Monday, October 15, 2012

Critical analysis of the political scene in Egypt

I saw this article posted on Facebook and it's titled: "Critical Analysis of the Left" published in 2009. What caught my attention about it were the headlines of the items the author discussed afterwards in their criticism to the left camp in the U.S.

[Political Careerism, Celebrity Culture, Self-Righteousness,
Informal Hierarchies and Illegitimate Leadership, Academia 
Movement VS. Scenes and Cliques] 

All of these terminologies ring a bell in a political context, it remind me so much of many scattered ideas that have been going on in my unconsciousness for so long.
I just didn't know how to formulate them in a way that makes sense and at the same time doesn't make me sound like a passive bitter pessimist complainer.
Many people abroad would like to think this of me as I'm speaking against the cliches they got used to hear about Egypt's politics and the movement.

It's always good to find proper names for phenomena I have noticed around and couldn't articulate precisely into readable/understandable thoughts. Remember that I'm working on my English still so that sounded like a treasure for me.

For so long I was looking tirelessly for names to these things I have noticed since #Jan25 2011 and until today whether while I was active in the movement or after I have stepped back for legitimate personal reasons. 

Interestingly, I've had the same observations regarding Egypt in my short involvement with the Occupy movement while I was in the United States. It means that there are several universal issues any movement or initiative in any given place or time has to go through and that people never learn from history or other's mistakes.

Although this article was written in 2009 by an American anarchist author criticizing the American left camp it sounds like it can perfectly fit Egypt in 2011- 2012 explaining the entire political scene that emerged here not just the left. 

I'm going to quote the passages in the article that I found matching to my analysis regarding the situation here as I see it from where I'm standing. Texts in red are the ones I want to point out to and emphasize more but the whole post is highly recommended. 

I'm doing this for the historical record based on personal observations and experiences and not to start a debate. If you think it was useful then that would be great and I will be glad I've shed some light and if not you can leave it here and go find something else that would make better sense to you.


1- Political Careerism

I think, personally, one of the biggest forms of opportunism today is political careerism where people use the grassroots and larger movement to build their own networks for their own future political career in a sense. The most popular case of this is of course the Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was a member of Casa, a Marxist-Leninist Chican organization. Now, Villaraogosa has single handedly attacked all poor people and people of color by hiring more police and funneling more city funding to local law enforcement. As well as gentrifying oppressed communities displacing families, and pushing people into the streets and prisons.

We have to be careful of folks who intend on following the footsteps of people like Villaraigosa and are building for their future as a politician. These folks usually like to play all sides, have their hands in everything, and be known in every circle of activists, organizers, and even radicals because they want to use these networks for their careerist intentions. These people today will lie, fake smile, and bamboozle their way into a leadership position today. Many of them have one foot in the movement today and the other they have inside the establishment and its institutions, in other words they already have a relationship with the state. Sometimes with the police, district attorneys, and many local politicians, to have their foot in the door already.

-The Non-Profit Industrial Complex

Another form of this opportunism we can see inside the Non-Profit Industrial Complex where many political careerists hope to build up their networks and hold leadership positions already.

There are also just many who use the movement for the benefit of their own career in general. Non-profits, however, have hired many people of color who in other sectors of work would not have a job, but looking at the role that the Non-Profit Industrial Complex plays in guiding the struggle in a direction that is not a threat to the state because their funding in large comes from the state itself.

We have many recent examples where these people have not been honest to the communities they “serve” in terms of their real relationship they have to the state apparatus, and in many key times of repression they have sold out the more radical segments of the movement.

2- Celebrity Culture 

Another way some use a movement, is to promote themselves, build themselves up as an activist celebrity, build their own “legacy,” and many times it is because they also want to get paid. 

This society is ingrained in a celebrity culture where they put up people on a pedestal if they’re “famous” and every facet of their personal life gets revealed to the world. The movement does not exist in a vacuum so therefore it is going to be affected and influenced by the larger society. So people will look to build up these activist/anarchist/and movement celebrities themselves. 

This is part of the social conditioning and colonialism of building up personalities and not empowering individuals to realize their own potentials as revolutionaries and as human beings. 

3- Self-Righteousness 

Self-Righteous behavior is too common in the activist circles today where they divorce themselves from the oppressed communities because the activists see themselves as better. This is an elitism, that comes from being separate from the oppressed communities, where activists see themselves as above “the people,” because they see that they have the correct language, the correct internal behavior and practice. 

We have to understand that we are living in unhealthy conditions and these conditions are brought with us into the movement. The difference is where someone is constantly dealing with these unhealthy behaviors, accepting constructive criticism, and challenging themselves. There are some who do not wish to change or are not doing so at this moment, and we have to figure out how to deal with them if they come from our communities as well. So this is where we have to work with our people where they’re at not where we want them to be, otherwise we will be isolated from those we really have to reach right now. 

4-On Informal Hierarchies and Illegitimate Leadership

To me the overall question of leadership is one that comes down to collective responsibility and revolutionaries taking initiative. There is however, in my opinion, legitimate and illegitimate leadership.

Legitimate leadership is revolutionaries organizing and taking the initiative to build up the collective ownership of the community, redistribute resources, and building the organization of the people. It is revolutionary individuals and collectives organizing to where there is no difference between them and the rest of the community, because they are one in the same.

The illegitimate leadership today can manifest itself in many ways: the people who do no work but want all the credit, sideline haters (who basically criticize from the sidelines of the movement but are not willing to fight with the people or who intend to make poster children out of the youth and let them catch all the heat from the state and will not defend them), opportunists, people who wish to co-opt the movement or organizations that they had nothing to do in building (a form of opportunism), and of course the state and organizations with deep ties to the state. The Non-Profit Industrial Complex now represents a form of illegitimate leadership in our communities and do many of the things mentioned. Many of them have also deep ties to the state but act as the representatives for our communities.

5- Academia 

I will first like to start to explain the role of academia in society. For many oppressed people what we get told is the only way, “we can make it out or make it” is to go to school and graduate from college, that for us this is the only legitimate form of struggle is in their universities. 

Throughout time the oppressed have fought and students have waged important struggles in history. They've made many gains (that are now being taken away) including Ethnic Studies programs, where people can learn about their history, culture, and to think critically, of course in a way that is not threatening to the state (even though many professors connected to the community and revolutionary organizations have slipped through and teach what is needed to be taught in these schools). 

After many students graduate from universities the only jobs that are available to them for the most part is in the Non-Profit Sector, which also promotes the idea that the ones with a university education are the best qualified to lead.

I do think that if our people decide to attend a university they should come back into their communities and democratize their knowledge. They shouldn't come back and expect a leadership position however, just because they attended a university. They should work with the community and stand side by side with other organizers already there. 

Also Academia and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex have attempted to hijack the revolution, take credit for, change the language, and again be the “legitimate” forms to struggle. Academia takes folks away from their communities if they’re people of color and oppressed. They attempt to define the struggle for the people from the ivory tower and they have a monopoly on book knowledge inaccessible to the majority of society. 

Looking at the education model within academia where you have an expert on a subject talk to you for hours and you are expected to regurgitate what they tell you in a test or essay. 

Do people really learn this way? We need to look at forms of popular education. 

Just because you are not a professor does not mean you do not have things to teach, based on your experiences. You probably have many things to teach your professors; there is a lot of value in your life experiences and they are valid. 

Note: There are many people inside academia challenging it from the inside, who support the community struggles.

6- Movement VS. Scenes and Cliques

This should come without saying that what we need to build is a movement, not a scene. In the anarchist circles today we have to be honest with ourselves and others. We cannot call what we have a movement. We have to be relevant to the most oppressed and our communities. We cannot build organizations and events just for us but where non-activists feel that they can relate to and think is interesting.
We need a movement, we do not need a scene or activist cliques. Social gatherings are important but we need to go beyond the activist scene.

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