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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

This is midterm week for me, and since I have been woefully not on top of my academic game this semester, it was supposed to be lockdown for study week.

But then out of left field came yesterday’s events at #Maspero and downtown Cairo. At first I was viciously angry. While my rage has subsided to a simmer, I am still deeply saddened. But I cannot claim that, at any point in all this, I was shocked. Over the last 8-9 months, I have spoken to countless people in the US and Egypt about the “revolution”, which I have insisted would be more adequately labelled an uprising, since there was no real revolution. In many of these conversations I have mentioned two personal anecdotes.

The first is that, on the 9th of January, on my flight back from Cairo to the US, I typed up a few stream of conscious paragraphs. They were bleak. I wrote of how decades of misrule have corrupted Egyptian society to the core. How the corruption was deeply embedded in each and every one of us. I would quickly follow this up with grandiose proclamations of how wrong I was. Of how the activist or revolutionary should never lose hope, because you never know when that moment will arrive when all the work you (and countless others) have done will fall into place. At the second #TweetNadwa in Cairo this summer, that was the message of the activists there: that what happened in January and February 2011 was the gelling together of over 10 years of activism. This I do not doubt.

The second anecdote is that on #Jan25 (on the US east coast, which was by then the 26th in Cairo), in response to an inquiring email by an American friend who used to live in Cairo, I said that I had little hope for significant change. I said that the domestic, regional and global political economic powers were too entrenched. That despite whatever successes this uprising may have, on the medium- to long-term, these interests would not allow much significant change. Among the things i spoke of were the domestic business and power interests (what we now call felool); the regional regime that includes, inter alia, the regressive interests of KSA and Israel, as enforced by the the inordinate, and not exactly in the US’s best interests, influence of the Israel and oil lobbies in US politics; and the global financial capitalist corporate interests.

Examples of this abounded in the months since Mubarak stepped aside. The regressive methods of the military, including the silencing of dissent, extrajudicial detentions, military trials, and unwarranted use of excessive force; the kowtowing of the media; the events of June all pointed to the refusal of various elements of the supposedly ousted regime to go down without a fight. Netenyahu’s and Saudi Arabia’s public dismay at the ouster of Mubarak indicated the frantic concern regarding the implications of a democratically run and newly-empowered Egypt. The frenetic throwing of money and debt Egypt’s way by the US, EU, IMF and GCC countries showed how insistent Capital was at maintaining the status quo.

All of this may be true, but it is not sufficient to explain why we continue to fail. Why we continue to be backed into situations like #abaseyya on #Jul23 and #Maspero last night.

I have over the last few months spent some time studying system dynamics theory, with its concepts of resilience and adaptive capacity, and particularly the panarchy of embedded hierarchically organized adaptive cycles, with their differential temporal and spacial scales (I wish i had more time/space to elaborate). But, it suffices to say that in such a framework (which comes from ecology, i should note, but has since been broadened to include social and coupled social-ecological systems (SESs)), when a disturbance occurs, one of two broad outcomes are likely in the subsequent reorganization. First, and perhaps more likely, is that the reorganization will closely map the initial system, continuing to allocate resources in the same way. We see this in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Second, there may be enough dormant features that could emerge and create re-organization that allocates resources and creates structures and processes that are new. I interpreted the myriad and multitudinous post-uprising efforts and initiatives as just this: the reorganization along new lines. In addition to all the parties and awareness campaigns, the rise of new media, i had particular hope in the labor movement as the best guarantor of a new system that did not just continue to privilege the global elite, but that pursued a more equitable, socially (and, eventually, environmentally) conscious path.

I have spoken over the last few months of discourse and the shift from the separation of the political from the social. I was thrilled to see the gradual, if much resisted and as yet incomplete, inclusion of social and economic issues into the public discourse. At first these were termed partisan (fe2awy) demands. But, by and by, they have gradually seeped into public discourse. I realize now that this may have been too abstracted and cerebral; that what I wrote on the 9th of January remains true to this day.

Over the last few decades, Egypt has been corrupted to the core. WE are corrupt to the core. I am not talking here of the institutional corruption of vested interests. I am not talking about the petty corruption of bribes or of nepotism. These are significant, sure. But what is at stake here is our very souls. Our ethics and values. And I am certainly not talking about how we dress, what we eat or drink, or any of the symbolic quasi-religious issues that are used to manipulate our hates and fears.

The problem is that we as individuals and as a society have no moral compass. Whenever anything happens, we are quick to blame someone or another. No doubt, some people bear more responsibility and, therefore, culpability than others in the way events unfold (the SCAF, as the insidious, albeit bumbling, executive and legislative authority is no doubt at the top of the list). But to allocate blame that way is not sufficient. We must realize that within ourselves are all the things that we hate in others. But until we take responsibility for ourselves, as individuals, communities and as a society, we will never get anywhere. Egyptians need to learn to be self-critical, to be able to look inside themselves and see what their faults are. More importantly, we need to begin to address those faults, of our independent initiative and volition. And then we need to have real, honest conversations with each other, with our friends and communities, about what is wrong with us; not with some constructed ‘other’.

The easiest thing in the world, when faced with difficulty is to blame the other ‘side’ for something that we would have done ourselves if we were in the same situation. We need to be self-critical, to overcome our dark sides, to realize that we dont have to live in fear and hate of the other. That if only we loved ourselves more, we could love others more as well. I know this sounds trite. But it is true, and it is backed up by countless studies. Only when you are at peace with yourself, satisfied that you have done or are doing the best you honestly can, can you begin to feel positively towards other people.

Only when this happens, will we be free from the manipulations that pit Muslim against Copt and Salafi against Sufi. Only then will we be able to control the urges to harass. Only then will we realize the difference between despising racist Zionist policies and racistly hating Jews. Only then will we realize the difference between patriotic belonging and fascist superiority. Only then will we be able to value equity over exploitation, sharing over stockpiling. Only then will be able to resist buying hearsay and jumping to conclusions. And only then will we be able to address our real challenges like building a better tomorrow for all people, not just Egypt, or managing Egypt’s (and the world’s) impending Malthusian water-, food-, and land-security and climate crises.

This is the discursive shift, the revolution in thought, that we really need. One in which the truth is not that the other is always wrong and always to blame. One in which we can move beyond hateful and fear-fueled knee-jerk reflexes and begin to really examine what it is that we need to move forward. We may not always agree, and that’s fine. But there will never be a successful revolution so long as we continue to think in regressive terms.

In short, we need a revolution against our very selves.

I would like to point to this Arabic facebook post that comes to similar conclusions.

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Downtown bar scene

This is a critique of an article on the demise of the downtown Cairo bar scene The article in question seems to have more or less lifted the essence of an earlier article. They’re all tagged on my delicious under Cairo and probably beer or bar. too busy to look them up at the moment.

Anyway, read the comment thread. Pretty interesting.

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Economist correspondent blogs about the difficulty of finding local art in Abu Dhabi. Ironic, given the emirate’s aspirations.

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Culture in the Gulf

It’s been clear for a a few years now that Abu Dhabi has been seething with envy towards its oil-poor, commercial super-hub neighbor. Naturally, it wouldnt make too much sense to compete in the same niche. And so they’ve picked culture (no new news, really, though), a concept which, for some reason, i find hilarious.

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