Egypt and Tunisia: How Do Revolutions Start, and When Do Revolutions End?

Egypt’s revolution is still cooking, but not boiling yet.  Today the people took to the streets in a fragmented way, after the police heavy-handedly dispersed the crowd yesterday.

In Cairo one demonstrator and one police officer died today in the clashes.  That gives an idea of the level of protest; the government is denying this, though.

Also, Egypt has its own Sidi Bouzid now: the city of Suez.  Three people have already been shot dead there, and the crowd stormed into the National Democratic Party (Mubarak’s party) headquarters in the city.

Maybe what the uprising in Egypt needs is more grassroots organizing.  Till now, in Cairo at least, the mobilization has been done online, mainly through Facebook and Twitter.  This is very efficient in spreading the word, but it is also vulnerable to infiltration and makes it hard to control real neighborhoods like what happened in Tunisia where neighborhoods and villages organized themselves against repression: since everybody knows everybody on that organic level, infiltration becomes difficult.

Eventually, if the uprising continues, it will start trickling down into the neighborhoods; once that happens, the regime will have difficulties controlling the crowds.  In a neighborhood like Imbaba for instance, any revolution will make a whole part of Cairo inaccessible to the police.  In Suez and Alexandria similar scenarios can occur faster with a strong regional sentiment present.

The beautiful thing about this uprising is that it came at a time when the regime was playing the sectarian card and trying to create a violent rift between Christians and Muslims and then pose as the sole guarantee for security in the country, an Egyptian “après moi le déluge.”  Today, Christians and Muslims were together in the street against their common enemy, chanting slogans like “revolution until victory, in Tunisia and in Egypt,” “The people wants the regime down,” “Mubarak, leave, and take your son with you.”  Flags of Tunisia and Palestine were also seen.

On Facebook, a call to demonstrate next Friday seems to be very popular, and Facebook groups with as many as half a million members are mobilizing for more action.  This is huge as media; I don’t think any revolution in history had the opportunity to have such an efficient communication tool.  Add to that the role Al Jazeera is playing, and you have the perfect tools of information possible.

Speaking of Al Jazeera, it is nowadays picking a fight with the Palestinian authority (PA) through unveiling secret documents of meeting minutes between PA leadership and British, American, and Israeli leaderships.  The most important info is that the PA has pleaded with the Americans to ask Israel to keep the siege against Gaza.  Worse and more unsettling, however, is the proof that the PA is coordinating with the Israelis to assassinate resistance leaders — even those of Fatah.  I personally knew that since 2001 when an important Hamas leader said it to me in a meeting when I asked him why they didn’t trust the Fatah leadership, but to have it revealed this way is shocking nonetheless.  Is this going to generate an uprising against the PA in the West Bank?  It certainly should, but so far it is only the pro-PA thugs who are rising up against Al Jazeera and trying to burn down its offices.

It is amazing what the Tunisian revolution unleashed, and I believe we haven’t seen the end of it yet.  The actions against the government continue, mainly in the provinces and through the people who are gathering in front of the Qasba in Tunis.  However, the repression is becoming harsh again, and supporters of the government are daring to show their faces in the streets and demonstrate, asking people to give it a chance till the transition of power is made six months from now.  The same demand that General Ammar made when he appeared for the first time and spoke to the protestors.

I can say that the people are divided on the issue of the government.  The argument of many is that a void is only good for the enemies of the people and the old regime or a pretext for the military to take over.  They feel that the government as a transition mechanism is a necessity and that RCDers should be integrated and not marginalized.  Some say even that the corruption of some must be hidden for the sake of social peace and that the six-month transition period is necessary to hide all the scandals under Ben Ali.  “After all, the regime fell and we do not want a civil war,” they say.

On the other hand, it is hard for the people of Sidi Bouzid and other marginalized cities to accept all this and turn a blind eye to the people who just finished massacring them.  That is why they marched on the capital, and they are camping there demanding the resignation of the government; they are supported by the trade union and radical activists.  The danger is that this will become a dividing line between the marginalized Tunisians of the interior and the south and the more middle-class coastal areas.  The government is declaring changes in its composition tomorrow, and the expectations are that three ministers who served under Ben Ali will resign.  It is unclear whether this is going to satisfy the protestors.

Dyab Abou Jahjah is founder and former president of the Arab European League.  This article was first published in his blog Abou Jahjah Comments on 27 January 2011; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes. 

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