Saturday, 12 February 2011

Egypt: the spectre of betrayal


Friday saw the peak of the Egyptian uprising as it were. Mubarak stepped down in surrender to the main demand of the mass movement. I was struck however by a comment in the BBC where it was announced that the hour has come for the professional politicians to take over and see to it that a ‘stable’ democratic dispensation replaces the so called anarchy of the last few weeks. The argument plainly put is this, the protestors have done their part and the political class proper can now reap the profits, i.e. the standard ‘betrayal’ involution of revolutionary upsurges.
In Sudan such a scenario unfolded right after the April 1985 intifada against the regime of Colonel Nimayri. The military, Nimayri’s very allies and henchmen, declared a transitional authority, supposedly a ‘neutral’ arbiter of national calibre, with the mandate to restore ‘democratic’ order. The neutrality of the military however no sooner revealed itself as a cynic bluff. With the protesters back home the Transitional Military Council (TMC) in power headed by General Siwar al-Dahab, Nimayri’s defence minister, proved to be a ‘stable’ bulwark against the possibility of realising the very demands of the intifada, namely the dissolution of the state security apparatus and the scrapping of Nimayri’s September 1983 shari’a laws. In fact, Siwar al-Dahab himself, as well as his prime minister el-Gizouli Dafa’alla did not hide their sympathies for the agenda of the National Islamic Front (NIF), Nimayri’s bedfellows. The first went on to head the Islamic Relief Organisation, the NIF’s humanitarian proselytization machine, and the second was anyway a cadre of the NIF. 
Under the slogan of ‘democracy’ the Islamic Movement, reorganised as the NIF, washed its slate clean of complicity with the dictatorship and was allowed to vegetate and flourish in the political suspension that followed the demise of the dictator. To little surprise, the professional politicians of the intifada, who had essentially parasitized on its gains rather than led its upheaval, had no other vision to offer in the new situation but a return to the pre-Nimayri dispensation. Emblematic in this regard was the bankrupt call to reinstate the 1956 constitution, a colonial relic that sustained rather than challenged the colonial state albeit wrapped up in the flag of independence. In the parliamentary session that marked the endorsement of the 1956 constitution Hassan al-Tahir Zaroug, inspired by his communism, offered a lasting criticism of the post-colonial state and its heritage that is ever relevant. I quote Zaroug “In the second section of the constitution we find the following ‘no Sudanese shall be denied the right to holding public office, private jobs, or appointment in any position, trade or work, with reference to his place of birth, religion, race, or sex’. We find however five thousand registered unemployed in Khartoum alone. We also find that the wages paid to Southerners are by far less than those paid to Northeners even when they perform the same work”. Zaroug went on to add “We also find that women teachers are paid less than male teachers and subjected to different and worse terms of employment even when they have the same qualification and work in similar schools”.
The Egyptian mass movement is its own authority. It has already created and crafted organisational forms and modes of mass action that transcend the bankrupt and ossified political parties. In its universalism it has with one blow generated the possibility and actuality of overcoming with true politics the falsity of cultural particularisms, the Moslem/Copt schism and the fantasy of the inevitable hegemony of the Moslem Brotherhood. In that sense, the horizon before the Egyptian mass movement is not a return to the pre-1952 dispensation, but the re-approbation of the progressive Nasser moment. 


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  2. Thanks so much for this important post, Dr.


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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.