On Leaderless Revolutions and the Fall of Mubarak

Published on ZNet, by David Porter, February 12, 2011.

“Leaderless revolutions,” as seen currently in North Africa, pose important challenges to outside media and to foreigners, generally, seeking authoritative voices to clarify the picture of fast-moving events. But genuine revolutions are made from below, with the myriad energies and objectives of hundreds of thousands or millions coalescing at least around certain fundamental demands. Time-constrained and impatient foreign journalists and audiences, dependent on fast analyses by the usual hierarchical menu of “experts” and political leaders, naturally resist an arduous process of grassroots inquiry.

Yet it is at the grassroots level and not simply in the media focus of Tahrir Square where the intense frustration, despair and rage has accumulated for years. It not the more abstract models and formulas of the political class that provide the essential building blocks of genuine revolution from below. 

It is the slowly-accumulating momentum of hundreds of thousands of confrontations with local officials and elites, the organizing efforts of mutual assistance (including even Egyptian soccer clubs, as Dave Zirin points out), individual and group assertions of women’s rights, tireless attempts to solidify common stands of workers against bosses (as in the great waves of strikes in the textile city of Mahalla), students’ rejection of authoritarian school conditions, and efforts to defend local neighborhoods— almost always in the shadows out of sight of foreign media—that slowly develop the courage, confidence and essential horizontal networks bubbling below the surface of seemingly fixed political landscapes … //

… When only the head of state like Mubarek, his cabinet, his ruling party or a few military leaders are discarded, when even a constitution is re-designed or replaced to allow greater representation, such changes rarely go deep enough to affect the realities of oppression in people’s daily lives. Understandably, there is genuine immediate relief from previous regime brutality and an opened atmosphere for free expression. These are great accomplishments by the Egyptian people. But if the hierarchical logics of capitalist economics, liberal democracy, dominant foreign powers and social exploitation such as sexism remain in place, a political revolution has only partially succeeded. Much of the old regime remains. Those millions of Egyptian “leaders” who have tasted the exuberant possibilities of utopian community, however briefly, will now confront the realities of resuming their long resistance struggles for lives of freedom and dignity. (full text).

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