Tag Archives: egypt

revolution in name only

The Nile stretches thousands of miles from the center of Africa to the Mediterranean Sea, cutting a swath of fertile green through an endless expanse of desert which we call Egypt. Here are the fellaheen, the farmers who have been tending their land in the same way since the Pharaohs decided to create a priest class.  Police officers man nominal checkpoints and smoke cheap cut Cleopatra cigarettes. The revolutionary zeal puffs chests in Cairo and Alexandria, but what here in Qana Province? Where do the fellaheen fit into your globalized vision for the future?

This working force of millions must be galvanized into democracy, liberal economy, and good-old secular living.

Mubarak was a dictator no matter what Joe Biden says. He kept the foot on the necks of the Egyptian people for three decades. His methodology was perfect for control. The Pharaohs themselves could not have asked for a more docile Egypt for those years. Despite flares of resistance, it all paled in comparison to the grand monuments, the photos of his stately visage raised high and painted into DPRK murals at the Citadel in Cairo. Yet his mistake was simple – even innocent. When the going got tough, nobody was willing to save his neck because he wasn’t willing and able to move peasants and galvanize the 80 million plus Egyptian workforce into the 21st century.

After all, these tiny parcels of land handed down generation to generation don’t do anybody good in the long run. A fellah will stay a fellah. Wouldn’t it be better to move him to the aluminum factory down the road, even better as a porter in Cairo? Where is the trajectory in this backwater, where is the promise of human potential?

Maybe now is the time, the West contemplated, for Egypt to really enter the 21st century. Of course, it can’t look like the control mechanisms of the past. We need a democracy now, something more manageable than the irrationalities of a dictator in a 24 hour news cycle. When Qaddafi or Mubarak wanted to step out of line, there was little to do except cajole and bribe. The whole mess looked very unseemly in this new Global Society. Yet a democracy! Like one blossoming in Palestine, where the ruling party holds elections that expells more than half of the voting population and yet dutifully courts the Western Foreign Investor. Now that’s what we’re talking about!

Or look at Jordan, a nation with that ancient archaic method of “kingdom”. Easily looked past, indeed – England has a queen! So long as there are special visa counters for “VIP – Foreign Investors” we can stomach that kind of system, especially since a fractured society like Jordan requires – much like Iraq once did – a strong man at the top to seem like father and who will take orders docilely from the benefactors and still agreed to be interviewed on the Daily Show in perfect, slightly-accented British English. He Gets It, we nod to each other. This Mubarak guy… not so much.

The Egyptians themselves still sit in waiting. Their pride overwhelms them, and banners with the martyrs of the revolution wave proudly in Cairo. Yet he remains unmolested in Sharm el-Sheikh, a favorite destination of European and Israeli holiday-seekers. The army remains at every street corner, and a curfew runs from midnight to six in the morning.

Very little has changed besides this new novelty of “free speech”, something we have decided is not too dangerous in today’s Global Society, something Marx labeled a fraud almost a hundred and fifty years before the invention of twitter.

Nowadays the US Government pays agents to twitter, to troll message boards, to blog, and more. Television stations are bought up by large conglomerates who call elections and have the men who advise the President on speed-dial. Mubarak thought he had a chance at trying to contain speech by working the state – shutting down NileSat and the internet.  Yet the mistake he made was assuming the state has any more power in this New World Order. No, the right investors have the power. The businessmen have the power. Nobody will work with you Mubarak, when they can work with Muhammad Yunus or the Koch brothers instead.

So – let the clean up efforts begin! Don’t worry about the litter, Cairenes, because the new government will find someone to contract for that matter. Don’t worry about jobs, that parcel of land in Middle Egypt, the peace treaty with Israel, the phone company, or the internet ever again. Indeed, don’t worry about anything at all (except your foreign debt of course!). Thank you for your revolution. Now here is a call center. Time to get to work helping to build a new Egyptian society; one that will be of benefit to the entire world, not simply your fellaheen.

February 11th

The aim is not to promote an organic Arab democracy ‘of the people, and for the people,’ but rather to promote an evolutionary “democratization” in which the old despots of American strategic support are removed in favour of a neoliberal democratic system, in which the outward visible institutions of democracy are present (multi-party elections, private media, parliaments, constitutions, active civil society, etc); yet, the power-holders within that domestic political system remain subservient to U.S. economic and strategic interests, continuing to follow the dictates of the IMF and World Bank, supporting America’s military hegemony in the region, and “opening up” the Arab economies to be “integrated” into the world economy. Thus, “democratization” becomes an incredibly valuable strategy for maintaining hegemony; a modern re-hash of “Let them eat cake!” Give the people the ‘image’ of democracy and establish and maintain a co-dependent relationship with the new elite. Thus, democracy for the people becomes an exercise in futility, where people’s ‘participation’ becomes about voting between rival factions of elites, who all ultimately follow the orders of Washington. 

This strategy also has its benefit for the maintenance of American power in the region. While dictators have their uses in geopolitical strategy, they can often become too independent of the imperial power and seek to determine the course of their country separate from U.S. interests, and are subsequently much more challenging to remove from power (i.e., Saddam Hussein). With a “democratized” system, changing ruling parties and leaders becomes much easier, by simply calling elections and supporting opposition parties. Bringing down a dictator is always a more precarious situation than “changing the guard” in a liberal democratic system.

from America’s Strategic Repression of the ‘Arab Awakening'”

The fever pitch excitement and elation on February 11th echoed another event in recent history: the Obama election. The power of the people was hailed and a new chapter in history emerged. After the disastrous upset of a false success the night before, when Mubarak appeared on television and called the Egyptian people his children, a pallid Omar Suleiman appeared the next night and said he was gone. Rejoice! Television presenters wiped tears from their eyes. The people danced in the streets. Finally – justice prevailed. Egypt was free! But what did that mean?

I was called a cynic immediately for not joining the rejoicing masses. Yet I’d been led on before. The election of Obama was supposed to herald a new age in progress and democracy and it has done nearly the opposite. Likewise, the day after Mubarak left office and the television cameras began to be shipped back home, the Egyptian military began a quiet bust-up of the few hundred protesters remaining in Tahrir Square who insisted with some confusion that their demands for democracy and a free society had not yet been made! The promises of the army to hold elections in September nearly echoed the ones made by Mubarak. Yet the people had cried for his resignation. Well, give the people what they want – but not what they really want. With so many slogans centered around one man, the dangerous possibility of the entire movement being co-opted by his name became a reality. With Mubarak gone, what was there left to complain about? You got what you asked for – now get back to work!

I still plan on traveling to Egypt in the coming weeks and will report back what I see, if these steps towards democracy – this outrageous show of the people’s power – have gained any wins towards alleviating the day-to-day situation of the Egyptian people.  I sincerely hope things have improved, yet it remains to be seen if the conditions of over 20 million living in slums on less than a dollar a day will have changed much. A social movement is only gauged in how it uplifts the lowest members in that society. I would hate for Mubarak to be right on this point. I sincerely hope the protesters were not simply the petit-bourgeois reacting to satellite television. I hope history sees February 11th as the first battle won in a broad people’s movement for actual change.

why egypt might in fact fail

To return to the Tunisian riot, it is very likely that it is itself going to continue – and divide itself – by proclaiming that the figure of power that it will put in place it is so disconnected from the popular movement that it no longer wants it. On what criteria, then, can we evaluate the riot? In the first place, the criteria must have a definite empathy towards the riot, this is an absolutely necessary condition. It’s negative power is recognised, a lamentable [honni] power that vanishes [effrondre] fully into its own image [symboles]. But what is affirmed? The Western press has already responded by saying that what was expressed their was a Western desire. What we can affirm is that a desire for liberty is involved and that such a desire is without debate a legitimate desire under a regime both despotic and corrupt as was that of Ben Ali. How this desire as such suggests a Western desire is very uncertain [plus problématique].

Alain Badiou, 19 January 2011

I told my friends Egypt was too big to fail – words heralding some sort of nasty bailout at any cost to the livelihood of the people whose “stake” was involved. I still believe Egypt is too big to fail. Western revolutionaries sit on the edge of their seats watching Al Jazeera, biting their nails because – as Badiou says – the end of history is not yet here! We can still take to the streets and enact change through revolutionary non-violent means – a million people in Tahrir square!

Yet, I am pessimistic. If Egypt can be salvaged as a client state of the West in any way, then it will be salvaged at any cost. Perhaps the poison has already entered the veins of the people as they choose to protest peacefully for the cameras, appealing to the Western mindset of nonviolence and peaceful flower-laden revolutions. They tweet, update facebook statuses, call in to radio and television shows… their message is united: Mubarak ETLA min Masr! They forget, though, that the Western news cycle is fickle. A manufactured win, like Mubarak offering to leave office in September,  will stand in for actual closure. A new story will rise up on the wave and – if conditions persist- Egypt will be forgotten in a month.

The Western media, accusing Obama now of “abandoning” Mubarak, is not abandoning the people of Egypt. CNN, FOX, etc raise the terrifying specter of Islamic fundamentalism, war with Israel (a big no-no!), and anti-American sentiments in Egypt. I intend to travel to Egypt myself in the coming weeks to prove this to be untrue and to see for myself what happens when democracy is betrayed.

Egypt is the lynchpin that holds the status quo of the Middle East in place. Our prisoners are tortured there, our oil goes through the Suez, and our catspaw Israel gets to lash out at whoever they like so long as Egypt holds a shaky peace. The West stood on uncertain feet at this strong show of displeasure and was careful to craft their responses, but their actions will speak louder than words when they install a new puppet more friendly to global economic interests at the end of 2011. Actions will speak louder than words when a new government just as friendly to Western interests is installed in Tunisia.

The one benefit of this whole exercise for the Western observer is that we have finally seen the face of hypocrisy and naked greed laid bare. Our propaganda slips and falls in a terribly undignified way with our response to Egypt. Yet this too may be forgotten in the coming weeks, as the news cycle turns over and over again, leaving the 79 million people of Egypt in the dust of the “end of history”.

sharia law is not a cultural practice

Too many in the West equate Sharia’ (the road or the way) law to cultural practices. This is incorrect and does a disservice to Islam. Islam and Sharia, after all, are systems that exist very separately from culture, if not antithetical to it. Islam came along in the time of Jahaliyyah, the dark ages of the Arabian peninsula where blood feuds were the way of law and women were treated as cattle and slaves, if not buried alive in the desert. Islam quickly raised up the status of women, children, and the poor in ways unrivaled by the West until less than a hundred years ago. In addition, Islam was an expanding religion and within a hundred years of Muhammad’s death it ruled nearly everything between the Himalayas and the Pyrenees. It’s success was partially due because it would seek to eradicate every injustice done in a system while leaving intact the aspects of culture deemed inoffensive. People kept eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, living their same lives … so long as everything was halal (acceptable in Islam). They kept their own languages and forms of art, their poetry and music, and the basic traditions that kept them whole as a distinct community. In this way, Islam was both throwing out the religions of the fathers while keeping that which made the world diverse. In the Quran it is even mentioned:

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (43:19)

Indeed, the diversity within the Islamic world – even today in the age of Saudi globalization – is truly breathtaking. However, just because these societies are Islamic in character – meaning, many of their population is Muslim – do not for a second think that Islamic societies represent Islam or Sharia. For instance, despite the fact that a staggering rate of Egyptian women have been vaginally mutilated, this is a practice frowned upon in Sharia’ and Islam, as women are supposed to feel pleasure during sex as a gift from God. Beating women and children is against the Sunnah (way of the Prophet) and suicide of any sort – including self-immolation and suicide bombing – is forbidden as well. Keeping women from leaving the house or learning to read, marrying off children to each other without consulting them at a proper age, and honor killings are all issues people in the West traditionally associate with Islam and Sharia’, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Sharia’ law is a legalistic school of philosophy based around the Qur’an, Hadith (sayings of the Prophet), and Sunnah. A very small percentage of the global Islamic community is qualified to make rulings on what Sharia’ is or what it entails, but it basically breaks down into being a set guideline for living life – issues like marriage, inheritance, contracts, etc. It is something designed to bring a set standard of justice to people all over the world, regardless of their culture. Sharia’ law and Islam in general respects the diversity of people and their cultures, but not at the expense of justice.