Sunday, January 30, 2011

what i expect to happen in egypt

sorry this is rough. I will be back soon to edit. Heading out to tahrir now.

Friday night I witnessed the tanks roll into Tahrir square downtown Cairo on Friday night. To my amazement the crowds cheered. So for the most part the demonstrators are celebrating the military presence on the streets of Cairo. One demonstrator told me "the police protect us from our enemies, they won't do us any harm." Until last night demonstrators holding a permanent sit-in in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo were surrounded by a number of military tanks charing cigarettes and jokes with soldiers, while one soldier I saw joined the protestors for evening prayer.

This morning about 11am security officials stormed the Aljazeera office in downtown Cairo and closed the office. Two mobile phone carriers sent out messages that people should stay home to protect their homes from the looting. According to Aljazeera earlier today the protestors are no longer sitting on the tanks and there are reports that the military presence is spreading all over Cairo. Via @justimage the US embassy is calling on its citizens to leave Egypt, via Dutch journalist Dirk Wanrooj Heineken and Shell have evacuated their employees. @monasosh reports at 12:15 the military are tightening access for civilians to Tahrir Square. At 1pm the satellite carrier Nile Sat blocks Aljazeera Arabic from viewers in the Arab world. Choppers are increasingly flying over the skies of Cairo.

Despite the positive attitude of the people towards the army, there is no reason to believe that the military shares any interests with the common Egyptians on the street. The reason people are calling for change is that they are tired of economic policies of the Mubarak regime, they have had enough of police violence and a government that does not provide for its people. The faltering Egyptian regime's allies are interested only in what they term "stability" which means prosperity for a small class of Egyptian elites and upper middle class on the backs of the labor of the vast population. What this process entails is the selling off of Egyptian natural resources and enslaving of the Egyptian labor force working to next to nothing while food price go through the roof. The reason for this is the decisions made by the Egyptian policy makers in line with the logic of neo-liberal institutions like the World Bank and IMF, seated in the USA that primarily benefit the economies of the global North.

As we slowly approach sundown and the supposed recent daily curfew in Cairo I expect tonight will be different than the past few days. At some stage the military is going to stop acting as a mediating force and will try to take direct control. I have no illusions that they are acting as anything but a vessel for this sort of "stability" that the global North desires. In Egypt we are no longer in the age of military coups, it is not a question of who has the most influence within the military and what they can get away with, it is a matter of the interests of external forces are and these external forces are looking for the right partner within the current Egyptian regime. What does this mean on the ground? There will be harsh clashes between demonstrators against the military who will quickly switch sides. But the people will not let go easily. In the middle of all this there a lot of looting taking place especially in the suburbs. This has a mix of sources, many of the looters are police officers following orders to loot just like Fateh PA members did during Hamas' initial rule in the Gaza Strip. Other looters are petty criminals released from police stations, partly by the police themselves before they fled, also involved are opportunists who are simply hungry under the economic pressure of living under the circumstances existent in Egypt today.

All this to say, this mass mobilization of the Egyptian street is not without purpose. Rather, this is a powerful manifestation of the will of the people. As I walked the streets amongst protestors I was constantly amazed by the extreme attention protesters paid to parked cars and stores we passed by. The heart of this protest is a strong rejection of a tyrant, the rejection of classist economic policies and proof of the failure of neo-colonial capitalism everywhere.


Mathieu said...

Thank you for the insight! I hope there will be a peaceful transition to a regime in favor of the people.

Anonymous said...

Phil stay safe Al Jazeera as well as other from Tahrir are reporting Mubarak is sending police back onto the streets in the am/ morning.

Thanks for the update. It;s good to hear your view as we been wondering about the reception toward the military as well.

Praying for Egypt.

Chris Upham said...


does any neo-liberal institution have credibility for egyptians anymore? just enough to oversee a peaceful transition? without some external presence enforcing a transfer of power, i don't see how this will end without much bloodshed.


Kim Gilsdorf said...

Phil, it is so wonderful to hear from you -- thank you as always for the thoughtful update, especially on the military's engagement. You are in our thoughts --- siempre estas en nuestros pensamientos.

with love from spain --


Jens M. Lucke said...

Dear Philip,
no need to post this, as it does not directly deal with the happenings on Cairo's streets today. But I have just read your blog and now I am glad I engaged myself for your freedom when you were detained 2009 ( because my reaction to your last sentence ("is proof of the failure of neo-colonial capitalism everywhere") was simply: "That's bullshit Philip!"
And I really think it is. But I am glad that you have the freedom to express this what I think is bullshit and would engage any time again for your freedom, for I do not have to agree with you to be convinced that you as anyone (incl. me) must have the right of free speech.
With my views I expressed in 2009 I feel the liberty to be this blunt to you. Because you too do not have to agree with me but have to bear my right of opinion. I do not think that the protest accross Egypt currently have anything to do with a "proof of the failure of neo-colonial capitalism everywhere". This view is undoubtedly in accordance with your earlier views which I commented on in the Flesh-is-grass-post (re. Marx). I can't follow you on that but I want you to have the right to say this just as I take it for granted that I may say differently. I am not joking on this, I was truly glad when I reacted as I did above that you are free to write what you find to be right. That was what the effort to get you free was all about. It was not about agreeing with you on all points. An on this one I def. cannot. What you express there has much more to do with your rejection of things than with the rejection the people express. I don't think it's a good idea to mix the one with the other. It forges historical thruths and does not give those credit who protest for so obvious other reasons.
Sorry Philip, you are closer to it I am well aware of that. But that remark to me had nothing to do with being close but being into an ideology that was made to fit the picture even if it did not. That at least is my opinion. And I say it because I have said (see above 2009) so many other things in your favour that I feel I should be allowed to disagree. Which - again - doesn't alter anything about my ongoing honest felt happiness that you are free and can enjoy the freedom you as we all deserve. But it's bullshit anyhow. Or if I should phrase that a little bit more correctly: I believe you err on that, Philip.
Hope you can bear my freedom of speech as I can bear yours and hope you will be safe in these uncertain days in Cairo.
Jens M. Lucke

P.S.: With regard to the military it seems you err too. At least the statement issued today speaks a different language. Let‘s hope it is to be trusted. Better err on this than be right. It could save lives to err on this.

Ranée said...

Hello Philip:

I am not sure if you remember me or not, my name is Ranée, but I stayed with your sister briefly over the summer on my visit to Cairo from the U.S. We only met once over dinner, but I have been thinking about your sister and your family in Egypt a lot these past few days; my prayers are with all of you. I also wanted to let you know that hundreds of people have been taking to the streets in New York in front of the Mission to the Egyptian Embassy, one block from the UN, to express their utter disgust for Mubarak. They are demanding for Mubarak’s immediate removal from his dictatorship. There have also been protests in Los Angeles.

Since I have the luxury of being a high school Social Studies Teacher here in the U.S., I have used my time in the classroom to educate my students, as much as I can, about the struggles that the Egyptian populace are facing in this profound struggle that affects us all. I do not feel its enough. At best I feel that I can raise some sort of awareness and support for the struggle for legitimate Democracy in Egypt. But what else can I do, what can my students do here in the states to lend support? Your blog is so insightful; I have been sharing the information that you have provided with my students.

Please stay safe. Thank you soo much for your blog, it is so relevant, thoughtful, and inspiring.

In Solidarity,

Anonymous said...

thanks for the piece - a strong voice of sanity amongst the 'news' that's coming out of egypt. thanks.

Jason said...

We love you brother! We've been watching in the states for days with hope and anxiety. I hope you're right in the middle of it.

m said...

Reading your article, I generally agree with most of it. This is very much about the people choosing to express their own will in a powerful and moving way. It's astounding that people have become willing to stand up to such a harsh regime. But I do have a question about your closing sentence.

You refer to the failure of neo-classical economics, etc. A criticism I've come across before.

Most definitely - in the horrendously corrupt status quo, it is an unequivocal failure. But, for example, Scandinavia is a far more equitable society than most: it may have a broader and more progressive welfare system, but it is ultimately an expression of a social market (read capitalist) economy.

I have no ideological attachment to any system in particular, but what would you propose as an alternative solution?

(as per anon above - stay safe!.. and I know this could take a while for a response, given the lack of internet..!)

Senioren-lobby said...

In dieser traurigen Situation des ganzen Landes ist es fast schon boshaft, wie sich gerade Deutschland verhält, indem hier keine selbständige Außenpolitik stattfindet, stattdessen nur den Interessen der USA nachgegangen wird.
Deutschland sollte klare Stellung beziehen und Mubarak zum Rücktritt auffordern, sämtliche Hilfen an die Staatsführung sofort einstellen und die Demonstranten unterstützen.

Jouir la vie said...

Für uns in Deutschland bleibt nur das Gebet, es möge gut ausgehen für die Menschen...

Servus und so long

scriptina said...

Thank you for first hand information. I hope and wish the protesting people do not loose strength and persistence while carrying on ... be sure there are people all over the world who have worried hearts and are thinking about you.

Barbara said...

Saw you via skype in german tv. Thank you for the insight. Take care!!!

Radwa said...

I just heard your comments on Tagesthemen and thought to myself, I have to find this person's blog to thank him for what he said. Thank you for portraying the truth. Thank you for having the guts to speak honestly. In those difficult times, we all begin to differentiate between those, who truly care about our country and those who don't. People like yourself are a living proof, that within Egyptians there are those who do not give up. Keep the great work and God Bless You!

Jim Sawyer said...

As always, Philip, I find your take on events very helpful for my own understanding. Keep talking!!