This short essay is a study of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. The Egyptian Revolution is central for understanding the Arab Revolutions of 2010-2011. While the Egyptian Revolution was just one of the Arab Revolutions of 2010-2011 it was also the largest revolution and probably the revolution with the most social potential. Egypt, today, remains a society which is still being shaped by the reality and the legacy of the Revolution of 2011. The struggle for social revolution in Egypt, so far, has retreated into counter-revolution and the reality of military counter-revolution. Despite this social reality the Revolution of 2011 proves two ideas. The first idea is that Egypt is capable of social revolution. The second idea is that Egypt is a society which requires further social revolution.
The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 was one of the great revolutions of the early 21st century. In a few weeks of struggle the Egyptian Revolution managed to overturn a government which had existed in Egypt for decades — since the 1970s. In a few weeks it managed to mobilise millions of Egyptians for the prospect of real social change, real social liberation, and real social revolution. While the Egyptian Revolution, ultimately, ended in the reality of the Counter-Revolution of 2013 it remains the largest social revolution of the 21st century — so far. What really distinguished the Egyptian Revolution, as a social revolution, is that it was a revolution which occurred in a period when revolution was said to be politically impossible, within the modern world.
The Egyptian Revolution was part of a wider process — the Arab Revolutions of 2010-2011, the Arab Spring of 2010-2011, and the crisis of Capitalism. This reality, of the Egyptian Revolution as part of a wider revolutionary wave, means that the Egyptian Revolution will probably be remembered more as part of that wave than as an individual revolution. The Arab Revolutions of 2010-2011 were very similar to the Revolutions of 1848 — a major series of political revolutions which swept across multiple countries and multiple societies in a very short period of time. In many ways the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 was similar to the French Revolution of 1848 — the major revolution of a major revolutionary wave. The Egyptian Revolution was not the beginning of the Arab Spring, as it broke out after the Tunisian Revolution of 2010, but it was the largest of the revolutions of the Arab Spring.
We must remember the hope of the Egyptian Revolution. Of course, the Revolution of 2011 sparked massive hopes in the world — in the Arab world, in the Middle East, and in the wider world. The Egyptian Revolution, along with the other Arab Revolutions of 2010-2011, showed that the classic type of ‘social revolution’ is still possible in the modern world. This sort of development, especially for Socialists, is probably the most crucial outcome of the Egyptian Revolution. It showed that social revolutions can still occur in modern history, in modern politics, and in modern society. This means that the Egyptian Revolution is one of the most important events in recent history, and one of the most important events since the end of the Cold War. The Egyptian Revolution, already, is one of the truly important events of our times.
The Egyptian Revolution was both a national revolution and an international revolution. It was the result of Egyptian society and Egyptian history, but also the result of the Arab Revolutions of 2010-2011. The Egyptian Revolution has been heavily associated with Cairo, the capital of Egypt, but it was also a national movement — stretching across Egypt, at different times, with different levels of social struggle and social revolution.
The Egyptian Revolution was a political revolution. It was a revolution in which tens of thousands of people took part, filling the streets of Cairo, and several other Egyptian cities. The vast occupation of Tahrir Square, with crowds and strikes numbering in the hundreds of thousands of workers, shows the social power of revolution — both in changing society and in changing the world. The Egyptian Revolution was a popular revolution.
Historians and political scientists will probably remember the Egyptian Revolution as the first great revolution of the 21st century. This is because it was the largest of the Arab Revolutions of 2010-2011, and because it was the first major revolution of our times. Before 2010-2011 the concept of revolution was routinely dismissed by many historians and political scientists, as a possibility of the future. This was, mostly, because of the political developments which had emerged in the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Many, especially on the Right, proclaimed in the 1990s and the 2000s that revolutions were impossible as major social or historical developments. Indeed, many simply believed that any future possibility for revolution was being systematically undermined by economic or political progress — towards Liberalism, Conservatism, and Neo-Liberal Capitalism. While the Egyptian Revolution failed to rescue Egypt from counter-revolution, especially after 2013, it showed the reality and the possibility of revolution. The example of the Egyptian Revolution shows that revolution is still possible in the modern world — and has the potential to change the world. The real social power of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 was to show that social revolution and political revolution can occur in the 21st century.
Any serious attempt to understand the Egyptian Revolution must engage with the reality that revolution, itself, is a long-term process. The failure of the Revolution of 2011 to achieve lasting social progress and social results, in Egypt, needs to be seen in the wider context of revolutions and revolutionary struggle. All revolutions, even the most successful, go through periods of counter-revolution. The Egyptian Revolution, today, is clearly going through a period of counter-revolution. The revolutionary task, today, is to try to change this reality, and focus the Egyptian Revolution back to its goals of social revolution and political revolution.
Revolution is not an isolated incident. Revolution often needs years and decades in order to fully develop and achieve its full potential. We need to see the Egyptian Revolution as part of a longer and more effective process of revolution — a process which will necessarily have its phases of revolution and its phases of counter-revolution. Clearly the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 did not achieve all of its needed results. The Egyptian Revolution, next time, might have the power to really achieve the necessary results needed for Egypt and the wider Middle East. Egypt can learn from its revolution, in order to achieve real social progress with its next revolution.
The Muslim Brotherhood became the political focus of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Indeed, the Brotherhood, and its political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, went on to form the government in Egypt in the years after the Revolution — the Morsi government of 2012-2013. The Brotherhood was a mass party, but it had no revolutionary programme. Indeed, the Brotherhood’s government fell to the counter-revolution of the Egyptian state in the coup of 2013. The Muslim Brotherhood became the political focus of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, but it had no revolutionary politics and no revolutionary programme. Its vision of a national revolution and a religious revolution was not enough, and as a result it fell to reaction. Indeed, the Brotherhood was a flawed party which opposed the social struggle of the Egyptian Revolution. The failure of the Brotherhood shows the need for independent working-class politics in any social revolution. The failure of the Brotherhood shows the need for Socialist politics in any social revolution in the Arab world. The result of the Brotherhood’s failure was the Counter-Revolution of 2013.
The result of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 was an uncompleted revolution. In the end, after the military coup of 2013, Egypt has returned to the reality of dictatorship and military dictatorship. The revolution might have been defeated, in the end, but it did change Egypt. Egypt, today, still has the possibility of future revolution and future social revolution.
There will probably be another major revolution in Egypt, in the coming decades. There are too many unresolved political and social realities from the Revolution of 2011 — realities which can only be solved by further social revolution. The Revolution of 2011 was defeated by counter-revolution and there is a major need for further revolution in Egypt. Egypt, today, is a military dictatorship, similar to what it was prior to the Revolution of 2011. There is a need for a dual revolution in Egypt — a Democratic Revolution and a Socialist Revolution. Egypt, itself, also has a great deal of revolutionary potential — based on the experience of the Revolution of 2011.
Egypt shows the necessity of permanent revolution — the idea of achieving both Democratic Revolution and Socialist Revolution. Egypt is one of those societies which needs permanent revolution — both Democratic Revolution and Socialist Revolution.1 This is in line with both Marx’s theory of permanent revolution and Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.2
Egypt, today, is an interesting society. It has the most revolutionary potential of any of the states of the Middle East, especially in terms of its working class and its working-class movements. The revolution in Egypt might not emerge again for decades, or it might emerge again very quickly. Indeed, we cannot really know when the next revolutionary stage of the Egyptian Revolution will break out, simply because Egyptian society is still recovering from the counter-revolution of 2013. What can be said, however, is that Egypt is still at the revolutionary heart of the revolutionary struggle for revolution in the Middle East today. That revolutionary struggle will continue to develop, until the Revolution, itself, returns to Egypt.
Egypt remains one of the most developed societies in the Middle East, in terms of actual social movements and actual social struggles. Its revolutionary struggle, in 2011, was the most advanced and developed of all the revolutions of 2010-2011 and it achieved the most in social terms despite the counter-revolution of 2013. Egypt has a significant working class — a working class which proved that it can make both social revolution and political revolution. The working class in Egypt, as a revolutionary class, has the potential to fully change Egypt and the world — as it did in 2011. The revolutionary power of the Egyptian working class needs to be developed, for the next revolution in Egypt. This revolutionary power, in the form of political parties and trade unions, needs to be united with Socialist politics. Once this unity is achieved the Egyptian working class will have the social power to transform not only Egyptian society, and all of Egypt, but potentially all of the Middle East. The real social revolution in the Middle East is impossible without the revolutionary struggle of the Egyptian working class. The Egyptian working class is key to the Revolution of the Middle East.
The Egyptian Revolution, like most of the Arab Revolutions, was crushed. It was crushed by reaction — first by the limits of the Revolution of 2011 and then by the reality of the Counter-Revolution of 2013. Despite this the fact remains that Egypt has revolutionary potential. The current government has simply recreated the same social and economic base of the government which was overthrown in 2011. Egypt, today, is a society which needs further social revolution and further political revolution. The Revolution of 2011 needs to be completed — with a greater, permanent, revolution. In many ways the Revolution of 2011 was left uncompleted and needs to be completed by the working class of Egypt. Egypt has the potential for revolution. The working class must make a revolution in Egypt.
The Egyptian Revolution will always be remembered by those who took part in it — as most revolutionaries tend to remember their revolutions. The Egyptian Revolution, however, will also be remembered by those around the world who hoped for revolution in the 21st century, and by those who still hope for revolution in the 21st century. Every Socialist alive today, who hopes for social change and for social revolution, looks back at the Egyptian Revolution with admiration — both for its victories and for its struggles. Every Socialist admires the Egyptian workers who fought and struggled to make the Egyptian Revolution. Every Socialist mourns those Egyptian workers who died in the reality of the struggle of 2011 and the counter-revolution of 2013. In the end the Egyptian Revolution, like the revolutions of the past, will always be remembered as part of the great history of revolution. The Egyptian Revolution, like all great revolutions, proves that revolution is possible. The Egyptian Revolution, like all great revolutions, proves that revolution can change the world.
Egypt needs a new revolution. Egypt needs a revolution which can achieve democracy in Egypt, and possibly Socialism. Egypt, today, needs a permanent revolution — a revolution which achieves both a Democratic Revolution and a Socialist Revolution. The experience of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 proves the importance of permanent revolution. Indeed, the experience of the Egyptian Revolution proves both Marx’s theory of permanent revolution and Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution — the need for a working-class revolution to achieve both Democratic Revolution and Socialist Revolution. The Egyptian Revolution could only have succeeded if it had become a working-class revolution. Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution shows that the working class, in Egypt, needs to achieve both the Democratic Revolution and the Socialist Revolution, as the capitalist class of Egypt is incapable of achieving social revolution in Egypt. The working class, in Egypt, is the only class, in Egypt, which can achieve real social revolution in Egypt — a revolution which achieves democracy, liberty, equality, and Socialism. The experience of the Egyptian Revolution, and the Arab Revolution, shows the need for permanent revolution, as the basis of achieving both democracy and Socialism in Egypt and in the Arab world. Permanent revolution is the basis for real social revolution in Egypt today — a revolution which will overcome the limits of the Revolution of 2011. The theory of permanent revolution states that the working class must struggle for its own independent political interests — and this aspect of working-class struggle was clearly missing in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. The future of the Egyptian Revolution, and the future of the Arab Revolution, rests entirely in the hands of achieving permanent revolution. The future of the Egyptian Revolution needs to be based on the theory of permanent revolution.
The Egyptian Revolution proves the revolutionary potential of Egypt. The Revolution of 2011 shows that in the correct political and social contexts the workers of Egypt can make both political revolution and social revolution. So far, the Egyptian Revolution only managed to achieve a political revolution — the overthrow of the previous regime. Today the struggle is not only against counter-revolution but to go much further in the development of the revolution — to turn the political revolution into a social revolution. The Revolution of 2011 has to be turned into a greater revolution. The Revolution of 2011 has to be turned into a social revolution.
1. K. Marx, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, (1850)
2. L. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, (1930)
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This post was written by R.G. Williams