The Egyptian Movement: Was the crisis and revolution in Egypt one of its own making or from MNCs‟ intervention?
By Faruk Arslan
The Arab World seeks out happiness through a liberal democratic model that assumes to promise the core principles of human rights. The desperate people of Egypt are demanding to have an ideal society, although the country`s entire corrupt system of governance, economy and culture of political corruption must be dismantled. Creative destructions, foresighted predictions and political manipulations cannot control humans and chaos; however, it is a certain fact that a new Middle East can come out unexpectedly, when no one anticipates it to. NGOs‗successes and failures in mobilizing support and bringing about change can be understood by looking at their creative use of tactics and strategies in response to the actions of other political players: the media, competing NGOs, counter-movements, and the hegemonic power of MNCs and the state. They have risen now because MNCs and hegemonic power may get more benefits from the recent revolution, while they sell liberal democracy and the economic model within capitalism. Egypt will less likely be living in an egalitarian society and gaining equality for all in the neo-liberal capitalistic globalism. Individuals will barely be satisfied because their needs meet criteria limitless in the new free enterprise system and require liberal democracy in the near future. Egypt made its own crisis with the help of MNCs` intervention as the global hegemonic power interest.
Key Words: Egyptian, Arab spring, movement, struggle, crisis, capitalism, globalism, MNC’s, liberal democracy, liberal economy, hegemonic interest.
The Arab World seeks out happiness through a liberal democratic model that assumes to promise the core principles of human rights. The desperate people of Egypt are demanding to have an ideal society, although the country`s entire corrupt system of governance, economy and culture of political corruption must be dismantled. Creative destruction, foresighted predictions and political manipulations cannot control humans and chaos; however, it is a certain fact that a new Middle East can come out unexpectedly, when no one anticipates it to. NGOs’ successes and failures in mobilizing support and bringing about change can be understood by looking at their creative use of tactics and strategies in response to the actions of other political players: the media, competing NGOs, counter-movements, and the hegemonic power of MNCs and the state. I will critically examine two main theoretical concepts and provide contrast and compare analyses in Egypt with social theories and politics derived from the Marxist economic class struggle and Weber`s political power on legitimacy. These theories have been involved in and impacted the recent Egyptian revolution as they are concerned with political, cultural and economical factors that have sparked the rising social movement and directly influenced it because people are either proponents or opponents of the current situations.
I will answer the following several questions concerning this paper. Change is forthcoming, but why now? Why not before? What are its main social causes? Whose interests will it serve? Is this change all about Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and meant for capitalistic profiting interests? Was the crisis and revolution in Egypt one of its own making or from MNCs’ intervention? I will discuss a long battle between Marx and Weber on class and power struggles.
Class Struggle of the Egyptian Youth Movement
The question is how a class struggle has arisen in Egypt; and why has it done so now? The international, financial, and economic crises have negatively affected the Egyptian economy since mid-2008. The Egyptian banking sector has limited integration to the global financial market. The impact on the real economy has been reflected by several indicators, such as the decline of the GDP growth from 7.2% in 2008 to around 4.5% in 2009, a reduced flow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and a decline in domestic investment. Due to these export-oriented sectors, manufacturing and tourism have been affected (CJPME, 2011). Internal Migration began in the 1950s and has been strongly influenced by poverty, economic difficulties, and improper socioeconomic policies occurring after the 1990s that involved both skilled and unskilled workers. Rapid population growth is one of the crucial problems that have hindered development efforts in Egypt, for instance, the country`s population is about 72 million today. About 95 percent of its population is crowded within five cities that constitute five percent of the total land area that follows the course of the Nile, which represents the main source of water for agriculture, and consequently is a major determinant of the spatial distribution of population and economic life. The remaining 95 percent of the land is desert. Although this situation can be seen as a kind of ‘natural response’ to the geography of the country`s economic opportunity, migration to large cities has further imbalanced Egypt’s population distribution. The very poor families send their young males to Cairo, since this is the cheapest alternative to escaping rural poverty (Zohry, 2005). Unemployment has been a chronic problem amongst women and youth, where vulnerable employment among females has amounted to 53% compared to 21% for men. Food prices and shortages have increased since 2008, while President Mubarak responded by raising the salary of all public sector employees with 30%, which was allotted to and thus benefited only government employees, including police and security forces. There are no real political parties in the Western sense of political movements developed by certain segments of society with a particular ideology or programme in Egypt (CJPME, 2011).
Starting from the 25th of January, 2011, large scale demonstrations were organized in 18 days in different cities around Egypt by the 6 April Youth Movement, calling for an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule. Dissatisfactions over corruption, lack of freedom of speech, economic issues such as food price inflation, high unemployment, low wages and the enrichment of the ruling elite were the reasons for the protests. State terror evidently seemed to be a response to sedition, although both it and civil terror are illegal acts to overthrow the government by non-parliamentary means, such as through rioting. Being a part of a country, or having some sort of citizenship, might also suggest the idea of individuality in which people construct their own meanings about certain practices or beliefs within their everyday lives. With state terror in place, a sort of fear is instilled in people to make them feel afraid of individuality; possibly it is meant for people to conform in accordance with the desires of the state. After 18 days of angry protests and after losing the support of the military and the United States, Mubarak resigned on February 11, 2011, ending the 30 years of his autocratic rule. The military stepped forward and took power. It quickly suspended the unpopular provisions of the Egyptian Constitution, even while cracking down with continuing demonstrations conducted mostly by youths. On March 19, 2011, a set of constitutional amendments that paved the way for elections was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum that drew record from numbers of voters. Although the 6 April Youth Movement didn’t support the new constitutional amendments, surprisingly the NDP, or Mubarak`s party, and Muslim Brotherhood did. In addition, the 18-member ruling council has promised to hand over legislative powers after the parliamentary election in September 2011, declaring that executive powers would be transferred after the presidential election, which will be held on November 2011. Egyptian civilians are still skeptical about how this revolution is moving forward, despite that the military and all security forces haven’t met a list of unaccomplished goals which were proposed by protesters, including the arrest of leading members of the old government, serious trials for corrupt businessmen, and the removal of university presidents and provincial governors appointed by Mubarak. Youths are not happy and suggest that protests and popular pressure must return, because they are the only real method of realizing the people’s demands.
Marx’s famous claim describes that under capitalism all that is solid melts into air and comes face to face with the economic nature of our relations with each other and the material power of the ruling class (Bantjes, 2007). A small minority of people central in the Egyptian economy, or capitalists, make huge profits by exploiting workers, and thus extracting surplus value from their labour. Egypt has been forced to adopt a new neo-liberal global economy that imposes productivity, competitiveness and high-speed informational technology. Capitalism has made old certainties such as metaphysical, religious and political beliefs as merely useless thought, claiming additionally that modern science can be the only factor to solve problems. As Marx believes that the result of capitalism enforces the opening of markets wherein everything can be bought and sold and which are run by the new global economy network, a capitalist group. Marx seems to think that the development of capitalism is something we all have to suffer centrally until something better comes along, however, for now the capital is driven by industrial production and the class struggle, which show the main theoretical case in Egypt.
As Marx had said, modern capitalism has carried with it a tendency to constantly revolutionize the means of production and lend a cosmopolitan character to economic activity, within which it dominates, leading to mean that capitalism has an inherent drive to spread its tentacles around the globe as it globalizes. Capitals fly very fast today and MNCs are like commanders from pirate ships that sail them with neo-liberal economists and weakening national states in secretive and anti-democratic ways, while capitalists use democracy, liberty and human rights as efficient tools. Marx and Engels theorized and expected that the model of class formation and conflict would provide a solution to the problem of how the powerless can gain power, and they offered the culture of mutualism and decentralized democracy to unify workers, which then built up working class communities in turn for changes in working conditions as capitalism lurches from crises to crises toward its final end (Marx and Engels, 1848). Marx sees the long history of humanity as the history of class struggle. All class societies have existed based on one operating principle: exploitation. Classes emerge because the dominant class exploits the labouring class; the exploited classes always struggle against their oppressors. Sometimes these class struggles take on violent forms, but are generally non-violent. The basics of Marx and Engels’ original formulations of the ‘reserve army of labour’ and ‘alienation’ and many of their predictions are seen throughout capitalism and globalization today in Egypt. The capitalist dictators in Arab nations who retain power and the working class remain in the bottle of hierarchy, which is illustrated with the definition of the “reserve army of labour” (Engels, Marx, 1848). Marx’s theories explain that capitalistic crises occur in response to falling rates of profit, unplanned over-production and technological halt and waste (Rahbarir, 2011). There is the dilemma that the freedom fighters of Egyptians want to consume more American goods and adapt the hegemonic culture of Americanism even whilst they hate the USA. The global economy and globalization dangerously depend on a “US based recovery of consumerism,” and the US is a hegemonic power as well as MNCs (Harvey, 2005). On the contrary, the workplace has become like a prison in Egypt; workers are slaves in such prisons where exploitation and alienation have grown much more, even though worker hatred and rebellion have diminished, although this dehumanizing progress is under the control of the reserve army of cheap labour, which is ready to replace current workers. As large corporations close down small town business owners, they begin to gain a type of monopoly, wherein the working class is forced to work under any condition. They are so desperate for work that if an employee objects to the working conditions, it is no problem to fire them and replace them in a matter of minutes. This is the idea behind the reserve army of labour. In a sense, there is a line-up of working class citizens who are so desperate for money that they will take any job available. The capitalist system and capitalists have used the economic crisis and oppression to exploit potential rebellion workers, but unlike this they have encouraged and funded rebellion groups in Egypt because MNCs have planned to put forth worse working conditions during the transition period of democracy and within the liberal economic model, which simply promotes the “homogeneity and sameness” that is associated with Westernization and Americanization, or the new faces of colonialism (Harvey, 2005).
Marx argued that in order for a revolution to be successful, you have to have the proletariat as organizing leaders; the bourgeoisie are too comfortable with their state and position in life to offer a full-hearted commitment to this cause. However, it is in fact that the recent Egyptian revolution wasn’t the result of working class Marxists, new leftist political figures or even radical Islamist groups, but rather the unemployed university-educated secular, young segregated population that had simply whistled their efforts to crystallize, or clarify, anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist and anti-American struggles, although the method they chose to achieve this goal was not by basically criticizing the entirety of the capitalistic way of life. Neither did they follow the practises used by Provos and Situationists in the 1960s, who had provided critiques of capitalism by using such protest tactics as the alienation of consumption, driving or riding a bike, wearing underwear, using drugs, and following eating habits against consumerism because of socialist ideas due to collapsed ideology of Soviet Union (Mann, 2009).
Marx`s dialectical theory is very important for social change in Egypt. Systems as wholes, constant fluxes (wherein changes aren’t static and naturals take place) and primary sources of change are internal. Mainstream societies have no external conflicts. Human being principals of social changes are external centres that depend on the view of internal contradictions. The Marxist theory talks about how cultures are structured in ways that enable the group holding power to have maximum control with minimum conflict. However, every member of society should have equal rights of use and the control of production, which are called communal and private ownerships. The source of relation is different in different types of societies, so where inequalities exist, in fact, Marxists` target to idealize communism has never been achieved yet (Rahbarir, 2011).
Weber’s bureaucracy, legitimacy, Iron Cage and power
Weber ignores Marx`s conflict theory and understands society at the micro level. However, the competition for political power in Egypt is strictly limited, since the NDP had been headed by president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, since 1981 and it had also been the dominating party in Parliament. Elections in Egypt are not free nor are they held in line with democratic norms. A turning point for legitimacy, the Emergency Law was renewed by the government for a term of two years, having begun on 26 May, 2008, and so Mubarak`s regime lost its legitimacy and support from the U.S. and MNCs. The Emergency Law makes it possible for Egyptian authorities to detain anyone who criticizes or challenges the government, without any juridical justification or fair process, as several basic rights and liberties are suspended. The dehumanized population in Egypt was sick of having a dictator who allied with the hegemonic powers that took control over them in order to increase such powers` own profit without being looked upon as monsters. The idea of unity and cultural innovation emerged through a shared sense of dehumanization. While the population`s cultural views have changed, those of the government have not, resulting in conflict and imbalance between the two. The recent rebellions and resistance of Egyptians is a case that is the best example that proves the fallibility of dictatorships, and at the same time, street protests have portrayed the rising of civil society collectively; furthermore, the social network and global civil society are playing important roles for consciousness. The realm of civil society, the free press, independent political parties, unions and NGOs whose existence are needed to organize a powerful social movement were simultaneously limited in Egypt and caused the loss of the power relationship between government and society.
One of the several controversial Weber approaches explicitly shows the spirit of the modernity of capitalism as one that impacts culture, economic behaviour as in the capitalism of products, and unique cultural totality, which is the most rhetorical objective of materialism that establishes the superiority of idealism, which attempts to change the system. Weber states that the spirit of capitalism is available only in the West, as the “Calvinist movement has ethnos and economic action that is peaceful profit pursuit. Acquisitiveness is maximum possible accumulation” (Weber, 1930). In fact, the Political Opportunity Structure impacts the Egyptian movement’s legitimacy based on collective action and the resources of political space, the social network, and international funding, which are crucial to challenging the authoritarian illegitimate regime, although the movement needs to “have internal and external alliances to eliminate extreme forms of nationalistic types of state repression, terror tactics and power inequalities” (Edwards and McCarthy, 2004). Theorists haven’t yet predicted that Egyptians could act with self-sacrificing behaviour, which Weber called “value rationality” rather than instrumental rationality (Rahbarir, 2011). Instead of thinking of personal benefits and costs, Egyptians have acted based on whatever is right no matter what the consequences they will face, including torture as physical brutality or psychological repression. There are cultural, historic, and geographic differences on top of the political and economic aspects of social order, that produce the wide range of social power relations and repertoires of contention to balance political and economic power. The Egyptian state has used terror created through violence, torture and assassination as a means of governance and as a way to try to eliminate all institutions within the civil society that could mediate on behalf of its citizens against sedition. There are three types of resources that gave rise to the protest formation of the human liberty rights in Egypt: The survival of civil society organizations and spaces, personal networks that people could trust, and external links to supportive networks and organizations and funding from outside the country. Many Arab protests have been organized in a less bureaucratic structure, taking risk of protestors` lives and putting people at the risk of assassination for a greater cause, for something they deem right and truly believe in. Weber saw the bureaucratic organization as technically superior to other forms of hierarchy and class. In the light of the Egyptian revolution, it would be a misconception to assume that millions of Egyptians were centrally organized through a small bureaucratic system. According to Weber, for most of human history, people lived in small face-to-face groupings that were relatively egalitarian and where the exercise of individual leadership was limited and occasional, whereas his explanation of oligarchy is a feature of social systems created by humans (Mann, 2009). Specialized tasks seem to bring individuals to a point where because their work is constant and repetitive, they are able to complete their work without actual attention or full consciousness because it becomes like second-nature to them. The division of labour can also be further broken down into temporary task allocation and leadership acts. This might be where individuals are assigned a temporary responsibility to allocate specific or various tasks, and other individuals are given the responsibility to act as leaders though the individual has limited power in the system, whereof “there is no moral foundation and spirit at all within the capitalism” ( Rahbarir, 2011). Weber was right to state that freedoms and democracies are not the product of capitalism (Rahbarir, 2011). As a matter of fact, the most of Egyptians have been living in Weber’s “Iron Cage” in a highly socially constructed bureaucracy, trapped and with nowhere to go and thus cannot survive in the current system.
Marx versus Weber Discussion
Marx takes on a wider, macro view of capitalism, like when stating it is the upper classes that trample on the working class, whereas Weber looks at capitalism in a more micro fashion, by looking at how people interact with one another. Weber accepts that a middle class exists; whereas for Marx it’s just the bourgeoisie and proletariat. The social class theories of Marx and Weber both recognize the importance of private property in the differences between classes. But they differ over the causes for the creation of different classes. According to Marx’s view, the interests of the proletariat are the abolition of the private property and class, and that those of the capitalists are the maintenance of private property for increasing profits (Marx, Engels 1986). Weber recognized that inequality was also created by status and power, and believed that people could use these to gain privilege and wealth whereas a “class is ultimately defined by market situation; status is defined by rank or position and a person’s way of life” (Bendix, 1962). Weber claims that power can be gained in three ways: party power, status, and economic power, whereas Marx says that economic power is the only form of power (Rahbarir, 2011). Marx devised Classical Marxism, within which workers are united to make change in order to allow equality via the working class`s uprising. Weber says that in society one should aim to achieve seeing the world through someone else’s shoes. This would show that Weber’s idea of power is more idealistic, although more coercive and legitimate in the Egyptian case. Weber sees the source of the new form of labour as the main idea for primitive accumulation, and that the source of class struggle comes from feudalism, for instance, most Egyptians are living within an agrarian society. Land means of production is needed in order to survive, and nothing but to escape. Unlike Marx, the roles of ideas, such as religious ones, are important for Weber. There is a no-rules basis within colonialism, imperialism, or slavery in Weber’s view, although they are not developed by capitalism, which is against humanity and supports slavery. Marx says that without colonialism, there is no capitalism. In evidence, Weber’s thesis was based on mythology and perspective. Egypt has a long history of colonialism and slavery. The Marxist division of labour has led to alienation because capitalists have exploited the workers spiritually and physically like a machine (Rahbarir, 2011). The center idea of Marxism understands human beings, and how their social structures are. A social relation of production is not realistic; so Marxist political economies exist together and are related to each other with each mode of production bringing social, cultural and economical relations together. Marxists’ analysis suggests that capitalists own banks, factories, media, corporations, and businesses, that is, the means of production – profit from exploiting the workers (Hill, 2008). The survival of subsistence is the reason of human production. Most importantly, distributions characterize reciprocities, equalities and inequalities. Egyptians have tried to survive on consumption based on the Marxist term of materialistic needs (Rahbarir, 2011).
Marx and Engel’s predictions of the future are being fulfilled in today’s world, if not in the avoidance of mainstream media that would better aid the mobilization of transitory teams. According to Marx, there is no true natural desire for the human being, since protesters have been living in a matrix and hyper-reality in the public space—the Tahriri Square—that has become a desert of reality (Rahbarir, 2011). There is an emphasis on the idea of media being a sort of a facilitator in transferring messages from one dissatisfied individual to another, allowing the organization of individuals into NGOs in the recent Egyptian movement. Marx says that the bourgeois have the need to constantly revolutionize the instruments of production and they are facilitated in doing so by the means of communication. Marx did not live to see the speed of communication through telephones, fax machines, cell phones and the internet, and with networks such as facebook and twitter, as used by the recent Arabs movements. However, it is easy to see how they serve the causes of globalization. Capitalism has been global since its inception, but these forms of communication have turned the planet into a single factory. They are able to manufacture easily and find raw materials readily.
In conclusion, the idea of undesired citizens might be taken into consideration with the historical contexts behind the current uprisings and rioting in Egypt that were organized on such citizens` own behalf, and they pose some sort of threat to the quality and integrity of particular elites because class conflicts and the abolishment of ideologies have dehumanized and dismantled the collective identity of the population which was replaced by collective consciousness. Internal migration is a response to unemployment, the failure of economic policies, improper allocation of international assistance, and to limited survival opportunities in Egypt. International remittances and internal-like migrants especially to the Arab Gulf countries are higher than internal migrants, and Egypt ranked fifth among developing countries in remittances (Zohry, 2005). Mostly the Marxist class struggle and alienation theories have proven to be true in Egypt because Marx believes that class is based on the existing economy and various groups` relationship to the means of production, whereas Weber believes in the social condition and “rational systemic pursuit of scientific knowledge” of the West that created modern capitalism because of the “culture of nationality, and systematic thinking,” although classes were created by the inequalities of the market and the skills of individuals, as well as recognizing the role of status and power (Weber, 1930; Marx 1986). Western colonizers and the United States have established “a series of global patronage system-military junta-dictator relationships which are subordinated to organize capital to serve the interests of capital in a few capitalist hands in Egypt, in both its local and global forms” (Nazemroaya, 2011). Rationalization and dehumanization techniques used by the oppressors to justify their exploitation of others are the construction of belief in their entitlement for over centuries in Egypt. They have risen now because MNCs and hegemonic power may get more benefits from the recent revolution, while they sell liberal democracy and the economic model within capitalism. Egypt will less likely be living in an egalitarian society and gaining equality for all in the neo-liberal capitalistic globalism. Individuals will barely be satisfied because their needs meet criteria limitless in the new free enterprise system and require liberal democracy in the near future. Egypt made its own crisis with the help of MNCs` intervention as the global hegemonic power interest. Despite the advances in production and communication, capitalism has not been able to alleviate the vast majority of people from conditions of absolute dire poverty. In fact, capitalism can only thrive in such a condition where the masses are dispossessed and the few own and control all. Marx says that in doing so, they have managed to sow the seeds of their own destruction. The revolution that Marx predicted has not come about yet. However, looking at the events of recent Arab civil rebellions, it is increasingly clear that capitalism is in crisis.
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