I had a conversation with an Egyptian acquaintance, who can safely be classified as a member of the Egyptian elite. She expressed her dismay with the character of the Egyptian people by arguing that Egyptians are disorganized by nature, as well as lazy, apathetic and deceitful. She sounded like a nineteenth century colonialist or a racial supremacy theorist. Unfortunately this is also a widespread view amongst the urban middle classes - the backbone of the Egyptian revolutionary movement - and it has devastating political and social effects. This “orientalism” is part of a wider international discourse on the nature of the Arab world, which has been exploited and reinforced by the ruling elites to strengthen their grip on power. Furthermore, the so-called failure of the Egyptian revolutionary movement has consolidated this view in the minds of many.
In his important work “White Masks, Black Faces”, Franz Fanon argues that the middle classes of the colonial world have been traumatized by their encounter with the “white colonizer”, in short he argues that the middle classes hold many of the same prejudices against their own people and perceive themselves as more civilized and European than the rest of the country, especially in the rural areas. However, upon any encounter with the European in his/her native country, they must come to the realization that they are not accepted into those societies where they feel such a close ideological connection - hence the trauma.
Egypt is not an exception to this phenomena: although colonialism has ended, its enduring legacy remains. Egyptian elites still hold large segments of their own societies in contempt, especially the rural and the lower classes. Egyptian society is divided into “welad el nas”, which loosely translates into “sons of people” and all the others; a telling classification to say the least. This classification is not rhetorical; it has real social meaning and affects a person’s rights and obligations. For example, a visit to a police station - a terrifying experience in Egypt - entails different treatment from the officers depending on your "status", and this classification almost has legal force.
This pervasive orientalism has been fostered and developed by Egyptian elites across the political divide. During the years of the Mubarak regime, government officials complained that although jobs were available, the Egyptian youth were simply too lazy to work. Mubarak was famous for his paternalist attitude towards Egyptians and constantly complained of their ever-burgeoning demands; the image of the patient father with a spoiled child comes to mind. On the other hand, Khairat El Shater, the deputy guide of the Muslim Brotherhood complained that the electoral program of President Morsi could not be implemented because it required “active and aware” people, implying that the Egyptians were neither of those. Even the so-called liberals did not escape this elitism; Alaa El Aswani, self-proclaimed liberal and writer, argued that the right to vote should be restricted to those that can read and write; effectively barring almost 28% (World Bank, 2010) of the population from their basic political rights. This argument was made in the midst of confrontations with the Islamists, arguing that the bulk of their support came from illiterates and peasants.
The situation was made worse by the failure of the Egyptian revolutionary movement, who not only failed to bring down the regime, but also failed to create a sense of revolutionary consciousness that would act as the backbone for breaking this widespread orientalism. Franz Fanon also argued in his seminal work “The Wretched of the Earth”, that it is only through revolutionary struggle that the oppressed can remake themselves and cast away their self-contempt; a dialectic process of struggle and a process that the revolutionary movement failed to accomplish in Egypt; recasting the Egyptian self-image. If anything it reinforced the existing stereotype, due to its failures and weaknesses.
This sense of paternalism is not simply a social malady; it is a political malady as well. Politically, the sense of self-hatred spawns a sense of apathy among the masses coupled with the cynicism that becomes the base of any repressive regime. The stage is set for the return of the loving father figure who will lead the people, like children, out of the abyss. In Egypt’s case, the military, personified in the minister of defense, will save the child; the Egyptian people from the mess they got themselves into - the revolution and democracy. A telling example of this is a caricature that was published in one of the national newspapers, where El Sisi was depicted as a superman saving Egypt - a smiling woman, an image that is overflowing with orientalist stereotypes. Of course, the father figure in this scenario is above reproach or critique. This was clear from the ferocious reaction to Egypt’s most popular satirist Bassem Youssef who dared to mock the military and the general in charge, upon his return to the screens on October 25.
This is now the basis of the “false consciousness” being imposed within Egyptian civil society as defined in the broadest sense. It must eventually lead to what I call “decentralized repression”. One can safely argue that Egypt is currently undergoing this process where all dissenting views are censored by elements of civil society as well as the public at large, who are marginalizing and attacking all opposing views without the need for direct government intervention. One could also argue that El Baradei underwent the same process, and that his political role ended because of it. What the Mubarak regime and the military have failed to achieve over many years has been achieved by a determined civil society in the span of a few months.
What makes the situation worse is the cooption of a large number of intellectuals, defined in the broadest sense of the word, in supporting the military establishment. This has led to the decapitation of any possible resistance movement within the realm of civil society. Those intellectuals support and repeat this orientalist rhetoric employed by the military to consolidate its rule.
Is the situation hopeless? As I have argued elsewhere, the ability of the regime to impose “false consciousness” is limited by material factors that, at some point, will lead to an inevitable clash with the ruling military establishment. However, it is essential for the revolutionary movement to create a counter hegemony within the realm of civil society, where a competing narrative can be built to break the asphyxiating hold of elitism and orientalism prevalent amongst Egyptian elites and middle classes. This can only be achieved through long-term revolutionary struggle and intellectuals organically linked to the revolutionary movement and the masses. Only they are capable of articulating this counter-hegemony and shattering the existing ideological construct.
The other day I accompanied some visitors from New York State on a tour of the Eshkol Region where I live. Among the sites we visited was the new Resilience Center. Though it is up and running it is still partially under construction. "Resilience Center" is the closest English term which we could come up with for "Merkaz Hossen" which is its Hebrew name. "Hossen" is the kind of inner strength one derives from being part of a group or community. The task of the Resilience Center is to provide immediate and long term treatment to those residents of the area suffering from traumatic stress due to the cross border violence that we experience from time to time.
The new center differs from the old one in that it is more centrally located and its structure has been built to withstand a direct hit by a rocket or mortar fire. The former center was struck by a rocket and suffered extensive structural damage. This not only limited its operation during a time when it was most needed but residents visiting the center were presented with a visible reminder of the source of their stress, which did not help their treatment. Within a short time the damage was repaired but it was decided that a new, better protected center was needed, hence the new structure. The roof and walls are made of very thick reinforced concrete and the windows are built to provide protection against shrapnel and bullets. The whole structure is designed to look like any other building both outside and inside. The goal was to give the client a sense of security without giving them the feeling that they were in a bunker.
This was not the first building so designed and constructed in our area. The local secondary school was rebuilt from the ground up in a similar fashion. Walking around the ten building school campus one can see here and there the concrete entrance ways to underground shelters. But these were installed mainly to provide protection for students and teachers who are more than ten seconds away from one of the buildings when an alarm is sounded. The buildings themselves provide the main protection and were built to withstand a direct rocket and mortar strike.
A bit of history is in order here. Before the current campus was built, there were two secondary schools in our area; one for the kibbutzim (collective settlements) and one for the moshavim (cooperative villages). For about thirty-five years there had been attempts to unify the two schools, each with less than 500 students. The biggest opponents to integrating the two schools were the more extreme left wing kibbutzim who saw such integration as a threat to the propagation of their more purely socialist ideology. In fact about fifteen years ago the kibbutzim had two secondary schools and their integration into one school was accompanied by quite a bit of hot debate between the more left wing and less left wing kibbutzim. Combining the kibbutz and moshav schools was seen by its opponents as an ideological disaster. Never-the-less when Hamas in Gaza began firing rockets and mortar shells at our region it was decided to reinforce the structures of the two schools. However, cost estimates put such reinforcement at about three times the amount of building one new fully protected school. The government in Jerusalem refused to supply the money for the two-school option so at a meeting of the area council general assembly with some of the representatives smiling and others grimacing, it was unanimously decided to build one new school for the whole area. Before the school was completed and put into operation and the educational advantages were clear to everyone, I proposed that we send a letter of thanks to Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, for accomplishing the integration of our school system; something the local residents had been unable to do for more than four decades. No one took the proposal seriously.
Concrete has a lot of uses. In our new school it is used to protect the students and teachers from hostile actions. Last week a concrete lined tunnel that led back to Gaza was uncovered near one of the kibbutzim. There was an estimated five hundred tons of concrete lining the tunnel's walls and supporting its roof. Though its exact purpose is open to debate there is no doubt on the part of anyone living in this area that it was built to bring harm to the local residents or those in the IDF protecting us. It was the third tunnel discovered recently and there are probably more out there. The State of Israel was highly criticized by various humanitarian NGOs for limiting the supply of concrete to the Gaza strip to those building projects supervised by the UN or other reputable international organizations. As a consequence sometime last year the government decided to free up the supply of concrete to the general Gaza economy. As far as I can tell there has been no criticism of Hamas for using the concrete for military purposes as exemplified by the tunnel. Right after the tunnel was found, Israel re-imposed the restriction on the supply of concrete limiting it to UN or other supervised construction.
By Hicham Yezza
After a few months of relative quiet, the past week has been one of heightened tensions between the Moroccan and Algerian governments. While rhetorical skirmishes are nothing unusual between the two capitals, this week’s events signal an alarming escalation that seems both unfortunate and predictable in its developments.
On Monday October 28, at the African Conference of Solidarity with Saharawi people - held in the Nigerian capital, Abuja - a speech was read out on behalf of the Algerian President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, that called on the United Nations to support efforts aimed at setting-up an international mechanism to monitor “the massive and systematic human rights violations” by Morocco in the occupied territories of the Western Sahara.
The conference was held in the lead-up to a presentation to the Security Council by Christopher Ross, the UN General Secretary’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, of his findings on the Saharawi question following a visit to the region from the 7 to 25 October. Ross’s report announced "a new phase in the negotiations based on discreet and separate bilateral exchanges with each of the parties”.
The Moroccan response to Bouteflika’s speech was swift and largely unencumbered by nuance. The intervention was seen by many, whether in the Moroccan media or in governmental circles, as an open and deliberate provocation. Some observers linked the intervention directly to Bouteflika’s current internal power struggle against rivals in the run-up to next year’s presidential elections. More significantly, Morocco's official MAP news agency accused Algeria both of seeking to “divert attention” from its own internal human rights abuses and of entertaining “hegemonic designs” over the region.
Morocco’s nationalist Istiqlal party, which had recently left the governing coalition, went even further, resurrecting long-dormant calls for Morocco to “recover territory in the southeast that Algeria took by force”. The party’s comments were, in turn, denounced as “unacceptable and irresponsible” by Algeria's Foreign Minister, Ramtane Lamamra, who nevertheless issued a call for “restraint”.
Lamamra’s plea, plainly, had fallen on deaf ears. On Friday, November 1, as Algeria marked the 59th anniversary since the launch of the war for independence, dozens of Moroccan protesters gathered at the Algerian consulate in Casablanca, chanting anti-Algerian and pro-monarchist slogans. One of the protesters climbed up the building and tore down the Algerian flag. A YouTube video of the incident caused widespread consternation across Algeria, both in the media as well as on social networks. A spokesman for the Algerian Foreign ministry, Amer Belani, was unambiguous as to where he thought the blame lied, declaring “This serious act would not have been possible without the unleashing of hatred and mudslinging by a Moroccan press and political class to inflame the population against Algeria.” On Sunday, the Moroccan ambassador, Abdallah Belkaziz, who had been recalled to Rabat on Wednesday for “consultations” over Bouteflika’s speech, was summoned to the Algerian Foreign Ministry, where he expressed his country’s “regrets” over Friday’s incident though without offering any official apologies. On Monday, he resumed his duties in Algiers.
Although Moroccan officials have already announced the arrest of the main perpetrator of the flag incident, Algerian authorities – which have dismissed the “isolated incident” thesis - reiterated their demand to be included in any investigations into the events. How the two sides can find a workable arrangement that doesn’t look like a climb-down by either party remains to be seen, but as things stand, the ingredients for further escalation are all too present.
Periodic sabre-rattling has been a feature of the Moroccan-Algerian conversation for decades, and can be traced back at least to the “Sand War” of 1963, fought over territorial claims to their southern border regions. Since then, the relationship has been further strained by Algeria’s support for the Sahrawi people’s quest for independence since Morocco annexed the territory in 1975. This week’s events mark the first renewal of hostilities since April, when Algeria supported a US-sponsored proposal to integrate human rights monitoring into the remit of the UN mission in the Western Sahara. The initiative was ultimately defeated in the face of vehement opposition by Morocco and its allies, with the passing of a UN resolution (UNSCR 2099) that did not explicitly add a Human Rights mandate to MINURSO’s remit. Indeed, many observers in Morocco interpreted Bouteflika’s Abuja’s speech as an attempt to bring the proposal back to the table.
Of course, while the unfolding row centres ostensibly on the question of Western Sahara, such crises invariably signal deeper rifts and ulterior agendas. For a start, both Algerian and Moroccan governments have come under increasing pressure over their human rights records in recent times, and many feel this latest round of diplomatic wrangling is mostly a convenient distraction that works to the advantage of both protagonists.
Whatever the circumstances and repercussions, intended or otherwise, of this episode, it undoubtedly presents a sad sight for most citizens in both countries. This is especially so coming as it does on the anniversary of the Algerian revolution, the launching document of which, the Proclamation of the 1st of November 1954, not only announced to the world a “true revolutionary struggle at the side of the Moroccan and Tunisian brothers...” but listed as a key objective “the pursuit of North African unity…”.
Considering the virulence of the exchanges this past week, one might view prospects for such unity – still trumpeted loudly at intermittent summits and cultural festivals – as being rather bleak. And yet, the history of Moroccan-Algerian relations, both before independence and since, remains overwhelmingly one of noble solidarity and brotherhood. As a new generation of Algerians and Moroccans discards the old political rules, one feels entitled to hope that, across the region and beyond, brighter days lie ahead.
By Yosra Akasha
Almost a month has passed since the people of Sudan began to rebel. Violence ensued which led to the death of over 210 peaceful protestors, the arbitrary arrest and detention of over 700 people and the disappearance of a number of young men and women whose families don’t know if they are still alive or killed by government militias.
By the end of September the mass protests had dwindled in size, but the youth had not given up. Now they are in the process of developing resistance groups to challenge the National Congress Party (NCP). Young female activists and students have organized several silent sit-ins in front of the military headquarters and on Nile Street in Khartoum; where they posters bearing photos of the October martyrs are on display. Families of the detainees are also arranging regular sit-ins in front of National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) premises.
In Sudan when a family loses a loved one, they mourn him/her again during the first national holiday after their passing. The massacre took place two weeks prior to Eid El Adha and activists called on everyone to celebrate the feast with the families of the martyrs. After Eid prayers in the Shambat neighborhood, the residents marched to the houses of the martyrs “Hazzaa” and then to “Babiker’s” and gave their condolences to the mothers who were overwhelmed with grief. In the Shambat and Althawra neighborhoods the walls are covered with the names of martyrs as well as anti-regime slogans.
Last week, a group of Sudanese activists and bloggers launched a five-day hunger strike for Sudan (#Strike4Sudan). The demands of the hunger strike were justice for the martyrs; the release of all political detainees and the right to freedom of expression. They call for the government to be held accountable for the killing of peaceful protestors and for all censorship to be lifted from the media and demand that journalists should not be harassed.
Soon after the announcement of the planned hunger strike, three members of the detainees' families joined in; namely Taghreed Awooda, Sandra Kadooda, the wives of Mohayad Siddig (detained since September 22) and Amjad Farid (detained since September 30) and Kawther, the mother of Mohamed Alim (detained since September 22) whose family wasn’t allowed to visit him.
Reem Shawkat, a journalist and blogger, declared she was on hunger strike for numerous reasons. One of them is her belief that there is a general deterioration in the quality of food in Sudan, as well as increasing poverty. “When the people took to the streets to demand their rights, they were shot dead while others were arrested. Now I feel ashamed for drinking juice on the street when so many people can’t even secure a meal a day. Allowing people to starve is no different from killing them. It’s just a method of oppression and forced insecurity.”
Eyad Suliman, a pharmacist, went on strike because of the deterioration of health facilities. He says many patients die before even receiving medical care in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, not even mentioning what takes place in rural areas. He has some bitter stories to tell, “A man suffering from severe burns was transferred between six emergency rooms in different public hospitals because he couldn’t afford to buy the gauze and other medical supplies for his treatment. They weren’t available in the ER and they wouldn’t admit him without him supplying the materials. He was using a taxi to run between hospitals as an ambulance wasn’t even made available. Another case is of a female university lecturer who died in the process of negotiating a discount, in a public hospital, for her treatment. She was unaware she was pregnant and died because of a miscarriage. Her life could have been saved if she hadn’t been wasting her time knocking on the door of the hospital director."
Many activists have criticized the hunger strike as a form of resistance, and expressed their frustration on twitter about the decline in anti-regime protests. @walaasalah a Sudanese lawyer and human rights activist challenged the efficiency and the effectiveness of #Strike4Sudan by tweeting that people on this strike are not in the same place; all they were doing was announcing it on their social media networks and no real action was taking place on the ground. She argued that the strike was mainly targeting the international community rather than the Sudanese people, regarding this as a deterioration of anti-regime resistance. What is needed, she believes, is for activists to focus more on mobilizing the people. @blackboy, a Sudanese tweep, commented on the hunger strike, saying, “A regime that shoots its people would never care for people on hunger strike”.
Now most activists are trying to develop new forms of resistance; whether it is arranging a sit in, inviting people to mourn the martyrs with their respective families or joining in the five-day hunger strike. Activists criticizing the strike are searching for more radical revolutionary actions. What unites both supporters and opponents of #Strike4Sudan is the sense of responsibility for change which is the driving force for both.
September 30, 2013 was a historic milestone in Turkey's political life and that of its so-called 'youthful' democracy. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced a democracy package including some reforms regarding the rights of different groups within society. This declaration was broadcast live by several television stations, a kind of habit in Turkey, whenever the Prime Minister declares anything much at all. However, this time, Erdoğan’s message was really important.
Some deputies in the Peace and Democracy Party (the pro-Kurdish Party in Turkey) even went to Qandil Mountain to watch the declaration being made alongside PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) leaders. The meeting started at 11:00 am but the Prime Minister kept everyone waiting including all the ethnic and cultural minority groups until 11:50 am to declare the reforms, possibly taking the midday break into account. From nationalists to liberals, many different groups were eagerly watching to see the Prime Minister's future plans for Turkey's democracy.
There are of course some major democratic challenges in Turkey - to list them in no particular order; Kurdish self-determination, administration, education in their own language and autonomy; the Armenian genocide, discriminatory state and fiscal policies regarding the Alevi people, the election system and that chronic disease for Turkey's democracy - the laws regarding the use of headscarves in public service. All these issues were really 'critical' and the 'democracy package' referred to many of them. But the highest expectations were regarding two issues above all, the liberation of Kurdish political prisoners and education in the Kurdish language. The latter has been a leading Kurdish demand for years in order to sustain their national identity, and directly coming up against the existing 'assimilation' strategies of Turkey’s 'national education system'. This has been a major theme in ongoing debates between Öcalan (the Kurdish leader in prison) and the Turkish Government.
What the Government did, spinning this as the best ever reform for Kurds in Turkey, was to allow them to establish their own 'private schools'. This really makes little sense when you look at the fiscal position of Kurds living in Turkey. A population heavily dominated by workers has little to no opportunity to be involved in paying for private education. Some Kurds now respond to the offer by saying, ''now you have to pay money just for being a Kurd.'' Pro-Fethullah Gülen organizations have already started to apply for the license to run the first private school which offers an education in Kurdish, while pro-Kurdish groups for their part hesitate to be involved in such a system which is opposed to the socialist roots of the Kurdish liberation movement in Turkey. This was a qualified disappointment however, since the pro-Kurdish party had already made it pretty clear that they had no high expectations from such a government.
On this subject of education in one’s native language the Turkish Government has begun to draw weird parallels between Kurds in Turkey and Turks living in Germany. Turks live in Germany under the status of immigrants, which is different from the position of Kurds in Turkey as the indigenous people of North Kurdistan or what is called the 'southeastern part of Turkey'. Kurds in Turkey are not immigrants and they don't even consider themselves a minority. So this is the first problem. The collective national rights of Kurds have always been a 'scary issue' for those who have statist loyalties in Turkey and Erdoğan is part of this 'conservative nationalist culture' in contradiction with the 'reformist' image which he prefers to propagate and which was certainly uppermost in the article on the ‘democracy package’ published by The Economist. Kurds still regard education in their own language as their 'social right', but these demands have so far been ignored.
The other and more important dimension of the package for Kurds concerns Abdullah Öcalan and the other Kurdish prisoners. The silence of the Turkish Government on this front bitterly disappointed those who are hoping for peace in Turkey. The Peace and Democracy Party representatives will be in touch with Öcalan over this stalemate, which could determine the future of peace in Turkey at least in the short term. But the Kurds are not alone in their disappointment.
Those fighting to defend LGBTQI and women’s rights have also had their demands ignored. A 'Hate Crime Act' was mentioned, but no reform to include crimes against these groups. It is a well-known fact that the murder of both LGBTQI and women has increased 'dramatically' in the last eleven years, during the AKP's (Justice and Development Party)term of governance.
The package is a genuinely reforming one especially when it comes to overcoming the 'nonsensical’ ban on wearing the headscarf during public service. There are other positive reforms about the 'appearance' of officials which had been a problem during the history of the modern Turkish republic. Headscarved mayors and ministers will be nominated by the Justice and Development party in the next local and general elections. Opposition parties have not felt able to oppose these ideas. Actually some of these parties had already proposed similar acts liberating people from the headscarf ban, but none of their proposals were accepted.
Cengiz Çandar, a prestigious journalist, was however not impressed. His view is that the former slogan espoused by the AKP when it came to the 2010 referendum, ''Not Enough But Yes'' won't work any more and that the only truthful response might be, ''That's enough!''. Çandar's statement is surprising since he is known as a leading pro-AKP left wing intellectual whose support has in the past been really beneficial to the AKP. His 'disappointment' with the Democracy Package suggests that it will only have a short term effect on Turkish democracy and will be incapable of tackling the main problems in our society. For example, Öcalan's situation in prison remains substantially unchanged, and it is publicly quite evident that the AKP’s attitude towards the Alevi people is based in ignorance and is really 'problematic' due to their own pro-Sunni positioning.
So the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) might alter its 'peaceful' strategy in response to the steps not taken by the current government. The Kurdish liberation movement representative Zübeyir Aydar sums up what many think: ''The AKP has tried to rebuild its pro-democracy image just in time for the local elections.'' These are weak reforms aiming to do just enough to create a veneer of progress for the Turkish electorate.
Kurds will not continue to be satisfied with the previous fillips of 'multicultural' democracy any longer. Already they regard the offer of such 'market based' rights as a humiliation for the Kurdish community. Alevi people will be more active in the 'anti-war' protests taking place in Turkey, since they have little to lose, and the tensions between Syria and Turkey will be felt much more strongly in Turkish streets from now on. Women and LGBTQI individuals will not be silent either. The AKP has created a 'great alliance' of the groups that this package did not satisfy, and the next period is already one in which people feel that the sense of unmet expectations is uppermost.
The AKP has no 'proactive' solution for the problems caused by disappointment with the Democracy Package. The AKP finds it much easier to do its politics in a far narrower sphere. So who should Turkish people turn to to fix our 'broken' Turkish democracy – a process that must involve a thorough, sensible and longterm process of conflict resolution between the main actors. But in a Turkey where thousands of political prisoners languish in jail there is little glimpse of a brighter future for our 'sick' democracy, unless another experience like the Gezi protests comes to our rescue once again.