A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hamalawy and Others on Revolution and Counter-Revolution

You know things are bad when some of the most sensible analysis is coming from self-declared Marxists, but Egyptian leftist activist Hossam Hamalawy has a piece at Jadaliyya, "The Troubled Revolutionary Path in Egypt: A Return to the Basics," which makes the valid point, among others, that the military coup didn't take place yesterday but in February of 2011. Hamalawy has long urged more attention and organization to the labor movement and strike movements that actually proceeded and continued throughout the revolution. It's one of the better of a large array of what-went-wrong pieces we're starting to see.

There are a lot of think pieces out there right now focusing on how the revolutionaries' lack of unity allowed the revolution to be railroaded, but I suspect the lack of a clear focus and agenda that could rally the vast Egyptian countryside was part of the problem. When the workers and peasants are struggling to find bread, the revolution got sidetracked into other issues: and the Islamists in particular, who had a real grass-roots base that could have been used to rally a real revolution, got focused on debates on Shari‘a, "booze and bikinis," and covering up mermaid statues while the economy spiraled downward. Nobody really sought to fix the country's real problems: they were too intractable, so they went after soft targets: arresting key figures of the old regime, or in the Islamists' case going after issues such as women's rights and public behavior, which deepened the split between the secular revolutionaries and the Islamists. Everybody was posturing, but no one was baking more bread for the hungry, who are going to be the source of the real Egyptian revolution if things keep spiraling downward. A relevant tweet:

Oddly, it was the old establishment, the old NDP elite, along with the Muslim Brotherhood on the other side, who seem to have done a better job of using the old patronage networks to rally the countryside, than did the revolutionaries who no doubt saw themselves as the vanguard of the workers and peasants, Shafiq used the old patronage networks to carry the Delta in round one (no doubt there was some rigging, but he also had real support); the old Sadat/Mubarak home base of Menufiyya went for him overwhelmingly. In Upper Egypt he, like the Brotherhood, understood how to manipulate the tribal alliances. Shafiq may be the military's man, but he used the old NDP power base to get this far.

And neither the young folks in Tahrir nor the Muslim Brotherhood noticed what was happening, nor did the outside analysts, because all were watching Tahrir, or Parliament, or arguing about what tourists could wear to the beach. Though the Brotherhood, at least, was handing out flour on the countryside.

Whether Shafiq wins or SCAF lets Morsi pull out a victory, we may be back to square one, or back to "January 24, 2011" as some of the revolutionaries are lamenting. But not entirely. The revolutionaries have seen both their power and, in the end, their lack of unity and organization. And they are no longer afraid to challenge the regime.

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