Many commentators are comparing Egypt to Iran of 32 years ago, mostly to warn of the risks of the country descending into some sort of Islamist dictatorship that would tear up the peace treaty with Israel, engage in anti-American policies, and deprive women and minorities of their rights (as if they had so many rights under the Mubarak dictatorship)
The following description, I believe, sums up what Egypt faces today as well as, if not better, than most:
“It is not a revolution, not in the literal sense of the term, not a way of standing up and straightening things out. It is the insurrection of men with bare hands who want to lift the fearful weight, the weight of the entire world order that bears down on each of us – but more specifically on them, these … workers and peasants at the frontiers of empires. It is perhaps the first great insurrection against global systems, the form of revolt that is the most modern and the most insane.
One can understand the difficulties facing the politicians. They outline solutions, which are easier to find than people say … All of them are based on the elimination of the [president]. What is it that the people want? Do they really want nothing more? Everybody is quite aware that they want something completely different. This is why the politicians hesitate to offer them simply that, which is why the situation is at an impasse. Indeed, what place can be given, within the calculations of politics, to such a movement, to a movement through which blows the breath of a religion that speaks less of the hereafter than of the transfiguration of this world?”
The thing is, it was offered not by some astute commentator of the current moment, but rather by the legendary French philosopher Michel Foucault, after his return from Iran, where he witnessed firsthand the intensity of the revolution which, in late 1978, before Khomeini’s return, really did seem to herald the dawn of a new era.
Foucault was roundly criticised by many people after Khomeini hijacked the revolution for not seeing the writing on the wall. But the reality was that, in those heady days where the shackles of oppression were literally being shattered, the writing was not on the wall. Foucault understood that it was precisely a form of “insanity” that was necessary to risk everything for freedom, not just against one’s government, but against the global system that has nuzzled him in its bosom for so long.