.”

“The revolution was hijacked.”

“Today the revolution wears military fatigue.”

Iskandar’s overall message is one of unrealistic expectations and naiveté. But the lessons drawn from the failed Egyptian revolution are more important and broader than this.

For example, Jews can start with Israel and the 1948 war that ushered in a Jewish state. Jews can continue with Israel’s victory in the 1967 war that led to the occupation. The language and assertions made after each event are all up in the air now. They were/are devastatingly (un)true.

Take Israel’s initial promise of equality and generosity. Take the Jewish use of the Holocaust to justify and to hide colonialism, ethnic cleansing and occupation.

Iskandar: “The revolution was hijacked.”

Substitute liberation for revolution. What do we say about Israel?

Iskandar: “Today the revolution wears military fatigue.”

Substitute democracy for revolution. What do we say about Israel?

It turns out that the obvious naiveté of Iskandar and others who thought that Tahrir Square was the beginning of a new day is shared by many, including Jews.

The hope that the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring would bring Egyptians and Arabs closer to the evolving democratic spirit of our time, catching up as it were with the rest of us, did occur – but in an unexpected way. We now share a disillusioned sense of the democratic spirit as expressed in the modern nation-state.

Today democracy wears military fatigue. But it isn’t only in Egypt. In the broader Arab world, in Israel and in America, too, democracy wears the same outfit. And that’s just the beginning of our (military fatigue) global tour.

More or less, we’re all in the same Egyptian boat. This may be the true lesson of the failed Egyptian revolution.

Sharing failure, a new solidarity for the struggle ahead?

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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19 Responses

  1. Justpassingby
    Justpassingby
    January 26, 2014, 11:52 am

    US cares whats good for israel so they accept this dictatorship.

  2. Mike_Konrad
    Mike_Konrad
    January 26, 2014, 12:00 pm

    The Egyptian Revolution lead to a Muslims (Green) Nightmare. It was an Arab winter.

    Sisi is better than Morsi.

  3. ritzl
    ritzl
    January 26, 2014, 12:52 pm

    More or less, we’re all in the same Egyptian boat. This may be the true lesson of the failed Egyptian revolution.

    Couldn’t agree more. Egypt showed, continues to show, what we’re all up against. Only it compressed the complete arc/timeline down to a few observable years, easily retained as recent memories by anyone with eyes.

    Aside, I notice that even MSM is picking up on “global unrest” and relating it back to similar forces/processes in the US. But MSM poses it as a question, “Why is this happening?” instead of definitively exploring/explaining the obvious connections. It’s hard to tell what the ultimate mobilizing effect of such embryonic and tentative exposure will be.

    • Ellen
      Ellen
      January 26, 2014, 1:24 pm

      “why is this happening?” The US has corruption among the elites just as Egypt. Our MSN has not explored this at all. They will not go there. Just as in Egypt, KSA, or any banana republic.

      It starts with the system of election finance, is fed with phony legislation to create industries to feed well positioned interests, and protected by an utterly corrupted
      DOJ (Dept. Of Justice) and oiled by a revolving door between government regulators and the regulated.

      The MSN is is part of this.

      As the middle class shrinks, there will be fewer to protect the uber class from the growing unwashed masses.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        January 26, 2014, 1:48 pm

        “As the middle class shrinks, there will be fewer to protect the uber class from the growing unwashed masses.”

        So it’s a race between the top tier of influence and wealth in any country and the unwashed , propagandized masses. What do we learn from this other than the privileged fight to retain their privilege, but eventually the disparity of factual rights and income get so bad, a nasty revolution happens? Anybody want to suggest to me the next turning point, and its time line? What will be the opening where the unwashed masses suddenly realize they’ve been had?

      • puppies
        puppies
        January 27, 2014, 5:36 am

        @Ellen – as you say, for us it’s a complicated system of election finance, ad hoc legislation, lobbying rules, media corporations, etc. but for them it’s still at the level of a stark military dictatorship that was still in place during the election and the elected government interim, and barely had to bend for a moment to let the fury pass. The class hierarchy there stops at the officers because the upper class for both places is in our country.

    • American
      American
      January 26, 2014, 1:58 pm

      ‘I notice that even MSM is picking up on “global unrest” and relating it back to similar forces/processes in the US. But MSM poses it as a question, “Why is this happening?” instead of definitively exploring/explaining the obvious connections’…rizl

      Global unrest—-rebelling against elite economic control and inequality, rebelling against regime repressions of various groups, ethnic conflicts created to keep ethnic conflicts going so ethnic groups dont unite against the elite and status quo prevailing powers, the disenfranchised poor protesting, new political parties forming as protest to the too far left or too far right , protest violently or non violently, global elite financials in partnerships with national elite leaders.
      From the tea party of the US who thinks gov controls too much, to the rise of right wing party in Hungray to protest foreigners buying out their property and economy, to the vendor in Tunisa who immoulated himself because he couldnt get a permit for his fruit stand to make a living, to the new Quenelle ‘fuck you’ salute in France to any regime trying to impose their ideology or censorship on the publics, including the zionist regime, to the Egyptian 1 and 2 and probably next, third revolt—its everywhere.
      The world will be lucky if it doesnt all come together in one gaint global blow out .

  4. eljay
    eljay
    January 26, 2014, 1:13 pm

    >> Are we all Egyptians?

    No. I’m not.

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      January 26, 2014, 10:22 pm

      “I have met the enemy and it’s us”–Pogo

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      January 26, 2014, 11:22 pm

      You’re just not trying.

      • eljay
        eljay
        January 27, 2014, 2:59 pm

        >> You’re just not trying.

        I’m holding out for “We’re all Jews.” ;-)

        Actually, there’s no way Zio-supremacists would ever let that one ride: It implies equality between Jews and non-Jews, so it must be anti-Semitic.

        And, anyway, I’m too busy being li’l ol’ Canadian me to be anyone else. :-)

  5. ritzl
    ritzl
    January 26, 2014, 2:13 pm

    @Ellen- I think they (PBS, in my case. The rest are more worthless.) are, belatedly, starting to look at the [decades-old] phenom. But by posing it as a recent development and as a question they completely cover their [and their donor/advertiser] asses in the ways you describe. They can answer their own questions incorrectly or ephemerally.

    Next reporting/group-think/talking-heads phase, “Who knew?!”

    I hope the “masses” are sufficiently self-aware that debate on this turns to the top-bottom axis rather than the left-right axis it’s currently on. If that happens, you’re completely right. Dead MSM Silence.

    Thank God for the internet.

    • Ellen
      Ellen
      January 26, 2014, 3:05 pm

      Ritzl, we can hope. But most all are deluded into thinking there is such a thing as “left” or “right.”

      And I think it is more than just pandering to advertisers and donors, but also the game of access and acceptance. Most all reporters — to make it to the “big time” — need access to those in power. Cultivating and protecting that can make their career. It is the play book of the Laura Logans of the world — who maybe played that with a bit too much excess.

      We will never see a major network, PBS or the NYT do an in depth report on the money in the US political system, the buying of government positions and ambassadorships, or the motivations behind many of the bills introduced by Congress. Really, if Americans only knew.

      Done right, and as a series, covering it would get greater viewership and interest than the revolting propaganda series, “Homeland.”

      But what network, what producer would go there? It would be career death and government harassment forever.

      We can complain about the Saudis or Egyptians or Mexicans and how terribly corrupt the world is. But we also have an elite skillfully plundering the public (the mortgage industry, greased by government players anyone?) and our government will not hesitate to use horrific violence to suppress abroad and, if needed, at home.

      So yes, we are all Egyptians.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        January 26, 2014, 10:32 pm

        @ Ellen
        Yes, we are all Egyptians, as you conclude. Anybody notice all the ammo and guns the federal government has purchased for use at home? And how it’s hard to tell our army from our domestic police forces these days?
        Notice the drones overhead? NSA storage continues? Glass-Steagall remains dead, the next next balloon is filling fast with the same old gas.

  6. mcohen
    mcohen
    January 26, 2014, 4:52 pm

    marc ellis says

    “Sharing failure, a new solidarity for the struggle ahead?”

    the new solidarity is easily defined-the total rejection of the jewish/moslem brotherhood type political state.absolute total seperation of church and state.
    in egypt a military dictatorship is a start in this process.israel will be no different

  7. RoHa
    RoHa
    January 26, 2014, 11:27 pm

    It looks as though the revolution has failed to bring in a Scandinavian democracy. But revolutions are often long and messy, and I don’t think this one is completely over yet. Has it failed? As Zhou Enlai probably didn’t say about the French Revolution, perhaps it is a bit early to decide.

  8. AlGhorear
    AlGhorear
    January 29, 2014, 10:58 pm

    “In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was first on the military’s hit list. Today the progenitors of the democracy movement are on the run or in jail. Professors haven’t escaped the long reach of the military either. The Egyptian government – with the support of the United States – has revived dictatorship in fascist style. Everyone has to be in lockstep or else.”

    It’s hard to interpret what’s happening in Egypt any other way. Just today there was a report that twenty Al-Jazeera journalists are being charged with running a terrorist cell. Alaa Abd El Fatta (@alaa), one of the most well-known revolutionaries has been in jail since November. Leaders of the uprising against Mubarak — Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma — were given 3 year prison sentences and each ordered to pay more than $7,000 in fines. Their crime? They allegedly violated a new law against gatherings of 10 people or more. And the Muslim Brotherhood, supported by half the country, has been declared a terrorist organization. If anything, the oppression is even worse than when Mubarak was in power.

    That’s why I find it very difficult to understand why our Taxi thinks this military dictatorship is a good thing. I get that Taxi is against the MB, but what about the secular activists who led the uprising against Mubarak? And the journalists? They are now being targeted by the military dictatorship that is running the country.

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