February 12, 2011

democracy in Egypt not in the New World

Democracy in the New World disparaged and demoralized by New World aristocracy plutonomy.  Dictatorial regime in the Old World chased out by Old World democracy still on the march! Undoubtedly an enormous victory for the Egyptian people after more than two weeks of  protests, and Mubarak has left for the hills!

But as to the whereabouts of his regime? Any status updates tweeters??? Another way of asking: can the democratic uprising in Egypt endure, or will it result in a Hobbesian renewal of the political? Consider what HuffPo reported on Friday:

An astonishing day in which hundreds of thousands marched on Mubarak's palaces in Cairo and Alexandria and besieged state TV was capped by the military effectively carrying out a coup at the pleas of protesters. After Mubarak's fall, the military, which pledged to shepherd reforms for greater democracy, told the nation it would announce the next steps soon. Those could include the dissolving of parliament and creation of a transitional government.

Ouch. The Egyptian military, its bureaucratic brass and accoutrements of surveillence and destruction, as well as its global allies, are indeed left largely intact. But same as the old boss?  At least not yet. According to John Simpson from BBC,

What has happened today is that the old Nasserite system, a vaguely socialist, military dictatorship, heavily dependent on an unpleasant secret police, has collapsed. The military will continue to run Egypt for the moment, but only until the presidential elections in August or September, if not before.

“For the moment”? Remember when the military just laid back and watched protestors in Tahrir Square, ready to roll its eyes and start pulverizing, even when subjects went about duke-ing it out amongst themselves? It seemed to be that these nameless tanks were just waiting with brute force for new faceless subjects, whomever they would be, to win that battle only to step up and swear their allegiance to a heavy militarized state. The state of nature, (if one were to call the violence and attacks endured by the pro-democracy Egyptians at the hands of the Mubarak “thugs” during last week’s protests,) had bizarrely lurking in the shadows the mechanisms and machinery of a brutal state regime. These mechanisms and machinery seemed to just wait for the dust to settle so new subjects, probably those with new rights and new freedoms, would sign a new social contract, one surely more democratic and legitimate than any previous one but one that would not contest the raw power of state domination. Much has been gained by the Egyptian demos but democracy cannot flinch in front of... “transition” is the word, isn’t it?     

There were deaths and there was violence. But the optimal tactic by the protesters, by and large, proved to be non-violent resistance. Indeed non-violence did not lead to the slaughter of the lambs nor even to their disregard. Thus I wonder what finally convinced Mubarak to flee. “Cracks in the military” beginning to show perhaps, as Simpson suggests? Some international pressure was there, at least in rhetoric from Obama, America’s Rhetorician In Chief, least at times, in dribs and drabs, sidesteps and reluctant hesitance to be sure. A majority of Americans were even “sympathetic” to the anti-Mubarak protesters. So, in this new global world of instant tweeting and blogging, can non-violence protest be an effective strategy for new political foundations? Or just a changing of the guard?

Democracy is born in transgressive acts. It disrupts boundaries and forms of power which look to limit and contain the demos. Thus it is amorphous, unpredictable, leaderless as well. It renews the political in a radical way; it smashes the class, values, and status systems by which it is excluded. And rather than conveniently morph into a renewed, albeit, amended, constitutional framework and its ultimate form, i.e., the modern political state, democracy thrives on heterogeneity, diversity, and contestation. In Egypt, labor unions were there with students, the young with the old, middle-class and the poor, the secularists with the Brotherhood. But democracy is also vulnerable and extremely difficult. It certainly cannot look to state power for sustenance. Yet it also must not come to depend on assertions of mass protests, though the dearth of large-scale resistance movements has only starved democratic politics. In addition to mass protest it needs an ability to exert continued localized pressure to disrupt concentrations of power; it needs fragmented maneuvers, heterogeneity, cultivation over time, and most of all, persistent care in order to endure.      

As Americans gaze at themselves through smoke and mirrors I wonder what - if anything - of the Egyptian uprising actually managed to pierce through the self-reflecting menagerie we inhabit. Probably not much. In this post-Tocquevillian world, the inverted mega-state of US power is fragile and in decline, and has only thrived on the popular withdrawal from political life. Unfortunately it seems that Change today in the US can only come about exogenously, i.e., not of its own doing as an autonomous political form but spurred from some abroad. And the changes may not be pretty. They may not be democratic. 

Sheldon S. Wolin once wrote in a 1995 essay entitled "Fugitive Democracy,"

The modern state as a guardian of boundaries has been rendered paradoxical, if not anachronistic, because of the problematical status of boundaries. The many phenomena that seem to escape or transcend boundaries, for example, electronic communications, are often cited as confirmation of the real existence of the postmodern. If such is the case, then the development may shed some light not only on the future of the state, and its conception of the political, but also on the democratic or nondemocratic tendency of the postmodern.  

February 9, 2011

After Egypt

Justin Elliot from Salon writes:   

So 82 percent of Americans are sympathetic to the protesters. Among those who are “following the situation in Egypt very or somewhat closely,” that number actually goes up slightly, to 87 percent. The irony here, of course, is that Americans are on the side of protesters fighting a regime that the U.S. government has been propping up for decades.

And it's an open question whether public opinion in the U.S. will have an impact on the Obama administration's Egypt policy, which has notably shifted in the past few days away from calls for immediate change.

The rest of the poll is here (.pdf).

Ah, but I hear the corporate masters and media wizards tell me they know better! And that democracy in Egypt would only undermine US principles interests, particularly its relationship with Israel. The problem however with these expert opinions is that trying to maintain an alliance with an autocratic regime like Egypt is not in the least Realistic but utterly blind in the pursuit of exceedingly short-term geopolitical geocorporate gain. Thus, Marwan Bishara puts it: “The longer the Obama administration takes to regain the initiative and declare unconditional support for democratic change, the greater would be the negative impact on its relationship with the Arab world.” 

So stumble along American power! Follow fickle “stability! Continue to gamble on the complacency of Arabs to just continue putting up with whatever shit goes their way, mutatis mutandis, no matter how fortune turns the tide, no matter how this democratic uprising in Egypt may happen to get resolved, no matter how the moribund Middle-East peace process happens to turn out, no matter how “history” is settled, and regardless of decades of US support for dictatorial regimes.     

Ah, but I also read in the NY TImes that “Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt has long functioned as a state where wealth bought political power and political power bought great wealth.” Watch also The Moustache chime in on “AE – After Egypt,” and give its take on the overall political corruption,  societal “backwardness,” and waywardness in Egypt....in the region even! Glenn Greenwald commented on the obvious penchant for Otherness in the American mainstream media:
Can you believe that ‘in Hosni Mubarak's Egypt,’ private wealth translates into great political power and vice-versa?  What is it like, wonders the curious and concerned Times reader, to live in a country like that?  No wonder there's an uprising…. Thankfully, Times readers don't live in a country where such endemic problems reign….