Jadaliyya co-editor Bassam Haddad reflects on various points surrounding the discourses that have shaped how Egypt is covered and discussed:

“Good Morning, I’m Late, But an Egypt Expert Now!”

Many commentators, on all sides of the political spectrum, come to the Egyptian scene as spectators who did not closely follow the events between 11 February 2011 and 30 June 2013. And they know much, much less about the Egyptian polity prior to 2011. Thus, judgments often proceed from a priori positions regarding false binaries such as “Islamism” vs. “secularism,” as though there is no history prior to 2011, or as though there was no record of policies to judge during Morsi’s presidency. More often than not, analyses embrace all-encompassing narratives that present Egypt as a battlefield featuring only a few actors (“Islamists vs. liberals”; “Army vs. Muslim Brotherhood”;  “Revolutionaries vs. Counter-Revolutionaries”). Such accounts effectively erase the many processes and actors that do not fit into these binary categories. As with Syria, we end up witnessing entrenched ideational/impression-based camps rather than dynamic analysis that is amenable to revision. The discourse on Egypt becomes more important than what is actually happening in Egypt. The same applies to local Egyptian media if observers are glued to one venue.

“The Brotherhood is Only a Party that Opposed Dictatorship”

Many commentators know about the Egyptian state or dictatorship under Mubarak, including its economic exploits and the marriage of money and power; concessions to, and collaboration with, Israel; and the repression of political alternatives. However, most know little about the history of the Muslim Brotherhood nor for that matter the organization’s preferences, behavior, and policies after Morsi’s election. The most egregious common mis-analysis is the jettisoning of the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in cajoling the army and re-entrenching the security state and some of its social and political corollaries under Morsi’s leadership, and before. The idea that the Brotherhood was also being used by the army (as Tamarod was) is noted. More important, however, is that there were explicit decisions by the Brotherhood/Morsi to strengthen the hand of the ancient regime and a near absence of an institutional curtailing of the security state’s power or the probability of its abuse of power. The Brotherhood, for those who only see a past of an underdog opposing authoritarian rule, is much more than and much less than that. Their social and economic record prior to 2011, notwithstanding the services they provided, is very much of a black box, or irrelevant, to many commentators and instant “experts.”

The Media’s Binary

The media have played an exceptionally delusional role inside and outside Egypt, supporting partisan narrative in their maximalist version. Unending and thorough demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood was countered by most Brotherhood supporters/defenders with utter neglect of their excesses, complicity with the army/fuloul, and transgressions, especially after 2011. Watching one or the other type of television stations (or reading one or the other publication) exclusively prejudices outcomes beyond reason. Most dangerous has been the vitriol in most liberal Egyptian media against the Muslim Brotherhood and pretty much everything they stand for today or stood for in the past. This discourse mobilized not just bodies, but minds, preparing them to anticipate, accept, and perhaps justify violent and brutal action against them. The reactionary Muslim Brotherhood equivalent about the “other” is and was at play, in media and action. Perhaps we are accustomed to it and were unmoved. Yet this reactionary equivalent of the Brotherhood pales in comparison with the institutional and coercive action-backed discourse against them.

Continue reading here.

In memory of Eman Mustafa.

Last September, sixteen-year-old Eman Mustafa was walking with a friend in the village of Arab Al Kablatin Assiut, when a man groped her breasts. She turned to face him and spat in his face. He shot her dead with an automatic rifle as a price for her bravery. Mustafa’s death was an eye-opener call to those who claim that sexual violence is an urban issue. Thanks to human rights organizations and activist groups, Eman’s killer was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 2013.

Violence against women across historical, cultural, and national divides continues to be a socially accepted practice, if not a norm. In the realms of both policy and social awareness, we have collectively failed to tackle this issue with serious rigor. As a result, we seem to be witnessing an increase in sexual violence and brutality.

In Egypt, sexual harassment is widespread and touches the lives of the majority of women whether on the streets, in public transportation, or at the work place, the super market, or political protests. It is true that sexual harassment still lacks a unified definition, but it is not difficult to identify unwelcome verbal or physical sexual violation. Many Egyptians, women included, are unclear as to what constitutes sexual harassment. Others sadly, do not think it is a problem. One thing is clear though, and that is the actions of the various governments of the last thirty years have been limited to statements of regret and unmet promises.

Continue reading…

The MB’s sectarian language, the increase in sectarian incidents, the attack on the St. Mark’s Cathedral in April, Morsi’s failure to react to a sheikh who called Shi‘a “filth,” and the entirely useless response to the Sh‘ia lynchings in June were all important indications of an unwillingness to rein in fringe extremist elements on the Islamist scene. Most significantly they showed that Morsi was never interested in representing all Egyptians. But again, Morsi inherited a tradition of state discrimination and sectarianism from his predecessor, he just cranked it up several thousand notches.

Some may argue that free and fair elections, if properly conducted, are fully capable of producing a government that reflects the promise of the January 25 Revolution and its partisans. Yet this line of reasoning conveniently overlooks the distortive role that electoral politics play in pushing out of the national political arena issues and agendas that concern socially marginalized classes.

The experience of the 2011/12 elections is a case in point. The failure of partisans of distributive justice, such as the Revolution Continues Alliance, to secure meaningful representation in Parliament speaks to a reality in which big money and parties of privilege — whether Islamist or secular — dominate the electoral arena, making it extremely difficult for political allies of the marginalized to really succeed in national politics.

In such a context, the liberal prescription of free and fair elections confronts an insurmountable paradox: How can elections create a national political arena capable of resolving pressing conflicts over economic and social rights if those who lack and demand these rights are constantly crowded out of this same arena by default? In this respect, the power that liberals attribute to free and fair elections to resolve the social conflicts that are tearing Egypt apart today is little more than an illusion.

From the Jadaliyya archives: Liberal Illusions

From the Jadaliyya archives: Egyptian Workers and the Revolution: An Interview with Kamal Abu-Eita

The following interview was conducted on 14 September 2012 with Kamal Abu-Eita, General Secretary of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) and the head of the Real Estate Tax Authority Union, which was founded in 2008 as Egypt’s first independent union.

In the first part of the interview, Abu-Eita recounts the lead-up to the January 25 Revolution and how workers’ long-standing struggle for social justice has provided the momentum that paved the way for the eighteen-day uprising. He also explains the role of labor strikes in forcing an end to Mubarak’s rule in February 2011. In the second part of the interview, Abu-Eita expresses concern over the state of the freedom to unionize in Egypt, indicating that the current government is poised to reproduce the legal framework prevalent under Mubarak and that has long hindered the freedom of Egyptian workers to organize and push for more humane standards of living and working conditions. Finally, Abu-Eita warns that the current government has not delivered on the January 25 Revolution’s promise for greater social justice, and has shown hostility toward the aspirations of Egyptian labor. “The goals of the Revolution are the criterion governing our relationship with you [the government]. If you uphold them, we welcome you. If you violate them, we will bring you down the same way we brought down your predecessors.”

For those who have just tuned into the news this week, the warnings of a military return may be a jolt. But, for those who have been watching Egypt for the past two years, these concerns are far from the realities on the ground. For one, the military never left the political realm, even after President Morsi’s inauguration on 30 June 2012. In fact, the political basis for Morsi’s rule today is a pact between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. The former controls the presidency and the sectors of the bureaucracy that do not pose a direct challenge to its interests. The military retains its abnormal political and economic privileges, including its vast economic empire, far from any meaningful civilian oversight.
Jadaliyya co-editor Hesham Sallam writes on Down with Military Rule…Again?
I started my shift with Opantish at around 7:30 last night. We did not wrap up until after 3:00 in the morning. We received forty-six reports of cases of mob sexual assault in and around Tahrir. We were able to intervene in around half, in coordination with other groups such as Tahrir Bodyguard. Some attacks involved the use of blades, sticks, and other weapons. One case had to go to the hospital and underwent surgery and several others needed medical attention. Some volunteers were also wounded in the process. The square became undeniably unsafe for women.

Yasmin El-Rifae writes about her experience working with
Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (Opantish).

Read more on No Apologies