So you think you want a revolution?

by · February 16, 2011


Photo by Counterfire

My latest piece on ABC’s The Drum Unleashed — What Australia can learn from Egypt’s uprising” — dispelling the mythology around revolutions peddled by Western leaders and mainstream media:

The word “revolution” comes loaded with many preconceptions, but the 18 days that brought down the Mubarak regime in Egypt have deeply challenged views about what revolutions are and are not.

In large part this is because official politics in the West has treated revolutions as hazardous, destabilising and an unwelcome break from liberal democratic norms. It has wanted to warn people against getting dangerous ideas in their heads about seriously challenging concentrations of wealth and power. Revolutions are often equated with coups by tiny groups of armed militants, carried out over the heads of the people and almost invariably installing regimes more tyrannical than what came before. Or they are seen as mere chaos, proving yet again that ordinary people need strong leaders because they are incapable of governing themselves.


As Slavoj Zizek has pointed out, this revolution has been universalist in character, not only born of social causes but reviving eternal ideas of “freedom, justice and dignity”. The protesters have opened a new world of possibilities because through their actions “they suspended the authority of the state — it was not just an inner liberation, but a social act of breaking chains of servitude.” In a similar vein, the Russian Marxist V.I. Lenin called revolution “a festival of the oppressed”. It is a powerful descriptor of amazing scenes of millions of Egyptians rising up against their dictator and his bevy of torturers.

But the fall of Mubarak is only the beginning — revolutions are processes and not singular events. The success of a movement largely united around national-democratic demands will now give way to a plethora of debates and discussions as different social groups’ interests are refracted through movements and political parties, competing with each other (and the military) over the best way forward for Egyptian society.

Filed under: Egypt, revolution