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«Sabah Alnasseri Revolutionaries Seldom Harvest the Fruit: On the Current Revolutionary Situation in the Arab Middle East. The 17th Bouazizi 2010 1 ...»

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The composition of the protesting forces is inconsistent. Various fractions of diverse classes are involved and have differing goals. Each fraction has its   own representatives, its own demands, its own interests, and its own conceptions for political transformations. These range from cosmetic reforms to permanent revolution. The state uses these conflicts and makes selective concessions to deepen the divide between the protesters.

This tactic is not only supported from the outside but is also effective due to the ideological, political and organizational weaknesses of the popular classes, and due to the insufficient articulation of programmatic and practical steps for a radical transformation. This constellation strengthens the side of the reformers and complicates the implementation of the structural demands of the popular classes. Under such a constellation of power relations the demands of the masses are swept away with only minor concessions under the “dialogue” table.

This outcome fulfils the expectations of the ruling and governing classes and the interests of the regional and imperial powers.

The lack of an effective organization in the pre-revolutionary period forces people to organize themselves during the revolutionary events. To be sure, during the battles in Tunisia and Egypt, national councils and leaderships as alternative authoritative institutions, were created by the people, to protect the revolution. Yet they are still far from being capable of governing and even building a new state.

The excuse that the economy lies in rubble may prompt the protesters to accept cosmetic reforms, and to leave intact the structures of neoliberal technocracy under the direction of a civilian or military transitional government, and as a consequence facilitate counter-revolutionary setbacks.

From the time the supreme council of the military under Tantawi de facto took over power in Egypt, it has been focused on counter-revolutionary measures. These include, among other aspects, extrajudicial detention and torture; cosmetic changes to certain paragraphs of the constitution while simultaneously maintaining its basic tenets; the implementation of decrees to forbid protests; and the reluctance to prosecute the culprits of the Mubarak regime. The army elites as well as other state elites make use of the chaos and the spectre of anarchy and instability to try to silence the protests, or at the least, to ensure that they do not endanger the interests of the army.

To be sure, the army is not a homogenous bloc. It is steeped with contradictions, conflicts of interest and differing evaluations of the situation. But the higher ranks of the army are too woven into the fabric of the regime and insist, as do other beneficiaries of the regime, on maintaining their privileged positions at any cost. Hence, it is almost unthinkable that the general of the supreme council of the army will voluntarily permit more than cosmetic changes to the political economy of Egypt.

The transitional constitution, which was approved by a popular referendum on March 18, 2011, and that will probably be in effect at least until the parliamentary elections in September 2011, is vague. Apart from a few changes, it is equivalent to the constitution of 1971 and shares all its shortcomings. The date of the parliamentary elections grants the newly formed political parties hardly any time to establish themselves institutionally or socially. The new law

regulating political parties reproduces all the previous prohibitions in forms i.e.:

  the formation of parties based on regional, religious or on class bases is forbidden.

The new constitution puts no limits on the presidential exertion of power and no fixed date for presidential elections was established. Indeed, during the coming months the council of ministers together with the supreme council of the army will make all the decisions. The military will do everything to ensure power remains in the hands of the president so that the executive has more weight than parliament. The military also strives to see that the president not only remains the commander-in-chief, but also that the military’s concerns, including the economic power of the army and its billions of dollars in foreign aid –-a benefit for the peace treaty with Israel--- remains the prerogative of the president, and that the security cooperation with the US continues.

It remains to be seen how the opposition and the radical elements of the revolution will proceed and how representative and democratic the parliamentary and presidential elections will be. It should not to be forgotten that the ruling classes have the police, the army, and the bureaucracy, in short, the state apparatuses generally at their disposal. The popular classes require their own political instruments and institutions. The continuing lack of organization and leadership among the popular classes makes possible the reorganization of the ruling classes who have seized the initiative and will recreate the old order in a modified form. The disorganization and spontaneity of the masses therefore also implies a lack of structure, the lack of a new form for the state. This is the reason why the counter-revolutionary forces will be in the position to allow the old structure to have a new lease on life in a new form. The power of the state has not yet been radically called into question.

The present constellation is of course based on an unstable balance of the relations of forces. That is why, because of pressure from below, moments of crises and differences of opinion will arise among the forces in the power bloc regarding crisis management and how exactly to react to domestic political pressure and external expectations and constraints. The revolutionary story is far from over. Revolutions may fail but their structural effects last longer than ruling classes prefer.


On this day the first explosive act in a chain of events took place in which a new revolutionary calendar was created. In memory of Mohamed Bouazizi I dedicate December 17, as the 17th Bouazizi.

M. Bamyeh, “The Egyptian revolution: first impressions from the field”, Jadaliyya, 11.2.2011, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/561/the-egyptian-revolution_firstimpressions-from-the.

A. Abd El Fatah, (2011), “After Tunisia”, The Guardian, 28.1.2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/28/after-tunisia-alaa-abd-el-fatah-egypt.

Nicos Poulantzas, State, power, socialism. (London, Verso, 1978, pp. 128-9, italics in original) Ibid.,pp.130-1.   


Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks. 3 vols. Edited and translated by J. A. Buttigieg (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011)., Notebook 3, § 119, p. 106).

Ibid., Notebook 8, § 233, p. 377.

Nicos Poulantzas, Political power and social classes (London, NLB, 1973, pp. 147-156.  T. Carver, ed., Marx: Later political writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

10 Poulantzas, Political Power, pp. 317-321.  11 Ibid., pp. 245-252.  12 Ibid, p. 235  Surely, this refers to the ‘legalized’ political opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt was not legalized under the former Mubarak regime. Yet, even the MB was hesitant at the beginning in supporting the protests due to fear of repression, political mistakes of the leadership, and/or due to its hegemonic attitude: insisting on claims to leadership and refusing to be just one political force among other.

The term ‘potential” utilized here is qualified on pages 22 and 24. The limits of this potential are determined by the social relations themselves: Tunisia, for instance, was technically the most connected land in Africa, yet there we find the most oppressive forms of control and surveillance with all their political, legal, physical consequences. In Egypt, connection was limited to few urban cities, and even here the majority don’t have access to the internet. My argument is that means of communications are not technical devices, but social relations which are institutionalized politically, economically, technologically etc. and thus, the limits and potential are determined by these relations.

Means of communications are never substitute for social-political organizations, but represent an element in the forming of the later.

Sabah Alnasseri, Imperialism and the social question in (semi)-peripheries: The case for a neo-national bourgeoisie, (forthcoming, 2011).

The comprador “is that fraction whose interests are entirely subordinated to those of foreign capital, and which function as a kind of staging-post and direct intermediary for the implantation and reproduction of foreign capital” (Nicos Poulantzas, The crisis of the dictatorship: Portugal, Greece, Spain. Translated by David Fernbach (London: NLB 1976), p. 42. The connection to international monopoly capital is mediated through the ruling parties, technocrats, and bureaucratic elites (civil and military alike).

17 P. Amar, (2011b), “Why Egypt’s progressives win”, Jadaliyya, 8.2.2011,

–  –  –



M. Slackman, “Bread, the (subsidized) stuff of life in Egypt”, The New York Times, 16.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/16/world/africa/16ihtbread.4.9271958.html.

M. El-Ghobashy, :The Dynamics of Egypt’s Elections”, Middle East Report Online, 29.9.2010, http://www.merip.org/mero/mero092910.  See H. Alizadeh/F. Ohsten, “Egypt: The gathering storm”, In Defense of Marxism, 28.10.2010, http://www.marxist.com/egypt-the-gathering-storm.htm.

El-Ghobashy, The Dynamics.  T. Cambanis, “Succession gives army a stiff test in Egypt”, The New York Times, 11.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/12/world/middleeast/12egypt.html.

C. Harman, “Egypt. The pressures build up”, International Socialism, Issue 106, Spring 2005, pp. 23-33; A. Howeidy, “Solidarity in search for a vision”, Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 581, 11.-17.4.2002, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2002/581/eg4.htm;

A. Howeidy, “A day at ‘Hyde Park’”, Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 631, 27.3.-2.4.2003, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/631/eg8.htm; A. Howeidy (2005b), “People here are moving too”, Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 748, 23.- 29.6.2005, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/748/eg8.htm.  H. El-Hamalawy, “Cairo moves against lefties”, Middle East Times, 15.8.2003.  The forerunners to the protests of 2011 are to be found in earlier years. The “Alliance of March 20th”, a campaign for popular change against the regime of Mubarak, was founded in 2003 by leftists, Nasserists and Pan-Arabists (A. Howeidy, (2005a), “A chronology of dissent”, Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 748, 23.-29.6.2005, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/748/eg10.htm). These actors were also the main initiators of Kifaya in September 2004 (A. Howeidy, “Dissent on the fringe”, Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 708, 16.-22.9.2004, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2004/708/eg2.htm.). Kifaya developed a new strategy: “operating outside but not against the law” (A. Howeidy, (2005b), “People here are moving too”, Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 748, 23.http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/748/eg8.htm.). This strategy opened a space for other movements and groupings to operate within the framework of this method of protest. In March 2005, the regime set the hoodlums and thugs of the NDP, as well as those of the security services of the interior ministry in plain clothes, against the protests of Kifaya. The protests were focused on the constitutional referendum that sought to clear the way for Gamal Mubarak’s inheritance of the presidency. Even then attacks on women and sexual assaults were instruments of repression. This led to the formation of the movement “The streets are ours— Women for Democracy”. In June 2005, and as a consequence of the reprisals against Kifaya and the women’s movement, diverse groups such as “Doctors for change”, “Journalists for change”, “Intellectuals for change” etc., were established. This development, and the fear of interiority and the threat of splits, influenced the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the street protests against Mubarak. This gave the protesters an enormous thrust since the Muslim Brotherhood is the bestorganized and numerically strongest force. This lesson was crucial for the successes of 2011. The dynamics in 2005 were determined by Kifaya’s act of positively sanctioning a new tactic of alliance with Islamist groups and thereby contributing to the nullification of the ideological construction promoted by the regime of a  


dichotomy between secular and religious forces. Kifaya’s demands of 2011 are those of 2003 (A. Howeidy, (2005a), “A chronology of dissent”, Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 748,, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/748/eg10.htm.), but its collaboration with “Youth for change” the “March 9 Student movement for independent universities” etc., prepared the ground for the current development.

An important experience and a precedent for 2011 were also the massive antiwar protests in Tahrir Square on March 20-21, 2003, which transformed into anti Mubarak protests (A. Howeidy, “A day at ‘Hyde Park’”, Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 631, 27.3.-2.4.2003, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/631/eg8.htm.). If it was not for the massive reprisals by the regime at the time these movements may have collapsed (C. Harman, “Egypt. The pressures build up”, International Socialism, Issue 106, Spring 2005, pp. 23-33.).

See W. Gamal, “Industrial action riding”, Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 733, 10.J., and Beinin, “Popular social movements and the future of Egyptian politics”, Middle East Report Online, 10.3.2005, http://www.mafhoum.com/press7/231S24.htm.

See: The Solidarity Center, “The struggle for worker rights in Egypt”, (Washington D.C., 2010)  C. Hirschkind, “From the blogosphere to the streets. The role of social media in the Egyptian uprising”, Jadaliyya, 5.2.2011, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/contributors/7521.  Bamyeh, The Egyptian Revolution 34 P. Amar (2011b): Why Egypt’s progressives win, in: Jadaliyya, 8.2.2011, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/586/why-egypts-progressives-win.



Ibid.  For the current relevant political forces and parties see:. E. El-Merghani, “Afak’ alintifadha al-masriya wa dowr al-yasar wa al-k’ewa al-tak’dumia” (Prospects of the Egyptian Intifada and the role of the left and progressive forces), al-Hewar alMutamaden, 3.2.2011, http://www.ahewar.org/debat/show.art.asp?aid=244204.

Bamyeh, The Egyptian Revolution.  O. El-Shakry, “Egypt’s three revolutions”, Jadaliyya, 6.2.2011, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/569/egypts-three-revolutions_the-force-ofhistory-behi.

Ibid.  On the position of the USA, NATO and their conservative Arab allies, above all Saudi Arabia with respect to the events in Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere, see: P. Escobar, “Exposed: The US-Saudi-Libya Deal”, Asia Times, 2.4.2011, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MD02Ak01.html.

Sabah Alnasseri Department of Political Science Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies S627 Ross Bldg.

4700 Keele Street  


Toronto ON Canada M3J 1P3 Tel 416 736 2100 ext. 30089 Fax 416 736 5686 alnaseri@yorku.ca www.yorku.ca/alnaseri

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