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The Egyptian Revolution, Class Conflict And The Meaning Of ‘Thuggery’

Essay: The aftermath of revolution can carry society toward democracy or facism. Understanding where Egypt will wind up means listening to the words used to describe the conflicts that erupt.

Article illustrative image Partner logo (Ahmad.Hammoud)

CAIRO - Political science has long taught us that the shape of a political system that emerges in the wake of a revolution is largely defined by the alliances forged among the different social classes.

When the middle class is strong and allied with the elite, as was the case in France, England and the United States, a democratic system is formed. Instead, when a conservative elite allies with the military -- and the middle class, farmers and workers are marginalized -- a fascist system may emerge. When farmers are strongest, like in early 20th century China and Russia, the ground is more fertile for the coming of a Communist regime.

In the current transitional stage, we should pay attention to the alliances being forged between different social groups. The language we use can be a clue. Let us for instance contemplate the word “thug”, the Arabic equivalent for which is derived from a Turkish word for a weapon.

This word has an essentially classist connotation. When we use it to refer to people who have been paid money by members from the former regime to attack peaceful, civilized protests staged by other classes, we attach a classist meaning to the term -- since it reflects an economic relationship between a payer and a payee.

If we use it to mean an ordinary citizen who has revolted against the marginalization of his class and who uses violence to voice his/her rejection of these conditions, this is still a classist definition. This citizen has chosen to respond, as an individual or a member of a class, to discrimination against the class to which he /she belongs. This discrimination may have been an institutionalized practice by the police or a social form of violence exercised by other classes.

Both ways, that person is branded a thug because he/she does not fit the description of the civilized, educated, peaceful protester. This description is symptomatic of an underlying class problem that Egyptian society may not be ready to tackle.

I don’t support the use of violence in protests, but I am only trying to find an explanation for those bouts of violence. If our discussions in the media continue to perpetuate the same classist image of thugs then we will be no different from the international media which have produced stereotypical images of Muslim and Arabs as being terrorists.

We’d better be careful how we choose to describe ourselves. We should also pay close attention to the alliances currently being formed, for they will shape Egypt’s political system in the future.

Read the entire article in Al-Masry Al-Youm

photo - Ahmad.Hammoud


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