a intro of sorts, outlining the insurrection prior to my arrival can be read here: Chronology of Intifada
In the breaking morning, the Bourguiba boulevard in central Tunisia is silenced and pink. The silver razor wire coils the buildings, fortressed behind anti-riot gates, where the soldiers smoke, leaning against the tanks – a civil war inertia. The steel shutters are bombarded with graffiti, among the Arabic – ‘libre’. The advertising booths have systematically been smashed out by rioters, around the edges sharp fragments of glass remain, framing the relation of power. A beautiful storm has come.
What kind of revolution is this, what other kinds of revolution can exist but the transfer of power? Here the ministries remain in the rubble of their former glory, symbolically trying to institutionalize the crisis. Don’t look for the transfer of power in these razor wire barricades; in this rupture, power transversed these brick manors and constituted itself as counterpower – a rearrangement of the balance of power; through the potentiality (potentia) of the multitude – a counter power that does not constitute itself in institutions, but de-stituent’s institutions, ebbing the power of state out into the streets, hurling rocks at concessions – the emergent potentia grows more radiantly into a new reality. Upon the high school entrance, which is positioned beside the government square so that the smoke pit is literally in the centre of the action, greets all who enter with the lesson won by the youth – A.C.A.B. (All Cops Are Bastards).
The break from power took infinite manifestations; one materialization of popular force was the ransacking of the elites homes, offices, cars – the literal looting of dominion translates naturally into a desire to empty all institutions of their worth. It is clear these targets had long been marked; waiting only for the social detonation.
I did doubt – but no longer, the truth that the revolutionary suicide of the street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, ignited the revolt. I see now an army of street vendors, I see them by the thousands, the slum children all grown up, charismatically soliciting from between heaping tables and carts, each massive and young – selling the black market in claps and chants, hawking imitation brand cigarettes, knock off perfumes, fake designer jeans; I see now how they would have converged and stormed the streets uniformed in their trademark black leather jackets, shoulder to shoulder by the thousands – a strike, a wildcat strike of precarious workers – striking at the flabby bourgeoisie who run the white market. A precariousness not of the margin, but as the nucleus of a common existence that’s peripherality has now consumed the centre. Not a weakness – but a power; born of the street. A popular power now of the streets – ignited by the most extreme trajectory of human strike. I can see how instantly it must have leaped; from stand to stand they rose and brought everyone with them.
The cop shop slumps: burnt out and smashed up; the jaws of power have had its teeth kicked in – shards of which are still being swept up by a legion of old men with broken brooms. Wrung in razor wire and tanks – an exquisite failure in projecting command. Many who pass smile; the young gesture to each other their deeds in throwing motions. Once the monopoly of violence has been shattered, the force of the state is just an image they attempt to reproduce. The power of the street is not held by a static show of force, such displays only affirm what the street already knows. It can rupture at any corner, engulf any street and spread down all the boulevards. The power that simmered under the ash will not be doused – the ash has been blown away; and as the flame now flickers, it can spontaneously combust. That is why parked on most streets sit vans and tanks of pigs – as if they could extinguish what is burning the world down.
Abdallah Guech Alley is the self-proclaimed red light district. A week ago it was besieged by a mob of chauvinistic Islamists chanting, ‘No prostitution in a Muslim country.’ Their demands where rained upon by a torrent of projectiles and insults from the women at windows above them. Finally forced out, the neighbourhood reasserted its autonomy in a new political reality; not defending itself as a zone of sex trade – although concisely choosing to remain as such, but asserting community self defense – so as to collectively make such decisions. It is not just hopeful but practical that other such communities of the medina do the same, constructing a loosely weaved affinity of the kashba , grounded in autonomy. Only the social war will flush this out.
In front of the shops a fight with sticks break out; the men are clearly aligned in two groups against one another. I duck just as a guy dressed for banking, gets bashed into a parked car. The bourgeoisie – that is who these guys represent in their distinguished outfits, are becoming the realization of themselves. Aside from sectarian strife, they are flush with the euphoria of parliament victory. The state moves in the direction of reforms, so insisted by the middle class; they speak and are heard; but in their hysterics they abandon the power that brought them the privilege to transmit capital themselves, no longer subservient to authoritarian nepotism, the disincluded have been recast adrift, as if they would vanish into the horizon. But they have not; they are everywhere and hear nothing. When the bourgeoisie speak to power it is in a language they share, one crafted by the exclusion of the poor: the disincluded have no words to bargain with command and cannot hear the condolences of the middle class; they are left with the street to mediate their revolt, and as they demand nothing they speak with violence. As desperately as spectacle tried to reify the insurrection into the discourse of pacifism – it was not Facebook by which the poor communicated, but by the smoke signals of burning barricades and inflamed buildings– the communication of destruction. It is this violence, and not the violence committed over splitting the spoils, that the bourgeoisie will succumb – that or begin building terms of communication that are acceptable to the emergent disincluded.
And what of the sites of revolt. I have touristed the locations that were beamed across the spectacle: the boulevard and the government squares; I will here position them together, distinct from the sites I have come now to investigate: the vendor’s square and the red light district. The boulevard and government square are both colonial centers made to celebrate and solidify French power; that the mass mobilizations took place here was pragmatic for their size and political in their targets. Both locations are now occupied by the military and encased in razor wire. Along the boulevard, the children of the bourgeoisie shop; in front the government compounds; where once a protest city inhabited by the thousands who poured in from the country side in a liberation caravan, remains only at times, petitioners of the state – political cadres and destitute peasants seeking restitution. Both these sites following the mass uprising are continuously attacked in spontaneous riots that shatter the encroaching peace.
The insurgents are not of those places; but located in a peripheral forcing itself upon the centre. The vendor square has expanded and taken the whole courtyard of the train station and surrounding streets; their territorial appropriation is marked by black stains of flames that torched the building, inside all glass is smashed and graffiti saturates. The hustling of black market commodities necessitates the capture of territory and such illegalism operating as a norm in turn creates a different function of commerce. That the uprising ruptured from this site, and others like it, one can surmise that these precarious workers are of a variant political reality then that inhabited by criminal middlemen. This situation, which was the ultimate site of intervention, permeates with a revolutionary thinking and action – one that outthinks capitalism and attacks it. From this situation and potentiality, the immanent capacity of life itself is unleashed; a power unfixed and not of capital; but produced by social relations and transversive of the state and consisting of a counterpower that is able to hold its own and expand territorially. It is a warmachine.
Similar but different is the red light alley. Similar in it is cheating capital at its own game – by inverting the commodity fetish; but different to the roaming vendors in its fixed location. The transference from stroll to barracks is one of multiple dual relations. Having now to defend itself from Islamists, the stroll has erected barricades and gated the front of the alley with large metal doors adorned with defensive shards of glass. But the gate swings freely open and I stroll awkwardly through; each women steps out from the doorway, each room uniformly the same; here there are no pimps and no cops; their methods of harm reduction are visible. I am heartbroken thinking of the massacre of lives back home; how different women’s survival in the sex trade would be if anything like this was created and defended.
These are singular situations of resistance; situations where autonomous forms of existence can both attack the state and spread through society; there is a infinite amount of such realities being produced; and each reinforcing one another; it is such a wildfire that will outlast the revolution.
One of the most grotesque scams of the upcoming elections was made clear to me by a new friend who organizes with Essalem (women’s hands), a collective of mutual aid and solidarity, a self-governing group of women from all over Tunisia. She told me that although she never voted under the dictatorship, she believes it is necessary now, so as to deprive the Islamists. But using one’s vote as a tool in the social war tightens the bolts of the state. As popular democracy asserts itself, this contradiction seems less as such, and more the nature of the beast.
Sharing commonalities to the current intifadas, in that both are chain reaction conductors, are the European revolts of the nineteenth century. Marx, who was at that time an agent in the secret society, League of the Just (prior to denouncing the Blanquists for their secret society and their ‘mystifications of barricades’), had chance to comment: seeing these revolts as bourgeoisie revolutions and believing that to be the natural-state-of-things; he advocated that the proletariat maintain their vengeance in the streets and that the workers’ parties take advantage of this turmoil to destabilize the new government all the more with revolutionary demands; failing to deliver, the workers’ parties would advance and seize the power the bourgeoisie could not hold. Lenin picks up this thread spun by his icon; he too prophesies the petty bourgeoisie utopia that follows the revolution; keeping in lockstep, he advances the submission of the armed proletariat to the vanguard party; as it is ‘an anarchist dream that people could act concisely on their own.’
All this aside, he brings forward the crucial imperative: the smashing of the state by the armed proletariat and its withering away as a unifying totality. Understanding this historical failure of ‘perfecting the machine instead of smashing it’ is obviously not enough for the Marxist traditionalists. In a letter to a Tunisian friend, Antonio Negri – the emissary of empire, gargles the Leninist bile in calling for new institutions to replace the old; these of course are to be controlled by new bureaucrats and civil servants. He does not address how these ‘insurrectionary institutions’ would assist the withering away of the state as opposed to its obvious perfecting. The redistribution of power throughout the apparatus of state is only that. What we see happening outside the fantasia of the ideological-cadres is the total abandonment of the state. Following the insurrectionary smashing, the state in its irrelevance in daily life is left to wither; as arbitrator of relations it is torn asunder by new affinities that relate on common terms; a recommunalisation constituted upon mutual aid in a multitude of perennial modes.
This is the potentiality of the intifada, which itself translates to shaking off. The multitude is shaking off the state and leaving it in the gutter to wither away. As much to fear as the interim government, which seeks to make ‘the existing society as tolerable and comfortable for themselves as possible,’ is the real threat of the reconstitution of the state through postmodern institutions, which desire the ‘extension of insurrection in an institutional process that transforms the fabric of social being’ (Negri). Contrarily, the intifada is a process of collective decision making; through which, consciousness insurrection both smashes the state while dualistically, in the multitudes general abandonment of the states unifying forces, takes flight in the direction of its withering it away.
Tunisia is in revolt, a mass social rupture. On the national scale, it is petty bourgeoisie in nature, as their interests are mediated by the state through the mechanism of superficial transformation: the interim government. At the same time, operating molecularly against the nation state, are the singular acts of revolt that create a nexus of insurrection, each specific to their horizons and all with their own dialect. Here in Mahidina, ancient and flanked by the sea – the moment of insurrection ruptured with the mass upheaval in the prison. Sensing the pitch of rebellion throughout the country, the inmates took the initiative and seized control of the prison. The riot left seventeen comrades dead before they could succeed in occupying the whole building and forcing the warden to open the gate. Over a thousand took flight.
I have pilgrimaged to this site and in retrospect my being apprehended by the anti-terror police seems obvious. Forcing me into their office within the prison, they made me erase my photos before doing an i.d check. From what I was joyfully able to observe, the prison was totally empty, only screws guarding other screws. A pile of burnt mattresses in the courtyard.
Having had to undergo the same questions from officials presiding over various agencies, I gained an appreciation for the fact that not only did the insurgents escape the confines of the prison, but they liberated each other from this apparatus of capture; one that institutes itself as an assemblage of controls, each conspired to rule ones bare life entirely. Here, like all other prison-societies, the inmate is ‘released’ into a quagmire of authoritarian voids. Remanded into a world of surveillances and bureaucratic internment; the inmate is subject to the mirror reality of inside and outside. Transversing these confines in insurrectionary flight sets fire to the prisons and their networks of power. To be free of the state is to escape its totality – total liberation obtained concisely through insurrectionary violence – it can happen in no other way.
Across Tunisia now successive escapes follow one another through the walls and over them; beyond the empty cells a new society is made from consistent evasion and harbouring. In most cases the prisoners liberate themselves, in others, the prison is laid siege from without, forcing the guards to withdraw – both situations made into concrete reality by the popular counterpower that detains the states forces in a fight for its own survival.
As I am shuffled from one screw escort to another screw, piled into a cruiser and delivered back to my hotel, as I exit I laugh in the face of the cop who requests only that now upon my safe return, I friend him on Facebook.
There is a notion that the intifada is about food, that the insurrection is a food riot. The ancient formula made by Lucan, the poet who wrote of Rome’s civil war that was fought on this shore, has been echoed since, ‘Revolutions are caused by hunger, and a government prepared to feed the easy-going masses can count on loyalty; starve the mob, and it grows reckless.’ Countering this mantra, Franz Fanon said on behalf of the Wretched of the Earth during the Algerian anti-colonial war, ‘Hunger with dignity is preferable to bread eaten in slavery.’ But what if both notions are as limiting as all other attempts to categorize revolt into imperatives. What if the multitude desires bread and roses, and whatever the fuck else we so desire.
Deeper in the shit now. Brought here in a series of ‘louges’; aside from camels they are the nomads’ transport. In the final stretch, three such nomads are crammed beside me in this minivan. They are ‘from the south, where there is only sand’; we compete in looking out the window – they smell pleasantly of cigarettes and jasmine.
Sbeitla – the near centre of Tunisia. The countryside. This area saw the most intense fighting; the town is encircled by military but there are no police. This fact is repeated in celebration by three young insurgents who have taken me in as a friend. I’m shown the sites of their riots – the broken windows and signature black burns attest to their battles. The restaurants of the rich is in ruins. All over are mounds of ‘revolutionary garbage’ comprised of the barricades and charred derby of street fighting.
We sneak into a vast archeological wasteland, amongst the ruins of these empires, I am seated in a massive amphitheatre from the first century. The most jubilant of the three is an actor and takes the ancient stage. He performs a pantomime of a man visited by his elder and younger self. I believe he choose this skit, consciously or not, to reinforce what he had been telling me earlier: they are a new people now, but very close to history – the revolution has given them a future. The eternity he acts out now on this stage – and the insurrection he reenacted earlier, swim across the universe. Like the nomad there is no fixed position, but transcending lines of flight. Isabelle Eberhardt, a transgendered nomad who a hundred years ago made her way through this land, spoke of the chorus that accompanies this play before me: ‘for me, it seems that by advancing into unknown territories, I enter into my own life.’ These young guys are creating their new life out of a destroyed world.
‘On the first day we fight the policeman because he beat our girls and women. In the street we beat the policeman because he beat our mother, our father- so we beat the policeman so that he go out of our country. The majority of the people came out into the streets and beat policeman. And the military be with the people against the policeman. People came out and sing together against the policeman. The people love each other and are one against the policeman.
Here, in the country it happened first – then in Tunis. The cause of the revolution is because policemen beat a man who working in the street to buy everything for his family because he is poor. He finished education, but cant find job. So, this police beat this man. When he go to administration, the manager said, ‘you are poor – I will not see you,’ so he set fire to himself. Then explode all of Tunisia; the centre, the north, the south, all the world – explode.
Here in Kassirine the police kill fifty-five, sixty men and women. Here I show you a picture of a man who died in the revolution.
This happened over one month and fifteen days. For the first days we fight the police and then the military comes in and controls the police, so we stop fighting and control our houses in the night. Community control. The people take guns so to control. Revolutionary control.
We put forward our program; we take our ideas and write them and give them to the administration. We talk to each other and make a great program for the future. To have new culture. To change our lives. We like to change the constitution of our being.
We had violence in our school- a battle between the police and the pupils, because the police march into our school and punch the girls to punish. We have a girl out of school- the police beat her, so the boys come out and beat the policeman, because we have many girls who go to hospital.
We attack with molotovs and bricks; you can see it on facebook.
At first we are studying in class and we listen a noise of tear guns, so we go out to see a policeman who fights a girl, so we fight these police to go out of school. We beat the police; we punish him with our hands and the tables of the school, with chairs, with windows!
At six at night all people come out and with guns control the houses. We go to the government building and set it on fire, so the police cannot go. The tires of cars on fire to close the streets because the policeman cannot see when he take pictures. We are not afraid. Many fires, yes, many. Close the roads, block all the streets! We stayed there. When the policeman come, we fight him. When he can’t come- we go to him in violence. This went for a week.
We have a curfew; all people come out with their guns. We protect our homes. Fight police, and the mafia of Ben Ali- who have guns and snipers. We fight them, and give them to the military. We find eight cars; we stop them – full of mafia, many guns of Ben Ali. He can’t kill many people, because we have strategy. We have a program to control.
We do fire in the streets, we have guns and we do coffee and smoke cigarettes together; we have couscous – we cooking on fire. We have festival, very great!
A system of Order smashed. The shards edges slice in all directions. I try to get into Kassirine centre, site of the most extream violence in the country during the initial insurrection, but military and communard barricades stop me both at once. No non-resident is allowed entry. I’m told, the residents are sweeping out an infiltration of provocateurs. In the surrounding network of villages, every point is pressed. If the street is not barred by barbed wire then there is a human blockade on strike. Workers demanding back pay from bosses who have fled, engulf the city centre. Poor peasants demand free health services, immediately – they pound so at the gate. The unemployed circle the square, sitting and standing; speaking and silent- the many colors of their cloths are beautiful. At the high school the students walk out cause they don’t wanna do a test, they too fill the streets. A military helicopter blasts past overhead, momentarily overpowering the cry of songbirds that screech atop the echoing call to prayer. My head swirls dervishly. The ‘garbage of the revolution’ piled up into mounds of burnt wood and plastic reek. Only the ruins, crisp and golden – stand still. Behind them the countrysid bleeds out into the desert.
I return to Tunis to a battle between the police and street vendors. The police for the first time are on the outside of the wire and are chaperoned by the military, not the bored conscripts, but special forces – in black ski masks and heavily armed. Together they attack the many who are selling trinkets on the streets. With large wooden sticks the police smash the wares and bark at the terrified sellers. These streets are lined with the older poor and country poor, no match for the police who are themselves just warming up for bigger game. Realizing where their forces are heading to converge, I take off to beat them to the train station market square.
I make it before they arrive but I am met by a line of riot police who are forming a line to one side of the square. Then come the military from the opposite direction. The vendors who remain number just over a hundred or so and seeing how vastly outmatched they are becoming, they hurry their commerce into giant sacks and cardboard boxes. Finally the assault team is positioned, the leader bellowing orders through a megaphone. It begins to rain. Cops rush the square in teams and snatch specific people; other pigs smash tables into smithereens. A single teargas canister is fired into the far corner of the square. The gas is suppressed by the rain, only a small puff blows away. The military in line marches in lockstep. There is a rush, not panic, but fleeing from such force. I move with the mob, flanked on all sides by black leather. We rush through the adjourning bus terminal which is a large open space with slippery-as-hell tracks. Making it out onto the streets, boxes and carts too burdensome are thrown out onto the road as barricades. All around me is the smashing of storefront windows by vendors who determine those in need of a smash and those not, and residents and shopkeepers leaping into doorways. We move up the street, fast. The thick wall of cheap leather thinning out from around me. The vendors are dispersing down the serpentine side-alleys.
Between the vapor of tear gas and the marbro cigarettes, I’m breathing heavy. And the rain is fuckin freezing. As I’m about to abandon myself to being lost, I make out the boulevard ahead. Practically alone now, I speed walk forward. Arriving at the site of the mass demos, expecting to find it under occupation, instead to my great joy the boulevard is swarming with people, massed into great configurations, everyone extremely excited. It is a spontaneous open assembly. Hundreds of folk gesture wildly with their hands. Each cluster, numbering between a few to many are singularly posed in debate. I ping pong from one fractal to another. Although some are speaking in agitation, there is no hostility. The men lower their voices when the women speak – or make room in the centre for them to move in so that all might hear. The police are nowhere to be seen; neither are the vendors – though both are the subject of these forms. The rain stops and the sun cuts across our faces. I follow behind a group heading in the direction of my hotel. The sidewalks are stripped of the vendors that spilled over them. Night is coming. The street takes a deep breath.
On the northern most tip of Tunisia, closest to Europe, is Bizerte, spearheading out into the Mediterranean Sea. From the ancient port, thousands, tens of thousands of young men and a few women take flight in boats that all too often capsize. Those who make it, now having taken advantage of a no longer functioning border police, traverse the violent waves to Italy, where like so many modern-day Hannibals they lay siege to Rome – threatening at the gates. This new Punic war has become vast. Legions from the south, no longer on elephant or under the flag of Carthage, storm the northern fortress states of Europe. The migrant. The nomad. Comes with nothing and demands everything. City slums are exploding with such rootless voyagers. The police actions meant to dislodge them result in riots and dispersion – and still more come and their desire strengthens in number. Centuries of colonial exploitation will be repaid, one way or another. Europe is weakening; wall after wall falls. The barbarians have no allegiance to any empire, and seek the destruction of all empire. Free movement, jobs and housing – the demands of the barbarians are joined by the ghetto dwellers who open their arms and invite them into their ranks.
From here, looking out onto the Mediterranean, now a ring of fire, the cheers of freedom are transmitted around the world, fanning the flames. Of course the fire did not start here – it grew out from under the earth, the land, the sea – the things that connect us all. The Tunisian front has previously been a bastion of revolt, which spread out. Following their anti-colonial struggles in the fifties, Tunisia was used as a base to stage operations in neighboring Algeria. Rebel radios, like today, blasted beams of revolt to the wretched of the earth. When Franz Fanon – doctor, theorist, rebel – died, his body was smuggled from Tunisia to Algeria. It is that spirit that represents violent struggle, which is being smuggled again out of here. Again, the wretched of the earth hear the songs and slogans of revolt, and again spontaneously rise as one, a multitude that is shaking off oppression once and for all.
The plane from Tunis to Cairo is filled almost entirely with Libyans fleeing Gaddafi forces. In the sanctuary of the cabin they unfurl dozens of rebel flags and their songs turn to weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. The man in front of me sobs in his seat. He tells me he will not live life as a refugee but will return to reclaim his country.
Young dawn stretches her rose-red fingers out across the land of the lotus-eaters. The morning in Tahrir Square is hot already. The smell of the charred remains of the extinct government’s headquarters wafts through the stagnant heat. Dozens are here to protest the referendum tomorrow, which seeks to legitimize the military’s sham democracy. The small group grows in size with the rise of the satanic sun. Enthusiasm also rises, with young rebels showing up. They kick-start the rally – now a couple hundred. Chants from each and all: ‘Revolution Till We Win,’ ‘The Blood of the Dead Will Not Dry When You Vote,’ ‘Why Keep Silent, You Want Mubarak Back?’ In the centre of the expanding mob are the mothers of the martyrs, who cry out over and over, ‘Where are My Dead Son’s Rights?’
The motor of chanting and clapping has whipped the hundreds now, into frenzy; the dividers separating us from the road which circles the square are thrown down by young rowdies who begin covering their faces with their headscarfs. The people without hesitation serge out onto the busy street. The freshly returned police are quick to move in and nab three specific young men and attempt to hurry them away; this propels people deeper into the turnabout, charging after the cops. A vanguard of hoodlums arm themselves with sticks and what is left of the remaining cobble stones. I instinctively fall in with them as they swoop down on the pigs trying to engulf them. A straggling cop has his head caved in with sticks as his fleeing buddies are pelted with rocks. The comrades are easily dearrested and the square has been reoccupied now by a thousand at least. Jubilantly, barricades are built, by the young and old, workers and the poor, Muslim and Christian, men and women, and a life lived not so long ago in this site is brought back into existence.
In one part of the square – half of which is now totally occupied, a group of Muslims put down sheets of newspaper as prayer mats. A makeshift stage is constructed to prop up an amman who drowns on at length in a megaphone under the noon sun. From the surrounding side streets waves of folk exiting mosques flood in. The military makes moves to divide the protest, all advances fail as the girth of the crowd consume their lines; or in one case a massive tarp is unfurled over their helmets and is frantically jostled by dozens on all sides. Children cut between the troops mocking them with insults. Vendors set up shop amongst the throng, and the sun digs its nails deeper into my skull.
Today’s referendum, which has been adorned by a public holiday, is a counter-insurgency attempt at territorializing the enmity directed at the state into codified forms of political representation – a representation reproduced to accommodate a risen state of political consciousness into a free range pasture. That the Canadian state is helping finance this ‘democracy building’ is no surprise. Empire scrambles to institutionalize the crisis growing in the wake of this escalating Global Civil War. New allegiances are formed to solidify ranks. Democracy is the name given to this war alliance.
The deterritorialisation of Tahrir Square is of utmost importance. The militant degree of communization that took place there near devoured the whole state apparatus. Not only in the blocks and attacks against capital and command, but in the existence and reproduction of autonomous life thriving in an expanding commune defined by its mutual aid. Across the country other such realities were created and began connecting with one another – not uniting in one body, but as localized reinforcements which had the military drawn and quartered across such vast regions. In the south, nomadic warriors destroyed the chain of military outposts and seized all the arms; it is inconceivable to believe they would trade them in for the freedom to vote – in a warlord for the northern metropolis. The industrial cities are still rocked by roving wildcat strikes that will not cease regardless of the outcome of the referendum. The liberated prisoners will not return to their demolished cells, and the police will never again be safe.
The partisan subjectivity of this intifada cannot be captured by the parliamentary apparatus – the rupture is too massive, the multitude ungovernable. The authority of state is burnt to the ground. In front the government building – a totally devastated and burnt out shell – an army guard sweeps at the tons of wreckage with a straw broom, his lone companion has his arm in a sling and is asleep. The aura of authority – that which is closest to heavens – is vanquished.
Only now with the imperial financing for the reconstruction of the institutions, is the state able to survive on life support. If these flows which allow the conspiracy of democracy were to be sabotaged by global direct action – and smashed states left to fend for themselves – their withering would be immediate. In our faliure of such duty, empire, through international intervention, takes on an imminence in society, the more so in revolutions fought for the sake of state. In so far that such a society is power, biopower and spectacle are the sublimation of power. Not so long ago Egypt transplanted concentrated spectacle with a diffuse spectaclelisation of society, the old ways took on new methods – integrating power through a mediation of law and institutions. Now, empire will attempt to generalise itself throughout society by norms and apparatuses. The difference is seen in operations. Whereas institutions regulate a panoptical society – norms cut through lives and organise them as forms-of-life. In the absence of dominant apparatuses, the destruction of institutions suffised in the smashing of state. The life forms created in this rupture are now the responsibility of empire to supress, and the counter-insurgence operation of choice is the spectacle of parlimentry democracy.
I spend the day cabbing to a few neighbourhoods of Cairo – seeking insight into the functioning of the referendum. It’s clear that all districts are severed from the centre, from which emanates the phlachuance of a lame military occupation – for it is there that sit the many upturned thrones of power. Choosing an area in the north, east, west and south, I spend only an hour or two in each – filling my blatter with tea and speaking with who will talk to me. There is resentment directed against me by many who are disgusted with the journalist vultures that circle the city. I comfort myself knowing I write for no boss. But still…
I’m told that the trees on the corners are painted to signify that ‘there is no government here’. No cops either, thought the military drives through today with their jeeps decked out in ‘Vote Yes’ propaganda. The trees are painted red, white and black – the Egyptian colours; this is not nationalistic but a sign of national consciousness. The fundamental difference is clear in the internationalist spirit which is manifest in Libyan rebel and Palestinian flags, which adorn many cafes. In the last few weeks there have been rallies in support of the Brahinan insurgents and against American imperialism and Zionist occupation. These secessionist communities are celebrating a renaissance of their unique peculiarities while in solidarity with the world. A constalation of Tahrir squares re-communised in a galaxy of communities.
These neighbourhoods are no longer fixed in their historical inertias and cultural delineates, but have become communities-in-movement. In their secession from the state they have a disposition towards the common, the dynamics of which are autonomy and cooperation. This social machine is war on the state-form: dispersion of power, plus social cooperation. The community brigades who continue in shifts to patrol their areas have no hierarchal structure, thus dispersing centralization and feeding cooperation. That the plural ‘hoods, outlined by residential alleys come into contact and share in the building – or recommunising, of the common, as nodes – not partitioned zones, maximizes the singular strength of multiple communities-in-movement.
Everywhere are ‘NO’ signs, but it is not made clear to me who made them. Many newly formed parties are against the referendum as they seek more time to develop their own beaurocratic structures. But, all but a few of those I had the pleasure to give a smoke and speak with are not voting at all. ‘Why vote, there will only be another revolution’, she tells me. In the revolution of everyday life, everyday is exceptional to rule. Wither totalitarian or democratic, it is the unifying function of the state, which these communities must escape. When the commodified people no longer want to exist as commodities and whose revolt explodes capitalist logic, a referendum for interim government is seen for the shadow play it is; and those who avert their gaze from such spectacle say, we don’t want ‘power’, we want the power to change all of life.
‘A time between ashes and roses is coming; when everything shall be extinguished, when everything will begin again.’ Throughout the rupture the Egyptian museum was attacked several times. Not only did looters expropriate some priceless junk, but the insurgents – in beautiful acts of primitive-revolt – smashed several of the artifacts that celebrated the decadence of domination. Such primal iconoclasm signifies much more then rage, it is a conscious attack against civilization.
Such actions are the cry for exodus, to abandon the site of slavery and exit the domain of control. By neither remaining subservient – nor engaging power upon its terrain, exodus explodes the either/or. Exodus fights a rearguard battle against the pursuing forces of the pharaoh, whilst moving away deeper into the desert – from which the coming community is founded. Exodus – in its primitive-revolt blasts apart the continuum of history and transfixes the moment of insurrection into an eternal present. By smashing the wreckage of civilization, which piles up around us to the sky, a line of flight is drawn and war machines placed upon it. The sarcophagus of state is demolished – the mummy elite dragged out into the light of a new dawn, and turn into dust. The hieroglyphs of the institutions, which guard command, in their spectacular complexities – turn a dead language, as new communications come into being. For this is exodus from totality.
The attack on the museum is inspired so. It tells us, ‘old gods die hard, but smash easy’! These signifiers of civilization are its scaffold, and as such need only to be pulled down to cave it all in. What is of value is looted and the rest abandoned. This is how the multitude, like a scarab beetle, will push the dunghill of civilization off the face of the planet.
I accidentally stumble into an artshow that is being put on for dignitaries of the European Union. Circling the cesspool of artists and grotesque politicians are highly stylized photos of the Tehrin Intifada. The scum suck down their kabobs and guzzle their booze. It’s hard to imagine much worse. I escape hoping the place will burn. Art is the mechanism that normalizes antagonisms into a commodity form. It captures the potential of a revolutionary culture and places it within the regulations of the bourgeoisie. Scrambling away down the nearest alley, I’m stopped for a light. Relived, I have a smoke with a guy and I quickly ask him about the uprising. His brother was killed. It took twenty-two days to find his body; in a morgue, mutilated and robbed. He now looks after his brother’s two children. He takes out his wallet and shows me their picture.
Holy fuck, I’m stoned. There is a full moon over the harbor of Alexandria and I’m awash in hash. Smoked in a café, which was the only free-ish spot before the intifada. I couldn’t take my eyes of those seated around the table. They all refer to themselves as ‘FrancoArabas’ – a term proudly invented for the young and rebellious bastard children of the metropolis. I didn’t have my tape recorder, so I retain only chunks.
The Egyptian revolution will forever be known to have been January 25th. But here, it was the 24th. On the day meant to celebrate the police. A month previous, a pig killed a student and so a protest was marked for the 24th, I’m told there was a Facebook page. In the lead up to that day, there were many scuffles with the police who were increasing nervous watching the fate of their colleagues in Tunisia. Finally comes the 24th and all hell breaks lose. Hand-to-hand combat quickly escalates into armed confrontation. ‘We fire all the police stations’ (save one) and over the next three days the government buildings, courthouses, ticket office – are all fired. Three million people took power into the streets; they construct mass encampments and create food and supply lines for this people’s army. The politicos parachute in and attempt to claim the intifada as their own. Most especially – the Muslim Brotherhood is despised by many for being collaborators with the regime. On site, the FrancoArabas agitate against their xenophobia, ‘We are all Muslim, Christian, Jew, gays – we are the people and the people make the revolution.’ The police are forced off the street and the army reluctantly sides with the popular counterpower.
The police have only just started seeping back in, in small numbers doing symbolic tasks – one such cop who killed, was himself beaten to death, stripped naked and left in the street. ‘they are scared now, before they beat us, now we kick over their motorcycles!’ none of the FrancoArabas voted; ‘we will wait and see’. ‘We fought to change the system, not the government.’ Shit, I heard so much more then this, but the hash has done me in, and now it’s the moon I cant take my eyes off.
On the outstretches of Cairo are two shatter zones which are refuge to many who have fled oppression in the south. Beside the City of the Living and the Dead – named so because in and amongst the tombs live twenty thousand families; is Garbage City – called so because one hundred thousand live in and amongst mountains of garbage, sorting, recycling and reusing. Garbage City symbolizes two ways this collapse of civilization is gonna go: easily put – Fascism or Egalitarianism.
A few weeks ago there was a massacre here. The repressive relationship between factions of Muslims and Christians exploded and led to the killings of many, shot in the heads and in the hearts, and the injuring of hundreds. The single event in a long history of blood vengeance was explained to me by a local. A love affair between a Christian man and a Muslim women led the Muslim father to beat his daughter almost to death. Having not killed her, he was in turn killed by his relatives. As this ‘feud’ continued, a group of Muslims broke off and attacked a Christian church, destroying it with hammers in front of the community. Following this – members of the community went to Cairo to protest the complicity of the police and military. At this time provocateurs spread the lie that Christians had burnt down the mosque and attacked Muslim women. This incited the massacre and targeted raping of the Christians of Garbage City.
There have been nightly attacks since. I’m shown bullet holes in homes and the sabotage of the water drains. I am introduced to men who were shot and young woman who were raped. Scores of people surround me with events being translated incompressibility. They believe I’m with somebody that will help them. The mother apologies to me when I have to suppress weeping while hearing the story of her raped daughter who has returned with a soda for me to drink.
Many Zabbaleen (literally, garbage collectors) went to Tahrir Square in revolt. I ask if they have faith in the revolution to bring justice. Each I ask, shrug and say it’s in the hands of god.
Barbarous religious warfare is escalating as cults like the Muslim Brotherhood appropriate space made by the intifada. There is no doubt, and in fact proven in many cases, that the military continues in operations that further entrench intolerance and violence. The Zabbaleen have long been subjected to discrimination and persecution. As refugees from the south they were abandoned to the city dump over a hundred years ago. They were able create an economy based on mutual aid and cooperation. This lasted in prosperity until recently when the state ordered the extermination of their pigs (used to eat compostable garbage) and then privatized garbage collecting, ending what has been unanimously declared as the world’s most efficient recycling system.
But still they persist. Showing up in fleets of trucks and donkey carts to steal the garbage before the corporate collectors show up. Back in their City, thousands of families form an assembly of sorting. Finally, garbage is pulped and turned into anything you can think of. Hundreds of gardens grow aplenty. Day cares and health clinics, schools and care homes all constructed by collective effort. If the intifada cannot defend garbage city by eliminating islamo-facism – conditions will quickly spiral into more massacres. And if the global intifada cannot reproduce the relationships that are lived here into an emergent universalism – it will all be in vain; for the encroaching collapse will usher in no future but planetary omnicide.
The state of emergency, which for oppressed people is the norm, has been by force, by a beautiful storm – inverted, flipped inside out – so that those who once lived besieged by command, now lay siege to it. This real state of emergency where the balance of power shifts so exceptionally so as to create in its wake a whole new assemblage of relations is where counterpower begins to generalize itself into a new norm of the common. Perhaps nothing better marked this state of reversal then the popular stormings of the state secret security institutions, first in Alexandria – then Cairo, then throughout Egypt, until each was overrun, looted, confiscated, destroyed – how easily the most precious appendages of the state apparatus fall to the power of the street in the times of real emergency.
Once declared by the multitude, the real emergency – smashes the monopoly of violence held by the state and all actions of retribution are permissible. Not solely acts to avenge our histories – but also acts that redeem our futures by expanding counterpower deeper into the affairs of people. Old dependances which unified survival to the state are severed and wither, and under the real emergency new cooperations take their place: citizen fire brigades, neighbourhood defense committees, people getting out of their car to direct traffic. The system of bribery and nepotism that makes all states into mafias, is thrown into the dustbin.
But of course the power of counter-revolution is parasitic – it finds its dwellings in needs and fears. It invokes the threat of civil war, it points to Libya and promises the same – only votes, they hiss, can lead to calm and prosperity. Many will pour their hopes into the elections, which they know was won with their blood. But the system will not be able to return the investment. For to make such concessions that are being demanded would bankrupt the bourgeoisie as a class. But the bourgeoisie will find that the poor who delivered them to power are not genies who can be returned to their lanterns. Their expectations are gut wrenching. The classwar is so massive that single members of the bourgeoisie will have to sacrifice their gains to a military dictatorship, or betray their loyalties and return home to the multitude. It is in this real state of emergency that new subjectivities are created, becoming whatever they desire and choosing to live free. Such is the emergent potentiality of the blooming intifada.