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