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The Battle of Authoritarianisms & Recommended Readings on Egypt

[Egyptian workers march to Shura Council on May Day, 2013. Image by Gigi Ibrahim.] [Egyptian workers march to Shura Council on May Day, 2013. Image by Gigi Ibrahim.]

Since the military removal of Mohammad Morsi from office on July 3, the situation in Egypt has rapidly become intensely polarized. The entrenchment of two broad camps - for the military-led take-over or against the coup - obscures the complexity underlying Egypt's dramatic transformation. Millions of Egyptians converged on Tahrir Square in January 2011 to remove the US-backed authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak. They demanded a new relationship to the state including a full panoply of economic, social, and political rights. Who can forget the the ringing call for 'Aysh, hurriyya, `adaala ishtama'iyya (Bread, freedom, and social justice)? 

This revolutionary vision seems more distant then ever now when the same liberal base who insisted on Mubarak's removal  are now supporting the Army and other vestiges of his regime. Rather than tackle the security state, police brutality, and exclusive control of state resources, this base seems to forgive these structural ills in a fight to rid its government, and society, of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not to be confused with the calls made on, and leading up to, the June 30 mass marches. Then, the indictment against Morsi was squarely his failure to use his Presidency to effectuate the demands of the revolution; failure to prosecute the security apparatus for its murder of 800 civilians during the 2011 Uprisings; its attacks on women and minorities; its hijacking of a Constitutional reform process; and, generally, its consolidation of power in an attempt to maintain Egypt's authoritarian regime but supplant its secularist character with an Islamist one. The "people" rejected these developments and the June 30 protests appeared to be a popular referendum. 

But what began as a referendum has seemingly devolved into a battle between secular and Islamist authoritarianism- and more pointedly into a deleterious campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is not only one of the most significant political parties in Egypt, it is constitutive of a broad swath of its society. Any campaign that aims to "remove" it mistakes its social and political character for a malignant cancer. By framing the Brotherhood as a terrorist network with foreign ties, the Army and its supporters have declared war on their own body. 

Presumably, the liberal base has thrown its support behind secular authoritarianism, meaning for the Army, the feloul, and all its ills, as a first step towards the real battle against authoritarianism itself. Presumably. In truth it is almost beyond reasonable comprehension. There are no signs that tackling the Egyptian security state is next on the liberal agenda so far. If this is true, then the excuse many of us gave regarding the hijacking of the Tamarod movement by the army becomes less plausible. One wonders, in what fundamental ways will this new regime differ from Mubarak?

To help make sense of recent events, here is a selection of worthwhile articles and commentaries. 


The Revenge of the Police State 
Wael Eskandar argues that the greatest threat to Egypt today is the return of the police state. 

"More specifically, the threat concerns, not only the reconstitution of a police state, which never really left since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, but also the return of the implicit, if not overt, acceptance of the repressive practices of the coercive apparatus. In this respect, the current face-off between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood holds very damaging potential. Widespread anti- Muslim Brotherhood sentiment is currently providing the state with legitimacy to use of force against the Brotherhood, and, in the future, a potential cover for using similar tactics against other dissidents as well." 

Statement from the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists on the Massacre in Cairo 
The Revolutionary Socialists issue a statement in response to the August 14th massacre that left 630 civilians dead. The massacre was the direct consequence of the Army's attempt to break up a sit- in demanding the release of ousted President Mohammed Morsi from custody. Their stance aptly breaks through the polarization that otherwise grips Egyptian society and politics right now. 

US questions Egypt prisoner deaths, Mubarak may be freed 
Egyptian forces killed 36 detained Islamists by suffocating them with tear gas during an alleged attempt to flee custody. In response, Islamist militants attacked police barracks in the Sinai and killed 25 Egyptian policemen. On the same day, judicial authorities announced that deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, would be released from prison by the end of the week.

Everything Was Possible 
Omar Robert Hamilton eloquently describes the struggle of Egyptians who have supported the revolution and sacrificed their lives and livelihood for it who are now bearing witness to unfolding events with horror. He insists the "revolution is not dead until we are no longer willing to die for it." 

How Resource Shortages Sparked Egypt's Months-Long Crisis 
The crisis in Egypt is one about resource scarcity and that seems to have faded in the shadow in a battle between secularists and Islamists. 

"With some 40 percent of the population living on $2 a day or less, and rates of illiteracy and unemployment hovering around a third of the population, it was only a matter of time before economic grievances translated into political outrage. The trigger factor, though, was food--on which a quarter of Egyptians spend more than half their incomes."

Excluding the Exclusionary: Does the Muslim Brotherhood Have a Say in its Future? 
The Muslim Brotherhood's legacy within Egypt helps to explain the reactionary response to its year in power and its protest against their military-backed removal. 

"The group continues to represent its discourse as synonymous with Islam and as such distance themselves from any other political movement or trend. Indeed, the Brothers continue to portray their political struggle not as competition for political power but as martyrdom in the path of God. This is not new."

Egypt, the 'war on terrorism' and Islamophobia 
 The Egyptian Army has framed the Muslim Brotherhood as a bandit as terrorists in order to neutralize their political claims and to legitimate its brutal attack against them. 

"The utilisation of Islamophobic and "war on terror" tropes in Egypt are reflective of the global post-colonial epistemological trend that problematise Islam, as a religion, and Muslims, when seeking political agency grounded in a living tradition in the "modern" nation-state. What started as a coup against an elected president was successfully trans-configured by the military and the elite into a "war on terror" against a sub-human group that no longer belongs to the Egyptian body politic."

On Egypt's Day of Infamy 
 Editors and Contributors to the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) respond to the massacre on August 14, 2003 in roundtable form. 

"August 14, 2013 was a day whose events and meaning Egyptians will be debating fiercely for decades to come. Following that day’s bloodshed, Egypt is in the middle of its most severe crisis since the fall of ex-president Husni Mubarak in February 2011. The fate of the country -- popular sovereignty or no -- likely hangs in the balance. We asked several veteran observers, all of them Middle East Report editors or authors, to offer their views of how Egypt got to this point and what the future holds."


Discourse Polarization and the Liberal Triumph in Egypt 
 Jadaliyya co-founder Bassam Haddad breaks down polarization of the discourse in Egypt and attributes it to ill-informed media experts and a failure to grapple with conditions in Egypt. Haddad also addresses the liberal support for Egypt's "war on terror." 

Lina Atallah on Media in Egypt 
Lina Atallah, the chief editor of Mada Masr, discusses the closing of the Egypt Independent, the discourse on Palestine within Egypt, and Iranian elections. 


Senator: Obama Administration Secretly Suspended Military Aid to Egypt
The office of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the head of the appropriations state and foreign-operations subcommittee, told The Daily Beast on Monday that military aid to Egypt has been temporarily cut off.

Here are the top 10 American corporations profiting from Egypt's military 
A list of the ten US corporations that profit the most from its relationship to the Egyptian military and its exercises. 

Egypt's Rulers Have a New Friend in DC: The Israel Lobby 
The Israel Lobby opposes suspending aid to Egypt for fear that it will cause instability and undermine the 1979 peace accord between Israel and the US. 

"An AIPAC source speaking with The Cable on the condition of anonymity insisted that aid to Egypt was not a top issue for the lobbying group. But the source noted that AIPAC's support for the aid was not contingent on the way Egypt treats anti-government protesters. "The primary criteria on how we evaluate this issue is if Egypt is adhering to the peace treaty," the source said, referring to the 1979 peace accord that normalized relations between Egypt and Israel. "We realize that the situation is very fluid and that policymakers will have a range of considerations on this matter." 

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