The cynical realist says: After what has happened in Iran since 1979, you cannot blame vigilant observers of history for harboring a skeptical wariness about popular revolutions.
The idealist says: On the other hand, there are some very real societal injustices and inequalities that legitimately demand periodic restructuring of governments, and this can be accomplished.
The debate that arises between these two perpectives, as pertaining to Egypt, is persuasively represented by two opposite perspectives:
~ Daniel Greenfield, aka Sultan Knish, http://sultanknish.blogspot.com/2011/02/friday-afternoon-roundup-pulling-back.html
~ Max Ajl, in Truthout, http://www.truth-out.org/egyptian-protests-grounded-decades-struggle-portend-regional-transformation67425
A third voice in our analysis appears as the voice of experience:
~ Kasra Naji, on NPR, 2009 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111944123
To facilitate your thinking about this, I’ll furnish two quotes from each above source:
Daniel Greenfield says:
~”The fundamental difference between the protests in Iran and those in Egypt, is that Iranians were protesting a stolen election, and in Egypt the protesters want to steal an election before it actually takes place.”
~”The Egyptian ‘Bread Riots’ of 1977 which rocked most major cities in Egypt from January 18-19 of that year, were a spontaneous uprising by hundreds of thousands of lower class people protesting World Bank and International Monetary Fund-mandated termination of state subsidies on basic foodstuffs. As many as 800 people were wounded, and the protests were only ended with the deployment of the army.” (Mr. Greenfield’s source was an Associated Press report.)
Max Ajl says:
~”The January 25 protests that began the current stage of social revolt were organized by several groups, including the April 6 movement, a wide-based group with overwhelmingly young leadership that emerged to mobilize support for the April 2008 strikes at Mahalla al-Kubra, a textile manufacturing center in the Nile Delta. In Mahalla, 25,000 workers went on strike amidst deteriorating standards of living as the prices of basic foodstuffs careened upwards. The workers won their demands – their strike was the crest of a massive wave of labor unrest that has hit Egypt hard since 1998. Between 1998 and 2008, two million Egyptian workers participated in over 2,600 factory occupations. In the first five months of 2009, over 200 industrial actions took place, a trend that continued through 2010. Stanford historian Joel Beinin calls it the “largest and most sustained social movement in Egypt since the campaign to oust the British occupiers following the end of World War II.”
~”Predictably, Western media is misreporting the role of both labor and the Muslim Brotherhood, understating the role of the former and overstating the role of the latter. The agenda is to obscure socioeconomic grievances and promote the narrative that the choice is between an authoritarian but secular government, or a democracy that will bring Islamists – code for the Taliban – to state power. The corollary is that people are not in the streets struggling for social revolution but to put in place a variant of Islamofascism. Thus, people shrug, the revolt must be drowned in blood. This narrative is indefensible.”
Kasra Naji says:
~”He (Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 Iran) played a very clever game. Those days, before he returned to Tehran, all he would talk about was democracy and freedom. He would not talk about a religious revolution. He wouldn’t talk about a religious state, and democracy and freedom worked for us too, on the left, in a sense that we wanted to have a say. And freedom and democracy would provide that.”
~”This whole (revolutionary) establishment is divided into an extremist wing and a moderate wing, and they fight each other, and the moderates are eliminated. And then you’ll have the extremists taking over.”
Let’s take an abbreviated look, though, at my oversimplified assessment of modern revolutionary history. It shows us that:
1.) The human race is caught up in cyclical tides of history; one of those tides is the never-ending exploitation of the have-nots by the haves.
2.) In any given society, nation, or empire, when that cycle of labor expolitation reaches a critical mass of hunger/deprivation, the oppressed workers revolt.
3.) Although the victims of oppression are mostly poor people who suffer a dearth of food/shelter, their discontent is propelled by the theoretical and rhetorical support of some comfortably educated symathizers.
4.) Those literate supporters are fundamentally idealistic. In modern history, their idealism has manifested as, first, communism, and then secondly, as socialism. These days, both of those camps are appropriating the more viable and elder “democratic” rationale.
5.) The rhetoric and politics of literate, idealists can, and does, eventually motivate the hungry masses to effectively assemble and attempt to overthrow the powers that be.
6.) But–and here’s the rude awakening lesson of history–those idealists whose rhetoric and politics have fueled a revolution become powerless to implement their theories in real government.
7.) In the wake of their failed theory-driven revolution, intrepid strongmen commandeer the disputing factions and manipulate their naive aspirations into new channels of abusive power.
8.) Think about it:
~The fraternité, legalité, egalité, of the French revolution was overtaken with a brutal, guillotining mob led by Robespierre.
~The rose-colored bolshevism of the Russian revolution was manhandled by Stalin through his gulags.
~The reactionary pride of German defeat after WWI was manipulated by Hitler to become the Nazi wehrmacht.
~The peasant revolution of China devolved into humiliating Maoist forced communilization.
~The nascent democratic impulses of Iran were strangled in the bondage of Islam fanaticism.
9.)~~ Exception to the rule: The American revolution produced a reasonably democratic republic, albeit with some serious structural deficiencies. Slavery was the most reprehensible of those defects. Nevertheless, perhaps our enterprising contributions to human progress could be construed as evidence of some kind of American exceptionalism. Haha
But hey–let this optimistic American pose a rose-colored question: Can the fatalistic degeneration of revolutionary dynamics ever be amended to yield a reasonably favorable outcome?
In light of present Egyptian hopes for systemic reform, can the alleged Muslim Brotherhood and Kafayah extremism lurking beneath modern Islam be tempered with consensual democracy? Who knows?
Not me, but there may be a twitter of hope in this predicament somewhere.