The Egyptian Revolution: A Very Fine Thing

I’m watching live coverage of the Egyptian revolution on Al-Jazeera TV. Cairo is swarming with hundreds of thousands, defying the curfew, hurling stones at the police. The images recall the Palestinian youth waging their Intifadas. The National Democratic Party headquarters is in flames. Downtown Suez has been taken over by the people, two police stations torched. The security forces are out in strength and shooting into crowds. But the people have lost their fear.

Reporters and commentators on Al-Jazeera and other channels have no choice but to note that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is widely hated, and that those in the street are seeking freedom from a dictatorship. But they also keep saying “The situation is getting worse.”


I think of Mao Zedong’s response to critics of peasant rebellion in China in 1927. He noted that “even progressive people” saw uprisings as “terrible.” “But it’s not terrible,” he declared. “It is anything but ‘terrible.’ It’s fine!”

Watching the live coverage, I see the people of Egypt, fed up with their oppression, and inspired by the revolution in Tunisia, doing something very, very fine. It is inspiring. It is profoundly hopeful.

The Obama administration line (as summarized by Joe Biden, interviewed by Jim Lehrer on PBS), can be summarized as follows: Egyptians have the right to protest. Many are middle class folks, with legitimate concerns. But we should not refer to Mubarak as a dictator. It’s not time for him to go. He has been a key ally of the U.S. and Israel, in the “Middle East peace process” and the War on Terror. Egypt is dissimilar to Tunisia, and it would be “a stretch” to suggest that a trend is underway. The U.S. should encourage those protesting and Mubarak to talk. Everyone should avoid violence.

The mainstream infotainment media spin can be summarized like this: The “unrest” in Egypt puts the U.S. in a difficult position. On the one hand Mubarak has abetted U.S. “national interests” and been Israel’s only Arab ally. (These two are always assumed to be closely linked; the notion that an Arab leader is a friend of the U.S. to the extend that he kisses Israel’s ass is never questioned.) On the other hand, U.S. officials have been saying for years that the Middle East needs “democratic reform.”

This puts in the U.S. in bind, we are told. The U.S. confronts a “dilemma.” The talking heads depict the U.S. as somehow a victim in this situation. (Isn’t it terrible, they’re implying, that the Egyptian people by their militancy in favor of supposed U.S. ideals are trying to topple the USA’s best friend in the Arab world? What a headache to have to deal with!)

Seems to me, however, that this is another of those instances of chickens coming home to roost.

The U.S. has supported Mubarak primarily in appreciation for his stance towards Israel. (The mainstream media is referring to him as an “ally” of Israel.) It’s not really because he’s been a “partner in the peace process”—because there is no real peace process. Relentless Israeli settlement activity on Palestinian land supported by the Lobby in the U.S. has insured that.

Wikileaks documents indicate that Mubarak has been content for the “process” to lag indefinitely so that he could represent himself as the vital Arab middleman while enjoying two billion in U.S. military aid per year. But Palestinians hate him for cooperating with the demonization of democratically elected Hamas and the embargo imposed on Gaza. And Egyptians hate him for, among many other things, betraying their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

Rather, the U.S. has supported Mubarak because he’s provided an Arab fig leaf for the unequivocal support for Israel that the U.S. has provided for decades. U.S. diplomats have, as Wikileaks reveal, at times expressed concern that the dictator might be causing some problems by his “heavy-handed” treatment of dissidents. But this is not a matter of moral indignation, or concern about the lives of Egyptians. It’s nothing more than an expression of concern that his fascistic rule might jeopardize his ability to help U.S.-Israeli policy in the region and keep the Suez Canal open.

And now that brutal rule has caused an explosion. The reaction from U.S. officials and political commentators is, “We never expected this.”

Well surprise, surprise! (These folks were dumbfounded by the Iranian Revolution of 1979 as well. Don’t they understand that people eventually fight back?)

I think of that old Langston Hughes poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Egypt is exploding. The deferred dreams of the Arab world are exploding. And even the corporate media acknowledges that the people are jubilant (while warning that none of this might be in “our interest”). But for people with some basic morals, concerned about the happiness of humanity in general, is this not totally fine?

Al-Jazeera shows viewers how U.S. officials are changing the tone of their comments, backing off more and more each day from support of Mubarak. They’re reiterating with increasing emphasis that the demonstrators indeed have legitimacy. (Did these people just figure this out?) What sheer opportunism!

Obama, always the centrist opportunist wanting to be everybody’s friend, wants to be the Egyptian people’s friend. He showed that in Cairo in 2009. In his celebrated speech to the Muslim world he on the one hand spouted platitudes about U.S. acceptance of Islam and on the other insulted everyone’s intelligence by calling the invasion of Afghanistan a “war of necessity.” He (accurately) described the vicious assault on Iraq as a “war of choice,” but said anything about how those responsible for such a crime ought to be punished. He does not support any investigation that would show how neocon Zionists in his predecessor’s administration faked a case for war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Arabs.

His real message is: the U.S. can lie and kill, and then posture as the moral exemplar (maybe even apologizing slightly when crimes are embarrassingly exposed). Even so, the people of the world are supposed to understand that alignment with the U.S. is their best hope.

And now Obama wants the best of both worlds: an ongoing engagement with Mubarak (if he survives), and a hand outstretched to the people of Egypt, tainted by so many other handshakes with so many dictators so far.

Demonstrators in Cairo note that tear gas canisters on the street are marked “Made in USA.” What should they make of that? Who’s really encouraging their dreams? Who’s caused them to defer them, decade upon decade? It’s the same foe that has caused the deferment of dreams here in this country and around the world.

I learned to say shukran in Cairo. To my friends there now, engaged in this fine, fine battle, I say that now.

Shukran, shukran for inspiring the world, showing that another world might be possible.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.

20 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. joed said on January 29th, 2011 at 8:21am #

    Will the Egyptian people be able to save the Palestinian people?
    If this “revolution” in Egypt works and kind and considerate people take over then major major change will be through out the region.

  2. bozh said on January 29th, 2011 at 9:12am #

    “Everyone should avoid violence.” except oneperecentric power. if such protest wld occur in the region controlled by la familias, tanks wld surely role out, unless army-cia-fbi said no.

    in egypt tanks r not rolling out yet. on whose side is egypt’n army-spies?
    la familias’! no!, ok, we’l see in a few days.

    egyptians needed first of all to set up own politico-governmental party; voted for it and only took to the streets if their party wld be banned or members killed or imprisoned.
    in such a situation, they cld obtain also some generals onside.
    present protest, i think, is the worst political move i cld think of!
    when will people start studying history for its protreptic value? tnx

  3. mary said on January 29th, 2011 at 9:31am #

    ‘Change’ we can never ever believe in (and never did!).

    This is the man appointed as Mubarak’s “change”, new Vice President – close ally of CIA, Mossad and every filthy trick in book …


  4. jlohman said on January 29th, 2011 at 11:57am #

    How about national elections? With Ranked Choice Voting! Let the majority decide, not the demonstrators and not the old regime. The UN ought to set up fair elections. For Haiti as well.

    Jack Lohman

  5. Deadbeat said on January 29th, 2011 at 12:35pm #

    The “Left” is quick to “inform” us that Egypt is the 2nd largest recipient of U.S. Foreign Aid but while factually correct is rather deceptive. The reason why Egypt gets the money in the first place is reward for the subservience to Zionism. I should be added in the category of “aid to Israel” since it is part of the overall Zionist agenda.

    If Mubarak is toppled, it will be a major blow to Zionist expansionism and an embarrassment to the pseudo-Left bullshit of “war-for-Oil ™/resource war” canards they’ve been feeding the public.

  6. Ismail Zayid said on January 29th, 2011 at 12:38pm #

    Mubarak’s oppression of the people of Egypt and his collaboration with US and Israel was bound to move the Egyptian people to rise against Mubarak’s betrayal of the honour and reputation of the Egyptian people.
    Mr Biden’s testimony, that Mubarak is not a dictator, is the most authoratative testimony confirming Mubarak’s dictatorship.

    The newly-appointed vice-president is to carry the Mubarak banner faithfully.

  7. Deadbeat said on January 29th, 2011 at 12:57pm #

    I should be added in the category of “aid to Israel” since it is part of the overall Zionist agenda.

    Sorry for the typo. That should read as …

    U.S. Foreign Aid to Egypt should be added in the category of “aid to Israel” since it is part of the overall Zionist agenda.

  8. Deadbeat said on January 29th, 2011 at 1:00pm #

    The newly-appointed vice-president is to carry the Mubarak banner faithfully.

    Let’s hope the people on the streets do not accept another Zionist quisling and maintain the pressure to restore pride in themselves as enemies of Zionism.

  9. Don Hawkins said on January 29th, 2011 at 1:03pm #


    Read this and am going to have a cup of coffee and think about tyranny.

    : a rigorous condition imposed by some outside agency or force

    An outside agency see where am going with this just might have to say a few words on 100% looney tunes also.

  10. Don Hawkins said on January 29th, 2011 at 2:27pm #

    A rigorous condition imposed by some outside agency or force.

    Any excuse will serve a tyrant.

    Tyrants have always some slight shade of virtue; they support the laws before destroying them.

    In the greatest Nation on Earth any conditions imposed by outside agency’s or force’s? I would think in 2011 ignorance is strength by a few outside force’s seem’s to be a rigorous, relentless condition. Why well now that human beings and the natural world are on a collision course in order to stay in power no choice. This is a tuff one as Bozh has pointed out many times been going on for thousand’s of years. Here in the States no longer just one tyrant and or little God but a few and so they formed group’s/gangs it just made them feel better. Now that human beings and the natural world are on a collision course these group’s/gangs are in overdrive so to speak with the ignorance is strength part and heck here’s a few names.

    In the first two chapters, Lundberg develops his thesis and names the 60 richest American families, based on the tax reports for the years 1924/25. His thesis is simple: the USA is a dollar democracy, ruled by a modern industrial and financial oligarchy (3). The 60 families intermarry (9-22), and together use certain banks and bank alliances to control a large part of the industrial corporations of the U. S. The five most powerful banks or banking alliances are: the four banks of J. P. Morgan, the National City Bank (NCB), the Rockefeller Chase Manhattan Bank, the Mellon banks in Pittsburgh, and the Warburg and Schiff bank of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. Among the ten most powerful groups are also Lehmann Brothers, Dillon Read & Co., and Goldman, Sachs & Co.. These banks control large parts of U.S. industry through trust organization, through voting shares of the 60 families who deposit their shares and entrust their votes in these banks. The major banks and their agents also control U.S. politicians, especially U. S. presidents. Wiki

    Control U.S. politicians say it isn’t so who would have ever guessed. Could add a few more like Exxon and Chevron, Massey Massey and hope I didn’t forget anybody well to make a long story short now that human beings and the natural world are on a collision course are the Tyrants and there little helpers going to try? So far the answer is no and yes this is about the whole ball game. Cap and trade a joke on the human race maybe a back-up plan because it keep’s the money and power where it belongs tax carbon return the tax back to the people are you out of your mind that is not in the Book of Tyrants or Atlas Shrugged or how to win friends and influence people required reading at Harvard Business school am sure. This is a tuff one as forget a thousand years and probably not even a 100 years well no probably about it.

    When we treat this issue as a matter of principle, a broad common ground can be found with the rest of the humanity, much of which also suffers from tyranny. Human dignity and the realization of human potential require a world free of tyranny. It is a broad and common challenge for the humanity to marginalize tyranny in the world. However, effectively meeting such a challenge requires that we all intellectually and spiritually reorient ourselves to stand up for justice and freedom. Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq

    And tax carbon and soon would be a good idea if we wish to survive.

  11. Doug Page said on January 29th, 2011 at 6:05pm #

    Professor Leupp: Congratulations for having the intellectual rigor and courage to write that the people’s demonstrations in Egypt are “fine, inspiring and hopeful. ”
    Doug Page

  12. hayate said on January 29th, 2011 at 6:34pm #

    12 die in sniper fire in Cairo

    Jan 30, 2011 02:14 Moscow Time

    “12 people have been killed after snipers opened fire on demonstrators from atop the Interior Ministry building in Cairo. According to Al Jazeera, reporting from the Egyptian capital, protesters came under sniper fire when they tried to force their way into the Interior Ministry.

    Meanwhile, hundreds of prisoners escaped from jail in El Fayum province south of Cairo. Egypt is gripped by mass scale protests with people demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and a series of economic and political reforms.”


  13. jayn0t said on January 29th, 2011 at 7:00pm #

    Deadbeat is right that US aid to Egypt is a bribe to keep its government friendly to Israel. A Tea Party leader just called for aid to these two countries to be cut off completely.

    Haaretz provides a refreshingly honest Zionist perspective on the Egyptian uprising: “While many other countries view the possible ouster of a government that denies basic rights to its citizens with satisfaction, the Israeli point of view is completely different”.

  14. jayn0t said on January 29th, 2011 at 7:41pm #

    Deadbeat: “Let’s hope the people on the streets do not accept another Zionist quisling and maintain the pressure to restore pride in themselves as enemies of Zionism”.

    I’m not sure that Zionism is, or should be, the first concern of the Egyptian poor. As far as the US bribe to the government to support Israel is concerned, surely the Egyptian masses would rather demand a share of it, than demand that it cease? It’s complicated. Israel is a big issue, but Arab ‘pride’ is a diversion for the proletariat of the region.

  15. shabnam said on January 29th, 2011 at 8:33pm #

    {The UN ought to set up fair elections. }



  16. Deadbeat said on January 29th, 2011 at 9:26pm #

    I’m not sure that Zionism is, or should be, the first concern of the Egyptian poor. As far as the US bribe to the government to support Israel is concerned, surely the Egyptian masses would rather demand a share of it, than demand that it cease? It’s complicated. Israel is a big issue, but Arab ‘pride’ is a diversion for the proletariat of the region

    It’s fair enough to say that the uprising is basically economic. But I do think that Zionism is part of the corruption of Egypt and has held the country back. Egypt back during the time of Arab Nationalism only had Moscow for support. The world has changed and there are more outlets of trade today in 2010. IMO, Egypt breaking away from the U.S. bribes and especially from being a tool of Zionism may not only restore Arab pride but allow Egypt become more independent and to expand their relationships with other nations like China, India, Iran, and Latin America. It may also relieve pressure on Gaza and allow the needed supplies and necessities through and help to rebuild Gaza. I see the break from the Zionist West in this era as one that will yield huge benefits and become a much needed stimulus that will eventually be beneficial to the Egyptian masses.

    Please correct me if any of my assumptions are incorrect.


  17. John Andrews said on January 30th, 2011 at 1:43am #

    It’s difficult to believe that anything happens in the Middle East without “Made in the USA” appearing prominently somewhere in the small print. I’ve followed much of the Egypt story on Russia Today, which is reporting that WikiLeaks documents show that Washington grew tired of Mubarak about three years ago and decided it was time to ‘let him go’; and from what I’ve seen of Obama recently, with his touching concern for the wishes of the Egyptian people (curiously lacking when Zelaya was ousted), I’m inclined to think that Russia Today has touched a nerve (not for the first time).

  18. mary said on January 30th, 2011 at 2:32am #

    The mummies in the tomb are still trying to hang on to power.

    Al Jazeera has been shut down.


  19. hayate said on January 30th, 2011 at 7:43am #

    John Andrews

    I noticed the RT stuff, also. Global Research has a couple items posted on it as well.

    A summary by the daily telegraph of the wikileaks material:

    Egypt protests: America’s secret backing for rebel leaders behind uprising

    January 29, 2011


    And a copy of the document:

    US Embassy document: Secret Plan on Regime Change in Egypt

    January 29, 2011


  20. mary said on January 30th, 2011 at 7:51am #

    There is a show of military force (two fighter jets and a helicopter repeatedly flying low over Tahrir Square which the crowd are taking no notice of) going on at the moment in a futile attempt to intimidate the people. One of them has just brought a spent tear gas canister to the BBC reporter. It is marked ‘Made in the USA’ as are the jets, helicopter and the tanks.