Egypt’s Transformative Moment: Revolution, Counterrevolution, or Reform

4 Feb

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 there have been two further transformative events that have reshaped in enduring ways the global setting. When the Soviet empire collapsed two years later, the way was opened for the triumphalist pursuit of the American Imperial Project, seizing the opportunity for geopolitical expansion provided by its self-anointed global leadership as ‘the sole surviving superpower.’ This first rupture in the character of world order produced a decade of ascendant neoliberal globalization in which state power was temporarily and partially eclipsed by a passing the torch of lead global policymaker to the oligarchs of Davos who met annually under the banner of the World Economic Forum. In that sense, the U.S. Government was the well-subsidized sheriff of predatory globalization while the policy agenda was being set by lead bankers and global corporate executives. Although not often identified as such, the 1990s was the first evidence of the rise of non-state actors, and the decline of state-centric geopolitics.

The second rupture came with the 9/11 attacks, however those events are construed. The impact of the attacks transferred the locus of policymaking authority back to the United States, as state actor, under the rubrics of ‘the war on terror,’ ‘global security,’ and ‘the long war.’ This counter-terrorist response to 9/11 produced claims to engage in preemptive warfare (‘The Bush Doctrine’). This militarist foreign policy was put into practice by initiating a ‘shock and awe’ war against Iraq in March 2003 despite the refusal of the UN Security Council to back American war plans. This second rupture has turned the entire world into a potential battlefield, with a variety of overt and covert military and paramilitary operations launched by the United States without appropriate authorization from either the UN or by deference to international law. Aside from this disruption of the liberal international order, the continuing pattern of responses to 9/11 involve disregard for the sovereign rights of states in the global South as well as complicity of many states in Europe and the Middle East in violation of basic human rights through engaging in torture in response to ‘extreme rendition’ of terrorist suspects and providing ‘black sites’ where persons deemed hostile to the United States are detained and routinely abused. The response to 9/11 also was seized upon by the neoconservative ideologues that rose to power in the Bush presidency to enact their pre-attack grand strategy accentuating ‘regime change’ in the Middle East, starting with Iraq, which was portrayed as ‘low-lying fruit’ that would have multiple benefits once picked:

military bases, lower energy prices, oil supplies, regional hegemony, promoting Israeli regional goals.

The third rupture involving the continuing worldwide deep economic recession that started in 2008, and has produced widespread rise in unemployment, declining living standards, and rising costs for basic necessities, especially food and fuel. These developments have exhibited the inequities, gross abuses, and deficiencies of neoliberal globalization, but have not led to the imposition of regulations designed to lessen such widely uneven gains from economic growth, to avoid market abuses, or even to guard against periodic market collapses. This deepening crisis of world capitalism is not being currently addressed, and alternative visions, even the revival of a Keynesian approach, have little political backing. This crisis has also exposed the vulnerabilities of the European Union to the uneven stresses exerted by varying national capabilities to deal with the challenges posed. All of these economic concerns are complicated and intensified by the advent of global warming, and its dramatically uneven impacts.

A fourth rupture in global governance is associated with the unresolved turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa. The mass popular uprisings that started in Tunisia have provided the spark that set off fires elsewhere in the region, especially Egypt. These extraordinary challenges to the established order have vividly inscribed on the global political consciousness the courage and determination of ordinary people living in these Arab countries, especially youth, who have been enduring for their entire lives intolerable conditions of material deprivation, despair, alienation, elite corruption, and merciless oppression. The outcomes of these movements for change in the Arab world is not yet knowable, and will not be for months, if not years to come. It is crucial for supporters on the scene and around the world not to become complacent as it is certain that those with entrenched interests in the old oppressive and exploitative order are seeking to restore former conditions to the extent possible, or at least salvage what they can. In this regard, it would be a naïve mistake to think that transformative and emancipatory results can come from the elimination of a single hated figure such as Ben Ali in Tunisia or Mubarak in Egypt, even if including their immediate entourage. Sustainable significant change requires a new political structure, as well as a new process that ensures free and fair elections and adequate opportunities for popular participation. Real democracy must be substantive as well as procedural, bringing human security to the people, including basic needs, decent work, and a police that protects rather than harasses. Otherwise, the changes wrought merely defer the revolutionary moment to a later day, and an ordeal of mass suffering will resume until that time comes.

To simplify, what remains unresolved is the fundamental nature of the outcome of these confrontations between the aroused populace of the region and state power with its autocratic and neoliberal orientations. Will this outcome be transformative bringing into being authentic democracy based on human rights and an economic order that puts the needs of people ahead of the ambitions of capital? If it is then it will be appropriate to speak of the Egyptian Revolution, the Tunisian Revolution, and maybe others in the region and elsewhere to come, as it was appropriate to describe the Iranian outcome in 1979 as the Iranian Revolution. From this perspective a revolutionary result may not necessarily be a benevolent outcome beyond ridding the society of the old order. In Iran a newly oppressive regime resting on a different ideological foundation emerged, itself being challenged after the 2009 elections by a popular movement calling itself the Green Revolution. So far this use of the word ‘revolution’ expressed hopes rather than referred to realities.

What has actually taken place in Iran, and what seemed to flow from the onslaught unleashed by the Chinese state in Tiananmen Square in 1989 was ‘counterrevolution,’ that is the restoration of the old order and the systematic repression of those identified as participants in the challenge. Actually, the words deployed can be misleading. What most followers of the Green Revolution seemed to seek in Iran was reform not revolution, that is, changes in personnel and policies, protection of human rights, but no challenge to the structure or the constitution of the Islamic Republic.

It is unclear whether the movement in Egypt is at present sufficiently unified or reflective to have a coherent vision of its goals beyond getting rid of Mubarak. The response of the state, besides trying to crush the uprising and even banish media coverage, offers at most promises of reform: fairer and freer elections, respect for human rights. It is rather obscure about what is meant and even more so, what will happen, in the course of an ‘orderly transition’ under the auspices of temporary leaders closely tied to the old regime, and likely enjoying enthusiastic backing in Washington. Will a cosmetic agenda of reform hide the actuality of a politics of counterrevolution? Or will revolutionary expectations come to the fore from an aroused populace to overwhelm the pacifying efforts of ‘the reformers’? Or might there be a genuine mandate of reform, supported by elites and bureaucrats, enacting sufficiently ambitious changes in the direction of democracy and social justice to satisfy the publics? Of course, there is no assurance, or likelihood, that the outcomes will be the same, or even similar, in the various countries undergoing these dynamics of change, and some will see ‘revolution’ where ‘reform’ has taken place, and few will acknowledge the extent to which ‘counterrevolution’ can lead to the breaking of even modest promises of reform.

At stake, as never since the collapse of the colonial order in the Middle East and North Africa, is the unfolding and shaping of self-determination in the entire Arab world, and possibly beyond.

How these dynamics will affect the broader regional agenda is not apparent at this stage, but there is every reason to suppose that the Israel/Palestine conflict will never be quite the same. It is also uncertain how such important regional actors as Turkey or Iran will deploy or not their influence. And, of course, the behavior of the elephant not formally in the room is likely to be a crucial element in the mix for some time to come, for better or worse.


29 Responses to “Egypt’s Transformative Moment: Revolution, Counterrevolution, or Reform”

  1. Ray Joseph Cormier February 4, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Thank you, Professor Falk for this clear and incisive assessment of the Temper of the Times. I agree with your writing.

    Obviously it’s from a different angle, but with a similar perspective we share.

    I sent this letter to the Prime Minister of CanaDa and the Opposition Leaders in Parliament.

    From: Ray Cormier (
    Sent: September 15, 2010 2:10:18 PM
    Prime Minister,

    Watching the hearings on the purchase of the F-35, the most expensive, advanced jet fighters the world has produced, real weapons of mass destruction, the whole questioning process is focused on the traditional, mundane, earth bound issues of dollars and jobs. Benefits and Liabilities.

    What is being offered as a future for our children and Citizens is endless war and increased terrorism.

    Looking at the current realities of this world, a rapidly growing world population, mostly poor, without money or resources, education, opportunities for advancement, on the verge of starvation, the nominally Christian West is still focused on self-indulgence.

    “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from mine,” Christ says. This is addressed to those who say they believe in him, not those who don’t.

    This is the choice confronting the peoples of the world at this juncture in world evolution. It is the Will of God the Nations should beat their swords into plough shares and their spears into pruning hooks, and the Nations no longer learn war any more. In other words, switch from planning war and war production, to food production. It is good, practicable, simple, common sense advice for our times.

    What Nation among them all is uniquely placed to show the leadership to the world in altering the destructive path it is on? With the bitter hatred they have for each other, it is not only the Jews and the Arabs that have an inheritance and Destiny on the Plains of Abraham.


    Ray Joseph Cormier

    • Ray Joseph Cormier February 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

      For those of you who don’t know,

      CanaDa’s founding struggle is rooted on the Plains of Abraham in the New World while the Arabs and Jews war over the inheritance of the Plains of Abraham over there in the world of Antiquity.

  2. Cristina Nevans February 5, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    I have had a fantasy for many years of reading a history book that came from the future and could give me a clear view of the difficult I events in which I have been living. Your overview of the structures of power since the fall of the Berlin Wall has done just that. Your support and understanding of the need for justice in the world and the vulnerability of those who are striving for it at this moment in the Muslim world steps out of history and puts the need to hold onto the human convenant of justice into all of our hands. These brave people who take to the streets demanding a better life in their own countries do it for us all.

    • Richard Falk February 5, 2011 at 7:21 am #

      As always, Tina, your generous words strengthen my will and spirit!!

  3. Dave Canada February 5, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    The process that moves all political and military action forward is reconciliation, this only comes when both sides in conflict come to terms with the future and forgive the past. As the Dali Lama so often says the answer to the worlds problems is in one word “compassion”.

    The US now must help with the reconciliation by acknowledging its role in the oppression of the Egyptian people. As Egypt is the second only to Israel {in the region} in both military and direct financial aid America has a obligation to apologize for the blood it is responsible for.

    Since the end of WW2 western foreign policy has been to support governments without direct engagement towards the citizens only governments. The quote that comes to mind is “we know he’s an asshole but he’s our asshole” not sure who said this but it frightening to think of how many countries this applies to over the last 60 years.

    What brought lasting peace with Germany and Japan was not bombs it was the engagement of the people of these countries with both democracy and multiple class economics. While there will always be rich and poor everyone has right to feel there is hope and compassion for their issues. If a fraction of the money spent on military aid to friends of the west was spent on developing societies with the agencies we cherish these problems would not be happening, unfortunately there is more money in building weapons than schools and hospitals.

    • Richard Falk February 5, 2011 at 7:19 am #

      Thanks, Dave, for this thoughtful and illuminating comment. Unfortunately, the ‘mind’ of government is still shaped by ‘realism’ not ‘compassion.’ This makes it impossible to expect the sort of acknowledgement of responsibility that I agree would have a powerful reconciling effect. I am afraid this skepticism is most persuasive in relation to the United States that has never acknowledged responsibility for the suffering brought to the victims of atomic bombs dropped at the end of World War II. I wish we lived in your world!

      • notexactlyhuman February 5, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

        I would argue that the mind of government is currently shaped by capitalism; when it should be that compassionate government guided by established law be capitalism’s check. Instead, capitalism’s tentacles have corrupted government to rewrite law in favor of greed over compassion. I would go so far as to say that capitalism is government, as it stands. What is a vote from a peasant for a candidate if money first buys the nomination? A ruse.

        Yet again, another wonderful post, good sir.

      • Ray Joseph Cormier February 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

        Money is the god of this world.

      • Richard Falk February 6, 2011 at 7:20 am #

        Yes, money is toxic for the realization of democracy, poisoning the electoral process and debasing substantive equity in societal relations.

      • Ray Joseph Cormier February 6, 2011 at 7:58 am #

        Which brings us Back to the Future from 2000 years ago.

        You cannot serve God and Money at the same Time. Either you will love one and hate the other. Or you will serve one and neglect the other.

        This is the dilemma each and every individual must resolve within themselves 1st whether others choose to do so or not.

      • Ray Joseph Cormier February 6, 2011 at 8:08 am #

        An afterthought;

        And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Does not your master pay tribute?
        He said, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What do you think, Simon?

        From whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?

        Peter said to him, Of strangers.

        Jesus said to him, Then are the children free?
        Matthew 24:24-26

      • Ray Joseph Cormier February 6, 2011 at 8:15 am #


        Matthew 17:24-26

        Professor, perhaps you might consider adding an edit function to your site? Sober 2nd thought?

      • Ray Joseph Cormier February 6, 2011 at 8:30 am #

        With sober 2nd thought, after I corrected the honest scriptural verse error, I had to revisit Matthew 24:24-26 to see what it said. Like Ying and Yang!!!

  4. Ray Joseph Cormier February 5, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    You have never seen the Pope, Billy Graham, John Hagee, Pat Robertson or any of the paid broadcasts by the Christian Bible fundamentalist TV personalities discuss this in the Bible,

    Go to now, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
    Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth eaten.
    Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. You have heaped treasure together for the last days.
    Behold, the HIRE OF THE LABOURERS who have reaped down your fields, which is of you KEPT BACK BY FRAUD, cries: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
    You have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; you have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
    You have condemned and killed the just; and he does not resist you.
    Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
    Be patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draws nigh.
    Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest you be condemned: behold, the judge stands before the door.
    Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.
    Behold, we count them happy which endure. You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
    But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest you fall into condemnation. James 5

    Whether they discuss it or not, the financial meltdown/economic Pearl Harbour-tsunami in the Global collapse of 2008 and the fraud of Wall Street Bankers, the perception is already working it’s way into the minds of the masses.

  5. Ray Joseph Cormier February 7, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    Oftentimes I feel demoralized, lost, unworthy and uncertain about the way forward, but not despairing.

    The world and all that is in it, from my immediate vicinity, is so great, I seem to myself so small and ineffectual. The Spirit of the Almighty, Eternal God is greater than all of that.

    God will have children as the sands of the sea it is written, and I often feel like the smallest grain at the bottom of them all. It is also written God will have children as the Stars in the Heavens.

    I don’t despair because since my personal Day of Awakening to God February 1, 1975, on those days when it seems impossible to do anything to change anything in this world, aware of my own faults, sins and shortcomings, and just when encouragement and support is needed, it has come for me and my Spirit is lifted up to see why it is all worthwhile, no matter what the day to day struggle and disappointments.

    Being carried away in the Spirit I can see it from the perspective of a child of God as a Star in the Heavens. What a world of difference! And just as suddenly I am returned back to this real world, to continue the work of the child of God as a grain of sand in this world Day by Day.

    WE are not alone. While we are separated on the material plane, Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. We will find the way to become One in Spirit.

    Israel and Palestine: Breaking the Silence’
    (David Shulman, New York Review of Books)

    The author describes the ongoing situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories and whether a two-state solution is still in the cards given the trajectory of each sides’ respective strategy (occasioned by new books from al-Quds Univesrity President Sari Nusseibeh and the Israeli NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’). “This is no ordinary blindness”, notes the author regarding Israel’s own culpability in the conflict,

    …it is a sickness of the soul that takes many forms, from a dull but superficial apathy to the silence and passivity of ordinary, decent people, to the malignant
    forms of racism and protofascist nationalism that are becoming more and more evident and powerful in today’s Israel, including segments of the present government.

    I suppose that to acknowledge these facts is too demoralizing, and too laden with potential guilt, for most of us. Often it seems that we will do anything-even risk catastrophic war-to avoid having to look our immediate neighbors in the face, to peel away the mythic mask. Palestinian violence over many years has made it easier for Israelis to make this choice, but it is important to bear in mind that it is, indeed, exactly that, a choice.

    There is a clear alternative-clearer today
    than ever before. In the history of this conflict, Israelis have by no means had a monopoly on blindness, but they are the party with by far the largest freedom
    of action and the greatest potential to bring about serious change.


    The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,
    And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
    And he said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, you know……………….
    So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
    Then he said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Ezekiel 37

  6. On 9/11 February 7, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Thank-you for your courageous stand on reinvestigating 9/11. I am a former fire science student and firefighter but until I came across the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth site three years ago, I hadn’t even considered that our government and media would be lying to us. The difference between what the science reveals and what the propaganda supports is extremely disturbing. Now when I watch any news, I have a BS filter on and I ask myself, who will benefit from what they want us to believe? Please keep standing strong for all those who died that day and the millions who have died in the fraudulent wars that have followed.

  7. Ann Petersen February 7, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    Thank-you for your courageous stand on reinvestigating 9/11. I am a former fire science student and firefighter but until I came across the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth site three years ago, I hadn’t even considered that our government and media would be lying to us. The difference between what the science reveals and what the propaganda supports is extremely disturbing. Now when I watch any news, I have a BS filter on and I ask myself, who will benefit from what they want us to believe? Please keep standing strong for all those who died that day and the millions who have died in the fraudulent wars that have followed.

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