Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Egypt's Uprising February 2-3, 2011: A(nother) Turn of the Screw

(REUTERS : Yannis Behrakis)

There are times when one sincerely wishes to be wrong, and clings to the hope that one may still be proven wrong. After listening to Mubarak's "transition" speech, and Obama's response, plus the commentaries on them, I had the impression that I had heard differently than the Western media.

I heard Mubarak preparing for and justifying a crackdown on those who had been involved in the uprising, and stalling for a continuance of the regime--the democratically elected military dictatorship in a state of emergency martial law that has overtly dominated for the last 32 years. I heard Obama collude.

I heard the decorative flourishes of each speech--Mubarak's nationalism and service, paternal concern for the safety of the Egyptian people, his list of promised reforms, his plan to stay on until his death in Egypt; Obama's feigned heart-felt empathy with the Egyptian people, reiteration of universal human rights and American values of democracy for all, and call for Mubarak to begin the transition "now".

But I also heard Mubarak planning his continuance, whether he is the one officially in the power, or pulling the strings after September, and justifying the need for "discipline", in the name of "stability". I heard Obama tacitly giving his approval. Mubarak is to lead the "transition", but should start it "now", in the name of "stability".

I heard the Western commentators exclaim that the protesters in Tahrir Square were cheering, and their crestfallen tones on learning they were jeering. To me, their tone deafness continued with their thinking that Mubarak was planning genuine reform, and that Obama was issuing a veiled "Mubarak get out now"; or, that Mubarak alone was defying the United States, and that the US was too respectful of national boundaries to be able to do more than urge an immediate transition.

I had memories of all the uprisings and revolutions I have studied which have been subverted by US backed local nationalistic reactionary forces. I had memories of how they do it, including infiltration by police and paid agitators into a genuine protest, and the manufacture out of whole cloth of right-wing popular revolts. Iran 1953, and Chile 1973 both came to mind.

(Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

I went to bed wishing that I had misheard, but feeling I hadn't, and only somewhat comforted that certain Arab commentators seemed to have heard the same messages I did. There is an expression in psychotherapy that one should listen with "a third ear", an ear for tones, innuendos, subtexts, underlying negations. It seems in this case, my third ear was an Arab one.

So, I was not alone, but I really wish I had been wrong. Today's events proved that those messages prevail. Mubarak has cracked down, and cracked heads. Paid protesters and orchestrated police in disguise have engineered conflict, violence, and a war for Tahrir Square. The US paid Egyptian Army allowed armed "protesters" in, and stood by as battles erupted, and the number of injured rose to over 600. Officially, 3 have died in the last 24 hours, whereas officially 403 died in the previous days of the uprising. Odd.

The disappearances are more overt, with protesters dragged off to army representatives. Guns, sticks, knives, Molotov cocktails, and stones are the weapons. Anti-Mubarak protesters courageously continue to get out film, photos, and reports of the ongoing action by social media, and on Western television, where they can easily be identified, often giving their full names. Western media simultaneously report these events, and give justification to the pro-Mubarak protesters, and average citizens, who are satisfied with Mubarak's promise to not stand for re-election and are dissatisfied with the disruption to life, including the supply of bread. They seem not to have perceived the manufacture of these disruptions over the last few days, take no account of historical precedents in the Middle East or elsewhere, or to genuinely report the disproportionate nature of the fight--more Egyptians on the anti-Mubarak side, more force and power on the Mubarak-Obama side. Balanced reporting. Equal time. Give the "pro-side" airplay.

It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time for the Western media to appreciate that their reporters are being blocked and attacked by the pro-Mubarak side, not out of nationalism, or frustration with the ongoing demonstrations, but to hide the latter's own criminality, violence, and transgression of the universal rights to free speech and assembly. Or have they figured that out? Do they know but don't want to say? Would it be too inconvenient to the Western aim of "stability"?

The Orientalist undertones in Western reporting, which have been intermittent and generally more subtle to date, were in fuller force today. The battles between pro and anti Mubarak protesters were "medieval", "primitive", "resorting to rocks". Not only can Egyptians (Arabs) not be trusted to figure out democracy, vote, or behave unless under the jackboot, but left to their own devices they turn primitive. Thus, alas, they must be ruled by strong, occasionally brutish leaders, like Mubarak, and a repressive military. Best to have army and intelligence men in absolute power.

(Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

However, the Orientalism was not only on the Occidental side. As in all good subjugations the subjected do it to themselves, internalize the Other's projections. How else to explain the marauding horsemen and camel riders with whips? Are these supposed to be the real Egyptian people? The bedouin? The fellaheen? Arrived from the desert, their tents, their farms, their villages, to teach the uppity Westernized Cairene's a lesson? Is this what the West should expect if they allow Egyptians (Arabs) true self-determination? Is anyone so naive to believe that Mubarak wouldn't know the optic of this in the Western media? That he wouldn't expect it to consciously or unconsciously support his need to remain for the "stabilization" of his unruly people?

Once again "balance" provides an imbalance. Does calling for violence "on both sides" to end, sound as ludicrous to others as it does to me?

I have no doubt that there are those inside and outside Egypt who wish for Mubarak or a replica to stay. I question their motives but not their sincerity. I don't doubt their persistence or willingness to sacrifice rights, life, and liberty to make sure Egypt is on the "right side of history", the "stable side", the protecting Western and Israeli interests side.

The last 24 hours have been a turn of the screw of oppression, or in historical terms, another turn of the screw. I admire the courage of the Egyptian people; I pray for them; I hope that my fears, particularly for this Friday, are unfounded. I fear that my fears are founded.

(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

(The Guardian)


Anonymous said...

Sandmonkey's account has been hacked. Please re-post today's entry from the Google cache.

Chiara said...

Wow! Anonymous I didn't see this until just now. Looks like I was composing my next post while you were writing this.

Please read that post, which began as a normal copy and link, until Sandmonkey's blog was suspended as I was getting the link for his banner image.

Thanks for your comment and suggestion!

Susanne said...

Thanks for sharing this! Samer was lamenting the fact they used horses and camels. He said it makes Arabs seem backward and he was SHOCKED when he saw it on TV. He is so disgusted with Mubarak and his cronies!


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