Monday, February 21, 2011

Other than the fleeing of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, the historical events in North Africa and the Middle East haven't yet brought about major political reforms, but we are very early in the process. If indeed the Arab World was affected by Obama's Cairo speech, an effect which can be easily overestimated by Americans, they are benefiting from the fact that hypocrites at least don't attempt to publicly disagree with the popular sentiment they're appropriating. Obama, for sure, has done absolutely no favors for the protesters around the region, providing support for the regimes of Egypt and Bahrain while they gunned down their people.

Except for one favor: he keeps them angry and united against him. A Machiavellian move would have been to acknowledge that the four year old blockade of Gaza wasn't going to last much longer, and lift it immediately to shore up support for the Egyptian military junta, which is led by a bunch of dimwits flipping burgers for the US. Instead, Muslim Brotherhood "spiritual godfather" Yousef Al-Qaradawi, whose imprisonments in Egypt began with Nasser, returned from years of exile to address two million Egyptians on Friday, saying that Egypt should "open wide the Rafah crossing and to pray for the re-conquest of Jerusalem by the Muslims, so that he and the Muslims could pray in security at Al-Aqsa Mosque." Al-Qaradawi's rousing welcome bolsters the claim of those who think Egypt will be taken over by the Brotherhood, but truly the military junta has done something to irritate everyone: the labor movement, by banning strikes and pledging to move against them, and the student movement, by not lifting the emergency laws.

On the same day that Al-Qaradawi made his point about the blockade, the Palestine Liberation Organization pressed for a vote on a UN Securty Council resolution declaring Israeli settlement activity "illegal." Obviously, the revolts of the past month affected the decision to press for the vote, but also the Palestine Papers leaked to Al-Jazeera have put the PLO in a position where they must re-establish their credibility with their constituents. Barack and Hillary responded in their trademark fashion: they were in agreement with the resolution but vetoed it, and "a senior member of the PLO Ahmad Majdalani told AFP Friday that 'Yesterday Obama warned that he would take action against us, and this is not a new development. Since more than a week ago we have gotten American threats...' Obama said 'If we push this in the Security Council several circles within the US congress [will] reconsider the American aid that the Palestinian Authority receives from the United States.'" Obama's veto will certainly erode any support he may have still had in the Arab world.

Longtime insider Amr Moussa is emerging as the front-runner for the Egyptian presidency, supported by opponents of Mubarak for his Nasserite Pan-Arab views and his criticism of Israeli actions in Palestinian territories. The Los Angeles Times writes "Edward S. Walker Jr., who worked closely with Moussa when Walker was U.S. ambassador to Egypt from 1994 to 1997, said 'he established an independent base' of support and that 'people like him because he is not seen as a pawn of the U.S.'" and this past cooperation with US diplomats may have caused Seymour Hersh to comment on Al-Jazeera that he was US's Plan B. However, the NY Times reported on February 11 "the White House and the State Department were already discussing setting aside new funds to bolster the rise of secular political parties" and this could likely be spent on Plan C. Since the revolts are uniformily erupting throughout the Arab world, though, it will be hard for the US to stop a new phase of Pan-Arabism in some form.

In Bahrain, a Shi'ite uprising is perceived as a threat not just to the US's naval base in the region, but the continued rule of the Saudi dynasty and all the pro-US states in the GCC, an alliance of that peninsula set up in 1981. That includes Qatar, sponsor of Al-Jazeera, which accounts for the network's assessment that the revolts and killings were less newsworthy than those elsewhere in the region.

The US's relations with the Saudi dynasty was established in the 1930s not only because of the US's oil drilling and refining technology, but to a large extent because the Saudis were angry at Britain over the Balfour Declarations. The game of "the other colonial superpower is more tied to Israel" may move into a new phase now, and indeed Mubarak stepped down the day after French President Sarkozy finally said that his doing so was "inevitable," a stronger statement than Obama ever made. Whether or not Mubarak's US sponsors were worried Europe would have the relative support of the Egyptian people, the anti-immigration positions and general reputations of Sarkozy, Cameron, Merkel, and Berlusconi prevent them from having any such foothold.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Obama's tactics against the protestors; Žižek rants

In case you missed it.. there's a Reuters Africa article that apparently hasn't been picked up by Western papers, stating that Obama is attempting to engineer an anti-democratic perpetuation of military rule in Egypt: "Egypt's army is working with the West to remove President Hosni Mubarak from power in return for keeping its behind-the-scenes dominance of the political system..

"Robert Springborg, Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, said the army was dragging out a resolution of the crisis to "exhaust" the energy of a 12-day-old revolt against Mubarak 30-year-old rule.

"The tactic would also focus the anger of the uprising against Mubarak, and not against the military-based system.

"'Its political jujitsu on the part of the military to get the crowd worked up and focused on Mubarak and then he will be offered as a sacrifice in some way, he said by telephone.

"And in the meantime the military is seen as the saviours of the nation."

"We are working closely with the military ... to ensure a continuation of a dominant role of the military in the society, the polity and the economy."

"The demands (from the West) are NOT for the removal of the military from power and to establish a civilian-led democracy."

"So what are the people who did all this left with? The feeling that they got rid of Mubarak. Some will congratulate themselves. Some will feel they got outplayed in the endgame. But they will be fragmented for some considerable period of time."


Also a televised interview of Žižek was playing here as I was attempting to caffeinate:

Multiculturalism v. universalism: "How often we are so suspicious of universalism, we like to hear how democracy as we understand it is something specifically Western, we should understand different cultures, so forth and so on, but what affected me tremendously when I was not only looking at the general picture of Cairo but listening to interviews with protesters there, is how cheap, irrelevant all this multicultural talk becomes, there - where we are fighting a tyrant - we are all universalists, we are immediately in solidarity with each other. That's how you build universal solidarity. Not with some stupid Unesco multicultural respect - we respect your culture, you ours - it's the struggle for freedom. Here we have direct proof (a) that freedom is universal (b) especially proof against that cynical idea that Muslim crowd prefer some religious fundamentalist dictatorship, whatever.. No! What happened in Tunisia, what happens now in Egypt, it's precisely this universal revolution for dignity, for human rights, for economic justice, this is precisely that universalism at work. What we see daily in Egypt: one Egyptian protester said I'm proud that I'm Egyptian.. I'm proud for them.. they gave us the lesson against this falsely respectful but basically racist prejudices, you know.. 'Oh, Arabs have their specific culture, they can't really get it.' They got it, they understand democracy by doing what they are doing better than we do in the West, in Western Europe, with our anti-immigrant parties and so on and so on. So I'm proud for them. This is universalism, this is the best argument that you can see on TV against all that trash about Clash of Civilizations and so on.. the moment you fight tyranny we are in solidarity - no clash of civilizations. We all know what you mean. No miscommunication here."

I agree with this, but the argument substitutes the Western corruption of "multiculturalism" (just in time for the AWP conference) for anything antithetical to universalism, at a time when multicultural studies are under attack by Merkel, Cameron, and US states like Arizona. Later he says:

"In Tom and Jerry cartoons, you have often a scene when a cat walks, it walks over the precipice, and it's nothing below its feet, but it doesn't fall down. When it looks down, and it sees it has nothing below its feet, it falls down. Those in power must find themselves in such a situation in order to fall down. That's where we should push Mubarak."

To use an analogy from a cartoon is a show of faith in the universal, or what Deleuze calls in cinematic terms "the originary world"... "The originary world may be marked by the artificiality of the set.. the characters are like animals.. because their acts are prior to all differentiation between the human and the animal.. This is naturalism. It is not opposed to realism, but on the contrary accentuates its features by extending them in an ideosyncratic surrealism. Naturalism in literature is essentially Zola: he had the idea of making real milieux run in parallel with originary worlds. In each of his books, he describes a precise milieu, but he also exhausts it, and restores it to the originary world; it is from this higher source that the force of realist description derives." (Cinema 1, 123-4)

Mubarak, on the other hand, reportedly told Obama "Obama was a good man, but he didn't understand the culture here, but if he resigned now in this kind of situation immediately, there would be chaos, and he had to do it in an orderly way." These theatrics put the 'prejudice', the 'Oh, Arabs have their specific culture..' in the mouth of the Egyptian leader. The stated threat in Western media of the Muslim brotherhood - reiterated by Mubarak - is covered elsewhere in Žižek's comments:

"If the true choice is between Muslim fundamentalism and Western liberalism we are lost. I think the true tragedy for the Arab nations is the disappearance of - not secular in the way of religious, but secular in the sense of secularity of its demands: justice, freedom, and so on, of this kind of a left: non fundamentalist - it can be Muslim - but non fundamentalist left. This to me is the true tragedy, and I think the rise of deplorable fundamentalism is strictly something that entered the stage, filing in this void of the left, and here I draw a much more radical conclusion: this is not just in Islamist countries - this can repeat itself again and again, for instance in Afghanistan. Its presented in Western media as a crazy fundamentalist country: sorry, I'm old enough to remember 40 years ago, Afghanistan was a very open, secularized country with a pro-Western, democratic model, strong local Communist Party. Then we know the story: Communists made the coup d'etat, Soviet Union intervened, America intervenes against.. It's part of this process that Afghanistan was - if we use this awkward word - fundamentalized."

I always ask older Afghans what they thought of Nur Muhammad Taraki and I've received only positive, excited reminiscences, and when I ask the followup "Was he autocratic?" they say no. Taraki called himself non-aligned but visited Brezhnev, and historians say that the USSR didn't fully trust Taraki and preferred their puppet Babrak Karmul, who took over after Taraki was killed by a US puppet, Hafizullah Amin. The US State Department wrote a memo in summer of 1979 "The United States' larger interest would be served by the demise of the Taraki-Amin regime [when Amin was working for Taraki], despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan." After Taraki was killed, Amin took over, then the Soviets, then the US trained the Mujahideen including Osama bin Laden, and Afghan life has been uninterrupted hell for thirty years.

Islamic fundamentalism offers many benefits to Western militarization: it is an easier foe than Cold War communism and it is easier to rally people against.

And don't miss Žižek's hand gestures at 20:04...