First, the caveat that it is always instructive, how much of what is presented as fact, in the midst of a fluid, fast-moving, upbubbling situation, is later, when the histories come to be written, understood to be not so much fact at all.
That said, the moment when I accepted that the Egyptian revolution is Real and Irrevocable, was when the New York Times reported that among those who had taken to the streets were Egypt’s wealthy.
The protesters came from every social class and included even wealthy Egyptians, who are often dismissed as apolitical, or too comfortable to mobilize. For some of them in the crowd on Friday, the brutality of the security forces was a revelation.
“Dogs!” they yelled at the riot police, as they saw bloodied protesters dragged away. “These people are Egyptians!”
This is not good news for any autocrat. When even the people who have enriched themselves under your regime, are in the streets denouncing your hirelings as dogs, you are in terminal trouble. When the bazari of Iran shifted from covert, bet-hedging support of the implacable exiled cleric Khomeini, to open endorsement of that man and his people, the Shah of Iran was finished. So too, it appears, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
Egypt, like India and China, is a very old civilization. Thousands of years ago, its people accomplished things that white Europeans and their rowdy American offspring still can’t puzzle out how to do today.
Like India and China, Egypt, in the last centuries of the last millennium, was subdued by frisky, rapacious, gunpowder-empowered Europeans. Who did with Egypt, as they did with India and China, what they might wilt. But, as was true of India and China, Egypt is not an exhausted civilization. It is, instead, but a quiescent one. Ready to bestow new gifts to the planet, once it has shaken off fitful slumber, and Western rude awakening.
In 2010, writing of Haiti, Philippe Girard noted:
Terrorism, crime, retirement and health care costs, right versus left, and abortion: these are the issues that monopolize US news. But the central issue of our age, one that is often ignored, is underdevelopment. However horrible terrorism might be, history’s worst terrorist attack, on 9/11, killed fewer than three thousand people. Underdevelopment affects billions and kills millions every single year. Two and a half billion people, including most Haitians, live on two dollars a day.
By the most conservative estimate, that of the CIA, 20% of Egyptians subsist on less than two dollars a day. That is more than 14 million people. The average American, by the time s/he has arisen from bed, turned on a light, and stumbled into the shower, has already expended two dollars for that day.
Earlier in his book, Girard recounts how, in the years after the Haitian revolution, different visions of how Haiti should progress emerged in the north and the south of that country.
In the north dominated a more or less forced labor system, in which Haitians were relentlessly goosed to toil for what was, in the end, the greater good of people richer than themselves. While in the south, people were permitted to pursue subsistence farming, a system wholly outside the demands and whims and frolics of the outer world.
As even Girard, a full-throated proponent of World Bank-style “development,” admits: “[n]ortherners were made happy against their will. Southerners were free and poor.”
“Free and poor” is the future of all we human beings on this planet. As I endlessly stress on this blog, for everyone on earth to live as the average American would require the resources of 5.3 earths. And we just don’t have those earths. Therefore, no one, not even an American, can live any longer like an American. All of us, everywhere, must learn instead to walk somewhere between those strutting, heedlessly consumptive Americans, and those who are walked over, like the most impoverished people of Egypt.
For reasons beyond my control, I yesterday became privy to information that the Egyptian police have recently placed a truly massive order for new riot helmets. So though these police have recently been pulled off the streets, at least in their minds they are not done. They look into the future, and what they see: there will be blood.
But they, the Egyptian police, are, in the end, of no moment—not so long as the Egyptian military continues to rigorously hew to its non-interventionalist path. The Egyptian military is huge, massive, decisive. It could at any moment decide the revolution in whatever manner it might wish. It has, to this moment, done nothing.
Egyptian military officers are helplessly entwined with both American and Israeli interests. The elite of the Egyptian military are educated and trained in the United States; then, when they go to work, they find themselves inextricably entwined with the Israeli security state in securing their common border from paladins eager to blow up people in each.
The key moment in any popular revolution is whether the threatened regime chooses to deliberately fire on the people en masse. This will not happen in Egypt, because the Mubarak regime is “weak,” within the meaning set forth by the sage Leopold Kohr, in The Breakdown Of Nations:
Though the French had a series of revolutions, these were never directed against strong governments. Under Louis XIV and XV, they accepted the most outrageous decrees of royal exploitation, waste, arrogance, intolerance, and immorality without a murmur. But when the throne fell into the hands of Louis XVI, an impotent, humble, and well-meaning king, whose greatest extravagance was his tender affection for flowers, they at last staged the revolution that still overwhelms posterity with its exalted principles that were not French, and its daring that was not great . . . . People never revolt against tyrants. They only revolt against the weak. If the Germans had no great romantic revolution, it is not, as popular theory has it, that they are more submissive than others. It is because the historically necessary precondition to every popular uprising, the sudden weakening of a previously strong government, only rarely materialized in their case. When it did, as in 1918, they rebelled as lustily as their neighbors, dethroning not only one sovereign, the Kaiser, but all their kings, grand dukes, dukes, and princes. Space forbids us to present the mass of material, amusing and disenchanting, showing how all peoples, the English, the French, the Czechs, the Germans, have always been submissive to government power in proportion to its magnitude, not in proportion to their feelings of liberty or national character.
Those of us of fair age saw this play out during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev, eventually, forbade Soviet troops from firing on his own people, or any other, and thereby allowed both the people of his inland Empire, and those in his country’s Eastern European satellites, to go their own way. Conversely, and at the same time, the Chinese chose to slaughter their own people in Tiananman Square. The Chinese, “strong,” retained their dictatorship. The USSR, “weak,” did not.
Now, two years into the Obama administration, it is clear what is going to be its constant real-time fate. The right will forever foam that it is a traitorous Kenyan-Marxist-Commie cell that is hell-bent on destroying all that is Good and White and Decent. While the legions of the hatpin-through-the-forebrain left will scream senselessly that Obamacorp is some sort of Uncle Tom confab, and, when they discover they have peed into their own shoes, they will claim they have been wantonly urinated on by The Negro.
Popular revolutions are never predictable. In Robert Anton Wilson world, there is a saying that goes: “it steam-engines when it comes steam-engine time.” Meaning, that when the time is right, right arises. And you can’t, really, foresee it.
Caught off-beam aslant, by the Egyptian people suddenly deciding they wanted to steam-engine, the Obama people wobbled for a few days. But now, I think, they have set the right course.
Obama first told the Egyptian military that he expected them not to fire on the Egyptian people. Know that through back-channels that same message has also been communicated, with whatever appropriate stroking and/or arm-twisting might have been deemed necessary.
Next, he indicated that there must be a “transition” from the Mubarak dictatorship to a democratic Egypt. And that this transition must begin “now.”
Asked yesterday by typically literal and obtuse American journalists to define “now,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained: “now means yesterday.”
This, to me, is a wonderful phrase. It connects, at least in my mind, with what has been a favorite refrain of Obama’s, one that he nicked from Martin Luther King: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Because we all know where we’re supposed to get to. We’ve all been to the mountaintop. We’ve all seen over. It’s just getting there that’s hard.
Now is when we should arrive there; we should have arrived there yesterday. But, because we’re fragile, fallible, foolish human beings, it will be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, until we’re all safely over.