Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

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139685_600 Steve Bell cartoon 5.11.2013

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Clearly, many more Americans have begun to follow closely the war in Syria (thereby giving lie to the idea that Americans just don’t care)—and most Americans are opposed to U.S. airstrikes there (which, at leaset thus far, actually seems to be having an effect on their congressional representatives).

The problem is, Americans are being presented with a false choice—not unlike the false choice I suggested was being presented in Egypt.

Slavoj Žižek [ht: ja] is one of the few commentators I’ve read who seem to understand this.

there are no clear political stakes, no signs of a broad emancipatory-democratic coalition, just a complex network of religious and ethnic alliances overdetermined by the influence of superpowers (US and western Europe on the one side, Russia and China on the other). In such conditions, any direct military intervention means political madness with incalculable risks – say, what if radical Islamists take over after Assad’s fall? So will the US repeat their Afghanistan mistake of arming the future al-Qaida and Taliban cadres?

In such a messy situation, military intervention can only be justified by a short-term self-destructive opportunism. The moral outrage evoked to provide a rational cover for the compulsion-to-intervene (“We cannot allow the use of poisonous gas on civil population!”) is fake. Faced with a weird ethics that justifies taking the side of one fundamentalist-criminal group against another, one cannot but sympathise with Ron Paul’s reaction to John McCain’s advocacy of strong intervention: “With politicians like these, who needs terrorists?”

The situation in Syria should be compared with the one in Egypt. Now that the Egyptian army has decided to break the stalemate and cleanse the public space of the Islamist protesters, and the result is hundreds, maybe thousands, of dead, one should take a step back and focus on the absent third party in the ongoing conflict: where are the agents of the Tahrir Square protests from two years ago? Is their role now not weirdly similar to the role of Muslim Brotherhood back then – that of the surprised impassive observers? With the military coup in Egypt, it seems as if the circle has somehow closed: the protesters who toppled Mubarak, demanding democracy, passively supported a military coup d’etat which abolished democracy … what is going on?

The millions of “impassive observers” in the case of Syria, about whom we should be concerned, are now being displaced and are being forced into the burgeoning refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq. Those are the places where a humanitarian intervention might actually be useful.

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Martin Rowson 20.08.13 136071_600

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Martin Rowson 15.8.2013

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There may be lessons of the “springtime of the peoples” in 1848 for the coup in Egypt in 2013. But they’re certainly not the ones drawn by Sheri Berman.

No, the Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with the radical democratic workers’ movements that took power, if only briefly, across Europe in spring 1848. The last thing workers were demanding back then was a new theocratic regime. And it’s not that the radicalization of the nineteenth-century socialist movement created the rift between liberals and workers. It was the liberals who betrayed the democratic aspirations of European workers.*

But there are two lessons from 1848 for the present situation. First, liberals—then as now—will more often than not join forces with conservatives (including authoritarians) to keep workers and the Left out of power. And second, workers and their allies do need to develop their own common senses and institutions in order to gain and hold power.

And that includes Egypt today. It’s a false choice to look to any of the three contending parties—the Brotherhood, liberal opponents of the old regime, and the military—as the route out of the current crisis. Egyptian workers, peasants, and young people have everything to lose, and nothing to gain, by expecting any of those groups to be the one to loosen their chains.

*And, finally, if Berman had actually read Eric Hobsbawm’s magisterial The Age of Capital, from which she borrows the phrase “springtime of the peoples,” she would have understood that, in the wake of the 1848 defeats, Marx and most Marxist socialists adopted a much more long-term and non-insurrectionary strategy of defending themselves and of eventually gaining power.

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