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.








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