Nov 102015
 

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A funereal atmosphere descended over western capitals with the announcement of Turkey’s parliamentary elections’ results, widely described in European and American media as a “shock” and a “black day for Turkey.” The picture painted appeared very bleak, as a stream of reports, editorials and op-eds by opposition figures warned of a “return to autocracy and despotism” and declared the outcome as a threat to the “survival of democracy” in the country.

Absent in such doom and gloom analyses was the fact that Erdogan had accepted last June’s elections’ results, which had depleted his party’s parliament representation, and had sought to form a national unity government. As such proposals were firmly rejected by the opposition, he proceeded to call for early elections in conformity with the Turkish constitution.

Neither do those heaping wrath and scorn on the new “Ottoman Sultan” note that the Turkish president is surrounded by a ring of half and full-fledged despots from every side, in Jordan and the Gulf kingdoms, as in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, a little further away in the same neighbourhood, reigns a military general, who, only two years ago, had seized power through a blood-soaked coup after kidnapping the country’s democratically elected president and throwing him in jail. His tanks crushed the will of the people along with the skulls and bodies of hundreds of peaceful protesters, young and old, male and female, in one of the worst atrocities in contemporary history.

Yet this very same ruler, who presides over one of the most backward tyrannical regimes on the planet, is greeted with open arms in western capitals, in Paris as in Berlin. Today, he is being hosted by David Cameron in 10 Downing Street.

The message sent to the people of the region is loud and clear: either a made to fit democracy tailored to our needs and likes, or a dictator, odious though he may be. We will block our noses and shake the vulgar thug’s hand. We will call on our band of hired apologists: “experts,” “commentators” and “analysts” to concoct a set of justifications and excuses for his nauseating conduct, from mythical economic development and reform to political shrewdness, and if all else fails, reach for the Kessinger-Albright dictionary and throw in some “political realism”.

Ironically, while over 85% of eligible voters had participated in the Turkish elections, roughly the same percentage of Egyptians had chosen to collectively abstain from taking part in the recent shambolic Egyptian parliamentary polls. Thus they had denied the Field Marshal and his backers in Washington and London the fig leaf much needed to cover his dictatorial rule.

While Erdogan is vilified and chastised, the red carpet is rolled for Sisi. Yet one had placed his country on the route to democracy after five military coups and decades of absolutist army rule, while the other had put a brutal stop to his nation’s nascent democratic experiment.

Implicit in coverage of the Turkish elections is the assumption that those who had voted for the AK Party are impulsive irrational mobs easily duped by Erdogan’s “fear mongering” and “nationalist propaganda”. He has, we were repeatedly told, stirred their phobia of economic instability and insecurity. It is as though Turks had no right to fear for their economic interests or their security, with crises raging on their frontiers immediate and indirect, in Syria, Iraq, Yemen or Libya, while they host over two million Syrian refugees in their midst, with Europe and the U.S. unwilling to accept even a quarter of that number.

The millions who have taken part in the polls have made conscious informed choices, casting their vote for those whom they believe best represent their interests and respond to their legitimate fears (as voters do in every democracy around the world).

Here, as in much reporting and commentary on the Middle East, most western reporters and analysts prove unable to go beyond the boundaries of dominant narratives, or cross over ideological and cultural obstacles to grasp the reality on the ground and make sense of the actions of ordinary men and women or their motivations. They are displaying symptoms of what may be described as euro-centrism, egocentrism, or Orientalism. The external observer of colonial times, the missionary, traveller, or colonial functionary, has taken new contemporary forms: the expert, commentator, or correspondent dispatched from the old metropolis to the Empire’s peripheries. But the structure of the discourse and its content remain largely unchanged and their coded messages are constantly reproduced in new forms.

Very few in the region still take the west’s democracy rhetoric seriously. After invading and demolishing Iraq armed with promises of democratisation and emancipation, it installed a succession of sectarian despots. Instead of the sweet smell of freedom, Baghdad reeked of the stench of death and the smoke of civil war and terrorism. And no longer does Obama sing the praises of the sublime January Revolution, or fervently wish he were a rebel on Tahrir Square. The revolutionaries are rotting away in medieval dungeons while their jailor is entertained around western capitals. And instead of pointing the finger to the real tyrants up and down the Middle East and holding them to account, it is the region’s only democratically elected president (with the exception of Tunisia in North Africa) who is singled out for criticism and demonisation.

So, a small word of advice to western politicians and army of commentators and “experts”: trust me, when it comes to democracy in the region, silence is best.

 

Oct 272015
 

Egypt’s January Revolution collapsed for many reasons. Some are to do with the structure of power and role of the military in political life. Others with mistakes committed by the new forces in the management of crises in the post revolution phase, failing to rise above ideological differences and forge strong alliances to curb the army’s dominance and limit its influence. While the pro-revolution camp spent its energy in internecine feuding and blame slinging, the counter-revolutionary machine, oiled with the Gulf monarchies’ petrodollars, set about making ordinary Egyptians’ lives a misery. Through manufactured chaos, manipulations of fuel and food prices, obstructions of government by the old bureaucracy in the judiciary, administration and intelligence services and a media wedded to SCAF and the old oligarchs, Egyptians were convinced their country was teetering on the verge of destruction.

Salvation came in the person of General Sisi. In one of history’s darkest ironies, facts were reversed and terms stripped of meaning. With the usurpation of power, symbols were also usurped, as Tahrir Square, emblem of popular revolt against authoritarianism, was turned into a gigantic open air theatre where the old regime was euphorically greeted back. The brutal military coup was a “corrective movement” and the counter-revolution was dubbed the “glorious June 30th revolution,” nothing less. The coup staged against a democratically elected president, freely chosen by a majority of the people, was in defence of democracy and an embodiment of the people’s will.

From the outset, Sisi was cast as a selfless defence minister nobly rising to the call of duty for his nation’s sake. He was a servant of the people, altruistically bowing to the popular will. His legitimacy rested on a direct mandate from the people, who yearned for salvation, order and stability. His was a “historic responsibility” he declared. “We will build an Egyptian society that is strong and stable, that will not exclude any one of its sons.”

Two years after this televised address, Egypt looks nothing like this promised heaven of stability and cohesiveness. Scores of Egyptians have been murdered by an ever more rampant police, sentenced to death in kangaroo courts, or jailed in the most inhumane conditions where torture is routine. Dissent is not tolerated, with the media and the press reduced to the role of state propagandists singing the General’s praises and parroting his words.

Neither was Sisi’s tyrannical rule able to yield stability, with an insurgency in Sinai, attacks in the capital itself, sustained civil conflict and martial law. Sisi’s security credentials have been as abysmal as his democratic record.

Is it any wonder then, that voting stations have been deserted over the last two days of Egypt’s parliamentary polls?

In what observers have described as “elections without voters,” turnout has been as low as 3% in some polling stations. In a movement of mass silent opposition, people defied a state propaganda which ranged from passionate entreaties and fervent appeals to patriotic sentiments and religious faith, to veiled and open threats to abstainers of fines and denunciations for treason. Egyptians have simply refused to be part of the farce designed to drape Sisi in a democratic cloak he still desperately needs to rub away the stain of his blood-drenched military coup.

While the new forces that suddenly rose to power in the revolution’s aftermath, without forging common alliances, proved incapable of surmounting the mighty obstacles on the way, the counter-revolution spearheaded by the military is in crisis today too. In spite of all the repression and persecution, the old guard have been unable to mould the Egyptian landscape as they see fit or dictate the course of events. Protest to their rule is ongoing and expanding, taking on open and silent forms. From defiant weekly demonstrations in different parts of the country, to voters staying in and resolutely abstaining from polling en masse.

Sooner or later, Sisi will no doubt come to realize that his magical recipe of oppression and mass anaesthesia through media and religious propaganda will not transform him into a present-day Nasser. For beyond his self-aggrandising illusions, the truth is that he is neither a hero nor a national saviour, but a reckless military adventurer and the leader of a counterrevolution that may last for a few years, but will eventually wither away.