Tantalising Egypt

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Simon Assaf’s glowing review of The Egyptians by Jack Shenker (March SR) is spot on. Shenker is totally committed and reports from the thick of the struggle. He brilliantly captures the shifting moods of the masses in the words of participants and provides a comprehensive historical analysis of the crises at the heart of the Egyptian neoliberal authoritarian state.

We can all learn from the insurrectionary peasant farmers, the workers’ strikes and occupations, the radicalising young people. I particularly liked the chapter on the revolution’s impact on culture, especially graffiti artists who moved from night time acts of individual bravery to become collective cultural warriors depicting the struggle in the midst of street fighting.

We can also learn from the divide and conquer tactics of the counter-revolution including severe repression and organised sexual violence.

The big gap in this stupendous book is analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood — their history, roots and role in the revolution. If they are just another face of big business neoliberalism (spelt out in fascinating detail) how did they build a mass base and win the post-revolution presidential election? Shenker tantalises us with mention of raging arguments among Egyptian revolutionaries without explaining them. As news emerges of an upswing in the struggle today with potentially new opportunities for socialists to influence events, how they relate to the mass base of the Muslim Brotherhood will be critical to their success.

Above all Shenker shows why the counter-revolution’s success can only be temporary. Millions tasted their power as they turned the world upside down. There is still everything to fight for.