The Egyptian Revolution, Class Conflict And The Meaning Of ‘Thuggery’

Essay: The aftermath of revolution can carry society toward democracy or facism. Understanding where Egypt will wind up means listening to the words used to describe the conflicts that erupt.

Marwa Maziad

CAIRO - Political science has long taught us that the shape of a political system that emerges in the wake of a revolution is largely defined by the alliances forged among the different social classes.

When the middle class is strong and allied with the elite, as was the case in France, England and the United States, a democratic system is formed. Instead, when a conservative elite allies with the military -- and the middle class, farmers and workers are marginalized -- a fascist system may emerge. When farmers are strongest, like in early 20th century China and Russia, the ground is more fertile for the coming of a Communist regime.

In the current transitional stage, we should pay attention to the alliances being forged between different social groups. The language we use can be a clue. Let us for instance contemplate the word "thug", the Arabic equivalent for which is derived from a Turkish word for a weapon.

This word has an essentially classist connotation. When we use it to refer to people who have been paid money by members from the former regime to attack peaceful, civilized protests staged by other classes, we attach a classist meaning to the term -- since it reflects an economic relationship between a payer and a payee.

If we use it to mean an ordinary citizen who has revolted against the marginalization of his class and who uses violence to voice his/her rejection of these conditions, this is still a classist definition. This citizen has chosen to respond, as an individual or a member of a class, to discrimination against the class to which he /she belongs. This discrimination may have been an institutionalized practice by the police or a social form of violence exercised by other classes.

Both ways, that person is branded a thug because he/she does not fit the description of the civilized, educated, peaceful protester. This description is symptomatic of an underlying class problem that Egyptian society may not be ready to tackle.

I don't support the use of violence in protests, but I am only trying to find an explanation for those bouts of violence. If our discussions in the media continue to perpetuate the same classist image of thugs then we will be no different from the international media which have produced stereotypical images of Muslim and Arabs as being terrorists.

We'd better be careful how we choose to describe ourselves. We should also pay close attention to the alliances currently being formed, for they will shape Egypt's political system in the future.

Read the entire article in Al-Masry Al-Youm

photo - Ahmad.Hammoud

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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.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


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.

The role of the nuclear pact

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.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

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.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

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.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

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.

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