Revolutionary Tides – what will come next?

First published in Pambazuka News – Issue 517

It’s just six days since the Egyptian revolutionaries successfully removed Hosni Mubarak. The 11th of February was an historic day not just for Egypt but across the world. People have been inspired by the discipline and determination of the Egyptian people, even when they were attacked by Mubarak’s thugs, and most of all the disappointment of Thursday night’s last stand speech by the now ex-dictator. Contrary to Gil Scot Heron’s prediction, the revolution was indeed televised, with 24/7 coverage on Al Jazeera which itself became a part of the story, interviewing pro-democracy activists as well as academics and political pundits from far and wide.

Those of us with internet access were also able to follow minute-by-minute updates on Twitter which, by the time of Friday’s announcement that Mubarak had fled, was overloaded and moving so fast it was no longer possible to read. First Tunisia, then Egypt and now the people of Yemen, Sudan, Jordan and most recently Algeria have taken to the streets in the hope of bringing down more dictators. The big question is now what happens next.

MONTAGES

Montages points out what he believes to be the ‘most striking feature’ of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, which is the lack of ideology — religious or secular:

‘Some have named this absence “post-ideological,” but that does not quite capture the fluidity of the moment. Ideologies are at work in the intifadas in the region today — what is clear is that none is in hegemony. No single ideology is in the vanguard, nor is any political party seeking to be the vanguard party of the kind that led 20th-century revolutions. Competing political currents all appear to sense that people are not looking for a charismatic leader, a new Lenin or a new Khomeini. There is a refreshing absence of the quintessential iconography of past revolutions: larger-than-life images of the leader of the revolution.’

ELECTRONIC INTIFADA

Electronic Intifada posts an interview with pro-democracy activist Mona Seif, who explains the genesis of the revolution:

‘Personally, I don’t think this revolution has any leaders. And I think this is one of its big strengths. It started on Facebook and Twitter, but really after January 25th it was a street revolution. They [the government] could’ve shut down any communication, which they did, and it would’ve still continued. At one point when the regime was struggling to stop [the uprising] and they went down and cracked down on all of the people who usually help mobilize such movements. They cracked down on journalists and bloggers and human rights defenders, and still the movement went on. There was no leader, you could shut us all down and it would still go on. This is one of its strong points.’

She also reminds us that overthrowing Mubarak’s regime is just the beginning and maybe in retrospect will come to be seen as the easiest part of a long road to freedom:

‘It’s absolutely the Egyptian revolution. And it’s not over. There is still a long way to go to actually work on the ground and for different political parties to start working and having candidates and for proper elections. The [demands] that people died for and the thing that people stayed out in the street for 18 days have been met. So it is a revolution and we won … now is the time for political parties and the opposition to really work and do their job during this transition period.’

MAHA AL ASWAD

Maha Al Aswad reminds us that some things don’t change so easily. Discussing the participation of women, she writes ‘After the revolution, we are back again to the old feminist debates’, referring to a discussion she had with another female blogger, who writes:

‘In my last post women in the revolution I classified the women in the Jan 25 revolution according to how covered they are, but I thought that the non veiled and the causal veiled and the ultra religious veiled constitute different categories . However when a fellow young feminist expressed her astonishment about the role of the veiled women in the revolution and that there broke many taboos socially and religiously , I was offended because she had a very orientalist view of feminism, that veil is a constraint on the agency not only the sensuality and sexuality . I was also offended when I was doing an interview with international journalist and she asked me if I was veiled or not because I am an Islamic feminist. As I felt offended I felt is about time to talk about veil, although it is a very old topic, we can debate whether it is religious obligation or socially and culturally obligated custom.’

Maha’s response:

‘Personally, and no offense intended, I am totally anti-Hijab, but I respect women who CHOOSE to wear it. My argument wasn’t about the legitimacy of Hijab, and I am not being stereotypical about those who are wearing it or having an “orientalist” view of feminism. But I have been involved in social work in Egypt for a long time and it happens that youth and young people were the focus of my work. Hijab comes with certain ideas and constraints formulated mainly by interpretations of Islam and supported by social constraints. In many cases covering your hair means also covering your mind and believing you have limitations to what you are capable of doing as a human being. It has something to do with reinforcing gender roles, not eliminating them. I wish all those who wear Hijab are Islamic feminists who can see Hijab as a separate category, irrelevant to shaping their own personality- and here I mean the social constraints that come with it.’

IN ‘THE LONG SHADOW OF THE 1952 REVOLUTION’ JADALIYYA

Jadaliyyatakes the discussion on the 2011 revolution back to 1952. At that time protestors were described as rioters who set downtown Cairo up in flames. Were they revolutionaries wanting to expel the British or counter-revolutionaries who wanted the Egyptian army to intervene? Either way it paved the way for Gamal Abdel Nasser and everything which has followed since up to 11 February 2011.

‘While the situation Egypt faces today is starkly different from that which the country faced in 1952, I cannot escape eerie reminders of the “day Cairo burned” and its aftermath in the scenes I have witnessed on Cairo’s streets in the past several weeks. On February 2, when the Mubarak regime sent thugs into the streets to break the bones and the spirit of the pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square, I could not but recall how the British and their Egyptian collaborators used the threat of chaos and disorder as a rallying cry for the forces of counterrevolution in 1952. Perhaps more importantly, I could not but recall how the “Free Officers” would ultimately position themselves, in the July 1952 Revolution that would return “Egypt to the Egyptians,” as Egypt’s “saviors” from this chaos and disorder.

‘Nasser’s appeal to Egyptians at the time was an eminently sensible one — that after so many years of suffering under the colonial yoke, during which the British and their Egyptian collaborators had systematically plundered the country of its enormous wealth, Egypt could not afford the instability a democratic system of government would spawn. Egypt’s experiment with democracy between the world wars had proved not only a failure in serving the vast majority of Egyptians and their economic and social needs, but an utter sham at the political level as well. What Egypt needed in 1952, according to Nasser, was not democracy but development, a scientific effort to carry Egypt into the modern world, with all the accoutrements of education and industrialization that this entailed.’

Africans further south have been wondering if the revolutionary spirit will reach their respective countries — Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Senegal, Gambia, Uganda and even those countries which have spurious democracies such as Nigeria. Nigerian bloggerChxta asks what would the Nigerian army do in a similar situation, given their reputation for brutality against their fellow citizens. He believes it boils down to a ‘critical mass’, i.e., the more people on the streets the less likely the army is to shoot people. I am not so sure.

‘There are many people who swear that the Nigerian Army would have no problems in shooting the protesters. I beg to differ, and my confidence is borne out of what I saw in the eyes of the armed men who stood in the way of the Enough is Enoughprotest of March 16, 2010. These people hesitated…

‘The difference is timing, and eventually, critical mass. It took the government of Ben Ali seven days, from December 17 when Mohammed Bouazizi immolated himself to begin a crackdown. By that time, the protests had attained critical mass. In Egypt, it took Mubarak’s government six days from January 25 before the military was mobilized. Again, as in Tunisia, the protests had attained critical mass.

‘By critical mass, we are talking of the number of people who had gotten involved so as to make military intervention meaningless. You see, what we have to realise is that the soldiers come from amongst us. When there are a few protesters, the possibility that the soldiers would hurt their own people is limited. When the number of protesters has reached a certain mass (half a million and above), the possibility goes up exponentially that if soldiers are deployed to quell such a protest, they will end up hurting their mothers, their fathers, their sisters or their brothers. Faced with such a scenario, the average soldier will not shoot.’

CHIDI OPARA REPORTS

Chidi Opara Reports has a statement made by presidential hopeful, ex-general and former military dictator Mohammed Buhari in which he praised the Egyptians and took to warning the Nigerian political elite and their security forces to take note of the revolution:

‘The Egyptian pro-democracy campaigners defied all odds to achieve their set goal of terminating the 30-year old grip on power by Mubarak. Their tenacity has again confirmed the truism that no force on earth can stop a people determined.

‘The military in Egypt showed exemplary conduct with the way they refused to be used to attack the forces of change. They showed the whole world that there is a clear difference between the state and those who temporarily occupy political offices for a fixed tenure… This is a lesson for our security agents who have been used to subvert the will of the people at elections in recent past. The time has come for our own security forces to demonstrate similar valour by putting national interest above that of individuals when there is a clash between the two.’

THE GLORY O’ NIGERIA

The Glory O’ Nigeria is clearly in rage as he reminds us of the ‘jagajaga’ nature of Nigerian politics and the fraud which routinely accompanies elections (already begun during the voter-registration debacle). I am tempted to publish the whole post, which in my opinion captures the corrupt ugliness of Nigerian politics:

‘Nigeria’s politics is total rubbish. There is nothing in Nigeria’s politics to support the true meaning of democracy … Just the other day the rascal man [he is referring to Goodluck Jonathan] from the delta who belongs to a rascal party was calling the other people rascals. When confronted, his yeye pressman said the name was not ascribed to anyone. I hope I have not ascribed rascal to that man whose wife thought she is a dame … The shapes of things to come in the April polls have started emerging.

‘INEC [Independent National Electoral Commission] has started publishing names of candidates. In several cases the names do not tally with the candidates that were selected in the various states. I won’t subscribe to that nonsense that anyone was elected. I have not seen elections in Nigeria. Nigeria and Nigerians need to define their politics. To say that it is democracy is pure madness. Nigeria is not a democratic nation.’

The politicians, it seems, have become obsessed with LISTS: former president Obasanjo has a list; Ogun state PDP (People’s Democratic Party) has a list; the INEC has a list; and even ex dead dictator Sani Abacha’s son is on a list!

‘The new battle for the soul of Nigeria has begun. The rascals across Nigeria are now into the usual roforofo fights. Lists of names and counter lists have been sent to INEC.
It therefore becomes imperative that some serious negotiations must take place among all the various nationalities within Nigerian to define the purpose for the nation (or nations within Nigeria). Actually there is no one way forward and there are no simple solutions since the country has been plundered for over 50 years by thieves, sycophants, looters and tropical gangsters. Even foreigners have looted our treasures. We cracked big time! Nevertheless to emerge from the present useless order of things, something very radical and probably unconventional must be done. Something must happen to eradicate all these bad people who continue to represent Nigeria. Change and accountability must come one way or the other.’

Sounds as if he is calling for a revolution!

Meanwhile, last weekend in Nigeria there was a stampede, killing at least 10 people, at a rally for Goodluck Jonathan when security agents first tried to stop people from leaving the venue then took to firing live bullets into the air, whilst in Kaduna crowds walked out of the rally leaving the president speech[less]. In Benue State there was yet another massacre; since becoming a ‘Dame’, Madam Goodluck is overflowing with ‘airs and graces’ as she recently became a chief and is clearly expecting to be around for a while to come; and in Katsina State, an INEC machine was found in the home of a local government official