On Egypt and the January 25 revolution

Some interesting stuff from the Economist, of all places:

“In a far corner of the garden stood rows of cardboard boxes spilling over with freshly shredded paper, and next to them a smouldering fire.

More intriguingly, a group of ordinary looking young men sat on the lawn, next to the hole. More boxes surrounded them, and from these the men extracted, one by one, what looked like cassette tapes and compact discs. After carefully smashing each of these with hammers, they tossed them into the pit. Down at its bottom another man shovelled wet cement onto the broken bits of plastic. More boxes kept appearing, and their labours continued all afternoon.

Protestors at Tahrir Square

Protestors at Tahrir Square. Courtesy of 3arabawy.

The villa, surrounded by high walls, is always silent. Cars, mostly unobtrusive Fiats and Ladas, slip in and out of its automatic security gates at odd hours, and fluorescent light peeps through shuttered windows late in the night. This happens to be an unmarked branch office of one of the Mubarak regime’s top security agencies. It seems that someone had given the order to destroy their records.”

So it seems we are in the final days of the murderous and dictatorial Mubarak regime after all. In the last few minutes, reports have come through that the Egyptian Army has put out a public statement supporting the right of protesters to gather and demonstrate, and stating that they will not fire if ordered to.

It appears very much as if we are witnessing a Butte Montmartre moment. The Army commanders will no doubt use the situation to their advantage, jockeying for places in whatever transitional form takes over after the dictator leaves, but the fact remains that the decision was not taken from a position of strength, but one of weakness.

The security forces have been happily used in the past to smash anti-government movements, but somehow are now unwilling to do so. Could it be related to the makeup of these demonstrations, the sheer overwhelming force of humanity that is evident in Meydan Tahrir? It is doubtful that ordinary soldiers would fire if ordered to do so, and indeed that they would be successful in putting down the movement decisively even if they were willing.

So to the classic question, What is to be done?

Well that’s really up to the Egyptian people. We can hope that cynical opportunists like the Muslim Brotherhood or Mohammed el-Baradei don’t succeed in their bid to set themselves up as the inheritors of the revolution. We can look forward to the revolutionary current sinking more deeply into the region, going beyond the removal of dictators to a through-going recalibration of the class structure of society, and a solution to the primary source of antagonism in the short term, western imperialism and its Israeli client state.

But most of all, let us rejoice that our Egyptian comrades are freer today than they have been in living memory. Long live the Egyptian people, long live the revolution.

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