Many observers, analysts, and those working in the realm of politics argue that we are unable to address the current economic crisis, to which they may also add that we are incapable of achieving social justice as well. The country will witness what is called “the hunger revolution” which they describe as leading to unprecedented chaos, the absence of vegetation. For several months I discussed this matter and explained that this revolution, which some suspect began a long time ago, is manifested street vendors’ occupation of Cairo and all other Egyptian cities. Another manifestation of the alleged revolution is the presence of bullies, thugs and random crime practiced by tens of thousands not registered with state security services in all parts of the country.
I argue that harassment, particularly collective harassment, which has nearly become a common phenomenon over the past two years, is also a manifestation of this revolution, or rather rebellion. I will attempt to prove this hypothesis in the face of other hypotheses that claim that harassment does not have socio-cultural or socio-political roots, and that perhaps the reasons are that of a moral collapse, prisoner releases, or religion not being taught in schools. Perhaps these reasons are those adopted by the authorities, which explains, to a large extent, decisions like the formation a joint Azhar-Church committee to combat the phenomenon.
The real name of this revolution, which is often referred to as the “revolution of the hungry,” should be, in my opinion, the “revolution of the slums” or “revolution of the marginalised” because the hunger of workers, for example, is not manifested in the same ways. For example, it is anticipated that workers will express their rejection of hunger and their desire to improve their living conditions through global movements and protests organised by unions, including strikes, pickets, and demonstrations. It would be logical for these protests or protest movements to take place in a private sector factory like Crystal Asfour, or public sector factories like Iron and Steel. Workers will likely have a specified leadership, and we have all seen that factory workers have successfully conducted peaceful protests and negotiated with the representatives of owners or the management to arrive at compromises that satisfy both parties.
The revolution of the hungry or the revolution of the poor, then, could be a revolution of workers that are hungry and poor. It is also possible for there to be a revolution of the marginalised, hungry, poor, and slum-dwellers, and the difference between the two is that the first revolution is one for a specific group or social class with a specific role in the social process. Its members are connected by this role, which in turn determines their interests and crystallises their demands. This social role itself or this cultural function itself is borne from the group’s cultural-civilisation position, and develops and improves their lifestyle. That lifestyle revolves around a fixed position that shapes their knowledge, abilities, and experience, and achieves a social function for them, along with a steady income and stable social life.
In contrast, the second revolution or revolution of the marginalised or the slums is the revolution of people unconnected by a specified role in the social process. They do not need special skills or capabilities to do the various types of menial work they do that are often conducted outside of the realm of the law and in an informal manner. This does not lead to the formation of a harmonious social group with unified interests, and therefore the political literature calls them marginalised because they do not live in the heart of a community or within classes or groups, instead residing on the margins of society or outside of it completely.
The marginalised are not comprised of just the poor. Some of them, or rather a lot of them, may earn money, even more than is earned by public sector factory or service workers on average. But the issue is not just one of poverty, instead relating also to a social status different from that of factory or service workers. The marginalised lack a specific and fixed social function, and have irregular incomes and constantly changing un-skilled work. They live mostly in the slums on the outskirts of all Egyptian cities, or they often surround cities. Cairo itself is besieged by more than 100 slum neighbourhoods.
In recent decades, marginalised slum dwellers have increased at high and steady rates. This has resulted in the introduction of policies of “savage capitalism” thanks to the economy’s inability to provide jobs within the social structures of new entrants to the labour market. This has also resulted in the impoverishment of the lower rungs of the middle class, particularly in rural areas and small cities. Many craftsmen and street vendors have become marginalised, and they number in the millions.
Those who are marginalised do not suffer from poverty only in the sense that they suffer from low income, but as we mentioned before, they also suffer inside of the slums from a lack of services and the absence of the state. There are almost no schools or hospitals, and often there is no clean drinking water or sewage system, in addition to the fact that these people do not know any form of education or culture and do not engage in jobs that value their cultural or human nature. As such they do not embrace almost any form of social values.
Maxist literature called those who are marginalised “The worn proletariat”, and considered them to be in a moment of crisis during the rise of fascism. It is possible that they supported this fascism as something to lean on, an idea that was confirmed by the Egyptian experience when we all noticed that these slums have been embraced by armed Islamist groups since the 1970s until now. Groups of thugs that worked for the leadership of the National Democratic Party in different regions also originated in these slums.
Marginalised slum dwellers, as a result of their lifestyles and the large degree of oppression to which they are subjected, are characterised by great aggression. This aggressive energy increases as each stable social class within society interacts with them with apprehension and fear, along with a high degree of condescension and contempt. Conversely, the marginalised look at the other classes in general, and the wealthy in particular, and mobilise all of their energies to be aggressive so as not to be exploited or even robbed or attacked.
Some people criticise this conception and assert that harassment is not related to the marginalised or the slums, citing that many of the youth that have been caught in incidents of harassment sometimes belong to the middle classes, and the question now is: How can we, in light of this point of view, interpret the role of the middle classes in harassment? This is the subject of our next article, God-willing.
Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.