IT IS DIFFICULT to predict revolutions. George Rude, the leading left-wing historian of the French Revolution once wrote that an intelligent observer of the French scene, native or foreign, would hardly have predicted in 1787 the coming of the revolution despite a variety of straws in the wind. There was probably no closer student of France at the time than Arthur Young, the leading British expert on agriculture, who visited France three times for extended periods on the eve of the revolution. While he saw a number of things that were wrong with the country, he certainly did not realize that a great revolution was coming.
Not as unusual as one might think. In Russia, there was no more ardent a protagonist of the revolution than Vladimir Ilich Lenin, who had devoted his whole life to the cause. And yet Lenin, in a lecture in Bern in January 1917, was quite pessimistic about the prospects of the masses rising up, telling his audience that the great event might not even happen in his lifetime. But it did happen just one month later. And by the end of the year, his party, the Bolsheviks, had taken power.
In our age it seems to have become even more difficult to make these sorts of predictions, perhaps because there has not been a revolution for a long time. The term is bandied about rather freely and carelessly. When I was asked many years ago to prepare the entry “revolution” for the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences there was broad agreement that a revolution was something sui generis; today it seems to have become a synonym for rebellion, coup d’etat, mutiny, uprising and half a dozen other forms of upheaval. All too often we forget a once generally-accepted principle: namely that a true revolution involves a number of preconditions.
First, there is the spark needed to trigger the uprising. In 1917 it was a strike in Petrograd; the revolution in Munich in 1848 broke out because an umbrella had fallen (or was thrown down) from the top seats of a theater and the public mistook the noise for a gunshot; in Brussels in 1830 the performance of a romantic opera (La Muette de Portici) in which the aria of Masaniello, a Napolitan fisherman, denounced the injustices which had been committed by the Spanish Habsburg rulers, led to the division between Belgium and Holland.
In the case of the Arab awakening of 2011, 46-year-old policewoman Fedia Hamdi struck Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian stallholder in a market, and in protest he burned himself alive (in the subsequent investigation it appeared that in fact Hamdi had not struck him—and she was acquitted). But there was enough tension and discontent within the country—and in particular with Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali—that had it not been for the unfortunate Bouazizi, some other incident might well have caused the overthrow of the regime.
Next, for a revolution to succeed, it needs a revolutionary movement capable of making use of it. And unless the party in power, the establishment, has been greatly weakened—lost its self-confidence and the popular support on which it rests—the revolutionary movement may still be defeated. Extreme and efficient dictatorships—such as that of Hitler or Stalin—leave no room for maneuver. Even in the case of Tsarist Russia it took a lost war (1904/5) and three years of heavy losses (close to two million killed) in another to bring about a revolution. Tocqueville observed that a dictatorial regime faces the greatest danger when it is trying to reform itself.
WHY, THEN, WERE Mubarak and Ali ousted so easily while other dictators are putting up a more determined resistance? Largely because they had stayed in power for too long and had become soft and lazy. That Mubarak’s regime was corrupt and a dictatorship is beyond doubt. But it was in all probability not the most corrupt, just a little bit worse than the Middle Eastern norm. Those who claim that Mubarak stole seventy billion dollars seem not to know the difference between a million and a billion; it would have made him the richest or the second richest man in the world. So far all that has been found is one apartment in London’s Knightsbridge; no doubt more accounts and properties will be discovered. True, those in power might have stolen a little more than customary, but probably less than Qaddafi. Egypt’s overall economic balance sheet these last few years had been quite positive (in contrast to that of Syria). True, not enough had trickled down and, above all, the rulers had not conveyed the impression that their states were moving forward. But the general climate of corruption in Egypt generated envy and hatred primarily because it lasted too long.
Mubarak’s dictatorship was not the most cruel and repressive, for if it had been it is unlikely that a book like The Yakoubian Building (and the movie based on it) could have been published, depicting quite realistically all the social ills besetting contemporary Egypt. It is also unlikely that a leading public intellectual like Tariq al-Bishri would have been able to publish his bitter attacks against the state.
These were old-fashioned authoritarian states without a populist ideology and without a well-oiled propaganda machine. Some have defined the Egyptian regime (and some others in the Middle East) as “Sultanist.” A term popularized by Max Weber, it connotes a despotic and unpredictable regime in which everything depends on one person, the ruler. But Mubarak’s sway was by no means unlimited nor was it unpredictable.
Under Gamal Abdul Nasser life in Egypt was far more repressive and many more people were jailed and killed. He ruined Egypt’s economy and suffered a crushing defeat in the war against Israel. Yet in this case, the prerequisites for a revolutionary situation were not in place. Many Egyptians admired him. Had he not brought dignity and pride to their country and enhanced its standing in the world? If he had not died from a disease, he might have ruled Egypt for many more years.
WHEN THESE LEADERS fell, the Western media joyously proclaimed the end of an era. When the demonstrations began in late January in Tahrir Square in Cairo, exhilaration grew by the hour not only among the participants but also among the journalists who had hastened to Egypt from all parts of the globe. Tahrir Square, they reported, was the most exhilarating place in the world, the atmosphere was intoxicating, uplifting, elating, entrancing, electrifying.
In the words of the poet (at the time of the French revolution) bliss was it to be alive. It was a sweet, peaceful and leaderless revolution, a million Egyptians or more were all brothers and sisters now. It was a show of incredible strength, it was an infectious source of inspiration. The alarmists had been proved dismally wrong, everything would be different in the future, a return to the bad old days was impossible. No one wanted the Muslim Brotherhood to take over and the few voices shouting Brotherhood slogans such as “Allahu Akbar” were quickly drowned out.
Who could stand aside when the young people of this old country, suddenly feeling a sense of pride, demanded freedom and dignity? It was truly amazing how this new generation had used the Internet, Facebook and Twitter to mobilize huge masses. Was it not the beginning of a new age, did the events of the Arab Spring (or Awakening or Revolution) not have worldwide historical implications? Were they not bound to affect many other countries suffering from repression? Was it not the beginning of a global revolution?
The heady spirit of the first days and weeks of Tahrir will no doubt find its chroniclers. It was the storm of the Bastille in the Arab world, the Gdansk moment, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.
It was wonderful while it lasted.
EGYPT’S REVOLUTIONARY YOUTH became less happy as time went by. They wanted real change, not just the removal of the pharaoh, his sons and his clan. They were unhappy with the military, which quite obviously did not share their revolutionary enthusiasm, instead wanting above all to restore order and normalcy. They demanded that power not remain in the hands of the army—but to whose hands it should pass was not quite clear. The military was happy to oblige in the meantime; there would be elections in six months, not a day later. A committee was going to deal with minor changes in the constitution. And yet there were warning signs that not all was going to work out quite so well: There was not a single woman among the members of the committee and it was headed by Tariq al-Bishri, who had so vehemently and eloquently elucidated the problems with the Mubarak regime—formerly a Communist fellow traveler, now a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer. This meant that the famous second paragraph of the constitution concerning shari’a as the law of the land would certainly not be abolished (as liberals had demanded). Whether harshly or leniently enforced, this means no greater freedom for women and minorities—that is to say for 60 percent of the population.
Though the young revolutionaries had demanded free elections, the more farsighted among them very quickly realized that they had little public support, so free elections would not give them what they wanted. The Muslim Brotherhood would get about 40-45 percent of all parliamentary seats, and together with some smaller Islamist groups and Islamist “independents,” the liberals would certainly find themselves in the minority. And even if the Islamists failed to win, the Wafd, Egypt’s traditional nationalist secular party, announced that it would be happy to cooperate with the Brotherhood. The army, which could then maintain power in the background, would be perfectly content with such an outcome.
Slowly, the true state of affairs and the not-so-sanguine prospects began to dawn on foreign observers and commentators. Some had their misgivings from the beginning, remembering Foucault’s misguided enthusiasm about Khomeini and the Iranian revolution. But, they argued, Cairo was not Tehran—which is indeed undeniable. Articles began to appear arguing that revolutions are never easy, straightforward affairs, that there might be setbacks on the way to freedom and democracy, that Egypt faced serious social and economic problems. As life in Cairo returned to normal and demonstrators vacated Tahrir Square, press coverage turned summarily pessimistic: Had the revolution perhaps been defeated? The results of the interim elections seemed to point that way, for the great majority did not support the liberals and democrats. The revolutionaries and their well-wishers who had always been so enthusiastic about theirs being a leaderless movement seemed to ignore that never in history had such a leaderless movement succeeded. Great believers in the political power of modern technology, they disregarded the fact that while texts and tweets can promote democracy they can also teach how to make bombs.
The prospects in these countries remain bleak. Economically, states like Egypt, Syria and Yemen are riddled with poverty and plagued by rapidly increasing populations. Any sense that they will move in the direction of Turkey is greatly exaggerated. With so many educated young people unable to find jobs commensurate with their education, radicalization seems far more likely than democratization.
It was easy to be infected by the high spirits of the masses demonstrating in Tahrir Square in the early days. The Middle East, particularly the Arab world, has been for so long the problem child in world affairs, the source of endless worries, the focus of tensions and dangers to peace. Here at long last was the chance—nay, the certainty—that this part of the world had found its way out of backwardness and repression to greener pastures. Visions of a better world were irresistible: the bad guys defeated, the good guys triumphant. And all this without a single shot fired, simply by the enthusiasm of an idealistic young generation. It was a revolutionary fairy tale.
But there will be no fairy-tale ending in our time.
Thousands protest in Cairo against military rule as Ahmed Shafik’s campaign declares him winner of presidential vote.
Thousands of Egyptians have packed into Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest against the ruling military council’s decision to claim new powers, amid contesting claims by both presidential candidates of victory in the weekend’s election.
In the hub of the uprising that deposed president Hosni Mubarak, protesters chanted against his military successors, with a steady trickle of people joining the demonstration after sunset.
The demonstration comes against a backdrop of uncertainty over the winner of the presidential vote, with the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and his rival, former prime minister Ahmed Shafik, both claiming victory.
Earlier on Tuesday, a campaign spokesman for Shafik said he had won the presidential election, countering the Muslim Brotherhood’s claims that its candidate was the winner.
Ahmed Sarhan told a televised news conference in Cairo that Shafik won 51.5 per cent of the vote and dismissed the claim of victory by Morsi’s campaign as “false”.
“General Ahmed Shafik is the next president of Egypt,” said Sarhan, adding that the candidate won some 500,000 votes more than Morsi.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo, said the claims did not come as a surprise.
“What we have at the moment is both sides claiming they have won, and both sides are using exactly the same figures,” he said.
Against this backdrop of conflicting victory claims, thousands of protesters began to gather following afternoon prayers in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
‘Down with military rule’
Led by the Muslim Brotherhood, participants in Tahrir Square rally chanted “Down with military rule”. The opposition April 6 Youth Movement had called on its supporters to join the protests.
Hundreds more protested in front of the parliament building, a few hundred metres away from Tahrir Square, against a decree by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolving the Islamist-led parliament, following a constitutional court ruling last week which found the legislature to be unconstitutional.
The Brotherhood was present in strength in the protests, called by several groups which had participated in Egypt’s 2011 uprising, against measures by the ruling military council to claim sweeping powers.
“The dissolution of the parliament is null and void, the military council must leave and now legitimacy lies with the people who elected Morsi,” said Abdel Basset Mohieddine, a Brotherhood support taking part in the protest.
The SCAF declaration also grants it veto power over the wording of a new permanent constitution and appeared to interfere with the ability of the incoming president to exercise his powers.
With official results in the presidential poll, the first since the uprising that removed Hosni Mubarak, not expected before Thursday, both camps claimed victory for their candidates.
At a news conference earlier on Tuesday, Morsi’s campaign released what they said were the certified figures transmitted by election officials to the electoral commission, which they said showed their candidate taking 52 per cent of the vote.
Egyptian state media reported that counts showed Morsi ahead.
“After the counting was finished in all of Egypt’s 27 provinces, indications show that Mohammed Morsi has won 51 per cent and Ahmed Shafik won 49 per cent,” the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper said on its website.
A confirmed win for Morsi would mark the first time the Islamists had taken the presidency of the Arab world’s most populous nation.
After campaign officials announced his projected victory on Sunday, there were scenes of jubilation at Morsi’s Cairo headquarters from where the candidate pledged to work “hand-in-hand with all Egyptians for a better future, freedom, democracy, development and peace”.
“We are not seeking vengeance or to settle accounts,” he said, adding that he would build a “modern, democratic state” for all Egyptians, Muslims and Christians alike.
This is an excerpt from Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones. Sayyid Qutb was one of the founding fathers of the Muslim Brotherhood along side Hassan al-Banna. It is important to have some understanding of the intellectual foundations of the Muslim Brotherhood. Those who think this is a correct step forward or suspend their skepticism of this movements dedication to democracy and individual liberty fail to understand that this organization is hardly a move in the right direction for Egypt. The Arab Spring has only been a victory for the most reactionary elements in North Africa and the Middle-East, and the United States and Western interventionism has directly and indirectly vacillated such a shift.
ISLAM IS THE REAL CIVILIZATION
Islam knows only two kinds of societies, the Islamic and the jahili. The Islamic society is that which follows Islam in belief and ways of worship, in law and organization, in morals and manners. The jahili society is that which does not follow Islam and in which neither the Islamic belief and concepts, nor Islamic values or standards, Islamic laws and regulations, or Islamic morals and manners are cared for.
The Islamic society is not one in which people call themselves ‘Muslims’ but in which the Islamic law has no status, even though prayer, fasting and Hajj are regularly observed; and the Islamic society is not one in which people invent their own version of Islam, other than what God and His Messenger-peace be on him-have prescribed and explained, and call it, for example, ‘progressive Islam’.
Jahili society appears in various forms, all of them ignorant of the Divine guidance.
Sometimes it takes the form of a society in which belief in God is denied and human history is explained in terms of intellectual materialism, and ‘scientific socialism’ becomes its system.
Sometimes it appears in the form of a society in which God’s existence is not denied, but His domain is restricted to the heavens and His rule on earth is suspended. Neither the Shari’ah nor the values prescribed by God and ordained by Him as eternal and invariable find any place in this scheme of life. In this society, people are permitted to go to mosques, churches and synagogues; yet it does not tolerate people’s demanding that the Shari’ah of God be applied in their daily affairs. Thus, such a society denies or suspends God’s sovereignty on earth, while God says plainly:
“It is He Who is Sovereign in the heavens and Sovereign in the earth.” (43:84)
Because of this behavior, such a society does not follow the religion of God as defined by Him:
“The command belongs to God alone. He commands you not to worship anyone except Him. This is the right way of life.” (12:40)
Because of this, such a society is to be counted among jahili societies, although it may proclaim belief in God and permit people to observe their devotions in mosques, churches and synagogues.
The Islamic society is, by its very nature, the only civilized society, and the jahili societies, in all their various forms, are backward societies. It is necessary to elucidate this great truth.
Once I announced as the title of a book of mine which was in press, The Civilized Society of Islam; but in my next announcement I dropped the word ‘civilized’ from it. At this change, an Algerian author (who writes in French) commented that the reason for this change is that psychology which operates in a person’s mind while defending Islam. The author expressed regret that this was an expression of immaturity which was preventing me from facing reality!
I excused this Algerian author because at one time I myself was of the same opinion. At that time, my thought processes were similar to his thought processes of today. I encountered the same difficulty which he is encountering today; that is, to understand the meaning of ‘civilization’.
Until then, I had not gotten rid of the cultural influences which had penetrated my mind in spite of my Islamic attitude and inclination. The source of these influences was foreign -alien to my Islamic consciousness, -yet these influences had clouded by intuition and concepts. The Western concept of civilization was my standard; it had prevented me from seeing with clear and penetrating vision.
However, later I saw very clearly that the Muslim society was the civilized society. Hence the word ‘civilized’ in the title of my book was redundant and did not add anything new; rather it would have obscured the thinking of the reader in the same way as my own ideas had been obscured.
Now the question is, what is the meaning of ‘civilization?’ Let us try to explain it.
When, in a society, the sovereignty belongs to God alone, expressed in its obedience to the Divine Law, only then is every person in that society free from servitude to others, and only then does he taste true freedom. This alone is ‘human civilization’, as the basis of a human civilization is the complete and true freedom of every person and the full dignity of every individual of the society. On the other hand, in a society in which some people are lords who legislate and some others are slaves who obey them, then there is no freedom in the real sense, nor dignity for each and every individual.
It is necessary that we clarify the point that legislation is not limited only to legal matters, as some people assign this narrow meaning to the Shari’ah. The fact is that attitudes, the way of living, the values, criteria, habits and traditions, are all legislated and affect people. If a particular group of people forges all these chains and imprisons others in them, this will not be a free society. I n such a society some people have the position of authority, while others are subservient to them; hence this society will be backward, and in Islamic terminology is called a ‘jahili’ society.
Only Islamic society is unique in this respect, in that the authority belongs to God alone; and man, cutting off his chains of servitude to other human beings, enters into the service of God and thus attains that real and complete freedom which is the focus of human civilization. In this society, the dignity and honor of man are respected according to what God has prescribed. He becomes the representative of God on earth, and his position becomes even higher than that of the angels.
I recommend this book for any one interested in Women’s History in Nineteenth Century Egypt. Judith Tucker’s history covers gender and class in the nineteenth century Egypt, the cultural and religious attitudes toward women, which dispel myths and misconceptions about women in the Middle-East. It is well worth the read and if you do not have access to this e-book try to check it out at your local, or campus library. Click the link to see if you can read the full text.
Introduction (first paragraph):
The history of women in Egypt and the Middle-East as a whole has been little studied. In part, such neglect reflects the general state of Middle-East historiography: focus on visible institutions, diplomatic events, intellectuals currents of the high, as opposed to the popular, culture long confined the field of inquiry to upper class males at the expense of studying those of another class or gender played in the historical process. But even now, a new generation of historians in the Middle-East and the West direct their attention to the social and economic history of the region and begin to write the history of social classes—peasants, urban craftsmen, casual laborers—whose history and culture remained obscure or irrelevant to the orientalist scholar, women are usually nowhere to be found, or receive only cursory mention.