Humanity at Stake

Aug 19th, 2013 | By | Category: Latest, World

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A woman in many women- and children and men- was reported to be rushing back and forth in panic of the gunfire chasing her. A woman- another woman- was seen from her balcony with a portrait of General Al-Sisi; watching, observing, comprehending, and smiling. A grimly smile. This is not fantasy. This is not a scene from a horror movie. This is real life and real humans- or at least, real humanoids!

People are seen enjoying the beach in the scorching heat to get away perhaps from the tense city life. But behind the beach there is a road, and behind that road there are buildings, and behind that building we see smoke, a tense, scorching hot smoke. And we learn that that smoke is the product of chaos, of oppression, of resistance, of subjugation, of panic, of murder, of silence, and of noise. People lie dead on the streets and people lie flat on the beach. Two stories. One city.

Egypt is in crisis. This we are all told. But there is much more to the story. The crisis isn’t merely political. It isn’t merely about who you support. It isn’t about who you don’t support either. It’s not an Egyptian issue anymore. Boundaries don’t make sense now. It’s boiled down to the very essence of what it means to know and love freedom and democracy, to value dignity, to value humans as human subjects, to figure out what it means to be human.

But here is where narratives fail, and collide. The crisis in Egypt has consistently been portrayed as a clash between two parties- or to say, two narratives. This schema has been deliberately consolidated by both the coup-regime, which includes all its functionaries, and forces of the global hegemonic status quo. Locally there is this thing they call ‘the people’- a label created to function as a catchall term for supporters of the illegitimate regime- and then there are ‘terrorists’- a label used to discredit a demonstrably peaceful resistance movement against illegitimate regime change.  The mainstream global media on the other hand adopts a less obvious propaganda model. It divides people into ‘anti-morsy protestors’ and ‘pro-morsy protestors’- or sometimes calls them ‘Muslim Brothers’ straight out- and by doing so it very criminally distorts the picture. In doing so they’re undermining the fact that the ‘pro-Morsy protestors’ are in fact an ‘anti-coup’ and ‘pro-democracy’ movement. But of course, is it really a coup? And yet, it isn’t a matter of what definitions say when it is a matter of what global (western) interests say.

The most vulgar display of this politics of labels and binaries was when the world was watching military men, accompanied by tanks and cheering fascists, firing directly at the Al-Fattah Mosque in Cairo where a few hundred protestors were trapped. The domestic media portrayed it as an operation against anti-state elements and terrorists—one of the old classics- while the global mainstream media portrayed it as a clash between two rival parties- that very workable tactic. By calling it a ‘clash’ or ‘conflict’ of what is clearly obscene violence carried out by the establishment against individuals is the old method deployed in covering the ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’ or what is clearly Israeli repression of Palestinian individuals.

The Egyptian crisis has also become a crisis of confusion in Muslim majority societies. A victim narrative seems to emerge where the culprit is made to be democracy itself. The greatest beneficiary of this narrative is none other than Al-Qaeda itself; just as it was the greatest loser in the Arab Spring where it seemed as though change through peaceful and democratic means was a viable option. This optimism seems to fade away. This is the same optimism that makes sleeping difficult for oppressive regimes; for it’s easier to break bones than minds. The narrative serves both terrorist groups at the fringes of society and the establishment controlling society. But besides the damage that is carried out by this narrative, it is also flatly wrong. What happened in Egypt was not because of democracy but the lack thereof. There was nothing remotely democratic about it. Even the regime of Mubarak retained itself in all spheres of life. Not only was a democratically elected parliament disbanded immediately on a technicality, the democratically elected president was never given any true authority. He was overthrown by anti-democratic means and what is now present in Egypt is the suppression not only of people but of the very notion of democracy and freedom. It is here where the story needs to be squarely put as a matter of democracy, freedom and dignity. To place the problem elsewhere undermines and hurts the broader cause.

What else needs to be understood from the problem in Egypt is the consequences of polarization and uncompromising partisanship. To understand each other, to build on each other’s point of view, to discuss and debate critically are all essential to the health of a given society. A politics of empathy is the need of the hour. Unfortunately, Muslim majority societies are plagued by a clash of uncompromising narratives. The damages have played themselves out it Egypt. Pakistan is also deeply polarized and suffers from a politics of condemnation and ridicule of the other. In Tariq Ramadan’s words, Muslim majority societies need a ‘cultural revolution where we can think critically about our current state, be conversant with the challenges of modernity, offer creative solutions to contemporary challenges, as well as be consistent and employed with cultural, religious and civilizational references. This calls for moving beyond binaries and labels, and moving forward constructively and collectively.

Saad Lakhani

About the author

Saad Lakhani is a student of Social Sciences based in Karachi. He tweets @Saadlakhani12

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  1. Mind blowing analysis. I would say that the beneficiaries will not be Al-Qaida only but all those anti democratic forces which are working in different directions especially in Muslim societies. This may increase confusions and further distortion in the deteriorating prevailing systems in different parts of the world. So the powers behind the game plan of Egypt crisis would be enjoying this as a by-product of the plan.

    I also like to appreciate Turkey, which is playing its cards right in accordance with its domestic requirements and international challenges and obligations. It has been developed as a great example to be followed by the other peaceful states.

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