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Monday, February 07, 2011

On Egypt

The Revolution in Egypt has had me riveted to the screen. In a comical farce that extends what Aristotle ever could have imagined, we are seeing a confirmation from the west that democracy is only for the rich, the privileged and the few. Democracy is not something you can attain if you are an Arab for being from this ethnic background, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, makes you think with one single brain in theocratic fury directed at the west. The message is that Arabs are zombies who don't deserve to govern their own nation states, even when we're not invading them.

The last few days has seen the US' statements on a transition in Government amplified. We earlier saw Suleiman appointed as Vice President. With a background in aiding the CIA's rendition to torture programme, Suleiman is widely seen in Egypt as one of Mubarak's henchmen. We have seen undercover police whipping people on camels, a campaign clearly organized by Mubarak to intimidate, using techniques that are not uncommon in his undemocratic elections. We have seen many Egyptians killed, government intimidation of human rights organizations, the bullying and in some cases kidnapping of foreign journalists (including one from Fox News), the shut down of the internet and blockage of Twitter and Facebook, and reports are just coming in that around 1,300 people have been detained. They asked for democracy; what they received was the response of a repressive regime.

13 days in the people are still going. Most of the protesters are tiring. The strategy appears to be one of wearing them down. The US sent over their diplomatic envoy Frank Wisner, whose father oversaw the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran. Junior Wisner has shares in Egypt's largest bank and has worked for a company that represented Mubarak. He also has extensive ties to US companies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wisner came out in support of Mubarak, angering Egyptians and forcing the Obama administration to distance themselves, saying that they preferred a managed transition, no doubt to preferred candidate Suleiman. This is not to say that the approach is changing: sending Wisner to Egypt is akin to naming Tony Blair envoy for the Middle East Quartet (the UN, the EU, Russia and the US). It's not a situation likely to achieve much at best, one that will further antagonize and polarize at worst. As cultural philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues, we watch a bunch of 60 paid people standing around Saddam Hussein's statue cheering while the US tanks pulling it over are off camera and call it a victory, we watch a couple of million Egyptians risking their lives and we say they don't really want a change in Government. Arabs, we are told, really function best when they're repressed, beaten at elections and subjected to torture. So much so we are about to support a specialist in it as the new head of their state. And all this in the same week that George Bush can't enter Switzerland because they are making a case to prosecute him for torture.

We are told that their freedom is our bogeyman, that it will only pave the way for another Iran, an interpretation that blatantly ignores the facts of the situation and attributes too much weight to a minority group in order to whip up hysteria. The Muslim Brotherhood will take over, Egyptians are so stupid that after risking life and limb they will choose a regime that oppresses them but is anti-US and Israel. The only solution is surrounding Israel with autocratic regimes in order to encourage stability. These interpretations persist despite the fact that the Revolution is predominantly middle class, educated people, despite the fact that Egyptian political analysts continually repeat that this is a complete misunderstanding of the factions of Egyptian power, despite the fact that the protesters have continually repeated that this is not a religious revolution and we see Muslims hand in hand with Christians, despite the fact that there is a diversity in the way that different policies are enacted across the Arab world. Meanwhile the US publicly sends the message that they are able to lecture Egyptians on what constitutes democracy, when clearly they have little interest in instituting it in the region. We only need to look at the US' close relationships with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen to see that the US prefers autocratic regimes in the Arab world.

The question to all of us is clear: are we going to buy the red herring that we need to be terrified of religion and therefore should oppress an entire nation of people? If so, what is the difference between us and the autocrats we critique? Could the same argument be made about western civilization - if we are given democracy will we use it to uphold autocratic rules in other countries? Will we use it to torture people, to wage wars and oppress people in scenarios that, stripped of their inflammatory hysteria, really serve to line the pockets of a few?

I leave you with this piece from Tariq Ramadan and Slavoj Zizek on Al Jazeera:


At 7/2/11 1:12 pm, Blogger dave said...

Good that you relate the cultural critique to the lining of pockets, something that Zizek tends to forget.
Since 'they' won't give up their loaded pockets volunatarily, the Egyptians will have to take back what is theirs just as Zizek says the Palestinians will have to. This is not terrorism but justice.


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