No More Pharaohsby Brandon Edmonds / 03.02.2011
Squeeze a soiled cloth hard enough and the muck runs out. Same goes for popular pressure. As the great socialist historian, C.L.R. James puts it in Black Jacobins, his inspiring history of the short-lived Haitian republic, “The rich are only defeated when running for their lives.”
Let’s imagine we’re future film-makers rooting around for story ideas in the public record of the Glorious Egyptian Revolution of 2011 – a revolution that has long since evolved into whatever political outcome is going to keep you reading this article. We’d thrill to the imagery.
The crowds in Tahrir Square. That look people get when their lives take on purpose and meaning. A courageous, humble, shining sense of agency, gratefulness and beauty. We’d be amazed and disgusted at captured looters with police ID’s, let loose by security forces to criminalize the uprising. How we’d jeer at footage of Mubarak on TV. A man in power for almost 30 years and all of them hands around the neck of Egyptian society, all of them characterized by draconian Emergency Laws. An odious toad feeding off a torture-happy police state. Banking on that annual American military stipend of $1.5billion – hush money to keep Israel close and fuck the Palestinians.
And we’d see in his slack, sleepless face and defeated shoulders the tell-tale signs of both the cancer that killed him and the rude shock of an ousting by the unlikeliest of means: the power of the people. A power that swept through the region and beyond, ending authoritarian oligarchies from Saudi Arabia to Burma, liberating multitudes from Mamelodi to Detroit, making life worth living again.
We’d see Egyptian soldiers who refused to turn on protesters. Who helped turn their tanks into literal platforms of free speech. We’d be stirred by bravery on every street corner and moved by the senseless, craven body count. Images of prayer happening in the street, prayer mats surrounded by riot police. Anarchic cleansing fires of police carriers burning in the night. A banner reads: “We don’t need Pharaohs!” Everywhere confirmation of the astonishing game-changing power of collective resistance. The creative fury of the masses.
We’d remember how good it felt to see freedom before our eyes after the long winter of American hegemony. Here at last was the international revolutionary turn against unprecedented inequality, runaway corporate greed, undemocratic bank bail-outs, and official indifference to widespread social suffering; the beginning of the end of the terrible rule of the trans-national elites.
And we’d think for a moment about making fun of the young key grip, who, moved by what she sees, begins to cry. But we respect her tears. These events belong to us all now. Like 1789, like 1917, 1945, 1989 and 1994. Popular history. Collective singularities ringing out for all time. And we look at each other and wonder what to film, which story to make our own?
Maybe the story of 27 year old Israa’ Abd el-Fattah, as reported on counterpunch.org, arrested for encouraging a strike on her Facebook page which soon had 70,000 ‘likes’ and helped spark riots in al-Mahalla. She was the first ever woman arrested under the Emergency Laws for that page. Released, she spearheaded the “April 6 Youth” movement active across social networking sites for years before the revolution and chose national “Police Day” (January 25) to “call on all social media sites for massive protests and an uprising against the Mubarak regime”. When the police attacked them, it ‘ignited the country’. Protesters “refused to go home and escalated the confrontation in Liberation Square in downtown Cairo and throughout the country”. Soon all 350 000 members of the security forces were mobilized and streets and neighborhoods ‘became battlegrounds’. We know the rest. A wonderful woman, her computer and the slow build-up of social anger. This is all it takes.
In Tunisia it was routine police harassment of a street-seller who, pushed past his limit and out of his mind by the thankless grind of everyday life under a corrupt and vicious regime, sets himself alight. Right there in the street like the famous Vietnamese monk. His fellow citizens see this effigy as the final straw. Spoiled meat led to 1917. Anything can trigger transformation. Hence the security cameras. The pacifying bullshit that passes for entertainment. And the pressure to compete rather than join together.
Then we find our story, our fairytale ending. One that gives us the idea of the dirty cloth and the fleeing rich. “The head of the Cairo International Airport announced that 19 private jets owned by the richest families in the country left for Dubai on Saturday.” Things only boiled over on Tuesday. It doesn’t take much after all. A guilty conscience never sleeps. Both Mubarak’s sons and their families fled to London in yet more private jets. Then this: “a former intelligence officer and close confidant of the president” corrupt billionaire, Hussein Salem, is forced to hand over $300 million in cash to officials at Dubai airport.
Think of Salem as a representative of the ruling class everywhere. How he must have smiled to himself onboard his jet. Laughed aloud. Perhaps he glanced at the pyramids as the aircraft ascended, leaving Egypt behind. “If only I could take them with me,” he might have thought. “Imagine the re-sale value!” It’s a brief flight to Dubai but time enough to nap. The last few days would have been taxing. Revolution is very disruptive. He never even got a chance to say goodbye to his mistress. His wife snores alongside him now. The mother of his children. Safe and sound, praise God. And he thinks of the money. Safe in several suitcases in the hold. Enough to begin again. The fruit of bashed heads and electric current. The reward for all those dirty deals. The least he deserves for the risk of hell in the next world. But the money makes it alright. The money justifies everything here on earth.
Then the money is taken. And our film ends with the crowds in slow motion. Those shining faces. Viva la Revolucion! Fuck you Hussein Salem. And everyone like you. Run for your lives.
*All images sourced Wiki Commons.