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May 26, 2008

More on the “General Strikes”—مزيد من الكلام عن الإضرابات العامة

Filed under: Masr —مصر — Tags: , , , — admin @ 9:49 pm

ّI just read a few of my friend Daïkha Dridi’s articles and they made me a bit depressed.  Mostly because, even after all this time with Arabic, I could largely read them in French, even with my 17-year-old high-school French that I never practiced with actual French-speakers.  I could skim her articles better, or maybe about the same, as most Arabic articles I come across.  That’s depressing.  Granted, I couldn’t produce a French sentence to save my life at this point, and much of my understanding is due to the number of cognates.

But, aside from this, I found the articles wonderful, and I wish I’d known about them earlier so as to refer to them, both for information I was lacking in my research on the “bread crisis” and to direct readers to her.  On the Facebook issue, I don’t disagree with her assessment, though I look at it from a different perspective.  Despite the fact that Facebook users mobilize the rhetoric and the more spectacular (I mean this in the derogatory sense) forms of radical left politics, I still think it is worthwhile to consider the April 6th Facebook movement on its own level.  From the radical left perspective, they certainly seem to be effecting a sort of détournement (to use her word, translated as “hijacking” by Google Translate) of the movement of militant labor in Egypt, but there is certainly more going on than this.

To suggest that the movement exists entirely on-line is either ignorant or disingenuous in my opinion.  While there may be a few completely-isolated souls (in real-world terms) involved, the vast majority certainly have actual relationships with actual people on a day-to-day basis, and I think it is safe to assume that many people in these pro-strike groups are having real-world conversations with their peers about it, and debating real-world courses of action.  The proliferation of separate, smaller groups supporting the strike points to these real-world relationships and conversations. These may not penetrate deeply into the vast segment of society which is not on-line, and this is not insignificant, but it is also not an excuse to ignore what actually IS happening.

And we can easily dismiss the patronizing “save the poor” attitude of people who can easily absorb the price inflation that has mobilized everyone, but this accusation could be as easily leveled at those traditional bulwarks of radical left politics:  intellectuals and students.  Many of them, at this stage, may make the mistake of equating (and not just aligning) their interests with those of “the workers”, but I think the “strikes” of April 6th and May 4th (and the stupidly-timed, up-coming June 5th) give these people the space to discover their own common interests (and, hopefully, the danger of advertising their networks online in the midst of a paranoid police state).  As I see it, the fact that they are deliberately aligning those interests with the militant left, problematic as this may be, should be heartening.

To dismiss the people on Facebook as Gucci Revolutionaries or harp on the melodrama of an inexperienced “activist” who said some rather ridiculous things after being released from prison (likely under duress), is, in my opinion to pre-ordain our worst fears:  that the Facebookists will turn into some lame pro-western, pro-consumer youth movement like that which brought Milosevic to his knees or Khatami to power.  What they most certainly will NOT respond well to is people telling them what to do and how to do it or STFU if they disagree.  These people are obviously currently inclined toward the left, but this cannot last long if the Left is intent on yelling at them “you’re doing it wrong!” while it waits for them to “come around” to “the correct analysis”.

There are several ways I see this progressing.  For one, the Facebookist movement could just fizzle out completely.  It think this is what a lot of political stalwarts are secretly hoping for, given the mutual suspicion between themselves and people on Facebook.  Another possibility is that the movement will continue to grow, continue to make mistakes, and continue to learn from those mistakes (unlike many of the more ossified political trends in Egypt).  As they become more effective—yes, even in the real world—the political bent which informs their work into the future will depend, I think, on how other groups and political trends approach the movement in the present.  We in the radical left, for instance, can return the favor of an alliance of interests, still with a critical perspective and analysis, but also with qualified solidarity.  We can pledge to stand with the movement through its mis-steps and other “learning opportunities”.  The movement, in this way, will hopefully grow with us, and we with it.

Or alternatively, we can continue to disown the movement as Gucci Revolutionaries and treat them with the same patronizing attitude as their families, the state, the church and the mosque.  We know where this will lead.  Given their class position (presuming they’re not all saving up throughout the week for a brief trip to the internet cafe), they will many of them be quite happy to fall into the nurturing, accepting, clean, air-conditioned, un-crowded, well-lit, well-decorated arms of consumer capitalism—because, after all, Capital is nothing if not accommodating, as long as you’ve got the money.

Ultimately, I think a lot of the snarkiness of Daïkha Dridi’s article and the criticisms coming from left activists is well deserved, and I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t be engaging in it at all.  It’s just that I haven’t heard a lot of support—critical or otherwise—from people whose politics I otherwise agree with.  I think withholding even critical, qualified solidarity is a mistake, strategically and ethically.

1 Comment »

  1. […] More on the general strikes in Egypt, via Fhar’s blog […]

    Pingback by Is Greater Than » Spirit of the Time 5/27/08 — May 27, 2008 @ 9:34 pm

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