Egypt has been all over the news lately, as Egyptians have lifted their voices in condemnation of despotic president, Hosni Mubarak. There are some key things to keep in mind as the events unfold:
1. Don’t get it twisted: this is a revolution.
It has been called chaos, upheaval, civil unrest, an uprising, a challenge, a twitter revolution, a youth movement, and class warfare. Each category reduces the power of the people to come together to build a popular revolution, which requires coalition building to fight for connected interests and a common goal. Call it what it is: a revolution.
2. Women are a part of the revolution. Women are on the front lines protesting, organizing, and agitating for justice. This is a feminist issue.
As 8-year-old crunk-feminist-in-training Juju contends:
3. The USA has historically supported oppressive political regimes if they serve American military and economic interests. (See Haiti and the Dominican Republic for some examples close to home. See also Iraq and Afghanistan).
On their website, the U.S. Dept of State’s entry on Egypt states: “The United States and Egypt enjoy a strong and friendly relationship based on shared mutual interest in Middle East peace and stability, revitalizing the Egyptian economy and strengthening trade relations, and promoting regional security…U.S. military cooperation has helped Egypt modernize its armed forces and strengthen regional security and stability.”
While the article makes passing mention of the “significant restrictions on the political process and freedom of expression for non-governmental organizations,” it largely praises the infamously rigged 2005 election, stating: “Progress was seen in the September 2005 presidential elections when parties were allowed to field candidates against President Mubarak and his National Democratic Party. In early 2005, President Mubarak proposed amending the constitution to allow, for the first time in Egypt’s history, competitive, multi-candidate elections. An amendment was drafted by parliament and approved by public referendum in late May 2005. In September 2005, President Mubarak was reelected, according to official results, with 88% of the vote. His two principal challengers, Ayman Nour and No’man Gom’a, took 7% and 3% of the vote respectively.”
To make a long story short, it has been a vested interest for the U.S. government to look the other way while Mubarak and his cronies ran an oppressive regime.
This vested interest continues as Egyptians far and wide are standing up in revolt. A recent article from the BBC News notes:
The United States is trying to steer Egypt away from revolution towards evolution. It is seeking a middle, managed course towards change. It does not want simply to dump an ally of 30 years, one who has stood by the treaty with Israel which is of great importance to US Middle East policy. But it is now signalling that President Hosni Mubarak’s departure – if not now, then later – has to be part of that change.
You can see this in a shift of American language.
Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Egyptian government was ‘stable and looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.’
But by Sunday, she was calling for ‘an orderly transition to a democratic government.’”
4. Despite popular belief, Egypt and Tunisia are real places in northern Africa.
In his speech January 28, President Obama talked about freedom movements in Asia, Europe, the United States – yes only the United States constitutes the Americas–Africa and the Arab world. Terms such as “the Arab World,” ” the Islamic states,” and “the Middle East” work to oversimplify complex societies with diverse cultures and distinct histories, and these terms work to collapse countries into a totalizing US-versus-them binary that is unproductive for thinking about people’s movements taking place across northern Africa. For example, there are elections taking place in Sudan and protests taking place in Algeria right now and knowing this can help us to contextualize, understand, and support the liberation movements happening in the region.
5. References to the Muslim Brotherhood, looters and thugs, and anarchy by Western news media reproduce orientalism and racism and discredit the revolution as a political movement. Paying attention to diction and rhetoric is not about splitting hairs or being “politically correct,” lest we forget the “refugees” of Hurricane Katrina.
For more on Egypt, check out these resources:
Shout out to CF Aisha for compiling the data for this post!