Egypt and the revolution in our minds, by Nigel Gibson
"THE MILITARY INTERREGNUM
In 1956, four years after the 1952 Egyptian revolution and one year into the Algerian revolution, Algeria’s liberation movement met in the Soummam Valley to discuss the organisation and programme of its revolution. An important principle adopted there was that rather than militarising politics, the military and any military decision had to be subservient to, and under the control of, the political struggle. It is a principle that continues to haunt Algeria and Egypt where militarised states of emergency have been in place for decades, abrogating political rights and suppressing spaces for public discourse.
In 1959 Fanon presented his ‘Pitfalls of National Consciousness’ (which would become a central chapter of The Wretched of the Earth) as lectures to the Algerian liberation army camped on the Tunisian border. Looking forward to decolonisation, he goes further than the Soummam platform, arguing that the army too often becomes the pillar of a nation, which despite independence, does not undergo any fundamental reorganisation. The military enforces systematic pauperisation and ‘the strength of the police force and the power of the army are [simply] proportionate to the stagnation in which the rest of the nation is sunk.’ Where there is no parliament, he continues, the army takes over – as it has done in Egypt. But this changes nothing unless the army is truly nationalised and the development of the officer class is curtailed as it becomes a school of ‘civic and political education.’ Rather than a professional army, he adds, the military should become a political organisation which, as a servant of the people, needs to take the step from ‘national consciousness to political and social consciousness’ and become part of a genuine humanist and social national programme. Too often, however, as we have seen in the fifty years since Fanon’s death, the army, as he feared, takes the place of a corrupt political party, and becomes the organizer of the profiteers. This certainly was the situation under Mubarak.
In Egypt the army – intimately connected to the economy and self-interested in the maintenance of the status quo – is repeating the same calls it made during the last days of Mubarak under the slogans to ‘return to order’ and ‘return to normalcy.’ Yet the people are not naïve. During the commune days of Tahrir Square they understood that the tanks not only protected them but threatened them. People slept in the tank’s tracks not only to stop the tanks from moving but let everyone know that they were ready if the tanks did move; they marched around the tanks by candlelight at night to keep them in their place; and they continued to embrace the soldiers as their ‘brothers,’ but announced further demonstrations and encouraged the soldiers to join them. Thus after Mubarak’s departure and despite the army’s clearing of Tahrir Square and its threat to ban strikes and end street demonstrations, the question is can the military put the lid back on the multidimensional revolt? How reliable are the army’s young and badly paid conscripts ?"