Introduction: revolution and counter-revolution in Egypt

Cemal Burak Tansel, Brecht De Smet
2017 Review of African Political Economy  
his introduction to the ROAPE debate reasserts the centrality of revolutionary theory to understand the dynamics of social and political struggles in contemporary Middle East and North Africa. Framed around the conceptual and political interventions brought about by Brecht De Smet's Gramsci on Tahrir (2016), we discuss the utility of Gramscian concepts in explaining the trajectories of social mobilisations in the peripheries of global capitalism. he inancial crisis of 2008, the rise of
more » ... he rise of right-wing 'populism' in Western Europe and the USA, the Arab uprisings and new forms of local and global (intersectional) struggles indi-cate that the 'neoliberal' variant of capitalism is at a crossroads. he inancial meltdown has revealed the structural 3 instabilities of deregulated capital lows, while the tendency toward increased authoritarianism and securitarian management shows the limits of the institutions of bourgeois democracy to absorb mass discontent. At the same time, episodes such as the ' Arab Spring' sharply posit the relevance of categories such as revolution and counter-revolution for the 21st century. he revolutionary uprisings, irst in Tunisia and then in regional heavyweight Egypt, reinvigorated mass emancipatory politics throughout the Middle East, the African continent and the world at large. Street protests in Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Malawi, Mauritania, Senegal, Sudan, Swaziland and Uganda (Harsch 2012), Gezi Park protests in Turkey and movements such as Indignados in Spain and Occupy Wall Street in the USA were directly inspired by the Arab uprisings and the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo in particular, which offered a powerful, contemporary imaginary of popular revolution. he moment of mobilisation captured in Tahrir came to represent the potential for a global rupture of capitalism. Yet by the end of 2013 the outcomes of the Egyptian uprising had already proved disappointing. he military, bureaucratic and security elites from the Mubarak era -the so-called deep statewere able to hold onto state power. Notwithstanding the fall of a dictator, essential political and economic structures remained unchanged. Moreover, the counter-revolution was successful, not despite the mobilisation of the masses, but because of it. he current strongman, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, came to power through a clever and agile appropriation of the grassroots Tamarod (Rebel) campaign, which rallied hundreds of thousands -if not millions -of ordinary Egyptians in the streets. he Egyptian experience raises fundamental questions about the process of revolution and counter-revolution, about the agency of 'the people' and of the ruling classes in times of revolt, about the speciicity of societal change in the periphery, and about the general nature of state power in an era of global crisis. Brecht De Smet's book Gramsci on Tahrir: revolution and counter-revolution in Egypt addresses these issues through a Gramscian approach. As part of Pluto Press's Reading Gramsci series the book engages not only with the Egyptian revolution, but also with the current literature and debates on the thought of the Sardinian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. hrough a re-engagement with Gramsci's ideas, and especially with the concepts of hegemony, passive revolution and Caesarism, De Smet offers a lens through which to interpret current processes of revolution and restoration. he present ROAPE debate brings together critical engagements with the book which evaluate De Smet's contribution to the literatures on contemporary Egypt, Marxist theory and the broader questions of development, emancipation and revolutionary political practice. While the contributions to the debate focus largely on Gramsci on Tahrir, the approach and key arguments of the book are also contrasted with relevant contemporary texts, such as Gilbert Achcar's he people want (2013), Maha Abdelrahman's Egypt's long revolution (2014) and Anne Alexander and Mostafa Bassiouny's Bread, freedom, social justice (2014). he debate thus aims not only to assess the recent scholarship on the Egyptian revolution, but also to contextualise the theoretical and political ques- Bruff (2014); Fraser (2015). See also the contributions in Tansel (2017). 3
doi:10.1080/03056244.2017.1391764 fatcat:igbgia7tfbawdmobnaeyq7fmrq