1) Talkin’ Bout A Revolution
Hosni Mubarak, third dictator to rule Egypt since the military coup d’état of 1952, was forced to resign on February 11th, 2011 after 18 days of protest. Here’s how one Egyptian family felt when the news was confirmed.
That’s the mother of Khaled Mohamed Said. Khaled, 28 yeas old, was dragged from an Alexandrian cybercafe by plainclothes policemen and beaten to death for suspected “theft and weapons possession.” Photos of Said’s battered corpse went online, and protests over his death became part of the action in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
2) We Still Have A Lot To Do
Human Rights Organizations had long placed Egypt high on the list of repressive regimes and Said’s murder was not an isolated incident. Just had to ask any young protester.
3) What Seemed Impossible
Mubarak had been given plenty of heads up that times were changing. Even his principal financial sponsors, the Americans, had for quite a while been openly rethinking their policy of supporting dependable Middle Eastern dictators at the expense of democracy. Remember Condoleezza Rice’s 2005 speech at the American University in Cairo?
Mubarak saw no reason to change his ways and rigged the succeeding elections. But then Egyptians finally got to experience the real thing, a legitimate election. Who would emerge victorious? The possibly unduly demonized Muslim Brotherhood? This was clearly what the US feared, among other things. Democracy is well and good, they now want to remind us, until democracy chooses the “wrong” candidate. Well, they did, and Mohamed Morsi became President. A year later, almost predictably, the army staged a coup d’état. Ha!
4) Not An Apple That Falls When It Is Ripe
Free elections are precisely what the millions of brave Egyptians who took to the streets wanted, along with an end to rampant corruption and police brutality and the repressive Emergency Law. They also wanted higher minimum wages and — put simply — a better way of life. What they got was the end of the Mubarak regime. Getting there required more than two weeks of resilient civil disobedience in the face of intimidation and violence.
YouTuber Ahmed “Moody” Mohamed compiled — his words — some of “the most dramatic footage from the 18-day revolution.” Evidently the footage was not dramatic enough: Moody added the obnoxiously insistent, bombastic “Requiem For A Dream” score, a.k.a “Lux Aerterna” (written by Clint Mansell of the band Pop Will Eat Itself). You’ve heard it used in countless YouTube videos, usually compilations like this one, and in trailers for sports events and video games and movies (“Babylon A.D.,” “I Am Legend,” and “Sunshine” to name a few). Please, please, please: spare us this music in the future. Meantime, here is your Egypt Revolution 2011 Trailer.
moodyyoutube, “Egyptian Revolution 2011” (16 Feb, 2011)
See the protestors draped over a tank (American advanced, of course). The Egyptian military kept a low profile during the protests, even stepping in at times to defend the people from police. But no-one could determine the political outlook of its senior echelons. Where did their allegiances lie? They collect most of the annual two billion US dollars of American aid to Egypt, so it was no surprise they were and are tight with American joint chiefs of staff. Many contingents of Egyptian troops receive training in the best American military schools. So would this privileged Egyptian military be willing to yield any of its enormous power to the people, to a democratically-elected civilian government it doesn’t like? In 2013, we got our answer: No.
5) A Revolution In Order To Establish A Dictatorship
Give us a “real democracy” in Egypt, said Secretary of State Hilary Clinton with great prescience, “not a democracy for six months or a year and then evolving into essentially a military dictatorship or a so-called democracy that then leads to what we saw in Iran.” What did we see in Iran again?
Oh yeah… A US-backed dictator, decades of absolute power, out of touch with his people, unceasing popular demonstrations, ambiguous messages from friends in the White House (as ever), is finally chased into exile. Facile comparisons between the two revolutions are to be avoided, sure, but they look pretty similar on the evening news.
6) Talk To Them, Talk To Them
The fall of the Shah is a complicated story, with its own particular plot twists, as is the fall of Mubarak, and the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia, and the fall of so many other dictators. And yet these stories are all pretty straightforward as well. When people rise up it’s about longstanding injustice, about repression and corruption, about the misery of the many side by side with the ostentatious luxury of the few.
In his video trailer, Moody makes reference to the popular uprisings of 1989 — the fall of the GDR, the Velvet Revolution of Czechoslovakia, and the one that ended so brutally, the Romanian Revolution. Unlike Mubarak, who made it safely to a beach house in an undisclosed location, the Romanian dictator was captured and summarily shot by firing squad along with his wife.
Here are the Ceauşescus on a balcony in Bucharest only three days before their execution. Three-quarters of the country are watching on television as the 100,000-strong government rally turns into a full-scale protest. The cheers in the front rows are drowned out by jeers from the back: “Down with the dictator! Death to the murderer!” Elena directs her husband — “talk to them” — as if it were a matter of reasoning with rambunctious kids. All Nicolae can do is holler into his imaginary telephone.
7) Men Make Their Own History
Nicolae’s spontaneous promises are too little too late. The mass of protestors grew into the hundreds of thousands. Amid bloody and chaotic street battles, one crowd managed to storm Ceauşescu’s offices. Nicolae and Elena fled by helicopter only to be seized outside the city. Senior army generals and key communist party figures had already turned against them. How chilling it is to see the old couple in their fur-lined coats, for so many years omnipotent, making their final plea: to die together.
8) No Revolution Without Blood
“To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency. To forgive them is barbarity,” said Maximilien Robespierre famously. The trial of the Ceauşescus in that windowless room does bring to mind the Revolutionary Tribunal circa 1794: no counsel for prisoners, no hearing of witnesses, death the inescapable penalty. The stuff of terror… absolutely necessary to any social revolution, as certain people will want to convince you.
9) The Slime Of A New Bureaucracy
Ok, so perhaps Robespierre was at least an honest man? Not so honest were Ceauşescu’s successors. The National Salvation Front (FSN), composed mostly of communist officials from the former regime, took power four days after the execution. Ion Iliescu, their head honcho, made big promises: there would be multi-party elections and all those responsible for the thousands wounded and murdered during the revolution would be prosecuted. But very few were held to account. In fact, the secret police files of everyone in the new government conveniently disappeared from the records. And in the first elections of 1990, Iliescu’s FSN presented itself as a candidate.
This led to insistent demonstrations, initiated first by students and professors at the University of Bucharest, and growing to include over 50,000 people. Their supporters included Octavian Paler, Eugène Ionescu and other intellectuals. The principal demand — a reasonable one you would think — was that former communist party members be banned from running for office.
Iliescu called the protestors “fascists” and “hooligans” (golani) and sent in a few hooligans of his own. Among them were former officers of the now abolished Securitate as well as hundreds of miners, bussed in from the Jiu Valley, under instructions to help supress the “anti-democracy” demonstrators. What followed put quite a damper on the people’s hard-won Revolution.
Robespierre was not the last man to believe that an increase in liberty brings an increase in virtue… Revolutionaries find easy consensus around abstract ideas of liberty, and then easy discord the moment practical realities of governance are upon them. But hey, all the relief and euphoria is pretty good while it lasts.
10) Glory To The People, Disgrace To Dictatorship, And Peace Be Upon You!
Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi was the next despot to fall. He vowed to “die a martyr.” Born 1942 in a bedouin tent and raised by a small tribe of desert Berbers, he coup d’étated his way into power at the age of 27 and gradually turned Libya into one of the world’s most censored and brutally repressive regimes. In February, 2011, the Libyans rose up across the country to confront powerful, well-armed government forces, which included hired foreign mercenaries from Chad, Niger, Liberia, and the Sudan — not anyone’s idea of a dream job. One of the first videos to make out of the country was horrible.
Were the rebels hoping for outside help, or were they too distrustful of the US and its European allies? The US was reluctant to intervene, fearing — as Hilary Clinton put it — “a giant Somalia.” Yeah but Hilary, they’ve got oil reserves, and Muammar’s not even a friend! So how did it all end? French jets, American aided, went in to ensure the Revolution succeeded. 30,000 Libyan deaths later, elections happened, and “real democracy” was established, presumably, whatever that is.
Final word to a baker from Cairo, a man deeply moved by his own passion and eloquence. And why not?
Good luck Egypt. You’ll need it.