P2P Governance Dynamics in the Egyptian Uprising

Excerpted from the New York Times:

” Many protesters suggested that the coming days will test whether a popular uprising outpaces an inchoate opposition that has so far failed to keep up.

“This is what worries me,” said Gasser Abdel-Razeq, a human rights activist who joined the ecstatic crowds of men and women, the religious and secular, rich and poor, but first and foremost, the young and dispossessed. “Where does this go? How do you create a leadership that can represent these people without dividing them?”

His questions represent the challenge of the moment not only for Egypt but also for the rest of the Arab world — how to negotiate a transition from American-backed governments that have often proved most successful in eliminating any organized alternative to their rule. It is all the more difficult in Egypt, where many of the protesters have demanded nothing short of a dismantling of the status quo. Over the past two days here, the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged with a far higher profile in the protests, but its presence is often more contentious than unifying. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and government critic, named as a consensus figure for a loosely aligned opposition, generates as much resentment as support.

Some protesters said they did not need leadership for an uprising that was about sweeping away the old order. Others wondered whether anyone could articulate the frustrations of a generation that, as events rapidly unfolded Monday night, was closer than ever before to forcing Mr. Mubarak’s fall.

“We don’t want ElBaradei or the Muslim Brotherhood, and we don’t want the ruling party,” said Mohammed Nagi, a 30-year-old protester. “You feel like everyone is walking on his own, speaking for himself, because there’s no group that represents us.”

In short, he said, “We don’t want what we have.”

The fact that the movement lacks, in the words of one activist, “clear structure and clear leadership,” has helped it captivate the Arab world, which has greeted it with a mix of exhilaration and romanticism. One newspaper devoted almost its entire issue to it.

“People are learning that the yearning for freedom, for dignity, for justice and for employment is a legitimate ambition,” said Sateh Noureddine, a prominent Lebanese columnist. “This is a historic moment, and it is teaching the Arab world everything. They are learning that if they take to the streets they can accomplish their goals.”

In the carnivalesque atmosphere of Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square, protesters speak in the superlatives of rebellion, echoing sentiments pronounced across the region. “Revolution on the Nile,” read the headline Monday in Al Akhbar, a leftist Lebanese newspaper. “A mummy wrestles with the living.”

But even the most sober speak about the transformation that an only week-old uprising has had on a people so long treated as subjects, not citizens, by a state that saw elections as a scripted exercise in affirmation.

In the face of looting and arson, neighborhoods organized into popular defense committees, including young men armed with everything from horsewhips to the hoses of water pipes. Though they coordinated with the army, they managed to secure, largely on their own, block after block in the wake of the utter collapse of police authority on Saturday.

“The popular committee protected us better than the police did,” said Mohammed Maqboul, a lawyer in the square. “Twenty-four hours a day, they guarded our streets.”

2 Comments P2P Governance Dynamics in the Egyptian Uprising

  1. AvatarGeorge Por

    Michel, how do you see the potential of this P2P governance dynamics “to discover the passage from revolt to revolutionary institution that the multitude can set in motion”? (Commonwealth, by Hardt & Negri)

  2. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Hi George, the quick answer is: I don’t know (yet) .. the social struggles in France in 2005 have been studied from that angle, i.e. a long term social mobilization using non-representational mechanisms, but I have not studied this in detail. Now a movement like Tahir Square to a large extent follows this process, but they have set themselves very strict limits, probably to maintain unity, i.e. not calling for the removal of the military dictatorship, but just its figurehead. With such auto-limitations, it can’t go much further than a general call for western-style democracy, which of course would be a fine achievement, even though from our perspective it sounds like, they want to be in the same limitations we are already in .. . So my take is we need a substantial amount of time to develop relatively autonomous peer producing communities, and a more serious general crisis of the world system, before this kind of process can really happen. In conclusion, we have to wait and observe how the new forms are invented as they are being invented … Already, we’ve learned a lot of course, that massive social mobilizations can produce radical change, in a very short time, such as in Tunisia.

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