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
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South