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.