Friday, February 4, 2011

Egyptian Democracy, American "Orientalism," part 2

"Here’s a child. He’s about five or six years old. He’s being fed yogurt by his mother. He’s bruised on the side of his face. I asked his mother what happened to him, and she said, 'He’s a revolutionary. He’s fighting for his future.'" - Sharif Abdel Khaddous reporting from Tahrir Square

Wednesday night, MSNBC featured several hours of coverage of the battle before dawn between democracy in the streets and the plain clothes police/thugs of the Mubarak tyranny. I am naming this in ordinary English; Rachel Maddow, when she came on, honorably did so, too. She talked about the protests in Tienamin Square in Beijing, the lone demonstrator – a heroic representative of many thousands of others – photographed standing before the oppressor’s tanks. And then she spoke of the erasure of memory, four Chinese students who believed that the regime was upholding order and did not know of this photograph (I say all this ignoring the differences between the Chinese revolution, which, once upon a time, was a vehicle for the standing up of ordinary people, including women, in China, but also sacrificed, an enormous cost, respect for the human rights of each individual and the commendable features of liberalism – see my Democratic Individuality, ch. 8 – and the Egyptian tyranny). Maddow also spoke of the democratic Green Revolution which the Iranian tyranny (having stolen an “election”) attacked with thugs and beat down. There, the movement was deeper than in China, the opposition, short of American bombing of Natanz, with the potential to surface again in the waves of democracy sweeping the Middle East. And Maddow spoke of how Mubarak had warned of “chaos” in the streets the night before as a prelude to sending out his thugs to whip and club nonviolent democrats – a thousand went to the hospital and at least 6 were murdered – and instigate “chaos” with the desperate aim of resurrecting tyranny. Maddow reportedly accurately and thus, chose the side of the revolution.

She also spoke to correspondent Richard Engel high up on a building in Cairo, who had been harassed by Mubarak’s vigilantes though sadly, that did not really clear his mind. She elicited that thugs had ridden into Tahrir Square on camels and horseback with whips and clubs. At two o’clock, they had led gangs – later when captured by democats, "gangmembers" had police identification or were government employees of Mubarak’s party paid a little money (Engel who had lived in Cairo spoke of how this was a normal tyrannical practice at “election” time; the National "Democratic" Party hired employee/thugs to intimidate and beat the opposition) - to attack journalists.

The thugs brutalized American - as Nick Kristof tweeted for the Times - and Arab reporters. See Kristof’s fine column here. Anderson Cooper of CNN had been surrounded, harassed, punched repeatedly. Last night, he reported from an unidentified place, in fear of being beaten again. An Al-Arabiya reporter had been beaten and taken to a prison for 4 hours. Ahmed Mahmud - another Al-Arabiya reporter - was murdered today.

Interviewed on BBC Friday night (the KGNU rebroadcast at 4:30), an Egyptian reporter, off work, taking medical supplies to Tahrir Square, with four others was threatened with murder by plainclothes cops (one leered at her and drew his finger across his throat), then taken to the "police" who were told that they were "foreigners," beaten and warned to stay away from Tahrir Square and to tell others. In addition, Mubarak has unsuccessfully tried to suppress Al-Jazeera (arresting 6 journalists). Omar Suleiman, the intelligence head and torturer-in-chief, new Vice President, and Obama's wished for transitional figure if Mubarak were to go into exile, spoke nastily of "foreigners." Appealing to anti-radical ideology - the false claim that the demonstrations are stirred up by foreign "outside agitators," Suleiman and the police/thugs made any reporting an enemy occupation.

Maddow correctly named this “the playbook of tyrants,” when the air has gone out of the tire (to put it in a corrupt Weberian idiom “the legitimacy has disappeared” – see Democratic Individuality, ch. 12; in a more apt but still inadequate Arendtian idiom, that violence – she means tyrannical violence - contrasts with democratic or people power (power that grows out of, expresses a common good). Such democratic revolutionary noncooperation is most easily, as she also does not say, nonviolent.

Despite the great help of Bush and Obama to the tyranny (bipartisan arming – mentioned by Maddow critically, as something she had just learned about, as well as by Brian Williams, who was courageously there (NBC anchors must do something these days to compete with cable), that “military to military” arrangements – every Egyptian officer has been trained in the United States of America – were somehow good, rather the nurturing the thugs who had kept the tyrant Mubarak in power for 29 years. These trainees probably include the leadership of the security forces; certainly, the police were armed with American weapons, tear gas, and the like. The war criminal Tony Blair, named “Bush’s poodle” by ordinary people who fought the US-British aggression in England, joined the chorus of Netanyahu and Judith Miller, reporting for Fox News – “Mubarak is good, Mubarak must stay.” Tyrants and lackeys of tyranny…

Maddow stood out. Poor Ed Schultz, often intelligent about domestic matters, wished everyone would just go home, and no one would be hurt. If the democrats had not fought to win Tahrir Square and driven out the thugs, as Engel initially noted happily at about 3 in the morning Egypt time, the tyranny would have won (the MSNBC reporters reported at last one Egyptian woman demonstrator, just a quote to this effect, in the four or so hours of coverage).

If one reads Andrew Sullivan’s blog, the commentary , following his pioneering work on the Iranian revolution, has also been good. Scott Horton also has a lively post attacking the regime. Intelligent conservatives oppose tyranny. But any one who uses her eyes can see that this is a great democratic revolution, inspiring the Arab people and every decent person in the world. It is in the tradition, as one Arab student said at the Korbel School, of 1989 in Eastern Europe. This is an epoch-making sunrise of democracy.

As Sharif Abdel Kaddous, the executive producer of DemocracyNow, born in Cairo and returning there for the revolution, put it from the big demonstrations this morning, Tahrir Square is the only safe place for journalists in Cairo. He was almost arrested coming back to the Square, but talked his way through the stop. Andrew Sullivan's coverage of Iran was good because he continually relied on tweets and emails from participants in the Green Revolution. The equivalents are mostly cut off in Egypt. Most American journalists like Richard Engel speak of what Egyptians "must think," talking to and reporting on few or none. But Kaddous speaks arabic and talks happily with Egyptians. His reports rely on participant voices (Nick Kristof of the Times does tell two days ago of two women who walked through the thugs, spoke firmly for democracy, went on into Tahrir Square (one assumes they spoke English; the thugs swiped the camera when Kristof tried to record the interview). DemocracyNow thus has the main coverage in America of what Egyptians actually think (Kaddous made it on to CNN two nights ago, but since he speaks a straightforward English as well as Arabic, they have not had him back). In addition, Kaddous tends to interview ordinary people even more than Al-Jazeera, which has New York Times and BBC-trained journalists. Listen to Kaddous here and here.

But democracy is afflicted by the ferocity of the elite - including the American elite. The top military benefit from their relationship with the war complex in the United States. In “The Military’s Gamble,” February 1, 9:18 AM, Patrick Appel offers a citation from Steven Cook about this:

"It is a tremendous relief that the military has declared that it will not fire on protestors, but also not unexpected. The Egyptian military is not the Syrian armed forces, which was willing to kill many thousands to save Hafiz al Assad in 1982. The officers have long regarded keeping Egypt’s streets quiet the “dirty work” of the Interior Ministry. Yet the declaration about restraint also has to do with internal military dynamics. There is a split in the armed forces between the senior command on the one hand and junior officers and recruits on the other who would refuse to fire on protestors. This has long been the Achilles heel of the Egyptian military. They senior people never know whether those people below them will follow orders. As a result, rather than risking breaking the army, the military will not use lethal force to put down the protests.”

There is a struggle from below within the army against the military elite. The higher officers dare not call the military to suppress the rebellion – hence the plainclothes thugs – because junior officers and soldiers might not obey and that would be the end of the generals.

As a further element of the locked-in reaction in the military elite, however, officers make corrupt secret incomes from this. Appel also says

“Matthew Axelrod takes on the same subject: Ironically, by withdrawing from politics, the military now is in a position to usher in new political leadership. However, doing so comes at personal financial risk. Senior military officers are believed to benefit handsomely from the revenues generated by military-owned corporations, private contracts with foreign companies, and post-retirement postings in the private and public sectors. General Ahmed Mohamed Shafik, former head of Civil Aviation and now Egypt's new Prime Minister, is the most prominent example. During my research in Cairo, foreign diplomats told me that Egyptian military officers regularly supplemented their incomes by receiving cash for routine military services, including Suez Canal passage. Some of those funds are believed to be held in Switzerland, where General Magdy Galal Sharawi, head of Egypt's Air Force from 2002-2008, currently serves as Ambassador. An accurate calculation of these activities is difficult to quantify, but they are systemic. We can assume that military officers are thinking about how the current crisis might affect their own livelihoods.”

The Guardian reports today that Mubarak has squirreled away $60 billion (that's right, billion) in the West and in fancy properties (his son has won of the most luxurious houses in London. H/t Ilene Cohen.

To defeat tyranny in Egypt will take not only this sunrise of democracy – the first 9 days of the revolution - but a long, complex class struggle from below. See here. Still people’s power stood out nonviolently even under attack. Rows 3-4 deep fought back from the center of Tahrir Square, drove out the thugs, and blocked the entryways. But nonviolent revolution, met with a thousand injuries and 6 deaths – and 300 murders previously – and not having a Badshah Khan in the lead (Gandhi’s Pathan ally who led 100,000 in the mountains to northwest – now Pakistan and Afghanistan – in nonviolent protest - – see here), did produce, during the evening, frustration and some violence (small groups) in self-defense. Engel suggested stupidly that Egyptians are known for order: you can leave your door open in Cairo; there is hardly any ordinary crime there. He just omits the “crimes” of being politically alive or simply alive – for which people were kidnapped and left in the desert without a wallet or cell phone or indefinitely imprisoned and tortured. If Mubarak was "order," what is chaos?

For these crimes, Mubarak’s security forces or police are hated, and had to disappear from the streets early in the revolution. They had to don a new garb as ordinary thugs, so that, Engel, poor dear, could describe them as “Egyptian” against Egyptian. The infamous Suleiman stigmatized Egyptians and newspeople as "foreigners," police as "Egyptians." The violent employees of a fallen tyranny are of course of the same nationality as those they murder and brutalize, but the mainly nonviolent, democratic demonstrations all over Egypt, demanding Mubarak leave, represent what is admirable in Egypt…

I have previously written of institutional lock in of corrupt policy choices and one of my students in Barcelona, Emily Bailey has creatively described Easter Island, a group of people who in building the huge stone statues, gradually destroyed the conditions for their lives in their envirornment, kept on doing it and perished (I reproduce the first paragraph of her paper below). Egypt has nothing to gain from keeping Mubarak or the infamous Suleiman whom Obama is angling to install as President. But the military/arms/meida (war complex) is strong, exercises gravity on the Egyptian branch. Such a transition would still be somewhat decent comparatively - a gradual move to what might be a kind of elite-dominated, weak democracy. But it would also be an incredible blow against the real revolutionaries, or as my friend Haider Khan calls it, deep democracy (one which expresses the will of, serves ordinary people). The movement from below needs to create a transition to parliamentary democracy - the Egyptians in the streets are the sole reason that Obama, as American President, is behaving somewhat decently - but more importantly, to develop its own leadership and discussions, debates, and action from below. In the continuing class conflict, it is this that the United States elite works overtime to destroy.

Even now, the leading feature of American coverage is, as Edward Said puts it, “Orientalism” (racism toward semites, including Jews – anti-semitism – as well as Arabs). Arabs (not to mention Jews), so this ideology runs, inherently tend toward violence and evil. They are incapable of creative thought (semitic langages being rigid according to, for example, the European “scholar” Renan) “Chaos” will thus reign among them unless there is an Oriental despot, a strong man, a Mubarak. All the war criminals say so – from Blair to Netanyahu to Bush.

Obama is trying to find a new course given this democratic explosion. Even the American Right – David Brooks citing the Project for a New American Century organizer, aggressor and advocate of torture and tyranny Bob Kagan,* who has been ironically campaigning against Mubarak (hoping the US might prepare for some limited democracy, say Suleiman, as well as effectively limiting democracy, in Egypt for months – is divided. Democracy at gunpoint – Kagan’s preferred “democracy” in Iraq – nonetheless, might, in the Egyptian case, give way to a quasi-serious parliamentarianism, But the main line of coverage in these four hours of MSNBC, even with Maddow’s intelligence, even with the beatings of Anderson Cooper and others, tended toward “chaos” and the need for Mubarak or another strong man like Suleiman.

Words matter. If is of cardinal significance that the enormous outburst of democracy among Arabs, the heroism of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and others, not be distorted by the American elite racism – “Orientalism” – which backs a strong man and provides a big market for American weaponry ($1.3 billion per year, all spent on Pentagon/companies). In this respect, Obama’s mentioning of the human rights of Egyptians who are peacefully assembling and that Mubarak must go (as Chomsky rightly said two days ago, he then got all vague about when) is a positive step. So is the State Department’s remark that journalists should not be beaten and tortured. Egyptian democrats have stood up and can settle their own affairs. Egyptians as opposed to Mubarak, Saudi Arabians as opposed to King Abdullah do not need to be armed to the teeth and oppressed by the American war complex.

One of the tragedies of Israel as a state founded on ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the first “transfer” (see Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine) is the adoption by Jews – ironically, since it is the same racist European and American coin toward Jews - of anti-semitism toward Arabs. Amira Hass who has long fought this kind of racism, points to the corruption of the Palestinian Authority – Abbas, too, called Mubarak to offer support – and its attempted suppression of democracy in the occupied territories. Rightly disturbed by the limitations of the Israeli left – though there have been protests of Jews as well as Arab Israelis in Tel Aviv and elsewhere – she paints too darkly a picture, for now, of the unity of Jews behind the regime (the latter will lead to the destruction of Israel if it is not defeated – see here). But she also rightly emphasizes the power of the potential revolt against the policies of occupation and the idea that Israelis might join Egyptians in thinking. Her work deserves broad circulation in the United States. She and some of her colleagues of Haaretz have the democratic spirit of the great revolt which is remaking the Middle East.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 by Haaretz (Israel)
When Israel's Protective Net of Tyranny Tears

We have not yet reached the stage in which the machinery of Israeli repression breaks up into its component parts - the people - who instead of obeying, begin to think.
by Amira Hass

There is a miraculous moment in popular uprisings, when fear of the machinery of repression no longer deters people in their masses and that machinery begins to unravel into its component parts - who are also people. They stop obeying and begin thinking.

Where is that moment for us? A group of Palestinian business people had discussed the possibility of joining the popular struggle in the villages near Ramallah against the separation fence. That was before the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The conclusion, a participant told me, was that they cannot allow themselves to take part in those activities because the very next day "Beit El" (the nickname for the Civil Administration, whose base is located near the eponymous settlement ) will revoke all the special passes that allow their businesses to exist. The experiences of others in similar circumstances (for example, senior Fatah officials who deigned to take part in a demonstration or two and had their VIP passes revoked) are enough to create the fear.

A machinery of repression depends not only on guns and torture in cellars. As the Soviet-bloc regimes proved, bureaucracy is central to the system. The same is true with us: Far from the barriers of transparency of a proper democratic society, Israel has created a complex and invisible bureaucracy that completely controls Palestinian freedom of movement, and hence freedom of employment, livelihood and studies, the freedom to fall in love and establish a family, to organize and other basic liberties.

Any regime that does not respect these liberties is automatically categorized as "tyrannical." We have escaped this categorization because in our case it is a collective tyranny of Israeli-Jews (those who profit from the system ) over the Palestinians {sic - such Jews also live in danger of killing and being killed in unjust wars and a brutal occupation and the encroachment of overt fascism over them at home; if they want to have a democratic Israel, they will need to follow Amira Hass and fight for it]. The representatives of this collective tyranny, which systematically harms the sanctity of ownership of the other and discriminates against the other, are admired army officers, well-spoken Defense Ministry officials, architects, contractors and others. But the freedoms do not care about categories; an entire people is still denied them.

The Israeli-made machinery of repression has learned how to manufacture a protective net in the form of the Palestinian Authority. It does all it can not to upset the order of things, so no match will be lit that blows up the mirage of economic prosperity and the construction of national institutions.
The picket line organized through Facebook in front of the Egyptian representative office in Ramallah on Sunday was broken up by the PA's security forces. The young man who initiated it was tracked down and detained for prolonged questioning. The Hamas regime is also afraid of matches. Some 25 people who organized through Facebook came on Monday to Gaza's Unknown Soldier Square to express support for the Egyptian people. They, too, were set upon by enthusiastic security people. Six women were arrested.

Sooner or later, the protective nets the Israeli tyranny has excelled at creating will tear. Will the masses flood the streets then, will they break through the barriers and roadblocks, march to Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Psagot, as my colleagues Akiva Eldar and Aluf Benn have predicted?
Let us not delude ourselves. There will be no confusion here.

Precise instructions, clear and immediate, will be given to the Israeli soldiers. The IDF of Operation Cast Lead will not give up its heritage. Even if it is a march of 200,000 unarmed civilians - the order will be to shoot. There will not be 10 dead, because the army of Cast Lead will want to outdo itself. We have not yet reached the stage in which the machinery of Israeli repression breaks up into its component parts - the people - who instead of obeying, begin to think.

© Copyright 2011 Haaretz

*Emily wrote: “In A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright provides an anthropological account of Easter Island. The residents of Easter Island believed that the construction of large stone statues, or moai, indicated religious dedication, and as such, would win favor with the gods. However, the perpetual development of these monuments required ongoing mining and clear-cutting, which drastically affected the island’s fragile ecosystem. Subsequently, agricultural output decreased, and widespread food shortages ensued. The community concluded that this misfortune could only be resolved through greater religious sacrifice, and as such, residents increased their commitment to the construction of the moai. Ultimately, this practice was so environmentally draining that the island became agriculturally unviable, and the population of Easter Island succumbed to starvation. Thus, their downfall was the result of resource mismanagement, subsequent environmental degradation, and unquestioned religious beliefs. Wright uses this account to exemplify ‘ideological pathology’, whereby communities embrace the relentless pursuit of a singular mode of behavior despite continued negative outcomes (Beyond One, 2010). Of relevance to this paper, the events on Easter Island strongly exemplify path dependence, by which collective decision-making processes are constrained by prior contingencies, thereby reinforcing suboptimal outcomes and obscuring policy alternatives. “

Though this indicates lock-in and self-destruction, the description of Easter Island seems weak. For the American case, it would be like saying anti-Arab racism alone is leading the US to destroy the world through war. The lock in here is of the war complex and $1.3 billion per year in weapons contract – not to mention the $60 billion in military equipment the US has just promised to provide to Saudi Arabia. The lock in is in the military training provided by the United States – in contrast to their not providing such training and thus, their much weaker situation with the Pakistan military/intelligence service which has fostered the Afghani Taliban. The lock in is with the corruption of Egyptian generals. The lock in is with what I have called the reactionary two-step of American politics – the authoritarian screamers of the Republican party always accuse the Democrats, no matter how belligerent (Obama has 5 wars and occupations, and counting) of being “soft” on communism or terrorism. Alternately, the Democrat John F. Kennedy defeated the red-baiter Nixon by redbaiting Eisenhower for ostensibly allowing “a missile gap” to open between the US and the USSR. The phallic imagery here, as recommended for instance by Sarah Palin (Obama’s not a real American, not a “tough guy”) is also what Harvey Mansfield has in mind in his unintentional amusing Straussian joke about Manliness.

**Kagan, William Kristol and Gary Schmitt (the last two Staussians, the former trained by Thomas Pangle, but who jokes about it (see his "I'm not a Straussian, at least I don't think I am" in the National Review a few years ago) put all that pressure on Clinton (Schmitt pointed out to me that Cheney did not sign the pre-Bush memoranda for aggression in Iraq, since he was still head of Halliburton, and "received pressure" from PNAC - this is like Charlie McCarthy declaring loudly his influence on Edgar Bergen - once Cheney had ascended...).

No comments:

Post a Comment