On the Muslim Brotherhood and the national security/terrorism narrative

Military in Tahrir. Source: BBC.
Military in Tahrir. Source: BBC.

I don’t want to use this post to discuss what happened earlier today or to predict what will happen next. I want to instead focus on how the international discourse of terrorism and national security is currently being used in Egypt.

Prior to the June 30 protests, the Muslim Brotherhood were criticized in a number of ways by people against them: they were seen as inefficient, corrupt, fundamentalist, focused on power grabbing, and exclusionary. Post the military intervention, however, a new framing was introduced: the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists. This framing can be explained by analyzing its origin (the military) as well as the broader global narrative of terrorism.

The Muslim Brotherhood have long been portrayed as a sinister, secretive and radical organization that wants to co-opt power in order to establish an Islamic state (locally) and an Islamic caliphate (globally). These assumptions constituted the grounds for the terrorism narrative, and since they have been reproduced over decades by different Egyptian regimes, constitute a powerful narrative in the public imagination. In particular, the continual link made between the MB and violence cannot be underestimated. This again fits into global view of Islamism: Islamists are regularly portrayed as overly and irrationally violent; as exclusionary, and as so dangerous that they cannot even be negotiated with. (An important debate that isn’t within the scope of this article is the extent to which the MB have reproduced these narratives about themselves. E.g. to what extent do they view and speak about themselves within this framework that has been set by global powers.)

Following the election of Muhammad Morsi, however, it became clear that the MB enjoyed a lot of legitimacy in Egypt (a fact that is not surprising considering they were the most organized political force in Egypt post-Jan 25 2011). Thus any attacks against them were made based on their governing, as well as on other stereotypes often associated with Islamism: specifically the way they treat women and the way they treat minorities. This is not to say that Morsi & the MB did not have problematic approaches to either group; I am simply reflecting on how the approach to criticizing the MB was already based on assumptions that, again, operate on a global level.

Immediately after the military intervention on July 3, the framing of the MB in Egyptian media began to change. To simplify, they began to be shown as violent, irrational, desperate for power, unwilling to negotiate and difficult to deal with. A new word entered the discussion: terrorism. Along with this word came an entire discourse operating in many countries today: that of national security. Suddenly the military had to exercise its power in order to preserve Egyptian national security – all under the assumption that the MB are a terrorist organization that will not hesitate to bring down Egypt.

My aim here is not to discuss the strength of these claims. I do not want to answer how violent or unwilling to cooperate the MB were (and are), nor do I want to discuss whether they can be labelled a terrorist organization. Similarly, the discussion of whether al-Qaeda is what American officials say it is is a separate one from the discussion of how American officials use that construct to justify certain actions. In that vein, I want to briefly touch on what the military has been able to do through portraying the MB in this particular manner.

The entire public debate has now centered on the issue of stability and security. Many are convinced that the MB pose a significant threat to the stability of Cairo and other cities, as well as to the security of the country as a whole. This, in turn, has allowed the military to emerge as the protectors of this “stability” and thus as a necessary part of the Egyptian political scene. This is not entirely new – the military intervening on July 1 was welcomed by many precisely because they were worried that a bloodbath/civil war was coming. So already the military were seen as saviours/protectors, a view that has now deepened because the military has not only repeated it, but actively influenced events in order to portray themselves that way.

Sinai is another important example. The portrayal of the “bad guys” in the Sinai conflict as either radical Bedouins or armed militants (often Hamas) has a long history in Egypt, and has been used by regime after regime to justify the military’s actions and strong presence in Sinai. The conflict with the Bedouins in particular is complicated and revolves around issues of nationhood and territory – many Bedouins do not accept Egypt as a nation state and thus reject state authority, a position which poses a key threat to both the state and the military. The conflict in Sinai occurring now is thus framed as a response to radical militants who cannot be negotiated with.

At the same time, the “Hamas narrative” has strengthened over the past few weeks and has now become the key justification for many of the military’s activities in that region. The closing of the border with Gaza was justified using the rhetoric of Islamic militants, and thus also falls under the terrorism frame of reference. The use of this framing in relation to Hamas has in turn created anti-Palestinian sentiment in some segments of the Egyptian population. Again, we see the links between local and global: Hamas have also played a crucial role in the international arena in discussions revolving around terrorism/national security.

While it is difficult to predict where this is going, it is good to be cautious about celebrating or rationalizing what the military is currently doing. These past few decades have shown how the importance of national security has been deeply internalized, and how many “democratic sacrifices” have been made in its name (particularly in the United States, a country from which the narrative can be said to originate). While there is little doubt that there is some truth to the claim that “there are terrorists out there” – the entire narrative is built by self-serving politicians, military men and economic elites, supported by the media and think tanks. This should give us pause, and make us question what they are saving us from, as well as where this saving will lead us to.

The masses have not revolted anew out of a desire for military rule or love for the feloul liberal alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood.  They have revolted anew because Morsi and the Brotherhood betrayed the revolution (Sameh Naguib).

A final note on the military. Everything the military have done thus far has been to serve their own interests, as well as to prevent the January 25 2011 revolution from overthrowing them.

For if al Sisi had not intervened to dislodge Morsi, the revolution would not have stopped with the overthrow of Morsi and the Brotherhood, but was – and still remains – competent to transform into a complete social revolution which would oust the entire capitalist state, including the leaders of the military institution (Sameh Naguib).

The military have consistently portrayed themselves as the Egyptian nation. This rhetoric is strong and powerful because it relies on more than seventy years of socialization; it relies on historical events such as the wars with Israel; and it relies on the legitimacy all militaries enjoy within the nation state system. However this should not prevent us from seeing them as political actors with their own interests, which they will not hesitate to protect.

The military institution is hostile to the Egyptian revolution; it got rid of Mubarak to save itself from the crossfire of the revolution. The military is now getting rid of the Brotherhood and Morsi, its erstwhile allies, in fear of the time when the earthquake of the revolution will reach it. And just as broad sections of the populace were affected by the illusion of army neutrality and its stand with the revolution at the beginning of SCAF rule, they are affected today by the lying propaganda about the heroism and revolutionary allegiance of al Sisi and his generals. But just as the masses quickly left behind that propaganda in the days of Tantawi through experience and struggle, they will pass anew through the illusion that “the army and the people are one hand” in the weeks and months to come (Sameh Naguib).

Many foreign analysts, politicians and journalists are now trying to portray the military as the barrier to democracy, and the MB as the victims, neglecting to see that the military are using an international narrative to attack and discredit the MB. In other words, what the military is doing now is using a narrative that originated in the US to carry out actions that are widely condemned by American analysts and politicians. The terrorism/national security framing has become the number one legitimate justification for acts against enemies, whether they be Islamists, dissidents, whistleblowers, or communists. It is important to look at where this framing originated, and whether analysts have been as vocal in denouncing it when it was employed by other governments.

The reason the Egyptian military is able to use it so effectively is precisely because Egyptians, along with everybody else in the world, have been socialized to accept it as not only legitimate, but as unquestionable. The nation state structure requires these types of discourses, that arouse both patriotism and fear, so that institutions such as the state and the military can then act without impunity in order to “protect” the “people.”

Unfortunately we never think of the “people” who are attacked, because the discourse has already rendered them as outside “the nation” and therefore as sub-human.


Quotes from Sameh Naguib are from this piece.

Disclaimer: although I know it will happen anyway, I want to clarify that I am not “taking sides with the MB” by writing this. I am discussing the military and how they are using events and narratives to justify their actions. Whether these actions are “wrong” or “right” is not what I tried to address here. I protested on June 30 (for better or worse) and I was against MB policies during the year they were in power. But I don’t think criticizing them should be our only focus now, since the military is obviously the bigger problem.


Women, the Arab Revolutions, and Dabashi

A few days ago I began reading Hamid Dabashi’s new book: The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism. Dabashi essentially proposes a new paradigm of understanding geopolitics today, namely that the colonial/postcolonial ideologies have run their course, and that the Arab Uprisings were a new way of understanding the world. In the last part of the book, he speaks a bit about gender and the uprisings.

He begins by reminding us of the image of Arab women before the uprisings: passive, docile, incarcerated inside a repressive religion, denied a public presence: “they were invariably portrayed in cages, desperately peering out through the bars – and this by women’s studies scholars and publishers and the publishers of fake memoirs of Arab princes and honour killings alike” (p. 183). He goes on to say:

Even when they were coming out in their millions in Iran to participate in public rallies, there were still some among the Arab, Iranian and North American ‘left’ who ridiculed their dresses, sunglasses or scarves – not having an inkling that their sisters were about to join them from one end of the Arab and Muslim world to the other (p. 183).

Now consider the pictures of these women defying the odds, domestic and foreign, defying tyranny, homegrown and imposed; look at them closely. Half of them would be denied the dignity of choosing their own clothes from one end of Europe to the other – particularly those who choose the veil in France, Germany or the Netherlands, upsetting the racist sensibilities of European mass murderers like Anders Breivik. These women would be denied full citizenship in Europe and yet they are at the forefront of a world-historic succession of revolutions in the Arab and Muslim world. That alone should tell us where the world is today (p. 183).

At the time of the Egyptian revolution, I was in the process of doing my second MA, and instantly thought of doing it on “women and the revolution” (how naive I was). Following the revolution in the media made it seem as though gender was THE defining issue. Channel after channel, article after article asked “where are the women?” This question continuously confused me, since the pictures, videos, live-streams and tweets repeatedly and clearly showed that there were women everywhere: from the front lines to the make-shift hospitals; from the activists to the organizers. This did not seem like a gendered revolution in the sense of men being in public while the women stayed at home (it’s amazing how durable this orientalist clichés are).

I went to Cairo for several months to do my fieldwork and, of course, every single protester I interviewed had no idea why I was asking questions about gender. “Of course women were part of the revolution” was pretty much the answer I got every single time. When I would ask if they were surprised that women participated, I would again get strange looks. “Why would that be surprising?” was the standard response. This was a wake-up call for me, as I realized the extent to which I had internalized western media representations of the Arab uprisings. To the people I know in Cairo, it was not at all shocking to see women there – they had expected that. It was more shocking for them to see different social classes. Yet this wasn’t the picture I got living in Holland and watching the revolutions unfold on multiple media platforms.

Dabashi continues:

These women did not appear out of nowhere. That ‘the war on terror,’ predicated on a whole history of Orietalism, had manufactured a docile image of Arab and Muslim women, waiting to be ‘liberated’ by the US army, the way they were liberated in Afghanistan and Iraq, was not their problem. This was the treachery of a propaganda machine fed by native informers and career oppurtunists. Arabs and Muslims were now risking their lives for their collective liberties in a manner that the world (awash with Islamophobic and Orientalist nonsense) was unprepared to witness (p. 185).

My question is the following: since this is not the first time that Arab and Muslim women have participated in social movements, why did Dabashi expect the Arab uprisings to change the Orientalist and Islamophobic images of Arab and Muslim women all over the globe? He almost seems to be suggesting that the uprisings changed these views of Arab and Muslim women; but did they?

Dabashi does later on clarify that Arab and Muslim women did not suddenly become active during the uprisings:

We should not disregard the reality that successive generations of women’s rights pioneers, social historians, imaginative theorists, community organizers, public educators, political activists, revolutionary leaders, poets, filmmakers and artists have paved the way for their daughters in Tahrir and Azadi Square. Generation after generation – in both colonial and postcolonial eras- women have entered the public space and changed it; in so doing assigned gender roles have been consistently challenged.

This is an extremely important (and refreshing) point. Arab and Muslim women didn’t suddenly come out of nowhere, just as the revolutions didn’t suddenly come out of nowhere. Both were the result of accumulating and built-up discourses and actions within Arab societies that eventually allowed for the high level of participation that was seen on the part of women.

Linking the role of women in these uprisings to previous activism and feminist organizing in Egypt is very important, and provides essential context to understand the situation of women in Egypt. It seems that more work like this needs to be done, from both a feminist perspective as well as a political, economic and sociological perspective. While women did participate extensively in the uprisings, it is clear that feminist activism has now taken a back-seat in Egypt. This seems to be a process that happens repeatedly in post-revolutionary nations: women participate and are then side-lined when they begin to articulate their own demands during the process of state-building. How to move past this? What kind of solutions are there to these issues? Do we keep delaying the ‘feminist project’ until the new government is solidified? My answer would be NO. The feminist project should not be de-linked from the phase of rebuilding the nation and institutions after a revolutionary process. The two must go together, otherwise women will, yet again, be told to go home after the post-revolutionary euphoria dies down.

The revolution must be peaceful

Having followed the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa for over a year now, one theme that has been strong in all of them is the emphasis on the ideal of peacefulness. Whether they were peaceful or not, a “peaceful revolution” has consistently been seen as the best type of revolution. In Egypt, there has been much hype about the fact that the revolution was (to some extent) peaceful. This hype has come from both Egyptians and from abroad.

While there is no doubt that a peaceful revolution is a good thing to aspire to, I wonder if it can simultaneously be effective? Can brute power be removed peacefully? Can an entrenched regime that doesn’t have second thoughts about using violence be brought down through peaceful demonstrations and organizing? On the other hand, could it be the case that we are taught that peaceful people power is pointless and ineffective? Are we somehow bringing ourselves down to their level of inhumanness by engaging in violence?

When asked about the Palestinian conflict, Edward Said said:

It is important to attack the occupation forces… I am asking people to attack occupation forces. I am not a pacifist. I am simply saying occupation and apartheid have to be resisted by whatever means bring about their end.

He (of course) got criticized for “advocating violence” but in the face of an overwhelming military occupying force backed by global superpowers, isn’t violence the only solution?

This led to me think about how the West has framed the various uprisings in the Middle East. It seems that as long as they are “peaceful” then they are acceptable. As long as protesters are not trying to kill/torture/destroy “unnecessarily” then it’s fine and the revolution has the full support of non-Arabs. What’s interesting about this, however, is that two of the major revolutions that have shaped the modern West were both extremely violent – the French revolution and the American revolution. Both can in no way be seen as peaceful, nor were they trying to be. As a friend of mine noted last week, it is even understood that without all that violence, these revolutions would not have succeeded. In other words, violence was seen as integral to these revolutions.

But of course when it comes to the Middle East, violence is never okay. It is seen as a relapse back into the backwards violent intrinsic nature of Arabs. It is seen as never justifiable. Dictators and systems must be removed peacefully, even though the West themselves could not remove their own exploitative systems peacefully. As usual, there is a double standard. In “legitimate struggles” violence is okay – as in apartheid South Africa. In struggles that are illegitimate, such as the Palestinian struggle, or the Zimbabwean struggle, violence is always a problem and is always something that disqualifies the struggle from any kind of empathy. What is interesting is that although the Egyptian uprising was seen as a “legitimate struggle,” there was still an expectation of non-violence. Yet again, the Western media and commentators set the bar on what kind of a revolution we should have, on how we should behave – on what was acceptable and what wasn’t.

I don’t know exactly where I stand on the issue of violence. On the one hand, the peaceful nature of Egyptian protesters chanting “Selmeyya” and reaching out to policemen who were sent there to kill them is an extremely powerful image. On the other hand, has this strategy worked? If protesters had been more violent, would the regime have been able to make such a strong comeback?

Fanon once wrote that decolonization HAS to be a violent process. To completely remove a system, to become new human beings within a new humanity, there must be a process of violence. But what does this violence do to those trying to be free? How does it affect and change us?

The Issue of Framing



I find the issue of framing endlessly fascinating. How are events, people, & actions framed as they happen, and which discourses on those events/people become the most used, repeated & reproduced discourses? Which narratives become popular, and which don’t? And why?

To take the example of the Egyptian revolution, it’s very clear, over a year later, the ways in which the revolution has been framed. Two major frames in particular stand out: the Islamists, & women. Almost every debate I go to, every documentary I watch, and every article I read, discusses the revolution using these two dominant frames. What role will the Islamists play/how dangerous are they/what can we do to stop them AND/OR where are the women in “new Egypt”/how is Egyptian culture holding women back/how come the revolution was stolen from women? And so on and so on. And of course the ultimate mega-frame is when the Islamists & women are used together: so what effect are the Islamists having on women’s rights, for example.

Not only do such approaches homogenize groups such as “Islamists” or “Egyptian women,” which have many, many internal nuances; they also lead to a situation where the revolution cannot be discussed outside of these frames. Everyone must talk about these issues to be taken seriously.

In her brilliant article (here), Maya Mikdashi says the following:

This year, the ongoing uprisings in the Arab world have brought into focus some dominant ways that sexual and bodily rights are framed, gendered, and politicized.

The article shows three ways in which gender is being used to frame the Arab uprisings.

One is the equation of gender with women and/or sexual and gender minorities. Two is the fear of Islamists. Three, is the use of gendered and sexed violence to discourage or discredit protests and revolutionaries.

We have seen journalists and academics write about “protestors” without mentioning gender until they get to the “female protestors.”  When we read of these “female protestors” are we to assume that all previous analysis of “protestors” has been about men? If so, why does this not factor into analysis? Are men not gendered? Is citizenship an ungendered and undifferentiated category except when talking about female citizens? If we believe that an attention to gender is important to understanding how women live their lives, then why not extend the same courtesy to men?

The important question we need to ask is essentially about power:

What power dynamics and hegemonic discourses are being reproduced with every selective deployment of “gender” in the media and in every syllabus on “politics” or “citizenship” that includes one or two weeks (yay!) about “women” or “gender?”

The same goes for Islamists. What power dynamics & hegemonic discourses are being reproduced with every selective use of “Islamists” in the media/academic world?

 As Islamists gain ground in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria concerns over their potential gender policies continue to fester. While such concerns and interest are certainly important, why do they gain such momentous traction only when it comes to Islamists? After all, have non-Islamist Arab political parties and powers had such wonderful and progressive gender policies all this time? This selective fear of Islamists rests on familiar assumptions about Islam (scary) secularism (redemptive and progressive) and other religions (huh?).

Mikdashi’s point is excellent: hasn’t it been the SECULAR Arab state that has oppressed women & LGBTQs until now, not the Islamists? Yet we are terrified (the we here refers especially to liberals) of what the Islamists *might* do. It is normal, of course, to question Islamists & their policies; but why in such a frenzied manner?

Gender equality and justice should be a focus of progressive politics no matter who is in power. A selective fear of Islamists when it comes to women’s and LGBTQ rights has more to do with Islamophobia than a genuine concern with gender justice. Unfortunately, Islamists do not have an exclusive license to practice patriarchy and gender discrimination/oppression in the region. The secular state has been doing it fairly adequately for the last half a century.

The final frame Mikdashi discusses is the use of LGBTQs & women to judge how “good” or “effective” the uprisings have been, which is essentially a new form of pinkwashing.

The legitimacy of a popular uprising and/or revolutionary struggle can be gauged by how it treats “their women” and “their gays.”

Again, the problem is not the questions these frames raise, but the manner in which they are raised; the power relations behind them; and the fact that they are constantly the manner in which the uprisings are discussed.

These frames are highly selective and politicized. Furthermore, each reproduces and invites practices of patriarchy, Islamophobia, authoritarianism, and colonialism. By using these frames gender justice is divorced from struggles for economic and political justice, and the revolutionary potential of this three way marriage is once again smothered.

To finish off, I want to share an experience I had last week at a film festival here in the Netherlands. The documentary was about the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia & Lebanon, and right before there was a panel discussion. The focus of the entire discussion was 1) the Islamists and 2) women. I kept wondering why I felt so uncomfortable with this. Weren’t these real issues?

After reading Mikdashi I realized why. Yes, of course they are real issues. But they are not the only issues, and they are not the frames through which we need to understand the uprisings. Moreover, we need to be aware that in western contexts, the issue of Islamists, women and LGBTQs are brought up for different reasons: to, yet again, show how culturally backwards the rest of the world is.

Revolutionary Poem – beautiful

My friend just shared this amazing poem about revolution with me:

The revolution will not provide you with the man
or woman of your dreams. It will bring out the
unique beauty of the ones already around you.

The revolution might not always feed or house
or heal you, but hunger and thirst and cold and
even sickness will trouble you a lot less.

The revolution will not mean you finally get
what you deserve. It will give you treasures
no one could ever deserve, just as it will
sometimes hurt with a pain nothing in your
life has warranted.

The revolution will not be simple or clean or easy.
It will help you to find meaning in difficult things,
to be courageous in facing complexities and
contradictions, to get your hands dirty and like it.

The revolution is not going
to happen tomorrow –
it’s never going to happen.
It’s taking place right now.
It is an alternate universe
that runs parallel to this one,
waiting for you to switch sides.

What a beautiful poem.

Source: here.

The counter-revolution continues

Yesterday evening, very disturbing reports started coming out of Port Said, a town in Egypt where a football game between the Port Said team and el-Ahly team was happening. Reports indicated that right when the game ended, football fans stormed the pitch from different directions and began attacking the el-Ahly team and supporters. The night ended with 75 deaths and more than 1000 injuries. These numbers are shocking, heartbreaking, and disturbing. What is even more disturbing is the fact that this event was pre-planned.

One indication of this is the fact that el-Ahly ultras have supported the revolution since the beginning and have always been at the forefront of battles in Tahrir, Mohamed Mahmoud, and other hotspots. Many commentators have suggested that what happened is basically revenge on the part of the police and army.

Another indication is the fact that the police and army did nothing, despite being present. It was only after the 75 deaths and 1000 injuries that the army intervened. Moreover, the attackers had weapons such as guns, knives, and other types of arms that football fans are not allowed to bring into the stadium.

Others have suggested that this is SCAF’s way of creating chaos in order to justify their staying in power and possibly reinstating the emergency law that was lifted one week ago. These deaths come after days of instability where banks in Cairo were robbed in broad daylight and crime has increased. This tactic of creating chaos in order to assert the need for increased authoritarianism is one that has been used and re-used by the Egyptian regime.

Whether the football massacre was revenge on the part of the police & army or a plan to create a sense of chaos in the country, it is clearly yet another move in the chess game that is being played between the revolutionaries and the counter-revolution.But SCAF may have gone too far this time. Most of the people that died last night were very young. Their pictures are all over the internet today. There are protests all over Cairo, and tomorrow is Friday. People are angry, and this is not going to go away. Whether the military planned this or failed to stop it – they are guilty. This may be the event that will reignite the revolution and finally pushes it to get rid of the regime completely.

I really believe that this revolution was too peaceful. We did not get rid of the regime, we got rid of its face. The military sacrificed Mubarak in order to stay in power, and so nothing has really changed. If the revolution had been violent, and made a point, the military wouldn’t be doing the things it is doing now. The more peaceful we try to be, the more deaths we will have from our side. We need to end this regime, once and for all.

RIP to all those that died last night.

Read an eye-witness account here, and a report here.

Frantz Fanon & Revolution

I haven’t updated this blog for a while because I was in Cairo, where for some odd reason I can’t access wordpress.com. I’m back in Holland now, and will be updating the blog with everything I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks 😀

Here is a post I wrote a few weeks ago:


I just read an interesting article about Frantz Fanon’s relevance to today’s revolutions happening across the Middle East and North Africa. Fanon was heavily involved in the Algerian struggle for independence, in which more than 1 million Algerians lost their lives because of the French.

In his epic work “The Wretched of the Earth” Fanon warned of the corruption of regimes that would follow independence in Africa and the Middle East, under the mantles of “nationalism,” “Pan-Africanism” and “Pan-Arabism.” Most examples I can think of in Africa and the ME did fall into this trap – the first leader following independence had tremendous authority, because he was the first independent leader (of course they were never independent, we now know).

Fanon also spoke about the role western powers would play in propping up corrupt regimes and cultivating clientelistic relationships with local proxies. By so doing they would prevent the growth of genuine democracy. As the author of the article notes:

He was right again. It is no coincidence that, with the exception of Gaddafi (who is also the only dictator against whom the west has intervened thus far), the regimes that have been the target of protests in recent months have invariably been close allies of western powers, principally America.

Finally, Fanon wrote about the role the people can play in overcoming their oppression. Rather than seeing people as lacking agency or any power, he wrote that they have the capacity to fight.

The more the people understand, the more vigilant they become, the more they realize in fact that everything depends on them and that their salvation lies in their solidarity.

This was something he saw in Algeria:

The Algerian people, that starved…mass of men and women…have resisted the tanks and the planes, the napalm and the psychological warfare, but above al, the corruption and the brainwashing, the traitors and the ‘national’ armies.

Global solidarity

What I find absolutely fascinating about everything happening in the world today is how connected our systems of oppression are. The Arab uprisings that have happened in 2011 were inspired by the Iranian Green Movement and the Palestinian intifadas; the Occupy Wall Street movement was inspired by the Arab uprisings; and the global Occupy movements were inspired by Occupy Wall Street. The fact that similar uprisings with similar demands are happening all over the world should tell us something about the nature of our oppression. In Egypt we are not being oppressed in a vacuum. Mubarak was not an isolated dictator. Rather he was a tool of a neo-colonial, capitalist, patriarchal system that oppresses people in every single country.

I just came across a letter from Mexico to Egypt, expressing their solidarity with the revolution:

This demand by the people is just and legitimate, and we know very well how the governing elites of the towns will answer, they don’t care about our demands, they only care to maintain power, especially when you’re demanding the end of military rule.
The dignified and rebellious people of Oaxaca show our solidarity with the more than 46 assassinated (people of Egypt) and we say don’t be intimidated by the force of the police and military state.
Know that our eyes see in your eyes your indiginity, and our conscience together will show the way to decide how we want to live and this gives peace and justice to the comrades who were assassinated by the tyrannical government.
We would like to be physically present with you comrades but we can’t go there because in each place there’s something pending to be resolved with the damned government that represses us, kills us, hurts us and jails us, but we still send you our best energy that will contribute to fortify the heart and the necessary wisdom to continue with your fight.
Put your wager on changing the base and do not depend on government structures to decide our destiny, and the solidarity that cloaks the people of Egypt is the same as that which cloaked Oaxaca in 2006. Go onto the street and proclaim that there is a different way to live.
(Full letter here.)
This amazing letter is beautiful and inspiring, as well as extremely heartbreaking. But it makes me feel like as long as there are people out there who continue to struggle and fight against all types of oppression, so should I.

Egypt’s Revolution – Wave 2

November 19th 2011 will be marked as one of the revolutionary days of 2011 in Egypt. Although the revolution appeared to have ended on February 11th with the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, there have been a series of events since then that have revealed the continuous and on-going nature of the Egyptian revolution. The revolutionary process did not end; it is still happening. Since the resignation of Mubarak, events such as the Tahrir sit-in, the Israeli embassy protests, and the various violent confrontations between the police, military and protesters show that the demands of the revolution have not been met and that the transition process has not gone as swiftly or as smoothly as expected.

Friday the 19th saw a major protest in Tahrir Square against a clause in the new constitution that gives the military immunity under the law.  The protest, which drew thousands, was attacked violently by the military police as well as the central security forces.  These attacks, which led to several deaths and scores of injuries, led tot thousands joining those under attack in the Square.  The confrontation continued for three days.  By Monday the 22nd, more than 1,500 were injured and more than 35 had lost their lives.  SCAF released a statement confirming its full support of the Interior Ministry and police forces.  Activists called for a million-man march on Tuesday, and by noon Tahrir was already filling up steadily, despite it being a working day.  The demands of the protesters were simple: the resignation of SCAF, the transition to civilian rule, and the fulfilment of demands made during the January 25th uprising, including dignity, social justice, bread, and an end to police brutality and military trials for civilians.

Less than one year after the January 25th uprising, the Egyptian people have risen up again.  There is a widespread sentiment that SCAF did not do what it had said it would, and that behind the scenes they were trying to monopolize power and keep Mubarak’s system in place. The economy has been declining steadily, and as usual, it is the poor working class who suffers the most.  In addition the military has slowly strengthened its grasp on Egyptian society.  In March they were accused of conducing “virginity tests” on female protesters, as well as torturing detainees.  Since January they have put more than 15,000 Egyptians on military trials.  The lines between SCAF and the Mubarak regime have become increasingly blurred.  Their actions and the slow speed of reforms have led to a situation where anger was steadily building up.  The violent attacks on protesters on November 19th were the final straw.

The past few days have seen an increase in the violence. It has become clear that the police AND the military are complicit in attacking protesters. SCAF issues a statement saying it is sorry for the killing, while at the same time denying their responsibility (errrr). They have also appointed a new Prime Minister, Ganzoury, who was actually a minister under Mubarak (ERRRR). Clearly SCAF haven’t learnt much.

But are they really that stupid? Or are they playing a game we just don’t know about? Also what is the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in all of this? Did they plan these clashes so that they would win a majority in the elections and therefore control the country legitimately? Or are they being screwed over by SCAF just like the rest of us?

What is so fascinating about this revolution is the fact that no one really knows what will happen or what is happening.

Zizek on the Revolution

I’ve been watching and reading a lot of Slavoj Zizek in the past month, and I really believe he is one of the most influential philosophers of our time.  I just finished an article he wrote about the London riots, in which he mentioned Egypt:

Unfortunately, the Egyptian summer of 2011 will be remembered as marking the end of revolution, a time when its emancipatory potential was suffocated. Its gravediggers are the army and the Islamists. The contours of the pact between the army (which is Mubarak’s army) and the Islamists (who were marginalised in the early months of the upheaval but are now gaining ground) are increasingly clear: the Islamists will tolerate the army’s material privileges and in exchange will secure ideological hegemony. The losers will be the pro-Western liberals, too weak – in spite of the CIA funding they are getting – to ‘promote democracy’, as well as the true agents of the spring events, the emerging secular left that has been trying to set up a network of civil society organisations, from trade unions to feminists.

The rapidly worsening economic situation will sooner or later bring the poor, who were largely absent from the spring protests, onto the streets. There is likely to be a new explosion, and the difficult question for Egypt’s political subjects is who will succeed in directing the rage of the poor? Who will translate it into a political programme: the new secular left or the Islamists?

These are very interesting statements.  I definitely agree that the revolution died this summer, mostly because the military managed to mane sure Tahrir lost public support, while it reaffirmed its status as the ultimate Egyptian institution.  This is not to say the revolution can’t be reignited. But for now, I agree that it appears to be dead.

The recent events in Israel seem to benefit both the Israeli government (who have been mercilessly attacking Gaza ever since) and the Egyptian army (who have diverted Egyptian attention away from internal issues to the “Israeli threat” – a tactic often used by Mubarak, who knew how Palestine could always gain the attention of the Egyptian people. However, what is new is the Egyptian decision to withdraw its ambassador from Israeli over accusations of 5 Egyptian soldiers being killed by Israeli forces. This is big. But the announcement was withdrawn from the Egyptian military’s website, so it is unclear what will happen.

I also agree with Zizek that an economic revolution will come soon. People are still hungry (literally and metaphorically) and will not settle for the status quo for much longer. This revolution will be global. We have seen it in London, Spain, and Greece recently. In the Netherlands, as the government cuts more and more, we will also probably (at some point in the far future) see big demonstrations. However, countries like the Netherlands are further away because they have absolute trust in the government and governing institutions (including capitalism) and thus it will take longer for them to question these. This is the impression I get from Dutch people I have spoken to about the issue: they still do not see capitalism and neo-liberalism as the core structural problems. Rather they tend to blame Greece, immigrants, America, or whoever else is currently “causing problems.”

I like the fact that Zizek mentions the “secular left” in Egypt, as opposed to only focusing on the Islamists as the only alternative to the military. This is something I do not see in the majority of European/American articles about the revolution. The secular left can be a very strong force in Egyptian politics, given the chance and time to organize. The Muslim Brotherhood have been around since the 1920s: they are well-organized, well-funded, and know how to deal with the Egyptian state/military. This is not the case for the secular left, or other political groupings in Egypt.

My next post will be on what Zizek said about the London riots – definitely the most insightful comments I’ve read so far.