My enemy’s friend is… my ally

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 7.5/10 (2 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

In Egypt, both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood accuse each other of being American stooges while discreetly courting Washington.

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Monday 20th January 2014

The Egyptian revolution has overturned numerous pearls of traditional wisdom. By rising up in their millions against a corrupt and repressive leadership, Egyptians proved that they don’t believe “the eye should not rise above the brow,” that one should “keep out of harm’s way and sing to it,” or that “the door that brings in a draught should be shut tight for peace of mind.”

Not to be left out, the counter-revolution has also been redefining a number of ancient proverbs. No longer is the enemy of my enemy considered my friend. Rather, my enemy’s friend is, discreetly and surreptitiously, my ally. This paradoxical paradigm is nowhere more apparent than in the conflicting relationship of the two main competing factions – the military and the Muslim Brotherhood – with the United States.

According to prevalent Muslim Brotherhood mythology, the downfall of President Mohamed Morsi was engineered by an unholy alliance consisting of the Egyptian military, led by Morsi-appointed General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Washington, and Israel cast in worst supporting role.

When I visited the pro-Morsi, Raba’a al-Adawiya protest camp, which was murderously dispersed in mid-August, several of the protesters I spoke to were convinced that a US-Zionist conspiracy was afoot.

This was encapsulated in a poster which one of the protesters insisted on taking me to view, which featured Barack Obama, dressed as pharaoh, holding an al-Sisi dog on a short leash, with a Star of David bandanna round his neck.

Nevertheless, in a bizarre form of ideological dissonance, these same protesters were hostile towards local media and saw the Anglo-American press as their champions, with many calling on Washington and the West to take decisive action against the coup, and to reinstate Morsi.

And this contradictory position is not just one subscribed to by the Brotherhood’s rank and file. “America tried to abort the Egyptian revolution by spending $105 million on Egyptian and foreign organisations in a few months with the aim of causing chaos,” claimed Mahmoud Ghozlan, a member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council and the movement’s official spokesperson in Arabic.

Yet while in power, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood cosied up to Washington, as well as American and Western public opinion. “Contrary to the Brotherhood’s anti-American slogans, Morsi’s priority was to maintain good relations with Washington,” an Egyptian diplomat said.

And devoid as the Muslim Brotherhood proved of actual policies, despite decades of sloganeering and posturing, Morsi’s foreign policy “simply copied the Mubarak regime”, as one Egyptian analyst put it.

This keenness to please Washington was reflected in the Morsi government’s mediation of the military confrontation between Israel and Gaza in November 2012. This earned the former president plaudits from the United States, which he seemed to have interpreted as a green light to grant himself “absolute power”.

This has, of course, been fodder for the Muslim Brotherhood’s enemies. In a similar fashion to their Islamist opponents, pro-military Egyptians allege that it is Morsi, not al-Sisi, who is an American agent.

Some also subscribe to some pretty outlandish conspiracy theories that come straight out of the “Birther” handbook. For example, it is rumoured in some Egyptian circles that Barack Obama is a secret Brotherhood member and that the 2012 presidential elections were rigged, at the behest of Washington, in favour of Morsi.

And, according to this viewpoint, the conspiracy is far from over, as reflected by the controversy over statements made by former US ambassador to Cairo, Anne Patterson. One lawyer has even gone so far as to file a complaint against Morsi’s wife, alleging that she is conspiring with the American administration to topple al-Sisi and sow sedition and terrorism in Egypt.

It is ironic that supporters of the institution which benefits from the greatest US support – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid annually – should cry conspiracy in this way.

Awareness of this contradiction could be partly behind the calls issued by Tamarod – the youth-led movement, whose name translates as Rebellion, which spearheaded the anti-Morsi protests – to reject American military aid.

At a deeper level, what is behind this paradox of “my enemy’s friend is my ally”?

One undeniable factor is America’s own behaviour. Although the US talks the talk when it comes to democracy, freedom and self-determination, Washington often walks roughshod over these principles when it considers its “vital interests” are at stake.

In Egypt’s case, that manifested itself in Washington’s longstanding support for malleable dictators, including Hosni Mubarak, and Anwar al-Sadat before him. Since the 2011 uprising, the Obama administration has tended to prefer “stability” over principle, weighing in behind the country’s strong man of the moment, whether it is Mubarak, Morsi, Field Marshal Tantawi or General al-Sisi.

Domestically, the instability and uncertainty that has reigned over the past three years has laid fertile ground for the emergence of conspiracy theories. Moreover, for their own historical reasons, both the secular and Islamist movements have striven to rid Egypt of foreign influence, whether it was Ottoman, British, Soviet or American.

This took off in earnest with another revolution almost a century ago, led by Egyptian centrist and rightist liberals, mainly al-Wafd. Not long after, Hassan al-Banna set up the Muslim Brotherhood, also to counteract British influence, but shunning al-Wafd’s secular liberalism in favour of conservative Islam. For leftists, the benchmark for secular, pan-Arabist independence was, at least ostensibly, set by Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who spearheaded the 1952 revolution/military coup.

However, for all three streams, aspirations for complete sovereignty became tempered by realpolitik, and the realisation that any regime has a relatively low chance of survival without Washington’s blessing. Despite this, it remains politically expedient to cast aspersions that America is your enemy’s friend while, simultaneously, discreetly courting Washington as an ally.

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 13 January 2014.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 7.5/10 (2 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)

Related posts

Egypt’s underground sisterhood

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

Egyptian women are under attack from a failing patriarchy. But what is overlooked is that they are fighting back through grassroots emancipation.

10 September 2013

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Surveying Egypt’s political landscape, you might be excused for thinking that women are a minority. Only five members of the Committee of 50 tasked with revising the constitution are women.

Unsurprisingly, this 10% ratio falls far short of the true proportion of the population women constitute, which in Egypt is just shy of 50%. Although women are politically under-represented everywhere in the world, in Egypt, the problem is particularly acute, as reflected in the pathetically low number of women in the first post-Mubarak (dissolved) parliament.

Egyptian women have been divided on how unfair this is. The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights – which advocates the use of quotas to balance the gender disequilibrium in Egyptian politics – criticised this “lean” representation, which is only 3% higher than the committee formed during the Muslim Brotherhood-led constitution drafting exercise.

Others have drawn consolation from the apparent quality of the women involved. But no matter how high the calibre or how strong the mettle of these five women, can they truly advance the cause of female emancipation and gender equality?

Of course, that is probably the entire point. Male politicians generally want to preserve male privilege, and excluding women from the political process is the most effective way of doing so. That would explain why the draft constitution still claims that all Egyptians are created equal, but some – namely middle-aged, Muslim men – are more equal than others.

So, while Article 11 ostensibly guarantees gender equality, much of what it giveth, it taketh away with the qualification that this should not get in the way of a woman’s “duties towards her family” and should adhere to the “principles of Islamic Sharia”.

Although many women and advocates of gender equality are rightly depressed and demoralised by these developments, I feel this post-revolutionary conservative backlash is less a function of the patriarchy flexing its muscles and more a sign of a weakened traditional male order desperately trying to reassert its shaken and failing authority.

With Egyptian women increasingly equalling and even surpassing men in the academic and professional spheres over the past few decades, the patriarchy has sought to hold on to the vestiges of its ever-shrinking spectrum of privilege and to control women in the only areas left: at home and sexually.

This manifests itself in how many Egyptian women may be managers or doctors in the public sphere, but at home they still have to behave like, or pretend to be, obedient housewives. It is also embodied in the excessive focus on “virtue” in which women have traded greater socio-economic freedom for ostensibly less sexual freedom, again at least openly.

This can partly explain the horrendous level of sexual violence that has been witnessed since the revolution began. The security vacuum created by the collapse of the Mubarak regime not only enabled men with sick attitudes to women to roam the streets with relative impunity, it also unleashed the use of sexual violence as a political weapon to intimidate women from joining the uprising.

This weapon of mass degradation has been employed to varying degrees by Egypt’s various leaders over the past two and a half years, from assaults and rapes on Tahrir Square to “virginity tests”.

Although this has succeeded to some extent, many women have refused to be cowed and admirably still continue to play prominent roles in Egypt’s revolution, both for collective freedom and their own. Women have even braved further assault to protest against sexual harassment, while a number of campaigns have been launched to protect women attending demonstrations, such as OpAntiSh, and to monitor and combat the phenomenon, such as HarassMap.

One recent attempt to reclaim the streets, ‘Hanelbes Fasateen‘, urged women to go out in dresses in defiance of harassers. Using old black-and-white images of elegant young Egyptian women in summer dresses strolling unharassed down the street, the campaign employed a certain amount of nostalgia for a lost Egypt of greater social freedom.

Once upon a land in a time not so far away, the overwhelming majority of Egyptian women went around with their hair uncovered and many dressed in revealing western fashions. Interestingly, in the 1950s, even the daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood’s general guide, who wanted to force all Egyptian women to cover up, did not wear a headscarf.

While there is some validity to this sense of loss, there is a danger of over-sentimentalising the past, Although Egypt until the late 1970s was freer in some ways than now, in others, it was just as conservative or even more so.

Egypt’s modernising secular elite may have seen female emancipation as a crucial component of development and progress, but wider society was still largely traditional and agrarian. This meant that modernity was often fabric deep and did not extend far beyond the emulating of the latest Western fashions.

Women of my parents’ generation were still making the first tentative steps into higher education and the workplace, with all that entailed of battles against entrenched traditionalism. In contrast, today, despite increasingly conservative attire, Egyptian women have succeeded in just about every walk of life. Moreover, young women have plenty of role models to look up to, and female education and employment is taken for granted by millions.

Unsurprisingly, liberal Egyptian women want to protect what hard-won gains, relatively few and precarious as they may be, the feminist movement has made, and to try to build on them. However, they have to contend against not only the reactionary voices of Islamists and other conservatives, but also against those sympathetic to their cause who claim now is not the time, we have bigger fish to fry.

But if not now, when, if ever? Never? Since the 1919 revolution, Egyptian women have shared the pain of the struggle for freedom but have reaped few of the gains. Instead of being rewarded for their sacrifices, they have seen their cause constantly relegated, in the battle against imperialism, neo-colonialism, dictatorship, etc.

In addition, the West hasn’t helped by exploiting women and their cause to mask its hegemonic ambitions in the region, which has enabled Islamists to smear female emancipation as a “Western import” designed to tear apart the fabric of society.

While there may be some credibility to the notion that women cannot be free if the rest of society is not, I believe the inverse is far more true: society cannot free itself if half of the population lives in relative subjugation. A country wishing to prosper, resist internal repression and foreign domination cannot do so without gender equality.

As prominent feminist Nawal El Saadawi recently put it: “Democracy means economic equality, social equality – you cannot have democracy under a patriarchy when women are oppressed.”

In fact, the subjugation of women is partly a product of these ills – when politics is closed off to the masses, the vulnerable suffer. Moreover, the Ottomans, the British and Egypt’s domestic tyrants had an unspoken hierarchy of repression: the elite runs the public domain while men will run the private sphere.

This means that Egyptian revolutionaries looking to free society cannot postpone women’s liberation to an undefined “better” future, but need to make it a central and integral pillar of the collective struggle for “bread, freedom and social justice”.

More importantly, with the Muslim Brotherhood project discredited by Morsi’s presidency and its divisive politics, many Egyptians are questioning their former faith in Islamism. This provides a golden opportunity to advocate more muscularly for women’s rights.

Sadly, this seems unlikely in the political mainstream, which will continue to exclude not just women but also the young for some time to come. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that Egyptian women are not taking this passively and are engaging in grassroots action to change their reality.

Though pioneering Egyptian women lack the safety net of a progressive legal system which safeguards their rights against regressive traditions, they are not waiting for their rights to trickle down from on top.

Every time I have visited Egypt since the revolution, I have been impressed by the increasing number of women I encounter who are defying social norms to live their individual and collective aspirations. These range from the political activists who risk life and limb for the cause to the growing number of women who pursue unusual careers, travel abroad or defer being married off (sometimes indefinitely).

When I first decided to live alone in the Cairo of the 1990s, this was unusual even for young men to do. When I was in Egypt a few weeks ago, I was impressed by the surprising number of women who are choosing to live alone.

And not all of them are from the “elite”. One young woman I met was born and raised in a small, conservative village outside Fayoum. University enabled her to escape the stifling atmosphere of rural Egypt. Not only does she live in her own apartment in Cairo, she has worked in China and the Gulf.

“The status of women has deteriorated a lot,” she admitted. “If the civil [Egyptian for ‘secular’] current gets its way, things will get better. I hope to one day see the first female president.”

While such an aspiration seems like wishful thinking today, I believe that it is entirely possible as grassroots change climbs gradually upwards. After all, if the Islamist counter-culture of the 1970s managed to mainstream its values, why can’t the secular current do the same? Political revolution needs social evolution.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the updated and extended version of an article which first appeared in The Daily News Egypt on 7 September 2013.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)

Related posts

Egypt’s popular peace front

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

With the prospect of reconciliation a long way off and to prevent civil war, Egyptians need to form a united front against  all political violence.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Even from a distance, the unfolding tragedy in Egypt has a nightmare quality. Once upon a time, the only danger I associated with Egypt was the risk of getting run over crossing a busy thoroughfare. In fact, after moving to Egypt from the UK as a teenager, I used to wonder how Egyptians managed to avert violence so effectively.

Today mundane Cairo landmarks I’ve long been familiar with have been transformed into urban battlegrounds, with gunfire shattering people’s hopes and aspirations. And for what? So that some men who believe they should rule Egypt because they have God on their side can struggle for control of the state with other men who run Egypt because they have guns by their side.

As part of this supposedly existential battle, in the khaki corner, the country’s self-described guardians, defenders and uber-patriots have decided to fight terror with greater terror, tried to shoot down ideas with bullets, and massacred hundreds of unarmed citizens exercising their democratic right to protest, ostensibly to protect democracy.

People whom I had admired for their belief in freedom, their tenacity in keeping the revolution going and their one-time opposition to both the army and the Islamists terrify me with their newfound admiration for Egypt’s tormentors for the past 60 years and their glorification of all the blood-letting.

In the green corner, men who claim they are not afraid to do the Lord’s work and have decided vengeance is theirs and not His, have been marauding through the streets, firing their guns, burning churches and generally terrorising the population to the extent that, for the first time in 2.5 years, Egyptians have actually heeded a curfew and stayed indoors. With Brothers like that, who needs enemies?!

Caught in the crossfire are millions of ordinary Egyptians who have been compelled to choose sides and buy into the existential narrative. Otherwise sensible and rational people have been defending the indefensible with a troubling passion.

The word “terrorists” is rolling far too easily off too many lips. Although I saw many people I disagreed with in the Raba’a encampment while I was in Egypt recently, I didn’t see one who would make even a passable impersonation of a “terrorist”, even though I had been concerned by reports that thugs there were detaining and beating up Egyptian journalists.

That is not to say there weren’t arms there. It is possible there were, but they were very well-hidden out of sight and none of the protesters I saw carried weapons. So this much is clear to me, the vast majority of the demonstrators were peaceful. Which begs the question: why was their encampment forcibly uprooted and so many murdered so brutally?

In the spirit of democracy and freedom, should they not have been left there to express their views freely? In fact, simply leaving them there was actually in the regime’s advantage, since it revealed just how limited the support for the Muslim Brotherhood actually was, and it was dissipating by the day.

In addition, letting the Brothers participate in the political game not only made good principles, it also made good sense. In opposition, they had the lifeline of untested mystique. In mainstream politics, they got the rope to hang themselves in a noose fashioned from their incompetence fanaticism and factionalism.

Even if the protests needed to be disbanded, what happened to the smarter ideas of only allowing people out and not in, or of cutting off supplies? Surely, going in with literally all guns blazing was the dumbest of all the available options. As is the current talk of banning the Brotherhood, which is both unprincipled and unsound, because driving the movement underground would make it far more dangerous than leaving it out in the open.

On the other side of the fence, even moderate supporters of Morsi and the Brotherhood also defend the indefensible. The Muslim Brotherhood’s stubborn refusal to compromise, despite having been the ones who originally compromised the revolution by agreeing to be the army’s fig leaf in order to get their bums on the seats of power, is everyone’s fault but theirs. Morsi and his Brothers’ anti-democratic, authoritarian behaviour – as well as the movements’ democratic discourse abroad and its autocratic Shari’a discourse at home – are really just democracy in disguise, or under a veil, these supporters posit.

Months of threats and incitements against the anti-Morsi population, not to mention the sudden appearance of a substantial arsenal of weapons, including machine guns, and the willingness to use them, have been excused and downplayed. But if they truly do care about their fellow Muslims and believe we’re all brothers, why are they doing their damnedest to push the country towards civil war?

Some have even gone so far as to blame the torching of churches up and down the country on the victims themselves, the Copts, a largely vulnerable and powerless minority that has been, in recent years, held hostage by an increasingly muscular and exclusionary Islamist discourse.

And how exactly was it their fault? Because of their involvement in the 30 June protests and their alleged role in toppling Morsi. Never mind that the vast majority of the millions who came out against the deposed president were Muslims, many even former Brotherhood supporters and voters.

Even amid this ugliness, there have been moments of utter, tear-jerking beauty, such as the Muslims who have come out in force, again, to protect local churches with human shields of decency, respect and love, just as Christians protected Muslim worshippers during the 2011 revolution. Or the drawing by a Christian girl of a worried mosque comforting a weeping church.

Nevertheless, in such an atmosphere of distrust, hatred and recrimination, there is a lot of pressure to take sides – and that appears to be exactly what the military and the Brotherhood want. And in this clash of the Titans, it is ordinary people who get crushed underfoot and die so that two competing elites can live. In fact, judging by the carnage, both the military top brass and the Brotherhood’s leadership have a wanton disregard for the lives of Egyptians.

What are Egyptians with a conscience supposed to do in such an atmosphere? Which side should those of us who believe in humanity take when both sides behave so inhumanely? How can we save Egypt from these dark forces?

Even though I usually sit on the sidelines and reflect, if I were in Egypt right now, I would be possessed with an urge to go out on the streets, even if on my own, chanting, “Not in my name”, neither the military nor the Brothers. “Human wrongs can never be human rights.” “No more killing in the name of nationalism or God.” It is hight time for sensible Egyptians – the silenced and intimidated majority who toppled three authoritarian leaders in their quest for bread, dignity and social justice – to take a side: the side of justice and humanity.

However, I realise that many Egyptians don’t want to “sit on the fence”, as they see it, which is the easy option. Personally, I see it as the more difficult one, and is akin to standing in the no-man’s-land separating two armies and shouting, “Don’t shoot!” But partisan or not, one thing all Egyptians should agree on is that violence must be rejected, and the only way out of this impasse is through peaceful means… Or a hell like Syria’s potentially awaits us, and none of us wants Egypt to become a magnet for foreign jihadists or a state-run slaughterhouse.

To avert this, we need to form a united front against violence, whether committed by Islamists or the state. This could include a Friday of Peace, a silent march to mourn all the dead and fallen, no matter who they were, and to reject all forms of violence, no matter the justification, as well as regular protests against atrocities committed by all sides.

Egyptians of all backgrounds should take to the streets to make clear that, though they may disagree fundamentally with one another, they will only defend their beliefs peacefully. People must make clear that they believe in the preciousness of every human life, and in the pragmatic, life-saving, once thoroughly Egyptian notion of live and let live.

The era of artificial national unity is over. But we don’t need to be a unified nation to prosper, and aspirations to becoming a single hand have tended to lead to a crushing, stifling, conformist hegemony. Divided we can also stand tall and strong, if we agree to disagree and accept that the way forward is compromise and consensus, not winner takes all.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the updated and extended version of an article which first appeared in The Daily News Egypt on 19 August 2013.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)

Related posts

Egypt’s clash of freedoms

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

By Khaled Diab

Events in Egypt are not just a conflict between Islamists, secularists and the military. It is a fundamental clash over conflicting ideas of “freedom”.

Friday 26 July 2013

The millions of anti-Morsi protesters who flooded the streets across the country were out to oppose what they saw as a dictator-in-the-making who was robbing them of their freedom, even going so far as to call upon the curtailer of their freedom for six decades, the military, to intervene.

Morsi sympathisers, who have risked life and unpopularity to camp out in support of their president, also believe that they, too, are fighting for freedom.

Is this simply sloganeering and rhetoric or can both sides simultaneously be defending freedom?

On the anti-Morsi side, though the sheer scale of the calls for his ouster made him lose what was left of his shaky democratic legitimacy, not to mention his credibility, the behaviour of many since has been cynical and troubling. There are those who sing the praises of the army, even as the military manoeuvres to dominate and neuter another “transition”, and others cheer at the arbitrary arrests of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members, forgetting that they could be next… again.

But the ultimate cynics in this drama have been the Brotherhood. After a year spent knocking out the teeth of what little democratic freedom Egypt had, Morsi’s supporters now cry “democracy”. By deftly switching a single letter, their traditional rallying cry of Sharia has now morphed intoshariya, or legitimacy. And they manage to keep a straight face while accusing the opposition of chumming up with the military, even though they spent the past two years ingratiating themselves to the generals while leaving the rest of the country to get on with the business of revolution.

More infuriatingly, and worryingly, while they engage in an apparently rational discourse with the outside world about democratic legitimacy and due process, it is an entirely different matter with their loyalists. Forget about democratically elected, Mohamed Morsi was actually divinely selected.

A preacher associated with the Brotherhood told pro-Morsi supporters that visions had confirmed that the angel Gabriel had visited their encampment at Rabaa Al-Adaweya and that the prophet Muhammad himself had stood aside for Morsi to lead prayers.

This cult-like devotion, in which the will of the people is trumped by the will of the anointed, will convince many Egyptians that getting rid of Morsi was the right thing. But such incidents should not be used to tarnish every Islamist with the same brush.

There are plenty, especially among the younger, more liberal wing of the Brotherhood who truly believe in democracy. That is why they broke away and joined the revolution, while their elders insultingly told Egyptians that it is their “duty” to obey their ruler, even if he was a tyrant. It is also why many young (former) members are distancing themselves from the movement today.

Moreover, beyond this cynical power tussle, there is a deeper struggle over values, a clash between conflicting conceptions of “freedom”. The revolutionary Tahrir model of democracy is a grassroots one in which the people become their own masters, without dictators, generals or religious authorities, and in which freedom is both inclusive and individual, where the leaders are actually the followers of the people’s will.

In contrast, the Brotherhood has always taken a paternalistic, collective view to “freedom”. Even though the movement has evolved from an early disdain and hostility towards democracy to adopt many trappings of secularism and an increasingly democratic discourse, with its continued ideological focus on the Islamic world as a whole, the Brotherhood’s idea of freedom is to “liberate” the Umma, and not to empower individual choice.

Of course, that does not mean that the Brotherhood would have abandoned “democracy”. But the framework they favoured seemed to be one loosely based on the Iranian model in which the people get to go to the ballot box every four years to choose a figurehead president and a toothless parliament, while a group of elders and betters decides the real affairs of state.

The Brotherhood’s holier-than-thou attitude to Egyptian society is reflected in everything from the theories of its main intellectuals and its ossified internal hierarchy to how Morsi seemed to be the president of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau rather than “of all Egyptians”, as he promised in his inaugural speech.

It was also evident in how his 12 months were spent not in addressing Egypt’s myriad practical crises, but mainly in trying to consolidate the Brotherhood’s grip on power, engaging in identity politics and setting in place the ideological and legal groundwork for an Islamic state.

Morsi appointed loyalists and allies to prominent positions, such as lapdog prosecutor general Talaat Abdallah, jokingly known as the president’s “personal lawyer” and “private prosecutor”, who, among other things, targeted anti-Islamist activists and the judiciary. He also expended every effort to raise the prominence of Sharia in the constitution and to give the state the power to act as the people’s moral guardian, including suspending democracy altogether last November to pass through this controversial founding document.

That Egypt’s Big Brother so fiddled while Egypt burned has struck many Egyptians as psychotic. But when viewed through the Brotherhood’s ideological prism and when you apply the movement’s closed-circuit logic, Morsi’s irrational behaviour makes much more sense.

One of the Brotherhood’s founding myths and fundamental articles of faith is that the weakness of Egypt, and Muslims in general, in the contemporary world is not due to a complex interplay of political, economic, social, historical and political factors but is simply a symptom of moral decadence and so the sooner Egyptians return to the “straight path” and adopt the Quran as their constitution, the better.

Like rightist, back-to-roots, supremacist movements around the world, the Brotherhood’s simplistic, reductionist diagnosis worked just fine to win them support when they were untested in opposition. But when faced with the realities of running a real country, their ideology was found seriously, troublingly and disastrously wanting.

It would be unfair to single out the Brotherhood, as paternalism is not alien to the Egyptian political landscape. Not only did Mubarak patronisingly regard all Egyptians as his sons and daughters, but the Egyptian military has, for the past six decades, treated the population like errant children, not responsible citizens, starting with the fateful decision not to hand over power to a democratically elected civilian government within three years of the 1952 revolution/coup.

Similar to the Islamists, the army sees itself as the protector of a number of fundamental freedoms. In addition to safeguarding Egypt’s freedom from foreign occupation, the military sees itself as the ultimate guarantor of Egyptians’ social freedom and safety, not to mention what it regards as the nation’s collective dignity.

And, despite the military’s miserable track record in suppressing political freedoms, its more relaxed attitude to social freedoms is one vital factor behind the 30 June mass revolt. Egyptians had risen up in 2011 to increase the sum of their freedoms but were then gripped by the fear that, in return for a notional, nominal ‘democracy’, they would fail to gain political freedom and lose the social freedoms they once enjoyed.

This is perhaps best illustrated by rewinding back to the 1950s when Gamal Abdel Nasser and his fellow free officers established a single-party socialist state which restricted political freedom severely, but strove, in words if not in deeds, to maintain the values of equality between all Egyptians, solidarity, social and economic justice and freedom of belief. Of course, back then, there was also an element of collective freedom, but it was class-based and anti-colonial, rather than faith-based.

In terms of social freedom, the 1953 constitutional declaration not only made no mention of Islam, it also declared that “freedom of belief is absolute”, something that is almost unthinkable in the current political climate. The 1956 constitution does mention Islam as “the religion of the state”, but when read in the context of the document as a whole, it seems like a descriptor of the majority situation rather than an article of faith, but makes no mention of Sharia.

This is reflected in the intellectual climate of the time which often expressed a clear disdain for religion and tradition as holding progress back, and in how some writers and artists openly rejected faith or questioned it in their works. It is also visible in how almost all Egyptian women, empowered by the constitution if not by society, did not cover their hair and in how Nasser refused the Brotherhood’s demands to impose the hijab.

So we are left with something of a paradox. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Egypt had a modernising political elite trying to drag a largely traditional population towards their vision of modernity. In the 21st century, we have a traditionalising elite trying to drag a modernising population back to their vision of tradition. And in both cases, the sum of all freedoms enjoyed by the people adds up to not enough.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The Daily News Egypt on 18 July 2013.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Related posts

‘If we go away… but if you stay’ – a duet by the Egyptian army and people

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

In a classic political duet, General Sisi sings ‘If we go away’, while the Egyptian people respond with ‘If you stay’.

Saturday 13 July 2013


‘If we go away’, by General Sisi

If we go away, on this Arab Spring day

Then we’ll take all your sunshine away

Yes, if you stray, we’ll make you pay

Like no people have paid, or will pay again

But if we stay, we’ll make you a day

Like no day has been or will be again

If we go away, don’t make us go away, we will stay

‘If you stay’, by the Egyptian people

But if you stay, on this Arab Spring day

You’ll turn it to winter, all miserable and grey

But if you go, we’ll make our own way

Like free people have, and will do again

We’ll bask in the sun, and endure the rain

We’ll forge our own fate, with our own hands

Don’t leave it too late, before you understand

The army and people are not a ‘single hand’

If you stay, we’ll tell you, go away, go away, go away

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Related posts

Nawal El Saadawi: “I am against stability. We need revolution.”

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Nikolaj Nielsen

Renowned author and feminist Nawal El Saadawi believes that her fellow Egyptians “must pay the price for freedom”.

Thursday 11 July 2013


Imprisoned by former president Anwar Sadat, exiled by Hosni Mubarak, and hated by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, 81-year old dissident and feminist Nawal El Saadawi still sees hope for an Egypt free from the clutches of religious and military rule.

“We will never allow a military government rule or a religious Islamic rule, never,” she told me in Brussels on Wednesday (10 July).

Nawal El Saadawi in Brussels. Photo: ©Nikolaj Nielsen

An avid campaigner for women’s rights in a society deeply ingrained with patriarchal values, Saadawi was a director in the ministry of health in the 1960s working to stop female circumcision.

Her campaign for women’s rights continued, despite her being jailed in 1981 over her publications.

Released two months after the assassination of then-president Anwar Sadat, she fled Egypt in 1988 following numerous threats against her life.

“Democracy means economic equality, social equality – you cannot have democracy under a patriarchy when women are oppressed,” she said.

The liberation of women from religious and patriarchal doctrines is a common theme in her numerous novels, plays, short stories and non-fiction books, some translated into 30 different languages.

Upon her return to Egypt in 2009 after a three-year exile for a play she wrote, Saadawi moved to set up the Egyptian Women’s Union, which she formed at Tahrir square in January 2011.

“I was trying all my life to organise women and so, two years ago, we started the Egyptian Women’s Union. Fifty percent of our members are young men who are progressive and non-patriarchal,” she noted.

Both the United States and Europe can keep their aid, she says, noting that their conditions have condemned Egypt to poverty, submission, and misery.

“The free market is not free, it is only free for the powerful to exploit the weak,” she noted.

Saadawi describes governments in the US and in Europe as capitalist, patriarchal and theocratic systems that promote class oppression.

The EU, for its part, handed over approximately €1 billion in aid to Egypt from 2007 onwards.

But a report published by the European Court of Auditors in June said corruption and lack of accountability squandered funds paid directly to the Egyptian authorities.

The court said women’s and minorities’ rights were not given sufficient attention despite the critical need for urgent action to counter the tide of growing intolerance.

“The whole philosophy of the world, capitalism, patriarchy, and religions – we are still living in the post-modern slave system,” she said.

As for the Americans, Saadawi says they buy influence over the Egyptian military elite, which is complicit in forging a false sense of stability for Israel’s benefit.

“Revolution came out in the streets because we are fed up with poverty. We are forced into poverty by US aid. US aid increased poverty in Egypt,” she noted.

On Thursday (11 July), the US approved the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt despite the political unrest in the country.

The planes are set for delivery in the next few weeks.

Not a military coup

Despite her criticism of US-Egyptian-military scheming, Saadawi describes the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood, their arrests, and forced isolation by the army as part of an ongoing revolution to establish a civil secular society based on social justice.

The deposition of Egypt’s fifth president Mohamed Morsi is not a military coup, she insists.

She said the army was initially reluctant to intervene, but armed Muslim brothers forced their hand in a revolution that has yet to see its final outcome.

“I heard women and children screaming because of the bullets and blood oozing on Tahrir square and people were saying where is the army?” she said.

With Morsi out, Saadawi says there is now a greater chance to put in place a secular constitution where everyone is equal, regardless of religion, gender or class.

“We must write this constitution before any election,” she said.

But the task ahead is fraught with difficulties.

On Wednesday, an arrest warrant was issued for the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, for inciting violence in a speech that saw thousands take to the streets.

Nine other warrants on the leadership were also issued.

Critics say the arrests risk usurping the interim government’s plan for national unity.

Saadawi, for her part, dismisses the warning.

National unity, she says, will come from a fiercely independent and free-thinking younger generation.

“I am against stability. We need revolution. We need to move ahead and pay the price for freedom,” she said.


Follow Nikolaj Nielsen on Twitter.

This article first appeared on EUobserver.comIt is published here with the author’s consent.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Related posts

A manifesto for Egypt’s future

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

By Khaled Diab

As Egypt risks another disastrous transition, it is time to create a unique model for Egyptian democracy. No president, no parties, direct democracy.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

The past few days in Egypt have been filled with tension, uncertainty, ever-greater polarisation, growing violence and recrimination. The army’s handling of pro-Morsi protests, its arrest of leading  Muslim Brotherhood members and the killing of dozens of protesters is reprehensible and must be condemned unequivocally by all Egypt’s political and revolutionary forces.

Some have seen in the army’s disproportionate actions and excessive use of force confirmation of the gross miscalculation and hypocrisy of Egypt’s opposition and revolutionary forces by backing the forcible removal of Egypt’s “legitimate” and “democratically elected” leader.

But I see the army’s actions and the clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi supporters not as the product of political legitimacy undermined but as a symptom of illegitimacy compounded until the entire house of cards came tumbling down.

Morsi, as I argued in my previous article, lost any claims to legitimacy that he may have once had. But the problem runs much, much deeper than that. Egypt’s botched transition towards democracy excluded or sidelined most of the revolutionary youth movements due to restrictive and prohibitive conditions for party formation, which favoured the established and highly organised, such as the Brotherhood.

Over and above this, the transitional constitution was seriously flawed, as was the idea that Egypt’s new constitution should be drafted by parliament. This left Egypt in a ‘cart before the horse’ situation, in which the race was being run before the rules had been set. More importantly and surreally, the players, especially those on the winning side, were given the chance to write their own rules.

This, as critics pointed out, would favour whoever managed to come out on top in parliament and would enable them to load the rules of the game in their own favour. And so it came to bear, and the Brotherhood and Salafis created a document which declared that all Egyptians were “equal” but some Egyptians – middle-aged, conservative Muslim men, to be precise – were far, far more equal than others. More chillingly, it empowered the state to “safeguard and protect morality and public decency” and to “maintain a refined level of upbringing”.

Furthermore, next to nothing was done during the transition to reform the office of the president, which retained most of its powers, and to strengthen other institutions against it, in order to create the kinds of checks and balances that would avoid the emergence of another Mubarak.

This was amply demonstrated in November 2012 when Morsi, confusing himself for Superman, transferred to himself, with the simple flourish of a pen, unlimited powers to “protect” Egypt and legislate without any oversight, which he was later forced to repeal due to a massive wave of protests.

And then there is the murky, antidemocratic role of the military. Some mistakenly see the removal of Morsi by the army as a dangerous sign that the military had come out of its barracks to interfere in politics once again. But the point is that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had never withdrawn from the political arena; it just retreated tactically behind the facade of a subservient political system largely of its own making.

Revolutionaries had warned the Brotherhood against this and asked them to join in the struggle to push the SCAF out of politics, but the Freedom and Justice Party and Morsi chose ‘pragmatism’ and self-interest over principle, even as demonstrators and protesters were being killed and arrested by the military. They made a pact with the devil and the devil won.

Egypt’s political woes are not just structural and institutional. There is also the country’s leadership challenge. Six decades of dictatorship left Egypt without a clear pool of competent leadership material. That is not to say that there are no competent leaders but just that they are inexperienced, untested and often even unknown to the public.

Someone with Morsi’s obvious absence of calibre, who could have authored the Islamist version of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, is a sad manifestation of this. The disarray, division and disastrous infighting in revolutionary and opposition ranks is partly a symptom of this, and partly a manifestation of the dilemma of any mass revolutionary movement which unites disparate groups with ultimately divergent goals.

In addition, the disparity in organisational competence and reach between the Brotherhood and the so-called ‘official opposition’ is often attributed to the superior skills of this Islamist movement, undoubtedly good as they are, or is seen as a product of some kind of traditional affinity Egyptians have with religious conservatism.

However, it is often forgotten that the Brotherhood’s conservative religious agenda was once anathema to large swathes of the Egyptian population, even in the countryside. For example, in a rare film featuring former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser talking about the Brotherhood, a witty farmer suggests that the movement’s Supreme Guide should be the one to don a hijab, rather than Egyptian women!

Some argue that had it not been for Nasser’s repression, the Brothers would’ve ruled Egypt a long time ago. Personally, I’m not so sure. Nasser was an equal opportunities tyrant who, if anything, crushed his secular opposition, which represented a more direct threat to his rule, more ruthlessly and brutally than the Islamists, who at the very least had the mosque to retreat to.

And had it not been for the blowback of Nasser’s torture chambers, Sadat’s dangerous game of empowering the Islamists to crush his secular opponents, and Mubarak’s penchant for giving the Islamists some leeway to scare the outside world, the Brotherhood might have remained an effective charitable and social movement, rather than a dangerous and divisive political one.

But with their boundless reserves of creativity, Egypt’s young revolutionaries – who sometimes seem to be rebelling also against the very concept of leadership – turned a weakness into a powerful political weapon which decapitated the Egyptian regime three times in two and a half years. The leaderless protests created a hydra with millions of heads which the regime could not contain and keep down.

However, though leaderless mass uprisings can topple regimes rapidly, they are far less capable of building a viable and robust alternative. And we are witnessing this again, as the army steps into the void and shows signs of attempting to engineer the same kind of short-sighted “transition” that got us to this impasse in the first place.

So, how can we overcome this weakness and the other challenges outlined above?

The current situation provides a golden opportunity to reinvent Egypt’s political system and to create a unique model of Egyptian democracy that is tailored to this reality in which there is no clear leadership, institutions are weak and there is an overriding public desire for direct democratic participation.

And this new system should be shaped through an inclusive national conversation that involves not only all of Egypt’s political currents, but all interested citizens who wish to contribute their views.

As one of those citizens, here is my vision for creating a uniquely Egyptian democracy. First, given the abuse to which it has been put over the decades and the temptation for all its occupants to turn to dictatorship, I suggest that the Egyptian presidency be stripped of all its powers and transformed into a ceremonial position.

The shambled remains of Egypt’s first democratically elected parliament increase my conviction that Egypt should do away with parties altogether. Given that political parties are the cornerstone upon which most governments around the world, whether democratic or not, are built, this may sound radical, bizarre or even bonkers.

But not only does Egypt not have a strong party political tradition, abolishing parties will allow the country to create a democratic parliament in the truest sense of the word, and overcome the current destructive factionalism that sees people forced to choose sides in a polarised and explosive standoff.

Moreover, parties have certain antidemocratic tendencies, such as forcing members to vote along party lines, regardless of their individual convictions. Then, there is the ‘tyranny’ of the party system, which can concentrate power and hinder change, due to the antidemocratic inertia exerted by the mainstream parties. This is a particularly severe problem in the first-past-the-post system, such as in the United States and Britain, where voters may be hungry for change but will almost never vote for small parties because they believe they cannot win.

Little wonder, then, that some of America’s founding fathers warned against the dangers of party politics. “[Parties] serve to organise faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community,” George Washington cautioned in his farewell address.

For that reason, Egypt would be better served with a flexible non-party representative democracy in which individual candidates run, whether for parliament or the presidency, on their own merit and personal manifesto.

This will provide individual politicians with the flexibility to vote according to their conscience and the will of their constituents, while organising informally around certain issues of the day. For example, on certain key matters – such as youth unemployment, gender rights, social policy, trade, foreign policy questions, etc. – groups of politicians of similar conviction can form temporary, unofficial alliances, rather like the Egyptian opposition has already been doing for numerous years, such as with the Kefaya movement.

Over and above this, in order to avoid the emergence unrepresentative ‘representative democracy,’ politicians’ power can be kept in check through a hybrid direct democracy in which, like in Switzerland, the people are consulted directly on vital issues.

In addition, to move mass protest out of the streets and into the formal political arena, and to respond to Egyptians’ newfound hunger for direct political participation, concerned citizens who are unhappy with certain decisions taken by their representatives or wish to launch their own initiatives should have recourse to a formal mechanism that enables immediate action, if they gather enough signatures.

This also moves us away from the condescending idea in representative democracy that voters should be seen every four years at the ballot box but not heard the rest of the time, and towards the idea that every citizen is a partner and player in the political process.

Egyptians have a golden opportunity to put in place a true democracy of the people and for the people. And, above all, it will be created by the people.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is an updated version of an article which first appeared in The Daily News Egypt on 7 July 2013.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Related posts

Egypt’s coup de quoi!?

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

The millions on the streets, not dressed in khaki, democratically ejected Mohamed Morsi. Now it’s time to remove the military from Egypt’s politics. 

Wednesday 10 July 2013

As an Egyptian abroad, I cannot but bow my head in admiration and appreciation at what my compatriots have achieved back home… again. In the space of less than two-and-a-half years, millions and millions of ordinary men and women with no previous experience in revolt have bravely and unflinchingly stared down and defied authority… and shaken its authority to the core.

They endured hardship, intimidation, violence and constant uncertainty to topple a tyrant, send the generals scurrying to take cover behind the veil of a flawed democracy, and bring down a would-be dictator-in-the-making.

The sight of millions and millions of people setting aside their daily worries and rivalries to come out again and again and again to tell their leaders – Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Muslim Brotherhood – never again will we tolerate dictatorship has been truly inspiring to behold.

And it is not just the big picture. Zoom into the imposing, awe-inspiring crowds and you witness thousands of individual stories that can bring a tear to your eye, swell pride in your chest, storm your brain, flood your emotions, raise your spirits with a chuckle and even restore your faith in humanity (at least for a while).

And all this from a people who, until 25 January 2011, were seen, and saw themselves, as apathetic, even docile, in the face of authority. “Why do the Egyptian people not rise up,” was a common question, famously asked by Alaa al-Aswani, but also other concerned Egyptians, including myself.

Today, Egyptians have not only rewritten their political rule book, they need to think about revising their phrasebook of popular proverbs. Out will go such defeatist sayings as “Keep away from harm and sing to it”, “Shut the door that brings in a draught” and “The eye cannot rise above the brow”.

With all this in mind, it is unsurprising that millions were swept up in an irresistible tsunami of elation, and partied all night long. But a collective hangover is bound to set in once people wake up to the Herculean tasks still ahead – and the worrying signs of new clouds forming up above and on the horizon.

But not everyone was celebrating. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and their supporters were, in contrast, actively grieving. This is, of course, understandable. After decades of waiting underground and then in the wings, they not only lost their newfound grip on power, they also saw their president arrested, as well as other leading Brothers, and a number of Islamist broadcasters shut down, not to mention Al Jazeera Mubashir.

This sends out troubling signals of a return to the bad old days when the Brotherhood was barely tolerated, outlawed or outright persecuted. We must be vigilant that this never occurs, that the Islamists remain part of Egypt’s political landscape and that they are allowed to make future bids for power. Not only is this what freedom and equality is about, it also avoids their grievances boiling over to create a more toxic conflict.

Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers are understandably – though hypocritically, given how Mohamed Morsi tried to turn the presidency into a Brotherhood fiefdom and all the antidemocratic measures he passed – crying foul, and claiming that what happened in Egypt was a ‘military coup d’etat’.

While I can see why Brotherhood/FJP supporters would use such a charged term in this context. Less understandable is why the term is being bandied around by so many in the Arab and Western media. In fact, given how much blood, sweat and tears millions have invested in ousting Mohamed Morsi, many Egyptians must feel insulted that their defiant efforts are being so apparently denigrated.

Although some who use the ‘C’ word do so out of vested interests, many others do so out of genuine concern. Coups are usually antidemocratic and lead to the rise of dictators and authoritarianism. And I see where the confusion is coming from: the army serves a 48-hour ultimatum and then deposes the democratically elected leader.

Indeed, the army did forcibly remove Morsi from office, but this was not the product of a secret plot in murky underground sleeper cells, but was the response to what have been described as the biggest protests in Egyptian, some say human, history. And the millions of people out on the streets who forced the military to take such drastic action were not wearing khaki, as far as I could see.

If we’re going to describe the events of the past days as a ‘coup’, should we also call the entire Egyptian revolution a ‘palace coup’. After all, even if the 18 days of protest put the sword in front of Mubarak, it was the Supreme Council of the Armed Force (SCAF) which pushed him to fall on it. Moreover, the army has not yet really gone away, given that it set the rules of the ‘democratic’ game during the transitional phase, laid down red lines to protect its interests, dissolved parliament and how it is believed to still hold major backroom influence over Egypt’s political machinery.

Besides, all the hand-wringing over the unceremonious jettisoning of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader overlooks the crucial rider that Morsi was also democratically ejected. Democracy is ultimately about the will of the people. Just as voters give politicians mandates, they can withdraw them – and they don’t need to wait to do it via the ballot box if the need is pressing, and they can deliver their vote of no confidence via the streets.

And what a spectacular vote of no confidence it was. When he was voted into office last year, Morsi managed only a puny 13.2 million votes, even though he was running only against one candidate, Ahmed Shafiq. Meanwhile, with turnout at just over half and many actively boycotting the vote, the ‘no’ candidate got about as many votes as the two hopefuls combined.

Contrast this with the estimated 17 million people who took to the streets on 30 June, and the millions more after. That’s not to mention the 22 million signatures the Tamrod petition managed to collect.

Those who argue that the electorate should have kept their grievances for the ballot box ignore the fact that the street is a legitimate democratic forum – in fact, it is the purest form of direct democracy – as reflected by the constitutional protection of people’s right to protest in every mature democracy.

And those who refuse to acknowledge that Egyptians don’t yet live in a stable system like the UK’s – which hasn’t experienced a coup since Oliver Cromwell dissolved the Rump parliament in 1653 – do not generally offer much of an alternative. What was the population to do in the face of Morsi’s stubborn refusal to cede power? Storm the Bastille, so to speak, with all the loss of life that would have involved? Descend into civil war like Syria and Libya did? Perhaps had Syria’s generals forced Bashar al-Assad out, the situation there would be imperfect but far better than today.

While concerns over the potentially dangerous precedent this sets are valid, if a future president faces the same level of widespread and sustained opposition, (s)he deserves to go. In addition, a neglected flip side is that if Morsi had been left to nourish his pseudo-dictatorial tendencies, that would have also set a perhaps more dangerous precedent in a country where the spectre of dictatorship has still not gone away.

Some might see this as little more than a debate over semantics. But this is hugely politicised terminology, which can be used, in the wrong hands, to de-legitimise the revolution and the unprecedented opposition to Morsi.

I should stress that all of the above does not mean that Egyptians should trust, much less express undying devotion to, the military, as a worrying number of people are doing. The people and the army are not a “single hand”. After six decades of military or ex-military dictators, we can safely say that the army got us into this mess in the first place. Moreover, while some in the SCAF undoubtedly act out of an interest in the greater good, collectively the generals are out to preserve, as much as they can, what is left of the military’s privileged status.

This underscores the crucial point that Egyptians should not just say ‘no’ to Morsi, but also to the military. Egypt is under new management, and that management is the people.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The Daily News Egypt on 4 July 2013.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Related posts

فى الفلك: حوار ثوري مع جاليليو الصغير

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.3/10 (4 votes cast)

بقلم باسم رؤوف

تعالى أسألك سؤال مجننى، يا جاليليو. أزاى القانون يمنع الناخب اللى عليه أحكام قضائية أنه يمارس حقه الأنتخابى وفى نفس الوقت يدى المرشح اللى أدين فى قضايا أغتيال أو أرهاب الحق أنه يترشح.

الثلاثاء 11 يونيو 2013

“خرجت من المطبخ وهى بتجر الولد من قفاه، و صرخت بكل أحبالها الصوتيه… “حوش أبنك الفلكى ده عنى. يا تاخده يا هاسيب المحشى يتحرق.”

 “ماله بس؟ و فلكى أيه… مش فاهم!”

 “الولد هرانى أسئلة، ولا عارفه أرد عليه ولا عارفه أشوف الأكل… لو عايز تتغدى النهارده أبعده عنى.”

 “طيب حاضر، بس أيه موضوع فلكى ده؟”

 “سيب الجرايد شويه و أسمع أسئلته وأنت هاتفهم.”

 “يادى النكد…”

“تعالى يا جاليليو (جاليليو مش أسم أبني بس أنا حبيت أستحضر روح جاليليو– أشهر عالم فلك عشان يعيننى فى الأزمه دى) مزعل ماما ليه يا حبيبى؟ أحنا مش أتفقنا تبطل شقاوه؟”

 “بس يا بابا أنا بقى عندى تسع سنين، يعنى لازم أعرف و أفهم كل حاجة زى ما أنت وماما قلتوا لى… وعندى أسئلة كتير ماما مش عايزه تشرحها لى!”

 “أيوه، أحنا صحيح أتفقنا أنك لازم تعرف كل حاجة، بس ما أتفقناش تضايق ماما و هى بتعمل المحشى! المهم، خلاص تعالى قول لى الأسئلة و أنا اللى هاجاوبك و أشرح لك كل اللى أنت عايزه.”

 “بابا هو ليه فيه قطب شمالى وقطب جنوبى بس مافيش قطب غربى ولا قطب شرقى؟”

“ومجرة درب اللبانة… سموها كده ليه مع أنها مش شكل اللبانة اللى عندنا فى المطبخ؟”

 “شوف يا حبيبى، أحنا ناخد سؤال سؤال عشان نفهم كل حاجه بالترتيب… ماشى؟”

 “ماشى، يا بابا.”

 “أولاً الدنيا عباره عن بيضة مش كورة زى ما بيقولوا عليها.”

“بيضة كبيرة قوى… والبيضة زى ما أنت عارف ليها راس رفيعه شويه  وقعر مليان بس من الجناب شكلها واحد، مافيهاش أختلاف. عشان كده الراس هيه القطب الشمالى والقعر هو الجنوبى… فهمت حاجة يا حبيبى؟”

 “نص نص… طيب ودرب اللبانة؟”

 “درب اللبانة بقى مش عارف أشرحهالك أزاى! لكن فيه كام عالم فلك بيقول أن بعد أربعة مليون سنة هاتندمج مجرتنا – اللى هى درب اللبانة – مع مجرة أندروميدا. ومش ها يبقى فيه حاجة أسمها درب اللبانة أساسآ فما تشغلش بالك بالموضوع ده دلوقتى لغاية ما نشوف أذا كانت النظرية دى صح ولا غلط!”

 “أوكى… ممكن بقى أروح أسأل ماما حاجات تانيه؟”

 “لا لا لا… سيب ماما خالص دلوقتى أنت مش عايز تاكل محشى ولا أيه؟”

“تعالى أسألك انا بقى سؤال مجننى… خلينا نتسلى شويه لغاية ما المحشى يستوى .”

“قول لى أزاى القانون يمنع الناخب اللى عليه أحكام قضائية أنه يمارس حقه الأنتخابى وفى نفس الوقت يدى المرشح اللى أدين فى قضايا أغتيال أو أرهاب الحق أنه يترشح فى الأنتخابات وكمان يمثل الشعب فى البرلمان؟!”

 “بابا… أنت بتزعـق لى لما بأقول حاجات قله أدب!”

 “قلة أدب أيه؟”

 “يعنى أرد ولا ها تزعق؟”

 “لأ رد – هو أنت عارف الأجابه؟”

 “طبعآ يا بابا… أنت فاكرنى لسه صغير؟”

 “عارف لو بجد جاوبتلى صح  على السؤال ده… هاجيب لك البلاى ستيشن و أى حاجة أنت عايزها (ده أنا هاموت و أعرف الأجابة أساساً).”

 “طيب هاشرح لك بس من غير كلام وحش عشان ماما ما تزعلش… وأنت أفهم لوحدك، أوكى؟”

 “أوكى يا جاليليو… قول لى بقى ياعبقرى الأجابه أيه.”

 “ده بالظبط يا بابا زى ما كنت بأبوس شوقية بنت عم حسونة البواب فى سلم العمارة.”

 “نهارك أسود.”

 “أستنى يا بابا… أنا عارف أن دى قلة أدب، بس دى مش أجابة السؤال!”

 “قصدك أيه؟”

 “أن عم حسونة بعد ما شافنى بأبوس بنته، يقول لى هات خمسة جنيه تمن البوسه.”

“فهمت قصدى يا بابا… عرفت ده يبقى أسمه أيه؟”

 “وطى على المحشى يا حبيبتى أحنا نازلين نجيب البلاى ستيشن.”

 “بابا، تحب أقول لك قانون الصكوك الجديد ها يعمل أيه فى البلد؟”

 “يخرب بيتك! أنت عملت أيه تانى فى شوقية يا سافل؟”

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.3/10 (4 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)

Related posts

De paradox van de Egyptische revolutie

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

 Door Osama Diab

De Egyptische revolutie was een geval van collectieve en spontane genialiteit. Maar dit succes in het verkopen van de opstand kwam op een prijs

Thursday 18 April 2013

Arabic version

Photo: © Zaza Bertrand

Photo: © Zaza Bertrand

Twee factoren versterkten de slagkracht van de Egyptische revolutie: ten eerste was men zich volledig bewust van de impact van de beelden die de wereld werden ingestuurd en besefte men hoe belangrijk deze waren in de perceptie van de gebeurtenissen.

Men was ervan overtuigd dat deze revolutie een rijke erfenis zou nalaten. Honderdduizenden mobiele telefoons en honderden professionele camera’s registreerden elk lied, vlag, kwetsuur, dode, traan, lach, schot en gebed. De zoekopdracht ‘Egyptian revolution’ levert op Google alleen al in het Engels negen miljoen beelden op. En dan hebben we het nog niet over het aantal zoekresultaten in andere talen.

Ten tweede was er de nood aan steun. Er was het verlangen te kunnen rekenen op de sympathie, de empathie, het inzicht en de erkenning van de hele wereld.

Om succesvol te zijn en sympathie op te wekken, moest de revolutie zich inpassen in de idealen die de westerse media propageren. Aangezien men dit besefte, was er geen tekort aan Engelstalige spandoeken op het Tahrirplein, klaar om door de camera’s geregistreerd en doorgestuurd te worden.

Een van de meest bekende en centrale spandoeken op het Tahrirplein was “het volk wil de val van het regime”, het motto van de revolutie, zowel in het Arabisch als het Engels.

Een jongeman droeg een tweetalig bord waarop stond “Facebook tegen iedere tiran”, wat benadrukt dat het geschoolde, stedelijke Egyptenaren uit de middenklasse waren die deze opstand leidden. Betogers, de ene al wat vloeiender in het Engels dan de andere, waren enthousiast om de internationale media toe te spreken om de sympathie van de internationale gemeenschap te winnen.

“We zullen niet zwijgen, of je nu moslim, christen of atheist bent”, riep een salafistische manifestant in perfect Amerikaans Engels. Door het discours van de Westerse media over mensen die eruitzien als hem, is de jongeman het soort persoon naast wie men zich in een vliegtuig niet helemaal comfortabel zouvoelen. Het feit dat hij sprak zoals ‘wij’ en ‘onze’ warden deelde, bezorgde de Egyptische revolutie een gunstig imago.

“Dit is heel slecht, voor mij en mijn regering” roept een andere, oudere, man in zwaar gebroken Engels terwijl hij op weg is naar één van de meest dodelijke demonstraties, die van 28 januari 2011. “Ik heb geen eten, ik heb niets. Ik en mijn kinderen. Ik ga vandaag sterven!” Hoe kan iemand niet sympathiseren met deze ongewapende en niet-ideologische oude man, wiens enige ambitie is zichzelf en zijn kleine kinderen te kunnen voeden?

Dit is hoe een revolutie eruitziet in een tijdperk van geglobaliseerde media: de Egyptische revolutie moest de hele wereld, de media, politici, NGO’s en burgers overtuigen. Men moest ter plaatse public relations en marketingcampagnes verzorgen en leren omgaan met de media die het Tahrirplein massaal inpalmden.

Eén van de belangrijkste en sterkste beelden van de revolutie was dat van koptische christenen die een menselijke cirkel vormden rond moslims om hen te beschermen tijdens het bidden. Beelden van vrouwelijke dokters die de gewonde betogers behandelden en video’s van vreugdevolle liederen en humoristische spreekkoren hebben de harten en de geesten van miljoenen overal ter wereld beroerd.

Hoe zou een politicus kunnen verantwoorden dat hij een dergelijke egalitaire revolutie niet zou steunen? Hoe kan om het even welk systeem dat vrijheid en democratie predikt een dictator steunen tegen deze eisen in van de betogers en hun demografische samenstelling?

Photo: ©Harry Gruyaert

Photo: ©Harry Gruyaert

Aanhangers van de revolutie waren er snel bij om deze krachtige beelden te verspreiden. Deze beantwoorden nauwelijks aan de stereotypen gecreëerd door de wereldmedia en hun post-Koude-Oorlogsdiscours, waarin naties met een meerderheid aan moslims officieel de voormalige Sovjetstaten hebben vervangen als de ‘Andere’ van het Westen. Het was precies dit verwerpen van identiteitsdenken dat noodzakelijk was om Mubarak ten val te brengen. Het was het ongeplande doel en het onuitgesproken akkoord om, door nadrukkelijk nietideologisch te zijn, de wereldleiders moreel te verplichten der evolutie te steunen.

Wanneer we kijken naar de ontwikkeling van de Amerikaanse reactie tijdens die achttien dagen, wordt meteen duidelijk dat dit spontane, aan de basis ontsproten propagandaplan bijzonder doeltreffend was. In de vroege dagen van de revolutie weigerde de Amerikaanse vice-president Joe Biden Mubarak als een dictator te omschrijven, hoewel een eindeloos aantal internationale organisaties, inclusief Bidens eigen ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, Egypte veroordeelden vanwege zijn bijzonder zwakke mensenrechtenreputatie. President Obama zelf had eerder Egyptes corrupte dictator omschreven als een ‘vriend’ en een ‘factor van stabiliteit’.

Enkele dagen later begon minister van Buitenlandse Zaken Hillary Clinton te praten over ‘hervorming’, maar nog niet over ‘verandering’, toen ze commentaar gaf over wat er diende te gebeuren in Egypte in de periode die later bekend is geworden als een revolutie.

Naar het einde van de achttien dagen toe, veranderde de Obama-administratie haar toon drastisch. Mubarak was niet langer een ‘vriend’ of een ‘factor van stabiliteit’ en in plaats van ‘hervorming’ werd er gepraat over onmiddellijk opstappen. “De transitie moet nu beginnen,” zei president Obama enkele dagen voor de val van de Egyptische dictator.

Het was, minstens ten dele, een gevolg van de kracht van het beeld. Als de minste hint van identiteitspolitiek zichtbaar was geweest op het Tahrirplein, dan zou Mubarak nu nog steeds aan de macht zijn met steun en hulp van de VS.

Als iemand dit revolutionaire festival had willen vergallen, zou de gemakkelijkste wijze geweest zijn de Israëlische of de Amerikaanse vlag te verbranden en Fox News de rest te laten doen. Men kan zich afvragen waarom Mubarak hier niet aan gedacht heeft.

De revolutie bereikte pas zijn kritische massa en keerpunt nadat duidelijk werd dat we niet méér vroegen dan de rechten die men in het Westen geniet. Wij zijn geen radicale islamisten.

Wij zijn niet antisemitisch. Wij zijn geen militante marxisten. We gebruiken Facebook net zoals u en we spreken net zo goed Engels als u. We passen niet in één van de door de media gecreëerde vooroordelen die u van ‘ons’ hebt.

Dit was een klassiek geval van collectieve intelligentie. Ik twijfel er geen seconde aan dat de meeste betogers werkelijk in deze waarden geloven, maar het talent om de revolutie te promoten en te marketen zonder media-, reclame- of PR-plan is niets minder dan een daad van collectieve en spontane genialiteit.

Een discours dat zich zo expliciet op deze ontegensprekelijk universele en nobele waarden beroept, kan toch geen weerstand opwekken?

Het addertje onder het gras

Om de steun van de wereld te winnen, gebruikten de revolutionairen een politiek correct discours over vrijheid en democratie. Het probleem zit hem echter in de aard van het concept “discours.” Elk discours impliceert namelijk een kluwen van vaak onuitgesproken conceptuele relaties tussen objecten, concepten, symbolen, beelden, waarden en axioma’s. Binnen een discours is een uitspraak over de ene waarde onlosmakelijk verbonden met een ander concept, dat op zijn beurt weer vasthangt aan een ander beeld, enzoverder.

Het is belangrijk zich bewust te zijn van dit “relationalisme” binnen elk discours, moreel systeem of waardenkader.

Binnen het discours van de liberale democratie in zijn neoliberale vorm bestaat er bijvoorbeeld een conceptuele relatie tussen het idee van “moderne, economisch gezonde natie” enerzijds en vrije handel en een gederegulariseerde economie anderzijds. Ideeën zoals zelfvoorziening,

welvaartsstaat, een betere verdeling van de welvaart, en maatregelen om de nationale industrie te beschermen worden allemaal als verouderd bestempeld. Ze worden niet meer toegestaan. Ze zijn kortweg geen onderdeel van het discours waarin we ons ingeschreven hebben. De Amerikaanse filosofe Judith Butler beschrijft discours dan ook als “de grenzen van wat aanvaarbaar is om gezegd te worden, de grenzen van de mogelijke waarheid”.

Het concept van relationalisme helpt ons te begrijpen wat er nu verkeerd zou kunnen zijn met een discours van vreedzame protesten, egalitarisme, technologisch determinisme, enzovoort. Velen in Egypte zijn akkoord met de waarden die vandaag als westers worden beschouwd, zoals gendergelijkheid, algemeen stemrecht, vrijheid van religie, enzovoort.

Anderzijds weigeren velen het westerse liberale democratische model te erkennen als de enige geldige manier om landen te besturen en een samenleving te doen functioneren. Ze willen het niet kritiekloos en blindelings overnemen zonder ervoor te zorgen dat het beantwoordt aan de ei genheden van de natie, in het bijzonder wanneer het economische luik een ernstige hypotheek legt op de mogelijkheid voor arme families om brood op de plank te brengen.

Een diplomatiek telegram, getiteld Volgende stappen om de democratie in Egypte vooruit te helpen, gelekt en gepubliceerd door Wikileaks, somt op hoe ogenschijnlijk louter humanistische waarden vaak gekoppeld zijn een economischeagenda.

“USAID’s nieuwe programma Rechtvaardigheid voor families zal NGO’s engageren om het publiek meer bewust te maken van de wettelijke rechten van vrouwen en kinderen, alsook de wettelijke diensten die beschikbaar zijn voor deze achtergestelde groepen. Deze inspanningen zullen ook stuiten op reactionaire kritiek in de trant van ‘omkoping’ en ‘bemoeienis’”, leest men in het Amerikaanse diplomatieke telegram.

De zin die onmiddellijk volgt op deze ogenschijnlijk altruïstische bezorgdheid voor Egyptische achtergestelde groepen luidt: “[We moeten] erkennen dat economische hervormingen democratische hervormingen aanvullen: we moeten het Vrijhandelsakkoord nieuw leven inblazen en advies uitbrengen aan het Congres bij de eerstvolgende politieke opening.”

We leven in een periode van volatiliteit die deels het resultaat is van een te grote aanpassing aan het westerse economische en politieke model. Egypte is bedolven onder een torenhoge schuld en is op een systematische manier verarmd door corrupte privatiseringsschema’s en slechte arbeidsomstandigheden.

Als we hier kritiek op uiten, betekent dit niet dat we tegen vrouwen- of minderhedenrechten zijn. Deze kritiek past niet gemakkelijk binnen het politiek-economische discours van de westerse liberale democratie zoals verwoord in het telegram, dat zichzelf het monopolie op dergelijke waarden toemeet.

Het westerse model is immers hét model geworden, omdat politieke en militaire macht geconcentreerd is in het Westen.

Sinds de revolutie heeft Egypte vrije en eerlijke verkiezingen beleefd, maar deze hebben alleen een inefficiënt parlement en inefficiënte opeenvolgende kabinetten opgeleverd. Dit bewijst dat verkiezingen en een ornamentele liberale democratische structuur niet per definitie de levens van tientallen miljoenen arme en gemarginaliseerde Egyptenaren zal verbeteren.

In tegendeel, de kans is zelfs groot dat hun situatie zou verslechteren.

De te grote nadruk op verkiezingen (de hoeksteen van een liberale democratie) gaf macht aan partijen en groepen die over enorme middelen beschikken. Deze stelden hen in staat om campagne te voeren en sociale netwerken te bouwen in zowel rurale gebieden als stedelijke centra.

Dit is duidelijk in het geval bij de Partij van Vrijheid en Rechtvaardigheid van de Moslimbroeders, die wordt gefinancierd door een klasse van zakenmannen-miljardairs en die erin slaagde om 47% van de parlementszetels en het presidentschap te winnen. De rijkste man van Egypte, Naguib Sawiris, slaagde er eveneens in om slechts enkele maanden na de oprichting van een politieke partij 15% van de zitjes in het parlement te behalen, ook dankzij zijn miljarden.

Deze verkozen politici hebben hard opgetreden tegen stakingen, weigerden een minimumloon op te leggen in weerwil van een gerechtelijke beslissing, en maakten geen haast bij het uitoefenen van druk op Europese regeringen om Mubaraks activa terug te geven en een deel van Egyptes zware schuld kwijt te schelden.

In plaats daarvan lenen ze geld van het IMF en andere kredietverstrekkers, wat een verwoestend effect kan hebben op de toekomst van de Egyptische economie. Erger nog, dit is de toekomst van Egyptenaren die worden opgezadeld met een schuld voor geleend geld dat ze zelf niet eens hebben kunnen uitgeven en waarvan ze niet hebben kunnen genieten. Als op schulden gebaseerde groei de toekomst van de welvarende Europese Unie op het spel zet, dan kan men zich inbeelden welk verwoestend effect dit kan hebben op arme ontwikkelingslanden.

Dit alles gebeurt terwijl andere bronnen voor de financiering van publieke uitgaven en de beperking van het begrotingstekort duidelijk voorhanden zijn.

Wist u dat bronnen dicht bij de Wereldbank schatten dat meer dan $132 miljard uit Egypte verdween tijdens het bewind van Mubarak? Wist u dat belastingsachterstallen in Egypte 65 miljard Egyptische pond bedragen? Wist u dat de grootste bedrijven in Egypte slechts 0,5% betalen, zelfs al verdienden ze miljarden nettowinsten ingevolge belastingsvrijstellingen (of beter gunsten) speciaal ontworpen voor bedrijven die dicht bij het voormalige regime stonden?

Wist u dat het Verenigd Koninkrijk weigert de activa van het Mubarak-regime te bevriezen hoewel de EU een sanctielijst had uitgevaardigd die de activa van mensen die tot het voormalige regime hoorden bevriest? Wist u dat Egypte een hoogste belastingsaanslag van 20% heeft, wat betekent dat een familie die 1000 dollar per maand verdient evenveel moet betalen als een zakenman die dat bedrag op een minuut binnenrijft?

Wist u dat als u 420 Egyptische pond (50 Euro) per maand verdient, u op 10% wordt belast terwijl sommige ondernemingen die miljoenen verdienen 0,5% betalen door belastingsmanipulatie? Zelfs de meest kapitalistische economieën hebben een progressieve belasting. De Verenigde Staten bijvoorbeeld, hét bastion van het kapitalisme, hebben een hogere belastingsaanslag van 35%.

Nog steeds zijn er verkozen islamistische parlementsleden die de IMF-narratieven herhalen en spreken over buitenlandse directe investeringen en BNP-groei als een wondermedicijn voor al onze politieke, sociale en economische problemen.

Daarbij vertonen ze een schokkend gebrek aan creativiteit en een onvermogen om buiten de lijnen van de IMF-aanbevelingen te denken. Het is het vermelden waard dat we in de jaren voorafgaand aan de revolutie getuige waren van één van Egyptes grootste economische groeiperiodes en buitenlandse directe investeringen in zijn moderne geschiedenis.

Tegelijkertijd bereikten sociale frustratie en politieke onrust hun hoogste peil uit de recente geschiedenis. Als groei en sociale vrede al niet omgekeerd evenredig zijn, dan kan men ten minste stellen dat ze zeker niet direct evenredig zijn.

Dit is hoe discours gerelateerd is aan macht en media. Het bouwt een raamwerk van wat acceptabel, legitiem en juist is, en is zodanig dwingend dat het mensen niet toelaat om buiten dit kader te denken, spreken en handelen. Zelfs als de vrijheid om buiten dit raamwerk te opereren technisch gezien bestaat, dan mag men zich verwachten aan pasklare beschuldigingen als ‘islamitisch extremisme’, ‘links radicalisme’, ‘antisemitisme’ of ‘afgunst voor de rijken’.

In een wereld die nog steeds lijdt aan een postkoloniale kater, beschrijven deze woorden van Jean-Paul Sartre, hoewel geschreven in 1961, nog steeds adequaat de keuze van de hedendaagse ‘Oriënt’ tussen algehele aanvaarding of verwerping van het westerse modernisme:

“Hun schrijvers en dichters hebben met ongelooflijk geduld geprobeerd ons uit te leggen dat onze waarden slecht strookten met de werkelijkheid waarin zij leven, dat zij deze niet volledig konden verwerpen, maar ook niet helemaal konden aanvaarden. Grof gezegd bedoelden ze: ‘u maakt van ons gedrochten: uw humanisme geeft ons een universele waarde, maar uw racistische praktijken verbijzonderen ons.’”

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Related posts