Friday, February 04, 2011

Freedom for all?

A stirring article titled "We are all Egyptians" by Mr. Kristof in the New York Times ( brooks closer examination. It is ostensibly about liberty, dear to all of us, but some points appear to go in the opposite direction.

> It turned out that Amr had lost his legs many
> years ago in a train accident, but he rolled his
> wheelchair into Tahrir Square to show support
> for democracy, hurling rocks back at the mobs
> that President Hosni Mubarak apparently sent to
> besiege the square.

Overcoming adversity is praiseworthy.

Hurling of rocks not so praiseworthy.

For democracy is generally good, but how, precisely, is this "for democracy"?

One assumes that by democracy, one refers to a liberal democracy, with certain fundamental rights, uniform civil law, accountability etc.

But how can we certain that Amr and the rest of the mass of people in Tahrir Square and Alexandria desire this sort of state? Is it not more a case of anger *against* something - against Mr. Mubarak, against his regime, against the last three decades - that now seeks a victim. It seeks to destroy (which may be a very good thing; valid social theory, anyway) but not necessarily to *build* liberal-democratic institutions (this is what we hope for, right?).

Or is democracy in this context just the rule of the mob?

Is the world media cheering them on merely because it's happening oh so far away anyway, and we really need something exciting. No bunch of terrorists have been blowing things up, recently,
have they now?. Except in Iraq and Pakistan but that's not *news*.

Note that the official (royal!) statement from Saudi Arabia is quite different.

"No Arab or Muslim can tolerate any meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt by those who infiltrated the people in the name of freedom of expression, exploiting it to inject their destructive hatred."


The Israelis aren't too keen on change either, with the possible rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, a suspension of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and the loss of the only Arab ally Israel had in the region, no more holidaying in Sinai etc..

> As I arrived near the square in the morning, I
> encountered a line of Mr. Mubarak’s goons
> carrying wooden clubs with nails embedded in them.

Well, this begs the question. How did Mr. Kristof know that the goons were the goons of Mubarak? Because he recognized them from former goon parties? Because he asked them for identification?

But the description does conjure up quite a picture - wooden clubs with nails. Sort of confirms the stereotype of a really backward country, for those who have such stereotypes about foreign places, especially in The Middle East.

> “If I die,” he added, “this is for my country.”

Oh, the old sweet-and-honourable-it-is. But that passed out of fashion during the wars of the first half of the twentieth century, did it not? The old lie, our soldier of WW1 called it. But no, here it is, resurrected, ready to claim more lives, made glorious again by no less than the New York Times.

What next?

Dying for the Word of God?

Believing in these outdated concepts is a sign of intellectual and cultural underdevelopment.
Propagating these concepts, whilst remaining safely outside the social situation, is despicable.

> There’s a small jail in Tahrir Square
> for pro-Mubarak thugs who are captured,
> and their I.D. cards indicate that many
> are working for the police or the ruling party.

Jail? Thugs? Captured? What is the nature of this jail? Is it part of a system that involves
prisoners being charged, informed about rights, not being tortured, being brought up before a
member of the judiciary, access to counsel, a fair trial etc. etc.?

Because, if it doesn't, then it's just a room with walls made of concrete where people unfortunate
enough to be in the wrong place have been brought in by the mob and will probably be attacked and murdered, if the violence in the square is anything to go by.

How do we know that they are thugs? How do we know the manner of their capture and whether it wasn't staged? The picture in the article titled "Weapons and ids taken from policemen in plain clothes" would have made Kafka proud. It displays unreadable ID cards, with a piece of paper lying next to them. On this piece of paper is written, in block letters, "These weapons and IDs were taken from police, in plain clothes, attacking protesters".

> The lion-hearted Egyptians I met on
> Tahrir Square are risking their lives to
> stand up for democracy and liberty, and
> they deserve our strongest support —and
> frankly, they should inspire us as well.

Standing up for democracy and liberty is commendable.

But here's the rub - are we sure they are standing up for liberty?

Is this liberty as it is understood in the West? Personal freedom, freedom of religion (even to be a jew or an adherent of a non-Abrahamic religion), freedom of expression (even to hold that God does not exist) etc. etc.?

Or is a limited version good enough? Say, the freedoms of Saudi Arabia?

> Innaharda, ehna kullina Misryeen!
> Today, we are all Egyptians!

This is beautiful and touching. And superbly colonial.

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