Egypt’s Revolution: Causes and Triggers
Okay, so Egypt is going up in flames of revolt, a sight that is truly glorious to see. Every Arab/Muslim commentator who isn’t entirely in the pockets of the US-Israeli network (and even a number of them who actually are) is aglow at the sight that seemed an impossibility a week ago: a mass revolt in one of the most brutal dictatorships in the Middle East. The US has poured $60 billion over three decades into Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, which judging from the poverty of the population, was mostly spent on beefing security forces (and secret security forces), and handsome payoffs for the kleptocratic Mubarak.
The latest, according to Al-Jazeera, is that the people are defying the military curfew initially imposed in Cairo, Suez, and Alexandria, and now imposed country-wide. But street commentators featured on Al-Jazeera and Press TV insist that they have passed a point of no-return.
Interestingly, this is primarily a youth revolt—a swell of anger at blighted economic prospects, grinding oppression, and a maze of glass ceilings . The New York Times has drawn a sigh of relief, even as it remains haunted with the spectre of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. After all the rhetoric on democracy, it seems immensely irresponsible to fan fears of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover (for as Mona Eltahawy noted, “isn’t [freedom of choice] what democracy is all about?). But anchors on Al Jazeera and Press TV have already pointed out the double standards in US and European championing of revolution and freedom (secularist revolutions a la Green Revolution is a good idea, Islamic ones are not). The question that the US intelligence apparatus now seems to ask itself, to what extent has Egypt been lost? (What are we losing and what can we reclaim?)
So, after this preamble, we can now look at the causes at this explosion. The trigger to this spectacular conflagration across the Middle East, of course, is the young Tunisian student setting himself on fire after the police confiscated his fruit stall. But if we widen the camera lens, what were the domino blocks that subtly led about to this outcome?
1. Shifting pendulum of scorn and fear: Al Jazeera’s steady coverage of Arab street events from a distinctively postcolonial perspective, and more recently, Wikileaks exposure of the entrenchment of Arab leaders in US-Israeli interests, is a definitive cause. Arab populations have regarded their leaders through a pendulum of scorn and fear . . . their characterization in Wikileaks documents as the buffoons they are, tilted the balance towards scorn. The Arab street has always experienced shame at how lightly US political interests have treated them, in complete disregards of their hopes, needs, and aspirations. A healthy amount of scorn can eventually cancel out some of the fear for their proxies.
2. Economic Pains: a round of thanks goes to the Wall Street pirates, who sent the world economy into a tailspin. Nations in the US orbit are set up as a safety net for the US economy—even as the US economy went into a tailspin, a hefty percentage of resources was diverted from the economies of Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, etc., to cushion the blow, thanks to the “privatization” measures imposed by the IMF and World Bank over the years. Half of Egyptian population sustains itself on merely $2 a day. And when the street perceived that things couldn’t possibly get worse, they began to consider the nightmare scenario for US national security outfits: resistance to Mubarak and his cronies.
3. US political and cultural decline: the 1990s was the American decade, the project of soft-power across the Muslim world (or rather, the whole world). There are many definitions of power, but that undeniable gloss, the glow for someone brilliantly projected across the world is its proof and testament. With the graft and corruption exposed by the US economic decline, the military quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the cultural decline that when hand in hand with economic bust, that intimate link between superpower and world has been broken. This, compounded with the mass disenchantment with Obama, triggered an increasing sense of the US’s irrelevance.
4. Technologies like Facebook and Twitter are a double-edged sword . . . they played an undeniable role in youth mobilizations during the four-day protests, and in fostering global networks of support for the demonstrators. If colonialism left behind only a small elite trained in the use of modern technologies, the tech-boom and education-boom has distributed know-how in much wider, popular circles.
5. The Israeli-Palestinian Issue: Palestine, by virtue of its spiritual significance, is at the center of the Arab street’s political concerns. Israel’s increasing (and desperate aggressiveness) with the Palestinians has soured attitudes with the US and the EU as the main brokers of peace. Israel’s defeat by Hezbollah during its 2006 invasion of Lebanon, US shellacking by the barefoot Afghans, etc. shifted their view of absolute US/Israeli power. And the massacre of Gaza produced an enormous surge of sympathy for the oppressed Palestinian population. And Mubarak’s role in maintaining the Gazan blockade, even as practically the whole world organized to break it (including George Galloway’s Viva Palestina caravans), certainly compounded the bad taste in their mouth towards their aging potentate.
6. Sudan’s partition: I’ll argue that Sudan’s partition has impacted the psychology of the street. The street must be given credit for enormous political perceptiveness, and it realized that Sudan’s partition has been motivated by US and European desires for oil (and for politically controlling the largest country on the African continent). The partition of a historic country was an act of psychological violence all across Africa and the Middle East. By analogy, Egyptians reflected that compliance brings about sorry rewards, and that possibly that a similar fate could fall on Egypt.