Back in October David Swanson and I debated the role of non-violence in revolutionary change. As it became clear that Egyptian protesters had driven President Hosni Mubarak out of office, Swanson tweeted, in essence, that non-violence had succeeded and that my contention that radical change is impossible without violence (or the credible threat thereof) was wrong.
Let’s be clear: the uprising in Egypt is not a revolution.
It may become a revolution. Right now, however, all we have is a nice start that–based on observation from outside–appears to have little chance of success. Which is sad, because I am so inspired and elated by the events in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt.
Revolution is the radical restructuring of society, politics, ideology and, not least, economic classes. In a revolution, everything changes. The rich are no longer rich. The poor are no longer poor. Old elites are driven out of power. Outsiders take over.
In Egypt, the military is in charge. They are run by an existing set of elites. The civilian government of Omar Suleiman, though nominally in charge, remains in place. Suleiman was appointed by Mubarak, and was Mubarak’s right-hand man for many years. Mubarak has been allowed to escape. None of these events reflect a revolutionary scenario.
In a revolutionary scenario, Egypt’s poor would enjoy the prospect of no longer living in slums. Former elites, including Suleiman and the generals, would be on trial or have been killed.
If the protesters in Egypt become revolutionists, they will almost certainly be forced to resort to violent force in order to force the capitulation of the oppressor class, which remains in charge. The removal of Mubarak, though exciting, is little more than a palace coup, a change of personnel.
Emancipation requires more—much more—than sitting in Tahrir Square and singing songs.
I hope the people of Egypt step forward and start that process. Freedom awaits, not only for them, not only for the Middle East, but for all of us.