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Demonstrators on army truck in Tahrir Square, Cairo

No More Pharaohs

by 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.

Egyptian Uprising

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.

Egypt Internet Cafe

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.

Egyptian Riot

*All images sourced Wiki Commons.

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RESPONSES (15)
  1. Max says:

    i remember a man who once told me my ideals of changing the world through technology, collective thought and global anger were naive. i think that man now rests in a tomb somewhere.

    nice one, mr edmonds, as always.

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  2. Lizzy says:

    fantastic and inspiring. many thanks.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    From Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen – Oh the times they are a’ changin’

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  4. s n udder says:

    At the risk of bursting the bubble of excitement that surrounds this popular uprising, but did many of us not express similar optimistic sentiments a few years ago when citizens and monks in Myanmar took to the streets to stand up to an even more oppressive regime? It’s not over til it’s over, and if one major superpower shows enough sympathy (and largesse) towards an oppressive regime, the status quo can be restored and upheld for longer than we would have thought. Ask Uncle Bob and his Chinese friends, he’ll tell you all about it too.

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  5. Dan says:

    @ sn udder,

    You have a point but I think things are changing fast, when major global digital business like google and twitter do something like this – http://memeburn.com/2011/02/google-twitter-set-up-voice-to-tweet-service-for-egypt Its becomes apparent that over time things might really actually start to change….

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  6. Sipho Hlongwane says:

    Smoke it by the pound baby!

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  7. Anonymous says:

    Well, what happens after the revolution? As I understand it, protesters are leaving Tahrir Square today. And if Mubarak decides to cling to power, will violence escalate? But what some would call even more terrifying than the current regime is its potential replacement. Who will it be?

    From images on 24 hour news channels and the photographs making it to front pages it looks like most anti-government protesters are muslim. This has given the previously banned group the Muslim Brotherhood the opportunity to ‘hijack’ the protest banners and it looks like they have been drawn in to discussions.

    So, I ask, what is gained from toppling a 30-year military regime and replacing it with yet another religious disease? Freedom? Democracy? I say illusion.

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  8. @ Anonymous says:

    Yes, it will most likely be Muslim, not many Church of England in Egypt. And what exactly is your point? You seem to take it for granted that any Muslim equates to bad. If the majority of Egyptians want religious rule over a dictatorial military regime, then yes that is democratic, and it will bring them a lot more freedom than they have enjoyed over the last several decades. The only deluded person is yourself. Wake up, the future is not what it used to be.

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  9. The Messenger says:

    I wish I could read the newspapers or watch the news or listen to the radio of our near northern neighbours who are under the same or harsher political thumb. The more we realize our future in is our hands and the true power of X is measured by democracy the more we will take charge of making sure every politician represents our interests as masses. Through the net let’s let the Liberation Square fires burn across the world. If leaders do not have us at heart they must be removed. Aluta continua.

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  10. Ts'eliso says:

    “The creative fury of the masses” is such a beatiful sentence. Not even done with reading this – nor have I read the comments section -, but thought I’d say how brilliant I think it is. Big up!

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  11. The Anonymous says:

    “You seem to take it for granted that any Muslim equates to bad.” i sincerely hope you know what you just said.

    Anyways. This whole concept of Freedom is a farce. Nietzsche said it best. But I’m not qualified to explain his theory. Though it equates to something like, man has erroneously constucted for himself the concept that there are similarities in expression; that two people can express their individual feelings through one language.

    To cut straight to the point your freedom is only mine through association, through passed on ideals that have been adopted – disguised as the one and only truth.

    So . . . there you sit infront of your computer (I realise that I am too), rehasing muddled mesagges that have been drilled into your psyche over years and even ages, which have, from the start, been manufactured, flown under the banner of culture and education – when in fact they are nothing but tools worked by the ruling class as a means of reinforcing their positions and keeping them on top. And all this has been made possible because humans suffer from the knack to give everything lables and familiarity. What suits me must suit my brother. Right?

    Oh Democracy, you self-rightous cunt, I live by your will – and you by mine. You’ve refined me, taught me how to think. And now I must praise you. Take care of me but pillage the east. If they know what’s best they’ll see your light. I am your slave – I owe you as much. You’ve shown me the good life, the sushi, the beemers and the scy-scraping malls. Thse things are right, just look at my life. lkasjfjfjufew

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  12. Revolting says:

    Sometimes things have to change to stay the same – look at what happened in the US in the last election. That’s why puppets are put in power, so you can placate the masses by changing puppets. All the new contenders for Egypts prez are in with the same Anglo-American big-money bankster, wankster billionaire douchebags (George Soros anyone?) who put Mubarak in power. Cosmetic change here and there, then the rich will jet back into Egypt, the revolution will have been subverted and co-opted and super-rich cunts will continue to control everything. The best thing that could happen here is that Egyptians reject centralised power structures, go back to regional or tribal power structures that could be held personally accountable, and default on their loans to the IMF, World Bank etc.

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  13. bahumbuggah says:

    People are the disease revolution’s supposed to cure. Alas, they’re too faggin ugly to reform, even muslims. Our hope lies in several billion persons joining me in self-sacrificial altruistic mass suicide. Come on, what are u lickspittle hominid asswipes clinging on for anyway? More consumption? Halfwit love affairs? Heirs?

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  14. bahumbuggah says:

    oh & fuk facebook. Edmonds, one drags one’s sorry ass about this squalid mountain-hugging mess for the next week. Call me, & we’ll begin the winnowing. Ladies first, uh-huh.

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  15. Bonzo says:

    To all your revolution loving democracy championing mother fuckers: how you can feel when the “people” get the power they’re demanding and install a fundamentalist jihadist terrorist sponsoring western hating government in there? Mubarak’s petty corruptions will look pretty benign once all civil rights have been suspended and sharia law is in place!

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