Why Tahrir Matters

(Posted on the DOXA website blog, May 2012)

     The economist Jeffrey Sachs states that the world is “facing a crisis of governance” (Youtube clip www.youtube.com/watch?v=GspQlInskeY ). I believe that to be true and that what happened in Tahrir Square is so far its most visible expression with the Occupy Movement its echo. 

    A chain breaks at its weakest link, which in terms of human development is where the margins both economic and social (their corollaries being subsistence and oppression) are already narrow.  That is what happened in the Arab world. The stress factors include growing populations, low food security due to limited agricultural land and freshwater resources, under-developed economies due to global patterns of exploitation, and a lack of fundamental freedoms— that set in a context of a region subjected to US pressures of containment and stabilisation to secure oil and gas for Western corporations.

    A consequence was that large parts of the Middle East seemed to be frozen in time. Depending on where you were the time reference may be different.  Parts seemed stuck in the 19th century while other parts were, to all intents and purposes, still in the Middle Ages. The rise of al-Qaeda and its affiliates is precisely what could be expected under such circumstances: A group of terrorists espousing an orientalist misreading of Islam to justify their murderous adventures. And let us not forget that despite all the rhetoric, Islamists have murdered many more Muslims than non-Muslims, have destroyed more historic sites and libraries of religious texts than any Western army. 

    The eruption of people’s power first in Tunisia and shortly after in Egypt was unexpected. Unfortunately, what was predictable was the mendacity of the US government that first supported the dictator Husni Mubarak then, once his fall seemed inevitable, called on him to compromise while trying to manage a transition through the Egyptian military supplying them with arms to use to suppress the uprising, and continues to keep them in power through direct funding. In November 2011, as reported in The Guardian newspaper, while Secretary of State Hilary Clinton publicly urged the Egyptian military to reduce its violence against pro-democracy protestors the Pentagon was shipping tons of weapons to the army to use against demonstrators.

    Nothing illustrates the complicity of the US in policies of underdevelopment more than the appointment as Managing Director of the World Bank of Mubarak’s former Minister for Investment, Mahmoud Mohielddin, who, since the revolution, has been implicated by Egyptian courts in several major corruption cases and whose accomplices have been sentenced to thirty-year terms for their crimes. 

    The explosion of people’s power, for which Tahrir Square has become an iconic representation, is nothing less than an attempted corrective to history.  The more it finds echoes and inspires, as well as drawes inspiration from similar movements the more it is likely that we will move in a direction that will bring social justice to the fore and make of that a principle for a new governance model that is more sustainable for being more equitable.



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