Blog Archive

Blog Archive – February, 2011

Whose revolution is this anyway?

February 23, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Watch for another attempt to ‘orientalize’ the experience of the Arab peoples today.  

Why do western powers always want to take credit for beautiful, unpredicted epic moments they’ve had no credible role in?  

Even while world leaders congratulate Egyptians and Tunisians on their newly won victories, their minions prepare stories of heroic Americans’ and American institutions’ contributions to those transformations.

With the Egyptian revolution nearing its nadir, we are regularly updated by a televised statement from US President Obama who “is dealing with the unfolding events”—i.e. is defining this history. We learn that a student in Texas saved the revolution by posting tweets from  messages phoned to him when the Egyptian authorities closed down their IT and mobile networks. We share the brutalization of CNN reporters being roughed up. This really offers a firsthand experience of Egyptian police brutality. The heroic young Egyptian Google executive credited with starting Egypt’s FaceBook revolution wants to meet the FB founder, we are told. We are assured that American military leaders are in regular touch with their Egyptian counterparts whose confidence they have enjoyed for years.  

Americans—the administration and the people--- have  a troubling habit of placing themselves center stage in any positive social or economic change around the globe. Americans will believe the rewriting of this history in their direction. Regrettably. So, they’ll fail to ‘get it’. So they’ll remain arrogant.

This is one time that the Arab peoples at least know how their own extraordinary achievement—(thus far) toppling two US- friendly tyrants, both American bred—was a special moment they themselves planned, executed and risked. That makes it more special. And perhaps more likely to succeed in the long term.  

February 1, ten days before the resignation of Mubarak, Daily Star editor and international commentator Rami Khouri, wrote: “To appreciate what is taking place in the Arab world today you have to grasp the historical significance of the events…. we are witnessing the unraveling of the post-colonial order that the British and French created in the Arab world in the 1920s and '30s and then sustained - with American and Soviet assistance - for most of the last half century.

Khouri warns “The events unfolding before our eyes are the third most important historical development in the Arab region in the past century, and to miss that point is to perpetuate a tradition of Western Orientalist romanticism and racism… I agree with his assessment that “This is a revolt against specific Arab leaders and governing elites who implemented policies that have seen the majority of Arabs dehumanized, pauperized, victimized and marginalized by their own power structure; but it is also a revolt against the tradition of major Western powers that created the modern Arab states and then fortified and maintained them as security states after the 1970s.”

The awakening that Khouri correctly highlights is the driving force behind the anti-dictator movement from one country to another. It is unstoppable. Any Arab, at one level or another, wherever he or she lives, who has experienced the victimization and marginalization that Khouri refers to is bursting with exhilaration and pride today. We know this is a watershed. There is no going back.   

Can western leaders --and their journalists and commentators: all those Middle East experts--who long ago ceased to expect anything outstanding and determined from Arab peoples really appreciate the change?

They should. Because a parallel message to “get out Mubarak” is “get out USA”. At the very least it cries “Move Over. You can no longer take our acquiescence and stupidity for granted.” 


[ Whose revolution is this anyway? ]

What about an apology Mr. Obama?

February 15, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Why don’t the American administration and its politicians apologize to the Egyptian people?  

Egyptians themselves have at immense risk, finally thrown off their oppressor. I think an apology is in order. The Mubarak regime could not have carried out the corruption the suppression of dissent, the humiliation of its people without US support. The US not only offered ideological support. It provided materials support in the form of military training and equipment; it probably helped craft the techniques used by the Egyptians responsible for the repression for its people.  America must be considered partners in all the crimes of the Egyptian leaders, just as Swiss and other international banks welcomed the deposits of fraudsters into their companies.  

If the Egyptians do not raise the issue of US culpability in their difficulties, their poverty,their loss of dignity, corruption, and joblessness, one can understand. They have other priorities now. All indications are they do not seek revenge. One has to admire them for their grace.  

Egyptians want to move forward.  

Individuals, not the interim rulers, have made it clear. “We achieved what we did last week, alone, without outside support, either ideological or diplomatic help. We ourselves can and will pave the way forward.”   

No one says it will be easy. The revolutionaries know full well that the US leadership is working closely with their new military administration so that American interests (which include Israel) remain a priority. Based on what the Egyptians showed themselves capable of, I expect, although not without difficulties, they will prevail, with or without an apology, with or without that dangerous military alliance. 

[ What about an apology Mr. Obama? ]

Dignity. Dignity. Dignity

February 11, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Let us savor the moment that the Egyptian people have won for themselves and given the whole world.

Mubrouk, elf Mabrouk to the revolutionaries of Egypt, to the martyrs who gave their lives in this struggle. 

Dignity. Dignity. Dignity. We hear the word repeated by Egyptian celebrants. What so many risked was not their daily food, not stagnant jobs, not fear of mobs. It was the moment to regain dignity.  

Few people in the west, whatever degree of dignity they enjoy, often forget the real meaning of this precious human quality. Perhaps seeing the determination, the daring, and the voices of the protestors during these past 18 days, viewers around the world may reflect on this word and its significance to their own lives.  

I follow coverage of the celebrations in Cairo moving from one international TV program to another.  Only on the western networks-- CNN and BBC and France 24— commentators one after another, press the jubilant Cairiens to speculate on their precarious future. The interviewers raise the specter of the US enemy Iran; they suggest the danger of a military takeover; they ask about Muslim extremists overtaking Egypt; the want answers for the threat the victory posed to the peace treaty Israel.  

A pity they cannot savor the moment. What a pity they cannot grasp the meaning of newly won dignity.  

We are proud of Tunisia’s and Egypt’s achievement.  We congratulate all their people. 

[ Dignity. Dignity. Dignity ]

The Poetry of the Square

February 05, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Cairo, February 4, Friday’s “Day of Departure”. We awaken to what we expect will be a tense, although possibly inspiring day. Millions are expected in the streets of Egypt’s cities. Millions will converge at Tahrir Maidan.

After Wednesday and Thursday’s confrontations and violence, no one knows what will transpire today inside Egypt. Will the thugs return? Will the military protect peaceful protesters? Will media be completely shut down?

Watching Al-Jazzera (Arabic) live from Tahrir Sq, the maidan is already crowded at 8 am; protesters have set up an audio system now, and we have people announcing their dreams. Not slogans; poems.

A young man uses a hand amplifier to announce his composition; he pauses for those around him to echo his words. This ‘protest poet’ has bandaged head; he pauses after every line to consult the small piece of paper in his hand. Some verses sound slightly poetic to me; how poetic, doesn’t matter. It is the poetry of this Egyptian moment that counts. 

American-Egyptian poet Sharif El Musa was in Al-Jazeera’s English studio yesterday, invited to comment on his country’s experience. It was Thursday, so the images of Wednesday night dominated the interview. Musa recalled the previous day when millions had assembled in the streets: “It was poetry” Musa observed: images we all witnessed, the raised Egyptian faces, their arms aloft, the stark messages from their throats and on posters. Many around the world will know the wall which has been scaled during these days—a proud, defiant time, glorious self-aware moment.  

It was poetry. I completely understood. Watching Egyptian brothers and sisters, I had felt something was missing in their journalistic remarks. However sympathetic the reporters were, they were unable to recognize the poetry of a revolution. They may have felt it. Surely some could.

Yet, only El Mousa said it. He characterized what is so deep, yet so simple. (The non-Arab, English language Al-Jazeera host did not grasp El Mousa’s point and so did not take up this profound observation. A chance missed.)  

This morning, Friday: people gather in streets and squares. Al-Jazeera Arabic hosts may be taking a morning off to prepare for this day. At 8 am, we watch footage images of Wednesday clashes repeated on the screen while anchors take calls from people around the world; most callers I can identify came from Egypt itself, also many from Saudi Arabia.  

I wonder about the western coverage; are they more drawn to the violence? can they possibly feel the poetry of this? The western media and Al-Jazeera appear to be clearly on the side of anti-government demonstrators. They finally interview some Egyptians in the street who are with their besieged government. Those statements do not come off with the same conviction and poetry of the pro-democracy voices. Those risking their lives speak a more gripping and moving experience-- a love, a determination, a vast, vast risk. 

Then for the first time, since January 25 when I began watching the events from Egypt, Al-Jazeera broadcasts music behind the images of today’s revolution; the music is mid 20th C, Egyptian orchestral that we associate with Um Kuthoum; some instrumental, also vocal. The singers and lyrics will be well known to Arab listeners, words surely patriotic, composed for another era, but a parallel moment.  

Accompanying the music are the touching, inspiring, images from the week: water cannons, wounded, resting fighters in the square, banners, hand scratched placards, the flag, the flag, the flag, transformed by their bearers into face paint, into hats, sweaters, armbands. A single person stands against a wall, alone, with his banner’s corners tied around his neck, the flag billowing in front of his chest, his two hands clutching the loose ends pulling it to and fro, the billowing of the cloth moving in and out as if it is his very breath. Bandaged warriors rest, and do not cry out in pain or frustration; quiet, doctors and friends tend wounds, gently not in panic. The tenderness is palpable. Men clean the square of stones and debris from last night using sides of cardboard, pushing, pushing away the debris. In preparation for another day. A man chops into the pavement to manufacture stone missiles for his compatriots.  

I do not feel sad. Nor pity. How can I when I witness such dignity. Surely the president sees these images; he must be weeping, more than I am.  

[ The Poetry of the Square ]

What 'Tahrir' Really Means.

February 01, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I wonder if Americans can grasp the feeling, focused in Egypt but reverberating around the word, of imminent victory and a new dawn.  

Many Americans can remember their own emotions when they elected Barak Obama as their president not long ago. Remember the tears of pride, the reality that your time has come, that ordinary people can really have power.  This is what Egyptians are experiencing today.

Whatever the outcome, and whatever the difficulties the new era may hold, there is immense pride at what has already been achieved in Egypt. This is shared by all Arab peoples. A new dignity unknown by most of our populations has arrived. Look at the children in the streets of Egypt!  Their parents want them to relish this moment, a moment they dreamed for so so long.  

Think back again to American citizens, especially African Americans, at the arrival of Barak Obama in the White House. What a sense of dignity that fostered! There is nothing like it. It cannot be underestimated. And it arrives, in the case of Egypt and in African American history, after an era of repression and lost dignity. 

Yes, there are many unknowns for Egypt’s people as it moves out of its dictatorship. But they are willing to take the risk. That in itself is telling of their past indignities and silence. 

American and British media warn of the emergence of a ‘threatening’ Muslim power taking the helm in Egypt and engulfing the world. They invoke the specter of Iran in 1979, as if that revolution had no benefits. Such fears are clearly stoked by Zionist interests, since to be sure, Israeli’s security and interest are most at risk. Why would it not be so? Yet, is not Egyptian interest important too, an interest which has been subsumed to Israel’s for decades? Egyptians are taking back their nation. 

Not to forget American interests. Both Tunisia’s revolution and now Egypt’s are at one level, indisputably anti-American statements. Powerful and costly statements. Their citizens know that the indignities they suffered, the poverty caused by neo-liberalism, their thwarted democratic goals, and the submission to Zionist interests, is founded on American policy in the region.  

It is rare to see Israelis on the run; this sight will gratify many around the world. But Washington cannot run. Let us see how the American administration is able to change, to learn a lesson from Egypt’s people. We also wait to see the future role to be played by the numerous educated and successful Egyptians working in the US. 

[ What 'Tahrir' Really Means. ]

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“We are nothing on this earth if we do not first and foremost serve a cause, the cause of the people, the cause of freedom and justice. I want you to know that even when the doctors had lost all hope, I was still thinking, in a fog granted, but thinking nonetheless, of the Algerian people, of the people of the Third World, and if I managed to hold on, it was because of them.”

Frantz Fanon, 1963

Tahrir Diwan

a poem.. a song..
poem "Land Holy" by Suheir Hammad
written for young Mohammed Dura, killed by Israel troops, at his father's side

See poems and songs list

poem Qur'an Surat Al-Laila
from 'Approaching the Qur'an' CD, male reciter

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Book review
Rajia Hassib's
In The Language of Miracles
reviewed by BNAziz.

See review list

Tahrir Team

Reem Nasr
Read about Reem Nasr in the team page.

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