Echoes from Tunisia and Egypt: Revolutions without self-proclaimed revolutionaries

Published on Pambazuka News, by Horace Campbell, February 3, 2011.

With decentralised organising structures and the absence of a leadership vanguard, events in Egypt and Tunisia point to an emergent mode of revolutionary organisation, argues Horace Campbell, one which provides new lessons for mobilisation around progressive change and non-violence.

‘It was a victory parade – without the victory. They came in their hundreds of thousands, joyful, singing, praying, a great packed mass of Egypt, suburb by suburb, village by village, waiting patiently to pass through the “people’s security” checkpoints, draped in the Egyptian flag of red, white and black, its governess eagle a bright gold in the sunlight.

Were there a million? Perhaps. Across the country there certainly were. It was, we all agreed, the largest political demonstration in the history of Egypt, the latest heave to rid this country of its least-loved dictator. Its only flaw was that by dusk – and who knew what the night would bring – Hosni Mubarak was still calling himself “President” of Egypt.’

This is how Robert Fisk of the Independent of UK captured the mood of optimism of the peoples in Tahrir Square (also called Liberation Square) in Cairo before the veiled fist of counter-revolution unleashed its whip to reverse the initiative of the popular uprising in Cairo. On Tuesday 1 February there were over 2 million people gathered on Liberation Square to demand the removal of Hosni Mubarak, and on Wednesday 2 February plain-clothes police and armed thugs mounted on camels and horses stormed the unarmed citizens, attempting to kill and brutalise those who want to be free. The people stood their ground and beat back the government thugs.

The peoples of Egypt had grabbed the attention of the world as oppressed peoples all over took courage from the new sense of purpose of the Egyptians. Their confidence and freedom from fear has inspired oppressed people in all parts of the world, and there are already popular uprisings and protests in Jordan, Yemen and Sudan. Not far behind are citizens in Algeria, Cameroon and Libya who are slowly stirring and demanding political and social change … //


The Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions have now changed the political calculus and the discourse on politics and revolution. Not only have these revolutions transformed the consciousness of the people, they have also given rise to a new burst of creative energies and become a school for new revolutionary techniques for the 21st century. These energies could be translated into numerous actions geared toward revolutionary transformations across Africa and the Middle East. Clearly, the changes in economic conditions which the people are calling for will not be achieved by the types of reforms financed by foreign donors to promote ‘more’ economic freedom. They will only be achieved by the peoples electing new leaders and governments with the courage to implement alternative economic policies which focus on addressing the conditions of life as opposed to the interests of foreign investors and local elites.

The uprising in Egypt reached a tipping point where the counter-revolutionary forces are in disarray and cannot keep up with the pace of change. There is a pattern of popular outpouring which is cascading from Tunisia and Egypt to all societies under dictatorial rule in Africa and the Middle East. The task of the progressives is to celebrate the positive lessons of self-organization and the wind of self-emancipation blowing across Africa. Progressives cannot be on the sideline and have to find their own method of showing solidarity with the people who are now being mowed down in the streets.

We have spelt out what we are learning from some of the characteristics of these 21st revolutions. The important characteristics that we have highlighted so far are:

  • 1) The revolutions are made by ordinary people independent of vanguard parties and self-proclaimed revolutionaries
  • 2) The nature of independent networks of networks and the sophistication of the tools of the revolution
  • 3) The leadership of ordinary people who displayed self-mobilisation for the revolution
  • 4) The building of revolutionary non-violence for self-defence
  • 5) The revolutionary ideas of the people whose ultimate goal is to be dignified human beings and not to be dictators’ robots or zealots.

It is now up to us progressives to embrace and support this pattern of revolution to initiate a quantum leap beyond neoliberalism, capitalism, militarism and dictatorship in Africa and the Middle East. (full long text).

Comments are closed.