Archive for Egyptian Revolution

Jadaliyyah: Imperial Feminism, Islamophobia and the Egyptian Revolution

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , on November 28, 2011 by loonwatch

Nadine Naber’s piece below was from a talk she gave at the University of Michigan on Feb 7, 2011, preceding the overthrow of Mubarak. However, her words and comments about the interplay between imperial feminism, orientalist tropes and Islamophobia provide much needed perspective to our discussion on the Feminist Mosaic.

Imperial Feminism, Islamophobia and the Egyptian Revolution

by Nadine Naber

“. . . I’m making this video to give you one simply message: We want to go down to Tahrir Square on January 25. If we still have honor and want to live with dignity on this land, we have to go down on January 25. We’ll go down and demand our rights, our fundamental human rights…The entire government is corrupt—a corrupt president and a corrupt security force…If you stay home, you deserve what will happen to you…and you’ll be guilty, before your nation and your people…Go down to the street, send SMS’s, post it post it on the ‘net. Make people aware…you know your own social circle, your building, your family, your friends, tell them to come with us. Bring 5 people, or 10 people; if each of us manages to bring 5 or 10 people to Tahrir Square…talk to people and tell them, this is enough! It will make a difference, a big difference…never say there’s no hope…so long you come down with us, there will be hope…don’t think you can be safe any more! None of us are! Come down with us and demand your rights my rights, you family’ rights. I am going down on January 25th and I will say ‘no’ to corruption, ‘no’ to this regime.”

These are the words of Asmaa Mahfouz, a 26 year old woman whose Jan. 18 vlog is said to have helped mobilize the million that turned up in Cairo and the thousands in other cities on Jan 25. Asmaa’s vlog, like the stories of many Egyptian women of this revolution offer up a challenge to two key questions framing U.S. discourse on the Jan. 25 Egyptian revolution:

1) Where are the women?

2) and…”but what if Islamic extremists take over?”

Often ignored in U.S. discussions on Egypt is how protests led by labor unions—many women-based labor unions in the manufacturing cities of Egypt—have catalyzed the Egyptian revolution (Paul Amar, 02-05-11). The women now holding down Tahrir Square as we speak—are of all ages and social groups and their struggle cannot be explained through Orientalist tropes that reduce Arab women to passive victims of culture or religion or Islam. They are active participants in a grassroots people-based struggle against poverty and state corruption, rigged elections, repression, torture, and police brutality. They are leading marches; attending the wounded, and participating in identity checks of state supported thugs. They have helped create human shields to protect Egyptian Antiquities Museum, the Arab League Headquarters, and one another. They have helped organize neighborhood watch groups and committees nationwide in order to protect private and public property. They are fighting against dictatorship among millions of people-not guided by any one sect or political party—united under one slogan: we want and end to this regime. Master Mimz—protest rapper in the UK best represents my point in the lyrics to her song: Back Down Mubarak…where she states:

“First give me a job—then lets talk about my hijab”

For anyone wondering about the oppression of Arab women, the women of this revolution have indeed suffered—Professor Noha Radwan was attacked and beaten half to death by Mubarak thugs who ripped her shirt open and had stitches in her head. Several women—and men are now martyrs (they are now over 300).  Amira, killed by a police officer; Liza Mohamed Hasan, hit by a police car; Sally Zahran, hit by a Mubarak thug in the back of the head with a bat, went home to sleep and never woke up.

Since the demonstrations pushed the police out of the center of Cairo, several women have made statements such as this: “It’s the first time that I have never been harassed in Cairo”—Egyptian police are notorious for sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

Some Egyptian women are also on the frontlines of the war over ideas—fighting the Egyptian state TV and exposing the contradictions between U.S. discourses on democracy and U.S. practices. As Mubarak’s regime pays thugs to run over peaceful demonstrators, stab them and kill them, many women have expressed outraged over Obama and Clinton’s advice that: “both sides need to refrain from violence.”

Aida Seif Al Dawla is a leading human rights activist with Nadeem Center for psychological rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture. By extention, her work, like the work of many Egyptian feminists and human rights activists fighting against state violence, involves confronting U.S. imperial relations with the Mubarak regime. Today, the people of the revolution are outraged over the U.S.’ unanswered loyalty to Mubarak as well as Obama’s backing of vice president Omar Suleiman and the lack of discussion about Suleiman’s role in Egyptian torture and his important role in the US rendition-to-torture program. U.S. leaders have called Suleiman a distinguished and respected man. They use these words to describe the coordinator of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, an extrajudicial procedure in which suspected terrorists are transferred illegally to countries like Egypt that are known to use torture during interrogation. Consider, for instance, the case of the Pakistani man Habib—in which the CIA passed Habib to Omar Suleiman in Egypt. Habib was then repeatedly zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to his nostrils, beaten, his fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks. After Suleiman’s men extracted Habib’s confession, he was transferred back to US custody, where his testimony became the basis of his eventual imprisonment at Guantanamo.U.S. policy helps sustain the structures of torture and violence in Egypt. As Egyptian American media pundit Mona Tehawy puts it: U.S.’ “stability” comes at the expense of freedom and dignity of the people of my or any country.”

Of course a democratic Egypt would benefit women. The government recently passed a law restricting the work of civil society organizations, many of them led by women. The current regime is responsible for widespread human rights violations, including intense forms of harassment and violence against women, which many organizations such as Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, and the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, have well-documented.

So rather than asking, “where are the women,” we might ask:

Why does much of U.S. public discourse frame the revolution through Islamophobic logic and why has the corporate media focused mostly on images of Egyptian men?

Islamophobia fuels popular U.S. discourses on Egypt and drives the question: what if Islamic fundamentalists take over Egypt? And it this very discourse that legitimizes the U.S. administration’s complicity in Mubarak’s violent efforts to quell the revolution. This explains why my public expressions of hope for the success of the revolution and for democratization in Egypt are often been met with a sense of grave concern: “but what if Islamic fundamentalists take over?” These questions must be understood in terms of an imperial psyche, a state of consciousness that is driven by panic over Islamic fundamentalism and that works as a blocking operation, or a rationale against supporting the Egyptian revolution. These questions must be located in the historical trajectory of the post-Cold War era in which particular strands of U.S. liberal feminism and U.S. imperialism have worked in tandem. Both rely upon a humanitarian logic that justifies military intervention, occupation, and bloodshed as strategies for promoting “democracy and women’s rights.” This humanitarian logic disavows U.S.-state violence against people of the Arab and Muslim regions rendering it acceptable and even, liberatory, particularly for women. Islamophobic panic over the future of Egypt similarly de-centers the U.S.-backed Mubarak regime’s past and present repression. It denies historical conditions such as the demographic realities in Egypt, the complex, multidimensional place of the Muslim Brotherhood in the revolution, and the predominance of secular visions for the future of Egypt. Islamophobia thus legitimizes complicity with dictatorship and U.S. empire, producing this message for the Egyptian people: “Its best that you continue to live under tyranny.” Gender fuels Islamophobia, requiring “the Arab woman” to be nothing more than an abject being, an invisible sister, wife, or mother of “the real revolutionaries.” Islamophobia legitimizes itself through the disappearance of Egyptian women as active agents in the revolution.

I do not intend to be overly celebratory. We have learned from history that following the revolution, women are often pushed back to the sidelines, away from center stage.

We might also then ask, if Egypt enters a democratization period, will the voices of the women of Tahrir remain center stage? And what are the possibilities for a democratization of rights in Egypt– all civic rights—in which women’s participation, the rights of women, family law, and the right to organize, protest, and express freedom of speech remain central? And what are the possibilities for international solidarity with Egyptian women and Egyptian people—amidst a war of ideas that often obstructs the possibility to see Arab or Muslim women and as human– and as rightful agents of their own discourses, governments, and destinies? It has become increasingly clear that this revolution is much greater than a conflict between Egyptian state and non-state actors. Egyptian women’s rights, like the rights of all Egyptians are entangled in the global, imperial relation between the U.S., Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and other repressive regimes of the region and beyond. Only when we can take these local and imperial forces seriously can we begin to understand the oppression millions of Egyptian people are determined to end. The people of Tahrir and all the demonstrators of Egypt have spoken and said, we will not betray the blood of our martyrs–we will not give up until Mubarak steps down. It remains to be seen what the transitional period will look like but one thing is clear: it must be led by the people of Egypt. And as the Egyptian movement for freedom and democracy continues, will U.S. social movements—whether feminist, anti-war, or beyond—forget the imperial past and the blood of the Egyptian martyrs or commit to holding the U.S. and Israel accountable for complicity with dictatorship and thirty-plus years of repression in Egypt?

The Feminist Mosaic: The Naked Blogger, the Burka, and the Boys in Hijab

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , on November 28, 2011 by loonwatch

Aliaa al-Mahdy sparked a firestorm of controversy last month when she posted a sensationalist nude photo of herself on her blog, ‘Memoirs of a Revolutionary.’ Praised almost universally in the West for her “courage,” the 20-year-old art student sent “shock waves” through Egypt’s conservative society. (It is interesting to note that when women attempt to attain their rights to wear the hijab or the niqab in lets say France it is not met with the same enthusiastic praise but rather derision.)

After decades of resurgent Islam, public nudity is frowned upon in Egypt, even in art. Mahdy defended her act, writing in her blog:

Put on trial the artists’ models who posed nude for art schools until the early 70s, hide the art books and destroy the nude statues of antiquity, then undress and stand before a mirror and burn your bodies that you despise to forever rid yourselves of your sexual hangups before you direct your humiliation and chauvinism and dare to try to deny me my freedom of expression.

Mahdy also launched a Facebook campaign, “Wearing Hijab in Solidarity with Women,” which called on men to support women’s rights by uploading photos of themselves wearing headscarves. The idea of men wearing hijab to make a political statement is not new.

In 2009, Iranian authorities tried to humiliate jailed activist Majid Tavakoli by publishing photos of him wearing hijab as punishment for his role in protests following a disputed election. Iranian men responded by launching the online “Be a Man” campaign, and hundreds of men expressed their solidarity with Travakoli by uploading photos of themselves wearing hijab.

Be a Man CampaignBe a Man Campaign

The “Be a Man” campaign also advocates women’s rights. Mahdy featured many participants’ photos on her Facebook page before it was shut down in response to thousands of complaints. She has vowed to relaunch it within days.

Egypt’s Attorney General has received a legal complaint accusing Mahdi and her boyfriend, Kareem Amer, of “inciting immorality, debauchery, and defamation of religion.”

This legal complaint is bound not to help the situation and will likely have the opposite effect. We know whenever the state interferes to repress freedom of conscious it only brings more attention to the issue and entices copycats.

Secular liberals and religious conservatives are vying for support in Egypt’s increasingly polarized society. Mahdy’s liberal critics fear her radical tactics could prompt a conservative backlash and strengthen ultra-Conservative Islamists in upcoming elections.

Egyptian journalist Mohammad Abdelfattah, whose role in exposing the deadly beating of Khaled Said helped spark the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, expressed his support for women’s rights, but advocated a different approach, saying:

I don’t think that’s how I would like to show my support for women. Both of us respect our differences, but that’s not something I would do … I think that it’s a funny tactic, it’s not serious stuff…

You know, we can mobilize for women’s rights in a more serious manner that can achieve real things on the ground, not just some superficial type of tactics that would make the already conservative population [of Egypt more] alienated … to the idea of women’s rights.

Mona Eltahawy, a freelance Egyptian-American journalist based in New York, who ironically supports bans on the burqa dismissed liberal critics who accused Mahdy of hurting their cause. Eltahawy, who describes herself as a liberal, secular Muslim, said conservative opponents should not be allowed to set the agenda. In an article expressing lavish praise for Mahdy’s campaign, she wrote:

When a woman is the sum total of her headscarf and hymen – that is, what’s on her head and what is between her legs – then nakedness and sex become weapons of political resistance…

[Mahdy] is the Molotov cocktail thrown at the Mubaraks in our heads – the dictators of our mind – which insists that revolutions cannot succeed without a tidal wave of cultural changes that upend misogyny and sexual hypocrisy.

Eltahawy’s views are prevalent among feminists who interpret public nudity as the ultimate rebellion against the burqa, considered a notorious symbol of oppression in the West. Many who subscribe to this view believe Islam and feminism are mutually exclusive, and that religion should be tossed in the trash bin, along with the hijab.

Muslim feminists have challenged this orthodoxy, forwarding the argument that Islam and feminism are compatible, and that modest dress actually liberates women from the confines of superficial beauty. Many Muslim feminists have introduced a competing contemporary narrative that challenges the notion that women’s liberation is a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

Maybe Mahdy’s campaign will contribute to a new feminist mosaic that is inclusive and focused on choices, not mandates. Rather than becoming a lightning rod issue, pitting one side against another, why can’t we make room for naked bloggers, and burqas, and boys in hijab?

Explaining the Egyptian Revolution to Americans

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2011 by loonwatch

A joke on us Americans. Seriously this is quite creative and funny:

Also while we are on the topic of Egypt, here is an excellent rebuttal from Alex Pareene on the thoroughly repugnant Richard Cohen who thinks Egyptians can’t handle Democracy:

Richard Cohen: Egyptian democracy will be “a nightmare”

(Salon.com)

Nothing saddens Richard Cohen more than the sight of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians peacefully protesting. The longtime Washington Post columnist is sad because those childish Arab Muslims might end up with a democracy, but they don’t know how democracy works. Here is how democracy works: We like it unless “the people” want something that complicates our current foreign policy objectives.

Cohen is just broken up about this. “Egypt, once stable if tenuously so, has been pitched into chaos.” “The dream of a democratic Egypt,” he says, “is sure to produce a nightmare.” It is sure to. Such a nightmare it will be. Just not anywhere near as pleasant as these last 30 years of “stability” have been, for everyone.

Cohen is totally an expert on Egypt and Muslims, because he is a longtime opinion columnist for the Washington Post, and not at all a blinkered idiot. Egypt “lacks the civic and political institutions that are necessary for democracy,” he tells us. And you can’t argue with that. I mean, do Egyptian newspapers even run syndicated Richard Cohen opinion columns? Do they have “Dancing With the Stars,” to teach them how voting works?

My take on all this is relentlessly gloomy. I care about Israel. I care about Egypt, too, but its survival is hardly at stake. I care about democratic values, but they are worse than useless in societies that have no tradition of tolerance or respect for minority rights. What we want for Egypt is what we have ourselves. This, though, is an identity crisis. We are not them.

No. We are not them, at all. Because they are Muslims. We all know Americans could handle democracy because we were super good at respecting the rights of minority groups. But the Egyptians are sometimes resentful of or even violent against minority groups, so no democracy allowed for them. (While some Coptic Christians worry that a more Islamic Egyptian government would be less friendly to Copts, demonstrators are stressing an inclusive, nationalist message, and there’s evidence that Christians are themselves involved in the protests. The right-wing CBN has even filed a report on the growing “bond” between Christians and “their Muslim neighbors” in Egypt.)

Cohen is concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood — which “runs the Gaza Strip” under the name “Hamas,” he tells us — will take control of Egypt and attack Israel, at which point “the mob currently in the streets will roar its approval.” That “mob” certainly does seem pretty bloodthirsty. They clearly want all-out war with the region’s sole nuclear power. Pretty sure that’s what these demonstrations are about. “I’m actually pretty cool with Mubarak but I really wish we were waging war against Israel right now” — An Egyptian protester.

Cohen seems to understand that the Brotherhood, while involved in the demonstrations, did not organize them, and he has been told that the majority of the demonstrators have no ties to the group, but he thinks that might just be because they are sneaky. “It has been underground for generations — jailed, tortured, infiltrated, but still, somehow, flourishing. Its moment may be approaching.” Scary!

And why should we all be super-scared of them? “The Islamists of the Brotherhood do not despise America for what it does but for what it is.” Thanks, Richard Cohen, for explaining who these Islamists are, and what they despise about us. It’s not our lengthy history of propping up the dictator who brutally repressed them — they hate us for our freedom. (You may compare Richard Cohen’s history of the Muslim Brotherhood to that an an actual expert on the subject, if you wish.)

This column is so full of winning lines, I have to stop myself from quoting the entire thing. There is literally an “I like democracy, but” part: “Majority rule is a worthwhile idea. But so, too, are respect for minorities, freedom of religion, the equality of women and adherence to treaties, such as the one with Israel, the only democracy in the region.”

I’m sorry, I can edit that one to more clearly express Cohen’s actual point: “Majority rule is a worthwhile idea. But so, too … [is] respect for… Israel….”

These are the last lines:

America needs to be on the right side of human rights. But it also needs to be on the right side of history. This time, the two may not be the same.

The “right side of history” might not be the “right side of human rights.” Got it? Sometimes you have to be on the “wrong side” of “human rights,” and history will totally understand.

Poor Egypt. Maybe you will be grown-up enough in the eyes of Richard Cohen to handle a democracy someday, but right now, it’s just not in the cards.

 

Haroon Moghul on Why the Egyptian Revolution is not Islamist

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2011 by loonwatch

Via the Huffington Post, an insightful and nuanced analyses from Haroon Moghul. Hopefully people will start to listen.

4 Reasons Why Egypt’s Revolution Is Not Islamic

The following is reprinted with permission from Religion Dispatches. You can sign up for their free daily newsletterhere.

Just as in the case of Tunisia, we’ve been caught off guard by the rapid pace of events in Egypt. Commentators are having a difficult time understanding the dynamics of the Arab world and especially the role of religion in this latest apparent revolution. Many wonder why this isn’t an Islamic Revolution, and are audibly breathing a sigh of relief that it isn’t — assuming that somehow Egypt would follow Iran’s rather unique trajectory in 1979 and thereafter.

So why isn’t Egypt’s revolution an Islamic one? And what sets Tunisia and Egypt apart from Iran? Due to the quickly shifting nature of events, I’ve recorded four reasons why Egypt’s uprising isn’t an explicitly Islamic one.

1) The political Islamism that ended up triumphing in Iran was a much more authoritarian interpretation of Islam. It specifically embraced political power and preached a narrative of resistance, though its victory in Iran paradoxically ended any chance of victory elsewhere. That’s because when elites and other, non-religious ideological forces in neighboring Muslim countries saw the purges of prior elites taking place in Iran, they immediately became skeptical of working alongside Islamists in their own country.

Islamic challenges to regimes in Tajikistan, Algeria and Tunisia, among others, were violently supressed even though they pursued their goals democratically. Most Islamists learned from this brutal experience and grew from it; Egypt’s most powerful Muslim group, the Muslim Brotherhood, was one such group. It’s probably safe to say that Iran was the only victory for this style of Islamism, and now, some 30-plus years later, its moment has largely passed. The geopolitical, economic and social reasons for its emergence have disappeared.

2) Iran’s Islamist opposition to the Shah was shaped by the peculiarities of Shi’a Islam and Iranian history. Shi’as have a more organized and powerful clergy than Sunnis, and Iran’s clergy, unlike Egypt’s, were much more independent of the state. In Egypt today, among the main trends in Islamic practice are a quietist Salafism, which seeks a rigorous but non-political personal morality, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

And while the Brotherhood is an incredibly large and powerful organization, it is today a product of years of suppression, torture, and intimidation. While it seeks to change society, it does not pursue an explicitly political agenda. Rather, it believes that an ideal politics will be achieved once society is Islamized — in other words, enough introduction of Muslim values into popular culture, and society will simply reform itself — and that includes the state. So while they have political ideals, they certainly don’t have an explicit political program.

That said, it’s no surprise that the Brotherhood weren’t out ahead in the recent protests: They’ve largely eschewed street politics (it ends with their members electrocuted in jails). It’s also worth considering, although this is still conjectural, whether the Brotherhood declined to play a more public role even after they caught up to events on the street precisely because they know a more prominent role for themselves could draw negative attention. I’m sure the Brotherhood knows that Mubarak would love to have Islamists to blame for the uprising. It would make our government support for his crackdown that much easier to obtain.

3) People who study Iran know how vexed the relationship is, and has been, between Persian cultural identity and Islam. While many Iranians before the revolution were religious in a non-political way, the country’s elite tended to see Islam and Persianness as mutually incompatible. On the other hand, Egypt is a proudly Arab society (hint: the Arab Republic of Egypt) which has never seen Islam as incompatible with their specific ethnic and national project.

Arabness and Islam are hard to pull apart, such that the late Michel Aflaq, the founder of the Arab nationalist Ba’ath Party — he was a Christian — praised Islam as an achievement of the Arab cultural genius. (Many Muslims wouldn’t take too kindly to such a reading, but there you have it.) That difference in dynamics between Egypt and Iran needs to be stressed.

While Iran’s Shah campaigned against Islam and sought to erase its role in Persian history and culture, Mubarak never attacked Islam with anywhere near the same vehemence. He’s far more concerned with preserving power for himself than he is with rewriting Egyptian history (unfortunately for his prospects of remaining in power, he’s concerned with himself–and not even for Egypt’s advancement, unlike other Third World dictatorships, which do emphasize and achieve real economic growth). And this brings us to the most important point…

4) Egypt’s revolution doesn’t have to be Islamic because Islam isn’t at the heart of the problem on the ground. In fact, the non-political Egyptian Islam of the last few decades has succeeded in deeply Islamizing Egyptian culture, making Muslim piety interwoven with the everyday rhythms of Egyptian life. We saw this in the protests after the Friday prayers today, in the spontaneous congregational prayers that took place in the heat of demonstrations–and we can see it in the number of Egyptian women who veil (though many don’t and still strongly identify with Islam, whether culturally or religiously, personally or publicly).

Egypt’s society is a deeply Muslim one, and the very success of this non-political religious project has negated the need for a confrontational Islam. Egyptians know their religious identity is not under threat. ElBaradei, for example, joined in Friday prayers today before going out into the streets. Whether Egyptians identify with political Islam or secular democracy, their Arabness and Islam tend to be mutually supportive, and certainly not incompatible.

Where there is a danger is that if the United States does not come out explicitly in favor of the people, subsequent events will become more confrontational, and may even see the introduction of a more cultural and civilizational rhetoric. The Shah monopolized power and sought to erase a culture. Mubarak, for all his brutality, has had no such grandiose presumption.

As an aside, I might also add that Muslim societies often have flourishing religious institutions and practices, organic and varied. But in the case of Iran, the regime paradoxically undermined that popular and organic religiosity when they sought to enforce faith through the state. This is an argument for keeping religion and politics separate in the Muslim world: in the interest of defending both from the negative effects of the other. Egypt’s “secular” dictator, who didn’t meddle too far into his people’s religious life — he was no Shah, and no Ben Ali — hasn’t created a sharp cultural divide in his country (the economic one is something else altogether). So why would Egyptians need, want, or stress, an Islamic Revolution?