The Roots of Revolution in Egypt

Egypt had massive income gaps during Mubarak’s regime, which clearly caused the original uprising.

By William Shaub, Assistant Online Editor

Throughout history, popular protest and revolt has stemmed from a whole host of reasons. At times, the public would be subjected to unmitigated state violence. Occasionally, repressed native populations would reclaim their lands from the hand of colonialism. One can find reasons for quite a few revolutions just by looking at the history of economics, slave societies, and human rights.

However, there’s a not-so subtle common thread that runs straight through nearly every revolution in history: average, poor and working people were suppressed. Their economic welfare and social lives were subjected to relatively unacceptable levels of nihilism and degradation.

[pullquote]Growing inequality isn’t desirable or sustainable, and it makes America look like an awfully poor democratic model for the developing world[/pullquote]

It’s long been understood that once these groups would get organized after years of repression, they’d realize they had choices. One of them is the option to struggle as moral agents, and assume the power to impose moral standards on powerful institutions.The average Egyptian made the choice to struggle, and for a variety of reasons; most of which can be described as concealed in mainstream global discourse.

If you watched U.S corporate media outlets during Egypt’s 18 day revolution, you’ll find that they hesitated to analyze the root causes of the revolution in Egypt. This isn’t conspiratorial, it’s simply documented. For example, only one news anchor called the protests in Egypt a ‘revolution’ for its first 15 days. They consistently opted for the word ‘crises’ in Egypt, rather than revolution. Why the media does this is the subject of a future article (stay tuned), but there’s something much more important that needs to be addressed.

The media still claims they can’t analyze the crises in Egypt properly because it’s unlike any revolution in history (citing Mubarak’s shutdown of the Internet as an example). Of course, if you do a little research, you’ll find that it’s exactly what we could expect from a 21st-century revolution.

Let’s look at the symptoms. Egypt has had a massive income gap throughout Mubarak’s control, which is clearly the root cause of the original uprising. One half of Egyptians live on $2/day or less. The average per-capita income in the country is just $6,200 (CIA World Fact Book).

To put the largest country in the Arab world’s poverty in perspective, just compare it to the United States. The American economy is more unequal than at any time since 1920. Its per-capita income is stillalmost 8 times higher than Egypt’s ($47,000).


Those types of facts make the idea that between 1980 and 2005, more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1 percent of wealth seem important. Every democratic system has been undermined based on essentially two basic pillars: too much poverty and too much paranoia. Growing inequality isn’t desirable or sustainable, and it makes America look like an awfully poor democratic model for the developing world.

Apparently, Egyptians realized they didn’t have to deal with certain things that not only promote vast inequality, but repress workers. The minimum wage hasn’t risen in 25 years. Mubarak’s political environment has weakened the power of labor and kept down wages to the advantage of major employers, both foreign and domestic. Free and organized citizens, not just a loose-knit group of individuals, usually refuse to listen to the dictates of authoritarian institutions.

In the average Egyptian’s case, this institution was a state regime beholden to private power. Power should always be made to justify itself.

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