Among the many approaches to the study of literature are varied considerations of structure, form, and language, including archetypologies, symbologies, and rhetorical and verbal analysis. These differing hermeneutics can be brought to bear on the interpretation of more than just literature, as almost anything can be argued to show intention, in the sense of indications of meaning. This has been a welcome realization among literary scholars over the past half century, for otherwise they might have had to confine their prodigious analytical skills to nothing more interesting and important than imaginative literature and debates about whether Emma Bovary was really a tramp or a trope.
Egypt, then, we might claim, in general and in this moment-to-moment crisis, is a text, and a very nearly ideal one in how it opens itself to interpretation. As a political subject to be engaged, let’s say, from the U.S. standpoint, it has offered a perhaps perfect model for the tension of real versus ideal policy. Modern Egypt does not exist, of course, in a historical vacuum, so any American policy all these decades was bound to echo a colonial history in the Middle East in which the U.S. itself played no significant role, but typologies will be recognized and interpreted. Wondering, then, whether an archetype is something essential or, instead, analytically superimposed, a question arises whether political acts – some policy of the French in Africa, lets’ say, given France’s colonial history in Africa – can ever be understood free of, having transcended, historical context. Could a great capitalist power, now the U.S., ever have engaged a non-democratic Egypt through policies not interpretable as controlling and exploitative? Even an ideal policy of non-engagement (including no economic aid) on the basis of a human rights agenda, may be viewed by those inclined, and is, as culturally arrogant. Aggressive opposition to a non-democratic Egypt on the basis of a “freedom agenda” is easily characterizable as imperialistic.
Much as we wonder in Ethics 101 whether an act may be considered altruistic if we experience inner satisfaction at its goodness, could a realistic U.S policy toward Egypt ever have escaped condemnation, as supporting Mubarak’s dictatorial regime, if the U.S. had policy interests in cooperative engagement? Even if we argue against the pressures of American energy policy – oil dependence – that dependence would have been an unavoidable, original factor, not quickly disappearing. Then there is Israel. But only a position clearly adversarial to Israel can argue that U.S. support of Israel is opportunistic. It is, in fact, that rare policy pursued ideally and commendably, and along with oil and, now, opposition to Islamism, constitutes legitimate U.S. interests in the Middle East for which, for three decades, Mubarak’s Egypt provided stability.
Was there ever the prospect of a more democratic and free Egypt that might have played the same role? When?
It is true that the U.S. has often not conducted itself commendably in balancing its own and others’ interests. Iran, Guatemala, and Vietnam are common examples. But they are also fifty and sixty years ago, at the height of Cold War excess. Even Chile is nearly forty years ago.
There are, too, the prospects of what may follow if the people’s revolt against Mubarak is successful, an outcome far from certain as I write. The spirit of democracy, the yearning for freedom has been much and inspiringly on display in the streets of Egypt. One cannot be a democrat and be anything but moved by and committed to it. And The Muslim Brotherhood, the source of so many fears, has not been significantly in evidence in the revolt, but just as I believed that Mubarak himself was playing a kind of ropeadope all week – he came off the ropes in the violence yesterday, which was abetted by the military – the history is very long of cunning, undemocratic revolutionary parties creating and waiting for their opportunity to take control of unstable political situations. It is also true that anti-Semitism is widespread in Egypt, even among those who do not identify as devout Muslims.
Upon all this highly structured text, then, this clear form like a Rorschach that opens itself to us just for this purpose, read the U.S. role, now. Is it conspiratorial author of all? Unreliable narrator of events? Manipulative antagonist behind the wizard’s curtain?
Here is some lunacy on the stupefying far (and anti-Semitic) Left.
Obama’s greenlight to Mubarak brings bloodshed to Egypt
A Western correspondent in Cairo told me that Mubarak goons targeted many reporters and that they also sexually harassed female protesters. Those goons and criminals are the linchpin of Obama’s Middle East policy. When the book is written about what he did to save Mubarak, it should be titled: it is all for you, o Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
(Just as an aside, one has to truly relish the delicious college-collective PC of the harassment charge. “Yes, there was blood and bodies everywhere – and they sexually harassed people too!” There’s the revolutionary spirit, some True Grit.)
Not to be outdone is the manically insane Right (one wishes one could write “far Right”) from a roundup of Beck, Limbaugh, Coulter, Big Government, Malkin, and Tammy Bruce:
Conservative Media Look At Hosni Mubarak And See Barack Obama
Judson Phillips of the Tea Party Nation cautions that as riots grow in Egypt and debate rages whether Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak can remain in power, American citizens need to be watching closely.
“The lesson we in the Tea Party movement need to be paying attention to is Egypt and the Internet. In response to the crisis, the Egyptian government has cut off almost all Internet access to the country and has disrupted cell phone service. They understand, if the opposition cannot communicate, they cannot be effective.”
The Internet was critical in getting the tea party movement going, connecting concerned citizens through social media such as Facebook, and communicating information about rallies via email and Twitter.
“As conditions in America continue to go from bad to worse and the possibility of new, large demonstrations against the regime loom, do you think Obama would not hesitate to pull the Internet kill switch?” Phillips asks.
Given the status quo ante, the U.S. response always needed to be dependent on the course of the protests. Outright support of either side to begin would have been a mistake, needlessly undermining U.S. interests in one outcome, directly betraying American ideals in the other choice. However, the manner in which we have talked about the situation from the start is instructive. Were these events transpiring in any free and democratic nation – look no farther than the social and political upheaval in the U.S. in the 60s, in the demonstrations and the urban riots – there would be no talk of the government stepping down. Even if the government reacted excessively, as it sometimes did, particularly, in the 20s and 30s, against the Bonus army or against union organizers, there would be no question of legitimate revolution.
That question, that language, has been in the text since this story began, because whatever the realistic policy considerations, the exigencies of political time and place, and even the possible unhappy outcomes, the Mubarak government is illegitimate, and where, in extremis, the U.S. had to come down could never have been in doubt.
- What should Obama do next on Egypt? – Washington Post (blog) (news.google.com)
- Barack Obama’s Egypt Response Slammed In Israel (huffingtonpost.com)
- People Power in Egypt Is Focused on Egypt – Not Israel or the U.S. (time.com)
- Post Mubarak: Muslim Brotherhood Could Play Role – NPR (news.google.com)
1 thought on “Egyptics”
Your usual extraordinary prose, Jay.
There was an article in the paper the other day about that “secret switch” Obama need only pull to render us Internet mutes. Conspiracy theories, anyone?