Inequality, Ideological Fallacy, and Capitalist Crisis

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of my favorite activity: sitting on my couch and watching documentaries on Netflix. One of the recent suggestions that came up was the documentary produced by former US Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, Robert Reich, called “Inequality for All.” In this film, Reich presents a compelling case that economic inequality has been the cause of two major economic crises in American history, the Great Depression of the early 1930s and the Great Recession which began in 2008 and which many in the US are still living through.

While Reich is speaking with the best of intentions, I believe his argument suffers from one of the most common logical fallacies: confusing cause and effect. This fallacy is especially pernicious because it systematically keeps us from asking important questions about how our economy is organized. Continue reading

Gender Trouble in Egyptian satire

The latest episode of the program “the program” from noted Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef is creating quite a stir in Egypt this week. Airing on Thursday night, the episode was the first of season three, which begins after a nearly four-month long break  coinciding with the popular coup d’etat/revolution that replaced former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi this past summer.

Since Mursi’s fall, popular attention has gravitated to the head of the army, Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi, as the man responsible for executing the people’s will. “Al-Sisi mania” has swept through Egypt and provided a cover for the grim reality of the killing of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters by the army this past summer.

Many of the civil society groups that have sprung up supporting the army’s violent dispersal of the protests–including the group “al-Sisi for President” and local chapters of the 6th of April movement–have now submitted complaints to the attorney general accusing Youssef of “insulting the army and its leaders.” Ironically, these are the same charges which Mursi used as a pretext to throw Youssef in jail temporarily last April, and which the current regime has officially decreed to be an illegitimate basis for censorship.

So how do we explain the backlash? Returning to the episode itself can help to highlight its subversive potential. Continue reading

Translation: Egypt’s Interim Constitutional Declaration

The general outlines of the next phase of Egypt’s transition process–the second transition process, after the second revolution–were announced by interim President Adly Mansour this week. The rushed process and bare-bones nature of the announcement produced a smaller document from past Egyptian constitutions, which I have translated in full at the bottom of this post. Following the basic thesis of a previous post I wrote on the history of Egypt’s constitutional transition, I believe we can read this document as evidence of the institutional competition taking place in the realm of statist politics during Egypt’s revolution. Continue reading

Mursi’s Rebellion: A New Kind of Revolution?

In 1543, Copernicus wrote his treatise on the movement of planets around the sun De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of Celestial Bodies). Today, we call his monumental intervention a “scientific revolution,” but in the 16th century, the term “revolution” in English was reserved for technicians in the fields of astronomy or Euclidean geometry. It was not until the events in English history that have come to be known as the “Glorious Revolution” that the term was regularly applied to political change. Continue reading

Mursi’s Rebellion: How Did We Get Here?

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in Egypt the past two nights, in anticipation of today’s call for nationwide protests against the Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Muhammad Morsi. While supporters of Mursi have staged their own counter protests in Raba’a al-‘Adawiyya Square, the opposition has occupied Tahrir Square, the largest and most central public space in Egypt. The opposition is loosely-organized by a grassroots campaign that claims to have collected over 22 million signatures calling for Morsi’s impeachment: Tamarod or “Rebellion.” Continue reading

Translation: Khaled Fahmy offers 32 reasons to vote “NO” on the proposed constitution

I wanted to follow up my last post, a translation of the preamble of the proposed Egyptian constitution, with another translation. This time the source text is a response by the Chair of the History Department at the American University in Cairo, Khaled Fahmy, to the proposed constitution on his facebook. Fahmy argues that the constitution, which was drafted by a Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi-dominated body, proposes sweeping changes to Egyptian governance that open up space for abuse and corruption. I think this document provides the most in-depth account of secular/liberal grievances against the constitution that I have yet seen, so I wanted to share it with the English speakers among us. Continue reading

Translation: Preamble of the proposed Egyptian constitution

Thousands of Egyptians have again taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest. This time, the offense stems from President Morsi’s efforts to ram through the text of a constitution that would drastically change the rule of law in Egypt. Morsi announced last Saturday, December 1st, that a referendum will be held on December 15th–a straight up or down vote on the constitution. Egyptians living abroad were supposed to begin voting today, but reports have surfaced that that process has been delayed. Continue reading

How did Ahmad Shafiq Succeed in the Egyptian Elections?

Wednesday March 2nd, 2011 was an historic night for Egyptian media in the midst of an historic period in Egyptian political life. Less than one month after Hosni Mubarak had stepped down from his thrity-year reign as President of Egypt, Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq went on Egyptian news channel ON TV to debate noted author and liberal columnist, Alaa al-Aswany. In the days before the 2011 revolution, media engagements by government figures were done with pre-scripted questions and were tightly controlled. This program would have a different format. Continue reading

Egypt 101: Blood from a Stone

Egypt is among the world’s most densely populated countries.  This is not always immediately discernable through statistical analysis because the area included in the borders of the country are quite large, encompassing some 995,450 square kilometers. But if you look at a physical map of Egypt, like the one above, most of the landmass is covered by the scorched earth of the Sahara Desert. This vast expanse is gashed by the green Nile Valley—which opens at Cairo to fan out across the Delta to the Mediterranean Sea.  The vast majority of the country lives in this fertile escape from the desert— a cultivated area of some 6 million acres, or about 5 percent of the total land mass.[1]

For some 5,000 years of human history, highly-centralized states have manipulated the water that flows from this gash to control massive amounts of people and resources. But when deranged dictators get a taste for power, they are rarely satisfied until they engorge themselves. So from this gash has flown not only the life-giving waters of the Nile, but also the blood of the Egyptian people.When blood is allowed to fester over an open wound, a scab forms. And if a deep cut goes without proper treatment, the injury will never heal. Continue reading

Reading Marx on May Day

A contemporary drawing of Marx as a young man

The name “Karl Marx,” especially when heard by a U.S. citizen, conjures a variety of images, or perhaps none at all. Marx as a figure was an important sign for the Soviet Union, which established a state ideology in his name. The Soviet Union was the sworn enemy of the United States for most of my parents’ lives. They have told me stories of how, when they were 7 years old, they would have “atomic bomb drills” when they would all simulate what would happen if the Soviet Union dropped atomic weapons on them by hiding under their desks. Can you imagine the psychological impact that would have on a seven year-old?

But the Marx I am reading wrote long before there was such a thing as the Soviet Union. And in reading him, there are things I want to preserve and things I want to firmly reject. Nineteenth-century German idealist philosophers were not very concerned with being legible to the uninitiated. I think, perhaps, it is the difficulty in reading Marx that produced the abomination of the Soviet ideology. But, if you are willing to struggle through this complex text with me, I think we can come out on the other end with a good framework for understanding a lot of the events we see unfolding around us today. Continue reading