Rebellion Or Revolution?

David Throwing Stones at Goliath: Can he bring the giant down?

Notes on the Egyptian Crisis

Everywhere one turns we hear about the “revolution” in Egypt.  The partisans of this point of view premise their argument on the rather astonishing fact that President Honsi Mubarak has resigned his office of thirty years, caving to the non-negotiable demands of a million or more demonstrators who took to the streets in boisterous marches ominously demanding his resignation.

During Mr. Mubarak’s reign Egypt has been in a constant State of Emergency, which means that the government had dictatorial powers and made short work of dissidents. Torture was standard procedure if the intelligence forces believed the suspect had valuable information but was refusing to talk.  Hence they were widely feared and hated by the Egyptian people.

What began as a measure targeted to combat dangerous Muslim fanatics became a license to harass or arrest anyone who opposed the government’s monopoly of power.  Here we see the truth of Lord Acton’s axiom on power: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!”  Since the State Of Emergency was instituted in the aftermath of the assassination of Anwar Sadat, who was President just before Mubarak, most Egyptians agreed with the decision at the time.  But it has lasted far too long.

Most of the young Egyptians who are directing the uprising today were mere babes or yet unborn when the State Of Emergency was instituted.  Hence they have experienced the oppressive police state policies of President Mubarak all of their lives, without ever experiencing the fear of Muslim fundamentalism their parents felt. Ironically, this absence of fear is due precisely to those hated policies.

In the eyes the rebellious youths in the street the Mubarak government is simply a tyrannical cabal of unelected old men who have long since outlived their mandate or their purpose. They are viewed as an oppressive anachronism; men from another century, a blast from the past, who are blocking the path to progress. They are long past retirement age, and the enraged mobs in the streets of Egypt intend to retire them promptly.

The fact that the demonstrators have forced the President to resign in a police state is impressive; but the question remains: Does this constitute a revolution?  A revolution implies the overthrow of the old order and the institution of a new regime; on the other hand a rebellion is an uprising by the people whose purpose is to reform the system.  The latter phenomenon is what we are presently witnessing in Egypt.

For instance, the “revolutionaries” seem to regard the army as their friends, and thus far the military have stood back and allowed the people to express their collective rage.  In this instance the events in Egypt remind me of the events in Iran.  The thoughtful observer is compelled to wonder if other similarities will arise in the course of events.

One thing is certain: the military is now in charge. They have dissolved parliament and suspended the Constitution.  This places all power firmly in the Egyptian army.  But how can we declare this state of affairs a revolution when these are the same people who have been running Egypt all along?  For instance the Minister of Defense, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, who commands the military, is derisively called “Mubarak’s Poodle” by many junior officers as well as the rank and file soldiers.

Every leader of independent Egypt was a career military man who came directly from commanding the military into running the government: Abdel Gamal Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Muhammad Honsi Mubarak. Thus to view a complete takeover of all state functions by the military a revolution is an illusion; all we have seen thus far is a change of uniforms, not a real transfer of power: a rebellion not a revolution.

Although the military leaders have pledged to carry out the will of the people, talk is cheap.  As always the devil is in the details, and no details about how Egyptian society will be transformed from a military dictatorship to a democratic society, where rulers will rule only with the consent of the majority of the people expressed in free and fair elections, have been forthcoming.  What is apparent from the statements of the movement’s leaders, such as they are with this headless host, is that they are fairly clueless about matters of state power and what can emerge from the hurly burly of political struggle.

Among the most powerful voices to emerge from the dissidents is a collection of medical doctors, a business executive, and a couple of Nobel Laureates, one of whom is a Professor of chemistry.  Only Muhammad El Baradei, who is a career diplomat who won a Nobel Peace Prize, appears to have real knowledge of politics.

There are also men like Ayman Nour of the liberal secular GHAD Party and Mohammad Badie of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Should these civilian leaders come to a parting of the ways, these people will be no match for the military strong men.  And we shall soon see how they fare when theses forces come to an impasse. Dr. EL Baradei has issued an ultimatum to the military to meet certain demands on a deadline he has set or the demonstrations will resume.

What we can say for sure is that it is in the nature of military men to seek order above all else.  The resumption of mass demonstrations could disrupt their attempt to put the affairs of state in order – which, among other things, means restoring normal economic activity since their leadership is so heavily invested in the economy – and prompt the army to use force in maintaining law and order.

This could lead to a rapid and dramatic deterioration in the love fest between the army and the forces of popular democracy that will imperil the chances for orderly change.  In every populist revolt the catalyst that propels a rebellion into revolution is the behavior of the ruling princes and powers.

The Real Power In Egypt: SOS!

Which way will the army go?

If, for instance, the military decides to employ armed force against the demonstrators, their actions could become the catalyst that transforms the reformist rebellion into a real revolution…even if the vehicle for getting there is a protracted war.  This scenario means that revolutionary change will occur over time. It is the strategy that was successfully developed by Mao Tse Tung in the great Chinese Revolution, and could well be the process by which revolution is achieved in Egypt.

Yet there is no guarantee that it will result in a liberal, secular, western style democracy.  In my next commentary I will examine the forces that make up the opposition which would supply the leaders of an Egyptian revolution, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.


Playthell  Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 13, 2011

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