The world remade

21 04 2011

Care of Pambazuka News

To choose democracy is not to choose Europe and it is certainly not to choose the United States of America, which has overthrown democratically elected governments around the world when electorates have had the temerity to elect the ‘wrong’ leaders. In fact, any serious commitment to democracy has to reject the moral and political authority of Europe and the United States of America. Any commitment to democracy has to assert, very clearly, that all people everywhere have the right to govern themselves according to their own will.

We cannot know the trajectories of the uprisings that have swept North Africa and the Middle East. But one thing is for sure. Whatever pompous claims to the contrary come out of Washington and Brussels, these are not revolts for American or European values. On the contrary they are a direct challenge to those values. They are revolts against a global power structure that is formed by an international alliance of elites with one of its key principles being the idea, the racist idea, that Arabs are ‘not yet ready’ for democracy. This, of course, is an echo of one of the common justifications for apartheid. But the plain fact of the matter is that anyone who says that anyone else isn’t yet ready for democracy is no democrat.

Ben Ali and Mubarak were little more than co-opted Bantustan leaders in a system of global apartheid. Gadaffi’s oil funded cruelty, megalomania and opportunism has taken him in many directions in his 42-year reign but have, in recent years, been leading him in the same direction. Democratising a Bantustan is progress. But democratising a Bantustan is not enough. The whole global system needs to be democratised.





On Libya

14 03 2011

A friend recently asked me my thoughts about the African and Arab uprisings and whether or not they will lead to more dictatorship.  I responded with the following:

I’ve been following what’s been happening in the Arab world since reports starting coming in about the demonstrations in Egypt. Everyone here, much like the rest of the world, barely heard about Tunisia until it happened.  It wasn’t even rated as a news story.

These are very significant events in the history of the post-colonial world, and the tendency for the news media, except maybe, Al Jazeera, to gloss over them or badly report them is a crime.  The same can be said for the international community that has been working very hard to find out what each uprising means for them and their interests before trying to decide how to turn the situation to their benefit.  It is destroying the huge potential of these uprisings.

Colonialism never truly died in these countries. The colonial powers formally relinquished control, but their presence remained. The eager revolutionaries and organisations that took their place instituted authoritarian rule, and the same Western powers that once colonised these countries for their resources or strategic military value, simply made friends with the dictator to open the doors to commerce. Large corporations then moved in to extract resources from the country, export them home, and pay the dictator millions of dollars while the people remained in poverty.

Part of the reason these authoritarian regimes have been able to come to power is because the people of these former colonies have never had a chance to “birth” a new national identity, one based on honour, respect and equal rights.  Colonial rule ended suddenly, and the institutions that lead to oppression under colonialism, generally, remained in place.  As such, no new identity was born.  While the French were able to do it in the face of their monarchy, and the Americans did it in the face of Britain, the colonial power, in the countries now experience unrest there is simply a perpetuation of the privilege, humiliation and abuses that occurred under colonialism.  These uprisings are the next step in the process, where the people rise up, kick out their petty tyrants and establish an identity that is not based in humiliation and subjugation. This is why all these uprisings have had a nationalist bent — and while I’m against nationalism as an oppressive, divisive concept often aimed at achieving conformity and suppressing difference, I accept the nationalism of these uprisings as an attempt to re-express an identity.

It is a fundamentally good thing.

The next thing that is necessary to consider is that not all country’s in Africa and the Middle East are the same.  Tunisia and Egypt were similar because both governments tried to maintain a thin veil of legitimacy to the international community and world.  They were also strong Western allies.  So when the people no longer feared the para-state security apparatus that Ben Ali and Mubarak had created, it was easier to force them out of the country.

Libya was the next in the chain, particularly given that it sits right between Egypt and Tunisia.  Unrest had spread to many countries, but you could tell Libya would be next.  The only problem is that Gaddafi would never step down.  He has less to lose than Ben Ali and Mubarak did.  Better yet, he never tried to maintain a veil of legitimacy to deal with the rest of the world.  People know he’s a brutal authoritarian ruler and they engaged him anyway.  That they are now saying “OMGz What are you doing to your people?” is really a farce.  Further, the internal structures and institutions of Libya are different to Tunisia and Egypt in that Gaddafi did his best to marginalise the military to prevent a coup, so it’s little wonder many in the military have defected, play the tribes off against each other and therefore keep the people subjugated.

There is this point you will find in all these uprisings where the reports you read will cause fear.  You can see the videos of what is happening in the street, read the twitter feeds giving on-the-ground accounts and then you read the news reports.  There is that point where you fear for the people and think, maybe, just maybe, their momentum is finished and the State may now crack down, hard.  Your first thought is that there will be blood.  There was that moment in Egypt, but the protesters made one final push, with the help of the military, and Mubarak was gone.  In Libya, there was that moment exact same moment, but unlike in Egypt, the protesters in Libya faced far heavier repression.  The Egyptian security forces would try to run down demonstrators in the street but the army never opened fired on demonstrators.  The servants of the Libyan state shot protesters dead.  In dozens.  Indiscriminately.  With RPG’s and bullets all too often, aimed at the head.

It is not hard to see the lies and great efforts the regime in Libya has gone to in order to hide their brutality.  I watched a video just the other day, where a reporter went into a town recaptured by Gaddafi forces.  In the centre, the week before, there were 19 bodies that were buried.  These were people killed in the uprising.  The graves had been demolished, and apparently a bull dozer had been brought in to remove the bodies.  A coffin lay smashed open on the ground.  Relatively peaceful protests, as seen in Egypt, never had a chance.

I also do not think it is right to call what is going on a ‘civil war’.  The “rebels”, as they have been called in the media, have no organised army or weapons, except that which has been liberated from Gaddafi’s security forces.  What we are seeing is a continuing response to the brutality of the crackdown on an attempt at a relatively peaceful protest and revolution.  The people picked up guns liberated from the security forces and rushing to help protect others in neighbouring towns because it is their only choice.  Libya is in revolt.  For those who began the revolt, everything is on the line and if Gaddafi is able to reassert control over the country there will be a continuing, brutal repression against anyone who was involved.

Make no mistake about it.  People have disappeared.  The injured have been removed from hospitals, the young have been arrested and dissent has been crushed in many places.

Too many pessimists are already saying nothing good can come from these events.  I disagree.  Strongly.  I am optimistic about what these revolutions, if successful, will achieve.  As I pointed out earlier, the capacity for a people to stand up from a long period of subservience and humiliation to establish a new identity is inspiring.  It is a positive thing and may very well yield positive result.  But in saying that, you can never know with revolutions.  Uprisings, rebellions and revolutions are fickle creatures.  Often the question is not whether you will be successful against the forces of great evil, but whether or not you will become them yourself.  Those who start out fighting for honour, dignity, integrity and justice all too often end up becoming what they hate.  But this is not to say that revolutions should not be fought or attempted, it is just that you cannot know the future until you’re living in it.





Egypt’s women make their demands

16 02 2011

Many who followed recent events would probably have noted that Egypt’s successful uprising against the President, Hosni Mubarak, has often been portrayed in media organisations as being dominated by men.  Now a recent article in BBC highlights the prolonged sexual assault of a female CBS correspondent in Tahrir square while she was reporting ont he fall of Mubarak.

It’s no surprise then that Egypt’s women and revolutionaries who were on the front lines and participated during the uprising have begun to make their demands.  The following extract discusses the road ahead.

Among these demands are women’s rights–a list including lack of sexual harassment, equal pay in the workplace, and representation in the government that were not articulated during the protests in spite of significant female participation. But will the unity–expressed in favor of specific women’s rights–exhibited during the protests themselves hurt women in their push for equality in a post-Mubarak Egypt?

The protests in Tahrir were an “incredible time” for women, according to Amal Abdel Hady of the New Woman Foundation, a nonprofit women’s rights group. The women in the square “represented all generations and social classes.” Still, Abdel Hady noticed that the media did not pay as much attention to them as they did to the men, leading to the perception that young men led the Egyptian revolution, with the female presence remarkable but less important. And “never mind the Egyptian media,” she said, which barely represented the reality on the ground, never mind the strong female role.

Abdel Hady is not the only one who noticed such discrepancies. Her colleague at the New Woman Foundation, Nawla Darwish, worries that because women were not organized during the protests, with specific rights in mind, women will not be served well in post-Mubarak Egypt. Historically, she told Al-Masry Al-Youm, women are commended for their participation in revolutions and then told to go home. Such a thing occurred in Egypt in the 1919 revolution, when women, who came out strongly against colonial rule, were largely ignored by the ruling Wafd Party. Is misogyny a stronger foe than Mubarak?

“We are living in a patriarchal society,” she said. And the values therein are strong enough to withstand even the groundbreaking protests of the 25 January revolution. The tokenism apparent in the representation of women in the Mubarak regime must be counteracted by a strong female presence even now that protests have subsided. The New Woman Foundation is working to collect testimonials from the women who participated in the protests, both as evidence and as a way to get women–many of whom had never been politically active before–to continue their involvement.

Nehad Abou El Komsan, chairwoman of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, likewise lamented the representation, or lack thereof, of women’s involvement in the protests in news media, both local and international. “The culture of society makes people blind,” she told Al-Masry Al-Youm. Now that the protests are over and many different people are vying for political influence, “we must document the participation of women, not just perception or opinion,” Abou El Komsan added. “We must lobby for participation of women in all committees and procedures,” leading up to and during the elections and the promised revision of Egypt’s national charter. No group now–not even those led by young people–are proactively making room for a female voice.

Whether or not women will have a larger role politically and socially in a post-Mubarak Egypt–and whether such a country will be more open to their rights–remains to be seen. Iman Bibars, the 60-year-old chairperson of the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women, ran for parliament as an independent candidate in 2005. Her experience went beyond mere disillusionment. NDP officials and security threw out 3000 of the 5,920 ballots in her favor, she says, and prevented countless numbers of her supporters from voting at all.

Read the full article here.





Protester’s demands

6 02 2011

If you can read Arabic another letter listing demands of Egyptian protesters has been posted here.  This statement has apparently been circulated using facebook and has enjoyed popular acceptance.  Google translator gives the following translation:

We are a group of young people of Egypt, who were rejecting the reality of the country’s bitter that we have lived all under the regime of the ruling National Party in all its symbols and the policies that led the country to collapse and oppression, frustration, full
We do not belong to any religious or political movement based not adopt any prior agendas and do not call only to ideas that will be followed by her statement.
We are among those who went out and demonstrated in the days of honor 25.28 January, February 1st we collect on what is agreed upon by the people and the time of the need for change and the peaceful transition of power.
We heard you for the president’s speech last speech on February 1 in an attempt to restore the prestige of the state which has been shaken during the last period, as well as to restore stability and control of the country.
We, without delving into the details of this letter and the value or usefulness of what it says, which could go on the controversy, we want a genuine desire to unite our words so as not to lose our rights and our gains we have made during the last period in the light of our squad and not to our meeting on the clear vision of what will happen during the period next, after having lived the country difficult days of tension and lack of security and safety as a result of betrayal suffered by the Egyptian people.

Finally, to all of this we have decided to call what is to come:

1 – the urgent need to guarantee a peaceful transition of power in the coming period.
2 – what came to agree on the terms of a letter by Dr. Ahmed Zewail, and the statement of a group of businessmen and Egyptian intellectuals later annexed as that contained a clear vision and specific demands are listed and grouped in a scientific manner is subject to practical application.
3 – delegation of gentlemen above-mentioned to speak in our name, and considered the nucleus of the wise to set up and a dialogue among themselves and with Mr. Omar Suleiman, in his capacity as a representative of the existing system and take all what they see from the actions or decisions in order to extricate the country from the current crisis and to develop the vision and the perception of what should be the way things during the coming period.

These names might we thought through our follow-up of what is happening enjoyed it so much acceptable compromise and balance of views and represent various trends so as not to dominate opinion on the opinion or trying to one’s monopoly will of the people, and we ask those who agree with us we raised this to sign on this statement challenge.

‫ statement of the proposed names of the masters of the nucleus of the Distinguished Panel of the Wise: ‬
1 – Dr / Ahmed Kamal Abou El Magd
2 – Dr / Ahmed Zewail
3 – Naguib Sawiris
4 – Mr. Ambassador / Amr Moussa
5 – Advisor / Malt
6 – / Dr. Osama Ghazali Harb
7 – Dr / Amr Hamzawy
8 – Mr. / Munir Fakhri Abdel Nour
9 – Mr. Media / Mahmoud Saad

Via a phone call, a protester explains the demands of Egyptian protesters and the war of attrition that is currently ongoing. Listen to the audio here.

If Mubarak is interested in writing his legacy, he is blind.  It’s been written over the last two weeks.





Libcom.org publishes interview with Egyptian Anarchist

5 02 2011

Libcom.org has published an interview with an Egyptian Anarchist that provides a different perspective on the unrest.  Well worth a read.

2) The world is watching Egypt, and even moving in solidarity. However, due to the internet being cut, information was difficult to find. Can you tell me about what has happened in Egypt in the past week? What did it look like from your perspective?

The situation in Egypt is so crucial right now. It began with an invitation to the day of rage against Mubarak regime on January 25th. No one expected an invitation to a day of rage from a loose group, a Facebook page, not really organized, called “we are all Khalid Said”.

Khalid Said was an Egyptian youth who was killed by Mubarak police in Alexandria last summer. It was that Tuesday which started everything, it was the spark for the whole fire. On Tuesday big demonstrations were in streets in every Egyptian town, on Wednesday began the massacre. It began with trying to finish the sit-in in Tahrir square on Tuesday late night, and continued in the following days, especially in Suez town. Suez has special value in every Egyptian heart. It was the centre for resistance against Zionists in 1956 and 1967. In the same district that fought Sharon’s troops back in Egyptian-Israeli wars, Mubarak police carried out a massacre, at least four people killed, 100 injured, gas bombs, rubber bullets, fire guns, a strange yellow substance thrown above people (maybe mustard gas). Friday was called the Jumu’ah of Rage. Jumu’ah is Arabic for Friday, it’s the national weekend in Egypt, in many Islamic countries also, it’s the sacred day in Islam, because there are the big prayers on this day, called Jumu’ah prayer. It was planned for demonstrators to go on a march after this prayer, at noon. The police tried to prevent the marchers, with all of their power and violence. There were many clashes in Cairo (downtown, in Mattareyah (east of Cairo)), and all over Egypt, especially in Suez, Alexandria, Mahalla (in the delta, one of the centres of the working class). From noon to sunset people marched in Cairo downtown, to a sit-in in Tahrir till the removal of the Mubarak regime, chanting one slogan, “The people demand the removal of the regime”.

At sunset, 5pm CLT, Mubarak declared a curfew and brought the army into Egyptian towns. This curfew was followed by a planned escape by police, letting out the criminals and thugs which called Baltagayyah, and police planned a great escape of criminals in many Egyptian prisons to scare people in Egypt. With no police, many army troops couldn’t control the street. It scared people, and it was followed by a news jam on Egyptian TV channels, radio and newspapers, about Luddites in many towns, about thieves firing at people. People organized “people committees” to secure every street. It was welcomed by the regime to make people more scared about instability in the country, but it was also a point we could start from to build workers’ councils.

3) As of Wednesday, there have been clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak people. Is that the correct way to describe it? Who are the “Mubarak supporters”? How are these clashes affecting the attitudes of average working class Egyptians?

It’s absolutely wrong to call it clashes between anti- and pro-Mubarak. The pro-Mubarak demonstration consisted of many Baltagayyah and secret police to attack the protesters in Tahrir. It only began after Mubarak’s speech yesterday, after Obama’s speech too. Personally I think Mubarak feels like a slaughtered ox that tries to throw its blood over its slaughterers; he feels like Nero, who wants to burn Egypt before his removal, trying to make people believe he’s a synonym for stability, safety and security. In this way he has really made some progress. The holy national alliance now has been formed against Tahrirites (Tahrir protesters) and Commune de Tahrir.

Many people are saying, especially middle class people, that the demonstrations must end because Egypt has been burned, famine has begun, and it’s not true at all. It’s only an exaggeration. Every revolution has its difficulties, and Mubarak is using fear and terror to stay longer. Personally I’m saying even if the protesters were responsible for this situation, even if this is so, Mubarak must

Read the whole interview here.

American Rosa Novarro talks about her arrest and how she and her friends were pressured by the military to confess to being journalists or spies.  It seems the latest tactic of the regime is to circulate conspiracy theories reagrding foreigners and spies infiltrating the protests.

Check out the terrible BBC coverage of the latest protests which put the numbers of demonstrators at “more than 100,000″ which is rather underestimating the turnout.  Additionally, preference and emphasis was given to Obama’s repeated speech instead of the continuing protests.  I wonder if the BBC haved decided enough is enough.





A dark and disturbing future for Egypt?

4 02 2011

The BBC have published a challenging insight into events in Egypt and the way Mubarak has played his cards.  It concludes:

Mr Mubarak is effectively ‘kettling’ an entire country. Over a fifth of the country lives below the poverty line. They cannot protest indefinitely and, unlike the president, they must return to work.

In the meantime – with two out of three constituencies secure – Mr Mubarak can play a waiting game.

This forces the protesters to endure a harsh status quo or escalate by targeting the bastions of the state, the latter bringing upon them the wrath of an already petrified international community, who may feel it has done its job by putting a limit on Mr Mubarak’s term.

Those agitating for escalation ought to recall the anti-Saddam uprisings of 1991 by Kurds and others, in which the US first encouraged and then shied away from supporting resistance.

The result was massacres under the eyes of the international community.

It’s definitely worth a read.





Kicked out of a demonstration in Torronto for highlighting women’s issues

4 02 2011

While Egyptians have been defying their government by taking to the streets for over a week now, a demonstrators gathering in solidarity held in Toronto, Canada has shown their commitment to progress by reportedly kicking out a woman raising awareness of women’s issues in Egypt.

Reddit user eatenplacenta posted the following,

I made a sign about female genital mutilation and violence against women and people started getting in my face and yelling at me about how my message had no connection to the protest (although it was a protest about oppression in Egypt and the need for better human rights) and that FGM doesn’t exist anymore in Egypt. Men and women were trying to push me away and someone broke my sign. Then someone else complained about me to the director of the protest and he told me that if I didn’t take down my sign, he would kick me out of the protest and I asked him why and his response was “today isn’t about women.” There was an area for the fucking Iraqi Communist Party but to bring up a women’s rights issue was bad enough to piss off a lot of people and get kicked out. Women have been completely marginalized in this revolution. It was disheartening and only proved that the fact that I needed to be there because it was so controversial.

This was the sign.

The Egyptian uprising, by most accounts I’ve read at least, has united people from all corners of Egypt to stand opposed to Mubarak and the thugs which have spent the last few nights attacking pro-democracy supporters.

Gatherings of people within Tahrir Square have enabled people to interact who would never have had the opportunity to do so only months before while allowing political messages to be discussed.

A woman calling who called into the @Jan25 Voices twitter feed described the protests in Tahrir square as classless and genderless.

Before this, a video began circulating on the internet of a young woman leading protesters in a chant against security forces as they stood only a metre away behind a fence.

A feature by Al Jazeera tells details of a night spent skirmishing with pro-government supporters in and around Tahrir square.

The closer I got, the more frenetic the activity among the anti-government protesters.

Men and women hustled up huge bags of rocks. Another group dragged a metal barricade into a new backup position.

The source of the cacophony that had been echoing off Cairo’s streets and through our window was revealed: protesters behind the lines were rhythmically banging on the metal pavement fences in a primal drumbeat to keep the crowd’s spirits up.

All accounts point to women being involved on the front lines in the uprising.

Not being Egyptian and not being in Egypt, I cannot give any detailed description about what is being discussed by protesters on the street, or whether they will be discussed over the next weeks.

However, from the reports coming out of Egypt out over the last few days, protesters have clearly been dealing with the very immediate threats posed by the Egyptian police, and that posed by violent thugs supporting the regime.

Given the circumstances, it is unlikely that those on the streets have given much thought to anything other the immediate future, food, sleep and how to respond to the antagonists of the regime.

The men and women of Egypt have shown exceptional courage in standing up to Egyptian authority’s and their supporters, after all, there is a lot at stake.

If Mubarak wins, and some are suggesting that he already has, there will be a crack down.  Not only will the people in the street face repression, but, no doubt, their family’s will suffer a similar fate.

That fate will not be pleasant as the Egyptian police and prosecutors are known to torture those they have arrested.

Already organisers of the protests have been arrested as well as a notable Egyptian blogger who reportedly has managed to escape custody to go “on the run”.

It may be possible that those in Toronto misinterpreted eatenplacenta’s motives for appearing at the demonstration with the sign, given the propensity for those inciting Islamophobia to cite Female Genital Mutilation as a key reason why “all Arabs are evil”.

But ignorance is no defence.

Ejecting eatenplacenta for attempting to highlight a serious issue relating to women in Egypt betrays the spirit of the uprising itself given the role women  have played so far and the relatively egalitarian environment it has created.

Repeatedly, protesters have stated that they are fighting to create the potential for dialogue to take place without fear of reprisals.

Given that the people of liberal Toronto, Canada are not facing an immediate, day-to-day threat to their safety either from the regime or the regime’s supporters for speaking out, it is a place where discussion of issues such as Female Genital Mutilation can, should and must take place.

So long as one girl suffers, the discussion and action on the issue must take place and raising these issues, where ever possible is necessary to ensure the discussion continues.

Any act which silences that discussion runs contrary to the stated goals and aspirations which the Egyptian people are fighting and dying for.

To what extent the Egyptians engage with these issues when they are not fighting for their lives will define what is currently taking place within Egypt.

Perhaps it will be a distinguishing feature between a mere uprising and the beginnings of a real revolution.








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