Tag Archives: Egypt

The Arab Awakening – Tweets from Tahrir

For someone who sat on the sidelines cheering on the revolution of 12 months ago and who still wishes to see Egyptians achieve all they dream of for their country, this film from Al Jazeera English is moving and inspirational.   I cannot recommend it highly enough – you must watch it.

And if you haven’t yet read a copy of the book that informed the documentary, the excellent Tweets from Tahrir – compiled from real-time tweets and pictures as events in the Square unfolded – be sure to rectify that immediately.

The Egyptian revolution famously became known as the first Twitter revolution.  Both the film and the book show how that happened, although as blogger and activist Tarek Shalaby notes in the film, if the revolutionaries hadn’t had Twitter, they would have used something else!  Still, this is a demonstration of how to use social media for something more lasting than the dissemination of memes and LOLZ.  Let’s hope it can be followed in other squares before too long.

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Imagining the future

Even in a normal year, a lot of news can happen in 10 days.  Unfortunately for someone with intermittent internet connection, 2011 has been far from a normal year, so the last 10 days have seen almost too many events to process.  The US debt deal was cobbled together at the 11th hour, a flat-out Mubarak went on trial in Egypt and things took a further turn for the worst in the Horn of Africa as sensitivity-deficient columnist Liz Jones was sent to cover the disaster by the Daily Mail.

With the attention being constantly prodded in the manner of a TV remote control button by a bored viewer – Libya! America! Syria! Greece! Egypt! Britain! Somalia! – one country which doesn’t like to shout too loud might have slipped from your field of vision.  Yet help is still needed for those living in Japan’s 2,559 evacuation centres as the five-month anniversary of the earthquake approaches.  That their lives have been altered forever is beyond doubt, but how to make a new start remains unclear when the basics are lacking.  Temporary housing is slowly being built, but water supplies are contaminated and the economic future of many small towns is uncertain.  While survivors such as Jun Suzuki are hopeful that they can rebuild:

I wish I can stay in my hometown.  This is where I was born.

Such hopes may not be easily realised.  The affected areas of Japan were not in a position of strength even before the earthquake, as outlined by Christian Dimmer, an urban design specialist, in this article on Imagining an Alternative Future for Japan.    He notes that,

the Great East Japan Earthquake hit hundreds of kilometers of coastline in mostly rural regions with a population of nearly 7 million, 22% of whom were older than 65.

Even before the catastrophic events of March, many of the younger inhabitants of the area had left for jobs and study in Tokyo, leaving the traditional economic bases of agriculture and fishing diminished.  For some communities, rebuilding may prove an impossible task.  Many may never recover.  For others, the immediate need to provide temporary solutions may crowd out attempts to plan for long-term survival, as it is understandably impossible to try to imagine the future when you are living day-to-day.

Faced with such huge questions, alongside so much additional trauma being inflicted worldwide, it is easy to feel powerless.  However, an alternative view is that many of these problems are the result of a delegation of too much responsibility to politicians and vested interests.  If we are going to find a way around them it will take billions of small efforts, made by each one of us, to try to change our futures for the better.  This is something I want to give more consideration to on ten minutes hate soon, so please let me know what you think in the comments below.

In the meantime, you can also donate to projects like Quakebook, which are supporting the work of the Japanese Red Cross to assist those living in the disaster areas.   The DEC page for donations to East Africa is here.

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Pocket-picking time again

They say everyone has 20:20 hindsight, but with each new report that is released it becomes clear that the only sensible response to the financial crisis that began in 2007 is:

are you taking the piss?

Because it is increasingly apparent that, yes, in fact, they are.  Governments across the globe are expecting the poorest and those most in need of help to pay for the clear up while the bankers skip off to the Cayman Islands with suitcases full of our cash and an entreaty that the blame culture must end:

There was a period of remorse and apology; that period needs to be over

– Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays, quoted in Private Eye No 1280

If nothing else, you have to admire their chutzpah.

A reasonably well-connected friend told me back then that the credit crunch was being talked into existence.  I wasn’t sure I believed her, worrying that certain banks were too big to fail and about what might follow if they were allowed to collapse and take millions of ordinary worker’s savings, pensions and mortgages down with them.  In my naivety I might have expected an ounce of fucking gratitude for the largesse we showed in saving the bankers from the abyss.  Not a bit of it, if it was given at all it was begrudged and now, apparently, it’s over.

Instead of remorse, what we get are lectures from the decks of their super-yachts, moored off the coast of the latest tax haven, on why the need for austerity has added hospitals to the list of things now to be considered luxury items.  As noted by the Anarchist Writers:

it is hard to tell whether the Con-Dems stupidity is driven by class interest, incompetence, ideological blindness, economic illiteracy, or a Machiavellian wish to use crisis to pursue market-fundamentalist social engineering. Probably a mishmash of all with the incompetence, ideology and illiteracy helpfully deepening the crisis which can be used as an excuse to impose neo-liberal dreams and ensure the rich get richer

Clearing the deficit at a speed that terrifies most economists certainly seems to be their obsession, the gloss of prudent financial management given to an ideological mission to roll back every advance the working class has won for itself over the last 60 years, while allowing the looting of the global economy to continue unchecked.

Why should we break our backs stupidly paying tax?

Of course, as the rich and the corporations they control demand and get ever more lenient tax regimes, some idiot has to be found to make up the shortfall.  Guess who is in the frame?  So work becomes more and more like this, with the sting of a reduction in take home pay and the removal of services your taxes used to cover.  Remember who you’re working for:

But don’t fear!  We still have a gazillion pounds to spend on the Olympics, millions more to set up the organisation to monitor MP’s expenses and a few quid left over for some really nice chairs.

I wonder what will be our tipping point, what will see us head for the streets, when Mubarak is estimated to have accumulated 40-70 billion dollars from his reign in Egypt, an astronomical sum but one dwarfed by the quids our rulers have handed over to their mates in the pin-stripes.  Maybe it’s time to start building the barricades?

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Egyptians are in the street looking for a brighter day

No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges

Buenaventura Durruti

With these words ringing in our ears, it is hardly surprising that a number of governments, ours included, usually so gung-ho about exporting democracy to other parts of the world – particularly the Middle Eastern bits – seem to be remaining tight-lipped about the uprisings in Egypt.

Of course, as Justin McKeating notes, America and Britain have a many different reasons not to be pushing Egyptian President Mubarak out of the door too swiftly, at least not until they have safely recovered the keys to the filing cupboards (you just know there are paper records somewhere…) containing details of all the War on Terror detainees renditioned to the country to be tortured on our behalf.

And via Truth, Reason & Liberty we learn that even if the Western leaders wanted to share in the glow of their very own Berlin Wall moment, they have the restlessness of the international markets to consider first:

A one-dollar, one-day increase in a barrel of oil takes $12 million out of the U.S. economy.  If tensions in the Mideast cause oil prices to rise by $5 for even just three months, over $5 billion dollars will leave the U.S. economy. Obviously, this is not a strategy for creating new jobs

– Jason S. Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington research group, quoted in the New York Times

Difficult to ignore the not-so-veiled threat to workers in America contained in the last line.

So, while it is tempting to get carried away by the romance of soldiers and protesters embracing, hard-headed realism is required.  As the regime rounds up journalists and seeks to prevent pictures being taken of Tahrir Square, as more protesters are shot, it is essential that we stand in solidarity with the people of Egypt as they struggle to make their society more as they wish it to be.  Even if they get their wish and see Mubarak removed, what follows may be far from the envisaged democracy, as vested interests seek to protect their privileges.

Then, maybe it is also time for us to stop the bar-room and blog grandstanding and learn from Egypt’s example, where people are out on the streets, trying to change their realities in any way they can.  As I sit typing in Japan’s safe commercial paradise, a country that one of my students describes as ‘slowly sinking’, unwilling to wake up to the problems it faces, I can only wish for some of what is in the water in Cairo to be transported to Tokyo and London, to help us avoid complacency, however unlikely that appears.

Egyptians are in the street looking for a brighter day.  Are we content to sit and watch it on TV, or can we be persuaded to join them?

Photograph from 3 quarks daily, via the mortal bathMore photographs of the demonstration at the Boston Globe

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Walk like an Egyptian

Events in Egypt are by turns shocking – as stories of live bullets and gas used against protestors emerge – yet encouraging, if this quote is anything to go by:

[The US has] been lulled by a pro-stability narrative that has been spun out by Mr Mubarak and other Arab autocrats. Unfortunately for Cairo and Washington, the street is saying the game is up

– former CIA director Emile Nakhleh, writing in the Financial Times,

quoted by Naked Capitalism

The message is clear: lose the streets and lose the geo-political game.  No wonder the British police are now using tougher methods against peaceful protesters.

And no, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to post this video pass by:

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