The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged #jan25
Egypt's Hobbesian moment

Thomas Hobbes. From Shutterstock.

Noted Egyptian rights activist Karim Ennarah, writing on Facebook:

January 25th might be defeated, but January 28th--I mean that Hobbesian moment that characterises everything in Egypt today--is not, and I doubt that anyone could put an end to this Hobbesian moment and turn this into a governable country. This revolution has changed things fundamentally, in a way that is irreversible (and I don't necessarily mean positively nor am I talking about democracy or rule of law) and the social crisis that remains of it is bigger than anything or anyone, despite those who think it's intellectually fashionable to use the term "uprising" instead of revolution in their headlines. As for us, those who are defeated, bruised and humiliated (for the time being, at least); I don't have the faintest hint of regret. If this nation does not progress in the future--if that social process cannot be geared towards a better life, then at least I, almost every one in this country, has changed forever. I used to have one existential crisis, no I have multiple, now this society is questioning everything--things we used to take for granted like democracy, rule of law, legitimacy, "the people", religion, and the concept of progress itself. Something's going to give, and at the very least, I know that my generation that is defined by this revolution will prevail some day, even if it takes twenty years..

The question now is, what will be the cost of all this?

There are multiple ways to use the phrase "Hobbesian moment" – one in terms of the use of brutal politics, in the usual sense of "Hobbesian" as that borrowed from Leviathan and meaning the absolute power of the sovereign, and its ruthless use, to subdue selfish or unruly citizens. It can apply to state repression or even revolutionary terror. Another, though, comes Hobbes' Elements of Law. It is about a fight to define, or frame, the future:

No man can have in his mind a conception of the future, for the future is not yet. But of our conceptions of the past, we make a future; or rather, call past, future relatively. Thus after a man hath been accustomed to see like antecedents followed by like consequents, whensoever he seeth the like come to pass to any thing he hath seen before, he looks there should follow it the same that followed then. As for example: because a man hath often seen offenses followed by punishment, when he seeth an offense in present, he thinketh a punishment to be consequent thereto. But consequent unto that which is present, men call future. And thus we make remembrance to be prevision, or conjecture of things to come, or expectation or presumption of the future.

For the last three years, the future of Egypt has looked hopeful at times and bleak at others (and of course looked different to different people). But it has always looked very uncertain, and that has not changed. This fight to define the future is likely to be long and bloody.

✚ Brute force: Inside the Central Security Forces

Brute force: Inside the Central Security Forces | Egypt Independent

Good piece by Mohamed Adam and Sarah Carr for Egypt Independent:

On the eve of 28 January 2011, the most deadly day of the 18-day uprising, a Central Security Forces (CSF) conscript, who asks to be referred to as Hossam to protect his identity, was nonchalant.

“My friends and I went out together in the lorry and we were laughing and joking. We thought it would just be a normal protest,” says the thin 22-year-old conscript, whose fingernails are chewed down to the quick.

By that evening Hossam was running for his life — in his underwear. Abandoned by their commanding officers and surrounded by hoards of angry protesters, Hossam and other recruits tore off their uniforms in an attempt to escape identification.

“My commanders, who always said to me, ‘Be a man, be a man’ ran away and left us,” Hossam said.

He eventually made his way home — before taking to the streets with his friends and joining protesters.

The mass protests of 2011 were the CSF’s first real test, and it failed abysmally.

Happy anniversary, Egypt

So, it's already been a year since the Egyptian uprising began, and the crowds and marching in towards Tahrir in numbers that might surpass in the 18 days. Mabrouk, ya Masr!

The original January 25 Police Day protests were meant to be about Khaled Said, police brutality, and general fed-up-ness with the regime. The Tunisian revolution turned them into the largest protest in Egypt in decades, with the same slogan that all Arab uprisings would eventually adopt: the people want the fall of the regime. The turnout surprised the organizers, and when they came back a few days later on January 28, hundreds of thousands of Egyptian crippled the police state, burning down dozens of police stations, forcing the regime to send in the army. But the army, although it was sent in to end the protests, made the calculation that it could not do so. The sclerotic Egyptian regime made a first attempt at maintaining itself through Omar Suleiman, but the protestors forced the military to reconsider that scenario, and it forced the departure of Suleiman along with Mubarak. We still know too little about how that decision was made, and I think it's fair to say that there was a military coup against Mubarak. But, since then, there's also been a real, ongoing, revolution.

Much ink will be spilled on this day. My own take is here, referring to this video – I'm optimistic.

The best op-ed I've read so far, parly because it is written by a man I consider to be the most powerful Egyptian on earth, Mohammed El-Erian, the CEO of the mega investment fund PIMCO whose interviews can make or break markets, is this one. (Egypt would be lucky if El-Erian should one day decide to play a role in his native country's politics.) El-Erian writes, echoing my own thoughts:

What Egyptians are experiencing today is not new; it is familiar to many countries that have gone through a fundamental systemic change. After all, revolutions go far beyond popular uprisings and the overthrow of old regimes. They are dynamic processes that must navigate a number of critical pivot points, including, most importantly, the move from dismantling the past to establishing the basis for a better future.

Some contend that Egypt will not be able to undertake this shift. But, while I acknowledge their arguments, I think that they misunderstand what is fundamentally at play in the country today.

Doubters note that what remains of Egypt’s internal and external institutional anchors serve to retard the revolutionary process rather than to refine and accelerate it. They believe that the country’s growing economic malaise will strengthen the argument for sticking with what Egyptians know, rather than opting for a more uncertain future. Finally, they point to the wait-and-see attitude of Egypt’s friends and allies.

These are all valid and important considerations, but they are not overwhelming. Rather, they are headwinds that can and will be overcome, for they fail to capture a reality that is evident from the sentiments of a broad cross-section of society. Egyptians will not settle for an incomplete revolution – not now, and especially not after all of the sacrifices that have been made.

I think another nice op-ed, critical of both Egyptian government society, is this one on Mikael Nabil by my friend Michael Wahid Hanna, that looks at the mixed feelings towards the Nabil case because of his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I had touched upon that in this post. The more important part of what's happened in Egypt is a moral revolution, but it remains hampered by many national myths that will have to be re-examined over the next few years. 

Today what's important is the big picture, not the next few months of political games and negotiations between parliament, activists and SCAF. This revolution was partly about Egyptian society reaching a tipping point, with enough people (partly because of the youth bulge, but not only) beginning to see the world around them in a radically different way then the country's rulers. This is a fundamental point that is more important that Islamists vs secularists or army vs. civilians. 

An Egyptian revolutionary "J'accuse"

I can hardly think of a more effective way to convey Egyptian revolutionaries' feeling towards political parties, the military and the whole idea that they were robbed of a revolution than the above video.

The split that has developed between those who espouse this worldview and the rest of the country is a little worrying, because it can turn into a lasting bitterness and misanthropy. What is needed down is to turn this frustration into effective new ways of organizing, lobbying, and campaigning.

And if that video depressed you, cheer up and watch this one: