FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Egypt’s Dignity Revolution

In commenting on the unfolding Egyptian revolution, media and analysts have emphasised the role of social media in building up networks of dissidents and facilitating the organisation of protests. Some have credited the ‘Facebook generation’ with lighting the spark of collective action. Undoubtedly, social media activists, in calling for ‘the day of anger’, put the tools of virtual communication to remarkable use. However these ‘days of anger’ can only be understood if we look at what the vast majority of Egyptians have experienced over the last three decades under Mubarak’s rule .

Successive waves of protests by wide segments of the population, particularly over the last decade, have also given a clear indication of growing opposition to the regime’s economic and social policies and its instruments of government and control. Prior to the recent protests, there were numerous massive strikes by textile workers demanding better pay, week-long street occupation by tax collectors protesting their low wages, and various sit-ins by university professors, doctors and lawyers calling for policy change.

Under Mubarak, the Egyptian state abandoned its welfare responsibilities and left citizens to fend for themselves. The so called free market became dominated by monopolies and oligopolies, with party elites and regime cronies controlling entire markets in basic and strategic commodities such as iron and steel, cement, and wood. The ruling clique and its business partners appropriated the country’s lands converting publicly-owned property into gated communities and turning entire coastal areas into exclusive resorts for the super rich. Built on vast areas of privatised state land, enclaves like Qatamiyya Heights and Mirage City catered to multi-million dollar palaces for the very privileged few. The scale of the land grab has threatened to deprive future generations of any chance of descent housing and a share of the country’s resources and wealth.

At the same time, masked and not-so-masked privatisation of education and health robbed citizens of the few citizenship rights gained in the country’s post-independence period. Social disparities have grown at extraordinary rates as state offices turned into personal fiefdoms in order to maintain the regime and its clients and to implement the neo-liberal agenda of economic reform.

To try and prevent growing resistance to these economic and social policies, Egypt and the Egyptians became subject to a police government. The Egyptian police departments govern vast areas of social life. They have responsibilities over security and public order, but also have jurisdiction over the regulation of, among other things, outdoor markets, the use of public utilities such as electricity, and the implementation of municipal building codes. With regular outdoor market raids and campaigns to monitor citizens’ use of these utilities, the police intruded into the daily life of ordinary citizens. Endowed with the arbitrary powers of emergency laws, the police engaged in practices of extortion, and used violence to intimidate and silence any questioning of their powers.

Security checks and roadblocks on the streets of Cairo and many other cities were part of Egyptian citizens’ daily reality. Drivers and pedestrians were randomly stopped, arrested and subjected to arbitrary investigation. Young men, feared by the regime for their potential for activism and resistance, were the main target of these practices. The everyday experience of humiliation at the hands of the police fuelled the youth’s opposition and rejection of the regime and its coercive arm, the police.

It was befitting that the revolution had its spectacular beginning on Police Day and that the youth would take the lead in breaking down the barrier of fear that the police have erected over a long period of time. Egypt’s youth have bravely put themselves forward along with vast segments of society to reassert their right to dignity and freedom. They have taken the first steps towards reclaiming their rights and towards exercising fully the responsibilities of citizenship. It is in reference to these objectives that the protesters’ main and most powerful slogan “the people want to bring down the system” should be understood. The desired change is nothing short of an overhaul of the institutions and structures of government.

SALWA ISMAIL is Professor of Politics with reference to the Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

This article was originally published by Transnational Institute.

 

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail