Zodwa Nsibande, from a post on South Africa’s Abahlali baseMjondolo, a shack dwellers movement:
In our days being involved in the struggle for change is no longer as popular as it was before simply because many people believe that because we had got rid of the oppressive government everything is now ok. But freedom was never just a case of replacing a white government with a black government. It was a case of building a different kind of society – a society that put human beings at the centre, a society in which there would be decent homes, decent work, decent schools and decent health care for everyone. It was a case of building a participatory democracy in which everyone’s voice and life would count the same irregardless of whether they were a woman or a man, black or white, gay or straight or poor or rich. In fact it was a case of building a society where poverty would be ended.
Those who think that the time of struggle is over are forgetting that we are still living under a kind of apartheid but that in this apartheid the difference is the people are divided by class. The gap between those who have and those who don’t have is huge and it is getting worse. Those who say that we must be patient are forgetting that things are getting worse for the poor and not better.
And here is a look at Spain’s days of protests in May of 2011.
By Siân Ruddick:
Mass demonstrations and protest camps have mushroomed across Spain as the young and the unemployed say “enough”. As many as 40 percent of Spain’s 4.5 million unemployed are under 25.
The economic crisis has brought further austerity and attacks on workers and the poor. But now the people are fighting back.
Unemployment runs at 21% in the country, 45% for those who are 18 to 25 years old.
Sokari Ekine writes about Uganda and Africa:
Uprisings continue across the continent, with Uganda being the latest country where citizens have taken to the streets in protest against rising food and energy prices.
[…]The protests have met with a violent response from the government of Yoweri Museveni, with police firing live bullets at crowds, beatings and mass arrests.
[…]Ndumba Jonnah Kamwanyah in the Southern Africa FBP likens Museveni to Egypt’s Mubarak with the same mindset and the same relationship with the West:
‘Typical of a mindset of a dictator, President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 25 years, does not see the connection between the uprisings and his governing style. Instead his delusional mentality makes him see how indispensable he is to Uganda. Narcissistic is what he is, just like all dictators and autocratic leaders, and he does not care about what the Ugandan citizens think or want.’
In Egypt, here’s a peek at May 20, Tahrir Square:
Hossam el-Hamalway in an interview:
The revolution was against the Mubarak regime but all we’ve managed to do so far is remove Mubarak himself. The ones running the country right now are Mubarak’s generals, who were the backbone of his dictatorship from day one.
[…]Attempts are already under way by middle-class activists to place limits on this revolution and ensure it remains only within the realm of formal political institutions.
[…]But the main part of any revolution has to be socio-economic emancipation for the citizens of a country; if you want to eliminate corruption or stop vote-buying then you have to give people decent salaries, make them aware of their rights and not leave them in dire economic need. A middle-class activist can return to his executive job after they think the revolution is over, but a public transport worker who has spent 20 years in service and is getting paid only 189 Egyptian pounds a month – you can’t ask this guy to go back to work and tell his starving kids at home that everything will be sorted out once we have a civilian government in the future.So this is phase two of the revolution, the phase of socio-economic change. What we need to do now is take Tahrir to the factories, the universities, the workplaces. In every single institution in this country there is a mini-Mubarak who needs to be overthrown. In every institution there are figures from the old state security regime who need to be overthrown. These guys are the counter-revolution.
And in Greece, according to Matthaois Tsimitakis:
The village of Keratea is a conservative and peaceful place, about an hour’s drive from Athens. When, a few months ago, the central government decided without consultation to create a garbage landfill destroying antiquities, polluting the environment and defying the European Commission’s rejection of the plan as unsustainable, Keratea erupted into violent confrontation with the police.
[…]The Keratea resistance is part of a series of low or higher intensity confrontations with the government, its preferred contractors and the repressive apparatus of state brought in to protect the corporations. Such local movements have spread all over the country for some time, defending public spaces against privatization (this has happened repeatedly in Athens where the last remaining green spots are consistently given over to construction companies), natural resources (the Canadian gold mining corporation TVX is facing a strong resistance movement in the North of the country), or protesting against the repeated corruption scandals.
Palestinian refugees marched to commemorate Nakba on May 15, the expulsion of hundreds of thousands from their homes in today’s occupied Palestine and Israel.
Karma Nabulsi has this to say:
It was the moment for which we had all been holding our breath for decades – for 63 years to be precise. Palestinians everywhere watched the unfolding scene transfixed and awed. The camera followed the movements of a small group of people advancing from the mass of protesters. They were carefully making their way down a hill towards the high fence that closed off the mined field separating Syria from its own occupied territory of the Golan that borders historic Palestine, now Israel.
They were mostly young Palestinians, drawn from the 470,000-plus refugee community in Syria: from Yarmouk refugee camp inside Damascus, from Khan el-Sheikh camp outside it, from Deraa and Homs refugee camps in the south, from Palestinian gatherings all over the country.
Slowly, and in spite of the shouted warnings from the villagers from Majdal Shams about the lethal landmines installed by the Israeli military right up to the fence, these remarkable ordinary young people – Palestinian refugees – began to both climb and push at the fence. We were going home.
It was a profoundly revolutionary moment, for these hundreds of young people entering Majdal Shams last Sunday made public the private heart of every Palestinian citizen, who has lived each day since 1948 in the emergency crisis of a catastrophe. Waiting, and struggling, and organising for only two things: liberation and return.
[…]On Sunday, this moment of return was enacted simultaneously in Haifa and among Palestinians displaced inside Israel, on the borders of Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Gaza, in the West Bank near the Qalandia refugee camp – wherever the more than 7 million stateless Palestinian refugees now live, very near their original villages and towns. Just out of sight, over the hill, across the border.
Moe Ali Nayel writes:
things will not be the same as before 15 May. Just like after Muhammad Bouazizi, things are not the same as before he shook the Arab world. The Arab people, us, the Arab youth, we are not going to let the status quocontinue, we are not going to be humiliated by our own people anymore. We are not going to let Palestine and the Palestinian people be humiliated and tortured every time they breathe.
We are freedom-loving people and we won’t live anymore on empty promises from our corrupt governments who use Palestine as a pretext to repress us while they enjoy stealing from our pockets. We won’t let them continue to make sure Israel is safe and sound, enjoying the beautiful land of Palestine, while hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in inhumane conditions in the camps.
In Portugal, on March 12 ” Upwards of 300,000 people took to the streets in Lisbon and other Portuguese cities on Saturday to protest job insecurity…”
In the UK, there have been cuts to education, health care and social spending after providing massive ‘bailouts’ to financial institutions that continue to pull in enormous profits. This has resulted in direct action, protests, and occupations of universities.
From We are the Third Force by S’bu Zikode of Abahlali baseMjondolo:
The community has realised that voting for parties has not brought any change to us.
[…]For us time has been a very good teacher. People have realised so many things. We have learnt from the past – we have suffered alone. That pain and suffering has taught us a lot. We have begun to realise that we are not supposed to be living under these conditions.
And here’s a little song courtesy of Nina Simone:
Under the previous Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, numerous public companies were sold off to the private sector. The process left many workers without employment from layoffs and factory closures. Here is a video of Egyptian workers explaining the situation they are in as they occupying an abandoned factory.
Privatization was represented as a move to efficient business practice. In that case, it should have helped improve the country’s economy, if we understand improvement to mean better standards of living that would support the basic life needs of people.
This sort of doing business, ‘rationalizing’ both private and public firms, is not unique to Egypt. The problem with its practice is that even if the GDP of a country grows, poverty is in most cases is increasing.
This is true in many countries, no matter the size of their economies. And the practice of buying existing companies (or factories) and shutting them down is not new. On paper, it might even be shown to provide a short-term increase in the nation’s profits, depending on how you like to calculate such things.
For example, a group buys a working factory at low cost, closes it, and sells off all of its assets (machines, land, etc.) for a nice profit over the initial cost of purchase. They might decide to keep a few factories open in the short to medium term with reduced number of employees and call this efficiency. In time, even these can be closed and sold off as social and political pressure from the initial round of mass closures eases up.
Downsizing is another word for this sort of efficiency, putting capital markets in control of business management. For an example of this in the US, during the Reagan’s presidency, see the video clip below. It’s from Adam Curtis’ documentary, The Mayfair Set. I recommend watching the video from about 2 minutes and 10 seconds in.
You can watch the entire four part documentary for free on Youtube .
Is there something new being introduced in Egypt, launched by a series of mass rebellions in the country and region? If something new is being introduced, then what is it?
Change from an old structure and practice of governance to the new comes in many shades and forms. Change, even if sparked by popular uprisings, does not automatically lead to a popular government nor does it have to fundamentally overturn the power of privileged associations such as broad groups of political or military elites.
What I find significant in the transformation taking place in Egypt since the removal of Hosni Mubarak from the presidency is not the purely structural details, outlines, and schema of state and government change: i.e. political offices, which leaders among the elite are in charge, etc.
The vessel of political imagination is undergoing significant change. This is the immaterial body of the imagined community.
It is a matter of re-conceiving the essence of the state, such that the concept of community and nation takes on new meaning, that old names have new significance. This is the transformation to keep one’s eye on. It is a reframing of names and concepts, leading to a new state of governance.
In their meaning and practice, the names and categories ‘dignity’, ‘national identity’, ‘national interest’, ‘future’, ‘dream’, ‘need’, ‘government’, and ‘popular’ are undergoing investigation, and adjustment or redefinition.
The new state exists within a situation of power concentrated in the hands of associations of the elite that compose a miniscule fraction of the total population. The significant change is not one of power being shared relatively equally across a mass of people.
To put it another way, I mean that the state of affairs following the 2011 uprisings in Egypt has not led to a fundamentally emancipatory practice of social and political life. To paraphrase Peter Hallward’s philosophy on collective self-determination, the event has invented new ground but the walk through the “historical, cultural, and socioeconomic terrain” is not being organized by a deliberate assembly of the people even if they must be “conditioned by the specific strategic constraints that structure the particular situation.” (1)
There is certainly a new state of governance that is vigorously attempting to re-contextualize the concept of state and nation, but it is also clearly not a government of the people. The government of Egypt is a house of power compelled to transform itself by the sudden presence of what were established though previously suppressed incoherencies, inconsistencies, and contradictions in the old ‘regime’. This sudden presence of old contradictions appears as a great burden, a mountain of weight on the straining shoulders of Egypt.
It has come to the foreground through mass rebellion and demonstrations. It cannot be missed. It is plainly visible no matter where the gaze is fixed. The incoherencies are raw force, and they have broken the state such as it was. It is now time to grasp onto the event to organize change by transforming cultural, social, and political relationships into a new relation of thought and practice.
The associations that, until now, seem to have most successfully taken this opportunity in hand in order to forge the structure of the future Egypt, those associations that are (re)aligning the elements of the opportunity afforded them into a new state, reside predominantly within the elite, though thrust into motion by the muscle of the people. This new state is, so far, a state of the nation and not a new state of and for the people.
A tendency of privileging national identity has historically been the ease with which it is turned to the very serious zero-sum game of competing national blocs and powers. The national identity also competes with other conceptions of community and can provide “a cement which [bonds] all citizens to their state, a way to bring the nation-state directly to each citizen, and a counterweight to those who [appeal] to other loyalties over state loyalty.” (2). In this fashion, the ‘nationality’ may become “a real network of personal relations rather than a merely imaginary community.” (3) It introduces the possibility of privileging national interest by lauding those who are true defenders (patriots) of the nation tied to its instrumental apparition in the body of the state. This can endanger the effectiveness of critique as well as limit social and political options that are critical in practice.
Here is a glimpse of the tension prior to the uprisings that toppled Hosni Mubarak from nearly 30 years as president (from Amira Mittermaier’s book, Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination):
People can’t afford to buy anymore; the only thing left is window-shopping. We are sipping heavy tea that is bearable only with an excessive amount of sugar. But the tea is not the only thing that is heavy; so is the atmosphere. Like Ahmad, many friends during the course of my visit will explain that economically, morally, and politically, Egypt is going through a crisis. Almost everyone I talk to feels helpless, hopeless, and outraged about the ongoing war in Iraq and about the emergency laws that interdict all expressions of discontent within Egypt itself. ‘We’re living in a nightmare,’ people say when I bring up the topic of dreams.
Here’s what a Cairo taxi driver had to say, as recorded by Khaled Al Khamissi:
Education for everyone, sir, was a wonderful dream and, like many dreams, it’s gone, leaving only the illusion. On paper, education is like water and air, compulsory for everyone, but the reality is that rich people get educated and work and make money, while the poor don’t get educated and don’t get jobs and don’t earn anything. They loaf around, and I can show them to you, they can’t find anything to do, except of course the geniuses. And our boy Albert is definitely not one of those.
But I am trying with him. I pay for private lessons like a dog. What else can I do? I say maybe God will breathe life into him and he’ll turn out like Ahmed Zeweil, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry. (4)
Another driver has this to say:
I don’t understand what they want from us. There are no jobs, then they tell us to do any job that’s going, but they’re waiting in ambush for us whatever job we do. They plunder and steal and ask for bribes and where it all leads I don’t know. Just as I spend so much a day on petrol, I have to put aside bribe money for the traffic department every day just in case. (5)
In Egypt, the practice of political power must today acknowledge the eruption of the mass response to crisis by addressing, incorporating, co-opting, redirecting, or deflecting it.
The uprisings and the resulting strain on the socio-political order were not an end to be achieved: the event is a point of departure.
The thing to keep in mind is not simply that change is taking place. It is vital to take notice of how change is taking place: what groups are and will be organizing the productions of human conditions in Egypt, and what will these conditions be? (6)
I’ll conclude with a joke as told by a Cairo taxi driver. This joke underscores the trouble with some types of change or transformation as directed by the minority who hold power. “We thank all those who voted yes in the referendum and we give special thanks to Umm Naima because she voted twice.” (7)
(1) from Hallward’s essay, The Will of the People: Notes Towards a Dialectical Voluntarism.
(2) Eric Hobsbawm, 1989. The Age of Empire, p. 149. Vintage Books.
(3) Ibid. pp. 153-154.
(4) From chapter 29 of the book, Taxi.
(5) From chapter 33 of the book, Taxi.
(6) Here, I’m adapting Peter Hallward’s some thoughts in the essay, Jacques Ranciere and the Subversion of Mastery.
(7) From chapter 33 of the book, Taxi.
China’s influence in key Middle Eastern countries has increased thanks to its economic clout. It is becoming a primary export market for countries of the region (and much of the world in general), while also making significant and strategic investments in numerous regions.
In the past five years, China has emerged as the major investor in Iran, with an estimated US$120 billion worth of energy investments. Despite the sanctions already in place, trade between the countries grew by 35% in 2008, to $27 billion. In 2009, China signed over $8 billion in new energy investments. Seemingly, there is an emerging China-Iran tandem.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are among China’s biggest suppliers of crude oil.
China is Saudi Arabia’s top export market. Trade between the two countries had increased to US$41.8 billion in 2008. 16,000 Chinese workers were employed in Saudi Arabia in 2009, representing 70 companies.
It is estimated that in 2010 China will be Egypt’s largest trade partner.
Responding to Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans as prime minister of Israel to change focus from a two-state solution to an ‘economic peace‘ plan, a chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, writes in a Washington Post op-ed that:
Rather than ending the occupation, Netanyahu has proposed an “economic peace” that would seek to normalize and better manage it. Instead of a viable Palestinian state, his vision extends no further than a series of disconnected cantons with limited self-rule.
Saeb Eraka outlines three requirements for peace. They are:
(1) “The first is intent. Palestinians and Israelis must renew their commitment to the vision of two states existing side by side in peace and security.”
(2) “The second factor goes to the heart of credibility. By repeatedly violating its obligations under previous agreements, Israel has undermined the very credibility of the peace process. Restoring that credibility is vital. This requires that Israel implement an immediate and complete freeze on settlement activity, including all natural growth and the construction of Israel’s wall, in keeping with both international law and its obligations under the 2003 “road map.” Without a settlement freeze, there will be no two-state solution left to speak of.”
(3) “The third factor concerns accountability. A credible enforcement mechanism designed to hold both parties accountable for their obligations under previous agreements must be established by the “Quartet” of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. And America must serve as the honest broker capable of creating a level playing field between Palestinians and Israelis during talks.”
According to Haaretz, one of Netanyahu’s first acts as prime minister will be the, “the formation of an administrative body whose task is to promote economic peace with the Palestinians.” There has been no mention of a viable two-state solution by him, and concern among some is that the very idea of a Palestinian state will be discarded in favour of control or annexation of many parts of the West Bank and focus on economic policy married to current police action to manage any fallout.
Meanwhile, Egypt continues to serve as a cantankerous negotiator between the two Palestinian political organizations of Fatah and Hamas. It has now refused to attend the annual Arab Summit at Doha this end of March. No official reason has been given yet Doha has been supportive of Hamas while Cairo strongly backs Fatah. I find it strange that Egypt can have such a strong reaction and bias to the inter-Palestinian conflict yet forward itself as a fair mediator in negotiations between the two parties.
AFP reports that: “A senior Egyptian official is in Damascus to meet Syrian and Hamas officials ahead of renewed Palestinian unity talks next week, a Palestinian official said on Friday. Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman’s deputy Omar Kinawi will push for Palestinian reconciliation during the meetings, said Nabil Shaath, a senior official with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party.”
Extreme editorial bias, formal and informal censorship, and political interference is a bane of journalists in the Middle East, both local and international. At times, this results in ambiguous or clear battle lines being drawn between media houses that have become partially or fully politicized. The traditional media of print, radio, and television is, however, being challenged in some places by a rise of alternatives provided by the Internet.
In many cases, the state has not yet had an effective response to control these new mediums of communication, and the traditional media is increasingly being influenced by independent journalists, and political activists via blogs and social networking sites. It remains to be seen if states adapt and develop new modes of control over freedom of communication, and if the Internet proves to be an effective long term medium of political comment and organization.
Below is information on the state of the media in Egypt, Lebanon, and Israel taken from a number of studies and posts.
In the past few years, Egypt has been facing a groundswell of strikes, and protests in the face of continued repression, unemployment, and poverty. Much of the industrial action and opposition is coming from the country’s youth. A third of the population is younger than 15, 60% under the age of 25, unemployment is 10 times higher among the educated than the uneducated, 40% of the population of almost 80 million people live below the poverty line.
Al Jazeera’s program Inside Story investigates the issue of disaffected youth, with speakers from a government affiliated NGO association, an independent journalist, a representative from a youth opposition movement, and the editor of the Muslim Brotherhood’s online journal.
Below are links to the program.