Egypt Today, Tomorrow the World
What is happening—first in Tunisia and now in Egypt—is the beginning of the wave of full-scale revolutions that will inevitably follow the global financial crisis of 2008. Taking place in the wake of the failed “War on Terror,” these revolutions combine the latent force of massive numbers of unemployed youth with the dynamism of modern communication networks. They signal the conclusion of the decade of counter-revolution that followed September 11, 2001. Although they continue the exploration of new technologies and decentralized forms of organization initiated by the anti-globalization movement, the form and scale of these new revolutions is unprecedented. Largely anonymous groups are using the ubiquitous World Wide Web to spark leaderless rebellions against the pharaohs of the global empire of capital.
The self-styled rulers of the world are truly at a loss as to how to understand the new social and technological forces at play; the aging dictator Mubarak is a perfect example of this, but he is hardly the only one of his kind. One can almost smell the fear, not only amongst the despots of China and Saudi Arabia but also the supposed leaders of representative democracies. The contortions the US government has been going through are the most grotesque of all; it isn’t lost on the Egyptian people that the bullets striking down their comrades came from the USA. Egypt receives $1.3 billion dollars of military aid from the US every year. The suppression of “democracy” in the Middle East has been a deliberate policy of the US government: they know popular sentiment would never support their agenda as the military enforcement of global capitalism.
The best efforts of Mubarak’s dying regime to put its fingers in the ears of the world have not silenced the people on the streets of Cairo. Even blocking cell phones and trying to turn off the entire Internet have proved futile. For generations, Arabs and Africans have been silenced, represented by various colonial governments and portrayed as “primitive” and “terrorist” in Europe and the US. Now the people of Egypt are speaking in thunderous unison for freedom—not for political Islam, as demagogues from Iran to Israel would have the world believe. In doing so, they are realizing the ideals to which the US government pays only hypocritical lip service.
Today, the common condition from Egypt to Tunisia is approaching universal unemployment—especially among the younger generations, which comprise the vast majority of population. This is increasingly the case in the United States and Europe as well. Unemployment is no accident, but the inevitable result of the last thirty years of capitalism. Capitalism reached its internal limits at the end of the 1970s; now the factories of every industry produce ever more commodities, while increasing automation renders workers less and less necessary. The only way to make profits off these commodities is to eliminate workers or pay them next to nothing. To discipline the skyrocketing unemployed population and prevent revolt, the police wage a never-ending war on the population. We live in a world overflowing with cheap shit, in which human life is the cheapest of all.
In these conditions, people have nothing to left to lose. Nothing, that is, but their dignity—and it turns out they will not surrender that. It was precisely this innermost core of dignity that led Mohammed Bouazizi to light himself on fire rather than face humiliation at the hands of the police, who in seizing his fruit-selling cart took away the only way he could feed his family. The blaze lit by Mohammed Bouazizi has spread, carried by other unemployed people who thereby transform themselves from abject beggars into world-historical heroes. The people of Egypt are not only burning police cars, they are organizing popular committees to clean the police and other trash off the street, and the streets of Cairo have never felt safer.
It is not surprising that a wave of revolutions should begin now. Not since the days of pharaohs and monarchs has the world been controlled by as senseless a force as the global financial market. As capitalists became less and less able to produce profit from industrial production over the past decades, they had to invent means of profiting based on expected future returns. But in a world of increasingly cheap commodities and poor consumers, how could capitalists keep people buying stuff and still make a profit? They had to invent a way for consumers to continue buying even when they weren’t paid living wages: thus the invention of mass debt. When the sale of real goods can no longer produce profit, profits must be made on increasingly fantastic expected future returns—in other words, on finance.
Yet like any house of cards, debt cannot be built up forever. Eventually, someone wants to be paid back—and so the entire house of cards collapsed under its own weight in 2008. The financial crisis signals a deeper metaphysical crisis of our present order: capitalism is unable to provide for the real material needs of the global population. The high poverty rates in Egypt are not simply the result of mismanagement by Mubarak, but the inevitable consequence of the contradictions of our era.
Their eyes hopelessly clouded by their own ideology and lack of vision, heads of state can only stand dumb and surprised as the crisis goes on and on. They lamely hope to re-start the financial markets through “austerity” or “green” capitalism, refusing to consider systemic change despite the fact that the system cannot even deliver jobs and affordable commodities to people—much less a good life. Just as it took an era of revolution to overthrow the divine right of kings, it will take new revolutions to overthrow the divine right of things: the power of financial capital and its puppet dictators.
Revolutions are never brought about by technology, but rather by the collective action of human beings who radically transform their relationships with each other and the world they share. However, one cannot deny what an important role the World Wide Web has played in Egypt and Tunisia. Especially among cybernetically skilled and predominantly unemployed youth, it enabled people to call for and participate in mass mobilizations without any need of leaders. The demonstrations in Egypt on January 25 were called for by a Facebook page called “We Are All Khaled Said,” named for a victim of police brutality much like Alexis Grigoropoulos in Greece. The page itself was set up by the anonymous “El-Shaheed”—that is, “martyr” in Arabic. Meanwhile, youth throughout the world are mobilizing as Anonymous; in the battle over Wikileaks and more recently in actions against the Tunisian government, Anonymous has showed itself to be a potent new international with an awakening political maturity beyond the message boards of 4chan. Demonstrators’ ability to communicate with large numbers of people and react immediately to events via mobile phones, Twitter, and Facebook is swiftly making previous forms of Leftist and industrial-based political organization obsolete, along with other hierarchical formations such as political Islam.
To Read the Entire Essay