Can Washington be Cairo?
By Michael Albert at Feb 11, 2011
To see millions of people celebrate is uplifting. To see them celebrating not a sports victory, or even a surprising electoral victory, but a massive outpouring of resistance that succeeds in sweeping away a hated dictator, well, as the folks on the ground n Cairo keep repeating - that's indescribable. There are no words.
If you haven't already, take a look at the Aljazeera's (http://english.aljazeera.net/) live feeds from Egypt. The interviews with folks in the streets are particularly moving and inspiring.
So what's next?
Well, we don't know the outcome in future days, weeks, and months, but we do know the contestants.
Elites in Egypt and throughout the world will want what they call a "smooth transition" which is technical terminology, or if you prefer euphemism, for "as little change as possible and certainly no change in the most basic structures of society."
The goal of elites both inside and outside Egypt, that is, will be to enjoy some modest benefits and avoid major losses from "the boot removed" while ensuring that no one who isn't ordained to do so stands too tall in the newly freer environment. Or, put less dramatically, the goal will be to establish an electoral "democracy" with more formal rights than in the past, and even some real gains for the quality of daily life, but, still, the rich and powerful exert nearly all power.
On the other side we will have the broad population. This will include many who want to return to stability, meaning even the stability of elite conformity. It will include others who want real change, including power dispersal into the population, but who have very little idea what shape this should, or even could, take. Then there will be many, or some, or, who knows the numbers - who do have some notions, perhaps often at odds with one another, of what a new Egypt could become.
So group one, the elites, will be battling with group three, those who want real change. In between, group two will decide the issue by which way they lean, and move.
The initial battle will likely be over how long the military rules. If military tenure can be thwarted, the next focus will likely be a battle over a new president. If those two battles occupy center stage too long, it is likely group three will have lost, at least for now. For group three to win, instead, the battle has to move swiftly to establishing a new constitution with real structural changes, or perhaps to elevating plebiscites in turn able to decide real changes, or inaugurating a truly left president able to advocate for such changes, or even people directly taking over and beginning to self manage workplaces and neighborhoods themselves making the change by their choices.
So far, Egypt has shown that in three weeks a sufficiently courageous, aroused and active population can disarm a military and police apparatus and topple hated rulers. This is no small message. What can happen in Egypt can happen, if there emerges similar comittment, conviction, and courage, in many many places around the world, including Europe and North America. The problem with change isn't that there is insufficient potential power to win it. The problem is, instead, people becoming sufficiently aroused.
Why did Egypt take over two decades to oust a brutal and hated dictatorship? Mostly because of the tenacity of fear, skepticism, and especially the deadening belief that nothing better could be attained. And this is no different in other countries. The ties that bind us into oppressive conditions are overwhelmingly the ties of cynicism. The belief that there is no alternative, or no alternative that could be attained, at any rate, is what prevents people moving forward and winning. Cynicism is a more effective obstacle to change than any conglomeration of tanks and directives. Informed hope is a more effective agency for change than any cabal, court case, or election.
If we in other countries, and particularly in my own country of the U.S., are going to have our own movement victories to celebrate, we must overcome cynicism. We cannot overcome cynicism, however, merely by rejecting dictatorship or even existing relations. In the U.S., we already have what rejection of dictatorship firstly implies and, for the most part, people also already know our society is a blot on dignity and fulfillment.
We can only attain sufficient power to have our own movement victories to celebrate if we not only reject society's defining institutions, but also develop shared belief, hope, traction and tenacity for preferred institutions to implement in their place.
This observation is obvious. Yet the implication for what we need to be doing to win a better world - which is using our minds and energies to arouse informed comittment that is not solely about momentary gains but is instead also and even in the end mainly about a new way of life in a new society - often flies in the face of what we actually choose to do.
If we are moved by a real belief in and desire for our own moments of celebration, we should develop vision, we should counterpose it to the present, we should win support for it by discussion, by example, and by exercise of might to win partial gains in accord with waging larger battles later.
When one country undergoes upheaval the method cannot be literally copied by another. Countries have too many differences for that. But we can look and determine what has occurred at the most general level in Egypt, and what has yielded that general change - finding not the proximate or even the long term activities, but the type of change in thinking and feeling in the population - and then we can ask, okay, however hard it may appear, however long it may seem likely to take - what can we do here in our country that will yield for us that broad type of change in thinking and feeling, even while facing the obstacles we face, in order to seek the better future we desire.
That is the Egyptian lesson so far, and hopefully it will get still more obvious, and thorough, as the weeks pass.