Egypt Is Not A Revolution

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.


  • Wasn’t the point of the last few days for the Egyptians to decide their own affairs without the blessing of the Americans?

    Ted, correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t you an American? Who are you to stop them from sitting in Tahrir Square and singing songs if that’s what they want to do?

  • I have been having the feeling that the Egyptians are not going to be really tested until the other shoe drops. As you’ve said, Ted, change won’t happen until those in power feel from the street that they have no alternative. Does the Egyptian army respect and fear the possibility of killing their own, and if they cross that line, will the people of Egypt be willing and able to stand up to the army? That’s when change will happen.

  • Ted’s been itching to see common Americans kill the Wall Street bankers for years. I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with his early years at Bear Stearns. Not gonna happen Ted. Not now. Not in our lifetimes. Most likely never. If it ever was going to happen it was in 2008/09 as the financial debacle happened and the Wall Street cartel raided the taxpayer coffers. What the American taxpayer do? Blog. Everywhere you went on the web is was “what about the little guy!!” “There’s two sets of rules” and “it’s not fair”. But bloodshed? Ha! LOL! Never. Not here. Too much Krispy Kreme. Too much NFL, beer and porn.

  • Translation of the above is that there’s no such thing as peaceful revolution, and there can be no social change, unless the poor in Egypt start gutting “the rich”. Which, in the long run, won’t help them, since they’ll still be poor and the Egyptian economy would still be in shambles. But it would Ted Rallsky feel so god.
    I think you’re in for a lot of disappoint when you discover that even the poor peasants in Cairo’s slums (or Rio’s, or Bagkok’s etc) hate corrupt officials and violent, extortionist police officers much more than they hate “the rich.”
    Here’s hoping the so far peaceful people’s rebellion in Egypt opens up the way for a liberty-minded revolution, and not your out-dated, gory, socialist monstrosity.

  • Ted, perhaps of interest to you: the NYT article “Decentralizing the Internet So Big Brother Can’t Find You” discusses the new free-software privacy venture at

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