Revisiting The Tahrir Square Occupation

It is five years since the historic mass movement of millions of Egyptian, 25th January to 11th February 2011, in which the people forced Mubarak to stand down afer a 30 year rule. “The People Demanded the End of the Regime.”

Over the last couple of days I’ve re-read all of this thread on Political World forum on the experience of the Tahrir Square occupation and also all of our thread on the Arab Spring and thought about the experience of the truncated Egyptian revolution, and my experience for ten days being part of it.

People asked at the time, when Mubarak went, was it a coup, or a revolution. It was neither – it was a moment of hesitation by a mass movement, at which the question of power – who should rule the country – was implicitly posed, and the people stepped back from it.

After the first 8 days of battle and hundreds of deaths of unarmed protestors, Tahrir Square for the next 10 days was a state within a state, in one space, self-organised, and full of energy, determination and a feeling of surprise and elation. The people of Egypt came together 5 years ago, today and accepted Mubarak’s departure, along with assurances of elections, and promises of constitutional reform to a democratic state. On that basis they went back home and left power in the hands of the army, along with the judiciary who proposed to act as guarantors of constitutional change.

“The People and the Army are One Hand” was a slogan chanted at that time, half in belief, half as an appeal to the army not to crush the people. The people offered themselves up in the exposed open spaces of the squares, protected mainly by their numbers, and by the fact that the Egyptian was a conscript army, manned by their brothers and sons.

It was the decision of the People when they left the Square and handed power back: they were not ready, or did not at that time see the need, to press on and take on the difficult and dangerous task of dismantling and replacing the armed forces, and taking power, and taking over the running of and ownership of the country themselves – as they had run the Square – equally and communally, with forces that act for them, instead of exploiting and oppressing them.

There followed five years of treachery and political suppression by the army and establishment, and of anger and disillusionment of the people. Energies that were needed for long term organisation were spent on repeated street battles and mass protests.  Nevertheless, enormous political experience was accumulated by youth and workers who before had none.

Many Egyptians, whose historic experience of colonialism was under the British, did not recognise the malign, background, role of the US establishment, and sincerely believed that an old style western democracy had been on offer. The US tooled up the Egyptian army, and as is known from leaked cables, having been taken by surprise by the massive power of the 2011 rising, worked at ‘transitioning’ first through the elected Muslim Brotherhood and then directly with the army and wealthy, pro-Mubarak forces, to divert Egypt back, via an army coup, army massacres and mass jailings, to a military regime even more brutal than Mubarak’s. The Egyptian economy is even more devastated, corrupt and unsustainable now than in 2011. Far from new democracies being created, the global economic crisis is driving erosion of democracy, from west to east.

In 2011 I walked the Square for hours every day, observing, discussing with people, working with others on the basic tasks of maintaining the occupation, and also looking for any sign of Egyptian socialists who might be putting forward an alternative, and could not find one. I expect other people were searching too.  I met workers, agriculturalists, Ultras, women from the MB, members of the pro democracy youth movements, doctors, poets and many others. The Nasserites (left nationalists) were openly meeting every day, as was anyone else with anything to say. There was freedom for anyone against Mubarak to be there and speak. After the occupation was over, in the celebrations of Mubarak’s departure, I met a girl student, a member of the Revolutionary Socialists, who had not been to the occupation – hard to comprehend this apparent detachment of a ‘left’ from an event of enormous revolutionary potential. History, and the state of the socialist movement, has brought us to a point where there is virtually no organisation of the working class that is preparing and is able to seize – or recognise – a moment like that when it comes.

I’ve been reading blogs and interviews with people who took part in those 18 days of uprising and the experience of “No More Fear”. I’ve not seen anyone say they regretted being at Tahrir Square, only people who wished they had been, or who, like me, wished they had got there sooner. Everyone who was there knows what revolutionary power of millions of people feels like, even though that power was not used to make a revolution.

There was a moment of hesitation and ‘he who hesitates is lost’. The working class and youth, who had unleashed the occupation with such courage and determination, were not ready to go on, but when they are ready, as they will be only when the political organisation and study needed has been done, and when they know that there is no alternative, they will, and not only in Egypt.

C. Flower  11 Feb 2016

Tahrir Square – February 2011


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