Emotions vs. Interests in Egypt


A sure sign that there has been no revolution in Egypt is that the Obama Administration, echoed by Western news media, tells us that there has.

A revolution in Egypt would cause panic in Washington, Tel Aviv and the capitals of Europe. Instead there is just a cooing concern lest this baby democracy should stumble. No one dare state the obvious, that that was a coup d’état on July 3. It would ruin the revolution narrative.

So what is going on? At issue is the nature of power.

That millions of Egyptians took to the streets, for and against those in control of the State, in itself is a healthy sign, a magnificent spectacle. They need no lectures on democracy from Western products of brand marketing. They may, however, be interested in some reminders on the importance of revolutionary leadership.

A revolutionary crowd is not just a collection of individuals. It is an independent social being, with a life and mind of its own. Individuals become anonymous. The power of combination makes them feel invincible. Moral restraints are loosened. They do things, good and bad, they would not otherwise do. This collective social being is governed by emotions, not reason. Passions sweep through them by contagion; intense, but fleeting; capable of changing direction as quickly as a forest fire driven by the wind.

To get that many people on the streets takes a lot of anger. Anger that Mubarak was in power. Anger that he was removed. Anger that Morsi was in power. Anger that he was removed. Mubarak and Morsi were targets of this anger, but its root cause lies among the grinding difficulty of daily living in Egypt. Removing the target of anger does not remove its cause. That would required changing the conditions of life, a social transformation—a revolution in fact.

Nation states, however, are governed by interests and cool political calculation. The interests of the Egyptian State are tied to those of the United States and Israel. They know that this emotional power of the masses can be stalled to slowly deflate, burst like a balloon by just the right action. To stop a revolutionary crowd in its tracks tell them it’s won. If you are U.S. Secretary of State, tell them: “To see where this revolution happened and all that it has meant to the world is extraordinary for me.” (Hilary Clinton, March 2011).

Revolutionary power can also be hijacked or appropriated for entirely different ends. This is exactly what has happened in Egypt. Twice.

In February 2011, Mubarak was deposed by a military coup.

In July 2013, Morsi was deposed by a military coup, led by General Sisi, Mubarak’s Head of Military Intelligence with close ties to the U.S. and Israel. It was only after extensive consultation with his U.S. counterpart, Charles Hagel, that Sisi ordered Morsi’s arrest.

True, in each case there were throngs of revolutionary Egyptians on the streets, but the motive behind each military intervention was to pre-empt revolutionary change, not to advance it.

The millions who took to the streets between November 2012 and July 2013 to protest against Morsi were used as cover by the Egyptian military in its power struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood. For now, the military is in control of the entire political process in Egypt. The old guard is back in charge. This is somehow regarded as part of the revolution, not a counter-revolutionary coup d’état.

To organize those angry Egyptians into a revolution will take disciplined leadership—and this is rather more than communicating via Twitter and Facebook. A revolution isn’t a garden party

Mahmoud Badr and Tammarod? We know what they are against (Morsi) but what are they for?

We are about to find out.

Mahmoud Badr (center), founder of the opposition Tamarod campaign, attends a press conference in Cairo on June 29, 2013. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty)

Mahmoud Badr (center), founder of the opposition Tamarod campaign, attends a press conference in Cairo on June 29, 2013. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty)

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