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LQD: Egypt, popular anger and elite organisation

by Ted Welch Fri Feb 11th, 2011 at 01:20:50 PM EST

An article in the NYT/IHT reveals that there was a small group of intellectuals who helped give direction to the widespread anger towards the Mubarak regime. This relates to an earlier discussion about analogies with the French Revolution and theories about it; some of which emphasised underlying economic causes and others which emphasised the role of ideas and/or leaders:

(Ted) ... many factors are involved in such major social changes, including poverty, hunger AND ideas and leaders at various levels to apply the ideas to the basic crisis situation:

A careful study of the French revolution (and the Russian) provide a complete antidote to the slander that revolutions are the work of tiny handfuls of conspirators and demagogues. The role of the masses is fundamental in driving the revolution forward at every stage.

 The spontaneous movement of the masses, it is true, played a most important role. But even here the movement was not entirely spontaneous. It had its local leaders, although most of their names have not been preserved. They were organised in the equivalent of political parties.

The basic cell of the Revolution, especially in Paris but also in the provinces, was the club and the secret society. It is impossible to understate the importance of organisations like the revolutionary clubs, whose model was the Jacobin Club ("The Society of the Friends of the Constitution") in Paris.




They are the young professionals, mostly doctors and lawyers, who touched off and then guided the revolt shaking Egypt, members of the Facebook generation who have remained mostly faceless -- very deliberately so, given the threat of arrest or abduction by the secret police.

Now, however, as the Egyptian government has sought to splinter their movement by claiming that officials were negotiating with some of its leaders, they have stepped forward publicly for the first time to describe their hidden role.

There were only about 15 of them, including Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who was detained for 12 days but emerged this week as the movement's most potent spokesman.

Yet they brought a sophistication and professionalism to their cause -- exploiting the anonymity of the Internet to elude the secret police, planting false rumors to fool police spies, staging "field tests" in Cairo slums before laying out their battle plans, then planning a weekly protest schedule to save their firepower -- that helps explain the surprising resilience of the uprising they began.


The seeds of the revolt were planted around the time of the uprising in Tunisia, when Walid Rachid, 27, a liaison from an online group called the April 6 Movement, sent a note to the anonymous administrator of an anti-torture Facebook page asking for "marketing help" with a day of protest on Jan. 25, Mr. Rachid recalled. He wondered why the administrator would communicate only by Google instant message. In fact, it was someone he already knew: Mr. Ghonim, the Google executive.

The day of the protest, the group tried a feint to throw off the police. The organizers let it be known that they intended to gather at a mosque in an upscale neighborhood in central Cairo, and the police gathered there in force. But the organizers set out instead for a poor neighborhood nearby, Mr. Elaimy recalled.

Starting in a poor neighborhood was itself an experiment. "We always start from the elite, with the same faces," Mr. Lotfi said. "So this time we thought, let's try."

They divided up into two teams -- one coaxing people in cafes to join them, the other chanting to the tenements above. Instead of talking about democracy, Mr. Lotfi said, they focused on more immediate issues like the minimum wage. "They are eating pigeon and chicken and we are eating beans all the time," they chanted. "Oh my, 10 pounds can only buy us cucumbers now, what a shame what a shame."

Ms. Moore said: "Our group started when we were 50. When we left the neighborhood we were thousands." As the protests broke up that day, she said, she saw a man shot to death by the police. She carried her medical bag to the next demonstration and set up a first-aid center.
By the time they occupied Tahrir Square, she and her friends had enlisted the Arab Doctors Union -- many of whose members are also members of the Muslim Brotherhood -- which set up a network of seven clinics.

The organizers disseminated a weekly schedule, with the biggest protests set for Tuesday and Friday, to conserve their energy. And before each protest they leaked a new false lead to throw off the police, letting out that they would march on the state television headquarters, for example, when their real goal was to surround Parliament.


Most of the group are liberals or leftists, and all, including the Brotherhood members among them, say they aspire to a Western-style constitutional democracy where civic institutions are stronger than individuals.



Egyptians will need to organize many clubs and societies in the process of getting to a meaningful election, especially one that improves social justice in Egypt. Let us hope that they do not need to remain secret long.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Feb 11th, 2011 at 02:51:41 PM EST

In signs of a generation gap echoed across Egypt, the young people acknowledged some frustration with their elders in the opposition parties. "Simply, they are part of the system, part of the regime," Mr. Lotfi said. "Mubarak was able to tame them."

Even so, he said, having members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the square proved to be a strategic asset because as participants in an illegal, secret society, "they are by nature organized."

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Feb 11th, 2011 at 05:27:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I know just how the Egyptians feel...

They feel just like I felt when Obama was elected.

We finally got rid of that bastard. Now we can be free.  

Now we will have a government of, by and for the people, one which takes seriously the "promote the general welfare" clause of the Constitution, one where the rich get their comeuppance, where the Wall Street fraudsters and the Bank criminals are regulated out of existence, where global warming is taken seriously and addressed, where jobs are created here for the ordinary man building up a renewable infrastructure, where there will be medical care for all and as much unemployment coverage as the economy needs for as long as it takes.

No more war.

Politicians who care, and who cannot be bought.

And so it came to pass....

by greatferm (greatferm-at-email.com) on Sat Feb 12th, 2011 at 02:05:20 AM EST

Cynic :-) There is the big difference that Obama was elected within the existing system while the Egyptians have overthrown the - very repressive - system and have shown they're in no mood for compromises.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Feb 12th, 2011 at 04:57:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But compromises they will need. After all, they need to write a new Constitution.

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Feb 12th, 2011 at 05:28:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Well, yes, again it's not either or. But the held out against the various compromises offered within the system and won in the end. Any compromises made now are after revolutionary change and their success makes them less willing to accept future compromises which would take them back to anything like the old system.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Feb 12th, 2011 at 05:58:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The real challenge will be that of implementing and maintaining improvements in real social justice. The old regime was so crudely oppressive that it will not be hard to improve upon. But the wealth distribution and the control of economic activity will be much more difficult to change and any real progress there will be bitterly opposed by the USA and other upholders of "the rights of property holders".

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Feb 12th, 2011 at 11:07:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]

The US has led the way in increasing wealth inequality - I mean "opportunity" :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Feb 13th, 2011 at 11:17:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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