Egypt’s syndicalist future?

Nathan Brown writes:

What Egyptians have termed their “revolution” is now beginning to look like one. Seen from afar, it appears that the military rulers have struggled successfully to hold most state institutions intact and slow the pace of change, but the Egyptian political order is still being fundamentally rewritten. The core constitutional demands of a diverse opposition-for freer and more democratic politics-are not being silenced or diverted.

Yet if Egyptians will find their political system freer, it may not be in a fully liberal sense. There is already far greater pluralism and greater freedom of both expression and organization. Such trends are likely to entrench themselves more deeply. But from a purely institutional perspective, something else seems to be happening as well: a variety of strong actors are escaping from presidential control and finding their own voices. Egypt was always a state of strong institutions–when seen from the bottom up. From the top down, all those institutions have been dominated by a strong presidency. Labor unions, professional associations, parts of the judiciary, the parliament, large parts of the press, the military, the security apparatus, the ruling party, and even legal opposition parties have all been silenced, brought to heel, or remolded to serve presidential will. With the presidency vacant and Egypt now ruled by a military committee that governs by Facebook posts and short communiqués, all those institutions are now struggling to act on their own. And leaders within those bodies too associated with the old ways are coming under intense pressure and many may be tossed out. In many of Egypt’s institutions, mini-revolutions seem to be brewing against leaders who had been co-opted into cravenly serving the president.

The emerging outcome of Egypt’s revolution thus might be as much syndicalist as liberal. “Syndicalism” is a dimly remembered term at best, referring to a way of organizing society in strong and autonomous (generally class-based) constituencies; it was a leftist ideology that served as an alternative to communism and sometimes merged with anarchism. But Egypt’s syndicalism-as it is emerging-is neither fully leftist nor entirely class based. It is anything but anarchic. And its driving force is not a nineteenth century European ideology but a twenty-first century sense that those who have exercised political and economic power have done so only in their own personal interests; this is seen as a time to make them responsive instead to the needs of various groups in society.

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One thought on “Egypt’s syndicalist future?

  1. Christopher Hoare

    Nathan Brown also writes, “But there are subtle indications of long-term changes as well — ones that might militate against further economic liberalization.”

    Thank God for that! The last thing a renascent Egypt needs is more neo-liberal economics and some shysters tying them into a free trade scam. The great value of the Arab revolutions is exactly that syndicalist shift away from anything that stinks of the Washington Consensus and offers the chance to institute people-centric institutions. Western ‘democracy’ is only a rotten shell of its previous self. Since Westerners are too fat, lazy, and frightened to do away with these governing cabals and fraudulent Chicago School dogmas we need to look to the Arab world yet again to lead the way.

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