A Revolution Without A Revolutionary Party - The Limits Of Egypt's Secular Opposition

Cairo's Tahrir Square in February 2013
Cairo's Tahrir Square in February 2013
Akram Ismail


CAIRO - I believe the presence of armed gangs and the incidents of rape during Tahrir Square protests represent a serious problem.

I do not just sympathize with the victims: women and revolutionaries who were, and still are, subjected to wide-scale suppression or abuse. I am concerned about two issues; the first of them is building a revolutionary party capable of maintaining a link with protest spaces.

In established bourgeois democracies, parties are not required to have strict organizational forms or quasi-military units because their prime focus is political campaigning and elections, which are handled by experts and activists who form strategic and political-planning units. They are less in need of units to manage activity on the ground.

We, however, have a problem in this regard. We have a state of revolutionary mobility to which we relate through traditional political parties that have not seriously examined how to link themselves to this state of mobility and protest spaces in an organized manner.

The question is how to build a party that is capable of maintaining presence in the political sphere and in revolutionary spaces.

The second issue concerns the relationship between political powers and protest spaces. This started to be problematic when political powers called for staging a sit-in in July 2011 against the then-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. That sit-in was not serious enough and gradually disintegrated, with the remaining protesters being subjected to all forms of violations until the sit-in was forcibly broken up.

(photo: Gigi Ibrahim)

Over the past two years, this scene has been repeated several times, whereby political powers would withdraw from protest spaces without announcing their pullout, leaving those who insisted on staying to face all forms of harassment and suppression.

Every time political powers call for a sit-in in Tahrir, the state authority withdraws from the square and then political powers withdraw later, allowing bolder, more radical, frustrated, violent, confrontational groups that have lost faith in the political process to thrive. As political powers relinquish the square, groups of vagrants, children and youth who see violence against the Interior Ministry as the only means to express their anger, sprout.

In the meantime, violent tendencies and incidents of harassment and rape rise in this uncontrolled space, where the kingdoms of poverty and fury can exercise all forms of violence, struggle and revenge away from the regulated city.

How are political powers addressing this issue?

Revolutionary and political powers undoubtedly regard protest spaces as liberated zones that they can use to pile pressure on the political authority to create a negotiating advantage. However, they have not taken protest spaces and their related challenges seriously.

“Tahrir is shouting for help”

Just after 25 Jan. 2011, the 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition surfaced as the most prominent leader of protests, especially those carried out by the more radical currents. The group tried to advise the radical groups in Tahrir against closing the Mugamma administrative building in July 2011, but it failed because its attempts were only cursory and also because it did not seek to keep a strong presence in Tahrir. Controlling Tahrir required building a more coherent and organized structure.

Political powers called for a sit-in in Nov. 2012 following the issuing of the 22 November constitutional declaration. But that sit-in, which continues until today and which came as a result of a fresh revolutionary uprising, has produced the current scene, with more violent and radical groups controlling Tahrir, defending their territory strongly and even testing their limits by blocking the 6th of October Bridge and the metro. Linked to this violence are incidents of bloody rapes and harassment in the vicinity of the square.

(photo: Gigi Ibrahim)

Today, it is quite impossible to tell the infiltrators from the revolutionaries.

Political powers do not see the need to keep a foot in Tahrir. This is not only a political choice, but also an organizational issue. How do they want to build their political organizations? Do they wish to limit their activity to the electoral political sphere? Or do they wish to build an organization capable of managing the conflicts on the ground, mobilizing the crowds and carrying out clear-cut roles in the mass movement?

Political powers cannot play a role in the revolutionary mobility without bolstering their capacities to undertake fieldwork. Their talk about being unable to secure Tahrir is understandable, for those nascent political organizations cannot be asked to fully control Tahrir.

However, they should have a vision on how to be present in Tahrir. The fact that revolutionary political parties are not doing this will cause them to have a weaker negotiating position with the political authority. Worse, it will produce a political sphere opposed to Tahrir, and perhaps even bestow legitimacy on quelling it.

Additionally, linking the political sphere to Tahrir will not be possible unless political powers become active players there and forge an interactive relationship with it.

Perhaps we attach too much importance to Tahrir. But it remains the epicenter of revolt and our first field test. This revolutionary kingdom is gradually abandoning politics for the sake of bloody confrontations with the regime. It expresses anger, deep social contradictions, running a thin line between struggle and crime, in a space that is increasingly attracting the margins of the city where all forms of adventure, lawlessness and challenge to authority are tested.

This free space needs the attention of political powers, which should have an eye on Tahrir and another on the presidential palace.

Tahrir is shouting for help. It is becoming a frightening expression of a severe social crisis — an increasingly radical, violent and hostile spot. Meanwhile, political powers are becoming more sluggish, security bodies more disintegrated, the political sphere more restricted and the political authority more hapless. So who dares to take the initiative — or the risk — to resolve this problem?

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A check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здраво!*

Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.

[*Zdravo - Macedonian]


Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.



• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.

• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".

• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.

• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.

• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.

• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.



Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.


The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in

In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun. In The Conversation she writes:

🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice). Just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors — who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets — now face heightened harassment.

🤑 Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation. Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure. It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies.

🏙️ My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44. When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

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€6.65 million

The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.


Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games

Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.

A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.

Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.

The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.

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"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."

— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.


Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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