Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dignity and Social Justice: SIDELINED

While we are still fighting in the trenches of revolution, starting with the referendum the parties and candidates have slowly been placing the building blocks of our future political sphere. Those players are currently determining the position of dignity and social justice in Egypt’s future political sphere. Dreaming of social justice and human dignity is not idealistic, but is the very premise of what #Jan25 stands for, we cannot allow it to become side-lined or remain as words we chant in our protests. While the bourgeoisie will never understand how the absence of dignity and social justice affect people who are constantly undergoing daily social and economic humiliation, the reality is that there are many people that cannot live another day under these conditions. These values must materialize in every action of building and instead of allowing these values to be limited to reverberations in the squares, we must limit the actions and policies of these political players that will only exacerbate humiliation and social injustice.

A list of the economic policies of some of the main parties was compiled by @hussein_allam. The parties included in the list are: The Free Egyptians Party Al Masriyeen El Ahrar (المصريين الأحرار), The Egyptian Democratic and Social Party Al Masry Al Democrati Al Igtmaay (المصرى الديمقراطى الإجتماعى), The Justice Party Hizb El Adl (حزب العدل) , The Egypt Freedom Party Masr El Hurreya (مصر الحرية), The Light Party Hizb El Nour (حزب النور) , The Middle Party Hizb El Wast (حزب الوسط), Freedom and Justice Party El Hurreya wa El Aadala (الحرية و العدالة) . I will be outlining how these economic policies will further increase disproportionate wealth accumulation and will inevitably fail at achieving social justice. I would definitely encourage a close reading of the afore-mentioned list of economic policies prior to reading this post. While I would have liked to include tourism and large mega-projects in this critique of the parties' economic policies I will leave these as subjects for other posts, since the three main points that I will raise in this post suffice to show how these economic policies are destined to fail in creating the foundations of social justice.

First of all, I would like to briefly speak about human dignity, I've written a previous post about human dignity and what the parliamentary elections mean in terms of human dignity. Prior to the November uprising in #Tahrir I could consider the parliamentary elections and candidates at the very best naive and optimistic to have accepted participation in these elections while we are still under #SCAF's dictatorship, but following November uprising I consider their participation a betrayal and complete disregard to the basic human right to dignity. I will not blame voters for their participation in these farcical elections, but I blame the parties and the candidates for granting legitimacy to an authority that was shooting to kill and eradicate dissidents. The short-sightedness and blatant weakness of these parties in their ability to organize as a political front and reject #SCAF's legitimacy and violence leaves me frustrated that the political arena is occupied by self-interested individuals and parties that lack any true vision that will allow Egyptians to finally break free from the throes of oppression and humiliation. Many parties and candidates continued to run for elections despite the atrocities that were being committed by #SCAF and the #CSF out of fear of losing power and ground in the elections to the Islamist parties instead of organizing and boycotting these elections. The parties and candidates were either too stupid or too self-serving and having them in any sort of power will hold a bleak future for the revolution.

What is social justice? Its a term that has been used since #Jan25, chanted, hung on banners and included in every dialogue on revolutionary reform. Part of why it’s so easy to forget about it is because it is not defined. It can be easily appropriated by anyone to mean a range of things including creating a larger vocational labor force who will ultimately be working in factories to make others richer. But for the purpose of this post I will define it as equal access to the means of production and the ability of people to subsist without having their labor exploited by someone. In other words, it means that no individual is able to monopolize say for instance a factory, and then through the labor of others derive a profit that is significantly larger than what the labor is acquiring through this exploitative relationship. In the current scheme of things, what we've seen is that those who own the means of production are able to generate immense wealth that allows them to further monopolize more means of production. That way this ruling class of owners is constantly becoming richer while those whose labor is the very essence of their wealth become more and more impoverished. There is a finite amount of wealth circulating in human societies when someone owns the means of production what ends up happening is that this wealth and resources become more concentrated around those epicenters of production leaving less available to be circulated among those who do not own these means of production. A capitalist economic system is constantly creating and replicating this relationship between capital and labor and social justice cannot be ever achieved under these conditions, even if it may seem so temporarily. Even if we intervene, mitigate and use taxation systems and protectionist economic models to prevent this, ultimately this is a system that is self-destructive and the only way for it to survive is through a process of constant expansion. Eventually this system will run out of more resources to utilize and spaces (both physical and conceptual) to expand into and will collapse. The question here is will we wait for a system that is devastating both the planet and its people to self-implode making it extremely hard for people to recover from its devastating effects or will we work to bring this system down before more losses are incurred?

An often overlooked element to why capitalism has not caused the devastation that those who oppose it have prophesied is that not everyone is completely integrated within the market economy, in fact there are many places within Egypt that people are still able to subsist through what economists have termed informal economies. Informal economies are ways that different groups of people are able survive external to these market economies through both monetized and non-monetized exchanges usually extremely location specific and heavily reliant on social and kinship ties. A close look at the parties' economic policies shows that The Free Egyptians Party, The Egyptian Democratic Social Party, The Justice Party, The Free Egypt Party and The Light Party all in one form or the other encourage the start-up and maintenance of small to medium enterprises (SMEs). While this may initially appear as a step in the right direction, I urge you take a minute to reflect about what that really means in context of what I explained earlier. By encouraging the creation of SMEs, on the one hand new epicenters of requiring smaller capital are being created that for them to function require even smaller wages and naturally more exploitation of the labor force. On the other hand, an increase of SMEs will only further integrate many informal economies into the market economy. While theoretically this may at first appear as increased distribution of wealth, but reality is that access to markets and market information can be very limited. Many of these informal economies once integrated into a market economy will lose the very non-measurable methods for subsistence that allowed people to subsist and will most likely lead to a disruption to these economies that rely on social and kinship ties leaving many people impoverished.

The Freedom and Justice Party, The Middle Party, The Light Party, The Free Egypt Party, The Justice Party, The Egyptian Democratic and Social Party and the Free Egyptians Party all employ different schemes and policies to mitigate the destructive effects of what is thought of as a free market, ranging from tax subsidies and minimum wages to anti-inflation policies. What these policies are doing in essence is working in the complete opposite direction of a free market economy, yet while these policies work in opposition to the free market economy, all they are doing is allowing this market economy to further flourish. Without these policies what would eventually happen is that people would no longer be able to subsist and inevitably lead to a complete collapse of the market economy. So by employing these different protectionist schemes these parties are creating conditions in which a collapse of the market economy is slowed down, keeping people’s heads barely over the water and supporting their continued exploitation. Economic justice can never be achieved through protectionist economic policies only the continued exploitation of people is achieved.

By encouraging expansion and development (whether agriculture or tourism) into what are considered “marginalized” or “empty” landscapes a two-fold process is occurring here. The first, it is implicit within this process that a very state and legislatively recognized form of private property will be taking place. Private property at its very essence is the right of certain individuals or institutions to exclude others from access to the decision-making process of how this property will be utilized. In the context of capital accumulation this means that individuals and institutions with capital and power are able to deny access of others to this property. Capital generates more capital and private property especially that integrated into a market economy will only lead to more capital and further alienate a vast majority of people from their ability access this property whether it is land or resource, transforming the majority of people’s relationship to land and resource to those of tenants and not owners. The second process that is occurring is what I consider an inherently conceptually violent process of erasure of people and their livelihood practices. These targeted lands, whether the North Coast, “deserts” or Sinai as outlined by The Freedom and Justice Party, The Middle Party, The Light Party, The Egyptian Democratic and Social Party and The Free Egyptians Party, are imagined empty and devoid of people. I will leave my readers to draw their own conclusions about this process, but I urge you to ask yourself what does it mean to the people living in these locations to become erased and considered non-existent in how our economic policies are developed? What does it mean impose projects on people while we sit in our offices developing these policies with little or no regard to how others wish to live their lives? What does it mean to not recognize thousand-year old processes of ownership unless they conform to our current state definition of private property? How can social justice be achieved when over 500,000 individuals’ existence is being erased as we choose to consider these locations “marginal”, “uninhabited” and “unused”?

For many of us integrated into the market economy, it is very difficult to imagine a world outside of capitalism. But this is a revolution and we must challenge our imaginations. Capitalism derives its power largely in how we think of it as a natural, inevitable and unchangeable system. But capitalism is hardly natural, it is not governed by the laws of nature and has come into existence through violent and coercive forms of rule and governance, it emergence is not separate from colonial and neo-colonial projects and this is something we must not overlook. Additionally, capitalism was not inevitable, it has resulted through the choices, decisions and theories of a ruling class that have had the physical means to super-impose this system, again often violently on different groups of people. Finally, capitalism is not unchangeable, it is hard to imagine alternatives while it is dominating our every interaction and interpretation of the world around us. If capitalism collapses it doesn’t mean our means of production will also collapse, it doesn’t mean that agricultural lands and factories will cease to exist, it will only mean that they will no longer belong to a small ruling elite class and their benefits will be distributed more equitably. If we allow ourselves to dare and dream of a different world; one where our economic policies are not alienating or excluding, where social justice and human dignity are at its forefront, maybe then we will not rush to ballots supporting parties based on fears of islamists or liberals and finally address the core essence of a socio-economic system that not just within Egypt, but has globally enslaved to different degrees an extremely large majority of people who inhabit this planet.

This post is inspired by conversations with @bassemk, @atlemk, @sumayaholdijk,@yasminb and @fazerofzanight. This post is theoretically influenced by Karl Marx's Das Capital, Karl Polyani's Great Transformation, Nancy Peluso’s interpretation Bundles of Power, David Harvey’s Spaces of Hope, Timothy Mitchell on the Performativity of Markets and James Scott's Seeing Like a State.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Battle of Mohamed Mahmoud -Tahrir (Nov 19 - Nov 23)-

As a tear gas canister starts to land in the middle of protesters in Mohamed Mahmoud street, thousands of people turn and start running towards #tahrir. Mohamed Mahmoud feels smaller than it's ever been and the building on its sides seem larger, taller, enclosing us, trapping us and the gases between them. Within seconds, protesters start running back towards #Tahrir, trying to outrun the a thick white cloud of smoke, stumbling, gasping for air. My eyes and face start burning, my eyes shut and I could not see, I only knew which way was out because of the bodies that swept me out of Mohamed Mahmoud. I see to my right @sumayaholdijk's head disappear under a wave of people rushing to escape the white cloud of teargas. Before I can begin to worry about @sumayaholdijk, I start gasping for air, in a moment of panic I pull off my scarf and mask and gasp for air, but instead I fill my lungs with a gas that feels like I inhaled searing hot pins. I try and inhale, but there is no air, just more pins tearing up my insides, by the third time I try to take a breath, my head starts spinning, my legs become heavy and everything becomes silent. As my knees buckle under me, someone on my right hooks his arm into my right arm and someone on my left hooks his arm into my left one. I don't feel my legs as I glide with the crowd through the smoke. I hear a muted voice screaming, "save us,الحقونا" and realize its my own. I look behind me in time to see @fazerofzanight slide under the feet of the fleeing protesters, I try and pick her, but my legs won't hold me and my screams become clearer as I shout, "Save her, save her, someone save her,الحقوها الحقوها حد يلحقها". I couldn't breathe and I knew that if I did not escape the cloud of teargas in a few seconds I would die and surely if I did then @fazerofzanight would also die. A man behind me, also with swollen eyes, carried @fazerofzanight towards the Field Hospital in Mohamed Mahmoud, instantaneously other protesters starting clearing a way for her to get through as we went through people on the sides started spraying our faces with a mixture of yeast, bicarbonate, saline and other things and I could finally breathe. We made it to the field hospital and after a very close call we were all, though extremely shaken, miraculously okay.

Many people don't understand why so many were injured and others had fallen dead in what they consider the pointless clashes of the battle for Mohamed Mahmoud. If we recall the events of June 28th, tear gas canisters were landing in the middle of Tahrir square, these canisters were being launched from Mohamed Mahmoud. Mohamed Mahmoud is the closest point with the clearest trajectory to Tahrir Square. If #CSF forces were to take it over than there is no doubt that within minutes #Tahrir would be covered in a formidable cloud of teargas.

The battle of Mohamed Mahmoud is an organic show of sacrifice like no other I have seen or experienced before in my life. It is a living breathing barricade of people who are willing to risk snipers, asphyxiation, burning eyes and seizures to stop the disbanding of the #Tahrir sit-in. People on the front-lines escape the teargas to be quickly replaced by others, while hundreds wait for the fallen to carry them to the over-crowded under equipped nearby field hospitals, while they spray whatever they can into the air to dissipate the effects of the pernicious gas that has already taken the lives of many of us. People are determined to maintain the #tahrir sit-in at every and all costs. That is the story of the battle of the living breathing barricades of Mohamed Mahmoud, you have not experienced camaraderie till you've experienced Mohamed Mahmoud.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Zeinhom Morgue -November 21-

A little before midnight on November 20th @fazerofzanight, @sumayaholdijk and myself (@bamyabombom), during the clashes on BabElouk Street in #tahrir, ran into @baha2saber. He was extremely distressed about a phone call he had received from a family member of a martyr that had just arrived at the morgue. Morgue officials and the prosecution official were convincing families to quickly sign incorrect reports and immediately bury their loved ones. We quickly head there with a few other people.

Once we arrived at the morgue, the families were extremely distressed and did not want any of us anywhere near the morgue. We explained to them why we were there, how it is not uncommon for the prosecutor official to issue fraudulent reports citing different causes of death such as heart attacks rather than gunshot wounds, in some cases they may even insert or remove evidence from the body, especially if the cause of death can implicate one of the state's institutions. We also slowly explained to the families why a State Security Intelligence Prosecutor cannot be present during the forensic examination because the people who were killed were either killed by the Military Police or Central Security Forces, this would clearly be a conflict of interest if they would be supervising the forensic report. Within a few minutes the families had calmed down and informed us that prior to our arrival morgue officials informed the families that foreign agents and money hungry journalists looking for a quick buck would be coming. We reassured them once again that we were activists from #tahrir and we were not gaining anything other than ensuring that their children's death would not be in vain, that those who were responsible for their deaths would be held accountable and we were here to stand in solidarity and honor their loved ones. The family members then agreed to have us advocate on their behalf and we started negotiating with morgue officials.

At first we said that we were there trying to find the body of a relative, they took us into a room with unclaimed and unidentified bodies placed on trays strewn onto the floor. The stench in the room will never leave my memory, some of the bodies in that room were not #tahrir and were unclaimed for over a month. As we looked around for evidence to implicate #SCAF and #CSF for these brutal murders, morgue officials realized that we were not trying to identify a body and they started pushing us out of the fridge, they shut fridge and we were not allowed in again for the rest of the night. Family members of the martyrs who were in the morgue then intervened immediately and said they wanted us there and they wanted us to take pictures. This enraged the morgue officials and started pushing us out of the morgue, while family members of the martyrs were pushing the other way sandwiching between them. Eventually we managed to hold our ground inside the morgue, but then the prosecutor official refused to perform the forensic examination unless we left the morgue. When @fazerofzanight insisted to supervise the forensic examination as the families of the martyrs had requested that she attend, the State Security Intelligence officer issued a warrant to detain @fazerofzanight. The morgue officials then switched off the lights inside the morgue a cheap attempt to scare us out. At some point a man who claimed he was the uncle of martyr started creating a lot of commotion, he was shouting and screaming saying that all he wanted was to bury his nephew, he didn't care about the cause of death, he did not care about holding anyone accountable, "the dead have to be honored and you are making my nephew's soul suffer", the families once again changed their mind about wanting us there and so we told them that we understand and we left, on our way out a young man who was clearly distressed about the death of his brother spoke to the families again and they asked us to stay, at this point other activists and two human rights lawyers had arrived. The families apologized telling us that they were just really confused and upset and they just wanted the day to be over, but they did not want to let their childrens' deaths go unpunished. Interestingly enough, the man who had earlier created this commotion was sitting smugly inside the Morgue official's office.

The families decided that one of the lawyers must be present during the forensic examine before any of them would agree to signing the report, the lawyer was able to attend and observe one examination before the prosecutor official refused to continue working. This back and forth with the morgue officials was ongoing all night, some of the forensic examinations were supervised while others were not.

That night a total of 18 bodies arrived at the morgue and later we would find that there were 7 more bodies due to arrive, but because of our presence there they rerouted the bodies to other locations. Out of the 18 bodies that arrived only 1 had died of asphyxiation, while the rest had died from gunshots mostly targeted to the head region. When riot control and police want to disperse protesters they will shoot at arms and legs, but when they shoot at the head they are shooting to kill not to disperse.

When I reflect back on the events of the morgue, I realize here were families who were experiencing the darkest depths of grief and loss. That night three people had collapsed from grief and shock. Yet, morgue officials had no qualms to further exacerbate their suffering, through pointless emotional manipulation, so that they can cover up and exonerate from blame those who are ordering the killings of protesters in #tahrir. Those who have lost their children stand there pawns in a corrupt government's game. Not a seat for them to sit on, out in the cold standing or sitting on a sidewalk of a parking lot entrance, begging to be let in to see their children behind the iron doors of the morgue. No compassion, no respect, treating people like they are a nuisance, shouting and screaming at them, threatening to not release the bodies for burial unless people sign false forensic reports, forging death certificates, tampering with evidence, protecting those who are killing and murdering people. My heart goes out to the families of our #tahrir martyrs.

Photographs used were taken by @fazerofzanight

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I just finished watching the graphic and horrific testimony of Samira Ibrahim who was tortured and assaulted by the Military Police. If one substitutes the Military Police with State Security then Samira's testimony takes us back to the days before #Jan25. Where violence, torture and humiliation are institutional practices. Human dignity, is one of, if not the most important aspect of democracy, assuming that by democracy we mean the right of individuals to to live in a state that represents their non-coerced views. With the upcoming elections, a supposed platform for democracy, one must not forget to question the space in which these elections are taking place. Do the institutions and powers currently in place, that are moving and shaping the political sphere show any respect for human dignity? When a political arena excludes human dignity how would you expect human dignity to find itself in the political sphere later on?

Any form of participation in voting, whether it is the referendum or the upcoming elections immediately signals consent and grants legitimacy to those who are shaping the political sphere. In our case a political sphere devoid of human dignity.

In #Jan25, Egyptians tore down what most media termed the "barrier of fear". When we vote, we are expecting to move forward, yet we have not addressed how the Egyptian Military Institution has systematically been rebuilding this "barrier of fear" since Mubarak was deposed on #Feb11. 6 months following the Mubarak's fall, 12,000 civilians have been tried in military courts. Trails that take minutes to reach verdicts often in the absence of lawyers and without the knowledge of their families. @fazerofzanight recounted, how a teacher in a village, told her there are no more youth in the village, all them have been detained by the military police. There have been many incidents not just of military tribunals for civilians, but also videos and testimonies exposing the brutal torture and humiliation of civilians by the Military Police. SCAF has been slowly confining the spaces for dissidence, by controlling information flow and their strategic use of violence and torture.

A few days ago during a "No Military Trials for Civilians" stand on Kasr El Nile Bridge, I spoke to several by-standers. Few knew the purpose of the stand and even fewer knew about the 12,000 civilians that have been court-martialed and none had ever heard of the virginity tests. Despite the fact that SCAF have issued statements acknowledging these situations. Yet, the most terrifying realization was that as I spoke to people and distributed fliers, many people were scared to be seen listening to me speak about SCAF's atrocities. At the sign of uneasiness, I would ask, "Are you scared talking to me?", the usual response was, "Yes, a bit". At the very level of individuals, people fear the military establishment, most people are unable to access honest and credible information, it is naive to even imagine that at this point elections would do anything to serve human dignity, when our participation is compliance to an institution that only wants to serve its own interests and human dignity is not one of them.

A revolution will not happen through complacency, negotiation or dialogue with those who drag human dignity through a pile of horse shit and run it over with their APCs, but rather through an unbridled collective rage of a people who would rather give up their lives than live another day in subordination.

This post was inspired through conversation with @fazerofzanight and @sumayaholdijk

Monday, May 9, 2011

Let's Talk about Sects, Baby...

The emergent alleged sectarian violence has sparked intense dialogue and attention once again on the relationship between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egypt. According to Al Jazeera English the supposedly rising Salafi movement is at the heart of these tensions, "In the months after the toppling of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, there has been a sharp rise in sectarian tensions, fueled in part by a newly active ultraconservative Muslim movement, known as the Salafis". The representation of the Salafi movement portrays individuals as being extremist and fundamentalist, but pays little attention to the larger political economy connected to this rising movement. Additionally, no interpretation or analysis of the recent clashes has looked beyond or in any direction other than the binary divisions between Muslims and Christians for explanations of these clashes. The clashes have also been viewed as a testament to the failure of the military in asserting its control, but have rarely been thought in terms what these clashes succeed in achieving. This post will offer some questions that may serve as guidelines to allow a deeper analysis of the supposedly Muslim and Christian strife in Egypt.

It is practically indisputable that since Mubarak was deposed, the Salafis a group one had rarely heard of have been accused of orchestrating and fueling the recent tensions between Muslims and Christians. They are represented as a threat to Egypt's modernity and progress and conjure images of a Taliban style take over in everyone's mind. They are portrayed as a rising army of ignorant volatile extremists that will devour the rest of the peace loving Egyptians. Now, there is no denying that the Salafi inclination is a rising trend, yet I would argue that there is not enough evidence to indicate that they are truly representing a threat. While all the focus has been on the Salafis as overly zealous religious individuals there has been very little done to question the relationship between capital and this rising movement. Salafis are thought of as ascetics living for El Akhira, which often stops us from thinking about money, profit and the circulation of capital that surrounds the movement. I'm not talking about arms trading or sketchy foreign funding channeled towards underground terrorist cells. I'm really talking about the mundane day-to-day purchases, T.V. shows people are watching and advertising that revolves around this movement. There's money to be made from the Salafis and we often forgot this point. Salafis like most consumers have created specialized market niches that be targeted with a huge array of commodities and services. By ignoring this important relationship between capital and the Salafi movement we separate Salafi completely from society. They become a disconnected group that we do not understand and instead of us viewing them as consumers of a certain specialized commodity they become our number one public enemy. We then become willing to give up our freedoms in return for protection against them.

I have watched the representations of the Salafi threat sway even critics of the army's military trails of civilians towards a desire for the firmer fist of military rule. As evidenced by Al Jazeera's question in the same article I referenced earlier,"The question being asked is, Why is the country's new military leadership not doing enough to deter these attacks that have been repeating since the revolution? And why is the military not doing enough to address the root causes of this tension?". Now is this the right question to ask? Because the only answer such a question allows is one where the military leadership needs to detain more people, restrict more freedom and you use more violence. The different question I believe should be posed to this situation is not how the army is failing, but how is the army succeeding? What is the army, the old and current regime achieving through the framing of acts of sectarian violence?

The second question is not how the Salafis are creating Muslim/Christian tension, but rather what have the mechanisms over the last 40 years that separated Muslims and Christians have caused a segregation between the two? At a very young age, Christian students are removed from the classroom to attend their religion lessons. Even at a private international school there was a shroud of mystery and secrecy. The Christian religion teacher would come in and quietly signal the Christian students to leave the classroom. They would silently gather their things and leave. I think the crucial point here is that the very structure of the system unquestionably required a handful of students to leave. It wasn't that we all went to different classrooms for our religion class. It was that we remained in our classroom while they had to LEAVE. This is just one small example of the everyday institutional practices that are constantly separating between Muslims and Christians. Other things, such religion on our identity cards and the differences in zoning policies between mosques and churches. In fact it is these very practices that produce a sense of entitlement in Muslims and a sense of marginalization in Coptic Christians. Who puts these practices into action and how do these daily practices come into being? who are the winners and who are the losers, and for a truly nuanced perspective we must not limit our winner and losers to a polar Muslim/Christian discussion?

Many random and unrelated events are highlighted as sectarian conflict and are interpreted in a way to produce sectarian conflict. For instance somewhere in Egypt a Muslim girl is supposed to get married to her Muslim cousin, but instead would much rather marry her Muslim neighbor and runs away with him. What would the expected outcome of this situation be? Now to be clear this is not class specific I have known of upper-middle class women who have been 'promised' to their cousins from their father's side and when they decided to marry others their cousins have showed up at the Ma'zun with shotguns ready to blow the husband-to-be's brains all over the marriage certificate. Or how many Muslim women have we heard of or seen being forced to cover their heads by their families whether or not they want to, yet somehow once a Muslim woman or Christian woman has anything to do with anything from the opposite religion, it become transformed into this huge sectarian ordeal and we seem to forget that this has little to do with religion as much as it has to do with women and their right to make their own choices. So by highlighting the difference of religion of people in conflict are we denying that these conflicts constantly happen outside a sectarian context? Are we asking the right questions when we make it about Muslims and Christians or are we just producing sectarian conflict by virtue of focusing on religion? Isn't it more of a question about women being able to choose who they want to be with and what religion they want to follow, much rather than a sectarian division? So why are we hell-bent on ignoring this line of questioning and only willing to focus on this idea of a suppressed civil war?

I hope that this post sheds light a line on a missing line of questioning that may provide us with certain answers that may prove to be fruitful in understanding and dealing with what may or may not be a sectarian conflict.

This post was theoretically inspired by James Ferguson and the content of this post was inspired by conversations with @yasminb @sumayaholdijk

Monday, April 11, 2011

Revolution LITE isn't Going to Cut it

I woke up this morning to the news of Maikel Nabil Sanad's farcical military tribunal. Sanad was sentenced to three years in prison with charges of insulting the military and spreading false information about the military. He was tried in the absence of a lawyer, because the army set the sentencing date for tomorrow. Many believe that his blog post "The Army and the People are not One Hand"(also available in English) where he uses a chronological evidence based argument to support this claim, was the reason behind the military's targeting of Sanad. Sanad is an Egyptian blogger who describes himself as a pacifist and holds extremely controversial views about Egypt's mandatory military conscription and peace with Israel, which many claim made him an easy target for discrediting by the military.

Following the deposing of Mubarak, the military has failed to convict any of those associated with the old regime, but has swiftly managed to convict via military court, within hours, protesters under charges of thuggery and other fabricated charges. The military has also engaged in wide-spread torture, intimidation and brutal dispersal of protesters. The list of restrictions on freedom, human rights violations and impediments to the fulfillment of the #Jan25 demands is long and well documented and can be easily obtained by searches on google and youtube. Every action by the army sets a precedent, when unchallenged effectively allows yet another action that strips even more people away from their basic human rights under the guise of stability and patriotism. For example, had people effectively mobilized for Amr El Beheiry, the army would not have targeted Sanad.

The #Jan25 uprising has been spatially confined to #Tahrir Square and temporally confined to the weekend. It has constantly been hammered into our heads that its great to express our dissent, but lets not disrupt safety, security and people's day-to-day livelihoods. We have to work, be productive, look forward to building #Egypt and show our objection on #Friday. Saturday the military usually does some abominable act or issue some horrible decree, then issue a strange and vague communique denying these incidents or fabricating some intricate lie. There is not much to say about this other than it seems that the Egyptian army is engaged in psychological warfare with the #Egyptian people, nothing less than George Orwell's #nineteen eighty-four. The military is seemingly using the infamous #doublethink tactic to control and sway public opinion.

There are many there who will unequivocally, without hesitation, attack those who criticize the actions of the military, because of a deep-seated fear of instability. You might be comfortable now, you might be changing your car and you might be making good money, but the economic, political and social trajectory in Egypt are all related. The political arena is in place to ensure that the economic policies serve specific people. When these people are carrying guns, they will not give up either and allow for the loss of their interests. It is a trajectory and while you might feel you have stability what you don't realize is that slowly economic disparity is creeping in and in a few years the material belonging you wanted to maintain by wanting stability are no longer within your economic reach. So keeping dissent in #Tahrir to please others and garner their support is just not going to cut it, not criticizing the army will allow them to constantly push the limits of our freedom, a democracy within a cage, that will never allow real social change. Revolution involves disruption and the while the price of freedom is high and immediate, the price of its absence is even higher on the long run. Whether its #KhaledSaid #AmrElBeheiry or #MaikelNabil, whether you are politically active or not, whether you care about freedom of speech or not, the day you step in the way of the interests of the Egyptian Military Junta deliberately or by accident, justly or unjustly, they will swiftly and mercilessly sweep you out of their way.

This post was inspired through social media conversation with @fazerofzanight

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Théâtre de l'Absurde de L'Egypte -Part 1- Zahi Hawass

Many Egyptians were outraged when they heard that Zahi Hawass had been appointed the position of the new Minister of Antiquities by the Essam Sharaf cabinet after his much celebrated resignation as Chief Antiquities Official. Despite his fame, Hawass is not necessarily internationally respected as an Egyptologist or scholar as much as he is famous for his resemblance to Indiana Jones. Hawass was even featured in a Hell's Kitchen style reality show Chasing Mummies by the History Channel, I don't see Gordon Ramsay appointed as the Minister of Agriculture. Most of those who know him and have worked with him personally attest to his megalomania, incompetence and corruption and yet openly admit that masturbating his ego is an important supplement to applications for permits for excavation and research in Egypt. Regardless of what Hawass's reasons were for his resignation, many seasoned and young archeologists were celebrating his resignation and considered it a victory of the #Jan25 uprising. His recent appointment as the Minister of Antiquities came as a shock considering his unequivocal support for deposed President Hosni Mubarak . There is no doubt that the Essam Sharaf cabinet and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces were aware of his position during the #Jan25 uprising, but regardless they still went ahead and appointed him as the new minister of the antiquities, despite their promises of a new fresh government free of elements of the old regime. The hypocrisy of the new government and the army is apparent, but Hawass's decision to honor the #Jan25 uprising by creating a revolution exhibit to be hosted in Cairo and 14 other European countries is the cherry on top of the Egyptian political theatre de l'absurde.

Most people have been enraged by the blatant hypocrisy of not just Zahi Hawass, but other public figures. The absurdity is seen as a testament to the incompetence or hypocrisy of the new regime, but the absurdity is rarely viewed as a tool of oppression in and of itself. Hawass has not suffered a blow to the head (though it might do him some good) where he's lost his memory and can stand there straight-faced commemorating an uprising that had deposed a leader he clearly supported in his widely aired interview with BBC. There is also no doubt that Hawass, the army and the Essam Sharif cabinet are completely aware that many Egyptians have not forgotten his statements during the uprising. If we look at how the state and its different elements represent themselves to the public as an intentional act of asserting their power, then we can look at absurdity as a state spectacle of its power. Man in the theatre de l'absurde is a puppet that has no control over his actions, powerless to change a meaningless world around him. Like Sisyphus, man's efforts are futile, repetitive and meaningless. Most of us react to the state's absurdity either with anger or amusement at their incompetence or hypocrisy, but rarely do we think of it as a deliberate message and tool to render clear logical thought, action and opposition meaningless and futile. The state's repeated and pervasive transcripts of absurdity construct the stage and plot of the theatre de l'absurde where they send a clear message that Egyptians are the powerless protagonists.

This post was theoretically inspired by James Scott's Domination and the Hidden Arts of Resistance: The Hidden Transcript and dedicated to the passionate committed Egyptologists that I know, whose names I won't mention so they can apply for permits for excavations and research.

What's Wrong with Minumum and Maximum Wages?

Over the last few months I have been following the Egyptian workers movement and demands. This post will be extremely succinct. One of the workers' top demands is setting a monthly minimum wage of 1200 L.E and setting a maximum wage of 20,000 L.E. I've watched my revolutionary socialist friends celebrate the renationalisation of many private companies. As peachy as this sounds to you there are a few things to consider and must be brought to the dialogue.

Whether you are making 1,200 L.E, 20,000 L.E or 100,000 L.E your labor is still being exploited. If you are not owning the means of production then your labor is always under-valued. That is the only way profit is made. How else do you think profit is made? First of all, say you work in a glass factory, there is equipment and raw materials. It costs 5 L.E to make a glass without paying your labor. Yet the most essential factor to converting this raw material to a glass is the labor power. Now your boss will pay 5 L.E for this Labor. The owner then proceeds to sell this glass for 15 L.E because that is its value on the market. That's 5 L.E profit, but that glass would not have existed were not for the labor, so labor value is really 10 L.E not the 5 L.E you were getting paid. The glass cannot exist without the labor so the conversion from raw material to a glass is really all done by the labor and can only be done by the labor. So now you might ask, what about the owner, the glass can't be made without his investment. Actually, that assumption is incorrect, the reason the glass cannot be made without his investment is because he's monopolized and acquiesced both the means of production and possibly even the rights to the raw material. Not because his role is essential for the production process. Many people argue that the owner has invested so much, the owner of a factory or a piece of land has the right to make a profit, he owns the factory. Actually this is when history comes in. All ownership had to come to be through exclusion of others, and no historical process of ownership was devoid of violence and oppression used to exclude others from the right of ownership to a piece of property whatever that may be. As long as someone owns a means of production historically it had come to be through violence. Minimum wages and maximum wages whatever they maybe will never lead to social justice, at best they might just lead to a "little bit better" exploitation.

Secondly, when the state steps in to nationalize companies and factories, the labor is still exploited. The state essentially replaced the owner. The desire to profit from production automatically places the labor force in a position of exploitation. It doesn't matter if its an individual, a state or an institution. The only way to avoid this exploitation would be to change how we produce. Instead of producing for profit, production must be geared towards need. Where the means of producing is not solely owned by anyone. This would mean that you would make the glass and if the profit on the glass you made was 5 L.E then you would own that, so instead of getting 5 L.E you would be getting the 10 L.E it took for you to make that glass.

Thirdly, what do you think is going to happen when instead of getting 5 L.E for a glass you get 7 L.E? Well, first of all owners need to meet profit margins so to get their 5 L.E in profits, the owner will now need to sell his glass for 17 L.E, meaning that price paid for a glass increases. So say you now need to buy a glass? Do you know what that does to your purchasing power? Absolutely nothing. In other words setting minimum or maximum wages will lead to inflation keeping you at the very same position you were in before your wages increased.

So obviously at this point many of you reading this post will say, "You are calling for extremely radical changes to economic systems. This is extremely unrealistic". Well my response is if this unrealistic to you then don't sit dreaming of social justice. There will never be social justice while labor is exploited. You are now probably thinking, "As nice as all this sounds how is this post relevant to the current debate on Egypt's minimum and maximum wages?". Simply put, and just to please the fake self-proclaimed radicals out there, the cap in this dialogue should not be placed on maximum wages, but as a first step to true social justice, the cap should be placed on profit margins.

This post inspired by my very rudimentary understanding of Marx's Das Capital and conversations with @atlemk

Thursday, March 31, 2011


1) CIRCULATE THE NEWS VIA SOCIAL MEDIA: The more people that know about this the harder its going to be for the American and Egyptian governments to push this under the rug. You can SHARE this note with all your friends, Post the following links to your TWITTER FEEDS #FreeRadwan, FB STATUSES or YOUR BLOGS, Talk about it. JUST DON'T LET THIS DISAPPEAR.

Facebook Page

Democracy Now


VOA News

AOL News

Daily News Egypt

Ahram Online

Associated Press

Nora Shalaby's Blog (His Cousin)

Tarek Shalaby Blog (His Cousin)

2) CONTACT the media and DEMAND continued coverage, a suggested letter has been already drafted you can just copy and paste it, as well as a compiled list of addresses that is ready to be copied into the email. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS COPY AND PASTE

List of media emails:
nytnews@nytimes.com, executive-editor@nytimes.com, thearts@nytimes.com, bizday@nytimes.com, foreign@nytimes.com, metro@nytimes.com, national@nytimes.com, sports@nytimes.com, editor@usatoday.com, loudounextra@wpni.com, kerin_oconnor@dennis.co.uk, simon_davies@dennis.co.uk, picturedesk@mirror.co.uk, letters@theherald.co.uk, newseditor@independent.co.uk, legal.department@independent.co.uk, zeitiminternet@zeit.de, redactie-i@telegraaf.nl, woche@tpg.com.au, dasecho@videotron.ca, redaktion@dasecho.com, journal@journal.lu, abonnement@journal.lu, masson@lemonde.fr, editorial@francemag.com, dimanche@ouest-france.fr, direct@humanite.fr, abonnements@lexpress.fr, web@publikompass.it, publicidadinternet@abc.es, economia@abc.es, fotografia.madrid@abc.es, gente@abc.es, ilustracion.madrid@abc.es, diseno@abc.es, internet@abc.es, atencionclientes@prisacom.com, sch@chuvashia.ru, press.int@aljazeera.net, comments@alhurra.com, webdesk@france24.com, hrwdc@hrw.org, berlin@hrw.org, hrwbe@hrw.org, hrwgva@hrw.org, hrwuk@hrw.org, paris@hrw.org, hrwsf@hrw.org, toronto@hrw.org, feedback@humanrightsfirst.org, mena@hrw.org, info@ictj.org, rsf@rsf.org, info@frontlinedefenders.org, malaf@kuttab.org, richard.howitt@geo2.poptel.org.uk, richard.howitt@europarl.europa.eu, iseek@un.org, newsroom@aila.org, jhertling@bloomberg.net, barden@bloomberg.net

Draft email for media:
Dear Editor,

Thank you for your continued coverage of the American-Egyptian engineer Muhammed Radwan, who has been unlawfully detained by Syrian authorities since March 25, 2011. As his friends, family and concerned citizens of the world, we are extremely concerned about his safety and health. Despite all our efforts to reach him, the Syrian authorities continue to deny him access to his family, and American and Egyptian representatives in Syria. At the moment we do not know where he is or what has happened to him during this past week. We are well-aware of the brutal Syrian regime and their long history of human rights violations and fear that Radwan is suffering serious human rights' violations. We implore you to provide as much evidence as possible and provide continued coverage and investigation of his whereabouts. We also ask you to investigate and report on the positions of both the Egyptian and American governments and their efforts to release him. This is crucial not only in potentially saving his life, but in also stirring up the opinions of the international community and leaderships to condemn the actions of the Syrian regime and brutal dictatorships.

These will be of use to you:
Tarek Radwan (resides in D.C., brother): tradwant@gmail.com, 001-202-550-5835
Nora Shalaby (resides in Egypt, cousin and activist): norashalaby@gmail.com, 002-011-447-7757
Tarek Shalaby (resides in Egypt, cousin and blogger): info@tarekshalaby.com, 002-018-499-4998

3)Mail the State Department. Here is a draft of the letter that you can drop in nearest mailbox
Address it to:
Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

OR Go to the web-site of the State Deptartment
Under topic choose - US Foreign Policy - Middle East as recommended by Jemilu
Then just paste the text.

Draft of Letter:
Dear Secretary Clinton,

We are confident that by now you are well aware of the situation with Mr. Muhammed Radwan, an American-Egyptian engineer, who was detained by the Syrian Government on March 25th. Mr. Radwan has been detained without being charged and made, what appeared to be, a coerced confession on Syrian T.V. on March 26th. His “confessions” include selling Syrian protests pictures to a Colombian, as well as recently visiting Israel. For Radwan to make these completely false statements on Syrian national TV points to the fact that he was threatened by his detainees. Since March 25th, no one has been granted access to Radwan. His father, Abu Bakr Radwan, is currently in Syria speaking with Syrian State Security as well as American and Egyptian ambassadors in an attempt have his son released, or the very least, be granted access to him. Syria has a very long history of human rights violations and we fear that Radwan is being tortured in Syrian prisons.

Mr. Radwan is an American citizen and we call on you to condemn the actions of the Syrian government and request his immediate release. As stated above, the Syrian government is known for its blatant disregard for international human rights treaties and laws. It is unacceptable for an American citizen to be subjected to such treatment and we request that you take immediate action to remedy this matter.

Your name

4)Call the State Department at 202-647-4000 and ask to leave a voice mail regarding an INTERNATIONAL EMERGENCY

Suggested Script:
Dear Secretary Clinton,
The Syrian Government has detained American Engineer Mohamed Radwan and refuses to reveal information about his well-being and whereabouts. The Syrian government's lack of cooperation with both the American and Egyptian government and blatant disregard to international laws and regulations make it extremely likely that Mr. Radwan will be subjected to serious human rights violations. We strongly call on you to unequivocally condemn the actions of the Syrian government. Failing to condemn the actions of the Syrian government and to pressure them to immediately release Mr. Radwan or at the very least adhere to Human Rights' laws implicates the U.S government as a potential accomplice to crimes against humanity.

@nevsh Mohamed Radwan's cousin compiled the information in this post with me

#Capitalism is your Nation NOW

Yet another widely circulating video on #Facebook shows a middle-aged Egyptian woman carrying a big plastic bag full of oranges, frantically distributing them to young army conscripts during #Jan25. She beseeches them to not fire on their brother protesters. Which compels me to ask the question: Why would the army fire at its people? I thought the army was there to stop a foreign invasion, secure national interests (Hint: The Nile) intimidate timid African countries, deter a Palestinian invasion and in the case of some natural disaster perform relief work. In other words, if #Egypt was a building then the #Army would be the Bawab*. At this point I can't help but admire the #Army's role in protecting my country. My chest swells with strong feelings of admiration, pride and nationalism, "#Egypt will crush you to nothing if you come near us", "Just you TRY taking an extra drop of water from us, our Air Force will obliterate you". Slowly, my chest deflates as a new string of thoughts comes scurrying along, "Are they really protecting the nation?", "Is this really about nation states?", "If they are then why do they care about internal matters of the state? The protesters are not a foreign invasion, they just want a new regime. Why would the army care?"

Well in case you haven't noticed, nation states are so twenty years ago. Nationalism is done and over (except for of course you know who, who are so insecure about their legitimacy that they over-compensate with excessive nationalism). Nationalism has been replaced by #Capitalism, #Capitalism is our nation now. The #Army is not the Bawab* anymore, its the snazzy security guards, donning state-of-the-art tazers and semi-automatics. These security guards don't have big bulky Walkie-Talkies, they have small discrete transparent earpieces, you know the kind I'm talking about. They are way too special now to stand and guard apartment buildings, they stand guard on these very high-end businesses and projects. But not only that, there's been an impressive incentive program where the CEOs of the security companies can now even own some shares of the businesses they protect or even get the start-up for their own businesses. Over the last 40-50 years an extremely effective incentive program was established to ensure that they will be working harder to make their employees work harder in protecting these businesses where they own valuable shares.

So when the army cracks down on you, as one of their communiques stated there was misunderstanding. the truth is its not a misunderstanding on their part, its a misunderstanding on yours, you seem to have forgotten that #Capitalism is your nation now. The army was quick to react to workers striking outside their own factories, much faster than they were willing to react to #Tahrir protesters. As any good CEO would tell you, PR does matter, at least to some extent, and well cameras were all directed towards #Tahrir not the #Workers. The #Workers were definitely chipping away at the structures that the army was not only assigned to protect, but would also carry some serious financial repercussions on their own interests if productivity was hindered somehow. To the luck of the #Army these impudent #workers were somewhat invisible and thus were easy to get rid of without affecting the #army's PR image. The #Tahrir protesters required a long and careful process of villainizing before the #army could do anything to them.

While its much easier to enlist people through ideological propaganda, its much harder to make people let go of certain power privileges they may have when their own interests are secured through these power privileges. It gets even more complicated when their interests are not necessary the interests of the #Egyptian people as a whole. The #Egyptian #army does not differentiate between citizen and foreign, internal or external, it only differentiates between those who support its interests and those who don't. It is clear from #Jan25 that the #Egyptian people do not support the army's interests, so the likelihood that it will let go of its power is pretty unrealistic. So instead of challenging the army over its power privileges directly, it might be more fruitful to directly immobilize their interests and that is through #worker strikes. The army like any #capitalist endeavor cannot function without its #labor force, and since #Capitalism is your nation now, labor force is your strongest weapon.

*Egyptian term to refer to doorman found in most houses in Egypt. He also occasionally lives with his whole family and provides many services, although his main role is the protection of the building from invasions

This post has been inspired by conversations with @sumayaholdijk and @bassemk

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You Say You Want a Revolution? Well you know..

"IMPRESSIVE", "WOW", "Now I finally believe there was a true revolution" and @ghonim's comment "Egyptians standing in line to get to a micro-bus. A scene we never experienced during Mubarak's regime. Egyptians are changing themselves not just their regime.", were just a few of the comments circulating around a picture of a group of Egyptians post-#Jan25 that had lined up to get on a micro-bus in the early morning. More recently many people were both impressed and amused at what they considered the genius of stickers that one afternoon had been stuck onto some double-parked cars in the affluent Zamalek neighborhood in Cairo. The stickers stated "This (double-parking) is shameful, the country is changing and you are double parking. Start with yourself". This was preceded by a #facebook note widely urging people to start with themselves. It urged people to not break laws, to pay their fines and to not partake in acts of bribery and corruption. The note even included a number for a hot-line where people could call in and report acts of corruption. The economy apparently was ready for rebuilding and people were going to work harder, work more efficiently and work more creatively. Now that #Mubarak was gone, we needed to focus on ourselves and change had to come from within.

Following the referendum, to my annoyance, one of the most widely shared blog posts was @Sandmonkey's Playing Politics. @Sandmonkey's analysis for the supposedly tragic, according to many Egyptian internet users, referendum results was that not enough people had changed from within. While he wasn't implying that people needed to improve themselves from a moral perspective, he was explicit about the reconstitution of people's political knowledge. The failure was because those who wanted "No" were not able to change the people who wanted "Yes" from within. Again, the call was for an improvement to who we are, not just as individuals, but as political subjects. We needed to focus on others, we needed to help them change from within as political subjects.

We can focus on ourselves or we can focus on others, we can recruit and assemble, convince, coerce or raise awareness, mobilize and reach out, regulate ourselves or regulate others, but as long as the same institutions are in power the space we have to effect change will always be constrained. The space for maneuvering within the political arena no matter what that arena looks like visibly or how it is shaped invisibly will always be constrained by those in power. Playing their game, using their rules and on their board, means they will always always WIN. We can sit and play that game for as long we want, but they will continue to place their rules and their regulations, constraining the political arena so that they always win. They will win because they are making the rules and they will continue to make the rules because they are winning.

But who are these mysterious sinister "They"s?. Who are the ones who own the board-game? Is it the Illuminati or Free Masons? Is it a new world order? Who are they and what do they want from us? Unfortunately, because I really DO love drama, all "they" are those who own the means of production and what they want is simply put accumulation of wealth. By virtue of owning the means of production, whether it is land, whether it is a factory or whether it is an academic institution, they are able to own YOU, whether you are making 10 L.E, 10,000 L.E or even 100,000 L.E. Because whatever they are giving you they are making so much much much much more through your effort and labor. Because they own the means of production, and in many ways have monopolized them, means that you cannot go out and own the means of production, so now you have to pay them to live, so you work for them and they pay you so you can pay them so you can get the different things you need to live. So look at it this way, the reason why they are able to make the profits they are making is because there is a single aspect of production they are able to exploit, that aspect is you. You are putting all the work and energy to make whatever product or service they are selling, their under-valuing of your work is how they make profit. Take a minute to think about it, imagine if they hadn't monopolized the means of production how much more you would be making for the work you are putting in.

Okay, okay, I know what I am sounding like, but I'm sure at this point if you are still reading this post, your probably asking what does this have to do with #Jan25. Well, for starters the current institutions in power in Egypt right now, namely the #Army and certain business owners, are mainly concerned with preserving their interests and as long as you don't work for them or you aren't stopping those laboring to make their profits they couldn't care less what you or anyone else says or does. The army will put the rules of the political arena as it wishes with the sole purpose of protecting its interests, which to sum them up, are the accumulation of wealth. So if you want to really get the army to comply with your demands, you don't play their game, you stop the manufacturing of their game. If you really want a revolution, stopping double-parking, lining up for the bus, raising political awareness or even playing a careful and strategic game is not going to do it. The basis of our oppression is unequal wealth distribution and the closed future possibility of wealth accumulation. There will be no social or economic justice as long as the few are controlling the playing field. If we get rid of the army today, it will be someone else tomorrow. If you really want a revolution then if you don't own your means of production be ready to figure out how to seize it and if you are monopolizing and owning the means of production be ready to relinquish your ownership and control. That is if you really want a revolution.

The ideas in this post are theoretically inspired by Foucault and Marx

The content of this post was inspired by conversations with @sumayaholdijk @bassemk @atlemk @3arabawy and @snefru

Monday, March 21, 2011

How a Democratic Referendum Toppled a Revolution

The international media was determined to coin #Jan25 a #facebook revolution at its inception. Following the first mobilization of people on January 25th, it seems that the Egyptian government also bought the idea that it was indeed a #facebook revolution and immediately retaliated by first blocking social networking sites like #twitter and #facebook. When people started using proxies they pulled the plug on the internet. To the surprise of the #Egyptian government more and more people were mobilized, because for years the barrier of fear was slowly, but surely being chipped away, building up to an unstoppable momentum that nearly brought an end to the old regime.

The first cracks of Egypt's barrier of fear started when images of the atrocities committed by Egypt's State security started circulating over the internet, not to mention the reports by human rights organizations, complaints and calls by human rights lawyers for prosecution of those responsible for brutal acts of torture. Finally the strongest power wielded by state security in its ability to remain a hidden and invisible hand was slowly being eroded. The power of surveillance was no longer unidirectional, while the state watched the people, the people finally had the tools to watch the state. Egypt's most ominous institution was now under surveillance. The people's fear barrier surrounding the omnipotent, omniscient institution was starting to crack. Instead of focusing on their fear, people started feeling a sense of anger, indignation at the complete absence and disregard to human dignity that accompanied every interaction with the state's hidden eye and hand of discipline. The man inside the panopticon was no longer a mystery and so the panopticon started to collapse and with it people's fear.

People's hatred for #Egypt's state security apparatus's back-handed brutal methods of maintaining order and stability for the old regime combined with the cracks in the fear barrier became one of the main reasons millions of people were mobilized; calling to an end to regime sponsored brutality and fear production. For awhile, the people became the experts, they knew how to run things, how to maintain safety, how to maintain a semblance of stability for the long-awaited purging of the system, the people had a political vision where human dignity and freedom were at their very core.

Shortly following Mubarak's fall people slowly started giving their new-found power away to experts that told them what the economy was and how it had to be handled, to public figures who told them what needed to be done next and to an army that operated within a black-box to rebuild a nation, while it simultaneously detained, brutally tortured and fabricated charges against those who opposed it. The very core value of human freedom of expression and dignity was slowly becoming eradicated, instead of the eradication of the institutions that were trampling all over these values.

Then came the referendum, while torture and a complete disregard for human life were occurring simultaneously. The revolution quickly transformed into the long and hopeful road of reform. Did we forget why we mobilized in the first place? Was this a case of mass collective amnesia? Did "no" or "yes" really matter? If the same structures of fear and intimidation were still there? What were we reforming, it wasn't the systematic, ongoing torture and intimidation by institutions of the state? That wasn't getting reformed. While "yes" and "no" have their implications, that I am not denying, their implications for changing the very basis of which the state interacts with its subjects in terms of human freedom, dignity and respect is irrelevant. What were we reforming? A constitution that was rendered illegitimate by a revolution? Then why were we reforming it?
When we start to reform and when we start to rebuild we also stop revolting. When we call for reform, we are also saying that what millions fought against has been eradicated, that state sponsored illegal violence was eradicated. Well, if you haven't figured it out it hasn't. The panopticon's hidden surveillance and discipline that thousands have fought so hard to bring down is slowly being reinstated by the army and other institutions. No matter what the outcome of the referendum was we are still ruled by institutions that show no restraint in using illegal, brutal violence and humiliation against its subjects, while 25 million people rush to have their voices heard.
Those of you who have been celebrating the democracy of the referendum need to understand that that this democracy is deeply rooted in an acceptance of the complete disregard to basic human rights.

This post was theoretically inspired by Foucault and Certeau and the content was inspired by conversation (some via social networking) with @sumayaholdijk, @nevsh @bassemkhalifa @fazerofthenight, @yasminb, Aya Sheikhany, Hala Said and Amr Azim

I want to make it clear that I strongly condemn
's stance on refusing to post the videos, pictures and testimonies of those tortured by the army on We Are All Khaled Said . Are those tortured by the Army not #KhaledSaid ??

I also want to add that I disagree with @sandmonkey's opinion concerning torture in his blog post playing politics

While most people were concerned with the outcomes of the referendum, @3arabawy continued to address the issue of torture in his tweets and blogpost

I believe that I speak for all of us who of us who care about freedom and human dignity when I say that we are indebted to the brave people who gave testimonies of their detention and torture and those who collect these stories. Without them this dismantling of the barrier of fear would have no chance.
Testimonies of Torture by Army in English

I also don't necessarily think that the revolution has been entirely toppled thanks to #workers, the title is just for dramatic purposes

Monday, March 14, 2011

You Can't Have Your #Jan25 Revolution Cake and Eat it Too -Part 2- On Food #Sovereignty as a Revolutionary Tool

There's been wide spread panic over the last three weeks that Egypt's food supply has started to dwindle, the continued state of instability and unrest caused by the ongoing protests have been blamed. While the continuation of #Jan25 is conveniently transformed into a scapegoat for upcoming food shortages, the truth is that Egypt's system of food production has been, since the construction of the Aswan Dam and the modernization of agriculture in the early 1900s, on a trajectory towards decreased food production. While most of the world experienced the onset of the Green Revolution much later on in 20th century, Egypt's green revolution started with an intricate scientific restructuring of Egypt's old flood irrigation system to a modern irrigation system of canals and drains, as part of the British colonial project. The new irrigation system would support intensive crop production that would be then appropriated by the British colonizer. The agricultural production system became extractive and unsustainable. The development of high-yield agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticide, coupled with the irrigation changes that resulted in the loss of the rich clay deposits especially after the advent of the High Dam ultimately stripped away the fertility of Egyptian soil to cater to cash-cropping. The modernization of Egypt's agriculture has eroded the nutrients from the top-soil inevitably leading to the current state of low yields and is the real culprit behind the dwindling food supplies and not the people that are still protesting.

The trend in agricultural yields has been gradually declining, necessitating the increased use of agricultural inputs. With the series of uprising in North Africa, there's been a sharper and sudden surprising predicted decline of 30% in Egypt's agricultural productivity related to a long and complex commodity chain that links Libya's oil production with Egypt's fertilizer industry. Many of the factories in Egypt have currently stopped production altogether (Despommier 2011). The decrease in fertilizer production, considering Egypt's agricultural production's heavy dependency on high-inputs may prove disastrous in this upcoming harvest. To be absolutely clear, I am not blaming Libya's uprising on Egypt's upcoming food shortages. The lack of Libyan oil is merely the straw that broke the camel's back in an already crashing agricultural system. The more complex the commodity chain for agricultural inputs the more vulnerable agricultural production becomes to extraneous political and economic fluctuations.

Egypt's long history of the exploitation of farmers remains unchanged. Whether it was the age-old feudalism family exploitation of labor, or Nasser's land reforms of state exploitation of labor, or the current exploitation by agricultural conglomerates. The means of production whether it is the actual land or machinery is owned by a select few, and with production geared towards profit in a global market, labor remains the only element where surplus value can be extracted. In a system where production is for profit, the difference between breaking even and profiting is really about how much wage the farmer eventually gets. So, by virtue of having the start-up capital the land owner reserves the right to monopolize a means of production, where all the profit comes from uncompensated work that the farmer is putting into the production process.

Whether it is the state, or whether it is the select few that own land, the reality is that the majority of people do not own the means to feed themselves. The state and the large agribusinesses own the majority of the means of food production and are able to derive revenue with every transaction through taxation or services, such as sales taxes, farming taxes and the rental or sale of agricultural machinery. We cannot overthrow such a deeply embedded system of exploitation, while the very way we are able to acquire our own food in and of itself, leaves us vulnerable to the whims of those who's only interest has been profit or control.

Food sovereignty per se, is one way to emancipate ourselves from those who control the means to produce food and also reshape not just the relationship between those in power (who we do not want to be in power) to our food, but also the relationship between the land, sustainability and our methods of food production. When we think of the prospect of producing our own food, the harsh reality of the difficultly to acquire land comes to haunt us, but what if we did not need land to produce our food and we could each grow a few crops to subsist or at least to partially subsist, in a way that could possibly marginalize those who have monopolized our food production, exploited our labor and are constantly degrading the land? Low-cost, sustainable and organic urban farming whether as community farms, roof-top gardens or vertical farms that take into consideration land and water shortages may be a necessary solution to not only address food shortage, but the badly needed socioeconomic restructuring of #Egypt. If #Jan25 is a revolution that strives for #democracy truth be told, we cannot have #democracy without social justice and we cannot have social justice when the very basis of our needs is owned and controlled by a dictatorship, those who have supported that dictatorship or those who are looking for profit.

Reference: Despommier, Dickson. "Ripple Effect or Tsunami". The Vertical Farm Project.

This commentary draws theoretically from Mitchell and Marx, Factually from Mitchell's Rule of Experts, Despommier's blog and lectures by Soraya El Torki, and has been inspired by conversations either in real life or via social media with @sumayaholdijk, @atlemk, Dalia AbulFotuh, @bassemk and @KartikeyaSingh

Saturday, March 12, 2011

You Can't Have Your #Jan25 Revolution Cake and Eat it Too -Part 1- On Tourism

One of the most pervasive, mistimed but no-doubt well intentioned perspectives circulating as binary code across social media and as actions by youth across urban centers is the extremely positive, patriotic, proactive urge to rebuild #Egypt. The calls to rebuild #Egypt have taken many forms over the last few weeks it started off with an invitation to tourists to come back since tourism is supposedly one of Egypt's most important economic activities, which was shortly followed by a call to invest 120 L.E in the stock market, then a call to end bribery and corruption, including a hot-line to call in and report corruption. Youth took the streets of slums and economically marginalized areas, where they started sweeping the streets and repainting the sidewalks. The new sense of pride and ownership many Egyptians have started to feel has fueled this new found love and pride in their homeland. After 30 years of living under an oppressive dictatorship people were exhilarated to finally reclaim their country through the #Jan25 revolution, except one thing was missing #Jan25 was not over yet. The tearing down was not concluded for the rebuilding to begin.

I remember when I was still in school, the back cover of our school books would have a list of bullet-points inside a floral frame with different slogans, "Cleanliness is part of faith", "Diligence in your work is prayer", "Your teeth are the mirror of your health" and many more random and obscure statements that were supposed to guide our sense of morality and patriotism, these statements felt right and felt good. One would often recite them to make a point, but they lacked substance and were infused with unrealistic hypocrisy that failed to adequately address the root causes of many of the problems we knew. These statements claimed a false sense of wellness and goodness if we followed their prescriptions, but when push came to shove, I wasn't really sure how to follow them, what they really meant and what was hidden within them. The recent calls of action and actions to rebuild #Egypt undertaken following #Mubarak's resignation somehow leave me with that same strange aftertaste the empty slogans on the back my old school books once did.

To start rebuilding after a revolution automatically implies that the revolution is over. But when the revolution is not over to start rebuilding before the taking apart is done, in our minds, automatically brings to an end the purging of the old. Underlying The calls for rebuilding are the calls for stability, which bring an end to revolution. Revolution is anything but stable and when we are ready to move on and build we are also ready to stop unpacking. Let's take for instance this idea of calling tourists back, tourism constitutes about 7.3% of #Egypt's GDP. What are we not unpacking when we choose to start rebuilding our tourism economy? All the videos circulating about #tourism in #Egypt showed verdant golf-scapes, exotic markets, empty pristine bikini-clad beaches and ancient monuments. They showed tourists being served and experiencing a luxury that most Egyptians would never get to experience. It is not just limited to luxuries that most Egyptians will never get, but also necessities, take for instance the case of Hilton Nuweiba other than the luscious lawns and gardens awkwardly placed in the middle of a hot arid desert, each tourist is averaged to consume 120 Liters of water in their bathrooms. That's not including their drinking water. While Bedouins in the surrounding area are having problems accessing more than 2-3 liters of water a day. The lack of potable water is not just limited to Bedouins but most Egyptians do not have daily access to water and if they do it averages 1-3 hours of water a day, yet each tourist has enough water to almost create their own ponds. That's not even saying anything about the quality of the water that most people get, compared to that available in resorts.

The Red Sea Coast has become littered with large resorts from Hurghada to Sudan, while most hotels report a 10% capacity, there's been a rapid increase in the construction of resorts. I find this rather disconcerting, the logic rather absurd. Here's a math problem for you: You have 10% capacity in your hotels, so you build more hotels to increase your capacity, will that increase or decrease your capacity per hotel? Maybe I can attribute this idea as a harmless case of bad planning, but what about the beaches, corals, mangroves and livelihoods that have been destroyed through this senseless planning. Many would argue that these resorts employ large amounts of Egyptian #youth, creating badly needed employment opportunities for Egypt's largest demographic. Tourist sector employee wages are pitiful compared to the millions made by those who run these resorts. The exploitation of someone's labor no matter how you frame it cannot be equated with opportunity.

Finally, our whole tourism industry revolves around serving the tourists. Not only are Egyptians second class citizens, the only space of interaction that we have with most tourists is through servicing them. This is not a model based on an exchange of cultural values and experiences, it is a model that is based on a whole nation catering to the whims and needs of cheap package tours. Considering the kind of wages most people working in the tourism sector make this is akin to slave labor. So do you really want to rebuild this, before its taken apart? Because when you want tourism to come back in and you want to rebuild that model you are also saying that there is nothing to be taken apart. You cannot rebuild on shaky foundations and you cannot have stability during a revolution.

This post was inspired by conversations (or FB comments) with @sumayaholdijk, Dalia Abulfotuh, @Nevsh, @3arabawy, Nermine Fakhry, Aya Sheikhany, Aliaa Elieche, @saraassem, @fazerofzanight, Kate Harrison-Muchnick and Elizabeth Turnbull

How to Tell the Difference between a #Counter-Revolution and a Butt-Hole (or how to go from being a reformist to a revolutionary)

The first mentions of the #counter-revolution shortly followed #Mubarak's "I will die on Egypt's soil, but I had no intention of running for another term" speech, that marked the point in my life where I got to see probably what could be historically considered one of the world's largest displays of collective anger (though not comparable to the "I won't step down speech"_. Around that time I remember starting to read tweets and FB posts that claimed that the pernicious #counter-revolution has started. Since then there's been a rapid onslaught of counter-revolutionary accusations hurled by people standing at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, as well as those lying around within the spectrum. Those who want to continue the strikes and demonstrations have been accused by those who fear and love #Egypt and cannot wait to start rebuilding it as elements of a hidden hand that wants to crush the #Jan25 revolution, and vice-versa. Nothing was free from the #counter-revolution whether it was the #workers, the #copts, the women, Ahmed Shafiq's supporters, Ahmed Shafiq's pullover, those who went back to work, those who had decided to stay in #Tahrir, those who trusted the army, those who urged caution in putting faith in the army, those who were scared about safety, security and economy, those who wanted to tear down the current economic structure and prosecute the state security structure, and the list is extensive and veers on infinite. While the different elements of the spectrum couldn't agree on where was and who is the #counter-revolution, they all agreed to one thing: There was a hidden hand that with deliberation and careful strategic planning was behind a malevolent orchestrating of events, ideas and plans to pull the plug on #Jan25. Yet, I would argue that the events and the ideas that have been deemed a #counter-revolution only gain direction, connection and purpose through a retrospective analysis of these events and ideas. In other words, there are many events and ideas that in and of themselves are counter-revolutionary, but the aggregation of all these events and ideas in singular purpose or direction is only through our analysis and conceptual grouping of these events and ideas.

The #counter-revolution has no hidden hand, it is not made up of a group of strategists sitting round a table scheming how to topple #Jan25. I am not saying that many of the events have not been orchestrated or that they aren't counter-revolutionary, I am saying that these acts are random, even those that are planned may not be planned by the same groups or for the same purposes, but they may serve the same effect or outcome. Even if they serve the same effect or outcome that is purely by chance, because these groups may be in direct opposition to each other and their interests may be contradictory and their actions for the most-part may be more directed towards maintaining their interests and an upper-hand in power struggles than have anything to do with #Jan25 per se. In fact, the #counter-revolution in certain instances may not only be a product of groups or institutions, but rather of ideas or boxes that constrain our ideas and imaginations.

The conceptual boxes that literally and figuratively box our ideas are just there, they frame our ideas, but no one put them there, they existed before #Jan25, even before a #Jan25 was conceptualized. These boxes are really just there,they emerged from a long history of historical and political processes. I will not go into an extensive example or analysis of some of these ideas. This will be subject of sub-sequent posts. These boxes are intangible, they cannot be pinpointed but we can clearly see their effects. Their effects are first seen when we automatically have a reaction to something, when we say this is logical. On the one-hand we think something is logical, but on the other-hand we cannot draw a clear line between why it is logical. We also find a strong emotional reaction to anything that may not fit into this box, or you might notice that some people don't even hear it or are able to see it if it doesn't fit their mental framework. The groups or institutions that I previously referred to are also not free from conceptualizing the world from within these boxes.

So, to cut this abstract description short and give a some-what but not entirely tangible example would be to look at the idea of the economy as it relates to #Jan25. The economy is really any group of exchanges between people or institutions that revolves around the appropriation of goods or services. These exchanges can take any form and follow any rules. It is really completely up to us what we all agree on, and we can always change what we agree on. There has been much fear about the collapse of the economy, in our minds the economy is an entity that floats around, but is able to somehow control every aspect of our life. We think the economy will collapse and there will be no food or industry for instance, something many people over the course of the last month have voiced as one of their biggest concerns. But the economy does not control the material reality as directly as we imagine it to. The economy collapsing does not mean that land will collapse or suddenly the factories or the labor that we have will suddenly cease to exist. I understand that these processes are tied to a large global market, but again that doesn't mean that alternative structures cannot emerge, because the land will not suddenly disappear, the earth won't suddenly split open and swallow every #worker, #farmer, factory and piece of land. These boxes I spoke about earlier, or in some circles called discourses, make us create this curious relationship between the economy and our material reality and it seems very natural and logical to us, that we no longer question the relationship between them.

Before I conclude and end this somewhat tedious post, I want to discuss how one can spot the #counter-revolution through a few very simple questions and arguments that one can pose to themselves every time they hear the accusation of #counter-revolution and feel overwhelmed, confused or frustrated. Many people over the last few weeks have reached some sort of paralysis because they feel they do not know who or what to trust anymore, the following section is written with those people in mind. We all know the demands and goals of #Jan25 very well. They were hung in #Tahrir and a simple #Google search could fill you in if you've forgotten, these will not be reiterated here. So instead of searching for a hidden hand to the #counter-revolution, that will only serve to fuel your paranoia, I urge you to take the time to ask yourself a few of these questions to really figure out the difference between the #counter-revolution and #Jan25.

1. When we wait how does that ensure the meeting of the #Jan25 demands? Here you quickly remind yourself of all the times that people asked for waiting and if others had complied what would have changed?
2. Is this idea, action or event in essence really going to undermine #Jan25's demands? Such as #workers and #copts, remember true political representation is important for the true democracy that everyone is aspiring to.
3. The relationship between stability and love of Egypt, and revolution and destroying Egypt needs some specific questions to be posed to it: a) What do you mean by stability, b) what exactly is loving Egypt, who or what exactly are you loving when you say you love Egypt? c) how do you expect stability when you are exterminating 30+ years of corruption, oppression and violence? d) What is the price you are willing to pay when you call for stability? Who's neck are you putting under the guillotine when you are calling for stability? Will you be paying the price or will someone else?

The ideas of this post were theoretically influenced by Mitchell, Latour and Foucault and inspired by conversations with @bassemk, @sumayaholdijk, Dalia Abulfotuh and @3arabawy, and biased towards revolutionary ideologies and #anarchy