Monday, August 19, 2013

Egypt - Thoughts

It seems there is a nascent civil war in Egypt.  In early 2011, Western "progressives" hailed the mass demonstrations in Egypt, and the "Arab Spring" of which they were in many ways a part, as a political marvel worthy of our own emulation, and it was conjoined in the minds of many with the now quiescent American "Occupy Wall Street" movement.

Today, Syria is embroiled in a bloodthirsty civil war, anti-army forces in Egypt have killed 20 soldiers in an ambush, hundreds lay dead and maimed by the recent military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hosni Mubarak, the Americans' quisling ex-leader, is apparently about to be released from prison.

The Obama government is walking a geopolitical tightrope, refusing to call a coup d'etat a coup d'etat (as the Obama government did after the secretly US-supported coup in Honduras in 2009), because by law the US must cut off military aid to post-coup governments.

Egyptian liberals, hailed as the future of Egypt by their Western counterparts, openly supported the bloody military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, just as American liberals have given the Obama administration a pass on its massive consolidation of executive power, its abrogation of civil rights, and its not-so-secret drone murders.  The irony is that the Muslim Brotherhood was more than willing to embrace the US-directed world neoliberal economic order, as were the liberals, and as are the Generals.

Don't get me wrong; the MB was not elected in any genuinely representative manner (but then neither are American leaders); and the MB was ham-handed in its attempts to carry out a reactionary version of the same old shit.  The Egyptian majority cannot be classified accurately as Islamist or liberal - these were two organized factions that shared the goal of ousting Mubarak with most Egyptians.

The sticky wicket for the US regime is yet another dilemma:  its troublesome support of the brutally lawless Israeli government (another recipient, like Egypt, of dollars that are spent in turn buying US-manufactured weapons), and how that support - difficult to extricate itself from for a host of political reasons - continually reproduces mistrust among Muslims and Arabs, who the Obama administration would like to recruit in its brain-dead China containment strategy, called "the Asian pivot."

Oh, and of course, there is the perennial question of access to oil to fuel the global capitalist regime over which the US presides.  Egypt is central to the US stability strategy in the region, as is Saudi Arabia - another open sore when the US spouts off to others about "human rights" and such.

Secretary of Sate John Kerry calls the Egyptian military the "best investment America has made... in that region."

This conundrum delights Putin's government in Russia which views any difficult geopolitical entanglement of the United States as a boon to Russia's own ambitions to regain its status as a superpower and advance its own national interests in the region.  China likewise views the wrong-footing of the United States as advantageous, more so now that the US has embarked on its bizarre China containment strategy.

My own observations, however, relate to various strains of political activism in my home country of the US in particular those who hailed the Egyptian "revolution" as "progressive" and who drew parallels between the mass street actions of anti-Mubarak forces and those of the then-still-breathing Occupy Wall Street movement.

What we are observing now, which may become a full-blown civil war or a successful military dictatorship (other options are evaporating quickly), should be telling us something about the dangerous unpredictability of politics predicated first and foremost on "resistance," especially resistance that shows a preparedness to employ violence, and without rigorous and deep analyses of the political milieu.

Instead, magical thinking has predominated - as it did among many of my own comrades when I was an active Marxist - that presumes our problems will be solved by some manner of social cataclysm, or - more delusional still - that some formation of like-minded people will step in, the public now flocking to their banner, and make the necessary corrections.

In the US, the public by and large doesn't know who these people are or what they are talking about, and among many of the self-referential and sectarian enclaves of anarchists and socialists there seems to be a collective denial about the impenetrable power of popular culture on the minds of more than 99% of their national co-residents.

Oddly enough, almost all of them point to the civil rights movement in the US with no mention of the fact that it was led and organized not by political types, but by Southern black churches, beginning with a local bus boycott that was characterized by the political types as too narrow in scope; nor have many of them made much note of the fact that self-organized capitalism and consumer culture has co-opted the revolutionary kernel of that movement, and merely reorganized white supremacy, casting black folk into a state of abject political dependency on the Democratic Party.

The quicker  people get over the delusion of "world revolution" and such, the better.  Especially in the US.  God save us from "resistance" strategies!

Egypt's principle problem was not whether or not they had a "nice" liberal government or an opportunistic thug or a military junta; it was neoliberalism, the very system that all of the above were ready to embrace.  Before it was that, it was the developmentalism that strengthened Egypt's comprador bourgeoisie when they were busy playing Soviets and Americans off against each other.  Egypt's 2011 uprising has no analogy for US activists, who see large crowds bringing down a government, into which they then projected their own fantasies.

In the United States, the median age is 37.  In Egypt, it is 24.  40% of the population lives below the poverty line, and unemployment is over 12%, 16% in urban areas; and those official figures - as they do in the US - under-represent the reality.  In the 15-29 year old demographic, actual urban unemployment is more than 70%.

This is the reality that made Egypt a political tinderbox.  The neoliberal policies of privatization, regressive taxation, and lowered wages - policies that conform Egypt to Washington's "consensus" - are the direct cause of these social problems; but knowing one is miserable and understanding why are two different things.  This gap between experience and understanding is where demagogs of every stripe can conveniently fill in the blanks.  That is something the US does share with Egypt, even if the bases of the problems are different.

As both Christian and pacifist, I have a lot to think about here, especially when people - sometimes Christian "progressives" - are promoting the latest edgy action or grand political strategy.  Ten years from now there will be some reality we couldn't possibly have anticipated, and the world will still be broken.  When we choose our actions, we might be on guard about the difference between witnessing (like truth-telling, going to jail, or hunger strikes, e.g.) and seeking power (pushing for policies and state actions the consequences of which we cannot know).  We have been guaranteed a form of governance that will supersede any we can now comprehend.

As Stanley Hauerwas once said, "Jesus is Lord.  All the rest is bullshit."

1 comment:

  1. I like the fact that Mr. Hauerwas uses profanity, despite his Christianity. When talking of profane things, sometimes profanity is necessary.

    I AM actually, a THIS point in time, NOT surprised that we (U.S./Euro ruling/financial elite) didn't get MORE behind the Islamic Brotherhood. The IB origins date from WW2, when it was formed by Germany to aid in the Final Solution in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

    The Israeli leadership perhaps remembers this salient fact, despite their own decision, as Zionists/elitist/exterminists, to let 4 million Jews perish in the Holocaust.

    They have nukes, and obviously aren't afraid to use them & start something that could completely shatter a perhaps fixable broken world.

    We can't let that happen, because our neoliberal-neoconservative-whatever "tapeworms" don't want to kill the host---read Earth---just yet.