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‘What makes the lid blow off?’

Mubarak has stepped down but that is just the end of the first phase of Egypt’s revolution. What is also at stake is ‘whether the self-organisation learnt from Tahrir Square will take on a class character and whether the public political space, the democratic space opened up by the revolution, will remain open,' writes Nigel C. Gibson.

‘What makes the lid blow off?’ Fanon asks in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, reflecting on the revolution against French colonialism in Algeria 50 years ago and thinking about the future ‘African revolution.’ In Egypt, a country where 50 per cent of the population is under 30 years old and which has known no other regime than Mubarak’s state of emergency, with its torture and surveillance, it was the reaction to the murder of Khaled Said, a young blogger beaten to death by the police, that was a turning point. It began with a protest of 1,000 people in Alexandria during Said’s funeral and then went ‘underground’ onto the internet. Pictures of his crushed face are still on his facebook page. The next spark in the North African revolution was in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, ignited by the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazazi, a vegetable peddler whose cart and produce were confiscated by the police. Over the next month, despite increased repression, protests grew across Tunisia and on 14 January President Ben Ali was pushed out of the country. The date of the Egyptian revolution is 25 January but its prehistory includes years of labour struggle: The sit-ins, strikes, and demonstrations of 2006, the almost daily workers’ actions of early 2007, and the massive strike of textile workers in Muhalla al-Kubra in 2008 initiated by working women. These struggles led to beatings and imprisonments as well as some wage increases and bread subsidies as the regime tried to cheaply buy its way out of crisis. The mixture of economic hardship, political repression and social control indicate how deep the uprooting of the old regime had to be.


The 25 January revolution began as a movement against the odds, despite repression and torture and violence; despite the closing down of the internet which seemed so important to its birth; despite the conservativism of the world powers – Obama especially – and at times corporate media’s conformism. Despite all, the movement grew in size and grabbed the world’s attention as it developed in sophistication and in articulation – expressed so brilliantly in the endless debates, platforms and self-organisation (the organisation of the provision of security, food, blankets, stones, and medicine is a story to be told) around and in Tahrir Square, where the once cowed and silenced people of one of the world’s great cities could begin to speak and engage in seemingly endless debates, and decision-making, in open sessions. This had all the makings of a people’s revolution. There have been discussions of the revolution’s similarity with the velvet revolutions of 1989, Tiananmen Square in 1989, people power against Marcos in the Philippines and Duvalier in Haiti in 1986. It is akin to Paris 1968 and its decentralised working and bottom up democracy reflects the new beginning which began with the Hungarian revolution of 1956. Indeed, aided by social media the revolution has been dubbed Revolution 2.0, a revolution without leaders, a ‘Wikipedia revolution’ as Wael Ghonim (the young Google executive behind the ‘[email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.


[1] David Kirkpatrick, ‘Wired and Shrewd: Young Egyptians Guide Revolt,’ New York Times February 9, 2011,
[2] See
[3] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Grove: New York, 1968) p. 172.
[4] See Ibid. pp 201-3
[5] Ibid p.174
[6] See
[7] See Charles Levinson, Margaret Coker and Tamer El-Ghobashy ‘Strikes Worry Egypt’s Military, youth’ Wall Street Journal February 15, 2010