Is the Egyptian revolution over?

Is the Egyptian revolution over?
The political calculus of "the people demand the overthrow of the regime" should never be read just as the overthrow of Mubarak and the temporary ascents of Morsi or Sisi. These are not significant figures.
6 min read
07 Dec, 2014
As Egyptians say, 'Ath-thawra mustamera': the revolution is ongoing (AFP)

The acquittal of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak last week might suggest that the revolution in Egypt that started in 2011 has come full circle.

The lead paragraph of a New York Times article on 29 November put it, ominously, this way: "An Egyptian court dropped all remaining criminal charges against former President Hosni Mubarak Hosni on Saturday in a sweeping repudiation of the Arab Spring uprising that forced him from power."

     Today's generational gap in the Arab world is a far more serious cause of discontent and revolt than even class conflict.

But is the dismissal of criminal charges against Mubarak and other leading members of his regime really "a sweeping repudiation of the Arab Spring?"

Other observers have reached similar conclusions. "Today in Egypt," writes Mustafa Salama, an Egyptian political analyst, "the revolution has only gone through pain but made no gain."

Has the revolution really made no gain?

The acquittal of Mubarak is integral to an evident geopolitics of revolutionary postmortem that ranges from the ludicrous elections in Syria and Bahrain, through the mayhem in Libya and Yemen, to the rise of the murderous Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS) that has made strange bedfellows of the US and Iran, and emboldened the Israelis to slaughter Palestinians in Gaza with impunity.

This is a new landscape, a new topography of counter-revolutionary forces in the region. In Egypt, the military coup led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made political martyrs of the hopeless, exclusionary, pathetically sectarian, politically outdated and ideologically depleted Muslim Brotherhood.

But flawed as the Muslim Brotherhood were and are, their self-appointed "secular" opposition was not exactly a grand gift to humanity either. In the precise wording of Joseph Massad, along with "Ahmad Shafiq's electoral corruption and bribes, a coalition of Egyptian liberals, Nasserists, leftists — including socialists and communists of varying stripes — and even Salafist and repentant Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members began to form slowly but steadily, establishing an alliance with Mubarak's ruling bourgeoisie and holdover politicians."

The concerted efforts of counter-revolutionaries from Egypt to Syria, accentuated by the undaunted militarism of the "Jewish state" and the "Islamic State" (two sides of the same coin), has now led to he emergence of Iran as a new regional power, much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia, Israel and their GCC allies. These developments cannot be seen in isolated national contexts and must be considered collectively and in transregional terms. The example of Tunis, still fraught with long-term problems, remains exemplary for the whole Arab world.

Since the commencement of the Arab Spring, I have proposed for us to consider its uprisings as "open-ended revolutions" as opposed to "total revolutions" — namely consider their calculus of regime change not just in terms of the departure of one dictator or another.

This calculus also requires a corresponding change in the "regime of knowledge" we produce about these revolutions — how we read them in terms beyond a monthly ore even annual assessment, but more in terms of their longue durée or histoire événementielle as the French Annales School would put it.

In Egypt, multiple factors have now come together: a politically miasmatic Egyptian bourgeois nationalism has had a bizarre rendezvous with Nasserite suspicion of democracy that has led many so-called "secularists" to a rampant Islamophobia, exacerbated by the belated and politically bankrupt Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But what remains intact is a radical generational gap between the older intellectuals with an active memory of the Nasser period and who have actively or passively sided with the military coup, and the younger Egyptian revolutionaries who are entirely liberated from such pathological hang-ups.

All of these come together to map out a changing topography of the political discourse in Egypt of which not just the Egyptian militarists and their bourgeois nationalist constituency but also its actively old Nasserite supporters are blissfully oblivious.

An Intellectual Crisis

Lamis Andoni is right to point to the crisis of leadership in the Palestinian context, and suggest, "a majority of the new generation... believe the resistance organisations are too busy squabbling over power."

But that observation is equally applicable to Egypt and even the larger Arab world, and one might also add an additional intellectual crisis to that crisis of leadership. The older generation of Egyptian intellectuals has proven itself lacking in imaginative wherewithal of opposing the Muslim Brotherhood while preventing the military takeover of their nascent democratic institutions. They will not be judged kindly by their posterity.

Today in Egypt and perhaps even in the larger Arab and Muslim world we have a serious problem of intellectual and moral imagination — and this problem has to do with a historic generational shift when the older intellectuals have no courage to embrace these revolutions and be part of it, while the younger generation lacks the adequate theoretical and conceptual apparatus, and the corresponding organisational skills, to articulate and drive them home.

This inability has far less to do with the younger generation's knowledge or competence and far more to do with the epistemic exhaustion and moral bankruptcy of the organising ideas and absolute metaphors of the previous generations.

This new generation of Egyptian (and Arab) revolutionaries have no specific ideology, lack organisational foregrounding to launch politically effective strikes, still lingers on the outdated binary of religious/secular. But whatever they may lack now, they compensate for with a liberated language of emancipation performed on a transnational public sphere no longer under the control of the Egyptian junta or their newly found supporters among the aging and ailing intellectuals and their dead certainties.

In a recent conversation with a Marxist Palestinian friend he abruptly declared, "Today's generational gap in the Arab world is a far more serious cause of discontent and revolt than even class conflict." That astute observation, modified by the fact that the younger generation is perhaps more class conscious, will not remain constant only on political terrains. It is equally momentous in its visionary recitals of a new reading of our history.

Is the Egyptian revolution over? No. No revolution is ever over. Revolutions open up newer, fresher, more provocative vistas on the world upon a people. The political calculus of "the people demand the overthrow of the regime" should never be read as the overthrow of Mubarak and the temporary ascents of Morsi or Sisi. These are not significant figures in the life of a nation. That "overthrow" has just begun.

We simply need more accurate barometers of change than a military coup here or a farce election there casting a morbid shadow over these revolutions. Future generations will judge this one not for having failed to dislodge Mubarak and prevented Sisi, but by how constantly they upheld the present fact of their liberated political imagination, provocative and proactive for a steady defiant hand in their future.

As Mustafa Salama puts it: "Another revolutionary wave is certainly fomenting and if it realises its full potential, it certainly won't be as tame as the January 25 attempt. As Egyptians say, "Ath-thawra mustamera": the revolution is ongoing.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.