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Thursday
May122011

Egypt: A Post-Revolution Critique

Hey, remember the Egyptian Revolution? The one that brought Mubarak down from his 30 year reign? It's funny how the lack of media coverage, post-revolution, creates an illusory sense of a revolution ever taking place. In other words, the lack of follow-up news of what is happening belittles the gravity of the situation that is happening. We praise a nation's people for rising up against an oppressive regime and seek to aid what they do - see Libya, although the sentiments and strategic foreign policy implications for each are different. However, we tend to know very little about what the purpose of their revolution is, other than the broad and very general statement that they are being repressed and want new governance. And perhaps, this is as far as it goes. The initial demand to mobilize the people under a common denominating banner is the first step. This allows the people to band together regardless of religion, politics, and gender, or any label for that matter; a transcendence of identity for a bigger cause. 

 However, what we are witnessing today, in Egypt, are the post-revolution troubles that follow suite in attempting to formulate an inclusive democratic government. There are two major articles that come to mind that struck me since Egypt's revolution, the first was an article that none of the demands from the revolution were met other than Mubarak's removal from office. Some of the demands include: "changing the constitution so as to mitigate the president’s sweeping powers, dismantling the former ruling National Democratic Party, the trial of all corrupt figures including the ousted president Mubarak, ending the state of emergency, releasing political prisoners and lately many have been demanding an end to military prosecutions of civilians, after it had become a common phenomenon since the military took over power." Due to these unmet conditions, many Egyptians called for a 'Save the Revolution day' and many took to the streets again. 

The second article that strikes me is a report from Al Jazeera's 'Inside Story', where 3 panelists (a Coptic Lobbyist and Activist, a Democracy Now correspondent, and a Political Science professor from American University - all currently in Cairo) were brought in to discuss the sectarian violence that has been occurring between, what has been framed as, Coptic Christians and Muslims. Apparently, some local Muslim leaders called for an invasion of a Coptic Church where an alleged Muslim woman was being held, a story that turned out to be a rumor. And while such sectarian tensions were rising with an emphasis on the division of persons into stereotypes and categorical generalizations, the military and local police stood by as "peacekeepers"  not "peacemakers" (a UN strategy - a tactic taken in Rwanda) the Egyptian Military Council remained passive. 

What the panelists suggested was that such passivity and the lack of progress in implementing the people's demands, are the result of local authorities and military officials who served under Mubarak and remained at their post, after the revolution. The local tensions between the groups, have been suggested to be the product of some "fanatic", "extremist", or very orthodox positions (which is said to be not a very significant percentage of the population), whose leaders orchestrated a form of social upheaval. Now whether this is true or not is certainly uncertain. However, at this point whether it was or not seems beside the point. What the matter indicates is that religion and politics have come into the fray of dividing people amongst themselves. The pendulum has swung from the time of a unified front composed of both Muslims and Christians during the period of revolution, to a position of amnesia. Violence in the name of one is quick to nullify the bond built amongst two. The situation is a statement of in-group/out-group dynamics. If the source of these tensions are built from the past habits of government and military officials, which have bled into and maintained a position of power then Michel Foucault's critique of revolution during his debate with Noam Chomsky echo as we see the events of post-revolution Egypt. The categorization of Christian and Muslim has become a social tool to gain political popularity - by dividing the people and placing emphasis on their differences, we have the birth of political parties and potential leaders to represent those differences. Divide and then get the majority vote. 

With the words of Foucault:

"One of the most urgent tasks, before everything else, is that we are used to consider, at least in our European society, that power is in the hands of the government and is exerted by some particular institutions  such as  local governments, the police, the army. These institutions transmit the orders, apply them and punish people who don't obey. But I think that the political power is also exerted by a few other institutions which seem to have nothing in common with the political power, which seem to be independent but are not. We all know that university and the whole education system is supposed to distribute knowledge, we know that the educational system maintains the power in the hands of a certain social class and exclude the other social class from this power. Psychiatry for instance is also apparently meant to improve mankind and the knowledge of the psychiatrists. Psychiatry is also a way to implement a political power to a particular social group. Justice also.

It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions, that appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticize and attack them in such a manner that political violence has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them. If we want right away to define the profile and the formula of our future society (without criticizing all the forms of political power that are exerted in our society): there is a risk that they reconstitute themselves."  - From the Chomsky Foucault 1971 debate (emphasis added, video linked above)

We are seeing this reconstitution in Egypt. The military, one of those institutions, which stepped in to assist the people against Mubarak, with spouts of loyalists who also used military force, should be the focus of critique. Who are the military officials in charge? Where do they stand politically? What are their loyalties? And importantly (because religion is being utilized as a dividing political force), where do they stand in relation to the religious leaders of Egypt?   

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    Response: news feed
    Yesterday, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a forty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now broken and she has 83 views. I know this is entirely off topic but I ...

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