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In Mubarak’s Egypt, It Was the Economy, Stupid

September 16, 2014
It was the failure of the Mubarak regime to alleviate poverty and deliver prosperity that led to the uprisings--not its authoritarianism, claims a recent article. Photo: Sophie Peterson.

It was the failure of the Mubarak regime to alleviate poverty and deliver prosperity that led to the uprisings–not its authoritarianism, claims a recent article. Photo: Sophie Peterson.

A new article appearing in the journal International Studies argues that the fundamental cause of the Egyptian uprisings was not anger at the regimes undemocratic authoritarianism but rather the failure of the Mubarak regime to provide economic prosperity to the majority of the population.

The article, “The Egyptian Uprising and the Global Capitalist System” by Ibrahim Aoude, is not the first to make this claim of course. What he does is make a strong attempt to embed the argument in the decline of the global world system especially in the wake of the 2008 world financial crisis.

Aoude begins by describing the crisis of the global (capitalist) economic system, drawing heavily on the works of Samir Amin (2001, 2003, 2011a, 2011b), with an emphasis on the 2008 global financial crisis and its continuing aftermath. He then describes how Sadat laid the groundwork for everything that has gone wrong in Egypt over the last forty years by drawing the country into the global economy, and how Mubarak’s continuation and acceleration of that policy worsened conditions.

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Book On Egypt’s Security State (Plus) Wins Award

September 10, 2014
Richard Schroeder (left) presented Paul Amar with the Charles Taylor book award for "The Security Archipelago" which looks at (among other things) the changing security state, and resistance to it, and its abilities to counter that resistance, in Egypt.

Richard Schroeder (left) presented Paul Amar with the Charles Taylor book award for “The Security Archipelago” which looks at (among other things) the changing security state, and resistance to it, and its abilities to counter that resistance, in Egypt.

Paul Amar’s book “The Security Archipelago” won the Charles Taylor Book Award at the American Political Science Association convention in Washington, DC, August 28-31.

This prize is for the “best book in political science that employs or develops interpretive methodologies and methods,” and is selected by the Interpretive Methods and Methodologies Section of the APSA.

His new book, “The Security Archipelago” is a fascinating account of the evolution of a network of global security “hot spots” he metaphorically likens to an archipelago, a chain of islands physically and culturally disconnected that nevertheless constitute a system.

In this case, the system is the creation of a new form of security state that combines humanitarian discourse with techniques of surveillance and control.

Certain hot spots serve as laboratories where these emerging forms are tested out. Among these are Brazil and Egypt, and Paul–fluent in Portuguese and Arabic–studies them here with nuanced (dare I say ethnographic?) attention to details of language and body.

The whole book is interesting but the Egypt-relevant chapters include: Read more…

Globally, Youth + ICT = Protest

August 30, 2014

Can you take the people out of the equation? A new article does just that but comes to similar conclusions with quantitative data as those of us who work directly with qualitative data (i.e. people). Photo by Monasosh

Can you take the people out of the equation? A new article does just that but comes to similar conclusions with quantitative data as those of us who work directly with qualitative data (i.e. people). Photo by Monasosh

Most of my work on globalization involves seeing it as a work of the imagination. Using ethnography, I try to see how people situated in particular locales see themselves as connected and disconnected to other locales, how these ways of seeing the world affect their actions, and what actual connections can be discovered that are consonant or at odds with their beliefs.

There are other ways of researching the global, of course. Almost the polar opposite of my approach is abstracting individual people–and to a large extent the locales in which they live out of the picture altogether–and seeing what aggregate data can show you.

This is the approach taken by an interesting article entitled “Protests by the young and digitally restless: the means, motives, and opportunities of anti-government demonstrations” by Adrian U. Anga, Shlomi Dinar and Russell E. Lucas, published in the most recent issue of Information, Communication & Society.

The authors were interested in the argument made by many social scientists, and increasingly taken for granted by the media, that protests were a result of a large disaffected population of young people (a “youth bulge”) ill served by their societies, who took advantage of ICT to foment protest.

Breaking this argument down, the authors developed several hypotheses to test against available demographic data between 1995 and 2011. The hypotheses are:

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Can Social Media Save Egypt’s Heritage Sites?

August 21, 2014
Scholars like Monica Hanna are trying to save Egypt's heritage through social media.

Scholars like Monica Hanna are trying to save Egypt’s heritage through social media.

The ancient heritage of the Middle East is being seriously damaged by the uprisings, revolutions and foreign occupations (i.e. US in Iraq and its aftermath).

I was interviewed about this as it affects Egypt a year ago by a South Korean radio station, on the occasion of the thefts last summer of artifacts from the Malawi Museum in the city of Minya.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week highlighted efforts by archaeologists and other scholars of antiquity to use web sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media to address the problem.

Since it is protected content–i.e. you can’t read the article without a subscription, I reproduce the passages touching on Egypt here:

In Egypt, Monica Hanna, an archaeologist, began tweeting about threats to her country’s heritage more than three years ago, when the Egyptian Museum was broken into as the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak began. With Egypt continuing to experience political upheaval and violence, Ms. Hanna’s work expanded. She has become a well-known social-media activist with nearly 35,000 followers on Twitter.

Protecting heritage “is not on the agenda, and it’s not getting the attention it deserves, and we’re pushing till that stops,” says Ms. Hanna, an independent scholar who has taught at the American University in Cairo.

Read more…

Israel And The Arab Spring

August 9, 2014
Thanks to the Egyptian revolution the Sinai is once again becoming a central security issue between Egypt and Israel as militant activity in the region grows, according to Yeehudit Ronin. Photo by Vyacheslav Argenberg. Creative commons use.

Thanks to the Egyptian revolution the Sinai is once again becoming a central security issue between Egypt and Israel as militant activity in the region grows, according to Yeehudit Ronin. Photo by Vyacheslav Argenberg. Creative commons use.

A new issue of the journal Israel Affairs features a number of articles about the Arab Spring and its implications for the state of Israel. Only two of these are about Egypt.

Yehudit  Ronin’s assessment of the “jihadist” threat in the Sinai is already out of date, since Israel’s recent occupation of Gaza and destruction of the tunnels into the Sinai through which arms, food and medicine flow.

His basic argument seems to be that thanks to the Egyptian revolution, and the decline in security in the Sinai, the peninsula is poised to once again become a central security issue between Egypt and Israel as militant activity in the region grows.

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Pope Tawadros On The Future Of The Church In The New Egypt

July 31, 2014
Pope Tawadros visited Pope Francis in May of this year.

Pope Tawadros visited Pope Francis in May of this year.

The revolution unleashed Coptic youth to speak out against injustices practiced against Christians in Egypt, sometimes with tragic results. Many Copts were thrilled with the ousting of President Morsi by the military last July, but others were more cautious, recalling that the military had struck at Coptic protesters two years ago.

Shortly after the coup, Pope Tawadros made a short televised speech in which he voiced his general approval for the new road map for Egypt’s future, essentially giving his approval for the coup.

“This roadmap has been drafted by honourable people who seek the interests, first and foremost, of the country,” he said.

The Church has always played a significant role in representing the Coptic people to/for the state, although the revolution and the subsequent passing of Pope Shenouda  raised questions as to whether this would remain the case.

 

The Catholic on-line journal Oasis, devoted to “Christians and Muslims in the age of mestizaje of civilizations” published a lengthy interview with Pope Tawadros, leader of the Coptic Christian Church, on the occasion of his visit to Rome and meeting with Pope Francis.

Pope Tawadros shared some of his thoughts on the future of the Coptic church in Egypt during this age of revolution. (you can read the full interview here.)

Your Holiness has made some audacious political declarations in many interviews. Is it your view that the Church has a political role that is of no small account?

When we speak about its political role and national role, both are important, but naturally its national role is fundamental and what the Egyptian Church has done is to relaunch its national role.

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Power, Agency & Resistance In Egypt (And Elsewhere)

July 27, 2014
protest

There’s nothing small or underground about these forms of resistance. But they still raise important questions about power and agency.

Resistance is everywhere these days, and it begs analysis, especially in thinking about issues of power and agency.

Nowhere is this more true than in Egypt, where protesters have exerted considerable agency in forcing changes, yet somehow they are unable to exert strong agency over the ultimate outcomes.

In a now famous article, Lila Abu-Lughod challenged the social scientific community on the concept of resistance.

what one finds now is a concern with unlikely forms of resistance, subversions rather than large-scale collective insurrections, small or local resistances not tied to the overthrow of systems or even to ideologies of emancipation. Scholars seem to be trying to rescue for the record and to restore to our respect such previously devalued or neglected forms of resistance.

The trend to which Abu-Lughod was responding was inspired by James Scott’s Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (1985). Scott argued that peasants oppressed didn’t buy into the hegemonic cultural systems that justified their oppression–they just didn’t want to get themselves killed going up against heavily armed security forces of the state. Rather, he said, they engaged in everyday forms of resistance: refusing to marry their daughters to the sons of collaborators, work slowdowns, etc. Rather than directly critiquing this trend, Abu-Lughod asks three questions:

  1. What is the relationship between scholarship and theorizing and the world-historical moment in which it occurs?
  2. What is the ideological underpinning of scholarship that claims to bring to light such hidden acts of resistance and make them visible?
  3. What are the implications of studies of resistance for theories of power?

All of the questions are addressed–if not answered–by the articles in a recent special issue of the journal History & Anthropology entitled “Rethinking Resistance in the 21st Century.”

Today, of course, we are once again in an era of large-scale resistance. The revolts and protests in the Arab world, the protests in Spain, Greece, and Ireland, the Occupy Movement are all acts of resistance quite different from both the peasant wars of the 1960s and 1970s, and the subaltern resistances tracked by scholars in the 1990s and 2000s.

But this makes Abu-Lughod’s questions more relevant rather than less.

One of the articles, “Upending Infrastructure: Tamarod, Resistance, and Agency after the January 25th Revolution in Egypt” by Julia Elyachar, focuses on the efforts of the Tamarod movement to organize protests against President Morsi, which led to the military’s removal of Morsi and the eventual election of General as-Sisi.

She begins with the classic structure/agency problem in social theory and asks: “What about infrastructure/agency?”

Read more…

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