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Egypt's Three Revolutions: The Force of History behind this Popular Uprising

[Scene of the 2011 revolution; image from Getty Images / Peter Macdiarmid] [Scene of the 2011 revolution; image from Getty Images / Peter Macdiarmid]

When the Egyptian Uprising of 2011 began, we heard media pundits, friends, and colleagues milling about in search of apt metaphors to describe the mass protests and revolution in Egypt. In so far as “history” was mobilized in these discussions, it was generally as repetition or analogy. Hence: the Berlin Wall; Tiananmen Square; the first Palestinian Intifada; the Iranian Revolution; the Paris Commune; and the French Revolution, as well as Egypt’s own 1919 and 1952 revolutions. But do these vivid comparisons conceal more than they reveal? Indeed, one could argue that one of the most striking aspects of the contemporary media discussions surrounding Mubarak’s Egypt is the absence of any real sense of history. It is not enough to fill this void with rhetorical comparisons and poetic license.

While an understanding of the process of privatization, economic marginalization, consumerism, and structural adjustment that we refer to as “neo-liberalism” is crucial to understanding the contemporary unfolding of events, particularly in terms of the existence of vast economic inequalities and the impoverishment of the demographic masses, a focus on neo-liberalism alone fails to address the question of the historical relationship in Egypt between ruler and ruled. What would a longer-term historical perspective, a deeper structural view of the events in Egypt look like? Focusing on popular protest and mobilization in Egypt’s 1919, 1952, and 2011 revolutions, I focus on the internal dynamics of, and discontinuities between, each of these revolutions, characterizing them as nationalist, passive, and popular, respectively.

This article is now featured in Jadaliyya's edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.

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17 comments for "Egypt's Three Revolutions: The Force of History behind this Popular Uprising"


Thanks you very much, I learned alot.

hans wrote on February 07, 2011 at 07:09 AM

Excellent analysis ,especially of the present revolution . Wat concerns me is the sudden interest of the old line opposition parties . They wanted NOTHING to do with the protests until it became obvious that the protesters had gained the upper hand . I sincerely hope that the leading organisations of THIS revolution do not allow thes old line political opposition parties to pre-empt them, because they WILL sell you out if it to their political or economical advantage !!!


We Shall Overcome

Tim Donnelly wrote on February 07, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Excellent article, thank you.

Robert wrote on February 07, 2011 at 01:09 PM

Very helpful! Superbly concise.

Tiffany wrote on February 08, 2011 at 05:22 AM

Extremely helpful! Thanks for using your expertise to contextualize the events so clearly!

Flagg wrote on February 08, 2011 at 04:02 PM

Your article is well-written, informative, and most welcome.

I look forward to reading further of your writings.

BrunoDIderot wrote on February 08, 2011 at 09:27 PM

Very informative!! Thanks.

Vatsal wrote on February 09, 2011 at 03:38 AM

This piece is the utmost sensible, comprehensive piece I've ever read since January 25th. And yes I am looking forward to read more of Omnia Shakry. Thank you very much.

Ebru Kilic wrote on February 09, 2011 at 05:19 AM

A brief but very helpful article to place actuality in wider context. Thanks

Harm wrote on February 11, 2011 at 05:03 AM

Great and well studied. very interesting

Rifat Amin wrote on February 12, 2011 at 07:36 AM

Thanks. Did not do Nasserism any justice though.

anonymous wrote on February 13, 2011 at 04:07 AM

This one is going on my syllabi: fabulously helpful historical context!

Shiva Balaghi wrote on February 16, 2011 at 10:13 AM

Omnia, I like your writing. It has depth and passion. I can smell the positive nativism. Also glad it was free from circuitous quoting (Bob quoting Peter who quoted Susan who got it from Bob) that besets Arab studies/commentary because few, very few can access primary sources because only a tiny number can read Arabic or understand spoken Arabic. Above all, I appreciate your coming around to describing Naasir as accurately as any leftist is ever able to. I still have some issues – mostly over your choice of some terms. The toppling of the cleptocratic dictatorship in Egypt was a bourgeois revolt for democracy and there’s nothing wrong with this. Will it move forward toward gender equality and politically sustainable economic growth or will it be stolen by the fascist Islamists? Will see. But let’s go back to history where we can see. My take on Naasir is less complex: the 1952 "thing" was a military coup that started a dictatorship that lasted from 1952 until 2011. It was not a revolution as you stated. Most certainly nothing to do with capitalism. Sadaat’s policies were as far from liberalism as can possibly be and his infitaah was simply the last stage of a dying socialist order not unlike the Chinese economic “miracle” or what the Castor family dictatorship is contemplating in Cuba. Hate or love capitalism or liberalism but accuracy is important. Your implying that there was a social contract [Faustian bargain] is grossly accusatory and, dare I say, a form of reverse lite orientalism. The Egyptian people were never asked, consulted, or thought about. That coerced exchange was dictatorship at its finest. The result was the cult of “firaakh al-gaam’iyaat al’ta’aawniyah”. Granted, the coup was against the illegal regime of king Farooq, but it was a classic military coup with its leader, Naasir, quickly dismissing his fellow conspirators and declaring himself a president for life (sounds familiar?). Naasir, retarded Egypt’s economic growth with laughable economic programs that patronized Egyptians to the point of reducing them to food consumers (recall the cult of “firaakh al-gaam’iyaat al’ta’aawniyah”). Worse, Naasir invaded Yemen thus prolonging its civil war and giving birth to Yemini fascism (sorry, meant to say Islamists). He actively destroyed democracy in Sudan and brought al-Nimairy to power who ended up chopping the limps of over 300 of the poorest human beings. He actively supported the Assad coup in Syria under which the Syrians still suffer. And, let’s not forget his protégé, al-Qazhaafy. A sick list of achievements (sic) for a revolutionary, wouldn’t you say? Third Worlders living in the West should not glorify despots back home by calling their military dictatorships anything but what they truly are: cleptocracies. It was my opinion 20 years ago and remains today: nothing is good about despots and little difference between left and right versions: all were/are crooks. The Castro family dictatorship in Cuba is little different from the family thieveries of the Gulf. Why do you think Hugo Chavez is supporting al-Qazhaafy? Or China defending al-Basheer, the butcher of Darfur? Two things prolonged these cleptocracies and distracted good people like you: Israeli right wingers & their myopic policies and Western complicity in the looting. Like I told you many years ago: maybe our fate is to fight at more than one front: we have to dislodge dictatorships back home; we have to defeat Islamist fascism; we have to change retarded cultures that oppress women & minorities; we have to stop Chinese lootism; and yes, we also have to resist Western imperialism, whether in its hard form of military power and thieving Swiss banking or in its soft imperialism form like aid and GOs (governmental organizations lovingly known as non-governmental organizations or NGOs or even more sickening “humanitarian agencies”). Not to mention the bitter Tea of domestic politics of the USA, the rise of racism and anti-Semitism in Europe, academic discrimination (e.g. Samira al-Haj), fraud in Middle East studies where people who can’t read or speak Arabic teach Arab studies, etc., etc. That’s your fate Omnia as an America, liberal, woman, Arab, Muslim, Egyptian. So quit obsessing about the West who is not as omnipotent as the headlines indicate. Don’t shy away from the multifaceted fight. So, put away that lipstick because the pig is just too ugly.

Waahid min Zamaan wrote on March 01, 2011 at 10:59 AM

this information is very usefull it helped pass the final exam. i love this website. it rocks.

zack manassian wrote on October 13, 2011 at 01:40 PM

I used alot of information 4 my daughters research .Thank you .

nadooda76 wrote on December 10, 2011 at 10:42 AM

The power in the Sadist. That is the Revolution. The reason for the power IS the means of communicating what power is. And the production stays irrelevant.

Chris Krajewski wrote on February 04, 2012 at 09:22 AM

As an American who left home to study abroad in France, I learned at an early age to question my assumptions and to gather information, as much information as possible, before forming opinions. I am now in my mid-40's and live in Rome, where I have perhhaps become too complacent and sit too comfortably in my chair of "enlightened" middle age. Thank you Mr Amar for waking me up.

steelers jerseys wrote on July 25, 2012 at 04:34 AM

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