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  • Published in Opinion

Revolution shatters the arrogance of power. In the same gesture it can wipe away years of accumulated apathy, alienation and defeat.

Egyptian flag

Standing in the queue at a bank, in the corner there's a TV. This bank has a three letter name: R, B, S. The TV is there to keep you from getting bored, and to take your mind off how little money you have. Elsewhere company profits tally £5bn a year and Fred Goodwin smiles into the cameras. But tonight, for one night only, the TV is bringing you a special message.

On the screen are immense crowds of people in a square. Every inch of the ground is occupied by bodies. Huge banners stitched together out of bedsheets form great white canopies over the heads of the crowd. The only empty space is the river Nile, which glitters with reflected light from the street lamps and the moon. In block capitals, the scrolling caption at the bottom of the screen spells it out: R..E..V..O..L..U..T..I..O..N.

Someone should tell the manager that perhaps this is a little misguided.

This is a movement that has put millions on the streets in Cairo, Suez, Alexandria. It's faced down a government organised pogrom, seen its sisters and brothers drop dead when snipers shot into crowds from the roof of the Ministry of the Interior, and still kept going.

Suez is said to be in a state of virtual insurrection. The police there have been cleaned out. This makes the oil market very nervous. Almost 3% of world oil production passes through the Suez Canal, and a lot of other goods as well. Before the revolution crude oil stood at $86 a barrel, now it is over $100. At a press conference in London General James Mattis, head of Centcom, said that if the Suez Canal was shut down, "we would have to deal with it, diplomatically, economical, militarily, whatever…"

When the curfew in Egypt was lifted a few days ago and people were able to return to work for the first time in over a week, the Independent carried a headline speculating that the revolution had run out of steam, showing a picture of an empty-looking Tahrir sq. But as work resumed the strikes began. When people went back to work they occupied shop floors, picketed management offices and blocked roads. Thousands of workers demanded better wages but also an end to the regime. They demanded the resignation of company directors and the resignation of Hosni Mubarak. 36 hours later the number of people in Tahrir square was bigger than it had ever been since the protests began on January 25th.

A revolution is when the newspapers can't keep up with the news. On Friday the front cover of the Times reads ''Mubarak clings on". By 5pm Mubarak is out.

If the news produced by the bourgeois media is a regurgitation of the status-quo, then revolution is the moment when history swallows up the news, the moment when the status-quo is disproved before your very eyes. The same thing with the ruling elite itself: one night Mubarak had the nerve to tell the people screaming at him to get the hell out of their country, that he regarded them as his children - the next he was not even present to announce his own departure. The night before Mubarak fell, Omar Suleiman said that it would be a shame on the people of Egypt if they kicked the president out. Now the shame is all on Suleiman, for spitting on the revolution.

Revolution shatters the arrogance of power. In the same gesture it can wipe away years of accumulated apathy, alienation and defeat.

Mubarak's arrogance was inflated by years of western support. Thursday night before he fell was a cross between obscenity and absurdity. His fall represents the beginning of a new era. It marks the beginning of the end of a decade in the Middle East defined by US-led wars and US-backed dictatorship. When 2 million marched in London against the invasion of Iraq, Blair had the arrogance not to listen, and the conditions permitted it (though not without crisis waiting for him down the line). 8 years later and a key component of the regional apparatus which formed a part of those conditions is crumbling. Without the torture sites in Egypt, the air bases in Saudi Arabia, the CIA in Yemen, the Israeli overflights in Turkey, the supply routes in Pakistan - and above all without dictators like Mubarak suppressing the outrage of their own people - the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan would not be possible.

Perhaps now there will even be justice for Mr. Blair, who is currently enjoying the warm waters of Sharm el-Sheikh. If the revolution doesn't get him let's hope the sharks do.

In the age of twitter and live streaming, the images are irrepressible. They fill every quarter, however inappropriate. Even in corporate lobbies, where plasma screens gaze out at you like idols to the deity enshrined within, the images are there. You can see the same images in Tescos (eggs, beans, milk, bread - look up - revolution!)

When you walk down the street, with the images of the crowds of Cairo in your head, you're buoyed by a feeling of lightness, terror and warmth. Marx is attributed as saying that the reward of people who sacrificed their lives for the revolution was the hot, salty tears shed over their graves. Those tears well up whenever we read about great struggles for freedom. They well up when we hear the words Tunis, Cairo, Tahrir. They carry us along like a rising sea.

What is the name of this feeling? Is it love? Not quite. But we do have a word for it - Solidarity.

Solidarity is love on a mass scale. Solidarity is love which jumps across borders and boundaries. Solidarity is love fighting for the freedom of a stranger.

Tagged under: Middle East Egypt
Alistair Cartwright

Alistair Cartwright

Alistair Cartwright edits Different Skies, an online magazine and collective for experimental writing. He writes about cinema and the city. Alistair is a stalwart of Stop the War and a member of Counterfire.

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