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-Chris Shortsleeve

The uprising in Egypt is escalating. Imperialists who have said that ‘stability’ is what makes for good democracy, racists who have said that Arabs do not want their freedom, patriarchs who have said that women do not attend, much less lead, protests, and the Western middle classes who have wanted to paint the Egyptian uprising as a Twitter and Facebook-happy ‘Cedar Revolution’ of doctors and lawyers, have all in the last two weeks seen their pseudo-sociological assumptions about the Egyptian people collapse.

On Tuesday, one of the largest pro-democracy demonstrations yet went down in Cairo – this after days of the US media reporting, and the Mubarak regime requesting, a return to “normalcy” in Egypt – and perhaps even more significantly, new and militant strikes are now emerging throughout Egypt: six thousand Suez Canal workers have gone on strike in Suez, Port-Said, and Ismailia. They are being joined by railway technicians and oil workers, by government, sanitation, and court employees, and by factory workers both in Suez and historic, militant Mahalla. Independent trade unions are forming, and calls are being circulated for both single-day and more sustained General Strikes. The working class is moving in Egypt.

And while the Mubarak regime unleashes both direct and extra-parliamentary repression against the pro-democracy forces, while Torturer-in-Chief Omar Suleiman issues a mixture of pleas, threats, and mild economic ‘reforms’, and while both the Obama administration and the Egyptian opposition itself cannot coherently say whether they are for dictatorship or democracy, cannot unequivocally call for the Mubarak regime to be dismantled and for Mubarak and Suleiman to step down, the Egyptian people are showing no signs of giving up, and are continuing to call for the entire government’s dismissal.

The Egyptian uprising is very quickly showing the signs of revolution. Bloggers are talking about “the Cairo Commune” and are making parallels to the Spanish Civil War. Popular committees are emerging in certain Cairo neighborhoods – to handle food distribution, medical care, and anti-looting patrols – and shop-floor councils are emerging in different parts of Egypt that are circumventing and defying the official union bureaucracy, that are struggling to form new and independent labor unions, and that are coordinating new and militant strikes. Tunisia is forming nation-wide District Committees, and some people, both in the Egyptian and western Libertarian Left, are calling for this to be urgently replicated in Egypt itself.

While the future of the Egyptian uprising is still unclear, what is clear is that we are seeing, right before our eyes, the dramatic illustration of an old Leninist mantra: that the proletariat, through concrete, revolutionary action, accomplishes the democratic tasks that the bourgeoisie can only weakly and hypocritically proclaim.

The Egyptian uprising is proving to be one of the most inspiring, humbling, and significant world events in the last 40 years, and it raises many rich and pressing questions for the US Left. These questions have been expanded upon and written about more eloquently elsewhere (for a start, see the links below), but we would like to list just a few of them here.

Is the Egyptian uprising a revolution? What needs to happen for it to become a revolution? What is the role of the military, both the brass and the rank and file? What is the role of the working class and these new, independent proto-unions? Where have women been in this struggle? What might the effects of the Egyptian uprising be on US imperialism, Israeli apartheid, and other authoritarian regimes in the Middle East? What are the two competing conceptions of democracy in this conflict, and why is the concrete relationship between democracy and socialism so crucial to pinpoint and understand for the revolutionary Left? What is the proper, non-sectarian attitude to have towards political Islam? Finally, where is the Egyptian solidarity movement in the US? Why is it so weak? What needs to happen to make it stronger?

The following links provide some crucial background on the dynamics of the Egyptian uprising. We’ve included them here and would like to invite discussion.

Paul Amar: Why Mubarak Is Out | Jadaliyya
Reviewing the factional interests within the Egyptian ruling class and its intersections with the uprising.

Juan Cole: State And Class In Egypt | Informed Comment
Discusses the declining legitimacy of the Egyptian ruling class.

Adam Shatz: After Mubarak | London Review of Books
Summary of the early U.S. and Israeli response to the uprising in Egypt.

Asa Winstanley: The World Turned Upside Down | New Left Project
Argues for the profound lasting effects of the uprisings no matter its immediate outcome.

Jubayr: The Labor Movement In Egypt | Gathering Forces
Background to the new workers movement in Egypt.

Richard Seymour: Egypt’s Working Class Is On The Move | Lenin’s Tomb
Richard Seymour surveys some of the demands of radical workers in the movement.

Revolutionary Socialists: Statement By The Revolutionary Socialists | Lenin’s Tomb
To do list put out by the Revolutionary Socialists group of Egypt.

Advance the Struggle: Workers’ Control And The Revolutions In North Africa | Advance the Struggle
What way forward for the North African (and international) revolution?

4 thoughts on “The Egyptian Uprising

  1. “The Egyptian uprising is proving to be one of the most inspiring, humbling, and significant world events in the last 40 years, and it raises many rich and pressing questions for the US Left.”
    I agree that the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings are certainly the most inspiring events of my generation so far. Times like this also–I hope–raise the bar for political discussion and clarity, so I hope people will add the following articles to the mix:
    1. on Tunisia,
    2. An open letter to the Revolutionary Socialists statement linked above
    Both offer comments on issues raised in this blogpost, such as dealing with the army and how to extend the revolution.

  2. Just one thing on the Asmaa Mahfouz video: She raises crucial points about how the peope who self-immolated were considered “crazy” by the state and international media, and how this was an explicitly political position taken in order to delegitimate the political impact of their actions. This is the same thing that happened with in soo chun, a korean worker at UW who self-immolated in 2008. There has certainly been a resurgence of self-immolations in the middle east and elsewhere and the current psychological technology of pathologization should be seriously taken up by revolutionaries, radicals, and every day people. Interrogating the claim by the ruling class and its repetition by both the left and right, means a serious analysis of mental health, oppression, and pathologization in general. What is the relationship between emotional and physical abuse and oppression and emotional distress? What are legitimate responses to this distress? What methodology do we need to simultaneously address distress in our communities, organizations, families, to understand mental “illness” as part of a material process of both oppression AND pathologization, in order to not fall either into a purely “anti-psychiatry” mode (there is no mental illness, only categories established by ruling classes to incarcerate and medicate people with ‘difference’) or a medical model (the idea that people are mentally ill and need treatment; their problems are individual, and any “abnormal” behavior indicates insanity, and thus is illegitimate). We need the kind of dialectical analysis that Mahfouz lays out: “They said: “Enough, these guys who burned themselves were psychopaths!”
    Of course, on all national media, whoever dies in protest is a psychopath. If they were psychopaths, why did they burn themselves at the Parliament building?…These self-immolators were not afraid of death but were afraid of security forces! Can you imagine that? Are you also like that? Are you going to kill yourselves too? Or are you completely clueless?”

    That we understand that emotional distress, physical disability, and resistance are responses to the beating down people receive everyday in the form of hunger, humiliation, physical beatings, rape, and alienation.

    No one should suffer from emotional distress, so what is the task of revolutionaries besides creating an analysis? I argue that liberatory and de-professionalized forms of therapeutic treatment and/or spirituality are crucial for healing those of us legitimately struggling to survive. Instead of trying to “heal” people from resisting, however, we need true healing that can support real political struggle, unhindered by the psychological damage that capitalism, violence, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heterosexism bear down on us. Personal transformation and emotional support need to be not just afterthoughts of revolutionary organizations or oppressed communities, but instead strategically integrated with political practice.

    In Seattle, a year after In Soo Chun’s immolation, worker’s held a protest against continued workplace abuse by saying “never again will a worker need to act in this way.” But they were not CONDEMNING In Soo Chun. Instead, they were celebrating his life and his courage, while acknowledging that collective struggle is the most powerful weapon we have for our human liberation.

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