Thursday 13th August 2020
x-pressed | an open journal
July 4, 2013
July 4, 2013

Egypt: Hieroglyphics of the revolution

Category: Protest
This article is also available in: frel
Egypt: Hieroglyphics of the revolution

"Egyptian Revolution got real" Image by Eng-Sam via devianART

The whole Egypt has taken to the streets these days – while the whole West and East is seating on couches trying to understand what is happening in the land of hieroglyphs and uprisings. A primary reading is: “Army made a coup in order to kick the government of Islamists. Revolution is a sham. And the US? The US is everywhere”.

Army, Islam Revolution: three words that have been used more than any other on studies and descriptions of Egypt in the last three years and three words that are more misunderstood than any other in the same studies, three words that have never been analyzed in their historical and anthropological significance, and finally three words the shallow use of which reveals the western arrogance and ignorance towards the most heroic uprising that today’s world has ever seen, perhaps following the Palestinian Intifada in 1987.

The only thing every “analyst” agrees on is that the US is behind every process. But even this is a confirmation of how much Western arrogance is integrated, which is manifested either as an alignment with the powerful and their machinations or as a failure to recognize how much complicated and open to almost every eventuality the situation is. Things are simple, my fellow conspiracy theorists: whoever thinks that understands what is happening in Egypt, they just understand nothing. Obama’s not excluded. However, Egyptian hieroglyphics are in need of some sort of decryption.


The army in Egypt is a compilation of many things. Statistically speaking, the armed forces of Egypt comprise the largest army in Africa and the Middle East and the 11th largest army in the world. They receive 1.3 billion dollars annually as a “military aid” from the US and, to a large extent their generals have been trained in the West. It is not the government who makes decisions concerning the army’s budget, but the army itself. The generals control key economic sectors of the country, such as tourism, real estate, public works, shopping centers, media and oil.
Historically though, it was the Egyptian army who overthrew the hateful reign with the revolution – “coup” in 1952 and the one who brought to power the most popular leader ever seen by Egypt and by the Arab world. This army defeated Israel in 1973 and reoccupied Sinai, but it was from the insides of that same army – in fact during a military parade – that the killer of President Sadat, winner of 1973, came out, as well.

So, the army is one thing and the generals are another. The army consists of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian men, whose families try to survive in a society that is becoming even poorer every day, not because of Islam or the army, but simply because of capitalism. At any time, the military can simply refuse to follow orders that do not move towards the direction of popular will. The army is not an amorphous mass that acts according to the instructions of the marshal. It is a vibrant part of the society that is seething under the revolutionary vibrations.

Political Islam

Political Islam in Egypt is a compilation of many things. As far as it concerns the central political scene, it is a classic conservative force, espousing values like family, religion and mother country – although it’s a bit more internationalist than the domestic right, as it recognizes the ummah and not the nation. As far as it concerns society, however, political Islam is the most popular version of an efficient and decentralized welfare state, which sustains and directs dozens of hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, charities, youth and learning centers. Historically, the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood was persecuted by Nasser and Sadat, because they dreaded its power —justifiably since the latter was overthrown by an Islamist— but with Mubarak a modus vivendi had been achieved, which allowed political Islam to evolve to the largest organized force in the country, after the army.

Mubarak used Brotherhood as a blockade against the left and the workers’ struggles, which, nevertheless, kept going under his authoritarian boot. Morsi not only failed to fulfill the promises of the revolution (social and economic justice, restoration of the martyrs, condemnation of the guilty), but he also kept most executives of the old regime in their positions and split the movement, resulting in many of the youngest executives going “left” and support the Abdel Fotouh in the presidential elections. The Brothers are not an amorphous mass that acts according to the commands of each Imam, but it is a living part of society that is seething under the revolutionary vibrations.


Revolution in Egypt is a compilation of many things. What it’s certainly not though is a spontaneous outburst, which just started the day that some millions of people decided to take the streets because of Facebook call. The year 2011 was the culmination of a decade’s successful, labor and popular struggles against the neoliberal policies of Mubarak, imposed by the dictates of the IMF. The textile factory workers in el-Mahalla and other cities in the Delta region had not only been trained on how to maintain picket lines with the help of the entire population and to win battles in the negotiations with liberal technocrats, but also on how to force back, in a military manner, the attacks of the neoliberal dictatorship’s Mubarak security forces.

These victories had boosted people’s confidence, after they had been known throughout the country, along with all those tactics that made them successful. Even on the 25th of January and despite the frantic police chase, it was the military approach of the protesters —after a long lasting melee— that finally leaded to the occupation of Tahrir square, by keeping their last pre-assembly secret and taking the authorities by surprise. The rebels in Egypt therefore are not an amorphous mass that just stares at the tango the Brotherhood and the Army are dancing, while listening to Americans playing music from the speakers. It is the liveliest part of society, that’s learning its lesson, it’s being trained and it’s growing through every victory as that of the 25th of January 2011 and that of the 30th of June 2013.

In other words, what we should all do is be patient and what we should all need to do is show is confidence. Confidence not in our words, but in their ideas, actions and dreams.

*Nikolas Kosmatopoulos is an Anthropologist-researcher in the Middle East

Creative Commons License
Egypt: Hieroglyphics of the revolution by Nikolas Kosmatopoulos* is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

This article is also available in:

Translate this in your language

Like this Article? Share it!

Leave A Response