The next wave of the Egyptian revolution

July 1, 2013

Egyptians took to the streets by the millions--some say the turnout was bigger than the demonstrations that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February 2011--for protests on June 30 against President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. The turnout was so overwhelming that a competing rally in Cario held by the Islamists was dwarfed, and threats that the Brotherhood would organize violence to keep crowds off the street proved impossible.

The June 30 demonstrations were the culmination of the "Tamarod" (Rebellion) campaign which sought to gather 15 million signatures in support of a call on Morsi to resign. Organizers of the movement say the government's choice is to meet the demands of the demonstrators and resign, or he will face continuing protests starting Tuesday. On Monday, the military issued its own ultimatum: The government must satisfy the demands of protesters, or the army would impose its own "road map" to resolve the crisis.

"This is the second wave of the Egyptian Revolution," said Hani Shukrallah, speaking at the Socialism 2013 conference in Chicago. Shukrallah is one of Egypt's most respected journalists, who was forced out as editor of the English-language website Ahram Online under pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood. After he spoke on Sunday, he talked to about his initial reaction to reports of the mass protests.

IN TERMS of sheer numbers, we have not seen this before. This was not just massive numbers in the major cities. It spread out this time into the provincial cities, many of them for the first time. This is especially true in upper Egypt in the South--many of these areas had stayed out of the 2011 revolution and the subsequent protests. Today, everybody's out in stunning numbers.

We're talking about millions of people. And they will not go home. They will be there until Morsi resigns.

There's one story from the protest where reality almost becomes poetic: A pregnant woman and her husband go to Tahrir Square, and she gives birth at dawn on June 30 in a field hospital, and they decide to call the baby Tamarod, or Rebellion. I don't know how they'll bring her up with that name, of course--it may be quite a tough time.

Right now, the state and the ruling class are very deeply divided and fractured. So we had demonstrations of police officers in uniform, with their handguns on their side, saying, "Down with Morsi and down with the Muslim Brotherhood". These are unprecedented scenes--very, very weird.

The June 30 demonstrations were the largest since the February 2011 revolution
The June 30 demonstrations were the largest since the February 2011 revolution (Zeinab Mohamed)

One message from a friend of mine said that one of the major Internet service providers is providing free wifi access around the presidential palace. She wrote that the capitalists are helping us against the Muslim Brotherhood so that they can screw us later--but that we should use it, so we can screw them later.

When I was up late last night, I was getting the early morning posts of people on the Internet before they went out for the demonstrations. And there was this amazing sense of joy--people saying things like "Good morning revolution." And at the same time, you had people starting statements with "If I don't come back..." It was the two things together: joyful, but they knew they were going into something that they might not come back from.

One post on Facebook went like this: Today, for the next 24 hours, there will be the final viewing of the body of the Muslim Brotherhood, deceased at 85 years of age; burial to take place tomorrow. There was that kind of sense of fun--and that's an aspect of the Egyptian Revolution all along. There was always this humor--sometimes very bitter, sometimes very sharp, sometimes just hilarious.

In Mahalla, an important industrial city in northern Egypt, workers were coming out of the factories and heading out to marches. In 2011, we didn't see much of that. We saw a lot of strikes in the last week of the revolution, which tilted the balance of forces quite markedly--there were something like 200 strikes within that week. But this time, we have seen marches coming out of the factories and heading toward squares or toward city halls, and occupying them.

In Mahalla, a trade union organizer was talking to Ahram Online, and he told them that not a single Muslim Brotherhood member dares to show his face in Mahalla. And he said that by this afternoon, there would be 1 million workers in the street.

WHAT IS making the difference with these latest demonstrations is the accumulated experience of the last two years. The revolutionary spirit triggered by the 2011 revolution didn't die, in spite of the killings, in spite of the torture, in spite of the rule of the military and the rule of the Islamists.

Basically, the oligarchic Mubarak police state was kept intact. The Muslim Brotherhood wanted to inherit it rather than dismantle it. So people ask themselves: Why have the revolution? Why did all those people die and all those people go out in the streets in order to dismantle that police state, and it still remains.

Somehow, experience was being accumulated all this time. This always happens subtly--you don't always see it. Sometimes, you're railing against the youth or the political parties that came and divided the youth, and everybody took a chunk of them and started pursuing all sorts of silly compromises. But something was happening.

It crystallized in the "Tamarod" movement--the Rebellion. There were something like 30,000 young people involved in this movement. It revived the youth coalition of the revolution, but on a much bigger scale--you had young people from the Revolutionary Socialists, from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, from the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, from the Constitution Party of Mohamed ElBaradei. Plus, of course, there were young people from the April 6th Youth Movement and other groups.

These youth succeeded in working together and coming up with the ingenious idea of going out to the people with the petition against Morsi. They went beyond what seemed to have become a template that you keep repeating, hoping it will lead to the same results as in 2011--which is to call for a million man march. You keep calling for it and calling for it, and sometimes you get a few thousand, and sometimes you get a few hundred thousand.

They went beyond that model, and they were able to accomplish something new because of the horrifying mismanagement of the Muslim Brotherhood and its sheer greed for power. The Brotherhood lost its base.

The 2011 revolution showed a very clear division among the Egyptian people. It was a wholly urban revolution, and the countryside remained mostly outside of it. The countryside remained a kind of reserve army of the counterrevolution, whether used by military, or used by the Muslim Brotherhood, or even by remnants of the old regime. Ties of patronage and religion and bigotry and sectarianism and anti-Christian sentiment--all these things were being utilized.

But that has changed because of the deepening crisis and the insistence of the Muslim Brotherhood that they wanted to make the poor carry the burden of the crisis. I once wrote that I thought the Muslim Brotherhood, during the 30 years of Mubarak's reign, was taking notes, more than opposing him. What we see from them now is the same kind of discourse and the same attitudes and the same contempt for the people.

So opinion began to change. When the young people started going out to the villages, this was probably the first time that a real effort was made to go to the rural areas and into Upper Egypt. They went around with this signature campaign, talking to people, and it created a kind of mobilization and organization that could not have happened otherwise, with just another call to head to the squares.

There has been a level of anticipation about the June 30 protests for the past six weeks. But it always surprises you. We knew it was going to be big, but I never imagined it would be that big.

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