Friday, August 15, 2014

On August 14, a belated obituary for Bassem Mohsen

I met Bassem Mohsen for a few moments in July 2013. He was upbeat and hopeful that the army had taken hold of power from the Muslim Brotherhood.
I remember being surprised by his quick optimism. He believed that these generals were different than those who had ruled during the period of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, following former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. After all, they had deposed our most recent nemesis, the Muslim Brotherhood.
My only and very brief encounter with Bassem left me disappointed. A mutual friend had told me about his constant involvement in all stages of the January 25 revolution. He had already paid the price — he was incarcerated, and then lost his left eye in the critical battle of Mohamed Mahmoud in November 2011. It made me angry that this popular sentiment of black and white thinking could be so widespread, even among the most outspoken proponents of the revolt of our times.
Less than a month later, the soldiers Bassem had cheered for carried out a crime as they massacred Muslim Brotherhood supporters at a sit-in at the Rabea al-Adaweya mosque. Thousands killed, thousands injured, thousands arrested — most of whom are still jailed today. The biggest bloodbath the Egyptian army carried out on its own population.  
Four months later, Bassem's body was transferred from his native Suez to Cairo's Qasr al-Aini hospital after an army sniper's bullet penetrated his forehead.
At the hospital, his friend Eno, overcome with sorrow, told me that Bassem had joined the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators that day not in support of their cause, but out of protest against the police and military's killing spree since taking power. I had been disappointed with what seemed to me Bassem's simplistic analysis months earlier, but he clearly did not linger long in his short-sighted trust in the generals.
Unlike Bassem, I had opposed the military when they were celebrated into power on July 3. And again, unlike Bassem, I did not take to the street despite my rage at the horrors that ensued. After the decisive divide-and-rule tactic that the military and police generals carried out that July, I drew back, feeling with many around me that we needed to bide our time to be able to speak or to act again. Following a period of naive optimism, Bassem could clearly do no such thing. Injustice was injustice, torture and killing was just that, and he took to the street even if alongside his former enemy.
The coup that Bassem and I oppose not only eventually metamorphosed the Muslim Brotherhood into a terrorist entity, and condemned any other opposition with widespread popular blessing. This legitimization also opened a path of unprecedented police brutality.
Egyptians lost much support in the days following June 30, 2013, when they chanted into power the same police and military forces that they had chased out of it less than three years earlier. The widespread indifference toward the August 14 massacre that accompanied a rising fascistic spirit just confirmed that fall from grace.
One year after the massacre, Egypt's prisons are full of dissidents and innocents of all political stripes. Every Friday, protesters take to the street against the newly gained power of the police and military. These are not just supporters of the Brotherhood. Hundreds of Bassems pass through the morgues, thousands fill the decrepit cells of the prisons — these are the “unknowns” with the courage to dissent. If these acts of protest are reported at all, the pro-military media will usually paint them wholesale as Muslim Brotherhood members, banned and thus deserving to be captured or killed.
Though I do not affirm the Brotherhood's cause to return to power, I believe in their right to dissent. All those that risk their bodies, like Bassem, risk the bullet. I will by no means try to justify the shocking actions of Egyptians that started the morning of June 30, the rise of the fascistic, the acceptance of the torment of others. The most powerful tool to these ends is the discourse of terrorism that has fed into the deep fear in the hearts of so many living inside a regime of terror. 
There is a vital lesson to be learned in Egypt: no revolt happens in a vacuum. Egypt’s revolutionaries cannot face the local police and military believing that we are unrelated to the incarceration of protesters in Bashar al-Assad's dungeons, the neo-liberal policies spreading across the globe or black youths shot dead in the inner cities of the United States.
No revolt exists in a vacuum. And in this power balance we are all black, we are the underdogs, we are the wretched still trying to fight ourselves free from the stranglehold of the colonizer, metamorphosed into the prison warden in dark skin and leaders that are our kin, but still hold the whip over our heads. The lesson we must glean is that as our world becomes ever smaller, the weapons that your leaders grant ours are never to be trusted, and must be smashed.
The bombs dropping on Gaza are made far away, and the blood they shed is on the hands of those who do not stop them from reaching the mercenaries. The consequences of sealed borders preventing the dying from receiving some care lie on my shoulders. The twisted tales told by the agencies in your neighborhoods that falsify the history of the outcasts is a responsibility we must bare.
Like Bassem, we must find the courage to try and stop them, or else we prepare a future of horrors.
Rest in peace Bassem. We continue your struggle.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Picture 30-2
Why Riot?, video by Mosireen Video Collect, 2013.
“The revolution is not a thing of the past, the revolution is still in process.” Philip Rizk stated as we began our discussion of his text “2011 is not 1968”, whereby he challenges the dominant narratives of the January 25th Revolution as a youth lead revolution. He argues that the radicalizing factor of the uprising was an underclass without leaders.
Shuruq: In your text “2011 is not 1968” you challenge the dominant narratives of the January 25th Revolution as a youth lead revolution. You argue that the radicalizing factor of the uprising was an underclass without leaders. It was not a socialist movement, nor an ideological revolution. It was not mobilized by the youth.
In what ways does dispelling these readings and myths help inform what needs to happen on the ground now?
Philip: Before I get to your question I need to clarify that I do not consider the Revolution to be a thing of the past, the revolution is still in process. Last month 1200 social protests were documented by a labor rights organization, while clashes with security forces are constantly on the brink of sparking into larger confrontations as we’ve had with only short interruptions over the past two and a half years. The reality is that the current political leaders are poorly equipped to run a state, but more than that, they are inheriting a dysfunctional framework. Not in the sense of a failed state but an exploitative, repressive neoliberal model of a post-colonial state. People will no longer sit back and accept the exploitation, the police violence, the ongoing unaccountability from state actors, from prison wardens to economic policies biased towards the elite class. I don’t believe this situation in Egypt is unique, there is a general discontent with the state of affairs of governance in much of the global neocolonial constellation. This reality is not limited to the states of the global south, even in the global north internal inequality of societies is causing outrage. I think it is important at times to question the root of the matter and the nation-state as a formula to organize societies with all its capitalist functions is not working. This form of organization imagined by our colonial ancestors is nothing more than a form of control and repression over the majority of the population. Today Hobbes’ Leviathan is cloaked in capitalist garb.
Going back to your question, the reality of a leaderless, horizontal, widespread rage against the system means that everywhere you look people are no longer afraid, no longer silent and will stand up for what they believe in. A majority of Egyptians are under the age of 30, and it is also they who are struggling to find work or know they will soon be in that situation. Combine this with the fact that for nearly three years they have grown accustomed to the possibility of no fear, they have grown accustomed to fighting being a possibility, a necessity, and thus you have the average age of fighters at the frontlines of battles becoming increasingly younger. The revolutionary rage is everywhere, not just amongst the youth, not within a movement or a party, not just in the past. My main grievance with the utility of the terminology of “youth revolution”, is that there is a constant effort to bracket the reality of the revolution, to categorize it, to make it understood, to historicize it, to identify and thus limit its participation to a category of class, age or nationality. The spirit of revolution revolves so much around the emotional translated into action. It was not a movement built up over years, or secret cells preparing a coup, a program written by the intellectuals. When people went to the street and proclaimed al-shab yurid isqat alnizam- this implied we would take down the system, not “we demand of our rulers.” It did not target only Mubarak’s “regime”, which is how the phrase is so frequently translated, but entails a desire to dismantle the system, as so many business moguls have dismantled the work places of thousands of workers, as torturers have dismantled the bodies of the kidnapped and imprisoned. People very quickly realized that the “transitional” power take over of the military generals and the current “democratic” period of the Muslim Brotherhood is merely a smoke screen for the maintenance of more of the same: More laws to suppress us, more policies in their favor, more wealth for those at the top at the cost of the underclass still leading revolution with all the cost that this entails.
In the long run this means that in Egypt, there is a seismic clash with the very concept of the post-colonial nation-state taking place, this is no longer about the discontent with a leader, its about a discontent with a system. This means that this revolutionary moment desires to overrule these realities and impose a different imaginary for society. The impotence of the political opposition is no weakness to this constant popular rejection of the status quo. The potency of the widespread perception of the hypocrisy of such elites actually makes possible a widespread re-imagining of society — it will take time, but it is on the horizon. The members of the neocolonial constellation meanwhile are fighting tooth and nail to suppress the emergence of this imaginary. From the point of view of the local gatekeepers who for years occupied the very prison cells, they now overcrowd with anyone who opposes their faltering regime. Our new “democratic” rulers desire everything to return to the way they were, only with this time the oppressed are bearing the mantle of power.
Shuruq: Do you think the current situation necessitates an ideological response? Does the revolution need to become socialist in order for it to continue successfully?
Philip: Absolutely not, I think that is the strength of the current phase we are in. Further than that I think it is actually the fighting over influence, the battling over power amongst opposition groups and movements that can often be an obstacle to the flow of revolutionary force. I believe alternative ways of imagining and organizing our society will only emerge in process, not in a predetermined manner modeled on others’ frameworks. There needs to be a desire for deeply different forms of social formation, not a reformation of the existent model or imaginaries superimposed from elsewhere. This moment has some similarities with the powerful momentum of the first Intifada in Palestine. A widespread consensus on not only the rejection of the colonial status quo, but also the methods to oppose it. This is not to equate the Egyptian context with the Zionist occupation of Palestine but if we are to take seriously the reality of neo-colonialism then we are dealing with an occupation in Egypt led by local elites built on the infrastructure left behind by our old colonizers- and this will be the case no matter who is in power. This means resistance to this political constellation cannot entail a reform of what exists, it means a rising up, a throwing off, a crushing of all that entails the old system before we can move on.
The Muslim Brotherhood hide their political ideology behind a mask of religion but at the heart, their formula of sovereignty does not differ from those who came before them, local or foreign. They will alter their religion-inspired values in a second if they get in the way of the establishment of their political domination. This is most obviously the case in their relationship with Palestine. While the Brotherhood do facilitate the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, they maintain the same hypocritical position of the Mubarak regime towards the Palestinians by retaining close ties to the state of Israel. The Brotherhood hold a rhetorical stance of critique of the Zionist state while upholding “peace agreements” with the Israelis and thus conserving the political arrangement in the region. Their recent negotiation with Israeli representatives on the expansion of the QIZ industrial zones, which receive tax breaks from the USA on the condition that the produced fabrics entail limited Israeli products is like a scene out of Animal Farm, the pigs copying all the actions of their human masters one generation earlier. This hypocrisy goes deeper still in the ongoing negotiations with the IMF over a loan that will entrench further the neo-liberal program that Egypt’s sovereigns have introduced to the country in stages since the late 70s.
For years the Brotherhood have carried out programs of charity and shown a consistent concern for the poor to broaden their support base. Today they are introducing the backbreaking policies that will drive us even deeper into despair. What I want to get at is that in order to break any logic of reform, of reformulation of the old, we don’t need a socialist vision, we don’t need a Marxist vision, we need to undo the old and see where this will take us. In a video the Mosireen Video Collective worked on in the community of Tahsin, the possibilities of local governance, of a complete reformulation independent of a centralized state, begin to appear. Since the creation of this village in 1964, the state has played no constructive role whatsoever. What is there has been made possible by the residents themselves, the school, the mosque, phone lines, sewer systems, bread, security: all ascertained at the hands of the village’s residents without the aid of government.
Tahsin village declares independence, video by Mosireen Video Collect, 2012.
Shuruq: You are critical of the role of the middle class as spokespersons, translators, and interpreters of the revolution. You point out how the faces of the middle class continue to conceal the circumstances and the real faces, “forces” behind the political resistance. In your opinion, what should be the role of the Egyptian middle class?
Philip: The middle class must consider itself to be playing a partnering role. We cannot become the underclass. We must acknowledge that the risks involved in opposing state forces for the middle class are not as high as they are for others. In turn we can play roles that the underclass is not in a place of luxury to. We need to do a lot of listening, more often than not we need to shut up and constantly question our ideological packages for the sake of reality on the ground. This, of course, means we play into a certain dynamic of representation, of speaking on behalf of a revolution, here I believe we need to be very careful, very selective. There are many moments where we should not speak, when we should remain quiet, to not play into the media discourse. Yet, there are moments where I believe we need to speak as I am here, in order to compete with the kidnapping of the narrative of revolution by ideological ends of all stripes or a commercial deformation of this narrative. . This is an uncertain mandate, I don’t claim to be able to speak on behalf of a collective that is not uniform. The best I can do is to keep my ears to the ground as much as possible, to spend time with the people that make up this revolution, to listen, to learn and speak in humility. In this act of speaking I do not attempt to “represent,” I try to interpret, but representation is out of the question.
Shuruq: You said, and I quote, “The framing and broadcasting of an image is a practice of power.” What is your reading of the current Egyptian media scene? Has there been substantial transformation to state run outlets? What is your take on independent media outlets in the post-Mubarak era?
Philip: We are reliant on various forms of media in Egypt for the distribution of information, but I always retain a sense of distance, a measure of doubt to a practice that must pass through different forms of editorial censorship and self-censorship. Simultaneously, these platforms of media dispersal bare the seeds of tools of repression within them. When the Egyptian military breaks a protest, maims and kills and the details of this are silenced in all registered media outlets, then these have become a tool of oppression. At the end of the day, all these outlets serve either the state apparatus or the personal interests of their owners. Thus a channel perceived by many as part of the opposition like ONTV, vehemently silences the occurrence of worker actions or tends to contort them as counter-revolutionary sectarian forces in the spirit of its business elite owners. Furthermore, many of these media outlets share the same weaknesses of other institutions, namely that they are extremely centralized and often silence the occurrence or diminish the value of protest outside of the capital or urban centers. Through their aura of being all-conclusive, such media outlets distort an ongoing resistance that is based in an underrepresented social strata of Egyptian society. In summary, all media organs, whether state-run or private inhabit their own interests, which are never revolutionary.
Shuruq: What other visual practices can help break this paradigm of power over the contextualization of the image?
Philip: As an image practitioner I have tried in various ways to oppose this practice of power. Disseminating images of opposition, of riot, is the most obvious method I have used to do so.. As part of the Mosireen Video Collective the internet is the obvious place to do so, where we have most control over our distribution, but this has a limited, largely elitist audience. This is a vital space to claim but it is not sufficient. By taking these images onto the street, as we did starting with Tahrir Cinema, we sought to take this confrontation of images to a public space. Here we not only screen images of opposition, including a variety of unseen, censored images, but engaged in discussion and confrontation between different points of view. We also disseminated our images through flash drives, CDs and Bluetooth connections in an attempt to use new methods to get our images into different spaces: living rooms, coffee shops, university dorms or further street screenings.
Our initiative was later translated into the Aeskar Kazeboon campaign, which pushes for the spreading of revolutionary street screenings in a non-centralized manner, flooding streets from Alexandria to Aswan with images censored from TV screens and newspapers. At Mosireen we also train activists across the country to engage in this practice of image creation by providing workshops on basic film-making and their dissemination for revolutionary purposes.
In my personal capacity as a film-maker, I am constantly trying to identify new modes of filmic engagement to oppose a regime of power that is represented in state-driven and commercial practices. My short documentary “Pity the Nation” unpacks the sources of the food price crisis. In the first screening of the film, the then Minister of Agriculture who had been interviewed in the film, was placed on stage and for over three hours an audience confronted him with questions over agriculture policies. The questions stemmed largely from a highly critical audience that included a number of angry farmers who would unlikely ever get the chance for this kind of encounter with a Minister that determines much of their everyday reality but remains protected in the fortresses of his Ministry.
“Pity the Nation”, film by Philip Rizk, 2011.
Shuruq: I think what is important about what you are doing is that you are thinking of the visual medium not only as a representational tool, but as a site of confrontation, a place of action rather than merely a recording device.
Philip: In our film “Out/In the Streets” that is now in production, Jasmina Metwaly and I want to take this confrontation in a different direction. The film focuses on the tale of a group of workers who were made redundant shortly after the government privatized the factory in which they worked. The privatization deal of course is only one example of many such cases that happened illegitimately under the influence of IMF and World Bank-inspired economic policies, in this case under the auspices of USAID. The film will include elements of documentary and filmed theatrical street performances by some of the former workers. The film clashes with standard film culture and with the dominant image of revolution on a variety of levels. There is the aspect of memory. Since day one of the revolution that we are still in the midst of, its narrative has been contested by all sorts of powers: The authorities, blaring their interpretation over the various state media outlets, foreign funders and powers, opposition parties and story tellers out to become the next revolutionary narrators. In the midst of this cacophony the memory of the events are quickly forgotten or tainted. Our intention with this film is to use a visual practice that will confront this reality.
Clip from “Out/In the Streets”, a film currently in production by Philip Rizk and Jasmina Metwaly.
In mid February after we had forced Mubarak to step down, the workers of the Starch & Glucose company occupied their factory for years at a standstill demanding for it to be run again. The new owners are in the midst of selling the machines off piece by piece, as well as the land on which the derelict factory lies along the Nile’s banks for a vast profit. Such forms of grand theft of the population are one of the realities that stoked the flames of anger and revolt against the government. With this film we will evoke these memories that the privatizers and the authors of the annals of history want swept under the rug of forgetfulness. Further, in Out/In the Streets we place an underclass, the precariat, members of an informal world, in center stage. They tell their stories, they piece together their world for us on stage, not the middle and upper class that line the images of dominant cinema. Finally, by bringing the theatrical performance to the streets of the community in which we film, we will engage a community outside of the usual filmic commercial experience. This is not a project of entertainment. We want to use the visual practice to open up a space of debate, of collective discussion, of resistance to hermetic filmic practices.
Shuruq: With the Mosireen Video Collective you have used different strategies, sometimes breaking down the propaganda of the state, and even adopting similar tools/strategies to discredit it. Other times, the videos are mostly putting forward testimonies about the violence imposed on protesters. Could you comment on these visual strategies?
Philip: One thing that a viewer needs to realize is that Mosireen is not a uniform practice. Different people within our collective have different passions and emphasize different events within the revolution. Most of us boycotted the presidential elections but not all of us could agree on a position, so we actually ended up making no videos addressing the elections. This position of silence on what most consider to be such a vital aspect of the revolution is a very clear stance. This revolution’s single aim is not to achieve “democracy,” which might be the most deceptive narrative of our revolution.
Much of what we create is a form of counter-propaganda, whereby we intend to subvert the rhetoric of the authorities. One of the clearest cases of this is the video we made after the Maspero massacre, in this horrible moment when military soldiers killed protesters with live fire and by driving over them with APCs. The military junta’s spokespeople came out afterwards and claimed these things simply never happened. But we had the images to prove it and so we had to create a tool of counter-propaganda to tell our version of the story to counter theirs.
Maspero Massacre, video by Mosireen Video Collect, 2011.
We have no aspirations to some form of alternative journalism, we don’t tell both sides of the story, we only tell our version. In this time of contestation over revolutionary narrative I think the testimony is a very powerful tool to declare the hypocrisy of the authorities, to reveal the lies of the police and army soldiers. But this format is also limited and at times competes with the mainstream media, which has obvious advantages over us with much larger funding and TV outlet. There are instances of government or self-censorship where we need to tell these stories because others will not, but there are times when we need to build an argument that goes far beyond the format of the testimony.
Video by Mosireen Video Collect, 2012.
We are currently working on a video about the authorities’ use of sexual torture. This form of torture is a merciless tool of repression aiming at the heart of a spirit of resistance. What our video will do is build an argument for the structural nature of its use under all regimes, Mubarak’s, the generals’ and under the current Muslim Brotherhood reign. The cases we hear about are certainly only the tip of the iceberg, most of those tortured — especially sexually — will not come out to testify, because of the social stigma of this despicable act. The purpose of this video is to stoke the street’s anger. This anger cannot die now because if it does, our chances of changing this system diminish every day. Our images seek to provoke this rage in people because the revolution is far from over.
Shuruq: You have exhibited a selection of the Mosireen videos in exhibition formats internationally. What does it mean to exhibit the videos in this new context? What new meanings emerged, and in what way has this been empowering towards your activist agenda?
Philip: I see these screenings as part of our responsibility to disseminate images of protest in an attempt to enhance the dissemination of imaginations for resistance. The screenings took place as far apart as a refugee camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, exhibitions in Paris, Berlin, and a public square in Mexico City. We perceive these moments of protest as a global affair. The images are powerful and carry within them the germ of protest. Images have something that words don’t in that they entail the power to inspire, to open the imagination. We clearly see our struggle within the context of a global struggle against the powers of domination. I recall after a Q&A at a screening in Berlin a woman from Argentina came and talked to me afterwards, pointing out the intense similarities with the wave of action that occurred in Argentina around the 2001 uprising. She had never thought of these connections before because this is not the image relayed to her through the media. These connections need to be made, especially in the global south as we struggle against an often deemed invisible neo-colonialism. This is why we place a lot of emphasis on translation. There is a group of translators that are constantly subtitling these stories of revolt to make them accessible to a global audience because we must see ourselves within a broader struggle and not an atomized battle against local dictatorship. Through these screenings new connections, new relationship, new networks and new meanings are developed, but it is a difficult process, a deep investment and we are always short of time, short of energy and short of people. In sum and made simple, we are playing a part in the contestation over the narrative of a global battle over how we want to live our lives.

First published at on May 20,2013.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Necessity of Revolutionary Violence in Egypt

“All politics is a struggle for power; the ultimate kind of power is violence.”

- C. Wright Mills

A (misspelled) message on the wall in a Cairo Metro station: "implement justice."

Violence is related to notions of justice. In Egypt there are two forms of justice that we have been fighting for since 25 January 2011: social and retributive. Their absence has been compounded by the ongoing application of structural forms of violence against us: primarily economic and judicial. As a result, Egyptians increasingly see the state as having lost its monopoly over what Weber calls the “legitimate use of physical force”. Weber used this concept in his article “Politics as a Vocation” to describe a population’s sanction of state forces to use violence against it to maintain “order”. In Egypt, this sanction has come under question repeatedly, as successive regimes have allowed its forces to shoot at us on the streets and to torture us in their cells, while punishing none of the police perpetrators of crimes against the revolution.  Despite the glorification of an eighteen-day revolution as non-violent, violence has been a part of this revolution since the first stone was thrown on 25 January 2011 – followed three days later by the torching of police stations on the Friday of Rage – and until today. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly clear that violence is a necessary means in the effort to undo the logic of a state dominated by elites and their foreign backers, who disregard the revolutionary demand of “bread, freedom, and social justice.”

On 11 February 2011, governments across the world praised Egyptians for completing what they took care to depict as nothing more than a political revolution against a dictator. The hypocrisy in these statements was lost on many observers, who failed to consider these same governments’ close political and economic ties with Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt and their role in propping up his thirty-years-long regime of suppression and exploitation. The most appropriate label for the dynamic of this relationship is neocolonialism, a term coined by former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah to describe how foreign powers maintain their economic interests in a country by partnering with a local elite as proxy rulers, thus directing the governance of the country without undertaking the costs of a military occupation.  Under this power-sharing agreement, both camps’ interests are prioritized over those of the population at large. To project legitimacy onto this political arrangement, governing elites in many cases adopt a rhetorical gesture toward an anti-colonial revolutionary moment.

In Egypt, this moment was the July 1952 “Free Officers’ Revolution,” to which military generals pay tribute to this day, in order to bolster their position of power in national politics. Since the Camp David Accords, the US government has sponsored the Egyptian military, thus securing its dependency on the United States financially and technologically, and thereby guaranteeing the generals’ allegiance to American policies in times of political uncertainty. The generals’ monopolization of vast sections of the Egyptian economy has consequently remained untouched under Washington Consensus-inspired economic reform programs.

By repeatedly forestalling retributive justice against members of the police and military for murdering and maiming protesters throughout the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood has revealed its interests in maintaining the same neocolonial system, in which the gatekeepers – the security forces – remain unpunished before the population. The Brotherhood’s economic policies, mapped out below, are a further manifestation of their commitment to their predecessor’s logic of governance.

In light of ongoing economic and judicial violence, opposition to the new regime becomes ever stronger. The street violence currently spreading in Egypt makes a clear statement: a growing rejection of the current status quo of power arrangements, a simple no.  While some claim that Mohamed Morsi’s Egypt is on the verge of collapse, in fact, it is the neocolonial model that is being contested. The frontlines of violent resistance to state-sanctioned force are the main arena of that contestation.

[Listen to audio of the front-line fighters in the video "The Security Forces Violent Attacks on Protesters in Simon Bolivar Square has no end." Video by Mosireen]

On Economic Violence: The Economy in the Molotov Cocktail

One of the clearest signs of the Brotherhood’s reincarnation of the logic of Mubarak-era governance is their maintenance of economic violence. Under the Mubarak regime, this had peaked in the neoliberal policies of the Ahmed Nazif government. It was this group of ministers who oversaw the selling off of countless public sector companies to friends and partners in the name of privatization, the cutting of subsidies from which the poor benefitted, and the subsidizing of agro-business exports instead. All this was sanctioned and supported by international financial institutions that had been pushing for these measures since the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser. These policies significantly increased the gap between rich and poor in Egypt, and represented an act of sustained economic violence. Although it might have seemed invisible, this violence crushed the livelihoods of countless Egyptians, forcing throngs into life in slums and in the insecurity of informal workplaces.

Yet already by the end of 2011, the Brotherhood’s business leaders were praising the economic policies of the Mubarak regime and placing all the blame for the exploitation and theft that had been rampant in Egypt on the “corruption” of individuals. More recently, Morsi’s government has been seeking means of “reconciliation” with Mubarak’s cronies – many of them recently acquitted in cases of theft of public land and the laundering of public funds – as a “sign of reassurance” to foreigners to invest in Egypt’s economy. While proclaiming a discourse of revolutionary governance and a rhetoric of charity, the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), are actually entrenching the neoliberal course that failed the majority of Egyptians, and was one of the main reasons that led us to revolt. Taking a closer look at what this means will help decipher the anger on Egypt’s streets.

Mohamed Morsi’s hunt for external financial support amongst European trade partners and in the Gulf States comes as no surprise, given that the budget deficit is increasing, and foreign reserves are reaching unprecedentedly low levels. Meanwhile, a 4.8 billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which the Egyptian authorities have made multiple attempts to obtain since the overthrow of Mubarak, has been held back time and again largely by the unceasing protest on the streets against it. The argument made by the promoters of the IMF loan – and there are many, both in the Egyptian government and among international financial “experts”  – is that the only way to reduce the deficit is to take the loan. This, they argue, will serve as a certificate of confidence in Egypt’s economic standing. Taking the IMF loan, the reasoning goes, will in turn lead to the opening of a floodgate of foreign loans, which will increase the cash flow necessary to “stabilize” the Egyptian economy. Rather than challenging the dominance of local and global capital over the current economic equation in Egypt, the simple solution of borrowing is aimed at maintaining the neocolonial logic of governance, and has one gaping blind spot, the needs of the Egyptian people.

Indeed there is one powerful argument against borrowing: IMF structural adjustment policy prescriptions, upon which past loans were conditioned, were a principal cause of the January 25 Revolution. Taking the IMF loan will mean even more hardship for the poor – especially through higher sales taxes, a reduction of certain subsidies and continuing inflation – thus only fueling the revolutionary spirit against the current state of affairs. Only those who prioritize the good standing of the “economy” over the actual plight of people can ignore the role of IMF policies in drastically increasing inequalities. The apparent agreement among foreign and local elites to deny the conditionality of the loan reveals the power sharing logic of the neocolonial relationship.  One of these conditions is the drastic cutting of subsidies that make up thirty percent of Egypt’s current budget.  The last time there was a major attempt at cutting food subsidies was January 1977, also in the wake of IMF and World Bank prescriptions. The riots that followed – perhaps a preamble to January 2011 – quickly led then-president Anwar al-Sadat to reverse the policy.

Although the access of big business to subsidized goods and services must be assessed, the place to look for economic reform more urgently is the thirty percent of Egypt’s national budget that goes towards servicing foreign debt. The more money Egypt borrows, the higher the percentage of the annual budget that goes towards servicing these debts. In this respect, South Africa’s experience offers an example to learn from – and a warning: rather than rejecting the servicing of illegitimate, odious loans inherited from the Apartheid era, the post-Apartheid government simply continued to service them. Today South Africa’s debt servicing has reached 41.3 percent of its gross domestic product and is the second largest bill in the national budget, leaving insufficient funds to vital costs like healthcare and education. Despite being born of a revolutionary moment, the African National Congress (ANC), once in government, prioritized the demands of international financiers over the needs of its own constituency. By contrast, the newly elected president of Ecuador Rafael Correa, took a radical decision in January 2009 to default on illegitimate debts making up a quarter of Ecuador’s foreign debts, after a government assigned debt audit committee deemed them odious.  The leaders of Egypt are at this same crossroads and can choose between repaying a dictator’s debts or evaluating and renouncing the implicated role of international banks and Mubarak’s business partners in accruing debts.  

Political economist Harry Cleaver explains that borrowing after periods of social struggle has historical precedent as an attempt by sovereigns to subvert further revolt. Borrowing has proven to be a temporary band-aid that only superficially boosts the economy, while making it increasingly difficult to find local solutions to economic problems and deepening the long-term dependency on outside forces. Greece is the most recent case in point, in which, following public outrage and mass protest, borrowing has only led to more debt servicing, more borrowing, and an amplifying of the crisis. Meanwhile, citizens’ demands for a debt audit have fallen on deaf ears. The hypocrisy of foreign promoters of the IMF loan is demonstrated in their language, for if these foreign powers really meant their celebratory words on 11 February 2011, they would not be demanding that the Egyptian public now, while in dire economic straits, pay back a dictator’s debts. By having lent to Mubarak’s regime, international financial institutions and governments have become complicit in its crimes: we should not be speaking of Egypt’s debts being “forgiven.”  Rather we should be demanding that the creditors be held accountable for providing loans to a regime that they knew full well was in power against the will of the population – a regime that used those funds, often with their own interests in mind, without any process of public accountability.  When the United States sought Egypt’s support in invading Iraq in the early 1990s the entire Paris Club organized a massive debt relief package for the country. Not to do the same now is further proof of the hypocrisy of these centers of capital, and a manifestation of the neocolonial logic that governs their policies. For the Brotherhood to pay up for Mubarak-era borrowing underscores their subservience to, and thus implication in, the economic order of domination.

On Judicial Violence: The Decoy in the Ballot Box

Besides its practice of economic violence, the Muslim Brotherhood’s assent to the neocolonial order in Egypt is even more apparent in the FJP’s record on retributive justice and its ongoing use of judicial violence. Since Morsi’s election, and indeed before, Egyptian courts have continuously found innocent security force members on trial for attacking and killing Egyptian activists and protesters. This policy goes even for Mubarak regime members like former Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly, who received a three-year sentence for a money-laundering misdemeanor, while the courts cleared the Ministry’s leaders of any responsibility for years of overseeing an apparatus that kidnapped, tortured and killed Egyptians, most publicly during the first eighteen days of the revolution. Al-Adly then received a life sentence in the summer of 2012, not for involvement in ordering the use of deadly force against protesters, but rather for failing to prevent the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising.

A further element of structural violence lies in the Brotherhood’s failure to undo the logic of institutional injustice that reigned during the Mubarak era. Thus the criminal justice system, with its laws, courts, and prisons, its interrogation practices and forensics, remain a part of the web of repression carefully crafted by the Mubarak regime to crush political dissent. Today, even under the rule of President Morsi, control of this web remains mostly in the hands of the Mubarak old guard. State apparatuses have functioned with the aim of protecting their cadres, rather than serving some form of justice, not least in situations of political protest. In Giza, two cases of police murder of citizens were documented in a recent video, with clear witness accounts describing a police force at liberty to terrorize and kill innocent civilians. On 27 January, security forces kidnapped activist Mohamed al-Shafei: fellow activists and lawyers tried desperately to find him, but one month later, his body appeared in a Cairo morgue, where officials had been hiding it. Meanwhile, the courts consistently delay relevant paperwork, and coroners often report self-harm or accidental causes of death even when several eyewitnesses have come forward with evidence to the contrary.

While the new regime leaves longstanding institutional forms of violence unchecked, it is also seeking control of as many of these spaces of violence as possible, and preserving the Mubarak-era logic of attempting to violently crush revolt, no matter what the cost. The FJP government’s attempt to suppress political protest prompted a new wave of violence just prior to the second anniversary of the outbreak of the revolution in January 2013. One instance of this occurred in Alexandria on 19 January, when security forces arrested or kidnapped thirty-one people in front of a court that had yet again postponed the trial of police officers accused of killing protesters in Alexandria during the revolution’s first eighteen days. This was simply the most recent example of the courts’ failure to see justice served on behalf of the revolution’s martyrs. In an act that then revealed the regime’s hypocrisy, it permitted the illegitimate trial of the new arrestees – many of whom, as usual, had been tortured and sexually assaulted in prison.  Ten of the thirty-one arrested were under the age of eighteen: this included a child with cancer who was prevented from treatment during his eleven-day incarceration.

The regime used this level of violence yet again against a protest at the presidential palace on 1 February 2013, when security forces shot and killed protester Mohamed Cristy. In his pocket, a note was found with instructions that his funeral be a revolutionary one like that of Jika – the 6 April Movement activist, Gaber Salah, whom the police fatally injured in Tahrir Square in November 2012. Like many other revolutionaries, both martyrs had voted for Mohamed Morsi, but the ballot box had not delivered the justice they sought. And so they had continued protesting. In recent weeks, hundreds like them have been subjected to sexual assault, torture and detentions without charge or trial, and tens have been killed.

A further moment of judicial violence that incriminates prosecution investigations, and the criminal justice system as a whole, occurred at the trial of the alleged killers of seventy-two al-Ahly football club fans, or “Ultras Ahlawy”, in February 2012. The Ultras Ahlawy posed as a threatening component of the revolutionary struggle against police forces since the outbreak of the revolution. In my mind, there is no doubt that the Ministry of Interior used the opportunity of a match between al-Ahly and the al-Masry club in Port Said to carry out its revenge by manipulating sports rivalries to organize a massacre of the small group of al-Ahly fans present at the stadium. After locking the gate on the al-Ahly fans’ side, the lights were turned out on the stadium, and seventy-two Ahly fans were stabbed, choked and trampled to death. While the trial of police officials was separated from that of civilians, investigations into the cases had already proven that many of the twenty-one civilians sentenced to death were not even present during the massacre. In response to the manipulated death sentence, issued on 26 January 2013, the city of Port Said erupted in violence. Police forces killed dozens, injuring and arresting more daily as the violence intensified. The city has since declared waves of civil disobedience that have spread to nearby port cities. It is clear in this case that the security apparatus exploited a football rivalry first to punish a group for their actions, and, even more treacherously, to turn two clubs, and in reality two cities, against each other by manipulating the courts to carefully determine who is punished and who is not.

The more the regime adds violence to the lack of retribution for past abuses of power, the more protest spreads. In early February 2013, activist Mohamed al-Gindi disappeared and, days after being admitted to the Hilal Hospital, died due to injuries sustained under severe torture. Al-Gindi was from the Delta city of Tanta, where protests raged, along with nearby Mansura, following an initial forensic report that listed a car accident as the twenty-eight year-old activist’s cause of death. Across the country, the rage and violence against a system maintaining pre-revolutionary forms of institutional violence is on the rise.

The statue of Simon Bolivar missing a sword only meters away from the Corniche where protesters clashed with security forces on 7 March 2013.

Contesting Violence: The Sword of Simon Bolivar

The local and foreign powers that make up the neocolonial order share one fear in Egypt: the spreading of resistance to the slipping legitimacy of the neocolonial state. Accordingly, despite the ongoing revolution on Egypt’s streets, the new regime has shown its hypocrisy in entrenching the path of economic violence, while ensuring that judicial violence continues. The Egyptian authorities have attempted every form of counter-revolutionary propaganda, repeatedly condemning any act of non-state violence as paid thuggery or petty criminality. In parallel, they have employed the age-old tactic of crushing violent opposition with ever intensifying violence, including torture and sexual abuse, as well as strategies of divide-and-rule which pit city against city and divide society over issues of gender. Meanwhile, the regime’s backers have utilized every method at their disposal to extinguish the raging cycle of revolutionary violence in Egypt. This includes simple strategies like silencing violence out of the early narratives of the revolution. Besides the economic support outlined above, foreign partner governments are either supplying Egyptian security forces with weapons and training, or merely turning a blind eye towards the violence in this “democratic transition.”

We are now in a new phase of the revolution, in which the decisive battle for the system’s perceived legitimacy manifests itself as an almost daily occurrence on Egypt’s streets. The most vital arena of this contestation is over the use of violence, without which this revolution could not go on. “Decolonization is always a violent phenomenon,” Frantz Fanon wrote, reflecting on the Algerian revolution.  Without the violence of colonization – whether wrought by foreign or local powers – the violence of decolonization would not be necessary. If we are to take the neocolonial reality in Egypt seriously, then we have much to learn from Fanon’s analysis of colonial Algeria. For, as he goes on, “the agents of government speak the language of pure force... he is the bringer of violence into the home and into the mind of the native.” Ever since 28 January 2011, many revolutionaries have been responding to state violence with violence. On that day, thousands attacked police stations out of anger and a desire for retribution for years of repression at the hands of a violent police apparatus. Many had family members or friends who had been tortured in those prisons and who had been held without charge: those attacks were a rejection of that power in our neighborhoods. During the following months, violence has had a continuous presence in marches and protests, though primarily in reaction to the onslaught of military or police force.

Violence is an ugly thing. The  My emphasis on revolutionary violence is by no means a celebration of violence itself., Serious measures need to be taken to oppose but rather aims to take seriously the the neocolonial order regime that is made up of such a great degree of terror. over which the neocolonial order presides. Furthermore, theits severity of revolutionary violence is an attempt to take very seriously the unspeakable cost of lives that were given in opposing this regime. At this point we urgently need to make a distinction between different orders of violence.

In his essay “Critique of Violence,” Walter Benjamin differentiates between two types of violence, mythical and divine. In her article “Terrorists and Vampires: Fanon’s Spectral Violence of Decolonization,” Samira Kawash describes the latter as “violence against violence... that breaks through and destroys the cycle of mythical violence, the ‘cycle maintained by mythical forms of law’ (Benjamin 1986: 300).”  This divine, revolutionary violence only “interrupts” and “deposes”, unlike that of the mythical state, which uses violence to impose a law that always empowers the sovereign, and crushes the population. Kawash goes on,

decolonization is not the violence of the colonized that threatens bodies or properties; decolonization is rather the excessive violence that threatens reality as a whole… As irruption and interruption, it is neither means to something else nor a condition for its own sake; outside means and ends, this violence shatters the very world that has determined the value and distinction of means and ends.

If we take the neocolonial order seriously, then we must be open to the necessary tools to make its end a possibility, rather than muddling through with the language of reform or democratization. The distinction here is between the violence of decolonization, which is beyond means and ends, and organized violence, which is a means to an end. Again South Africa is a striking example, where even the ANC, whose freedom-fighters bore arms, transformed a revolutionary moment into yet another model of neocolonialism. Violence is hence an ugly but necessary means of opposing the indescribable ugliness of the order of things amongst which we live. Fanon described the aim of unorganized violence as “absolute disorder,” not in the sense of complete social chaos, but rather the destruction of the order of terror – the unrestrained injury, torture, rape and killing of citizens with impunity.

The main shortcoming of the “opposition” parties in Egypt is that while they reject the current regime, they do not challenge the neocolonial reality itself. They speak the same language of the state – that of elections, stability and negotiations – while merely trying to propel the same structure in their preferred ideological direction. For example, no opposition group has stood its ground on plans to boycott elections, despite knowing that the process is consistently overseen by those aligned with the eventual victors. They speak the same regime language of stability, as for example in an agreement which opposition leaders signed in late January 2013 calling for stability and denouncing revolutionary violence.

Meanwhile, the key participants in resistance and mobilization against the regime in Egypt are the countless revolutionaries on whose behalf no one speaks. The unending performances of words – negotiations, broken promises, deceptive speeches – have not only caused us to lose faith in our representatives but in the medium of speech itself. Fanon’s perspective that, “[t]he natives’ challenge to the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of points of view,” applies powerfully to our neocolonial context. As Amr Abdelrahman writes, Egypt’s revolutionaries make no demands, because they acknowledge that, “nobody listens and that nobody is worth addressing.” This inability of words to alter the status quo highlights violence as a necessary path.

As Benjamin explains, “violence, when not in the hands of the law, threatens it not by the ends that it may pursue but by its mere existence outside the law.” With the ever-increasing loss of faith in the regime as well as its legal process, protesters are using pure force to challenge the legal order, the order of rule itself, which is what the regime fears most. At the frontline battle against security forces in Simon Bolivar Square a few days after the anniversary of the Mohammed Mahmoud massacre in November 2012, a teenager wearing a kufiyya told me, “I am here because of my future.” The boy went on to tell me, “There is no place for me in this country.” He was about fifteen years old, and has probably spent more time in low paid work than attending class at school. He was responding to the state’s economic violence in kind. The global dimensions of this confrontation cannot be overlooked. The battles on Egypt’s streets against police forces in American uniforms are shaking the foundations of the neocolonial order.

The attack of Muslim Brotherhood cadres on a peaceful sit-in at the presidential palace in December 2012, with the backing of Central Security Forces (CSF), deepened the case for revolutionary violence. Days before the second anniversary of the revolution, on 23 January 2013, a video was released announcing the launch of the Black Bloc in Egypt. This phenomenon is merely a recent and sensationalized manifestation of the more widespread violent opposition to state violence, which explains the swift acceptance and proliferation of the trend on the street. Rather than appearing as a new movement, the Bloc has spread as a tactic for remaining anonymous in direct opposition to security forces.

Towering over the battles waged in and around Tahrir Square is the statue of Simon Bolivar, surrounded by charred trees and sidewalks pried clear of their tiles for use as ammunition against the soldiers of the CSF. Following the weeks of clashes in Tahrir Square last November, the sword of the statue of Simon Bolivar that had loomed over the battle for all those days disappeared. The missing sword is a powerful metaphor for the contest over legitimate violence that to this day takes place in the statue’s shadow.

No matter how they are articulated or who is even listening for an articulation, in order to subvert the entrenchment of the neocolonial order in Egypt, it is vital that violent forms of revolutionary struggle are maintained. For without the burning of police stations on 28 January 2011, Egyptian protesters would never have overpowered the state security forces, nor would they have dethroned Mubarak. Without responding to constant attacks of excessive force with stones, flares and Molotov cocktails, we would have posed no threat to a system that oppresses us. Without revolutionary violence, the chances that we will be able to shatter the neocolonial chains in which we find ourselves are even smaller.

Without revolutionary violence there is no revolution and we would never have gotten as far as we have today.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why We Riot?

Two years after the start of the January 25 revolution we still riot because the ruling elite still exploit us, because the police still torture, maim and kill us and none of them are brought to justice.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Egyptian Animal Farm

The hypocrisy of the current regime in covering up its responsibility organized murder of football fans of al-ahly club under the rule of the Military Council in late 2011 evokes images of animal farm. Instead today they sentenced some 21 scape goats to death.

the current period we are in begins around minute 59:30

Monday, December 31, 2012

Revolution’s Cost

He told me to get off at the last kiosk on the highway that connects East with West Cairo. After the driver dropped me off, there was no one to be seen in the area. I walked down the concrete stairs by the side of the road. The stairs led me into the pit of this neighborhood named after a village that never was. There was Mahmoud, sitting in a coffee shop only meters away. He told me he had stood by the road for some time waiting for me but then had gotten cold and came down below. We walked together to his home, but slowly, because Mahmoud limped, and I wondered if he had ever made it up those makeshift steps or if he had merely said so out of politeness.

By the time we were finished with our interview I saw pain in his eyes. Earlier in the evening he had told me that he took painkillers, the effect of which lasted for two days, making it bearable for him to walk and work. Mahmoud works as a day laborer, a construction worker. Living meters away from the highway that leads past old Cairo and into the vast frontiers of the constant construction of "New" Cairo places him in the perfect location as a builder. But that is where his stroke of luck ends. His son Ahmed disappeared one year ago on the very day of my visit. During the course of the interview, Mahmoud told me that Ahmed limped the same way that he does.

I can only imagine the day Ahmed joined the battle against Central Security Forces and army soldiers who killed him that day outside the cabinet office on 17 December 2011. Ahmed had just returned to Cairo after losing his job in Alexandria two days earlier, like so many others. Egypt's economy, increasingly dependent on foreign pleasure seekers, had taken a hard hit as the number of travelers dropped greatly. The people who oiled the tourism machine stayed home penniless. Ahmed went to the front lines near Tahrir Square in demand of a future. I imagine that his lack of familiarity with the space and the conditions of the battle lines put him at a disadvantage in the face of his armed, trained attackers. Ahmed tried to escape the unannounced onslaught, struggling with his cursed leg. The boy was not fast enough, and was shot, captured, beaten, tortured, and finally murdered. His captors threw his lifeless body into the Nile. Ahmed carried no form of identification that day and was added to the list of disappeared—those eaten by the revolution. But his parents sought after him until—through the maze of paperwork, lies, and legal dead ends—they found him. The clothes he was wearing that day in a plastic bag allowed them to identify his bloated, charred body.

Ahmed is one of the many martyrs who remain unnamed—Ahmed Mahmoud Mohamed Bekheit. The opposition of such a frail person against a mighty state apparatus is at the soul of this revolution—people against a system that is meant to represent us, decide the best for us, provide for our welfare, and yet does the exact opposite wherever possible.

Ahmed's motives and desires like so many fighters remain unspoken—this one will forever hold his silence. With all the honesty I can muster, I write these feeble words, which he may have uttered but was never given a chance to.

A Paper that Buries a Murder

When Ahmed's bereaved parents finally found their son's body they were shocked. Mahmoud went to the deputy public prosecutor and lost all sense of control. “I cannot burry my son like this,” he said. He had just seen Ahmed's body after thirty-six days of searching. This was not the body of a person who had drowned, as the officials at the morgue had told him. Mahmoud's son was murdered. The bureaucrat told him to just burry his son because for seventeen days he had been "tortured." He did not imply that for the past seventeen days he had been tortured under police custody, but rather used the Arabic expression evoking the idea that his son's soul would remain tormented until receiving religious burial. The pretext of religious ritual would pave the way to clearing the members of the state apparatus of the crimes they had committed. The bureaucrat told Mahmoud to put his son at ease by burying his scorched and broken body and place his trust in the document that would prove the cause of his son's death: the forensics report. One year later that document has still not appeared and the records of Ahmed's body arriving at the police station on 22 December 2011 have disappeared, much like Ahmed did for those three weeks—criminally hidden from those who deserve to know.

Ahmed's eleven-year-old brother Islam is the last member of his family to have seen him alive. On the morning of his murder Ahmed had said he was leaving to run an errand. He was well dressed, and told his little brother he would go alone. Islam looked into the lens and told the world, "no matter what, I will not rest until those who did this to my brother and to all the other martyrs are brought to justice. Until I am older, bear this in mind." This revolution has shown a tendency to create new revolutionaries in the place of every fallen martyr.

These reflections on a video I filmed are only but an excerpt of the many details that are lost among the startling images captured and the breaking news written for immediate public consumption. These thoughts are an attempt to raise a matter of no triviality and that escapes the meta-narratives of revolution: the cost. Today the Muslim Brothers are attempting to build their hegemony of control. As this new political elite tries to erect its own empire of financial gain—justified by the "economic crisis" in a period of "instability”—this priceless cost that people pay is washed over in the process.

It is the risk of martyrdom that is at the heart of revolution. And it is the risk of martyrdom that is entailed in opposing a system of control. The names of Mina Danial, Sheikh Emad Effat and Jika may carry this revolution's loudest echo, but there are thousands others, recorded and unrecorded, who have borne this same cost.

It is the most powerful gift one can give—in Ahmed's case, as so often, without articulated intent. This is yet again, the cost of fighting for a freedom from the suppression performed today by the very men claiming to act in the name of the revolution, yet another set of criminals killing in the name of the state.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An Excerpt from Egypt's "New" Constitution

This is the government's presentation on how Egypt's proposed constitution will affect the rights of workers: This sounds great, but here is how it is full of lies and deception: featuring:
Fatma Ramadan, the Vice President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions 
Ahmad Sayed Al-Naggar, economist at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies

In response to a government-sponsored campaign to promote the draft constitution currently under consideration in a national referendum, Fatma Ramadan, the Vice President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Ahmad Sayed Al-Naggar, economist at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, talk about what this document could mean for Egyptian workers.

Al-Naggar and Ramadan argue that the government campaign’s assertion that the draft constitution, if passed, would protect the social and economic rights of Egyptian workers is misleading. The new constitution does not set a minimum wage, but rather ties wages to productivity, which means that wages would be sensitive to shifts in market prices of production goods.

In reality, this means that if production were brought to a halt for any reason, workers would bear the costs in the form of diminished wages. For example, under this constitution, if trains were to stop working, owners of a factory could leave their workers without pay. While the draft constitutions stipulates a “maximum wage” per long-standing, widespread demands in Egypt, it only does so in the public sector, and provides a clause that allows the state to issue exemptions. This means that a maximum wage will be effectively nonexistent.

 While the document guarantees healthcare for “the poor,” it grants the state the discretion to define who constitutes “the poor,” which could deprive vast portions of low-income households from the right to healthcare. The wording of the draft constitution, they argue, force members of underprivileged communities to obtain a humiliating “certificate of poverty” from the state in order to receive treatment. The draft constitution stipulates that unions can be dissolved if they break the law. In practice, this means the state could criminalize entire unions for violations committed by individual members.

 To watch more videos in this series click here

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Images & Video from the Brotherhood's attack on the anti-Morsy sit-in by presidential palace

To clarify: I was not at the presidential palace while this happened, I followed this online, gathered images and links primarily from friends and people i know there and now am on my way to join the re-grouping at Roxy square near the presidential palace. Join us. Egyptian Vice President makes an announcement on air that gives Brotherhood members the green light to violently disperse peaceful sit-in at the presidential palace. One approaching Brotherhood march:
Some people trying to calm the situation as verbal attack begins:
After an initial small attack from the side of the Brotherhood, the situation calms:
Shortly thereafter the situation This is a man on the side of the protests hit by a rock by Muslim Brotherhood ranks:
In this video the Brotherhood attackers are doing exactly what we have become accustomed to soldiers doing when they attack Tahrir square sit-ins: destroying everything in site and then removing it from the scene, as if nothing had ever happened: The Brotherhood celebrate after destroying the anti-Morsy sit-in, lighting tents on fire, beating up protesters, stealing and breaking cameras:
Muslim Brotherhood march steal the sit-ins stock of food:
This sign on a Brotherhood truck reads: "Our strength is in our unity, Yes to the constitution of stability."
Is this the stability they are talking about? Forcefully attacking a peaceful sit-in with stones and sticks, burning tents and targetting especially journalists and cameras? The new occupiers outside the presidential palace walls then started wiping away the graffiti of the opposition:
The Brotherhood have one clear message: there is only room for the Brotherhood and not for anyone else and their opinions. While all this is taking place the Egyptian Vice President on Television speaks of engaging in "dialogue" regarding aspects of the constitution that opposition forces are in disagreement about. In such an environment of dictatorship "dialogue" is not a possibility. A peaceful march and sit-in entail "dialogue", its attack and destruction do not. We marched yesterday on the presidential palace because a new dictatorship is in the making, Morsy and the party he represents are repeating the very logic of governance that have ruled this country under the presidency of Sadat and Mubarak. We marched to put an end to that. We demand that this country be for all its residence, not just those in power no matter whether they are religious or military generals or whoever they may be. Join us.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A View of North Africa from South America

A View of North Africa from South America: a conversation with Raúl Zibechi via the Johannesburg Workshop on Theory and Criticism Cairo, 2011, murals Flickr: Mejuan Cristina Cielo (Sawyer Seminar Series, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) Popular uprisings in the Middle East over the last months have transformed the political landscapes and possibilities of the region's diverse nations. The hope engendered by the successful mobilizations against the Tunisian and Egyptian governments has darkened as reports emerge of the repression and violence that meet continuing protests in other parts of the region. Uruguayan intellectual and journalist Raúl Zibechi gives us a South American perspective of the momentous changes taking place in North Africa. Raúl Zibechi is one of the foremost political theorists writing on and working with social movements in Latin America. His work combines acute, generative and ethical analyses of socio-political developments in Latin America with collaborative efforts to support grassroots transformation in the region. He is international section editor of the acclaimed Uruguayan weekly Brecha, a lecturer and researcher with the Multiversidad Fransiscana de América Latina and a regular contributor to the Americas Policy Program and to La Jornada in Mexico. His recent books include Dispersing Power (2006, English translation 2010) and Territorios en Resistencia (2008). In order to contextualize the following interview with Zibechi in his wider body of work, our conversation begins, pauses midway and ends with selected translations from some of his essays previously available only in Spanish. The interview was conducted in July 2011 in Spanish. As we seek to stimulate dialogue between analysts in Africa and in Latin America, we also offer a Spanish version of this article. Comments are most welcome and selected comments will be translated between languages. From "The Revolutions of Ordinary People" (First published in La Jornada on 3 June 2011. Translation of the entire article available here.) The inherited and still hegemonic conception of revolution must be revised, and in fact is being revised by current events. Revolution as exclusively focused on the capture of state power is being replaced by another concept of revolution, more complex and integral, which does not exclude a state-centered strategy but supersedes and goes beyond it. In any case, the conquest of state power is a bend in a far longer trajectory, one which seeks something that cannot be achieved from within state institutions: to create a new world. Traditional politics - anchored in forms of representation that replace collective subjects with managerial professionals, professionals of deception - are of little use in the creation of a new world. Instead, a new world that is different from the current one implies rehearsing and experimenting with horizontal social relations, in sovereign, self-controlled and autonomous spaces, in which no one imposes on or directs the collective. a new world that is different from the current one ... in which no one imposes on or directs the collective [To understand that spaces are] "spontaneous in a profound sense" ... we must acknowledge that there is not one single instrumental and state-centered rationality. Rather, each subject has his or her own rationality, and we can all be subjects when we say "Enough already!" It is a matter, then, of understanding alternative rationalities, a process that can only take place from within and in movement, starting from the immanent logic emerging from the collective acts of subjects from below. It is thus not a matter of interpreting, but of participating. Beyond their diverse circumstances, the Tahrir Square and Puerta del Sol movements in Cairo and in Madrid, form part of the genealogy of "All of them must go!" declared in the 2001 Argentinian revolt, the 2000 Cochabamba Water War, the 2003 and 2005 Bolivian Gas Wars and the 2006 Oaxaca commune, to mention only the urban cases. These movements all share two characteristics: the curbing of those in power and the opening of spaces for direct democracy and collective participation without representatives. These movements all share two characteristics: the curbing of those in power and the opening of spaces for direct democracy and collective participation without representatives. Cristina Cielo: Is such a concept of revolution based on horizontal relations similar to Hardt and Negri's concept of the multitude? What is the difference between their multitude and your idea of dispersed power? Raúl Zibechi: Hardt and Negri's multitude is linked to post-Fordism and to non-material work in cognitive capitalism. This mode of production is still in the minority in Latin America and I believe in the Arab world as well. So while it is interesting, their idea of multitude cannot be employed to understand what is happening here. My take on the collective is quite different. We live in societies that are "variegated", an interesting concept developed by the Bolivian René Zavaleta Mercado to describe social relations in his country. These are societies in which many different types of traditional and modern social relations co-exist, as do formal and informal modes of work, ways of life, and a long etcetera, all of which assumes a superpositioning of links defined by competition, cooperation, reciprocity, solidarity. The best example of this is the Andean market, or the urban market in the peripheries of cities like Buenos Aires. These are spaces in which many families live together in a small area, with various businesses that combine production and sales in different fields, with diverse modes of employment - familial, salaried, in kind, commissioned - that is, a "variegated" mode that implies diverse and complex social relations that are interwoven and combined. In this way, if one of these relationships is modified, the rest are as well .... My proposal of "dispersing power" is rooted in communities in movement, non-formal communities, which, once set into motion, can disperse state power. How? Simply because they are composed of mobile powers, rotational, as in the Andean Aymaran and Quechuan communities, found also in Mayan and many other communities as well .... There are, then, two issues. One is the internal power of communities, that in some cases may be more vertical; the other is how communities confront the State. They cannot confront it frontally, because they are annihilated. They surround it, embrace it, paralyze it, penetrate it subtly. That is what we saw in Tahrir when protesters slept under tanks, when women approached soldiers. Translator's note: Positions of authority in traditional Andean communities (as well as in peri urban areas with migrants from these communities) are assigned to community members on a rotational basis. Cristina Cielo: The press has emphasized the role of women and of youth in the Arab mobilizations. Is this also a characteristic of Latin American mobilizations? Raúl Zibechi: There has been a brutal destructuring of the family in Latin America. Families have broken up, mothers are left with children without fathers, because adult men are the hardest hit by neoliberal structural adjustments. In working-class neighborhoods, there are two generations of children without parents, children almost alone .... Sometimes mothers can barely cope with caring for their children, finding support only in the grandmothers. It is very common to see families where the mother has five or six children, each by different and now absent fathers. These mothers and their children are among the first to turn to urban mobilizations of the unemployed, because there they find a space of social safeguards, of support that is both material and affective. The youth also turn to mobilizations because they find in them a sense of belonging, they fit in, they are respected. The same reasons that families turn to the pentecostal churches are often the same exact reasons that they might join popular mobilizations. What I mean is that there is a need .... The alternatives seem to be the church or the movements. I've read that in some Arab countries the mosque may play this role. The point is that among the poor and vulnerable, many are women and youth. Cristina Cielo: Reports on Tunisia and Egypt's uprisings emphasized the use of Facebook, Twitter and the internet as media for the horizontal organization of the protests. Your own work has focused on the territorial character of Latin American social movements. What are the implications of the differences between the virtual spaces of Arab mobilizations and the physical territories of the Latin American movements? Raúl Zibechi: I don't believe in virtual spaces, spaces are always material as well as symbolic. It's another matter to speak of virtual media of communication among people in movement. Not knowing the reality in the Middle East, I can tell you what I see in Latin America, and from that point perhaps some points of comparison can be established. The territories of movements are those spaces that were created by collectives, particularly in cities, but of course also in rural areas. Over the last 50 years, urban popular sectors have appropriated peripheral lands, they have collectively occupied it and built homes, schools and social and health centers. The main actors have been peasants emigrating to cities and the unemployed who lived in formal urban areas but left these areas once they lost their jobs and were unable to continue paying rent. It's something like the urban "landless," who have sometimes occupied urban land individually and other times have carried out collective settlements that involved violent conflicts with the police. At this point, I would like to differentiate between spaces and territories. Spaces are, for example, the premises used by a union or a cultural association. Movements can meet in these spaces for long periods, and sometimes quite often, as do counter-cultural youth groups. These are spaces that are occupied for limited amounts of time, even though some call these territories as well. For me, territories are those places in which life is lived in an integral sense, they are settlements, as we say in Latin America. These have existed for a long time in rural areas: indigenous communities or settlements of Brazil's Landless Movement, ancestral lands or lands recuperated in the struggle. What was new in the 1970s onward was the proliferation of urban land occupations. In some cities, more that 70% of urban land, and therefore of households, are illegal yet legitimate occupations. In some cases, this marks the beginning of another type of social organization, in which semi-craftwork production - including urban gardens - is combined with popular markets and informal modes of distribution. In the decisive moments of struggles against the State or at times of profound crisis, these territories become "resistor territories," that is, spaces that are in some senses liberated from state power and from which challenges to the system may be launched. Cristina Cielo: What is the importance of urban spaces in popular mobilizations in both regions? Raúl Zibechi: There is a double use of spaces. One is the daily spaces of the neighborhoods, the markets, all the spaces of daily socialization. The other is the space of protest, the mega-space such as Tahrir Square in Cairo or the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. These spaces are occupied for a time, sometimes for longer periods such as the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, but they are not permanent spaces in which people live their daily lives, because they have to go to work, go home to sleep, etc. It seems to me necessary to make this distinction and at the same time to establish links between both kinds of urban spaces. I agree with James Scott's point that people tend to "rehearse" their public actions in spaces that are distant from power, spaces that they can control and in which they feel secure. In contemporary cities, those spaces are the markets, the churches or mosques, social or cultural clubs, youth gangs. Sometimes universities or high schools can play those roles. It seems to me important to understand what is happening in those spaces, because it is from there that people come out to take Tahrir Square. It is in those spaces that powerful rebellions are spun, that is why they are so important. And, of course, the family. The changes in family, the role of women, of children, the number of children, all of these are indications of what is to come. I don't believe that great popular uprisings can take place without some shift in the role of patriarchy in the home. From "This is No Time to be Given to Distraction" (First published in La Jornada, 25 February 2011. Translation of the entire article available here.) With the Arab revolts, the global systemic crisis enters a new phase, more unpredictable and increasingly beyond control. Until now, the main actors have been the financial oligarchs, the powerful multinationals and the leading governments, particularly the United States and China, followed at some distance by institutions such as the G-20. Now, as popular sectors around the world - particularly the mobilized populace of the Middle East - enter the scene, a momentous shift has taken place. It implies a deepening and speeding up of the global transformations taking place .... Sousse, Hősök / Heroes 2 Flickr: Deanka The activation of popular sectors modifies our analytic axes, and above all, imposes ethical choices. The scenarios of inter-state relations will increasingly collide with the scenarios of emancipatory struggles. Concretely: popular struggles for freedom may bring down governments and regimes that seemed poised against imperialism and the unipolar world headed by the United States and Western multinationals. When popular revolts threaten governments that are friendly to the West, as in the case of Egypt, wide fronts against tyranny are formed by the most diverse lefts. But when those same revolts take aim at tyrannies that are more or less anti-US, that front is fractured and calculations of convenience emerge. Such is the case with Libya .... We are entering into a period of systemic chaos that at some moment will shed light on a new order, perhaps better, perhaps worse than the capitalist order. That system was born with the demographic catastrophe of the Black Plague, which killed a third of the European population over the span of a few years. It will not surrender on tiptoes and with fine manners, but rather in the midst of chaos and barbarity, as with Gaddafi's regime. From "The Arab Revolts and Strategic Thinking" (First published in America Latina en movimiento, 4 February 2011. Translation of the entire article available here.) It is a matter of understanding the lines of force, the relations of power, the strong and weak points in international relations understood as a system. It is like understanding that the bricks in a wall are what sustains the structure; if these bricks are removed or affected, the whole building - despite its appearance of stability - may tumble .... To say we are traversing a systemic crisis, however, is not to say that the capitalist system is in a terminal crisis. The point, rather, is that the international system will not continue to function as it has since its last great re-structuring, which took place more or less in 1945, at the end of the Second World War. While systemic analyses do not pretend to specify exact dates for such profound changes, they do indicate stages characterized by important tendencies. For example: the crisis of U.S. hegemony. [Some of these systemic shifts include] not only the decline of U.S. power, but also the growth of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China, to which South Africa has now been added). Turkey's geopolitical shifts have also been noted, as it has slowly abandoned Washington's sphere of influence. But the Arab revolts constitute a pronounced turn of the screw. Cristina Cielo: Why does the coverage and analyses of events in the Middle East portray these as ‘revolts', ‘rebellions' or ‘uprisings' rather than as social movements, as popular mobilizations in Latin America tend to be portrayed? Raúl Zibechi: Social movement is a Eurocentric concept that has been useful in describing what happens in homogeneous societies that revolve around the capitalist market, in which there is one basic form of social relations. In Latin America, the concept has and is used by academic intellectuals whose perspective is external to popular sector organization. If they were on the inside, they would see that in fact there are two societies: the official one, of the upper and middle-upper classes, and the other society, the informal one, of use values and of the popular sectors. When I say that there are two societies, I mean to say that each of these is shaped by different types of social relations, and as such, by diverse relationships of power. That is why when the alternative, popular society sets itself into action, it makes more sense to speak of societies in movement, or alternative societies in movement, rather than of social movements. The difference is critical. In any case, I suspect that in the Arab case the international media has not spoken of social movements because of issues of racism, of colonialism, as if it takes some level of modernity - which they don't consider the Middle Eastern people to have achieved - to have a so-called civil society, which is also a Eurocentric construction. I prefer to speak, along with Partha Chaterjee, of political society, because it is only by doing politics that it can exist. Cristina Cielo: If socio-political transformations in both regions point to a global systemic crisis, how do particular events in one region influence the processes or possibilities in other regions? That is, are there ways in which such diverse and disperse forces can transform each other, or transform into something else? Raúl Zibechi: Fundamental processes and situational junctures respond to different logics and views. There is no mechanical relation between the two, rather we must focus our attention on the longer processes, and insert events into those, as Braudel taught us. The fundamental tendency is: a crisis of the center-periphery relationship, a crisis of U.S. domination and of the unipolar world, and now, also, a crisis in Western hegemony. In this transition, which has been taking place over the last four decades, we must insert current processes. What I mean to say is that the Arab and Latin American revolts disrupt previous equilibriums, or better said, they accelerate the processes of the crises of older structures. And when there are cracks in the imperial Occidental construction, emergent tendencies are strengthened: for example, China, India, Brazil. At the same time, we can register changes in micro structures such as the family, school, health system, the city itself, that is, in spaces of discipline that are undergoing very powerful transformations. Macro and micro transformations must be jointly examined, included within the same description. If we do that, we see a world in movement, one that enters into situations of systemic chaos at particular moments, such as the present one. We do not know what will come, but we are sure that it will be very different. All the cards say: Asia, multipolarity, emergent nations. I hope that some of the cards also say emancipation, but nothing is certain. the Arab and Latin American revolts disrupt previous equilibriums ... they accelerate the processes of the crises of older structures From "Everything Solid Melts into the Street" (First published in America Latina en movimiento, 15 February 2011. Translation of the entire article available here.) The people in the street are a spanner in the works in the accumulation of capital, which is why one of the first "measures" taken by the military after Mubarak left was to demand that citizens abandon the street and return to work. But if those in power cannot co-exist with the streets and occupied squares, those below - who have learned to topple Pharaohs - have not yet learned how to jam the flows and movements of capital. Something much more complex is needed than blocking tanks or dispersing anti-riot police. In contrast to state apparatuses, capital flows without territory, so it is impossible to pin down and confront. Still further: it traverses us, it models our bodies and behaviors, it is part of our everyday lives and, as Foucault pointed out, it shares our beds and our dreams. Although there is an outside to the State and its institutions, it is difficult to imagine an outside to capital. Neither barricades nor revolts will suffice to fight it. Despite these limitations, the hunger revolts that became anti-authoritarian revolts are a depth charge to the most important equilibriums of the world system. These will not remain unscathed by the destabilization in the Middle East. The progressive Israeli press was right in noting that what is least needed in the region is some kind of stability. In Gideon Levy's words, reported in Haaretz on 10 February 2011, "stability encompasses millions of Arabs living under criminal regimes and evil tyrannies .... Maintaining Middle East stability means perpetuating the intolerable situation by which some 2.5 million Palestinians exist without any rights under the heel of Israeli rule".... the hunger revolts that became anti-authoritarian revolts are a depth charge to the most important equilibriums of the world system We are entering into a period of uncertainty and increasing disorder. In South America, the emergent power of Brazil has assembled a regional architecture as an alternative to the one that has begun to collapse. The Union of South American Nations is a good indicator of this. Everything suggests, however, that things will be far more complicated in the Middle East, given the enormous political and social polarization in the region, the ferocious interstate competition and because both the United States and Israel believe that their future depends on sustaining realities that can in fact no longer be propped up. The Middle East brings together some of the most brutal contradictions of the contemporary world. Firstly, there are determined efforts to sustain an outdated unilateralism. Secondly, it is the region where the principal tendency of the contemporary world is most visible: the brutal concentration of power and wealth. Never before in the history of humanity has just one nation, the United States, expended as much in military spending as the rest of the world combined. And it is in the Middle East where that armed power exercises all supreme force to buttress the world-system. What's more: a small state of some seven million inhabitants has twice as many nuclear weapons as China, the second world power. It is possible that the Arab revolts may open a fissure in the colossal concentration of power that has been manifest in the region since the Second World War. Only time will tell if what is brewing is a tsunami so powerful that not even the Pentagon will be able to surf its waves. But we mustn't forget that tsunamis make no distinctions: they sweep up rights and lefts, the just and the sinners, the rebels and the conservatives. Nevertheless, they are in many ways similar to revolutions: they leave nothing in their place and they provoke enormous suffering before things return to some kind of normalcy, better perhaps than before, or maybe just less bad. For the complete texts in English of Raúl Zibechi's essays that are extracted above, click here For more perspectives from Africa on African uprising in 2011 click here. You can search for each of the articles collected in this book on the pambazuka site individually.