Solidarity and Resonance: Lessons from Egypt and Anonymous

Fuck snakes we roll deep
Because none of us is as strong as all of us

So being of the anarchist persuasion myself I am usually very excited to hear about any new popular uprising or social movement. This was the case with the recent events concerning Tunisia and even more recently Egypt. So I searched out the anonymous irc chat and performed a few interviews that confirmed my suspicions…

In other words, I’m from the US and it gets really frustrating trying to make any sort of positive change around here. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried my best to keep the faith but really it takes these large spontaneous uprisings, these events that destroy apathy, to get me inspired again. You can easily read books about why this or that social change happened, but I wanted to get it straight from the horses mouth… What causes someone to suddenly reorganize everything about their life in pursuit of an ideal? What causes someone to go out on a limb on the fairly irrational belief that others will follow?

“Attach yourself to what you feel to be true. Begin there… A truth isn’t something we hold but something that carries us… it distances me from many and brings me closer to those who also experience it.” ~The Coming Insurrection by the Invisible Committee

I interviewed four people in anonymous, two members from outside the US, one from inside the US, and one new participant from Egypt. They all chose to be identified as Anonymous except the Egyptian protester who chose to be identified as Al Masry. I asked all of them variants of the same question, were they always involved in movements, what caused them to become involved?

One anon’s answer was telling: “While I have always been into politics and world events, I had never been a part of a large movement before, mostly because I didn’t know of any that I found to be worthwhile. In early December, I had been following the Wikileaks issue, and was a little upset regarding all of it.” He goes on to say: “I stumbled across some information regarding a movement – AnonOps, and decided to investigate the matter further. I came here, certainly a bit concerned, considering all the reports I had heard previously regarding ‘these people’ but was pleasantly surprised that they (now we) are not mindless thugs at all, but a rather interesting bunch, typically very intelligent, and highly motivated.”

Al Masry’s answer was based in a similar feeling even if his situation is much more urgent. I asked “In your opinion what sparked the recent unrest in Egypt? Were people expecting something or not?”

His unedited answer: “this recent unrest was actually expected years ago. this revolution if you may, is considered belated. we have had many demonstrations in the past a lot of opposition parties have risen against the current government but people were always scared. the army and the police force are all loyal to the president, in previous demonstrations women get harrassed and men get beaten up and jailed with no conviction under the name of the “emergency law” which entitles such a thing.” I went on to ask if there was one specific event that might be called a “spark”, either on a societal level in Egypt or on a personal level for him…

Al Masry- “alot of sparks led to this. These sparks however are when more than half the country are under the line of poverty. when doctors earn around 200 EGP per month which can be spent in a week if you starve yourself. when officials inherit their positions and get medical treatment abroad on the country’s account, when the ordinary newspaper agent around the corner is randomly grabbed and tortured till he is dead and they threaten his family to be silent about it, when women get harrased and we get treated like enemies in demonstrations. when people stopped eating meat because of the rise in prices by atleast 50% every 3 months, when later the loaf of bread have become expensive for the ordinary Egyptian and now that the bread is not even enough. An atmosphere of complete loss and wanting either a change or death have taken over the country for the period of the last 30 years. Tunisia saw that we have been trying everyday and it gave them confidence, and their success boosted our confidence. like a wake up call. what are we afraid of? is fear a valid motive to stand down anymore? if i stand down am i alive anymore? thats how every egyptian felt.”

From talking to these people I relearned something again about truth. What is a truth worth to me if it doesn’t change how I see the world. The truths that are worth something are ones you share with other people. Not just truths either but ideals too. Real change does not come from compromise, it comes from people working together through an affinity of ideals and viewpoints. An agreed on goal or even feeling. In this case, regardless of what country the people I interviewed were or weren’t from this common thread connects them. Whether it’s rampant corruption and poverty in Egypt or the stifling of Wikileaks and free speech in the US, these people saw something wrong and refused to deny the reality in front of them. And however long it took they did find others like them… What is the value of an action taken in the name of change? It has to be measured not only in its physical effect, but also its affect. We need to take into account the emotional affect an action has. What sort of actions strike home and resonate enough to inspire someone to act?

“Revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance. Something that is constituted here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something constituted over there…[It] takes the shape of a music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythm of their own vibrations…” ~The Coming Insurrection

“When a waterpipe burst in Pavlov’s laboratory, not one of the dogs that survived the flood retained the slightest trace of his long conditioning. Could the tidal wave of great social upheavals have less effect on men than a burst waterpipe on dogs?” ~The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem

Revolt can be an amazing, spontaneous, unstoppable force if we let it be. Someone does something or says something somewhere, says it to the right people in the right way and suddenly the whole inertia starts moving in the exact opposite direction it was headed. And once it gets going it’s extremely difficult to stop. Suddenly we’re feeling the music of revolt and happily following its beat. Suddenly we’re dogs who’ve managed to dig a whole under our collective fence, immediately forgetting how to sit and beg, running free…

For example I asked Al Masry what inspiration the movement in Egypt draws from the events in Tunisia… “we have always been trying over the past 30 years, generations after generations, Tunisia was not in a bad state as we are, we are the country with the biggest number of opposition parties, we demonstrated and we bled and we did over the years. Tunisia’s success has given the Egyptians this extra push, thinking, if a country as strong as Egypt with all the corruption in it and the so many tries and fails can’t do what only 10,000 Tunisians did in one day, then perhaps we deserve the failure and accepting it. Tunisia did not start it, but they surely helped with our confidence. 1 lesson and 1 inspiration was drawn from their actions which is ‘Bleed till you succeed’.”

It is a fantastic situation to be in when movements for social change begin to resonate and inspire across borders. We can see this start to happen again. A new solidarity, a new connection between people across countries and continents. Of course this came out in my interviews. With Al Masry’s connection to the Tunisians but also a US-based anon’s connection to them. The anon’s thoughts on what people in the states can learn from the Tunisians and Egyptians:

“I think Americans could learn that sometimes it becomes necessary to stand up to your own government. The status quo does not always have to be maintained. If they simply stood and in one voice shouted that enough is enough, change CAN happen. The media over here tends to try to convince people to never do such things, and they try to strike fear into the hearts of the people. Bravery doesn’t mean the absence of being afraid. It means being afraid, but still being willing to take a stand.” Al Masry spoke of the Egyptian protesters’ newfound solidarity with members of Anonymous: “Egyptians have been trying for 2 days and we are getting absolutely no positive response although we have done alot more than Tunisia did. people started to think if there is no hope of winning then we will die trying. only last night the news about anon spread all over egypt that they are helping us with our struggle and they are not known and they are not looking for any credits or personal gaining from this. Egyptians immediately fell in love with anon and something as small as bringing governmental websites down and black faxing and email bombing them have planted a seed in us telling us that we are actually not alone. and so as a result, I and many others of my fellow Egyptians want to show our gratitude and at the same time try to help in anyway. the media press release letter was what i first saw and it pushed me to search annonymous and opegypt and i found the poster and followed the instructions accordingly”. He went on to speak more personally as we wrapped up the interview: “and if the us happend to need an annonymous’s help I ‘d be more than glad to take part”.

One last important thing to add is I asked everyone I interviewed how they felt about civil disobedience and direct action. I asked them their feelings on reform and revolution. Here are responses from two anons and Al Masry:

Al Masry: “Egyptians have lost hope in any reformation. Elections are all fixed, Every official on every level is corrupt, the president embraces his chair and wants to inherit it to his son “Gamal” and as such he employed a very corrupted extremely hated interior minister who in his turn employs corrupted officials and thats how the whole heirarchy is.”

Anon1: “We do NOT want to throw over governments, that is not our prime intention. But if that MUST happen in order to set people free, we WILL support it.”

Anon2: “I see it [civil disobedience] as justified when your own government is already breaking established laws and policies. This is not to say that I suddenly condone murder or anything extravagant, but sometimes, as is the case here frequently, it becomes necessary in the course of an operation to violate some to make a point, catch media attention towards a cause, and further our goals”

A revolt I’d like to be apart of is like music. You can learn how to play but no one can ever explain away the magic of making music. It’s the same with a revolt or social movement. You can prepare yourself and hone your skills but when that spark comes it is something beautiful. We’re seeing the seeds of something new and better being planted right now with the events in Tunisia and Egypt as well as in movements like AnonOps. The ingredients are here, shared meaningful truths, a resonance across borders, a willingness to take action for good and now with the internet, a new and important means of communicating, planning and executing these affecting actions. It’s hard to say what the future holds and that alone is incredible.

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~ by Vanzetti on February 3, 2011.

2 Responses to “Solidarity and Resonance: Lessons from Egypt and Anonymous”

  1. Very interesting article, and much appreciated is your interview with others on the events in Egypt. i would just like to add some thoughts i have had on this exciting example of spontaneous resistance to Mubarak.

    From the beginning, and even to a large degree now, it was of course exciting from an anarchist perspective to see people taking to the streets, days and days going on without any emergence of a clear leadership organization. As a person of anarchist persuasion as yourself, i was very happy to see this, and i was also very happy to hear the days of reporting that suggested the impetus for this uprising was more the social conditions of the people than the actual existence of Mubarak as the president of 30 years. Of course these social conditions are the result of the complex political juggling that has taken place over the years within government, affecting the broad social relationships that in the end affect the living conditions. Although there is much to be done in getting the common, popular perspective of this uprising more widely known, i would venture to say that it seems so far that the demands manifested by the people in their spontaneity call mainly for the stepping down of Mubarak. So, from what i have been able to see, i am inclined to think that this uprising is definitely anarchistic, but not entirely anarchist.

    A big issue is the interplay between revolution and evolution, or insurrection and a more preparatory process to freedom. One of the things i have wondered, which i would like to hear more of, is the fact of this uprising being centered around Liberation Square. While i am supportive of and inspired by the protestors in the square, and their call for more democratic freedom, i wonder about the rest of the country. i would like to hear more, as a person of anarchist persuasion, what kind of process, if any, will be implemented on a popular level to allow for people everywhere in Egypt, in all the communities, to learn and practice, to theorize in the context of acting, the ability to run the essential operations of society that the government (as many governments tend to do) may have centralized and monopolized over the years. Come to think, there was mention recently on CNN, in a talk on the role of the U.S. in this and other transitions within governments, that if a centralized approach to government failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps a more decentralized approach of governance by the people would be a more appropriate approach. Of course i do not believe the U.S. government and ruling class should determine the social relationships that will develop in the Egyptian nation, but i do think there is something in that statement. i say all of this because, while i am aware of the low volume of popular perceptions being shared outside the country, especially in the U.S., up to now i have heard the main objective of “pro-democracy” supporters being simply the stepping down of Mubarak.

    i would like to hear more about the feelings of the Egyptian people regarding the role of the government in managing the essential work of society and communities, especially in consideration of their experience of their government over these past 30 years. An Egyptian protestor told a CNN reporter that the people were going for the maximum: the stepping down of Mubarak. This is of course one sentiment, but i think it reiterates the interest someone such as myself would have in knowing more specifically the Egyptians’ feelings towards the role of government, rather than the form or even head of it.

    Respectfully.

  2. Oh, i wanted to add one more thing. i think Egypt has shown us that often times objective conditions are there, ripe for revolution, but the subjective conditions are not. As interviewees have suggested, over the past 30 years the subjective URGE to actually go about and initiate a process of change WITH others (real collective resistance) was not fully developed and widespread to the point of the past few weeks where the resistance now seems to stand a chance.

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