After the street protests in Cairo last February and March that toppled the Mubarek regime, the Egyptian revolution seemed to go quiet. The military seized control of the Egyptian government and promised elections would soon be forthcoming. But tensions over Egypt’s future, highlighted by a distrust of the military’s control of the government, have erupted again.
Al Jazeera is reporting that more than 100,000 Egyptians from all walks of life are currently filling Tahrir Square.
The head of Egypt’s military, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, just spoke to the nation. He promised that the military was totally committed to civilian elections. He said that Parliamentary elections will be held starting on November 28 of this year and that presidential elections would be held in July, 2012. He tried to make a case that the country was still too unstable to hold elections now. In spite of the fact that at least 33 protesters have been killed and more than 1700 injured since Saturday, he said that the military “will never kill a single civilian.” Tantawi made absolutely no reference to earlier statements that the military, even after a democratically elected government was put in place, would remain totally independent of any civilian oversight. This issue, perhaps more than any other, coupled with the violence against protesters, has inflamed the current protests.
The speech was broadcast live to the sea of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square. The reaction was overwhelmingly negative. It was characterized by an Al Jazeera reporter on the scene as “deafening”. The protesters shouted over and over and over “Go, go, go” demanding that Tantawi and his military end their control of the Egyptian government. If the intent of the speech was to provide reassurance to the protesters, it failed miserably.
When protesters arrive in such large numbers even in the face of killings by a corrupt regime, it is hard to see how that regime can survive for long.
Comparisons to the fledgling Occupy movement in the US are inevitable. Are we seeing the early stages of a growing revolution in the US? Will Occupy be able to turn out the same numbers with the same “no cost too high” commitment? Will it be harder to replace the corrupt US government with a new regime than it will be to topple Egyptian military rule?
I’m concerned that we Americans have a much more difficult task ahead of us. For Egyptians, the difference between an unelected military dictatorship and a democratically elected government is very clear. In the US, though, the undemocratic corruption is less clear to many citizens. Too many believe we have the freedom to “just vote them out.” Too many still believe that government can adequately regulate corporations even though most elected officials are heavily dependent on corporate cash to retain their positions in office. You can’t just “throw the bumbs out” when only bumbs make it to the ballot.
Other critical differences exist. The US mass media have shown little or no sensitivity to the Occupy movement. Too many Americans get all their news from corporatized media. While opinions vary about Al Jazeera, the network seems to side with those fighting for democracy. In the US, the media focuses on “private property” rights of park owners; they focus on “smells and hygiene”; they focus on “tents”; they focus on one or two violent actors instead of the overall non-violence essence of the movement. In short, they lie. It is no small task to overcome this pervasive system of propaganda. Americans are not stupid but a steady diet of lies, regardless of what TV newscast they tune into, is a highly effective tool to repress revolution.
Many of us are hopeful that Occupy will continue to grow. We are encouraged by the wisdom the movement has exhibited in its infancy. We know that as more and more of us are brought to the brink of economic and social disaster, the movement will grow. But, we stand in opposition to the greatest concentration of wealth and power the world has ever known. We stand in opposition to a system that has indoctrinated the masses with the belief that the US is a democracy controlled by its citizens in the voting booth. We stand in opposition to a system that stifles and distorts our message.
It was inspiring to watch today’s massive street demonstrations in Cairo. They give us hope that ordinary people doing extraordinary things can be replicated here in the US. Occupy is off to a great start. It emerged from a darkness so profound that perhaps, to some, it seemed like even the smallest seeds of protest could never sprout again in the US. Now, the revolutionary energies of the Occupy movement seem like our last real chance for change. For that to become reality, though, many more of us will need to do much more than we’ve done. As we watch the Arab street put it on the line for their beliefs, perhaps we will gain the inspiration to do what is necessary. The alternative is far too dark to contemplate.