Tag Archives: Middle East revolution

Liberalz

Liberals aren’t doing very well in the Middle East. Islamist parties have swept the ballot in Tunisia and Egypt. Libya is just a plain mess. Coptic Christians are fretful for their already tenuous position in Egyptian society. Women fear a patriarchic backlash implied in Islamists’ conservative programs. The latter use newly-won democratic freedom to gain power, but will they abide by the rules of the game once in power?

First of all, liberals -and with few caveats I consider myself one- are a bunch of wining cry-babies. Quite often we are prone to jitters in the face of dangerous trends like islamization, global warming, or the new, abhorrent indulgences of youngsters. How often do we really look in the mirror and admit that, ah yes, we too were once young and dangerous, and liberals also drive cars, use power-guzzling iPads, eBooks and er, wAshing Machines. By and large, liberals gave nary a peep when ‘secular’ and hence perceived as ‘liberal’ regimes beat, jailed, tortured, and killed their Islamist opponents, be they AK47-toting maquisards or moderate anti-totalitarian believers of the Eighties Polish priest variety.

During the Mubarak years liberal Egyptians either left the country or more or less went with the flow, enjoying the economic privileges of an economic pyramid heavily skewed in favor of an internationally mobile elite and business-savvy military brass. The few who did stick their necks out know why the rest didn’t. Western liberals, who are able to bathe in bikinis and -God forbid- Speedos on Sharm El-Sheikh’s beaches, didn’t see a problem. Mubarak was pro-women, as would be his son, they assumed. As long as the Egyptian economy grew, who needs democracy? And grow it did. The ones that profited though were those that knew someone that knew someone. You guessed it, liberals.

Geert Wilder

When liberals forget that liberalism and its enabler; material wellbeing, is for everyone, they cease to be liberals. They ought to stop yammering and acting all surprised at the electoral success of Islamic movements that have for years provided social services and healthcare to those who needed it most. The revolutions sweeping the Middle East are an opportunity to establish a level playing field where all the currents of a society can vie for attention, approval, and influence. Liberals haven’t had a veritable opponent in decades. Ideas are crusted over with neglect and complacency. It’s time for some soul-searching and re-inventing. Arab liberals can do better than a simple copy-paste job of their European or American peers. Challenged by xenophobic rabble-rousers the latter have done a lot of caving in and Chamberlain-ing, and not a lot of self-criticizing and looking to a different future.

In ‘Sinai’, a tongue-in-cheek thriller, a Muslim Brotherhood-led government isn’t doing so great. The challenges are great, and the people’s patience threadbare. The ‘liberals’, represented by a pair of wily old generals, are more than yearning for a simpler past. A doofus backpacker winds up in the middle of this tug-of-war. Suddenly a lot more is at stake than the soul of Egypt… 

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Filed under Arab Spring, Cairo, Christianity, democracy, Egypt, Feminism, Islam, Middle East, Revolution, seismic changes, Sinai, Uncategorized

Democracy in the Middle East

Sinai is not a political treatise. Or maybe it is. Depends on your definition of ‘is’ perhaps. It’s a bit of a silly story of a dude lost in an Alice in Wonderland type of strange land. But even silly stories are set in a time and place. Sinai’s is a recent democracy, it’s foibles and turmoil.

It’s been a year since the revolutions began. It’s been a year since western pundits started wondering what’s next. Can there be such a thing as Arab or Muslim democracy? Will Islamist forces seize the opportunity to try and impress upon a volatile society its patriarchic and misogynistic views? Will the West be forced to reassess long-standing relationships, scramble to save contracts, jostle for new ones, and pragmatically pander to whichever regime or constellation of forces arising from the chaos? The answer to all of these questions of course is ‘yes’. Unfortunately the answer to all of these questions means nothing much at all.

Winston Churchill once said “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume.” The same can be said of the Middle East. The past couple of years have been especially prolific. So much has happened in fact, and is happening, that to draw ANY kind of conclusion today about the Arab Spring is not only futile, but very much at peril of sounding silly. The generals of Egypt are trying to claw back the power and influence lost in the process of removing their much-hated figurehead Mubarak. Hence, democracy is lost. Islamists are winning important democratic elections. Hence, the future will look like Iran. In lieu of finely-tuned sarcasm, I’ll just put it bluntly: It’s stupid! Fuck off!

Sinai’s main character, like a lot of newly-minted Mid-East pundits, isn’t well-versed in the matters at hand. Linus isn’t versed at all actually. He was looking for a beach, and found a war zone. Talk about great, dashed expectations. He has to learn the hard way that things don’t really end -no spoiler alert: the book does end! In reality, no such clear-cut narratives exist. Everything is a process. History is not a collection of periods that begin and end. It’s an oscillating wave. Likewise, democracy is not a point of arrival. It’s a conductor like copper wiring. Democracy allows for a society to communicate, first and foremost with itself. Suffrage allows for ALL ideas to be heard, however smart or retarded, and for a (often disappointing) common denominator thereof to percolate as collective action. Competing forces in a society can wage battle without actual blood flowing on the dance floor. Democracy is an imperfect means to an end that no one knows.

Buy Sinai here.

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Filed under Arab Spring, Cairo, democracy, Egypt, Feminism, Middle East, Revolution, seismic changes, Sinai, Uncategorized

A scene from Sinai…

“Sinai” is a tongue-in-cheek thriller set in post-Mubarak Egypt. Intrigue, bombs, and breathtaking vistas ensure a riveting read for all. The story, needless to say, is entirely fictional. In real life, as opposed to Sinai’s 2007 etch-a-sketch prediction, the military doesn’t seem to be waiting until after elections to stage a coup..

The police and military hovering close by in APCs can’t reach the swelling scene until it reaches them.  The crowd moves between the motionless vehicles like waves on a pebble beach.  Hundreds now.  Thousands.  More.

Warning shots are fired, but the multitudes swarm, and the poor and destitute join the vexed and jaded; the night bulks with opportunity and danger.  Warning shots are fired and some rookie cop forfeits his sidearm to quicker wit.

A patrol car catches on fire.  Regular cars follow suit like it’s the new black; others are overturned, beyond help like dung beetles, burning tires in vain seeking purchase on the throbbing air.

New arrivals can only guess as to what caused the disturbance.  Bread prices surely.  Perhaps the recent hike in metro fares, or the cancellation of petrol subsidies?  Who cares?  Youth improvise slogans against the junta and hastily smeared banners dance above the undulating faces.  The fire spreads.  The hated ‘Mugamma’ is sacked and a blizzard of paper trails down on the square.  Smoke billows up from improvised bonfires; descending paper and smoke meet halfway along the facade.

Hot town, summer in the city.  Shots ring out through the night.  The Nile Hilton burns.  The Semiramis is saved by a hair’s breadth.  Can you believe the weather?

***

Gamal was proud to be part of the televised address.  He didn’t have to say anything.  Just being there next to the general was enough for him.  They had prepared diligently for this day, a day that belonged to all the people.  The general performed admirably, statesmanlike.

Gamal brought to mind the days when he first met Abdul Hakim.  They were marching all the way from Port Said to Cairo after the disaster of ’67, in rags, mentally and physically.  Abdul had always been the leader, decisive and somehow untarnished, unbroken by defeat.  Unlike so many others.  “It’s only just begun,” he’d said.  “It’s only just begun.  Y’Allah!”

They joked about how they would run things, fix things.

Gamal had forgotten all about such youthful boasting until the general called him up six months ago.

“You remember those things we used to talk about?” he asked.  Before Gamal had had a chance to answer he said: “I can’t talk about it on the phone, let’s meet up.  26th of July Bridge.  In 45 minutes?  Ok?”

“Ok.”

Only as he slammed the battered taxi door had Gamal begun to suspect what this was about.  As if the gunshot clonk of steel on crumpled steel brought back, by Pavlovian reflex, memories of the war and its tumultuous aftermath.

Today Abdul Hakim spoke more or less as he had that day.  So much conviction and vigor.  Here was a leader.  A man with an iron will.  A hero.  Gamal was proud to be there.

“We wish to stress that this is a strictly internal affair.  There can be no pressure or interference from outside on the people of this proud nation.  Our forces are ready and capable of resisting any attempt to change the path that our sovereign will has decided upon.”

The plan was genius, as they say, because of its simplicity.  Tried and tested formula.  No need to reinvent the wheel, here.

“As to the situation on the peninsula, things are once again firmly under our control.  The terrorists, who are responsible for the massacre, whoever they may be, and wherever they may hide, will be found and brought to justice.  The Sharm El-Sheikh airport has closed again for now, but will reopen as soon as we are able to guarantee everyone’s safety.  From that point on we will facilitate the evacuation of foreign nationals to the best of our capabilities.  But before that, we wish to ask everyone in the area to stay where they are and await further instructions.  We ask the people to be patient.”

Today they had really done it, Gamal thought.  Rulers of Egypt.  There was a Pharaonic pride there, an intoxication he found hard to resist.

Sinai is available here.

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Filed under Arab Spring, Cairo, Egypt, Middle East, Revolution, seismic changes, Sinai