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Hicham Safieddine, "Tomorrow's Tunisia and Egypt: Reform or Revolution?"

Started by CL Admin, February 01, 2011, 08:36:30 am

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On the economic front, high rates of growth and prosperity in both countries reported by the World Bank and other so-called world bodies masked the ugly truth of unequal development and unproductive capital.  In Tunisia, unemployment soared to an 18 per cent (reaching a whopping 32 per cent in Sidi Bouzid, the site of the first protests in Tunisia).  Uneven investment in tourism and other global-market-oriented industries along the narrow coastal strip captured over 80 per cent of total investment.  In Egypt, close to 40 per cent of Egyptians are estimated to live under the poverty line.  Uneven urban sprawl has left close to 9 million living in the slums of Cairo alone.  In the city of Suez, an epicenter of the current revolt, the canal's trade traffic ($90 million in 2009) did not stop the gap between rich and poor from widening as the import of foreign labor and export of some industry due to rampant corruption in the bureaucracy fuelled local anger to a boiling point. All of this, coupled with rising world food prices and the decreasing ability of global south countries to produce their necessities (Egypt, home to the great Nile basin, is a net importer of food), exposed the vulnerability of these states to global economic turmoil.  The hinterland seemed to be harder hit but also more actively organized in the face of these realities.  In Tunisia, the revolt was sparked in a central town of Sidi Bouzid and mass protests in the cities of Tataouine and Sfax among others were flagships of union and popular committee organizing.  The active and even vanguard participation of the country's hinterland in both instances is another important feature of these revolutions, a possibly distinctive one in relation to the traditional divide of urban versus rural.  In Egypt this is more so with the presence of a high concentration of urban centers in the Nile delta and the Red Sea coast (Dumyat, Mansurah, Suez, Ismailiyah) that connect the capital to the rural hinterland and thus act as nodes of unequal distribution of neoliberal goods (like education without employment).  They are also a testament to the degree of centralization of power in the capital that this neoliberal order claimed to undermine but reinforced in the global south. . . . Commentators were quick to point out that there were no Islamist slogans and thus that the revolution is a secular one.  This is true to an extent.  But Islamists may eventually take a larger role in the political process, more so in Egypt than in Tunisia, where the Muslim Brotherhood has lost credibility on the street but has preserved its vast organizational and leadership structures that can eventually fill the power vacuum on the ground.  Hundreds of their members have been released from prison and are reportedly taking on more active roles among the popular committees for health, safety, and welfare.  But the secular-Islamist divide is an old, dated formula that creates a binary highly absent among many of the youth that hail from a new generation with a much more nuanced understanding of the religious and the secular.  Yet this fluidity of revolutionary visions doesn't mean it is a post-ideological one befitting our post-modern era.  These claims simply confirm that its emergent ideology doesn't fit neatly into existing categories and is in the process of coalescing.  It is in the slogans and demands of the demonstrators where the nucleus of an ideological creed lie and where revolutionary tendencies within the masses might seek guidance.  Yet, slogans will not be enough in the long run and remain far from delineating a clear program or paradigm that addresses the profound agricultural, financial, and political transformations necessary to protect the revolution from being co-opted by calls for reform or repeating the mistakes of the nationalist state-led reforms of the mid 20th century.  Until such a paradigm emerges, every effort should be made to prevent any attempts by the regime, co-opted elites, or external forces from sabotaging a happy ending for a shining tale of two -- and maybe more -- peoples' revolutions.