'Something in the soul...'

Hani Shukrallah , Wednesday 3 Jul 2013

Egyptians are overthrowing an Islamist regime, once again defying lazy stereotypes about the region

Egypt is making world history; in particular, world revolutionary history. Already, it is firmly up there with the two axiomatic revolutions of the modern world, the French and Russian revolutions. The popular upsurge on 30 June has been described as the biggest demonstration in the history of mankind; we would be hard pressed as well to site other examples of two major revolutionary upsurges in the space of two and a half years, overthrowing two regimes (and make no bones about it, the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt is over and done with), meanwhile putting somewhere between 30-40 percent of the nation’s adult population on the streets in a single day.

Simply, there is no historical precedent for any of this. Let alone that even in the grimmest of times during the past two and a half years, under the military/Muslim Brotherhood alliance, under the Muslim Brotherhood/Military alliance, and under the Muslim Brotherhood’s frenzied power grab, popular resistance did not cease for a single day. And it was thus that the first wave of the Egyptian revolution slipped – just like waves are known to do – into the second.

Also, for the first time in modern political history, a popular revolution is in the process of overthrowing an Islamist regime.

Thirty-four years in Pakistan, another 34 years in Iran, 24 years in Sudan, a foreign invasion to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan (and never mind for the moment the fractured and corrupt caricature that has produced), a foreign invasion actually bringing Shia Islamists to power in Iraq, which Saddam had been Islamising already via a debased marriage of degenerate Arab nationalism and Sunni Islamism. Against that backdrop, the overwhelming conviction everywhere was that once in power, Islamists were there to stay – short that is of foreign invasion.

Egyptians, however, did it, in 12 months. 

All of which makes it doubly imperative for the revolutionary and democratic forces in the country to be fully aware of their place in history, and for God’s sake to not let the trees blind them to the wonderous magical forest that lies just beyond.

“There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom,” said Martin Luther King Jr. so many years ago, his memorable words quoted by none other than Barak Obama in his 12 Feb. statement on the Egyptian revolution, which a day earlier had successfully overthrown Hosni Mubarak’s obdurate 30-year rule. For the American president it was rhetorical flourish, even as his administration, both before 11 February 2011 and since, acted consistently to help strangulate that very “something” in Egypt’s soul.

Yet for the rest of us, there are few phrases that sum up Egypt’s continuing revolution as aptly or as eloquently. For over 30 years, the overwhelmingly predominant perspective on Arabs and Muslims was that they were somehow a uniquely notable exception to King’s words, even in their most vulgarised, stunted  sense, as neo-liberal free market economics accompanied by some form of equally stunted parliamentary democracy, more often than not overseen by local Mafiosi billionaires, and their networks overseas. 

Yet, ours’ was not an “orange revolution” of the kind so favoured by global capitalism; if it has any colour at all, it is the deep red of the blood of our martyrs, no less than as a reflection of the centrality of the social at its very heart. Egypt’s revolutionary banner back in Jan. 2011, as it is today proclaims: Bread, Freedom, Social Justice, and Human Dignity.”

As predominant dogma would have it, the political, social, cultural and economic behaviour of Arabs and Muslims could only be understood by reference to Islam, wherein, supposedly, “freedom” has little or no place.

Tens of thousands of words have been written pontificating on this theme; Mr. Huntington created his absurd little meta-theory of “the clash of civilizations”, the very thrust of which was to presumably explain Arab/Muslim “exceptionalism”; Mr. Fukuyama grudgingly admitted that Muslims may indeed be the globalised world’s single exception to his “end of history”, constituted by neo-liberal economic policy and oligarchic liberal democracy.

On one occasion during these fatuous decades, I had to suffer through a lecture by an intensely post modern American scholar in which he argued that Islamism in the Arab and Muslim worlds was the Muslims’ equivalent of the feminist and gay liberation movements in the West. This mind-numbingly boring drivel was thankfully delivered in English, and to an American University in Cairo (AUC) audience, who lapped it up. Had it been delivered to real, as opposed to “fashionable” Islamists, the young post-modern scholar would have been hard put to escape the lecture hall bruise free.

Needless to say, this predominant rubbish was shared and upheld as jealously on our side of the Atlantic/Mediterranean as on theirs. The policy ramifications were simple: Arabs and Muslims could be governed only by “semi-secular” police states or Islamist regimes, preferably with some form of “representative, electoral” political system (even if the Iranian variety could be dismissed, purely arbitrarily), and even more preferably, based on an accommodation between generals and mullahs – to which US ambassador in Egypt, Anne Patterson, seems particularly wedded.

I’ve spent the best part of the last thirty years critiquing this predominant paradigm, at a stage of our history which I had come to describe as the “Arabs’ age of ugly choices.” Today, on 2 July 2013, having just returned from Tahrir, it is with joyous glee that I thumb my nose at the literally thousands of pundits, academics, commentators, politicos and post-modern fashionistas, even as I, most humbly, bow to the indomitable spirit and love of freedom of my people: thank you Egyptians.

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