Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013

Ahram Weekly

Eye to the real enemy

On the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, we mustn’t lose sight of the counter-revolution and its underlying system of power, writes Aly El-Raggal

Al-Ahram Weekly

Is it still worth discussing the counter-revolution? As long as the revolution continues it will always be important to understand, analyse and explain the lines and fortresses of its resistance. Particularly that the counter-revolution is represented in a wide multitude of entities, institutions, the state apparatus, security sectors, capitalists, former National Democratic Party members, many right wing forces whose conservative foundations, fears and interests fan their hatred of plurality, democracy and attempts at radical change, particularly in the socio-economic field. Lately, the Muslim Brotherhood has clearly joined that club as a right wing force and the ruling power.

However, the task of this article is to tackle the counter-revolution from another angle that focuses more on its manifestation on micro levels and the dynamics and reproduction of its discourse on a daily basis.

THE KING’S HEAD AND THE SYSTEM: The revolution has been facing a real reduction into the body and person of Hosni Mubarak. His departure did not necessarily mean the end of his regime or the termination of its effectiveness. The fight to bring him down and later to push back the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) generals to their barracks and within the borders of their institution, in addition to limit their social and economic influence, created a fog that hid other struggles of the revolution. It specifically hid what lies behind the political scene that was reduced to overthrowing the head (Mubarak) and some of his corrupt associates. In the meantime, revolutionary movements are extensively discussing the dire need for a revolution against the structures of domination, control and repression and oppressive practices.

Short-handing the revolution to the ex-regime’s head expresses a defect in understanding power and authority and their relations with the community and the citizens (ie many think that authority is practised through only one centre). Power is practised through various networks and institutions that try to establish their interests and reproduce their effects in the community. Thus, it is by no means surprising when one hears a mass of people claiming that Mubarak has gone but his regime is still there, ruling and controlling the reins of authority. Attention should be given to those who have suffered the practices of the prior authority rather than giving attention to the former ruler. However, many media channels did not care much to reveal what happened to us as a result of these practices and how individuals were formed and their conscience and aspirations shaped. There is little discussion of how our cognitive perceptions were moulded through state institutions as well as other entities. Such an approach could help detect and reveal the underlying networks of power, confronting and even overthrowing them, or transforming them to serve the revolution’s aspirations. It is these networks that are trying to diminish the revolution and cast it aside.

At the beginning of the revolution there was strong need to reduce the issue — perhaps the whole system of power — to certain personas and institutions, to empower rebels to mobilise for specific battles. During clashes, the revolutionary battle had to target specific people and structures as such: it is this building, there are those people, the beginning is to get rid of them, the goal is to overthrow them and the work is to destroy this specific structure. Such a strategy allows the masses to mobilise on clearly defined objectives and goals. Hence, focusing or directing their power to a certain target has its benefits in a specific phase in the revolution. But the moment now is a deeper and more complex phase if the revolution is to overthrow a complete regime; that is, revealing these networks, besieging and destroying the structures the regime is hiding behind.

These networks are not exaggerations or political imaginings — it is more of a stand-alone truth. We have seen the rival fights between many groups to acquire personal interests or to derail their opponents. In a discussion with a lorry driver, he indicated how he and his colleagues wish the revolution would come to an end. He even said that if the damages they suffer continue any longer, they could possibly fight the rebels themselves. According to fieldwork carried out among different classes and strata, wide sectors of the population will not be able to endure or support much more. A great many suffer harsh economic conditions that have made them hate the revolution and its rebels and even work against them. Particularly when the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, the state apparatus, and before them SCAF and the pillars of Mubarak regime and its media, link stability, security and economic improvement with the end of the revolution.

A lorry driver simply sees that the revolution is threatening his daily income. When I asked him whether he preferred to go back to the days of the police brutality and their abuse of power, he replied saying that during the old regime he was well aware of how to deal with the police. He continued: “I would give LE50 to the police if I was stopped. That was how things were. We get our jobs done and everyone is satisfied. But now, I find no way for getting my work done,” and so he wishes the revolutionary period would end.

A lot of traders are not seeking change that would overturn the economic conditions they got used to and benefited from. They would prefer that things return to “normal”. They see the revolution now as “child’s play” and bringing “havoc to the country”.

Based on the above, we can see that the authority practices of the former/ongoing regime were not working through repression only. Rather power worked (and works) through creating different ties, promises, narrations and positions with different social classes and sectors that handicap them from engaging in thorough revolt. Moreover, these ties lead them to initially delegitimise the idea of revolt itself. Literally the “entourage of punishment” is not necessarily the direct followers of the political regime; they could be part of it without even noticing it. They are broad categories, their interests and survival are associated with the survival of the regime in general, and that is why they neither revolted nor called for change.

An interview I held with a businessman before the revolution still illustrates this argument. He expressed his extreme hatred of Mubarak and the ruling regime of Egypt and told me that he was in opposition and declared that freely to everyone. But he also stated that he would not participate in any revolutionary act or change that could completely destroy the regime, because simply this man had a number of economic partnerships directly or indirectly with the regime and would not like to risk them — as simple as that.

These networks and relationships are not necessarily related to what has come to be termed the counter-revolution, in the sense of the main pillars of the Mubarak regime, but could also emanate from people who spent days and nights calling and praying for the success of the revolution. In discussion with a distinguished professor who is well known for his honesty and truthfulness, he stated that he admires the revolution and the rebellion of students of the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University against their dean. However, when he felt that the spark of the revolution began to come closer to his faculty — though it did not approach him personally — he was scared for his position and authority in the university. The revolution might threaten his social status. But it is not only about his social status; it is rather about a whole system of power.

Attempts to preserve the former regime come from various directions. The revolution wants to change the regime, which means changing the political, social and economic structures of the country and re-arranging the relations between authority and power in society on different levels. In addition, there is the urgent need to sideline and cut off most of the ruling classes and their role in various institutions, which is not yet done. Such grounded networks of counter-revolution necessarily entail huge amounts of resistance to any drastic transformation in the general system.


STRIKES AS THREATS TO THE SYSTEM OF POWER: It seems that if we want to understand what is going on regarding the war being waged by the structures of power through the media, the state and the different regressive and anti-revolution forces, we should not focus on what is being presented but rather on what the media has neglected. For example, there are no serious or real discussions about changing the patterns and nature of power relations; nor there is any in-depth understanding of the practices of power.

On the other hand, we see a general hysterical mood and attempts at scaring people about an expected economic collapse and the failure of production. We never find discussion on what really happens in social and labour strikes and sit-ins. Rather, they are called “sectorial” or “factious” strikes. The language here used by the media as well as by many thinkers and writers is not neutral. It carries various forms of implicit bias. In fact, it is trying to paint these acts as being against the revolution; that they hinder the work of the state and represent danger to the true rebels.

Describing these acts as “sectorial” denies them social legitimacy and portrays them as expressions of selfishness, implying that such actions are not general but private and specific. On the contrary, they give us signs and indications on the importance and need for radical change, providing a complete mapping of what needs to be done. Strikes are one form of revolt against the corrupt that must be overthrown, means of production that must be transformed, and highlight social injustice. Such acts also provide alternatives, either in the pattern of interactions or in setting a roadmap for change.

For example, the physicians’ strike has given a complete map that would benefit the community through improving the welfare of physicians and the general conditions of their profession. They have been on strike in a zero-risk manner for patients. Alternatively, the strike of the subway workers highlights the refusal of privatisation, underlining that it would harm the normal citizen since it would necessarily entail a rise in the price of tickets.

These strikes reflect three levels of disequilibrium in the system: first, there is a defect on the ruling level, which needs re-structuring as well as re-positioning individuals and their roles within it. It also reflects a severe defect in internal practices and a lack of respect or appreciation for its individuals and their social and political desires. The third defect is reflected through the relationships between state institutions and economic and political structures, and the masses.

Relations between an institution and its individuals take the form of a complex dominating relation over people’s desires and aspirations. And there is a desperate attempt to keep the same pattern of relations alive to sustain the regime (made up of political, economic, social and cultural aspects). Here come attempts at reproducing the previous regime, or rather an attempt to manoeuvre around radically changing it. It is clear that if a radical change occurs on the structural level, and its practices and relations, a revolutionary project will be manifested on the ground, as it entails an entire overthrow of the system. No wonder we can see strikes and rebellions spread horizontally, from factories, private and governmental entities, universities and the police.

In an in-depth interview with a number of police officers, they stated that the revolution should pay them more attention and give them support, seeing that most of them were not genuinely corrupt and it is impossible to survive on LE400 per month. Furthermore, their overnight shifts could last for several days with no overtime compensation. They were also suffering in not receiving their salaries in due time. They have also discovered that though payment per working day during the elections was supposed to be around LE130, they were paid only LE30 per day, they claimed.

Hence they believe that their case is not a sectorial issue. First, because they are part of the community; second, the continuation of their situation will lead them to corruption and authoritarianism and abuse of power. Preventing them from engaging in corruption could lead to their deaths. One of the group yelled back when I insinuated that they were responsible for corruption in society, saying that corruption in the police apparatus is not any less than it is in the community. According to him, “We are all corrupt, and as much as we manipulate our authorities and the people, they are also manipulating us!”

The regime in Egypt was, and still is, based on a huge network of corruption. It crept into the country until a balanced life without corruption became impossible. Corruption became one of the main mechanisms of the redistribution of wealth.

Across the last two years, many debates about what is termed “the social regime” and plans for re-arranging its logic and patterns, as well as its economic, political and cultural aspects, have taken place. And yet still, it is not the central focus. This is because many forces are still trying to maintain their power, positions and interests in the community. Such discussions are threatening to their positions and identities, and the roles they play.

The success of attempts to push the revolution forward and to defeat the system are conditioned on several factors: first, their degree of success in rising to this historic moment and communicating with labour strikes, social protests and youth movements; second, whether they can generate a new political and ideological rhetoric able to keep pace with local and international events; and third, their strategic capability in specifying battle priorities, political and social tactics, and adopted mechanisms and methodologies.

The writer is a political activist and researcher.

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