Behind the Scene of Tahrir Square: a skype conversation with Hana al Bayaty

Hana al Bayaty on the logistics and inner workings of the Arab Awakening. A conversation with Lieven de Cauter (taken from: De alledaagse apocalyps, van nine-eleven tot de Arabische lente p554 -562)

(March 16th, 2011)

In my philosophy class in Leuven we started from a PowerPoint presentation of the logistics of Tahrir Square, prepared by a Mexican student, Jimena Garcia Galindo. Based on internet photographs, she gave a sort of urbanist view on the events, with photographs indicating how the space of Tahrir square was organized. She showed how it became it instant city in itself with two clinics, a pharmacy, a kindergarten, a press wall, a central stage, a wall for martyrs, an art space, and even dust collecting and toilets; with an informal economy, and of course in the central green of the round about, the tents. In a Skype interview with Cairo Hana al Bayaty, a Iraqi-French political activist who was participating in the events in Cairo, commented passionately.

Hana: We cannot study Tahrir Square from an urbanist point of view without trying to see what it looked like over a longer period. It changed everyday, it was attacked by different forces, and it was reorganized at every moment. It took a new shape every half day. I give you one example, after February 2nd, when state security was attacking Tahrir with motorcycles. On that day the demonstrators had to break up the pavement of Tahrir to create stones to defend themselves. So the entire pavement was cut up to create piles of stones for defensive purposes and then there was a frontline, which did not disappear for days, with barricades, that were set up organically at night. While half of the square is busy making the stones, the others are fighting the secret services on the other side of the barricade. And there is a system of supplying the frontline: each time there is an injured person he is taken back behind the barricade to the clinic and another volunteer is replacing him. Or if people are tired, they are also replaced.
From that day onwards civilian check points were set up to protect Tahrir. These were manned by demonstrators, and they extended to the other Squares. Tahrir has many arteries that go to Tahrir and they all lead to smaller squares. At these civilian checkpoints you were searched, your bag was searched, around seven times before you actually entered the square. They checked that you have no knife, no Molotov cocktails, nothing that could be considered a weapon and especially no bomb. They were afraid that the state security would create some sort of terrorist attack. Every ID was controlled. Egyptian ID cards tell who employs you. So they knew who was who. The entire workforce is affiliated to a trade union or government. If it was written that you work for the ministry of interior you were not allowed to reach the square.

Lieven: You say two things: you have to look at Tahrir in a time line and on a bigger scale.
Hana: From the 3rd of February in the morning there was an entire security machine created by the demonstrators. When you see for example the main stage, it served also as a control centre to warn demonstrators, for instance that one of the entrances to the square was under attack. There was a code of knocking with stone on metal. One rhythm meant that the eastern entrance was under attack, so you had two hundred volunteers running to the eastern entrance. Another code would be that the Northern entrance was under attack, and you had two hundred volunteers running up to defend the Northern entrance, and so on. Children played an important part. The largest part of the children were street kids, orphans, who are fearless, have little to loose, could defend the square, know the city backwards and who set up immediately an informal economy.

Lieven: How did people manage when all the networks were down, when internet was down, when Al Jazeera was down, when mobile telephone communication was down?
Hana: The telephone system was down on the 28th at night. There was a 12 hours battle across the town, across the country. But in Cairo it was most fierce, in every neighbourhood. And people were on their way to reach Tahrir. Many people died that night. The next morning nobody knew who survived, who was injured, who was arrested. You could see hundreds of injured on the streets and all of us were trying to find out what happened. I walked 8 kilometres to visit people, to be sure that they survived the night, for everybody had his own battle field. And the state television was only showing the square that is next to its own building. It did not show anything else. So, we couldn’t know what happened. We had landlines phones, but we could not call each other because we are so used to call each other on cell phones. Sometimes we had to call Europe to have the numbers of our friends or have them call our Egyptian friends.

Lieven: How was the atmosphere on Tahrir Square?
Hana: Once it was taken over by the crowd, Tahrir Square became the safest place in the city. It became a safe haven. The surroundings were more volatile. As said, Tahrir changed shape everyday. As soon there was violence, a field hospital was made in a side street. The second hospital was a Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food restaurant at the side of Tahrir Square. It was vandalized on the first night, that is January 28th. As there were many injuries, it was transformed into a emergency hospital. The free medicine didn’t come from official hospitals but were donations from doctors.
The people radicalized because of the violence of the State. Tahrir was a charivari, a mixture of young and old, men and women, rich and poor, religious and secular, the entire society met on Tahrir Square, quite unique in itself. The amazing thing of the revolution was that it was all generations, all classes. It was really cross-generational, cross class. It was peaceful till the very end, from the side of the protesters, I mean. That was one of the strengths. The People had just been waiting for this for 40 years.

Lieven: This was very clearly voiced by writer Nawal al Saadawi, feminst/marxist writer of 80 who has been in Jail several times. When interviewed on the Belgian television (for she is quite famous here), she said her friends told her not to go to Tahrir square because it is too dangerous, but she said she had been waiting all her life for this moment, she could not be absent, she could not not be there.
Hana: My father, deep in his seventies, shares this sentiment. His generation can now relax, they walk around with a smile. They say: ‘we can now die in peace because there is a new generation that has taken up the struggle and was victorious’. The people of 40 to 50 smile less, for they are worried on how to defend the revolution, on how to proceed.

Lieven: But even if the future would bring a sort of restoration, even then the revolution should be cherished in and for itself, no? It is not feasible to go back. Even the middle class that was not politicized got extremely politicized in a space of three of weeks. I don’t think they can relinquish their input in the public life of the their country. Lieven: There is no turning back, according to you?
Hana: No, there might be difficult steps of course, but there is no rewinding to where we were before. The most important is that the people have broken the fear.

Here an Iranian student, Payam, steps in and asks whether it could not happen like with the Iranian revolution: after a few months the ousting of the Shah was fully recuperated by the theocratic power of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Payam: How can you know this cannot turn into a new dictatorship or even a fundamentalist dictatorship?

Lieven: I understand that you, as an Iranian, are sceptical, Pajam. But, the first reactions are telling: Kahmenei said it would be an Islamist revolution, Netanyahu said it, and Cameron and the Dutch prime minister Rutte. That is quite a coalition. It is all wishful thinking: Khamenei hopes it will be turned into a Islamist revolution, for a democratic revolution is a nightmare to him, Netanyahu doesn’t want a democracy at his back door, for it is obvious it will not help in the blockade of Gaza as the Mubarak regime did [in the mean time they the crossing], and Cameron and Rutte ventilate this typical right wing European vision that Islam deeply equals fundamentalism. But, Hana, tell us about the Muslim Brotherhood?

Hana: They are definitely an important social force in Egyptian society. They didn’t back the revolution until very late. There is a split into many different constituencies. Since the success of the revolution they are split into various factions. The young ones have spend 18 days of struggle on the square with all other strands of society. Through this experience, the absolutism of Islam, with Sharia etc, was destroyed. They understood that pluralism was their strength. So the leadership of the Muslim Brothers will ridicule themselves if they stick to theocracy. There is already a quarrel over the party to be formed. So we are not talking about a homogeneous force that could take over society. And the army is an important force, that is extremely secular, so I don’t think they would actually let it happen.’

Lieven: But did the revolution not start in the mosques? Friday prayer was the sort of meeting point, and point of ignition, no?
Hana: In the beginning the mosques did not cooperate: believers were asked not to take part in the protests. The same goes for the Coptic Christians, they were also asked not to partake. But the believers did anyhow. You had to take sides, and most did so very quickly.
Lyne Jabri, a lebanese-Palestinian student remarks that the Mosques did take part even if the highest Islam institution in Egypt, Al-Azar, an institution linked to the ministry of religious affairs in the Egyptian, told them not to do so.
Hana: The mosques themselves are something collective, social, something of the neighboorhood. The mosques had to take side, like everybody in society. Even foreigners; like myself, had to take sides. And very quickly. It was a complete exceptional time. So even the Mosques, who might receive some support and directives by the State, acted independently. It is a historical moment, you know.
Payam again, from the back of the room. Hana cannot understand him (as I cannot understand the recording). I urge him to come closer to the mike. ‘Crawl over the benches, this is Tahrir Square! (laughter).

Payam: I feel a contradiction: you said it was across classes and believes, but I know muslim people believe that everything in their lives is organized by Islam. I assume that some people listened to their religious leaders and did not partake in the revolution, and that could weaken the outcome of the revolution, because it is a bifurcation in society, between those who ware part of it and those who abstained.
Lieven: You seem still sceptical, Payam.
Lyne: it was about politics, not about religion.
Hana: Islam is a not only a religion, but a civilization. Most Muslims don’t want an Islamist state. Also some Copts are very fundamentalist, but the majority of both communities is moderate, and have other political affiliations. The state gave, via Al-Azar, the order not to partake in the demonstrations. They were amazed by the scale of the demonstrations on the 25th of January and from 26th onwards they started to go on television to give orders not to participate. But the call of the organizers was to go on Friday 28th to the Mosque and to try and go from everywhere in the city to Tahrir Square and occupy it. The Christians went in front of the mosques to protect the people while praying and to make sure they could come out of the Mosques unhindered afterwards, and go together to Tahrir. They came out in the thousands, probably 400.000. And from the 28th till the 11th of February it just kept growing. By the end there were three million, just on the Square! And everyday they organized prayers. I have friends who are completely secular, who would go on purpose to Tahrir to pray together. For it was a great strength, this spiritual bonding together. It is not religious in the sense of bigotry.

Lieven: For me the period after 9/11 was dark, but now I am in aperiod of optimism, of wishful thinking even. I believe that project of theocracy, both in Islam, Judaism and Christianity (think of the born again Christians in America, who were a very important political force in the Bush years and are now united in the tea party), as an alternative for all the western, modern political projects, like Marxism, Nasserism, other globalism- that this project, is over. That is the world historical significance of the Arab Awakening. The youngsters said in Tunis and Egypt: we don’t want Sharia, we want freedom, democracy and social justice. And that is why in Iran the leaders are so scared’ (Payam nods in agreement.) Even in China they are scared: as you know they censured the word jasmine on the internet and are arresting all sorts of activists and personalities like Ai Wei Wei.
Hana: ‘The revolution is not over, the Tahrir Square moment is more or less over, but the revolution has been taken everywhere; there is an incredible trade union movement coming up. There is an attempt to purge every institution of corruption, whether it is the Press, the ministry of education or the ministry of Health. The revolution is taking hold of the institutions; it is from within the institutions that you have a revolutionary purge. This revolution is about social justice. The fundamentalists never had a political program that was clear about social justice. They were willing to make deals with capitalist countries that do not benefit the people. The people now are very aware of what is just, what is real development, what is a real health system, what is a real education system, what are union rights, etc. I hope the fundamentalists will be discredited because they have no real program. And whether people are deeply religious or not; whether they take of their headscarves or not, is not my problem In fact, the girls in Tahrir square might not have taken of their veils yet, but their bodies have changed, their relation to males have changed, their relation to public space has changed.
When the slide comes up of a guy resting on the wheels of a tank, the last picture of Jimena’s presentation and I say that this well known image shows how people blocked the tanks from moving into the crowds, Hana looses her patience.
Hana: I told you before, Lieven, it is not to prevent them from turning against the crowds, but to prevent them from leaving the Square! There was an entire system; hundreds of people were going in shifts, sometimes 20 for one tank, either lying on the wheels or with the head inside and their body sticking out, so the tank could not leave. For the only protection the revolution had, was the army.

Lieven: Thanks for you clarifications, Hana! Now it is maybe time for some more dirty, or tricky questions. There are rumours and even seemingly well documented articles (by reséau Voltaire and others) that the CIA was behind it, that Georges Soros and his foundation are behind it. What do you have to say on this?
Hana: Basically there is no State funding, no Arab money for the development of these new technologies. So anybody who is interested in Twitter, or Facebook, or web 2.0, will attend conferences that are organised, by for instance by the Open Society Institute, which belongs to Soros. But does it make you a CIA-agent if you go for a ten day workshop to improve your in IT technology?

Lieven: The type of the organization is clear by its name, Open Society (with its reference to Carl Popper famous book), it is a sort a liberal initiative for the empowerment is good to fight dictatorship. But it is not the CIA.
Hana: CIA or not, I know three quarters of the people involved in the movement and they might attend any workshop, but beside this they have a very patriotic agenda.

Lieven: On the other hand, the idea of Fukuyama that liberal democracy is the end, the final destination of history. The Arab awakening is an sort of embrace of this. Of course it is much more leftist, as it stresses social justice. But you could say that Fukuyama could be rather happy: after the fall of communism by the democratic uprising in Eastern Europe, now the fall of dictatorships in the Middle East by democratic uprising.
Hana: It is a fact that the youngster want liberty and freedom of expression. Is this the property of the West or is it a universal value? And you can base a counter argument on the fact that they are deeply anti-zionist, all of them. So, if it were for the benefit of America or the CIA, then would deplore their position. We have heard the entire Square chant songs to liberate Palestine.

Lieven: So it cannot be co-opted by a neocon agenda. I fully agree.
Hana: A crucial point is that the people who called for demonstrations via Facebook, Twitter, and via texting on 25 and 26th, don’t have a base, they don’t represent any one. There are no leaders to the revolution. The activists themselves have been amazed by the massive response and the scale of the demonstrations. It is truly a popular revolution.

Lieven:I heard peopled started preparing this a year ago. Is it true?
Hana: Since many years… for the last six years I have seen activists questioning the legitimacy of the regime, trying to organize strikes, demonstrations, demonstrating against torture, blogging on the secret service. Those are the people behind the revolution. They are behind it in the sense that they were very courageous and outspoken, much earlier than the rest of society. But if there hadn’t been Tunisia, and if there hadn’t been the day of the police just a few days earlier… there would have been much smaller demonstrations. The overturning of the regime would have happened eventually but maybe not at this specific historical moment’

Lieven:The day of the police?
Hana: The 25th is the national day of the police. That is the day we are supposed to celebrate the police, but it is the force that uses systematic torture, bribes, humiliation, etc. So, it turned into big demonstrations against the police. The police could not take their day off, because there were so many people protesting. (Laughter in the room)

Lieven: So that was the first day of anger. That’s interesting. How important was the trigger effect of Tunisia?
Hana: It was very important. It is very important for all the Arabs. It was a youth movement that was later joined by the workers and the middle class, that actually was able to put down such a well established dictator and client regime of the West. Of course this has given hope to every other client state that had a dictator and was based on police repression.

Payam: In a sense it all started after the elections of Achmadinejad in 2008. It was all triggered form there, the use of the internet, Twitter, etc. I honestly believe that was the first twitter revolution, even if it didn’t succeed.
We all agreed on this. (Payam explains that Musavi and Charubi, are arrested and will be executed, that might ignite the next revolt in Iran). Then I shout: ‘Last questions! Last questions!’

Lyne: How come the Americans did not back Mubarak?
Hana: The Americans remained silent for days and days – days of extreme violence. Before they opened their mouth they were very… economic about the events. But the movement was so massive. Maybe if it only happened in Cairo, it could have been repressed, but it was national, in every town.

Lieven: also in Alexandria there were massive protests.
Lyne: I read that the Americans learned from the revolution in Iran that they shouldn‘t back the regime, because otherwise the people would turn completely against them.
Hana: The Americans are with anybody who can assure economic and political stability. So if the revolution brings some kind of neoliberal policy they will back it. But they were trying to see what the trends were, and realized you could not stop this revolution. Whatever kind of force you would use. Even non politicized people, some of my friends, were ready to die.

Lieven: On all Jazeera people said it loud and clear: we are here for freedom or to die. That has been crucial: if the fear factor goes, when people are ready to die, then the people are very strong. But I have still a question on the US: would it have made a difference if Bush was still in power?
Hana: Basically, because of the speech of Obama in Cairo, the people of Egypt were ready to give the United States a chance. But in practice Obama didn’t chance anything from the Bush years. The war in Iraq continues, Afghanistan, the support for Israel continues, etc. People understand that changing the face doesn’t change the policy.

Lieven: Question from another, unidentified student: What happened ever since Tahrir square? How to purge the system that was in power for so long time.
Hana: I told you already about the trade unions. And currently there are trials against several officials for corruptions. The ministry of justice was somehow independent from the regime. It always took very patriotic decisions, but its decisions were never implemented by the executive branch.

Lieven:there was a remnant of the partition of power, of the state of law?
Hana: Yes. And now there is the will to implement its decisions. For example the minister of interior who was responsible for sectarian violence in Egypt and for systematic torture, and who opened common law prisons and released prisoners on the 28th at night, is currently in front of the court. Even the presidential family is now being interrogated. Business men are interrogated for corruption. So, there is a movement of accountability. And then there is a proposal for amendments of the constitution, to change the electoral process. There is a referendum that will take place next Saturday (March 19th) and people are discussing publically whether they agree with the amendments or not, elections in six months or not. There is a very rich political process going on. There are workers actions, civil service actions, … They dismantled yesterday (March 15th that is) the security forces, which was the most feared, this kind of dark, underground force that was the backbone of the regime. So a lot is going on. I don’t say everything is positive, there are many draw backs, but it is ongoing. Tahrir remains the point of reference: every time there is a request that is not met, or when people fear the reforms are stalled and the revolution it derailing, they take to Tahrir square.

Lieven: With these words we can finish. Now it is for all the Muslim migrant neighborhoods and for all the youngsters in fact elsewhere in the world, in Brussels, London, Paris, etc, to learn from Tahrir. My slogan these days is: Everywhere Tahrir Square! Let’s give Hana a hand.
Hana (shouts from afar): And no scepticism!

The Days of Anger: Humiliation, Fear and Dignity in the Middle East

(IPS, Institute for Policy Studies, April 8, 2011)

Some will claim that the true, structural causes for these Arab revolts reside in the rising food prices or other objective economic factors. Others will claim it is the new social media. Others again will hail the rising multitude foretold in the West, happening in the Middle East. Who can prove them wrong? But that is not what the street interviewees and commentators tell us: they speak of Anger, of Pride, of Humiliation and Dignity.

In his famous, infamous book on The End of History and the Last Man Fukuyama was harking back to Plato and Hegel to stress how important these affects are in politics. They are sui generis: political moral affects of their own. Egotism and Desire are not the sole factors that determine human behaviour (as both liberal and Marxist ‘paneconomic’ theories have it). His major example is that it is not the economy that played a major role in the movement of Havel and his lot that brought down the totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe. Thymos, meaning: feeling for justice, honour, anger, pride, dignity, etc. has been a determining factor from the onset.

The self burning of the Tunisian youngster was a thymotic gesture par excellence. One of the highest thinkable forms of it: total defiance, not only for dead, but even for the most painful and cruel of death. A quote from the web: “Twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, living in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, had a university degree but no work. To earn some money he took to selling fruit and vegetables in the street without a licence. When the authorities stopped him and confiscated his produce, he was so angry that he set himself on fire.” (our emphasis).
This total defiance out of humiliation turning into anger, and anger turning into dignity and defiance has proved contagious: “Rioting followed and security forces sealed off the town. On Wednesday [January 12th], another

jobless young man in Sidi Bouzid climbed an electricity pole, shouted “no for misery, no for unemployment”, then touched the wires and electrocuted himself. Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has fled his country after
weeks of mass protests culminated in a victory for people power over one of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes.”
The jasmine revolution in a nutshell. Mohamed Bouazizi was not a calculating egotistic, economical being, measuring his profit. He just went for it. It is not by incident, that this most powerful of gestures of defiance and indignation has set off a wave of anger that floods the Arab world.
Anger has had some bad press lately in our culture. So much so that we tend to dismiss it. And yet it is this affect that has given its name to these appeals to revolt: ‘Days of Anger’. The Days of Anger have been succeeding one another since January: from Tunisia to Iraq, from Egypt to Yemen, from Oman and Bahrain to Libya to Syria. Was it just a cheap appealing slogan to mobilize? No. It contains a profound truth (philosophical, psychological, political or even psychopolitical as Sloterdijk would call it): he (or she) who is angry has lost all fear.

Anger can be a door to freedom. Freedom is just another word for nothing left to loose. Janis Joplin’s catch phrase explains it all. Human dignity resides in freedom. Therefore he who is free has nothing to lose, he who has nothing to lose is free. Even if anger is not a popular affect in our culture, the philosophical truth is that freedom lies in human nature, that it is in the human nature to desire not only for food and riches, but also for recognition, for honour, and pride. When this longing for dignity and recognition is not met, entire peoples can get angry. And lose fear.

He who loses fear, regains his pride and honour. He who regains his pride and honour has nothing to lose but his freedom. He will defend it with his life if must be. This sequence explains why the words of anger, pride, honour were not out of the air in street interviews and commentaries, and even in slogans: “Here we are, Egyptians, proud again!” read a slogan on Tahrir square quoted on Al Jazeera, on February, 10th at 7 pm local Belgian time. I noted it down
for this article.

Why is it so touching, this slogan? Because it touches a deep string in all of us. Freedom is the base of dignity. A slave can be rich and healthy and well (mostly not, mind you), but has no dignity, cannot be proud. For he is not free. Now the people feel sovereign, free to speak and act. This is the biggest empowerment one can get. No bullets will stop this, even airstrikes can’t stop this.
Peter Sloterdijk’s accusations in his book Zorn und Zeit (Anger and Time) against what he calls ‘Anger Big Banks’ is convincing in his case studies, quite devastating in fact: his cases being the church and communism – but wrong in its premises and conclusions. By taking up Fukuyama’s theme and linking it to Nietzchean resentment, he casts an almost solely negative light on anger. The Days of Anger, from Tunisia to Syria, from Egypt to Libya to Yemen, etc. prove him wrong. Anger can be a very positive force in history as the days of anger in the Arab world prove.

A witness from Cairo on February 18th on Skype: “The repression is massive, and will only rise by the days … scary. This era is mad. Full of mixed hope and anxiety, I have this unbreakable smile with eyes filled with tears at times.” Libya is a matter of concern. But whatever Khadafy does, or any other leader in the Middle East for that matter, as somebody said from Tripoli on Al Jazeera (on February 23th): “The wall of fear has fallen, the spring of Arab youth has began.” And we haven’t seen the end of this. Even China is weary and cracking down on activists – there it is ‘jasmine’ that has been the key word: they censured the word jasmine on the internet – can you imagine? Can you imagine a more innocent word? I can understand (not agree) that authorities censure words like porn, bomb, terrorism, but Yasmine. I mean. I think it is the practical joke of the year. World historically ridiculous. But indeed, the Chinese call their days of anger and protest “jasmine walks”. And indeed: the authorities are wetting their pants. They are scared like hell for this fertile
spring breeze blowing from the Mediterranean. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
Everywhere Tahrir Square!

This chapter was taken from: De alledaagse Apocalyps, van nine-eleven tot de arabische lente (2011), by Lieven de Cauter,

Egypt Protests Signal an End to the Post-9/11 Era

(Foreign Policy in Focus By Lieven De Cauter, February 8, 2011)

A spectre is roaming the Middle East: the spectre of the multitude. The beauty and in a sense the world historical importance of this Jasmine Revolution (or whatever it will be called in the annals of humanity) is that it has no leadership. It might also prove its fatal weakness, but that does not contradict its beauty and importance. It was the people rising up. Of course youngsters and schooled people – doctors, engineers, etc. took the lead, but it was from the beginning in Tunisia the multitude at work.

A buzzing discussion is on about how important the new media were for this instant, unpredictable, spontaneous revolt. It is self evident that e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and mobile phones have played an enormous self organizing role. But you could say that this self organisation quickly could do without some media: when Aljazeera was banned, internet and mobile communication down, the revolt unfolded untouched. So this has to be studied in a dialectical way: the media and the multitude. The re-appropriation of communication that we see happening (also in Iran) after it being monopolized or controlled by power (the state and multinational tycoons) for ages is in itself of world historical importance. This could truly, this truly will alter the Middle East, and indeed the entire world. It is not neocon militarism that brought democracy to the Middle East – that only enhanced radicalism, fundamentalism and terrorism, was in a sense a present to the extremists – but the new media.

In fact, one can say that Negri and Hardt had it wrong – in the best Marxist tradition – in their localisation of the ‘historical subject’, the driving force of history. Marx located it in the industrialized proletariat and the revolutions took place in fundamentally rural and feudal countries, Russia and China. Negri and Hardt in their Empire-sequel located the subject of history in the creative class of the Western postfordist, information economy, but in fact it is the Arab people in the street under conditions of old fashioned tyranny and 538 poverty who are giving history a push. The creative classes in the West are safely caught in their rat race, but it is in the disenfranchised Middle East that the “the multitude” is at work. This is of world historical importance.

Hactivism and online activism has taught us that a good action is based a strong story, an open-ended script or scenario without author. So people can appropriate and improvise. Both in Tunisia and in Egypt, the story was loud and clear: the people rise against the tyrant. Strong story. One of the strongest ever told. That is why it is so contagious. Domino theory in action. After Tunisia and Egypt more can and should follow. Jemen, Marocco, Algeria, a shockwave in the entire Middle East are now to be hoped for. Even if Egypt looked dodgy for a moment. This revolt is beautiful and world historical: no hidden agenda, no leaders, no party, no religion.

Indeed, it is one of the most striking things: it is a secular revolt. It might, let’s hope, even mean the end of fundamentalism. The people in Tahrir Square street interviews were very explicit: we want an end to tyranny, repression and corruption, we want freedom and democracy, not theocracy (which is just another form of tyranny and repression, minus corruption at best). As they have proved the neocons wrong, and the other globalist guru Negri wrong, they are now also proving the Islamists wrong.

This Jasmin/Arab revolution could and should change the course of history: the end of tyrannies in the Middle East, the end of neocon militarist policy in the Middle East, the end of Israel’s monopoly on democracy (that could change a few equations), the end of fundamentalism as the main driving force of international politics. The weakening of Islam fundamentalism as political Islam could also weaken the fundamentalism of political evangelicals on American foreign policy and the weight of Jewish fundamentalism on Israel politics. In short, we are a facing a new phase in world history. The period “after 9/11” is over.

Of course, the world should help. The former prime minister of Belgium, now European MP, Guy Verhofstadt was right (for once) when he addressed the European Parliament: Europe should support the demands of this revolution explicitly and ask Mubarak to step down. Where is Obama? Where is this world-historical figure when you need him? Maybe he is doing what he can. Because it is his slogan that the people of the Middle East now practice: Yes, we can. He should not let them down.

This combination of a story without author, a revolution without leaders, via self organisation enhanced by networked new media – rhizomatic, non linear (to say it in a fancy way) and completely secular, open – Muslim, Christian (crescent and cross united on banners!), young and old, men and women, working class and intellectual, children and grandparents – this was, 539 and is, and will remain forever, awesome to see. Whatever comes after. Come what may. When the activist writer Nawal Al Sadaawi, a girl in her 80s, said in a television interview: “I have been waiting for this all my life, this is the most beautiful moment of my life,… I have to be here on Tahrir square’ – she was damn right. We should all be with them. Tahrir Square is not a symbol of the longing for democracy and freedom, it is democracy and freedom! Self expression, fearless discussing, mutual help, self organisation, all very remarkable. Even journalists who have seen a few things and therefore are a bit cynical, rub their eyes!

The demonstrations are spreading outside Liberation Square – as I write: Tuesday February 8th, 1 pm GMT – and sprawling across the Egyptian Capital; in Alexandria also huge crowds are flocking together. The so called return to normalcy has meant that not only banks are open but that communication is up again, so the people can now see and hear what is happening. Many Egyptians join in now. They start to believe that something is actually happening! Spread the word!

World-historical, I say: the power of the multitude! Shifting the course of history. Let us, on the outside, elsewhere, at least be awake and express our solidarity and enthusiasm where we can. Old Kant had a point when he said that the spontaneous enthusiasm of the multitude for a world-historical revolution (he was of course thinking of the French Revolution, we are thinking of the fall of the Berlin wall) that history makes sense, that there is… progress. For that is what this is: a truly progressive uprising of the multitude, not regressive reaction of a minority of extremists. The emancipating effect is visible, like children and women leading the crowds in chanting (I hear their voices as I write – courtesy Aljazeera). Really wish I could be there with you! All I can do is, write this text for you. With my utmost respect, for you, the people of the Tunisia and Egypt and you, the multitude of the Middle East.

Lieven De Cauter is a philosopher, writer and activist. He teaches
philosophy of culture (in Leuven, Brussels and Rotterdam). His
latest books: The Capsular Civilization. On the City in the Age of Fear (2004)
and, as co-editor, Heterotopia and the city (2008); Art and activism in the Age
of globalization (2011),. He is initiator of the BRussells Tribunal.

This article was taken from his latest publication which is half in English, half in Dutch.

It is downloadeble for free.

Tahrir Square Everywhere!

Milton Friedman, neem hem nu maar zijn nobelprijs van de economie af. Het is een sekte, een leugen die niet bestand is tegen de wereld.’

Lieven de Cauter sprak bij Casa Luna over de Occupy beweging die deze week in navolging van de opstand in Egypte wereldwijd doorbrak. Tien jaar was hij boos en  tien jaar pessimist, toch klonk het jubelend: Tahrir Square Everywhere!!!

Luister hier de uitzending.

Van Ayn Rand, via Alan Greenspan tot de kredietcrisis is het een utopie. Human Resource, alleen de term zou alle alarmbellen moeten doen afgaan. Management lijkt politiek neutraal, maar dat is het niet. We zijn allemaal deel van het kapitalisme. Het neoliberalisme zit ons tot in de poriën.

Maar het is een utopie en ik kan een zesjarige uitleggen dat de 1% de 99% beroofd. Op Wallstreet, bij de banken zitten de rovers en ze roven al dertig jaar. Iedereen kan het nu zien. Het is evenwel een wereldwijde utopie.

Dat via sociale netwerksites, losjes georganiseerd op facebook en dergelijke het mogelijk is om in Brussel, Berlijn, Madrid, New York, Amsterdam, Den Haag, en Rome, is een voorbeeld van een geheel nieuw soort van intelligentie. Zwermintelligentie. Waar vanaf Plato alle politieke theorieën de menigte zagen als een ongestructureerde kracht die beteugeld en geleid moest worden. En nu blijkt dat er een intelligentie bestaat in een genetwerkte menigte die zichzelf organiseert. Op Tahrir Square organiseerde de menigte drie hospitalen, oude vrouwtjes kwamen eten uitdelen, de Christelijke activist George Ishak (zie beeld hieronder) trad op als leider van de burgerlijke oppositiegroepen genoemd: Kefaya (Genoeg!), waarbij zelfs vooraanstaande islamist Abdelwahab al-Meisseiry zich aansloot. Kopten en moslims organiseerde hun gebedstijden zodat zij elkaar konden beschermen als de politie aan zou vallen. Op het laatst stonden er aldus de Cauter 3 miljoen mensen op straat, 3x Brussel!

Tahrir Square Cairo is het ankerpunt volgens de Cauter. Tahrir Square is de uitkomst van 9/11. Dit is waar de clash of civilization eindigt; waar Project for a New American Century, het intellectuele program van de Bush administratie dat werelddominantie ambieerde, eindigt. In 2011 was het Kefaya en dat stemt ons hoopvol.  ‘Hoop komt nu echt uit de Arabische wereld’.  Daarom zegt de Cauter nu al maanden: Tahrir Square Everywhere!