Mustafa Barghouthi writes:
The rush and tumult of events makes it hard, sometimes, to draw the most important general conclusions from their significance. This said, the revolutionary tidal wave, which began in Tunisia and Algeria, reached its crest in Egypt and is currently sweeping other countries such as Libya and Bahrain, offers a unique opportunity to watch how people can reshape history as they reconstruct their fates and futures. It also offers a rare scientific window to observe the birth of the new from the old and to study a moment of qualitative transformation that culminated from a long process of quantitative accumulation and that manifests the dialectical laws of social dynamics with utmost clarity.
What happened in Tunisia and then in Egypt, and what will certainly follow in other places, cannot be produced or fabricated by a political party, movement or force, domestic or otherwise. The uprisings are the product of a long cumulative evolution, lasting years, decades or perhaps even centuries in some areas, that eventually erupted into millions-strong grassroots protest movements of a magnitude unprecedented in the modern history of the Arab world, and perhaps in its entire history. Perhaps the only moment of similar size, scope and breadth is the first popular Palestinian Intifada, in its first year (1987-88). Sadly, the Oslo Accords undermined the magnificent initial results of this uprising and destroyed a historic opportunity to end the Israeli occupation. We should add that this Palestinian revolutionary moment was never sufficiently documented, first due to the differences in size and strategic importance compared to the Egyptian case, and second due to the lack of media coverage and unprecedented sophistication in communications technology that was available to Egypt today.
The events in Egypt today — as was the case in Tunisia and in all great revolutions, such as the French and Russian revolutions — epitomise what sociologists call a “revolutionary moment”. Such a moment occurs when the governed refuse to be ruled as they had been and when the rulers can no longer govern in the same manner. It is a momentous event. It is one that political parties, movements and forces, and intellectuals and spontaneous popular action can prepare for. But it is far bigger than anyone could have expected, planned for or attempted to produce. Great revolutions cannot be made. They erupt, like volcanoes, atop of the mounting force of huge and long-suppressed social and political contradictions.
It is precisely because these contradictions have been pent- up for so long, prevented from expressing themselves and unable to vent their anger, that the moment of explosion is too powerful to cap or control. Therefore, political parties and forces should be careful not overrate their own size, role and or abilities with respect to this condition. They might be akin to a midwife who is there to help with a safe delivery, but they did not produce the embryo or induce the birth, and they are not the mother (the people), or even the surrogate mother.
Rather than blaming themselves for their actions in the past, political forces should focus on their role at present, which is to ensure the safety of the birth and the health of the infant, and to safeguard it against any attempts on the part of the old order to abort, kill or stunt it. The revolution, or the eruption, may produce a newborn, but it cannot guarantee its survival and wellbeing. This is one of the tasks of an organised and aware intellectual vanguard.
The phenomenon that is unfolding before our eyes today is not restricted to Egypt; it has its roots in the state of the Arab world as a whole. That Tunisia was the first country to react is due to the fact that it was the weakest link in the chain of an interconnected order, whose profound internal contradictions, some of which are old and others of which are relatively new, have long needed to be resolved.