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Revolutionaries Beware! A note on the current wave of social media videos in Egypt

We are currently being presented with a veritable cornucopia of videos exposing the corruption of our ruling regime. As with any of us who are at all invested in Egyptian politics, these expositions are not just an interesting turn of events in the news-cycle, but a genuinely welcomed phenomenon that has inspired optimism in some and instilled fear in others. For those not at all invested in politics, the videos have attracted attention based on several things, ranging from sincere sympathy towards the issues at hand, to simple fascination towards industry gossip. Some of us watch with the hopes of this indicating some sort of political awareness and movement, while others watch to get a laugh. But, we can all agree that none of us definitively know what is going on and why it’s happening now. To this end, we can only venture guesses.

Mohamed Ali as a person is a topic that can be hotly debated. His origin story, his motivation, his current support system…These are all things that can be argued over, for hours on end, without any real substantial outcome. His videos, on the other hand, are less debatable. He is an industry insider, worked with the army for over a decade and has concrete projects as prime evidence to his narrative. He’s a whistleblower. And his whistleblowing has encouraged others to come out.

Some are coming out directly and coherently, such as Moussad Abu Fajr, and others are taking the road less traveled, such as Wael Ghoniem. All three belong to the moment in which we all now find ourselves: being openly addressed with the issues we have all been secretly aware of and watching others take the ruler’s name in vain and indulge in all sorts of other political blasphemy.

For over six years we have been crushed by the oppressive ruling regime with no political opposition allowed; our political space was hijacked through state coercion; fear ensued and then defeat. Our defeat has been exploited by the state so excessively, that once again we find ourselves torn between the thrust of fear and hunger; knowing full well that hunger always prevails, inflaming the fires of dissidence and breaking the shackles of state terror.

In the context of our short post-coup history, these are not mere videos, they represent a moment; a moment of awakening from a terrible slumber that has witnessed the nightmarish murder, torture, illegal imprisonment, enforced disappearance and subjugation to poverty of an entire people. But, what do we do with those videos and more importantly, what do we do with this moment?

On the front of the videos, we must remember, Mohamed Ali and others are just whistleblowers; they are no authority on our economic and political future; in fact, they are no authority on any realm beyond their own respective industry or background. A whistleblower in a construction company may be an expert on the construction industry, but they, by no means, have the intellectual or moral authority to lead a country or social movement (unless they somehow earn it). They cannot put out a call to action and ask a nation to take down a dictator by trending a hashtag (in the absurd record time of mere days) and if such ludicrous demands are not met to hold a protest. No one person, who has never been a part of our class struggle nor has a political bone in their body can tell us to go risk our lives in the streets while on self-imposed exile. On the same hand, as whistleblowers, they also cannot very well be asked why they worked in their industry for however many years. That is precisely the nature of a whistleblower: they are industry insiders. They’re not oppositional by nature; they have self-interest, as well as, common interest (sometimes) at play.

With the above in mind, we sincerely thank Mohamed Ali and co. for their courage and useful information, but we all should adamantly reserve:

– The right to remain wary of anyone telling us to hit the streets without fully knowing what we’re doing. We made that mistake in 2013 and if the first time it was a ‘tragedy’, then this time it is bound to be a ‘farce’.

– The right to question the motivations driving each whistleblower, but not to the extent of distracting us from the valuable data being shared.

– The right to contextualize, verify and analyze this data through constructive dialogue and utilize said data as we—a whole society—see fit with common-interest and not any separate individual interest (known or unknown) driving our use.

With regards to what we should do with this moment that has leapt upon us, it is clear that there is something stirring in our collective political consciousness. This moment was built upon and is currently being fueled by our explosive discontent. We’ve been brewing for years and the boiling point seems imminent. If this is the case, we must learn from past mistakes. We must be better prepared for whatever they may throw our way to briefly quell, but never fully abolish, the discontent. We must remain vigilant towards distractions and manipulations. Take only the useful data that can spark a real conversation leading to common ground. Good people, with good minds need to provide us with the necessary scholarly tools to analyze the data we are fed and to self-guide us on how to best leverage off this moment that has appeared and further widen the space in which we can engage politically once again.

We’ve all been moved in one way or the other by the videos and what they are revealing, but we have to do more than be moved. We should first and foremost, encourage and empower these whistleblowers, but not over-glorify them. We are not a people that must be ruled by Pharaohs, so let’s stop creating them. And while we should most definitely take part in political action in general, we should always and under all circumstances do so mindfully and wisely. We should not take part in any political action that we do not fully understand or with which we do not wholeheartedly agree. We live in dangerous times. We should know the risks involved and make sure we properly calculate them. Politics are thoughts and not just daily tasks. Each and every one of us should try to find the right theoretical framework through which to view our political activity.

Rational political thinking can explain the state’s sole function as an ‘organ of class rule’ used by the exploiters against the exploited. It can highlight political power as an expression of our class antagonism that can be yielded by either side of the fight. It can accurately herald the commencement of the political struggle on the heels of the economic one (not always a sequential relation, but in this case it is because if Mohamed Ali had come out with a video in an environment in which we’re all economically content, no one would have cared). And, more than anything else, rational political thinking would go a long way in helping us understand that our current social order is not a manifestation of divine will, but a human made creation based on our economic relations. Social orders are not static, they have changed throughout history because they outgrew their usefulness. We build them and we knock them down, but only when we’ve exhausted all that the old order has to offer. When we knock them down, we do so through revolution. It would logically follow then, that the ruled and exploited majority currently stand as dormant agents—the only viable agents, at that—of the task at hand to transform an outdated and inadequate social order. We are, then, all rendered potential revolutionaries awaiting our appropriate moment to act with purpose.

A deeper political understanding would help us identify this as a moment. Fleeting, perhaps, but still, nonetheless, a moment. One that can be harnessed and prolonged or left unguided and prematurely ended. One that is of interest to not just the ruled, but the ruling. Information is usually battled by disinformation and unnecessary distractions. We shouldn’t fall prey to these tactics. Even if this moment has been orchestrated, it does not diminish from its indeterminate nature. We can still determine its course, but to do so, we must earnestly understand and engage it from the bottom-up.