Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Revolution Succeeds

The scenes emanating from Cairo on television are absolutely astonishing. The frustration felt yesterday by the hundreds of thousands that had gathered in Tahrir Square when Mubarak refused to resign has turned to euphoria and jubilation in light of Omar Suleiman's brief statement on state television that Mubarak had "left his position."

Significantly, Mubarak has transferred power to a council of military leaders and not to Omar Suleiman, thus signaling a much cleaner break with the past regime. The council of military leaders will now consult with the Egyptian Supreme Court to begin the transition process which will include the drawing up of a new constitutional framework and free and fair elections.

Undoubtedly there is so much work to be done to institutionalize this revolution, but I think it's appropriate now to stop and reflect on all of the events that led up to this momentous climax. For instance, at the "Egypt Rising" panel yesterday, Professor Lockman made a great point that I think often gets lost admist the spontaneity of this revolution: this movement has been a long time in the making. The labor protests in the Delta industrial town of Mahalla al-Kubra in 2008 is an event that often gets overlooked. These protests that were handily crushed by the regime occured in April 2008. The Facebook movement - April 6th Youth Movement - that organized the very first protests on January 25th was named to honor those who stood up and went on strike. The brutal murder of Khaled Said in June 2010 also spurred widespread anger and frustration with Egypt's authoritarian security apparatus.

The panel also made some insightful comments about the role of social and satellite media. It's become a cliche to cite Facebook or Twitter's role in enabling this revolution. Certainly they played a facilitating role, but I reckon that satellite media like al-Jazeera has played a more significant role than social media which can be disabled with a flip of a switch by authoritarian regimes. And even though al-Jazeera was shut down for a time by the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, the Qatari-based coverage never took the spotlight off of these uprisings. The interesting thing is how social and satellite media interact with each other to enable different types of political possibilities. After all, even shutting down al-Jazeera's local office won't prevent people from recording videos on their phones or providing on the ground information and relaying it to al-Jazeera, who can broadcast it throughout the world from their office in Qatar. But in the last analysis, let's not overstate the importance of these social media. Many, many revolutions have occured without them.

Obviously it's impossible to overstate the meaning of today's events, so out of humility I'll just leave it at that.

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