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Tag: egypt

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi doesn’t care about my face

My body is in open insurrection against itself, and my chin is its Tahrir Square.

Towards the end of last month, as demonstrators in São Paulo were beginning to demand the return of the military dictatorship, I noticed a strange growth on my chin. It was a little like a spot, red and tender on the surface, but it refused to come to a head. Instead a vaguely conical mass sat just above the bone; I could move it around a little, nudge it this way and that, but it felt completely solid and unsquidgeable. Never mind, I thought. It’ll go away soon. And it did, retreating into a tiny hard kernel, as if it was about to vanish entirely.

And then, without warning, it returned. I woke up with my face numb, my cheeks puffy, and an alien virus colonising the bottom half of my face. It was no longer a swelling but an invasion; pressing against my gums, my teeth, its areolae of engorged tissue slanting the line of my chin, its growing bulk pushing out my bottom lip into a permanent prognathic scowl. Eating was painful. So was smoking. Even breathing started to carry a faint dull pain. There are names for these things: abscesses, cysts. Names whose sibilance suggests seeping pus, blood curdling in the off-white purulence, gangrene, death. It had me. I was afraid.

I say it happened without warning. That’s not entirely true. When I went to bed the previous night tens of thousands were gathering on the streets of Cairo to mark the anniversary of President Morsi’s election and to protest the betrayal of their revolution. Millions more were marching across the country; according to some, it was the biggest protest in human history. I was fully supportive: by all accounts, Morsi’s done a terrible job, marrying civil sectarianism with the cold inhuman logic of the markets. When I woke, though, it was to news (blearily observed through the ache in my chin) that the city’s police had declared their solidarity with the youth on the streets. Surely this wasn’t right: one of the main grievances of the demonstrators had been Morsi’s failure to properly prosecute the police and military for their misdeeds in the 2011 revolution and 2012’s Port Said massacre. The cops should have been in there, batons high, riot helmets turning human faces into mere avatars of the forces of reaction. They weren’t doing their job. Instead there were reports of gunshots and deaths in the night with no clear indication of who had been shot and who was doing the shooting, as if the bullets were some kind of freak weather event. As the Egyptian state festered against itself, my face had become my heautontimoroumenos. Something was going horribly wrong.

The creature had laid its roots deep. Its cystic tentacles must have spread around my head and drilled into my brain, because I was overcome by a fit of what can only be called psychotic narcissism. I closed my windows and drew the curtains. I cancelled social engagements. Mirrors, which showed me a face so swollen and lopsided I no longer recognised it as my own, were horrifying; I covered them up. Even the screen of my phone was too reflective; I considered having a go at it with some sandpaper. I was thinking like a cyst, retreating into my own little cavity, where I could swarm.

Everything started to flare again up as General al-Sisi issued his 48-hour ultimatum to President Morsi. Al-Sisi was supposed to be a Morsi loyalist, promoted to his post after the old military elite had been dismissed in the last power struggle between armed and elected authority – and yet here he was, demanding that the Muslim Brotherhood share power or lose it. As he did so my infected cyst bubbled. The entire left side of my face became swollen. A soft, foamy subcutaneous emulsion. My lymph nodes felt like ping-pong balls. My jawline was melting away on one side. I looked as though I’d been genetically spliced with a potato. Before long it was intolerable. I had to see a doctor.

I went to a drop-in clinic at an NHS surgery in Cricklewood, lodged awkwardly between an enormous B&Q centre sitting like a fat orange-roofed slug on its grassy mound and a general tat shop called Aladdin’s Cave. To get there I walked through a narrow grey alley into a small grey car park; the barbed wire that surrounded the clinic was bearded with shredded plastic sheeting. I stood and smoked a cigarette outside the entrance. An elderly woman with a smudged tattoo on her forearm stood on the other side and smoked a cigarette as well. We didn’t talk. Then, as I sat in the waiting room, al-Sisi’s deadline approached. I was the only person there, scrolling compulsively through Twitter, perched above a small forest of institution-blue chairs. The only sound came from the clicking of my phone and a flatscreen TV mounted on the wall opposite me showing Countdown. It was coup o’clock; 2.30 pm Cairo time. Onscreen, the hand whizzed down the face of the clock as the famous music played. I wish the winning anagram had been something germane or significant. It wasn’t. Years after an important event, people sometimes share stories of where they were as it happened. The highest-scoring word on Countdown was ‘parsnip.’ I might remember that for the rest of my life.

The GP who saw me was rather fat and affably Jewish. He told me a lot of what I already knew: I had an infected cyst, a gland had become impacted, and the bacteria had rushed in en masse to fill my face with slime. He prescribed me antibiotics; I now have eighty tablets of flucloxacillin to my name. I doubt they’ll do much good. Whatever his qualities as a doctor, the GP is unlikely to be able to alter the course of events in the Middle East. When I returned home I discovered that President Morsi had been put under house arrest and the constitution was being suspended. Tahrir Square was overflowing with celebrations.

There’s one other thing the doctor told me. If the swelling doesn’t respond to antibiotics and doesn’t go down, he said, if the blockage isn’t cleared – there’s always the option of surgery.

~

There’s a certain superior tone which Western commentators love to bring out whenever mass movements in the developing world take form. If they oppose the movement, it’s patronisingly dismissive, bringing all the accumulated wisdom of four decades’ drinking fairtrade coffee to bear on the situation: these people would do well to bear in mind, they say, or the leaders of the movement ought to consider. When they support the protesters it’s even worse; what’s happening on the ground is twisted into the expression of a Platonically ideal political agenda. The protesters are always fighting for the commentator’s own set of values, and any contradictory voices from the country in question are easily drowned out. We know what you want better than you do. As the crowds swelled in Cairo, the Guardian commented on an Egyptian activist tweeting ‘Fuck Western Media.’ ‘There’s a notable fatigue in Egypt with the Western media and media analysis,’ they said. We’ll keep you updated on our live blog as the situation progresses.

I’m going to try not to do that. I’m going to stick rigorously to the facts. And the fact is that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has purposefully, with full calculated intent, given me an infected cyst on the left side of my chin.

The evidence is incontrovertible. I don’t know exactly how he’s done it, but I have a vague idea. This is how. The protests in Egypt were spearheaded by liberal, leftist, and Nasserite parties, among others, under the umbrella of the Tamarrud (or Rebellion) movement. Many of these are the same groups that fought against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces last year when it tried to write itself into the new constitution, hoping to supersede the powers of the presidency. When these groups did so they marched alongside the Muslim Brotherhood. Now many of these same people (with, of course, a vast number of dissenters) are celebrating the reimposition of military rule. What has taken place is a coup – but that said, Morsi’s government was overthrown not by the military but by the people on the streets; it was finished the moment millions gathered in Tahrir Square. The statements of support for the June 30th Movement by the police and army were not a gesture of solidarity but a means of control; they turned something that might have destabilised the exercise of state power into something that mimicked the state. The situation in Egypt demonstrates precisely the Marxian analysis of the state-form: it’s not a monolithic institution but a tactic, a tool that can be wielded by one group or class or another. As al-Sisi’s deadline approached there was speculation over whether the soldiers guarding the state broadcaster were loyal to the army or the government. In a way, it didn’t matter; they were the state. The state is control; the state is in control of everything apart from itself. When cops march at the head of a demonstration, it stops being a protest movement and starts to become an exercise of government power. Cops have an important role to play in any revolution; with their violence they focus the popular rage, they inflame its energies. As ever, the Egyptians are far ahead of us in the West; they found a way to stop this from happening, and all it took was a mild displacement in the loci of control. But those revolutionary energies are still there. According to the law of the conservation of energy, they can’t just vanish. And I know what’s happened to them. Somehow, by some strange magic, they’ve pooled in the left side of my chin. They’ve been displaced to my face. And Abdel Fattah al-Sisi doesn’t care about my face.

PS: I’ve said this kind of thing before, but it bears repeating: by enacting deeply unpopular policies and pointing to their victory at the ballot box to stifle dissent, the Muslim Brotherhood were behaving not like a dictatorship but precisely like Western liberal-democratic governments. If Britain were as new to representative rule as Egypt is, Cameron and co would have been on the way out some time in 2010. The difference between us and the Egyptians is that they really believe in democracy. We stopped doing that a long time ago.

PPS: Al-Sisi was Morsi’s appointee. One can imagine the scene at the barracks: Morsi, overthrown, weeping into his paternally greying beard, arms outstretched: Abdel, you were like a son to me. Could the whole scenario be reconsidered as an Oedipal drama? What is the state after all but a hideous trillion-titted mother?

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The people want another revolution!

After the killing of Colonel Gaddafi in October, I wrote:

When a government is overthrown there’s always a power vacuum, an open space which can be expanded into something genuinely new. If they are to have a chance, the Libyan people should stay on the streets and be on guard against any attempt to impose a merely procedural democracy. They must make sure the NTC doesn’t sell them out to to Western interests.

In what can only be a direct result of my awesome bloggery, this is exactly what’s been happening. As Russia Today reports:

Protesters gathered at Shajara Square, which was the birthplace of the anti-Gaddafi rebel movement back in February. Their slogans included “The NTC must quit,” “Jalil must go” and “The people want another revolution,” AFP reports.

Apart from calling for more transparency and a quicker pace of reforms, they also demanded the publication of a full list of NTC members.

That these protests are taking place in Benghazi is significant: this is emphatically not part of the pro-Gaddafi rump movement still skulking around the West of the country. The protesters are waving the revolutionary flag and are angered by the decision to pardon loyalist fighters. Most of all, they’re angry about the NTC, and for good reason.

The NTC is not a friend of the people of Libya. As I mentioned in my earlier post, they spent the early days of the revolution forming central banks and oil ministries. Since the fall of Gaddafi, they’ve made every effort to avoid transparency and accountability: of its 48 members, only 33 have been named; it has taken it upon itself to manage the transition to democracy on its own timeline; it lacks any significant avenues of communication with the people or even the various local militia; and it’s not at all clear whether its loyalties lie with the Libyan populace or its Western paymasters.

People in the West tend to like simple narratives with satisfying conclusions. We especially like simple narratives where the good guys are just like us. In the absurd teleology of flat-earth end-of-history liberalism,what the Arab Spring was about was the desire to progress towards liberal democracy, the last and final stage of political development – in other words, for them to become like us, grumbling about a leadership class that maintains the illusion of democracy while effectively covering for the real centres of political and economic power. After the heroic sacrifices made by the people of the Middle East, I think they deserve better. Clearly, they do too: that’s why there’s been a mass rejection of the sham elections promoted by the military in Egypt, and the first rumblings of discontent with the self-appointed capital-friendly elite that constitutes the NTC in Libya. Like the Scaf, the NTC is probably perfectly willing to set up the basic institutions of electoral democracy (in its own time), because the example of the West has shown that procedural democracy is the best way to pacify a restless population.

That’s why the call for the NTC to publish a full list of its membership is a revolutionary demand. What it represents is an attempt to prevent the formation of managed pseudo-democracy and the re-ossification of power structures, to subjugate the instrument of the state to the will of the people, to insist that the mass of the people, unabstracted through self-appointed representative bodies, can constitute a political subjectivity capable of producing concrete effects. You can’t have half a revolution. Half a revolution isn’t a tolerable compromise, like half a box of chocolates. It’s a grotesque blood-splattered abomination, like half a puppy. An incomplete revolution has been foisted on the peoples of Egypt and Libya from outside, and they’re unlikely to accept it.

More wacky police brutality hijinks

On Friday, the Occupy camp at UC Davis was broken up by university police, as part of a federally co-ordinated crackdown on the Occupy movement that has seen Zuccotti Park in New York cleared by overwhelming force and Darth Vader clones throng the streets of Portland. At Davis, students forming a human chain around the encampment were pepper sprayed, beaten, and arrested. Of course, it’s not at all fair to paint the police as unprovoked aggressors. After all, these trained thugs in stormtrooper body armour have been subject to shouting, ‘active resistance’ such as curling into a ball and a protester pulling back her own arm from a policeman, and being given the finger. Broken bones are one thing, but some of these police may well have suffered critical injuries to their feelings.

In the video above, the guy with the piggy little eyes and the piggy little face and the piggy little mind wearing a stoically bovine expression while casually pepper-spraying students is Lieutenant John Pike.  I don’t hate John Pike. I feel sorry for him. Here’s why.

John Pike has a face the colour of clotted cream and the texture of pizza dough. John Pike can’t see his own penis under the bulging mound of his corpulence. John Pike has Dorito dust collecting in the folds of his stomach fat. John Pike’s tits are bigger than his wife’s. John Pike can survive for days in the desert by storing fat in his chins. John Pike ate at Olive Garden once but found the food too exotic. John Pike’s list of inspirational people on Facebook consists of Jesus and Ayn Rand. John Pike masturbates to footage of villages being napalmed in Vietnam. John Pike’s initiation at Theta Chi involved anal penetration with a Sharpie pen. John Pike feels confused and conflicted about that experience to this day. John Pike eats mayonnaise with a spoon. John Pike pronounces the ‘h’ in ‘vehicle.’ John Pike cries in front of a mirror in the lonely hours of the early morning. John Pike went to a strip club but left with an ineffable sense of shame and revulsion. John Pike enjoys the cool refreshing taste of Bud Lite. John Pike is addicted to anabolic steroids. John Pike is addicted to OxyContin. John Pike whispers sweet nothings to his gun. John Pike smells like vinegar and onions. John Pike rides a Segway. John Pike suffers from early-onset incontinence. John Pike suffers from hyperhidrosis. John Pike suffers from premature ejaculation. John Pike has nappy rash, bed sores, flatulence, and herpes. John Pike owns three Thomas Kinkade collector’s plates. John Pike wears a t-shirt depicting a crying bald eagle and the words ‘9/11 never forget.’ John Pike believes WMD were found in Iraq. John Pike believes that the continued existence of winter disproves global warming. John Pike believes Barack Obama is a Muslim, an atheist, a fascist, and a Communist. John Pike has every swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated since 1982 in a slowly decaying pile in his basement. John Pike has a ‘nuke Mecca’ bumper sticker. John Pike has truck nutz. John Pike queued up outside McDonald’s when they brought back the McRib. John Pike tried to commit suicide by jumping from a building, but he bounced. John Pike never shuts up about his Irish heritage. John Pike’s friends refer to him as ‘Shrek’ when he’s not around. John Pike beats up the homeless. John Pike has never known real happiness, or real anger, or real pain. John Pike drifts through a life of unfathomable ennui. John Pike knows something is missing in his existence, but he doesn’t know what. John Pike uses his position to brutalise protesters because it is his only revenge against a world that has utterly failed him. John Pike is a victim. John Pike deserves our pity.

~

Meanwhile in Egypt, where the state is far less neurotic when it comes to the use of deadly force, five have died and up to a thousand injured after a series of clashes between protesters and riot police in Tahrir Square. As the elections draw closer, there’s a growing recognition that the democracy being offered by the ruling military junta is little more than a palliative. The revolution is not finished, and as it carries on it’s diverging markedly from the liberal-imperialist Western narrative imposed on it from the outside. After Mubarak was ousted, the slogan of the revolutionaries was ‘take Tahrir to the factories!’ It’s starting to look a lot like 1917. The capitalist-representational model of democracy may well be reaching its final crisis: bypassed by financial interests in Greece and Italy, unable to effectively manage opposition in the United States. Perhaps the germ of something new can be found in the Tahrirs sprouting up across the world.

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