Egypt: Condescending Drivel and Words of Caution

Egyptian Coup

From the Washington Post.

In some ways, I’m grateful to Stalinists. They’re experts at making bile concisely palatable to the middle-class; Seamus Milne serves the purpose very well in the recent commentary on Egypt:

But the reality is, however incompetent Morsi’s administration, many key levers of power – from the judiciary and police to the military and media – are effectively still in the hands of the old regime elites. They openly regard the Muslim Brotherhood as illegitimate interlopers, whose leaders should be returned to prison as soon as possible.

Yet these are the people now in alliance with opposition forces who genuinely want to see Egypt’s revolution brought at least to a democratic conclusion. If Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are forced from office, it’s hard to see such people breaking with neoliberal orthodoxy or asserting national independence, as most Egyptians want. Instead, the likelihood is that the Islamists, also with mass support, will resist being denied their democratic mandate, plunging Egypt into deeper conflict.

The people of Egypt are being mislead. The millions in Cairo can’t be demanding democracy because they aren’t demanding what Milne wants them to demand. They are being passed like a ball between progress and reaction, forces so abstract that no one would ever dare to question their existence.

Milne’s stress on the importance of leadership is hardly refutable; but his argument, funnily, is the very same employed by Tony Cliff when he justified the bureaucratisation of International Socialism to the closed clique of the Socialist Workers Party. As early as the 1960s Cliff had been panicking about the “danger that we’ll become mindless militants. It’s true that theory without action is sterile, but activity without theory is blind.” What they really want is the old Stalinist image of “democratic centralism” – elect whomever you please. Provided they’re far left prophets – or, for Milne, anti-American demagogues hungry for “national independence”.

Why, man, why?

The narrative in which Communist sympathisers flirted with the far right is well-rehearsed (see Cohen’s oft-quoted What’s Left?); Milne, shamelessly predictable as he courts it.

Since the fall of their mother country, Soviet apologists have only be able to defend their credibility by shedding their old rhetoric and instead donning the bland uniform of the guerrilla journalist. “Capitalism”, once the umbrella for all modern evils, has been secularised to “neoliberalism”. “Imperialism” has broken free of its Leninist principles and come to mean any action undertaken by any member of any American government. The West is out to get them. One imagines their self-worth: a Jesuit missionary traversing the winter of the Elizabethan Reformation to save whatever lost pilgrims he can – and so if it requires petty alliances with the far right, then so be it. The means justify the ends. And not even a trace of irony.

Plenty of contradictions though. (They love them.) Liberal democracy and imperialism are – to any sane observer –  irreconcilable; granting sovereignty to a people, in principle, guarantees their right to self-determination. No, no, not to the truther crowd; no because everything’s Orwellian and war is slavery or ignorance and peace or something (they don’t know what they mean so I’ll be damned if I’m going to try). Democracy is most certainly not democratic. You’re no doubt seeing some milder parallels with the lunatic Alex Jones here. Other signed-up members include GallowayGreenwald, the Stop the War Coalition, Respect and even some of the Greens.

Solidarity with the Sheeples!

It really won’t do.

The most obvious are the European revolutions of 1848, which were also led by middle-class reformers and offered the promise of a democratic spring, but had as good as collapsed within a year. The tumultuous Paris upheaval of May 1968 was followed by the electoral victory of the French right. Those who marched for democratic socialism in east Berlin in 1989 ended up with mass privatisation and unemployment. The western-sponsored colour revolutions of the last decade used protesters as a stage army for the transfer of power to favoured oligarchs and elites. The indignados movement against austerity in Spain was powerless to prevent the return of the right and a plunge into even deeper austerity.

Notice: not “Western-supported” or “with Western sympathies” but “Western-sponsored“. What a slimy euphemism. It apparently doesn’t matter that there aren’t any figures to paint them as Western-funded; for Milne and his crew, there’s no distinction between the media against whom he believes he’s fighting – despite being himself a part of it – and the “ruling classes” who keep stealing his proletariat revolutions.

Instead, the Egyptian people are informed of the “democratic mandate” behind Morsi. He might not have their full support – but, you know, at least he’s opposed to “neoliberalism”, right?

Morsi and the Democrats

It might not be true of me – or indeed many people on the left at all – but the Washington consensus of the 1980s made one principle very clear; the left’s support for regulated markets and for rampant trade unionism, across the world, led neoliberalism to be associated with liberty. I’d be interested to here whether this is still a view on the grounds in Egypt – but it is certainly true that one does not lightly grapple with the state’s economic machinery; and an Islamist attempting to promote his democratic credentials would not be inclined to be hostile to the free market.

There’s a reason for this, one might imagine: Morsi might have been hoping to consolidate his position before discontent could bring him down. His November declaration enhanced his personal power, effectively removing any and all legal constraints. It might indeed be true that this would have been necessary for any post-Mubarak president operating in a system filled with the ex-dictator’s bureaucrats; but a genuine democrat promotes citizens within the system. He does not simply pretend the system does not exist. Wael Eskandar at Notes from the Underground has some great analysis here.

Islamism is a necessarily authoritarian ideology because it is the assumption, backed by the state, that one religion should take precedence over all others; it was the First Amendment more than anything that separated the United States from the history of absolutism, from state certainty and moral directorship. No amount of fresh makeup can make pleasant the hideous grooves of clerical fascism.

The Opposition

With thanks to Shiraz Socialist – here are some of the 22 million “elites” celebrating:

But they celebrated in 2011

Indeed they did.

But another common factor, without which neither “coup” could have taken place, took it upon itself to promote the popular voice once again. As I said a few days ago:

A lingering fear does of course persist: the Egyptian army now holds more authority there than Turkey’s did under Atatürk. Protesters in Tahrir Square demand Morsi step-down; it’s not the constitution to which they are opposed. Rhetoric, though, screams revolution – worryingly fitting given a military presence forced to live up to the expectations it has set itself. (There is currently speculation that the presidential palace is being left unguarded.) 32% is a low approval rating, but one not a lot lower than David Cameron’s in the UK.

I can’t give my support to the Egyptian army – only its objectives, if they are as benign as they suggest. For the democratic socialist, and indeed perhaps all democrats, “paternalism” is as shifty as it is shallow: no matter how honest its leadership, the distinction between a government that is benevolent and one which is democratic and popular closes in the minds of those handful who believe they control a country’s fate. Did they allow a dictator to survive office for decades simply because hardly anyone had protested?

And that’s excluding a military leadership with ulterior motives. Any commentator should be concerned by the recent imprisonment of Brotherhood officials; it’s not freedom of speech if dependent on the merry laws of expedience and convenience. A citizen’s army is not inconceivable; but, for now, Egypt needs to hope that the military’s undemocratic activities are short-lived, as ephemeral as the the gulf between political rules – an interruption begun and made inevitable by popular revolution.

If it is true that Egypt has avoided the bloody martyrs now littering Syria, then – I don’t know? Is there room for a little optimism?


4 Comments on “Egypt: Condescending Drivel and Words of Caution”

  1. You certainly appear to be well informed (while I am not quite so informed). However, it seems to me that in a nutshell, revolutions do not work? (I’m waiting for the next American revolution but now I wonder what, if anything, it will accomplish.)

  2. jayantadeepa says:

    We are outsiders. But this much we can say with certainty, the instability has been for too long now in Egypt. We pray that peace be restored soon in that beautiful country

  3. Reblogged this on Al-Must'arib (the vocational Mossarab) and commented:
    In my opinion, one of the biggest faillures of the Egyptian attempt to transit from a military dictatorship into a modern democracy, is the fact that the change should have been pushed FROM WITHIN THE OLD REGIME. Same as happened in Spain. King Juan Carlos inherited legally all the powers from Franco and he used those powers to change the regime thru laws and legality.

    Those taught to obbey the decissions of the Chief of the State and the rules of Franco’s “Movimiento Nacional” had to swallow their impulses as they could not rebel against the new leader chosen by their Chieftain, and… after all.. a process following the laws of the regime, even to reform it.

    Spaniards voted their Constitution on Dec 6th 1978. Franco was dead by then since Nov 20th 1975.

    3 Years of works, negotiations, trades, meetings, study and search for a common law FOR ALL.. as much as spaniards could do after a long history of disaster and lack of freedom. Even republican constitutions were more conflictive than this because they were built against “half Spain”, to follow the will of the other half.

    In 1978 it was necessary to keep constantly in mind our million dead ppl in 1936-1939 and the Civil War aftermath of repression and famine… That tragedy was enough as to make everyone conscient of the need of making concessions to create a law FOR EVERYONE, even for those who would never have a chance to rule the nation.

    While this process was happening DISCRETELY and almost in secret,… with people from all parties involved… the government made of former members of the old regime worked in paving the way for freedom.

    … Why no one payed any attention to this in Egypt? Why still today, there’s no one advising them ALL abt examples to follow?… I’m not going to say we got a perfect system but… we’ve got the longest period of peace, freedom and DEMOCRACY of our history.

    Imperfect?…. sure,… as everything human is…. but… the best of all insufficient solutions?… ABSOLUTELY.

    Now we were back in Tahrir (2.0). Army seems to be on the way to take control by force. Obviously MB can’t rule and the opposition is too disgregated.

    I see army guys behaving as army guys are supposed to do when they rule… wherever they do.

    Now… will they push to change things in the right way?.. or will succumb to the pressure of violence and political chessgame?

    Honestly,…. i don’t know!

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