Beinin on Egyptian social movements

I had meant to post about these earlier, but the always excellent MERIP published two fine articles on its site recently. I'll post about them separately.

The first, by Stanford Professor Joel Beinin, is about the growing number of strikes by government (and private sector) workers who are opposing the neo-liberal policies of Gamal Mubarak and his cronies, but also looks at other issues such as why the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood is endorsing Hosni Mubarak for another term, the rise of Al Ghad, and other protest movements that have emerged over the past year. Beinin is a specialist on left-wing movements in Egypt and the Middle East, and the author of the classic on the topic, Workers on the Nile, as well as a book on Egypt's Jewish community, The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry, and on Iraqi Jews, The last Jews in Baghdad. He's also a frequent target of CampusWatch and similar neo-MacCarthyite organizations for his balanced views on Israel-Palestine (and he grew up in an extremely Zionist family in Brooklyn but saw the light while living in Israel.)

Beinin's article notes the growth of popular opposition movements in Egypt across different sides of the political spectrum:

Since 1952, no Egyptian head of state has been targeted directly in this manner. A taboo has been broken, and there is no telling where these popular movements may lead.


He concludes:

There is little doubt that Husni Mubarak will win even a relatively free election, assuming that he runs, because the political, media and educational infrastructure for a viable democratic political system does not exist and cannot be installed by September. A similar scenario would likely apply if the father contrived magnanimously to withdraw his name from the race in favor of the son. Consequently, the future of Egyptian politics will not be determined by the amendment of the constitution.


Rather, it will depend on whether these popular political initiatives are capable of building a social movement for change. While such a movement has not yet coalesced, challenges to the regime by human rights activists, workers and other marginalized strata show no sign of abating and are becoming increasingly sharp. Ahmad Sayf al-Islam, the director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, assisted Human Rights Watch in its investigation of the al-Arish detentions. At the HRW press conference he accused the government of breaking into his home and stealing his laptop computer for a second time two days earlier. Sayf al-Islam’s exceptionally bold public statement addressed itself to “tyrants, pharaohs of Egypt” and concluded, “the fish starts rotting from the head. Don’t you smell the rot of our fish?”


The most interesting part, about the strikes and resistance to privatization, is an important reflection on how the Egyptian regime is adopting market globalization to ensure it meets approval from Washington and elsewhere, as always at the expense of local people.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.