Tonight in Cairo…the revolution continues

Besides sharing the awe inspired by this picture and others below, whose awesomeness is matched by the resilience and impressive expansion of the revolution in Egypt, I want to collect a few comments here that have been brewing in my head for the last few days.

Regarding the possibility of an Islamic regime emerging in a democratic Egypt

This one is easy. Such a consideration does not effect whether or not we support democratic revolutionary movements. If a regime emerges that has something to criticize, then we criticize it. Fantasizing about what negative possibilities might emerge, especially according to the worst-case scenario, and then using these fantasies as an excuse to quell something as plainly good as democracy, is plain stupid.

Local doctors and nurses chant anti-government slogans during mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square

Not that there is any evidence whatsoever that we should be concerned about religious fanaticism taking over the revolution. Yes, Muslims live in Egypt. Yes, religious values and lifeways inform the desires and practices of some of the protesters. For some strange reason, we need to remind the Western media: none of these things are, in themselves, bad. Quite the opposite of the fearful images the Western media has been pouring out all over us, the people in Tahrir Square speak jubilantly of a truly spontaneous non-violent movement.

While the US media portrays the revolution as through the discourse of “chaos” and “instability,” or as a spectre of religious fundamentalism, Egyptians themselves paint quite a different picture. Here is the famous novelist, Nadat El-Sadaawi, after having been in Tahrir Square:

Nadat El-Sadaawi

Millions of Egyptians in the streets. It’s a carnival! It’s a festival! People are congratulating each other, kissing each other. We were men and women in the square day and night, not a single harassment of any woman.

And Anjali Kamat from Tahrir Square:

And one of the most interesting things was how well people take care of each other within the square. Nowhere is there—you know, this is a space, late at night, with thousands of men and hundreds and hundreds of women and children, and people are really taking care of each other very well, giving each other food, water and blankets. It was a very moving experience.

Asmaa Mahfouz

And Asmaa Mahfouz:

What we learned yesterday is that power belongs to the people, not to the thugs. Power is in unity, not in division. Yesterday, we truly lived the best moments of our lives. We learned that the Egyptian people are not chaotic or disorderly. The government keeps saying that we are a chaotic people and a revolution will lead to chaos. Yesterday, we were truly one hand, concerned for one another. Yesterday, not even one girl was harassed, even among those thousands. No one stole anything. No one struck anyone. No fights broke out. We were defending each other. Everyone was concerned for one another. Some bought water bottles and distributed them; others distributed sandwiches. We all said it was from our hearts. Long live Egypt! Some boys and girls even cleaned the streets of trash and garbage. This is the Egyptian people that we have always dreamed of. I can now say that I am proud to be Egyptian. I truly wish to kiss every Egyptian’s forehead and say, “Thank you for being Egyptian.” I never imagined that I would see this.

We have watched the media construct  and perpetuate an opposition that has become an accepted common sense in Western media outlets, between good secular democracy, represented by white Americans and Europeans, and the bad democratic tendencies of brown-skinned Arabs or Persians who just don’t seem to get it. The BBC, for example, has been keenly rehearsing all the ways revolution “went bad” in the “afterward” of the hope and optimism that accompanied the resistance to tyranny. The commonly-cited example is Iran, where, according to the narrow and uninformed narrative prepackaged for us, there was “stability” under the “US supported Shah,” (who was a little heavy-handed, we are informed); then there was a democratic uprising, a revolution; and then the revolution turned into an evil thing. Not only are there logical problems with the way the “revolution” is conceptualized as a thing separate from its embodies complexities. It is all told in perfect circularity, beginning with the conclusion, namely, that we should be very afraid of brown-skinned people, especially Middle Easterners, getting democracy. Never mind, among an infinity of objections, that the US itself plays a key role in the development of these events, whether by paying off strongmen like Mubarak and the Shah in Iran to keep democracy down, or by assassinating potential leaders of democratic movements, as with the CIA assassination of the democratic Iranian president Mossadeq in the 1950s, since he was not so keen on Western corporations taking away Iran’s oil profits.  The over-arching lesson behind this sort of thinking is that since those people can’t handle their irrational impulses, not having fully absorbed the Enlightenment and all, they will inevitably turn democracy into something evil. In the words of the top Israeli government official “I’m not sure the time is right for the Arab region to go through the democratic process.”

A baby joins the demonstrations in Tahrir Square

No, Obama tells us along with so many others: democracy is not right for these people. What they need is a firm hand, a good police-state, a military regime that won’t let them get out of hand. This is why Obama, along with every US administration since Mubarak came to power 30 years ago, has unfailingly supported Mubarak’s police-state policies, his torture regime, and his corrupt government.

We didn’t mind that the police regularly torture and disappear people. In fact, we sent Egypt our own people to torture for us: “torture by proxy.” We praised them for being such good “interrogators.” We didn’t mind that Mubarak suspended the civil liberties guaranteed in the Egyptian constitution by declaring that Egypt was in a “state of emergency”… for 29 years. Not only did we not mind it, but we paid him to keep it that way, a taxpayers’ fortune. Year after year, there was our handout to Mubarak, some free tanks and tear-gas and bullets to keep the people down.

The US trails behind events, adding a thumbs up to things that have already become inevitable, in a desperate attempt to look like it is supporting democracy even as it does everything behind scenes to staunch the impulses of freedom. So when things first erupted on January 25th, Hilary Clinton, in a statement that she surely now regrets, threw her weight behind Mubarak.

Hosni Mubarak, bad man #1

Ever since, Obama has consistently said only the minimum necessary not to look foolish before a truly democratic uprising. Where he could call for an end to a brutal dictatorship and for the democratizing of Egypt’s government, he glibly calls for a “smooth transition of power.” There is no denying that Obama has real clout. After all, the US has been the main international supporter of Mubarak, whose regime has received a fortune in foreign aid donations from the US. Obviously interested in as little change as possible, Obama trails on the sidelines, calling the shots that have already been made. It took the Obama administration nearly a week to utter the word “democracy.” Behind scenes, preparations are made for a new dictator to step into Mubarak’s shoes, if necessary. In the meantime, the US administration calls for cosmetic changes, but nothing deep. No need to implement civil rights, or reestablish the constitution, or create a democratic plurality. Simply offer the protesters a few crumbs, a few of those smaller freedoms, without changing anything important, like military rule.

Omar Suleiman, bad man #2

The US point man in the Egyptian regime is Omar Suleiman. Obama, deep in Israel’s pocket on this, would like nothing better than to see this guy in power, since he would be an even better puppet than Mubarak. Suleiman, after all, as the CIA go-to person during the extensive “extraordinary rendition” program, in which we brought him suspected bad guys and told him to be very cruel in dark places and bring us any useful information. As Independent reporter Robert Fisk points out, if the US gets its way,

We’re going to have just another benevolent military dictator running another army which runs another country in the Arab world, which is basically what we’ve had all along. So, the protesters…they’re going to have to struggle hard to make sure that the political future belongs in their hands and not in another bunch of generals who grew up under Mubarak and got tired of his rule.

And the revolution continues…

Demonstrators wave Egyptian flags as the anti-government protests continue into 17th day

Demonstrators celebrate in Tahrir Square as rumours spread that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak would resign

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One Response to Tonight in Cairo…the revolution continues

  1. Andrea says:

    Those pictures are awesome. Quite literally. So many people! And people with their hearts in this protest. Not “ready” for democracy… so much is wrong with that idea. And how contradictory of the US to say that after its campaigns to “spread” “democracy” – clearly democracy is only commendable when it benefits the interests of the powerful in the US.

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