North Africa, West Asia

This week's window on the Middle East - December 11, 2013

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week, Lebanon in turmoil.

Arab Awakening
11 December 2013
  • Lebanon in turmoil
  • Overlooking Jordan
  • The 'weaponization' of human rights
  • Egypt’s mythical ‘law and order’
  • Political reform in Kuwait?
  • The new Janissary
  • Lebanon in turmoil

    By Helen Mackreath

    It has been a difficult few weeks for Lebanon. Perpetually unstable, the suicide bomb attack on the Iranian embassy on 19 November, the placement of the second city, Tripoli, under army protection, and the assassination of one of Hezbollah’s top commanders last week; all these events have demonstrated that the winter months can be as fraught as summer ones.

    While the attacks against Hezbollah may represent trigger points, and the ongoing ‘mini-civil war’ engulfing Tripoli may be seen as a physical manifestation of otherwise relatively latent tensions, these events serve more to deepen existing fault lines rather than carve new ones. On the face of things little has changed; the county remains a patchwork of operatives and agendas, peace and conflict. But the deepening of fault lines further increases the number of pressure points, and the asymmetrical nature of threats both internally and externally create further unpredictability.

    Internally, private groups; some radical and backed by more established external operatives, and some more localised and spontaneous (such as those setting up checkpoints within central Hamra), are increasing in number and confidence – owing no doubt in part to the eight-month absence of government. Speaker Nabih Berri last week compounded suspicions that a new government is a long way off by warning that the deepening political deadlock will remain until presidential elections take priority at the beginning of next year.

    It is open knowledge that Al-Qaeda as well as other Takfiri Salafist groups, are operating in various ‘black holes’ across the country, namely Tripoli, Sidon and the north-eastern border regions with Syria. If Al-Qaeda are spreading their transnational tentacles ever more widely into Europe and Russia, as is widely reported, they are enjoying the very accommodating environment in Lebanon (and Syria) to help them on their way. In particular the Palestinian refugee camps are fertile spaces for infiltration. These are spaces where Lebanese sovereignty and law are not directly enforced but operate through multiple Palestinian political factions. Tensions run at a perpetual high here, largely unreported by mainstream media, heightened by the networks of criss-crossing agendas of various localised factions. This week has witnessed a slight increase of tensions in the Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian camp (always prone to instability), just outside the southern city of Sidon, as clashes between members of Jund al-Sham and Fatah groups led to the death of a man and wounding of several others. The subsequent funeral was then marred by a bomb attack, widely blamed on ‘people with foreign objectives’.

    The situation in Tripoli is also concerning. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), long accused of ‘ignoring Triploi’ by the city’s residents, have now placed the city under their control in an attempt to appease serious sectarian violence which has been ongoing in the past fortnight, leaving 11 dead.

    All of this serves to illustrate the fractured ground which exists across the country. Fragmentation caused by localised forces are easily coopted by fundamentalists. The LAF’s intervention in Tripoli attempts to reassert the presence of the Lebanese state, but has encountered various protests and is not guaranteed to last. Moreover, the increasingly fluid borders in the north of the country, as arms, soldiers and refugees drift between Syria and Lebanon, and fighting or shelling are becoming increasingly indiscriminate between the two sides, suggests the increasing geographical rupture of the country. Arab Tawhid Party leader Wiam Wahhab has even suggested that Syrian warplanes might well raid areas of Tripoli if the Alawite area of Jabal Moshen comes under attack – an unfeasible claim, probably, but demonstrative that the north is becoming ever more closely physically integrated into the Syrian conflict. This would signal the end of Tripoli merely being a proxy of Syria.

    Inevitably Hezbollah still remains the key actor in the country. The Iranian embassy which was bombed is located in a Shi’a district of Beirut – Iran is Hezbollah’s staunchest ally – and its attack is widely viewed as a clear message against Hezbollah; the assassination of Hassan Hawlo al-Lakkis, claimed to be a senior military figure is an even more clear-cut attack. But Hezbollah’s reaction has been strategic - with their hands tied in Syria, they can ill afford to ratchet up sectarian tensions in Lebanon. Attempting to quash sectarian inflammation, Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, made the strange decision to blame the suicide attack on the Iranian embassy on Saudi Arabia, despite an Al-Qaeda affiliated Sunni group, Adballah Azzam Brigades, claiming responsibility. The accusation against Israel for the assassination of Lakkis was less surprising, although the various dubious (and probably false) claims of responsibility from previously unknown Sunni groups expose the number of internal enemies to Hezbollah wanting to take some of the ‘glory’ of responsibility.

    Does this display a slight change in Hezbollah’s dynamic within the Lebanese state? More significant than the actual attacks (which are perhaps inevitable), their fallout has allowed the slight reshaping of Hezbollah’s identity. Unwilling to retaliate against these provocations, their role may be seen as taking on that of a stoical victim, upholding order whilst being attacked from all directions by petulant and impatient enemy forces. They can claim some form of high ground in this exchange, albeit one which is logistically necessary – their self-serving desire to preserve some unity in Lebanon improves their credence as a natural ‘sovereign’ protector. Meanwhile the number of localised Sunni groups claiming attacks against them display the ever widening network of small-scale, private militias willing to make a name for themselves, and highlight that the Sunni population in Lebanon is still essentially leaderless and fragmented.

    Where does this leave Lebanon? The environment continues to be highly fractured, with geographical enclaves hosting increasingly entrenched conflicts which are spewing out more private groups threatening to create greater national disunity. While Hezbollah continues to provide a ready target both for those unhappy with its activity in Syria and those taking advantage of its distraction, the number and agenda of actors hostile to it are increasingly unpredictable and increasingly likely to be co-opted. This is bad news both for Lebanon, and opponents of extremism. 

    Overlooking Jordan

    By Emma Pearson, Katie Welsford

    Jordan

    The Temple of Hercules/Wiktor Szymanowicz. All rights reserved.

    As you stand on the hilltop at Um Qais on the topmost tip of Jordan, Israel-Palestine to your left and the sound of shelling from southern Syria carrying across the Golan Heights, the tranquillity of this popular tourist site makes Jordan feel like an oasis of stability in a chaotic region.

    In the west it is easy to disregard Jordan in discussions about the Arab Awakening. Its protests in 2011 were quickly diffused with the promise of reforms from the government, and its westernised monarchy (with a king who even had a cameo in Star Trek in his youth) appears unthreatening. Jordan's status as a centre of tourism, a base for Arabic language learning in the Middle East, and a US ally has increased since turbulence rendered so many of its neighbours inhospitable, and Amman is an easy and pleasant place to live as a foreign traveller.

    But Jordan must not be overlooked in relation to the Arab Awakening, precisely because it is not immune from the tensions that inspired other revolutions in the region. Economic dissatisfaction is perhaps the most obvious overlap. The cost of trying to make your way in Jordan as a citizen is a topic so frequently bemoaned by Jordanians that it becomes like a mantra. Every taxi driver in Amman comments on high living expenses. The vast sparkling malls and boutique-lined shops in west Amman are in stark contrast to the east, testament to the divide between rich and poor.

    And it is getting worse. The influx of Syrian refugees to the country has increased economic strain to the extent that some Jordanians are resentful of Syrians leaving the camps to live in cities. Fuel prices are set to rise in the new year, and many government schools now split the school day in half so that twice as many students can attend – half in the morning and half in the afternoon. While there is no dictate governing which students should come in when, usually Jordanians attend at the normal time, and Syrians in the afternoon. Charities such as Generations for Peace have been employed in combatting the violence that sometimes breaks out between the two shifts.

    High level corruption, dissatisfaction about the degree of freedom allowed, and disagreements about what it means to be a citizen are just a few more issues mirroring the causes of Arab Spring revolutions across the region. The law of lèse-majesté forbids overt criticism of the king, but Abdullah’s traditional support base of East Bankers (and particularly Bedouin tribes) have begun to feel betrayed by market reforms that benefit the city-based economic elite, who are mainly Palestinian Jordanians. Some Bedouin in Wadi Dana now blame the government for the abandonment of the mountainside village of Dana (elsewhere put down to population moves on account of new industry), with a few speaking of being ‘forced’ out of their homes. The age old social strain between East and West Bankers often gets inflamed, and Syrian refugees of Palestinian origin are currently not allowed into the country proper, but must stay in the Cyber City facility near Ramtha.

    Revolution has not come to Jordan, but this is a result of particular time- and place-dependent circumstances rather than a lack of connectivity with the rest of the region. While in Syria and Egypt the knee-jerk reaction of those in power was suppression of protests with varying degrees of violence, the Jordanian government has, to its credit, not gone down this path. Instead it tends to promise reform – after the protests in 2011 and currently in 2013’s launching of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy - though there is a general scepticism about how far these promises actually go. What is perhaps more important currently in staving off revolution is the effect of the war in Syria to the north, and Egypt’s chaos in the south. Stability is, for now, infinitely preferable. 

    Revolution is not the be all and end all of the Arab Awakening, just as the initial protests in Tahrir Square were neither the pinnacle nor the end of Egypt’s political journey. The waves currently rocking the region come in many shapes, good and bad, dramatic and contained – and, crucially, all affecting each other. They will continue to impact on Jordan for much time to come.

    The 'weaponization' of human rights

    By Efraim Perlmutter

    A couple of days ago I took part, mostly by listening, to a conversation that was mainly between two of my neighbours. One of them is of the left wing political persuasion and the other is several generations down, on the right. The topic of discussion was the Prawer Plan and both are opposed to it. For those readers of this screed who are not aware, the Prawer plan is the final version of several plans that have been produced over the years which have sought to reorganize and legalize Bedouin land holdings in the Negev as well as making it possible to supply twenty-first century services to that sector of the Israeli citizenry.

    My two neighbors both oppose the plan but for different reasons. My left-wing neighbor has listened to the various human rights organizations who have claimed that the plan violates the human rights of the Bedouin. These include the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay who said:  

    “As citizens of Israel, the Arab Bedouins are entitled to the same rights to property, housing and public services as any other group in Israel. The Government must recognize and respect the specific rights of its Bedouin communities, including recognition of Bedouin land ownership claims.” 

    My right-wing neighbor, who has worked with local Negev Bedouin for the past six years on an informal basis, argued that the plan should be scrapped and all Bedouin land claims should be adjudicated and settled in the courts. He made this argument knowing that most of the Bedouin land claims are not legal according to Israeli, British mandatory or Ottoman law, so they would be rejected.

    That my right-wing neighbor feels that the Bedouins are being offered too much under the Prawer Plan does not particularly surprise me. What does surprise me is that neither my left-wing neighbor nor anything that I have heard from the human rights groups, including the honorable Ms. Pillay, address themselves to the problems that Israeli Bedouins face today.

    It seems to me that this latter phenomenon arises out of what I prefer to call the Weaponization of Human Rights or WHR. (I cannot claim credit for this term as I heard it first from an interlocutor on another internet forum.) WHR may have begun with the Arab-Israeli conflict as it played out in the old UN Commission on Human Rights and its successor the UN Human Rights Council. Long ago it was explained to me that investigations of human rights violations in conflict situations are not restricted to one side or the other but are focused on human rights violations wherever they may take place. However, over the years, in the case of the Arab-Israeli conflict, human rights inquiries have been informally and formally restricted to Israeli actions. As a consequence the violations of Arab human rights by Arab governments and proto-governmental organizations have been mostly ignored. This may be one of the reasons why the outbreak of the Arab Spring caught so many observers by surprise.

    At any rate, when human rights become weaponized, like weaponizing technology, it usually does no good to any human being in the vicinity. This seems to be the situation when it comes to the Negev Bedouin. I happen to think that the Prawer Plan is a reasonable approach to bringing the Bedouin into the mainstream of twenty-first century Israeli society especially when it comes to providing government services. I believe that I am in agreement on this with the majority of the Bedouin population in the Negev and in particular with a majority that desires to exploit the advantages offered by modern Israeli society.

    Let me provide an example of why I think so. This past Thursday the first rains of the winter fell. If enough rain falls during the rest of the winter, in the spring the wild grasses that are typical of our area will cover the ground. Despite being a desert, in the spring the land turns from yellow-brown to green and looks very much like photos of Ireland that I have seen. The grasses grow very thick and can reach a height of twenty to thirty centimeters. However, a few kilometers to the south far less rain falls and the grasses grow very sparsely and short; perhaps two or three centimeters in height with a centimeter or two of space between each blade.

    The government allows the Bedouin to graze their flocks on state land in our area. However in order to do this a permit must be issued on condition that the owner of the flock opens a file with the Income Tax and Value Added Tax authorities. Most Bedouin either open the required files or already have existing files and easily acquire grazing permits. Other Bedouin prefer to remain invisible to the tax authorities and choose to graze their flocks on the inferior grazing lands to the south where no permit is needed. This is not a consequence of Bedouin culture, tradition or education. It is simply an economic calculation. However, Bedouin who prefer not to pay taxes and do without government services are far more likely to oppose the Prawer plan on the basis of the same sort of economic calculation, than Bedouins who pay taxes and get government services.

    My example does not apply to all Bedouin nor am I going to argue that the Prawer plan is not without its problems. But I will argue that most of the human rights organizations who have taken a negative position on the plan have done so, not because they wish to advance Bedouin human rights but rather because they have become enmeshed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and are using human rights issues as weapons in that conflict.

    Let us all pray for rainy weather in the Negev this winter. 

    Egypt’s mythical ‘law and order’

    By Mina Fayek

    As the controversial protest law was put into action, government officials as well as local media apologists justified the consequent repressive police measures as an innocent attempt to impose “law and order”. While the government is immersed in its ‘war against terrorism’ (sometimes rightly so and sometimes not), it’s also doing its best at alienating revolutionaries who took to the streets in protest as soon as the law was enacted.

    Last week, prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrested on charges of incitement and breaking the new protest law. According to eyewitness accounts, more than forty ‘special operations’ personnel raided Alaa’s house. His wife says she was beaten as well as Alaa himself and their laptops and mobile phones were confiscated.

    Black comedy never fails to amaze in Egypt. The same day Alaa was brutally arrested, Assem Abdel Maged, leader of the Building and Development Party - the political arm of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, who had been accused of instigating violence in Bein El Sarayat area of Giza and who was also well known for his incitement against Copts in the Rabaa Al Adaweya sit-in, was spotted having breakfast in one of Qatar’s luxurious hotels.

    Al Masry Al Youm quoted a security source saying the Abdel Maged left the country by illegal means. Therefore, the governments’ understanding of ‘law and order’ is questionable; while major suspects are fleeing the country, peaceful protesters are arrested.

    The same day in Tanta – a city in the Nile delta – the local prosecutor general ordered the arrest of three police officers on charges of assaulting a prosecutor at a security checkpoint. The police reportedly refused to handover the police officers in question to the prosecution. Moreover, the Police Personnel Coalition, a coalition of low-rank policemen, declared the withdrawal of all security services from all prosecution buildings in protest over the arrest order.

    The Egyptian government’s version of ‘law and order’ permits the police to decide whether or not to proceed with their duties and respect the law. Once again, how ironic!

    In Minya – an Upper Egyptian city – sectarian violence has resurfaced leaving five dead, dozens injured and at least two houses, belonging to Coptic Christians, burnt down. While the police were busy enforcing the new law, they failed – yet again – to protect the Copts and impose ‘law and order’ despite several desperate calls, as the Watani newspaper reported. To make things worse, instead of transparent investigations into what actually took place, the authorities are allegedly holding customary reconciliation sessions, which often end up forcing the Coptic Christian minority to relinquish their rights (at times they are even deported from their home villages) and aggressors are offered impunity, rather than justice.

    “Stabilization”, “sharia and legitimacy” and last but not least: “the State of law - law and order”; Egypt’s consecutive regimes, regardless of their religious or nationalistic ideologies, are notorious for abusively flashing these slogans in order to silence objections and repress critics.

    However this time the narrative is reaching new levels of absurdity with a simultaneous increase in deficient government performance, especially with regards to security and the economy. The authorities appear to be more concerned with how to curb their opponents than they are with the future of the country and the wellbeing of its citizens.

    Political reform in Kuwait?

    By Mohammad F Almutawa

    Kuwait

    Demotix/Dominic Dudley. All rights reserved.

    The Criminal Court in Kuwait acquits 70 activists, including 11 former Members of Parliament, from charges of storming parliament; the decision is one of the most anticipated in Kuwait’s turbulent political climate.

    The seeds for Kuwait’s current political stalemate were planted years ago. Continuous gridlock and a series of corruption scandals have resulted in seven parliamentary elections and thirteen cabinet reshuffles in the past seven years. A large corruption scandal linking the former Prime Minister to large unexplained bank deposits into thirteen MP's accounts, i.e. 26% of the elected parliament, caused public outrage in 2011 resulting with the PM’s removal. The elections that followed resulted in the creation of the Majority Bloc, a group of 34 opposition MPs, representing about 68% of the elected parliament, united under a loose banner of anti-corruption. However, the parliament was dissolved by the judiciary four months later; sparking a renewal of public protests culminating in the Amir’s intervention with a decree revising the election law so as to drastically decrease the probability of a parliamentary opposition coalition being forged. 

    The protests of the past two years have coincided with protests in other Arab countries, leading many to believe Kuwait was having its own Arab Spring moment. That’s no longer the case, as streets are now calmer and people seem to have moved away from immediate demands of political reform. Though many scares do still remain, public outrage over the past two years resulted in an avalanche of court cases against activists. Most prominent were charges of offending the Emir, participating in rallies/unlicensed crowding and crowding for the purpose of committing a crime.  

    Offending the Emir

    On 2 December 2013, the constitutional court in Kuwait upheld the law penalizing criticism of the Emir. The government has been using article 25 of the National Security Law to send dozens of former MPs, activists and tweeters to court, charging them with offending the Emir. Several defendants’ lawyers challenged the article on the grounds that it conflicts with article 36 of the constitution guaranteeing free speech. The court, however, upheld the law saying it provides necessary protection for the head of state, adding that the Emir should be treated with extreme respect. The constitutional court is the highest court in the country and its decisions are final.   

    Human rights lawyers were hoping their challenge would overrule the law. The Kuwaiti government has charged dozens of activists with offending the Emir. According to the National Committee to Monitor Violations (NCV), a grassroots group set up by activists, the first two weeks of December alone are set to witness court hearings for more than 30 activists facing the charge. If found guilty, those charged with offending the Emir could face up to five years in jail.

    The court’s ruling is a direct violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Kuwait ratified in 1996. The article explicitly states that public figures of the highest authority are legitimately subject to criticism. International watchdog Human Rights Watch called on the Kuwaiti government to scrap “offending the Emir” as a criminal charge earlier this year.

    Storming of parliament

    The Court has acquitted 70 individuals, including 11 former MPs, facing charges for storming parliament on 15 November 2011. The court based its acquittal on conflicting testimonies by parliament security over whether the protestors stormed the premises or were allowed in.

    The sterile opposition is looking to the court’s decision to reinvigorate its base. Now that the defendants were found not guilty, the opposition is going to celebrate its “triumph”. The government would very likely welcome the acquittal as well, as it seeks to avoid any further political escalation or give the opposition room to regain its public support.

    The struggle of the past two years has since died out. The opposition itself was born out of abnormal circumstance uniting Islamists, liberals, youth and tribesman under a banner of anti-corruption; it struggled to materialize into anything substantial or long lasting. The period during which the opposition formed the Majority Bloc in parliament is now documented as a period where they tried to pass Sharia Law and sentence blasphemers to death.

    The Kuwaiti government is blessed with a mellow populace. In an annual survey of voters' priorities conducted by the legislator, ‘combating corruption’ has dropped three ranks since last year; ‘housing’ is now everyone’s top priority. Talk about political reform no longer dominates in the same manner it did last year. It could be argued that regional developments and the difficulty in establishing political reform in Arab Spring countries have caused Kuwaitis to steer away from political reform.

    Some believe it will be another five years before Kuwait can approach the idea of political reform again. But until then, activists should not be discouraged. Calling for an elected government in a region governed in the purest tribal form is not going to bear fruit overnight. Kuwait’s struggle in the 1950’s for political reform resulted in the most advanced legislator in the region, their struggle in 2005 brought substantial reforms to the election law, including redistricting to reduce the number of electoral districts from 25 to just five, and without a doubt their existing struggle will produce fruit in the near future. 

    The struggle of the past two years revealed many things to the public. First, it revealed a very public power struggle among members of the royal family. It is argued that the scandal surrounding the former PM and his connection to financial deposits in MPs accounts which triggered the mass protests were actually exposed by a competing member of the royal family. Second, the struggle revealed the shortcomings and loopholes in Kuwaiti law that have led to political clamp down and trials, such as the ones we are witnessing now. In order to push ahead with political reform, these laws must be understood, revised and changed using any method possible. Third, the struggle has shattered stereotypes of society and stripped away the facade of “democracy” that the ruling elite have hid behind for decades. It revealed that those once believed to be liberals were elitist, and that moderates were extremists, and has shown the true colours of a regressive government that has significant international backing.

    Kuwait is far from achieving a wholesome democratic system, but it needs to start somewhere. Several issues can precede the elected government which everyone hopes to achieve, including the establishment of political parties as well as the financial independence of the judiciary, to name but a few. Those activists who were acquitted should get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow is the beginning of a new struggle.

    “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” - Nelson Mandela 1918-2013  

    The new Janissary

    By Maged Mandour

    Dr.Mostafa Hegazy, the new advisor to the Egyptian interim President, appeared on television to hail the Egyptian people on the dawn of a new era; the era of the rule of law. The interview was given within the context of the need to abide by a new law regulating protests. Ironically around the same time, a group of young women were sentenced to eleven years in prison, a verdict that was later reduced to one year suspended sentences, after public and international outcry.

    With perfect English, eloquence, a western education and a seemingly liberal outlook, Hegazy seems to embody what the urban middle and upper middle classes strive to become, namely more western and disconnected from the “uncivilized” masses. Dr. Hegazy, however, is not unique; he is part of a new kind of elite, an elite that I like to call the New Janissaries. The Janissary corps were an elite military unit within the Ottoman army; its members were Christian slaves taken from different provinces of the empire, as children, converted to Islam, and indoctrinated into the service of the Ottoman empire. They became intensely loyal to the Ottoman court, forgetting their homelands and loyalties.

    There is a modern equivalent to men like the Janissaries, namely local elites who were indoctrinated into a certain part of western political discourse that act as agents to the centre, on the periphery. This indoctrination occurs in two new formulae, first in what can be aptly called “market fundamentalism”; they believe that the free market is a vehicle that can solve all social and economic problems, and that the only issue that the economy is facing is insufficient liberalization -  (a powerful illusion as Karl Polyani pointed out in the “Great Transformation”, an illusion that cannot be disproved, since the reply will always be that ‘liberalization’ has not gone far enough).

    This indoctrination is coupled with another injection of western political discourse, namely Orientalist discourse about the nature of 'the Arab World'. In other words, these elites believe that their fellow countrymen are inferior; lack of education is often cited as a reason for this inferiority, or something that is fundamentally wrong with our “nature”. This of course, entails a conception of the Middle East as a place where time stands still, with little or no progress. If this is so then this progress must be attributed to the will of one man, a loving father figure who sacrifices and guides his children at great personal expense. There is an astonishing lack of societal analysis of the causes of societal change, let alone a historical view of societal development in the Middle East with the possible causes of decline or prosperity. And when the past is conveyed, particularly by Islamist movements, it is mystified and idealized in a manner calculated only to offer relief from the current situation, invoking a mystical goal that can never be achieved.

    As Fanon argues in “Black Skin, White masks”, the elites in the then colonial world, traumatized by their encounter with the white colonizer, perceive themselves as superior to their countrymen and thus belonging to European culture. They consider themselves European and loathe their origins. When those elites travel to the centre, they are traumatized by the realization that members of the “superior” culture they consider themselves part of, view them as no different from the rest of their native communities. The best they can hope for is the “compliment” of being called “westernized”, a label that automatically creates a dichotomy between the civilized west and the barbaric east.

    From personal experience, spending more than half a decade in the west, this process of alienation leaves the traumatized native elite with two options. The first, is to wholeheartedly embrace the label “westernized” native, which means that the person is partially accepted into the western society in which he/she lives, however, remaining a suspect of “de-westernization” and never fully accepted. The other is to revert to his/her native ways, and either return to the homeland, or live in a closed community with fellow “non-westernized” natives.                                     

    The new Janissary, logically, embraces the second option, actively immersing him or herself into the Orientalist conception of the east and thus becoming active participants in the oppression of their own people. Rather than embracing the rich European experience of struggle for liberty that began, arguably, with the explosion of 1789, they embrace the colonial, conservative, and imperial aspect of the European experience. Their hidden intellectual ideals approach those of the men, like John Stuart Mill, who argued for the need to rule barbarian nations, since they themselves are not fit to do so. These new Janissaries return to their homelands, falling under the cultural hegemony of the centre as they participate in the oppression of their “non-westernized” fellow natives. The National Democratic Party (NDP), the ruling party before the Egyptian uprising, was filled with elites that fit into this model. This includes, but is not limited to, Youssef Botros Ghali, Rashid Mohamed Rashid, Ahmed Ezz and of course Gamal Mubarak. They shared the same characteristics described above; the apparent belief in “market fundamentalism” coupled with the inferiority of the Egyptian people.

    The situation has not changed with the advent of the Egyptian uprising; on the contrary the effect was the opposite. The failure of the Egyptian revolutionary movement to create counter-hegemony within the realm of civil society has led to its inability to break the hold of Orientalism. A large number of Egyptians firmly believe in their own inferiority and their inability to move the country out of its current backward state.

    The failures of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the brief failed experience of free elections have also reinforced this trend. The performance of the Brotherhood, their apparent power grab, social conservatism and sectarian rhetoric, has reinforced the idea that - to quote the late Omar Suleiman “Egyptians are not ready for democracy”. There is now a strong sense that Egyptians should not be trusted with democracy, because when they were given the chance they made an incorrect choice. The coup was not only directed against President Morsi, in a wider sense, it was directed against this new consciousness that was developing; a consciousness that held the nascent promise of breaking down this inferior conception of one’s self.

    The new Janissaries are back playing their traditional role, men that speak perfect English, and have apparently liberal credentials, actively participating in the development of the crony capitalist-military alliance at the expense of the possible development of a national progressive bourgeoisie that could act as the backbone of a genuinely democratic system. It is important to note that this process is not a simple linear process; not all members of the new Janissaries need to leave the county, they simply just need to fall under the cultural hegemony of the centre.

    The Egyptian revolt was not simply a revolt against the tyranny of the crony capitalist-military alliance, it was also a revolt against the prevalent Orientalist conception; the inferiority the Egyptian feels about himself. In this aspect the role of the revolutionary intellectual is of the utmost importance. See the following quote from Edward Said:

    “There has been no major revolution in modern history without intellectuals; conversely there has been no major counterrevolutionary movement without intellectuals. Intellectuals have been the fathers and mothers of movements, and of course sons and daughters, even nephews and nieces.”

    Hence, resistance against the new Janissaries and the counter revolutionary intellectuals, needs to be fought on the terrain of civil society, where the revolutionary intellectuals deconstruct the current political order and open up the way for a direct assault on the state.                       

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