Egypt: On the Barricades

2 February 2011

Every revolution, sooner or later, has to stand on the barricades and fight a counter-revolution.  The scenes today at the Tahrir Square are nothing short of a scene that we imagine from the French revolution: the people holding ground against hordes of militiamen of a dying regime.  Young and old, women and men, Muslims and Christians, women in hijab and women in jeans, all are there.  Some are throwing stones, women gathering stones and passing them to young men; others are building barricades.  Doctors are attending to the wounded.  Committees are being organized and arresting thugs. . . .  A people on the march.

Police ID Card
A photograph of a police ID card, taken from one of the police officers who attacked the protesters in Tahrir Square and were arrested by popular committees (published on the Web site of the 6 April Youth Movement, 3 February 2011)

It is clear that what is happening now is an orchestrated attack on the revolution.  Behind it are Mubarak himself, who refuses to leave and is willing to burn the whole country before budging, and corrupt businessmen who feel they will lose their privileges and are paying their employees and blackmailing others to join pro-regime demonstrations (I have actual information of a boss who paid his employees half of their salaries and promised them the rest tomorrow if they would attend a pro-Mubarak demo).  Add to them the goons of the security forces who are afraid of trials after the revolution and who are desperate to defend their status.

The position of the Americans is double: On one hand Obama and the State Department are pushing for keeping the regime but under another name, like Suleiman, the man of the CIA and of Israel.  On the other hand, the CIA and the Israelis would like Mubarak to stand ground, not for his sake but to prevent the revolutionary scenario from spreading to other Arab countries; they also know that deposing Mubarak will lead to democracy and democracy will lead to an anti-Israel agenda.

Mubarak’s speech yesterday did leave the opposition confused and the street doubting.  The argument of many was “he said he is leaving, so let’s wait a few months.”  The Wafd party and other liberals accepted the Mubarak “geste” and ended their participation in the revolution.  The youth movement, which is the largest component of the revolution, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the largest political party and the best organized entity, both rejected the speech and declared their determination to continue the struggle.  Mohamed ElBaradei also joined that position.

My fear, and that of many, was that confused and divided, starved and scared, the people would back down and the revolution would die.  But Mubarak committed a large mistake sending his militias against the people.  In a surrealistic scene, thugs on horses and camels attacked the Tahrir Square with swords, in a move coming from another time and another planet.  But the image speaks for it self: the thug on a horse attacking the young man with a blackberry — this is the contrast between the Egypt of Mubarak and the new Egypt that the revolution is claiming.  Thousands upon thousands of thugs and regime troopers in civilian clothing stormed the Tahrir square, but in vain: the people stood its ground and fought on every entrance of the square.  The battle was live on Al Jazeera, and the people, after seven hours of fighting for every inch, finally got the militias on the run.

At this moment, skirmishes are still happening in nearby areas (the museum, Talaat Harb, etc.), 1,000 among the people fell wounded, but more than 400 of the thugs were arrested and taken prisoners by the popular committees.  The militiamen are regrouping and planning another attack, but also thousands of young men, led by figures of the Muslim Brotherhood, are heading towards Tahrir Square.

The Brothers, historic rivals for me as an Arab nationalist and leftist, are playing an important role in this revolution.  They are putting their neck on the line for it, they are putting their doctors at its service, they are using their influence to sustain it, including having Yusuf Qaradawi himself on Al Jazeera call for support for the people.  Above all, they are not usurping control, and, when talking to the media, they stress that no one owns this revolution and that the people who started it are the young men and women who went to the streets on the 25th of January, when all the political parties including the Brotherhood were taken by surprise, and the men and women who marched yesterday in millions, making every political party including the Brotherhood look small and negligible.  But today the revolution needs structured organizations to form a fighting machine, and the Brotherhood has experience, resources, and the will to play that role.  And they are doing it for the movement without claiming it.  This attitude is earning respect from everybody, including the thousands of non-political, nationalist, or leftist youth who are standing the ground with people from the Brotherhood all over Egypt today.

The Brotherhood, the movement of 6 April, and Baradei are all playing the role the UGTT played in Tunisia.  They now have the responsibility to regulate the rhythm of the revolution.

The youth of 6 April are the ones calling for action.  They are calling for another day of anger tomorrow and for the day of salvation on Friday, hoping to use the momentum of the Friday prayers.  The Brotherhood are in an ideal position to support such a plan.

On Friday there must be a march to the presidential palace: the army can do nothing, and the President can only take his airplane to join Ben Ali or put a bullet in his own head.  The regime’s actions destroyed every chance to appease the people, and now there is no way back, for sure.  Mubarak cannot control Egypt: either he will leave, or Egypt will explode in violent turmoil till he does.

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 2 February 2011; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.  Cf. “Of course, I don’t like Aljazeera’s cleric, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, and it is not because I don’t like clerics, priests, etc.  And I don’t like him in particular but he is, whether I like it or not, very very influential.  Today, he appeared on Aljazeera and urged the Egyptian Army to move against Mubarak, whom he accused of butchering the Egyptian people, and he urged the clerics of Egypt to join the revolt.  He is quite influential and I would say his influence exceeds that of all the Al-Azhar clerics combined” (As’ad AbuKhalil, “Yusuf Al-Qaradawi,” Angry Arab News Service, 2 February 2011); “The Egyptians know that their peaceful democratic revolution, their remarkably responsible and intelligent mass movement, is being crushed by America and Israel as much as by Mubarak’s dictatorship.  I will make a prediction: if this revolution fails, America will face an unprecedented wave of Arab anger, and Egypt will be plagued by violence from now on.  The Muslim Brothers who have escaped from prison, for instance, know that their fate in the coming weeks is to be rearrested and tortured to death.  They will fight” (Robin Yassin-Kassab, “Bloodbath,” Qunfuz, 2 February 2011).

| Print