Tag Archives: mohamed morsi

It’s bad

TW: police brutality, military government, 2013 Egyptian coup, islamist violence

It seems that we’ve reached the place in Egypt where there shouldn’t be continued debates about whether the interim military government rose to power during a coup or adequately respects the will of Egyptians. The world got it’s answer today as to where on the murky boundary between playing with fire and burning the house down the Egyptian military’s current governance falls: and it’s not a good answer.

(Protesters dislodging a police vehicle from a raised road, from here.)

Ahram online is documenting (among other issues) how the increasingly close relationship between Christians and the military is fueling the sectarian elements to this crisis, as populists target Christians assuming they supported the coup and Christians respond by backing the violent security forces. Contrary to claims by non-Egyptian Christians, the military is arguably aggravating the religious conflict dimensions to this crisis.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has posted more of those fascinating (and seemingly, in the international press, increasingly iconic) images of protesters overturning a police vehicle and then pushing it off of the higher road where it had been. As was unfortunately unacknowledged by too many at the beginnings of this, a large part of Morsi’s ouster is attributable to his loss of legitimacy with nearly every faction in Egypt. A common assumption, especially outside of Egypt seems to have been that the military would fill that vacuum of respected government. It’s clear that a significant number of Egyptians have rejected that idea, and seem to view the military as equally if not more so unacceptable as the ruling order.

Finally, the Guardian has an interested blueprint for what an idea international response might be. It’s biased towards the anglophone world, focusing on the US and UK especially, but it contains an extremely interesting point that

“it is worth exploring whether countries with their own history of internal strife, civil-military conflict, and reconciliation, and respected international leaders, have a constructive role to play. Leaders from government and civil society in South Africa, Turkey, Serbia, Greece or Spain, South Korea come to mind (as would Aung San Suu Kyi, were it not for Myanmar’s own mistreatment of its Muslim minorities).”

A truly international and consensus-driven group of countries coming together to address this issue would be an amazing and arguably most likely to succeed response to this crisis. I hope it comes to pass.

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David Brooks isn’t good at his job

TW: islamophobia, abilism, violence against protesters

Sadly, that’s the inevitable conclusion of his column yesterday, which concerns the coup in Egypt. Now, while I’ve contributed myself to the various analyses on how the now deposed President Morsi effectively alienated just about every major political bloc in Egypt, I’ve been careful to state that this was a coup and that it does present a worrisome precedent (that the Egyptian military can veto democratic elections when leaders become unpopular). President Obama seems to have attempted to skirt the issue even more than me, with his policy declarations (that if elections aren’t quickly held, there will be ramifications) treating this as something like a potential coup, dependent on whether the military inhibits or facilitates further democratic representation.

Of course, that’s a rather binary way of thinking – that this is either a democratic reboot that’s liberating Egyptians from an increasingly unrepresentative and abusive government or a coup that risks undermining the revolutionary changes still underway in Egypt. Why can’t this be both? David Brooks, often considered to be the thoughtful conservative contrarian in the United States, doesn’t challenge that presumption that the events in Egypt are either one or the other. He actually opens the piece by saying:

Those who emphasize [the democratic political] process have said that the government of President Mohamed Morsi was freely elected and that its democratic support has been confirmed over and over. The most important thing, they say, is to protect the fragile democratic institutions and to oppose those who would destroy them through armed coup. […] Those who emphasize substance, on the other hand, argue that members of the Muslim Brotherhood are defined by certain beliefs. They reject pluralism, secular democracy and, to some degree, modernity. When you elect fanatics, they continue, you have not advanced democracy. You have empowered people who are going to wind up subverting democracy.

His position as a writer for the New York Times, I would hope, involves either informing people of what they don’t know or challenging them on what they already hold to be true. But from its outset, this column does neither. It works with well-reported information on Egypt, so it doesn’t provide much in the way of news, and it works with that established dichotomy of what could be considered to be happening in Egypt, so it avoids much in terms of useful analysis. The only purpose of this piece seems to be to confirm conventional thought: beginning with a very simplistic understanding of the coup.

The piece continues, however, and lends Brooks’ support to all sorts of common views of Muslims. He argues that it should be anyone and everyone’s goal to “weaken political Islam, by nearly any means” without assessing why political Islam is so powerful. The politically and demographically diverse countries he lists as having proven the failures of “political Islam” include Iran – which is something of an iconic example of how corrupt, undemocratic, but secular governments in predominantly Muslim areas have made Islamist politics seem attractive.

Opposition to “political Islam” by people like Brooks has taken “nearly any means” including in this case apparent military conflict. An alternative that works with well established populist notions of justice (as assorted Islamist movements have) and often seems to the average person more committed to peaceful conduct and representative government is going to attract more supporters.

Brooks has just embodied why Western efforts to “democratize” predominantly Muslim countries has failed – because it refuses to consider what democracy, justice, or liberation necessarily include from the perspective of average people in those nations, and often uses drone strikes, occupations, and other acts of violence. With distressing frequency, it’s people like Brooks who win out in terms of what governance in the Middle East or Mali or any other part of the Islamic world should look, and not the people who live under those governments.

Not content to leave it there, Brooks searches for the cause of this mismatch between his beliefs and theirs, ultimately reducing Muslims the world over to fanatics who have no concept of objective facts outside of their own opinions. He seeks out legitimacy for this position by quoting one Muslim at a pro-Morsi rally (one Muslim to speak for a nation of ) and in more depth the analysis of Adam Garfinkle, of the The American Interest. That’s, of course, a paper that our good friend Niall Ferguson often comments at, so you should anticipate a high level of critical thought there.

In any case, those radical views are according to Brooks the only viable political voices within civilian government in Egypt and potentially the whole Muslim world. Never mind whether Egyptians elected Morsi or someone similarly distasteful to Brooks, he can declare them “outside the democratic orbit” and therefore proclaim that a coup against them is justified and also not a coup (since its illegal for the US to provide foreign aid to governments which came to power through coups). Brooks has apparently declared that all civilian politics from an ill-defined region or social group are predisposed to making “democratic deliberations impossible” since they’re inevitably Islamists who “lack the mental equipment to govern”. Yes, Brooks just said that some unclear portion of the world’s population (Islamists? Middle Easterners? Muslims?) are too stupid for democratic government.

Of course, the government Brooks is glad is gone because it “cracked down on civil society” and “arrested opposition activists” was a civilian administration and therefore falls under his criticisms, but the military interim government which has already killed peaceful protesters is only “bloated and dysfunctional” with nary a mention of those and other violent acts, since they committed them while being secular. After all, Brooks and his audience know that Islamism is “the main threat to global peace” and therefore this isn’t even about the democratic processes Egyptians should feel entitled to participation within or even their basic rights to protest – it’s actually all about Brooks having the freedom and right to live in a world without politics influenced by Islamic beliefs.

(Islamist protesters in Egypt carrying another protester who had been shot by the military in Cairo earlier today, from here.)

When it takes quite a few more words to evaluate how a columnist failed to inform their readers about the world, take another look at how to piece together information, or even quite obviously made their coverage all about them, we have a problem. David Brooks is officially no longer providing a public good, and consequently should come under review by the New York Times for whether his abilist and islamophobic coverage is something they should really pay for.

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So long Morsi?

Within hours of Marwan Bishara’s interesting analysis that the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was facing a crisis of legitimacy, a coup’s happened. Bishara intriguingly presented the risks the dubiously but more or less democratically elected Morsi was working against as at least dual – with both the threat of military leaders appearing as a third option to the dictatorial Mubarak regime and now inadequately democratic Morsi government but also Morsi’s own Islamist base of support disintegrating. The al-Nour Party, more extremist that the Muslim Brotherhood, was in fact central to the call for early elections (ostensibly to unseat Morsi). Morsi’s opposition to that was actually the military’s basis for placing Morsi under what’s for all intents and purposes arrest.

This seems to be an indication of the multifaceted problems that Morsi’s governance has had to combat and seems to have finally succumbed to. With a economy that’s dependent on imports of even basic commodities like food, Morsi seems to have wanted to appear moderate if not nearly secular to Western audiences, even while belonging to and being seen as legitimate because of his Islamist politics. He’s sought to use free market solutions to gain the funds to implement programs to promote domestic production, which hedges towards breaking Egypt’s bank to build a new one. Of course, there’s also the continued use of and support for the “deep state” or larger security apparatus that police the politics of average Egyptians, even as he presents himself as a revolutionary.

Nearly everyone seems to have accepted that Morsi’s government has been hypocritical on security issues, and Bishara and many others have been unpacking in detail the disintegration of the Muslim Brotherhood as a source for viable political leadership in Egypt. But what of the economics?

(This should be an obvious issue, given how many recent protests in Egypt have essentially involved squatting. It’s clear that many current protesters have been unemployed and don’t anticipate finding a job under the current government. Photo taken by Hassan Ammar, from here.)

There’s indications that the simmering economic populism that was central to many of the Arab Spring revolutions haven’t been adequately resolved or even subsumed into other political questions (such as the Islamist-secularist debate). Libya, right next door, was until recently a model for how intelligent economics could contain dissident politics (both Islamist and secular). Will whatever forces produce a new president or similar national leader create one that can avoid the totalitarianism of Qaddafi but absorb his ability to maintain legitimacy through economic stability and growth?

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Defections don’t always mean the same thing

TW: Syrian civil war, military targeting of civilians

In light of the news of how much of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s cabinet has resigned against the backdrop of a presidential power grab and mass protests, it might be tempting to compare it to another government in the eastern Mediterranean – that of Syria. Much like the government of Egypt, the increasingly impotent Syrian regime has seen quite a few defections as well, which have also been concentrated among executive functionaries.

But unfortunately the comparison more or less ends there.

Time Magazine cover with President Morsi labeled as 'The Most Important Man in the Middle East'
(The most important man in the middle east? He can’t even hold on to a cabinet! From here.)

Al Jazeera’s rather detailed reporting makes a few things immediately clear about the situation in Syria. The majority of defections are not from the presidential cabinet (as Morsi’s government’s have), but from high-ranking military officials, the security establishment, and occasionally the assorted diplomats from Assad’s regime. The defections are just as political as the resignations, but they seem informed by protocol more than policy. In nearly ever public defection, the official declared that they couldn’t abide working for a regime that violently targeted its only civilians preemptively and without qualification. The politically-active intelligentsia have more or less joined the anti-Assad revolution in light of its violations of political standards, rather than in opposition to its conception of government.

In stark contrast, the resignations from Morsi’s government have been primarily the actions of highly visible cabinet members. Likewise, while almost every non-Islamist has left their position, significant numbers of Islamists, particularly from the now defunct al-Nour party, also left. To a certain extent, the growing list of presidential powers has been the same sort of lightning rod for opposition to Morsi, as one al-Nour spokesman made clear in saying, “our programmes and views on managing the state are different”.

There’s something a contrast between former members of the government from Islamist parties who are opposed to Morsi’s police actions and the various other former members who are opposed to the police actions necessitated by almost any Salafist government. One need look no further than the twitter of Ayman al-Sayyad, a former cabinet member who was an independent, who passed along a Guardian article that alleged that the Salafist movements in Egypt, whether aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood or opposed as al-Nour is, pose a threat to democratization of the country. That’s a far cry from the various defections from the Syrian government who have almost categorically stated that the existing regime needs to fall.

In short, Egypt has multiple oppositions that are no less opposed to each other than to Morsi’s government. Syria has a regime so violent that such multiple oppositions have prioritized its replacement over their various and at times violent disagreements. The defections and resignations are just that, in radically different contexts.

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Not just what’s said but who’s saying it

TW: sexual assault, violence against protesters, political killings

There’s been a bit of a tussle developing in Egypt as Mohamed Morsi’s presidency especially has lost a lot of its luster and with it quite a bit of its legitimacy. If you seek out Egyptian sources, you’ll get a pretty vivid picture of what’s going on. Sharif Kouddous, although writing for the US-based Nation, pointed out that there’s a fundamental if slow-motion breakdown of law and order brewing, with even something as simple as violence between competing football teams’ fans ending with verdicts and political decisions that many deem unsatisfactory. Egypt is the on the brink, Kouddous essentially states with the piece’s title, because “legitimacy of the Egyptian state appears to be eroding even further” than it had under Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial rule.

The Egyptian media went reporting in Egypt and on Egypt really pounds out that feeling, with many sources quite openly suggesting that it looks like protesters are being executed, not accidentally killed. Besides those concerns, it’s quite clear that the organizers of Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, which tries to prevent sexual harassment throughout Cairo but particularly against protesters in Tahrir Square, see the Morsi-headed government as an opponent. Salma el-Tarzi, a spokesperson for the group, makes it quite clear in this interview that the physical intimidation and brutality against male protesters and journalists seems to be coordinated alongside the sexual harassment and assault of female protesters and journalists. Egyptian activist Mona Eltahawy, although currently living in New York, pointed out that even if we don’t believe the allegations that the government is perpetuating sexual assault as a weapon against female protesters, the government in general and Morsi in particular haven’t really explained that they have a plan to deal with the problem, let alone done anything.

So while the troubles of Egypt have been swept under the rug in much media coverage outside of the Arab world, what little peeks through sharply contrasts with Egyptians own words. Look no further than Colin Moynihan’s recent concerns over anarchist protests in Egypt – that’s the real problem over there, seems to be his argument. Nevermind that the Egyptians he quotes talk about how the anarchists are mimicking and seemingly mocking the government’s new security forces’ uniforms. He ends by quoting a few different Egyptians without context or explanation. One worries that the group might be infiltrated by government-backed counter-protesters, but Moynihan doesn’t address that what she’s really afraid of is government manipulation of this imagery, not the people currently using it. Another worries about how their appearance might hurt their fellow protesters, and again Moynihan doesn’t seem all the concerned about why she feels that this battle has such high stakes that protesters must be extremely careful in how they look.

(A Black Bloc protester in Egypt, from here.)

Apparently the real issue here are “scary” Egyptians in black clothing, because a White guy said so.

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Power rather than merits

TW: brief mention of sexual assault

It’s not great shock that power rather than merits determines what messages are widely disseminated, as several recent articles show. To live in a country with a less democratic government is to have your speech coerced if not outright monitored and controlled. Egypt’s President Morsi is pursuing a policy of rather intently shutting down parodies and satires that appear to reflect poorly on him, namely one extremely popular video satirist who has mocked his overuse of the word love in recent speeches and other mannerisms.

(He hasn’t seemed to consider not giving himself extensive political powers if he doesn’t want to be mocked as power hungry. Photo from here.)

Meanwhile, Chinese officials similarly shot themselves in the foot, as they initially allowed broad coverage of the sexual assault and subsequent death of a 23 year old Indian woman, as that fit into their narrative of India’s form of development as inferior to China’s. As protests erupted across India (TW: sexual assault as “defilement”, some less reasonable than others), however, internet users speaking anonymously asked questions including, “If such things happen in China, will we have a large scale protest?” Searching for articles or coverage on Chinese networks now turns up no results, as the state has now censored discussion of the incident or ensuing protests.

In contrast to those two other examples that have to swim upstream against their own governments, Howard Schultz’s interest in some sort of a deal on the “Fiscal Cliff” didn’t face state-based censorship within the US. But furthermore, it didn’t have to compete on an open market of ideas. As the CEO of Starbucks, he could simply demand that his employees propagate his message, no matter how nonsensical its content or unclear its meaning. So even in many comparatively open and uncensored media markets, what views are represented speak more to the power of those stating them than their own merits or popular appeal.

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Morsi’s presidency is disintegrating

TW: graphic depictions of state killings

Mouin Rabbani has an excellent run-down of the major developments over the course of the past three years of the “Arab Spring” which you can read in full over at Jadaliyya. The key bit, however, is his third point, which I’ll reproduce in full:

“[W]hile the Muslim Brotherhood may yet emerge victorious in Egypt, the increasingly widespread opposition to it signals not so much a disillusionment with Islamism as it does a revulsion for any attempt to establish and practice unfettered power. These uprisings are first and foremost about establishing the rights and rites of citizenship as inalienable and indeed inviolable. Any attempt to once again make citizens servants rather than masters of the state will require massive force and subterfuge to succeed.”

Rabbani was careful to hedge his assessment in the prediction of extensive resources being required to prop up the existing government, without noting that the government is nothing if not cash-strapped, among other issues. Likewise, he has done an excellent job of pointing out why Mohamed Morsi’s presidency is unlikely to last, but has failed to specify which arenas he was thinking of when he spoke of “unfettered power”. Still, the current example of the Sinai Peninsula makes starkly clear the economic, political, social, and regional dimensions of inequality in Egypt to this day, particularly in the light of how support for Morsi’s presidency is likely receding.

To provide some background, the Sinai Peninsula was by no means against Morsi’s victory in the relatively narrow final round of the presidential elections in June. North Sinai, which contains the vast majority of the peninsula’s population handily provided Morsi a 22 point lead. While the far less populous South Sinai, in contrast, broke for his opponent, it provided Ahmed Shafik with his smallest advantage of governorates he won, with his lead being fewer than two hundred votes. While it’s a statistical stretch to credit Sinai with Morsi’s election, it’s clear that he enjoyed a healthy degree of support, at least among those who participated in that final round of elections.

But as recent, excellent, and gruesome reporting by Al Jazeera shows, Sinai’s economic and political status within Egypt seems to be defined by exploitation or exclusion. The more pronounced social conservatism of its primarily Bedouin population and the consequent security-influenced response of the Egyptian state to nearly every major event  in the region reveals additional social and regional dimensions to Sinai alienation from the existing state. Surely, the environmental, economic, and political struggles faced by many in Sinai are common to many in Egypt, but the additional complicating elements seem to be accelerating distaste for Morsi’s presidency to profound levels across the peninsula.

(The view of Egyptian-occupied Sinai from Israel-occupied Palestine, from here.)

Morsi’s presidency seems destined by its failure to clearly end the failings of the Mubarak regime to be radically reformed, quickly ended, or beleaguered into irrelevancy. Sinai is merely the canary in the coalmine with the highest number of potential grievances to raise against Morsi’s rule. If Morsi doesn’t dramatically shift his political focuses, he should expect these problems to only grow and spread.

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A series of terrible decisions

The fascistic Shiv Sena Party has responded to the request by the local government of Mumbai to disband their impromptu shrine to their recently deceased founder, Bal Thackeray, which was built on public land. Unfortunately, while they’re disbanding the current structure, they appear interested in constructing another, more permanent one simply in another part of the same park. That’s a pretty clear case of not getting the message.

(The current memorial, originally published here.)

Meanwhile, Keralan Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has made it quite clear how he sees the recent Indian decision to allow a greater degree of foreign direct investment in the retail sector, namely from WalMart – as a dramatic fissure between the Indian people and their livelihood on the one hand and the Indian government on the other. As he’s now essentially alleging that WalMart bribed other high level officials, if that’s true, he has a good point about where officials’ interests lie.

In Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi’s effort to consolidate various presidential powers, including freedom from judicial review, appears to have not only backfired politically, but also economically. Reestablishing dictatorial politics appears to be hurting the image of the country, and driving trade away from the Suez Canal and tourism away from its various national sites. Perhaps economic deterioration can succeed where popular protest hasn’t yet been able to? Or can Morsi jump start an Egypt-centered economy and quiet these concerns?

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In Egypt, there’s indications that the liberal coalition forged during the Tahrir Square protests that brought down the military regime almost two years ago is being tested against a new force: the more than eighty year old Muslim Brotherhood. The question being asked now is if democratic activists have the same sort of upper hand against the increasingly authoritarian Morsi presidency that they did against Mubarak.

(Pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi protesters have clashed with each other and police in recent days throughout Egypt. Originally from here.)

In Ghana, a similar test is unfolding. Today’s election is a choice between competing (and somewhat regionally distinct) ideas about how to best invest the growing national wealth from the oil industry – whether in physical infrastructure improvements or mass funding of public education. With the region having recently suffered from numerous recent civil wars, political conflicts, and even a coup, this is a clear test if Ghana’s democracy is more substantive than that of its neighbors.

Finally, India is testing its markets with significant changes to its laws on foreign investment and economic control. Historically cautious of international economic “cooperation” which was a significant component to British colonial dominance in the country, the Indian government has spent the past few decades gradually easing protectionist policies. With this change, a bit of a test is underway to see if protectionism was the reason why many Indians’ standard of living didn’t increase dramatically after independence. As the past years have been fairly inconclusive, with the majority of the benefits of the more “free market” economy going to specific groups, it remains to be seen if more foreign investment solves the problem.

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There are no great men

The “great men” theory of history got a bit of a test today in Egypt, and it failed. You might have noticed that yesterday and earlier today, twitter was abuzz with comments about the coming speech by President Morsi, which many expected to put forth a response of sorts to the public outcry over his new executive powers. Even now that’s what most overseas journalists are reporting on (only available in French at the moment). But his speech really didn’t cover much, or at least feel very responsive to many protesters.

(Protests in Itihadiya among other parts of Egypt continued unabated following the speech. Originally from here.)

If you actually read what’s being said on the ground though, it’s another story. The only way to understand what’s happened is not to focus on him, but the larger social context. The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood has increasingly played second fiddle to its social organization, breeding a more conservative political force than what it presented itself as being. In the perceived power vacuum following the fall of the Mubarak regime, the military and Brotherhood emerged as allies who carved out a government together, which wouldn’t so much reform Egypt as replace the previous dictatorship. As Morsi became president and the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood became the dominant international media narrative, his government couldn’t help noticing how unrepresentative their Salafi Islamism was. But still, this was their chance to chase down that ever illusive idea of an authentically and adequately Islamic state, so emergency powers were the order of the day, even if they only widened the gap between ruler and ruled.

Morsi made a choice about what to say today, and he said the wrong thing, but because of the series of social forces that shaped his country, his party, and him. He’s neither the leader Egypt needs nor the leader who can make it into a country that needs him. His days look about as numbered as Mubarak’s had been.

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Protesting. Protesting what? Just protesting.

TW: anti-democratic policies, violence against protesters, racism, sexism, heterosexism

Think of the last mass protest you heard coverage of. Now try to explain what it was about. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You might not be able to even articulate exactly why the protesters did what they were doing, and why they chose a particular date, why they chose a particular venue, and all sorts of other potentially illuminating insights into their politics. Two very different incidents this week were somewhat worrisome examples of this.

You’ve probably heard about the new round of protests in Egypt following President Morsi’s pressing for changes to the judicial system that would concentrate even more power in his political office. But do those protesting really want the status quo, just without those changes? I doubt it, but that’s something apparently unfathomable for most US coverage to even consider discussing.

CNN by far has the best analysis of the recent events by any US-based news, but it’s entirely absorbed in weighing the intentions and motivations of Mohamed Morsi and his supporters, with his critics assumed to have a choice between accepting or rejecting their political proposals. Do democratic activists have an alternative view of how the country should work, or just exist in a negative space of that defined by Morsi’s and Mubarak’s regimes? According to CNN, it’s the latter. Over at MSNBC, they aren’t rejecting it, so much as challenging it. ABC is lazily reposting brief quotes from the Associated Press which agree, they’re shutting down dialogue with the Morsi government. Fox gives you the choice between being told that they’re denouncing, or reacting as a developing coalition, or simply protesting Morsi’s policies.

(All these people showed up and no one bothered to find out if they had any plans for the future of their country or ideas about how things could work differently or frankly any idea beyond disagreeing with Morsi. From here.)

Normally I’ll comfortingly explain at this point in a post that US media are inadequate and all these great foreign sources exist which can actually give you a substantive look at what the opposition wants done instead, but that’s not the case. Al-Jazeera is similarly delving into the mind of Morsi by having Egyptian supporters and opponents argue about what he’s even doing while The Hindu has essentially just reprinted Morsi’s counter-argument against the protests. Apparently no one wants to actually interview someone in Tahrir Square and ask them what alternative policies they would like to see. They just know which ones they’re protesting. From over there. Where they won’t have to talk to them.

It’s easy to see this as an example of racism – as I’ve previously elaborated on how many news sources systemically ignore key issues in predominantly Arab (or otherwise non-White) countries. But this is something that almost everyone is categorically failing at, suggesting that it’s something even more profound. It appears to be partially an unwillingness to speak with those even within the same culture who are in any sense “other” since we can see the same sort of dynamic at play in the other recent incident which unfolded along similar lines, which occurred in France.

As you might know, France is undergoing a lot of economic turmoil at the moment as part of the Eurozone, but in addition, there’s been what you could call lively social discussion over the political plan to legally recognize same-sex couples as married at some point in the next few years. Thousands of angry right wing activists marched in Paris, and at least a good number of counter-protests were staged on the same streets. Unfortunately, they came to blows, namely as feminist pro-same-sex marriage activists were targeted by right wing activists.

Anti-SSM protester pepper spraying pro-SSM protester
(This image was included along with coverage of the incident and yet France 24 published no interview or even significant analysis of any of the feminist groups involved. Image from the above article.)

In France 24’s coverage of those incidents, however, the only interviews conducted were with the conservative activists, even though the article and video are billed as being about the violence against a different group of protesters. I guess those sometimes partially nude protesters were too intimidating to talk to, so the reporters held back and let the other protesters do the talking for them.

At this point it seems like a necessary rule when reading the news: if you see any discussion on any protests anywhere by any news source based anywhere, ask which perspectives you’re getting, and which ones you’re only being told what they oppose. In those gaps in discussion you see a lot of people (usually people of color, or the poor, or women, or LGBT* folks) doing something that’s apparently inscrutable or unworthy of commentary, and there’s a whole world of that out there.

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“Western” media won’t give you everything

TW: islamophobia

If you read only the typical reports and opinion pieces published by major US-based media, you would think that every facet of Egyptian politics revolved around religious social issues. Fox News would tell you that almost every part of Egyptian daily life eventually led back to the word jihad, and ABC News would tell you that the political debates in the country are between democratic Islamists and authoritarian Islamists. Every part of that particular country’s politics apparently has to do with how very Muslim they are (except when they’re non-Muslim in which case it’s how very surrounded by Muslims they are).

The more unusual but still mainstream US-based media, which is to say NBC, and most other “Western” countries’ major media have at least depicting some of the basic political discussion going on in Egypt, but there’s still clear limitations. Both MSNBC and France 24 covered recently elected President Mohamed (sometimes spelled Mursi) Morsi’s speech on Saturday, in which Morsi tried to make the case that he’s fulfilled the campaign promises that he could in his first hundred days in office and is working on the rest. Before we give those media outlets a gold star though, it’s worth noting that neither of their articles actually dive into the details of what the gap between his promises and his effect actually is. MSNBC’s coverage focuses on the seemingly random detail of his failure to cost-effectively subsidize butane cylinders, which much like his speech isn’t adequately contextualized. France 24 doesn’t even touch on any concrete issue, instead focusing on our old friend – the ever nebulous corruption.

This categorical failure to report on at least some of the deeper issues in Egyptian politics is of course nothing new. If you read one of Israel’s leading newspapers, Haaretz, or perhaps listen to one of the best news source in the US about foreign politics, NPR, it would be understandable for you to gain a completely lopsided perspective on Egyptian economics. Haaretz unabashedly reported that the political revolution threatened to “cause a profound economic crisis” in Egypt and potentially in neighboring countries as well (hint, hint). NPR’s report, while copping that not everything was rosy under ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, likewise presented the revolution as having untethered a now free-falling economy. Lost in all this reporting, naturally, were the clear arguments put forth by economists and political scientists, that “Egypt’s 2011 protests articulated a variety of  political and economic grievances that are deeply interlinked” (on page 5). And that the collapsing stock market (and to a lesser extent other poor economic indicators) was hardly a sudden economic crisis for protesters at least in part motivated by a litany of earlier reversals of fortune under Mubarak:

“[In Egypt] both absolute and relative poverty rates seem to have increased in the past decade. The proportion of the population living below the national poverty line – a measure of relative poverty – rose from 16.7% in 2000 to 22% in 2008, according to the latest available data from the World Bank, over a period when many other emerging  markets reduced poverty […] the proportion of people living on less than US$1 per day rose slightly from 1.8% in 2000 to 2% in 2005 (having previously declined from 4.6% of the population in 1991). Child malnutrition, measured by the proportion of underweight children, also increased slightly between 2005 and 2008, partly reversing improvements made in the 1990s.” (from page 4)

As in many parts of this world this downward slide into poverty has coincided with disintegrating infrastructure and a degraded environment. As Al-Jazeera reported recently, the flawed transportation policy which originated under Mubarak has continued under Morsi, with the government failed to either enforce traffic laws or invest in properly planned roads. The inadequate and poorly-run transportation system is so bad, it’s caused preventable deaths among Egypt’s own security forces. Likewise, the dysfunctional current government has compounded years of ill-advised environmental policies, leading to many residential areas only having access to drinking water that’s industrially polluted, biologically unsanitary, or both.

Injured Egyptian Security Force member being wheeled into the hospitalEgyptian man holding up dull beige water his family and neighbors have taken ill from drinking
(Left, one of the Egyptian Security Force members being wheeled to the hospital following the accident this weekend, originally from here. Right, an Egyptian man holds up the brown water his town had access to in the wake of an epidemic in August, originally from here.)

In a broader context, it’s easier to see how the crisis over butane supplies resonates with the Egyptian public – as it calls into question average Egyptians ability to safely and securely use their own natural resources. Likewise, corruption is not some vague social ill affecting intangible economic values, from investment to zoning, but a daily risk in a country with extremely selectively enforced traffic laws and environmental regulations. “Western” media won’t contextualize this for you. The only way to actually understand the politics of Egypt is through neighboring or local media that are familiar with daily life in the country. To understand some one, you have to listen to them, or at least listen to some one who listened to them.

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