Rubber Bullets and Pepper Spray

It seem to be getting harder and harder to tell the true democracies.  OWS protestors have been tossed out of their peaceful encampments by police from Oakland, CA, to New York City.  And in my old campus (!!) of the University of California at Davis, police used pepper-spray to dislodge peacefully seated protestors.

I guess I’d say pepper spray may be preferable to the beatings with truncheons and batons that characterizedpolice/protestor confrontations in the 1960s.  But the actions were still rather severe for response to a peaceful, on-campus protest.  Students and faculty are calling on Chancellor Katehi to resign, but (like Mubarak?) she is resisting.

Yet the real violence occurred in Egypt, where ten people were killed and over a thousand injured in police confrontations with protestors who demonstrated against the army’s announced plans to insure themselves a special role — above the law — in a new, ‘democratic’ Egypt.

Elections are scheduled for Egypt next week, opening months of planned electioneering and contests to choose a popular assembly.  But the real drama may play out in the streets.  Either the military will enforce its will regardless of the elections, in which case Egypt slides back to a military dictatorship, or the army will be forced to stand down, and electoral democracy will triumph and the military forced into a far lesser role than they had expected.

Which outcome is more likely?  Quite a lot depends on the international community.  Given their condemnations of state violence in Libya and Syria, I imagine that the regional powers (Turkey, Arab League) will not find it easy to stay silent on Egypt if deaths mount. And the U.S. should be telling the SCAF that this level of violence is unacceptable and threatens continued financial support for the military.

The protestors have been driven from Tahrir square (showing that if the army had wanted to squash the January 25th revolts, they likely could have easily done so).  So the next move may be a return to strikes and marches.  It will bear close watching to see how things unfold; this is a sensitive moment — perhaps the military move toward counter-revolution that we have been expecting (recall that many major revolutions, from the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the anti-Soviet revolution of 1990 were met with efforts by the military to-reimpose order through counter-revolution.)

Usually such efforts at counter-revolution fail, and that is what I would expect here.


About jackgoldstone

Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
This entry was posted in The Middle East Revolts. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Rubber Bullets and Pepper Spray

  1. nadezhda says:

    Not sure where you’ve been getting your news, but Tahir hadn’t been cleared of protesters hours after you posted this. It’s still a relative sea of calm (and considerably less teargas) within an extended area of raging confrontations around Tahir still going on after more than 40 hours. The security forces did force the evacuation of a field hospital (not in Tahir itself), which was then demolished, but it was shifted to a nearby mosque, church and adjacent concrete. A “ceasefire” was apparently negotiated not long ago and the pace of gunfire and teargas canisters did let up, though the relative calm is unlikely to hold.

    Can the security forces clear out Tahir if they want to? One assumes so, if they want to incur substantially greater loss of life. Will they? That’s what’s still being played out, though they’ve already resorted to greater levels of violence than when they were defending Mubarak’s retention of power.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “counter-revolution.” From the view of protesters (and folks like El Baradei), the problem isn’t a military counter-revolution but that the military has not, and doesn’t intend to, give up real power, even after the scheduled elections. How much of this is SCAF calling the shots and how much MOI is a matter of hot debate among observers. However, it does appear to me this is another, and perhaps the most important, stage in the revolution that brought down Mubarak but not Mubarak’s regime. The responses in other cities, and whether these protests look like impacting the elections, are likely to have as much immediate impact on whoever is making decisions as US backchannel threats re future funding.

    • You are quite right. My news was early, that police were ‘clearing’ Tahrir square. News is now clear that protestors have not left the square but renewed their presence. I also agree this is a stage in the revolution. I use the term ‘counter-revolution’ because the SCAF is taking actions – from renewing emergency legislation to attacking peaceful protestors – that seem aimed at limiting or reversing gains from the revolution that drove Mubarak from power. Revolutions always have multiple stages — deposing a ruler is one stage, achieving an institutional change in the basis of authority is another, later stage, and military efforts to prevent or limit the second stage often come in between.

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