Mostafa Henaway and Rami El-Amine: A People's History of the Egyptian Revolution

Roundup: Historians' Take

Mostafa Henaway is a Canadian-born Egyptian based in Montreal where he is a community organizer with the Immigrant Workers Centre. He is active with Tadamon! Montreal which works in solidarity with struggles for self-determination, equality, and justice in the Middle East and an end to Israeli Apartheid.

Rami El-Amine is an editor of Left Turn magazine.

No matter how it unfolds, the Egyptian revolution will go down in the history books as a defining moment in the 21st century. Millions of Egyptians brought down one of the world's most repressive regimes, that of the US-backed Hosni Mubarak, in just 18 days. Their bravery, perseverance, and tactfulness in the face of the regime's brutal crackdown not only triggered uprisings across the Arab world but inspired and influenced protests against government austerity in the US, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Despite the fact that it is only a few months old, it's important to begin piecing together a people's history of the revolution to convey what happened and how it happened so that the lessons from this critical struggle can be disseminated.

US domination

The starting point for understanding the revolution is the special role that Egypt played in supporting US domination and control of the region, vis-a-vis its relationship with Israel. Egypt began establishing ties with Israel under Anwar Sadat in the mid 1970s, and in 1979 the two countries signed the Camp David Accords with Jimmy Carter's support. As a result, Egypt was rewarded with billions in US military aid, making it the largest recipient after Israel. It's no coincidence that this is when Sadat began eliminating many of the "socialist" policies implemented under Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s, thus paving the way for the introduction of neoliberal policies under Hosni Mubarak.

These measures increased the level of poverty in Egypt, leading to massive disparities in wealth. Moreover, it led to the emergence of a new group of super-wealthy businessmen who benefited from their close ties to the Egyptian state. Hosni Mubarak's son Gamal and steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz were prominent figures of this wealthy class. Both are now in prison, awaiting trials on corruption charges.

Gamal's rise to power is emblematic of how detached and corrupt the regime had become. "The line between businessmen and government was completely erased" by Gamal during this period, according to student activist Hanah Elsisi. Not only did he appoint many of these new rich businessmen to powerful government positions, but together they pushed through more of the neoliberal policies that had enriched them and impoverished most Egyptians. They were seen as being responsible for the regime's almost total shutout of the opposition during the 2010 elections, giving the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) more than 80% of the seats in parliament.

Most of the movements that have emerged over the past decade have been a response to this transformation of Egypt from epicenter of struggles against colonialism and Zionism to defender of US imperialism and Israel, from a state based on the nationalization of industry and benefits for workers and the poor to privatization and the dismantling of the welfare state. It was not just a fight for liberal democracy and against corruption but for real self-determination, including freedom from US domination....

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