I like people’s uprisings because it shows the 99% are still alive. Revolts express the hope on a better world. An uprising is however not a revolution and most uprisings do not result in real change. Actions restricted to mass gatherings on streets in town centres do not disturb the power structure. Some attacks maybe directed against the most visible oppressing opponents, the police, but the 1% remain untouched. The Egyptian army was only used after two years of street activities to help the Egyptian 1% to retake their place at the top of society.
Many Egyptians became politically active against the misery of their existence that stood in sharp contradiction to the lack of misery for the leading classes. But it remained a revolt and was not a revolution, the misery continued. A revolt is a people’s insurrection against injustices, a protest against the miserable situation. After the protest the country is again ruled by the same people as before and relations between rulers and ruled hardly changed. The revolting masses have still no influence on decisions after the revolt dies down.
Revolutions are guided by great ideas about another kind of society. The French Revolution was guided by the idea of Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood, the Russian Revolution by the slogan All Power to the Soviets, the Chinese Revolution by the idea of a new Communist Society. Revolutions strive for a different kind of society, revolts for improvements within the existing power relations. Great ideas were missing in Egypt. The driving force was “we want a better life”. The masses fought united but after the very top of the 1% (Mubarak) was removed old differences resurged and the 99% were again divided in secular and religious masses. The 1% could easily regain power because they had never been the prime target.
The basic ideas on which societies are built are not changed by revolts. The presence of a 1% with more power and money than anyone else was not challenged. The revolting Egyptian masses were compelled to act because of growing differences between rulers and ruled, growing misery, lack of a bright future and rising tensions under the 99%. It was supported by internal difficulties in the 1% because the Mubarak clan claimed too much power and money for the own group. Suddenly enough was enough and a small spark caused a prairie fire (Mao Tse-tung). The Arab Spring was started by a self-immolation in Tunisia and spread to other countries. But actions did not undermine the power of the 1% who have a good grip on the army that is involved in much of the economy. After two years of mass actions, the 1% used the secular army to retake power by exploiting and intensifying old contradictions inside the 99%.
In other Arab countries the army was not strong enough and the split in the 1% too deep. In Libya some members of the 1% used tribal backgrounds to get a bigger piece of the pie than under Gaddafi. Also in Tunisia different sections of the 1% fight each other often using contradictions between secular and religious masses. In Syria masses are activated along religious lines. For a revolution a unified 99% is needed to conquer the principal reason for their misery, the 1%. None of these countries saw direct attacks on the 1% so it cannot be expected that a new power structure comes into being. There is still a power pyramid with the 1% on top and the 99% % down under. The Arab Spring is a justified revolt of the dissatisfied masses but it is not a revolution.
The recent history of Egypt saw changes in the top of society but not in the life, the power and the well-being of the masses. In 1952 King Farouk was ousted by a military coup and allowed to leave the country, the not-royal greedy rich were too much hindered by the greed of the royal family. The first president was Mohammed Naguib (1952-1956) who was ousted by the second president Gamal Abdel Nasser (1956-1970). One of the main reasons was the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood that was in contradiction to the ideas of Nasser who wanted a secular society (with the military on top). The Moslem Brotherhood tried to kill Nasser in 1954 and the military cracked down on the organisation. In 1970 Anwar Sadat became president and he was murdered in 1981 by fundamentalist officers.
Under the Fourth president, Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011), the power of the military-economic complex increased but the situation of common citizens hardly improved and dissatisfaction grew. The Brotherhood got more freedom and became the only organised political force. The contradiction between the affluent 1% and the Egyptian people continued to grow. Inside the 1% the Mubarak clan demanded more money and power for the own fraction. Dissatisfaction grew also under the 1%. After thirty years The People revolted. Secular and Muslim people worked together to oust the Mubarak clan. The revolt was supported by parts of the 1% who were threatened by the growing greed of the Mubaraks.
Mubarak was arrested but power relations were not changed. Of the three groups, two had a clear plan. The 1% (minus the Mubaraks) wanted to preserve the military-economic complex as the most powerful factor in the country. The Muslim Brotherhood wanted a religious future. The rest of the masses just wanted a better life. Soon the masses realised that the Brotherhood preferred religion over the improvement of daily life. The secular masses did not have a clear idea where their revolt should lead to and in the end preferred the army over the Brotherhood, both paternalistic powers that wanted to control the masses. They did not realise that a new paradigm was needed, that money should be replaced by the idea that all people have the same status. This is of course in contradiction to a religious state in which a religious 1% rules over the people.
Only great ideas and the undermining of the power centre can guide people towards a new society. The military had not been under any pressure. The removal of the Fifth president Mohammed Morsi was applauded by protesters on the squares but the military move was only inspired by the wish to protect the position of the 1%. The Brotherhood threatened this position just as it had tried before to oust Nasser and Sadat.
Though it is great that the Egyptian masses have shown such an intensive activity, the revolt hardly improved the position of the 99%. It did not lead to a world without a 1%. The 1% remained on top with more power and money than anyone else.
The Arab Spring is a revolt and not a revolution. It did not become a revolution because only a slightly better society was demanded. The masses did not try to force a fundamental change with the possibility on a much better life. Mostly by lack of great inspiring ideas that serve as a guide for actions the step to a Humane World without a 1% has not been taken.
Joost van Steenis