After eighteen days of protest that must have felt like much more, the Egyptian people have succeeded in exerting final authority over their government by forcing the thirty year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak out of power.
By taking their destiny into their own hands, the Egyptian people have proven that they understand democracy better than so many of us in the west with our ceremonious elections that change nothing. By voting with their shoes, the Egyptian people have smashed the subtly racist notion that popular culture in the Muslim world prefers religious fundamentalism and dictatorship.
Renowned cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek explains, “when we are fighting a tyrant we are all universalists …What happened in Tunesia, what happens now in Egypt, it's precisely this universal revolution for dignity, human rights, [and] economic justice. This is universalism at work.”
Another important lesson to draw from Egypt's revolution is that protest works! Every aristocracy, every dictatorial regime, depends on the hard work and silent consent of the working class. Their station in society depends on our service. Egyptians spoke with a unitary and unwaivering voice that Mubarak must go. Once they seized the streets and Tahrir Square, it was just a waiting game to see how long it would take for reality to penetrate Mubarak's mind.
Had Mubarak been replaced earlier on by a new face, the ruling class might have been able to rebrand itself and stymie the revolt. But after thirty years of dictatorship, the regime was unable to separate itself from Mubarak. What seemed stable just one month ago, proved to be brittle under pressure. There will undoubtedly still be attempts by former establishment figures to re-assert themselves under a new guise. But the difficult struggle to dislodge Mubarak has put much better possibilities on the table.
The Egyptian protests were qualitatively different from what we have in the US, where we march through cattle chutes erected by the police, and respectfully ask those in power to listen. Let us learn from the Egyptians' militancy. It is not numbers alone that make mass action so powerful. A willingness to defy authority until basic demands are met is also essential.
Accusations of foreign interference by Mubarak's government were especially ironic given that they were taking $1.3 billion each year in military aid from the United States, including the tear gas police fired against protesters. It was Mubarak's corrupt government that represented capitulation to foreign interests, not the protesters.
Obama was almost as slow as Mubarak to understand the message coming from Egypt's streets. Multiple statements from the White House essentially mirrored Mubarak's own stance of offering concessions short of regime change. Even as the corporate media voiced support for the people of Egypt, criticism of Obama and the long history of US government support for dictators in the middle east was conspicuously absent. In the US we have an essential role to play, to challenge US government policy that undermine the political independence of people in the middle east and around the world.
The brief final message from former vice-president Suleiman indicates that the supreme council of the Egyptian military will take over the country's affairs until a new civilian government can be elected. The experiences of the struggle to oust Mubarak have given the Egyptian people a taste of grassroots democracy. In the days ahead we must watch to see if the military continues to play a passive role. Now is the opportunity for Egyptians to turn regime change into a social and economic revolution, and also repudiate US-Israeli domination in the region.
Egypt has already joined Tunisia in the minds of millions of people around the world as a victory against corruption, dictatorship, and imperialism. The uplifting psychological effects of these events cannot be underestimated. Similar protests have been inspired all over the world, especially in Yemen and Jordan. Tyrants beware! We are all Egyptian now!