Super on Egypt and the Trajectory of Civil Rights Movements

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2 Responses

  1. This is indeed a nice editorial but I’d like to point out a few things lest we be misled by some of the comparisons invoked throughout the article.

    While the social and democratic grounds (which were, in fact, ‘underground’) for the Velvet Revolutions in East-Central Europe preceded Mikhail Gorbachev’s introduction of perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union, it was those policies and ideas which clearly gave notice to nonviolent revolutionaries in Party-State communist regimes that their civil resistance had prospects for success heretofore unthinkable in light of previous Soviet interference (e.g., the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 [which ended on the day I was born]). I don’t think there’s a similar precipitating factor in the case of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

    And despite the obvious similarities to other cases of nonviolent civil resistance and action, as in the civil rights movement highlighted in the editorial, the Egyptian uprising is rightly termed a “revolution,” a distinction that makes for an important difference. This revolution thus presents its social movement actors with obstacles and opportunities of a different order of magnitude than those faced, say, by the civil rights movement but closer in kind to that confronted by the transitional regimes in the post-Party State era in East-Central Europe.*

    The Obama Administration should continue to tread lightly so as to not give the appearance of superpower/neo-colonialist (especially U.S.) interference, something people in the Middle East are, understandably and rightly, particularly sensitive too. It’s best if it simply endorses statements that originate from the sundry democratic organizations, movements and leaders active in Egyptian civil society or the Arab and Islamic worlds generally, such as this Statement by the Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations:

    I close with an eloquent quote from a recent article by the editors of Middle East Reports (available online):

    “No matter what happens to the ferment among Egyptians, theirs is a revolutionary moment, along with Tunisians’ the first real one of the twenty-first century. No media-friendly color for this pro-democracy revolt, whose symbolic images are the red-white-and-black Egyptian flags painted on the cheeks of young girls and boys sitting atop their fathers’ shoulders amidst the crowds. No infusions of cash from democracy-promoting foundations and think tanks in the West. No relation whatsoever to any Washington “doctrine.” No marketing campaigns designed by global advertising firms. How deliciously appropriate that the Arab world, a region long demonized for its lack of participatory politics, should supply these truly bottom-up models for others to emulate.

    Historians today are grasping for the right parallel to past revolutions that will predict Egypt’s trajectory. But such instant analysis forecloses the possibility that Egyptians have awakened with their chants democratic and, after all, no one predicted that they would raise it so dramatically and so soon. Egypt is sui generis; it deserves and, in fact, demands to be understood and appreciated in its own terms and on its own merits. Chroniclers of future popular uprisings may compare them to what Egyptians have wrought in early 2011. Whatever its course, the revolution of the Egyptian people is a great and beautiful gift to the world.”

    * See the literature and links in the second half of this post regarding “what’s next” on the agenda for the revolutionaries:

  2. What is remarkable is that Egypt serves as an example for the people of Iran who have also come into the streets to show their hope for a better future for them and their country. Some people said Egypt may turn into another Iran but the opposite seems to be the truth.