Saba Mahmood: Democracy is not enough - Anthropologists on the Arab revolution part II
Voice of Freedom / Sout Al Horeya by Amir Eid ft. Hany Adel
(post in progress) While the revolutions in Northern Africa and the Middle East are spreading and the Libyan people
managed are trying to get rid of another dictator, anthropologists continue to comment the recent events. Here is a short overview.
Much has been said about who or what is going to replace Mubarak after he had to step down two weeks ago. In her article The Architects of the Egyptian Revolution in The Nation, anthropologist Saba Mahmood directs our attention to a rather neclected topic: The economic unjustice in Egypt and its connections to “American driven reforms". For since the 1970s, she writes, the Egyptian economy has been increasingly subject to neoliberal economic reforms by the World Bank, the IMF and USAID at the behest of the United States government. Egyptian elites have been beneficiaries of, and partners in, these American-driven reforms:
While there is no doubt that the new order in Egypt cannot do without the civil and political liberties characteristic of a liberal democracy, what is equally at issue in a country like Egypt is an economic system that serves only the rich of the country at the expense of the poor and the lower and middle classes.
The vast majority of public institutions and services in Egypt have been allowed to fall into a dismal state of disrepair. Countless Egyptians die in public hospitals for lack of medical care and staff; Egypt’s universities are no longer capable of delivering the education of which they once boasted. Lack of housing, jobs and basic social services make everyday life impossible to bear for most Egyptians, as do declines in real wages and escalating inflation.
It is these conditions that prompted the workers—from the industrial and service sector—to stage strikes and sit-ins over the past ten years. These workers were an integral part of the demonstrations over the past two weeks in Egypt; various unions formally joined the protests in the days immediately preceding Mubarak’s resignation, prompting some to suggest that this was a turning point in the evolution of the protest.
The role the US government plays will be “enormously consequential":
While the Obama administration has reluctantly yielded to the demands for democratic reform, it is highly doubtful that this administration will tolerate any restructuring of US economic interests in Egypt and in the region more generally.
Egypt was governed as a private estate, explains political scientist Salwa Ismail in the Guardian. Under sweeping privatisation policies, Mubarak and the clique surrounding him appropriated profitable public enterprises and vast areas of state-owned lands.
“Egypt’s protests were a denunciation of neo-liberalism and the political suppression required to impose it", concludes filmmaker Philip Rizk in Al-Jazeera. He has recently completed a documentary on the food price crisis in Egypt and blogs at tabulagaza.blogspot.com.
Protests were according to him the culmination of a wave of much smaller and more localised strikes and demonstrations that had been taking place across the country since 2006.
Saba Mahmood agrees. She goes in her account back to 2004. In The road to Tahir, another prominent anthropologist, Charles Hirschkind, gives us a comprehensive introduction in the history of the Egyptian revolution, starting with the Kifaya movement, that “brought together Islamists, Muslim Brothers, communists, liberals, and secular-leftists, joined on the basis of a common demand for an end to the Mubarak regime and a rejection of Gamal Mubarak’s succession of his father as president". Many of the bloggers who helped promote the Kifaya movement have played key roles in the events of the past two weeks, he writes. (A longer version is available in the Open Access journal Revista de Dialectología y Tradiciones Populares.)
Political scientist Moataz A. Fattah lists in the Christian Science Monitor five reasons why Arab regimes are falling. Major societal and demographic factors are at play that in his view won’t go away with a new government, he argues.
Rise to Freedom by Basha Beats and Natacha Atlas
One of the best sources about the current Arab revolutions is the blog Closer. Anthropologist Martijn de Koning is regularily posting round-ups and recruites guest writers as for example Samuli Schielke, anthropologist at Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin.
“If this revolution has taught me one thing is that the people of Egypt do not need to look up to Europe or America to imagine a better future", he writes in his post “Now, it’s gonna be a long one” – some first conclusions from the Egyptian revolution:
“Compared to our governments with their lip service to democracy and appeasement of dictators, Egyptians have given the world an example in freedom and courage which we all should look up to as an example. This sense of admiration and respect is what has drawn so many foreigners to Tahrir Square in the past days, including myself.”
Samuli Schielke has maintained a diary of the protests at Tahrir Square at http://samuliegypt.blogspot.com/ . On his website, we find both photography (among others from Egypt) and several papers, among others Second thoughts about the anthropology of Islam, or how to make sense of grand schemes in everyday life, Ambivalent Commitments: Troubles of Morality, Religiosity and Aspiration among Young Egyptians and Boredom and despair in rural Egypt (what a title!).
The most recent post at Closer is Tunisia: from paradise to hell and back?, a personal account by Miriam Gazzah. She is currently working within the research project Islamic cultural practices and performances: The emergence of new youth cultures in Europe.
Several anthropologists commented on the rape story where CBS correspondent Lara Logan had been sexually assaulted while covering the Egyptian protests. “Two disturbing lines of commentary have emerged: one that cites irrelevant details about Logan’s beauty or her past sexual history, the other blaming Muslims or Egyptian culture for the assault", anthropologist Racel Newcomb comments in the Huffington Post:
Rather than blaming religion, we should work to end underdevelopment, poverty, and a lack of education, problems whose eradication is crucial to a prosperous and healthy society anywhere, whether in Egypt or here at home.
In Empire and the Liberation of Veiled Women, anthropologist Maximilian Forte deconstructs the popular narrative of the West bringing freedom to the women of the non-West.
UPDATE: Fascinating developments. Egypt is inspring US protesters. Check From Cairo to Madison: Hope and Solidarity are Alive. Medea Benjamin writes:
Photo credit: Muhammad Saladin Nusair via Derek Blackadder, flickr
Local protesters were elated by the photo of an Egyptian engineer named Muhammad Saladin Nusair holding a sign in Tahrir Square saying “Egypt Supports Wisconsin Workers—One World, One Pain.” The signs by protesters in Madison include “Welcome to Wiscairo”, “From Egypt to Wisconsin: We Rise Up”, and “Government Walker: Our Mubarak.” The banner I brought directly from Tahrir Square saying “Solidarity with Egyptian Workers” has been hanging from the balcony of the Capitol alongside solidarity messages from around the country.
She quotes Muhammad Saladin Nusair who wrote these wonderful lines:
“If a human being doesn’t feel the pain of his fellow human beings, then everything we’ve created and established since the very beginning of existence is in great danger. We shouldn’t let borders and differences separate us. We were made different to complete each other, to integrate and live together. One world, one pain, one humanity, one hope.”
SEE ALSO my first round up: “A wonderful development” - Anthropologists on the Egypt Uprising (updated 6.2.)