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Values and the Egyptian dilemma

“In Egypt, for example, researchers showed a decade ago that by transferring a single gene from barley to wheat, plants are able to tolerate reduced watering longer. This variety requires only one-eighth as much irrigation as conventional wheat and can be cultivated with meager rainfall alone. This is what wheat farmers need”.

(Newyork Times, 2 Feb 2014, P.A 23)

It has come as quite a shock to me to know that there have been successful attempts in Egypt to develop wheat strains that require much less amounts of water. Without going into much detail about issues I’m not trained to handle, It goes without saying that our institutions and political circuits are not wired to be receptive to innovation because of the lack of coordination among them and the absence of integrated state-level policies to tackle our complex problems that pose an existentialist threat to Egypt.

Our bureaucracy and political elites are more of a coalition of profiteers and status seekers striving to sustain the horrible status-quo and preserve their petty stakes in the rot with no shared understanding of how to sort out the huge challenges facing our country.

The root cause , in my opinion, is cultural, since our version of Islam doesn’t link status to quality and achievement. Rather, success is a function of pretentious piety and the capacity to control and amass networks of clients along pre-modern and largely agrarian lines and hence any disruption of our systems is sternly resisted and perceived as a breach of our “familial” valueswhich are based on real and metaphorical lineages.

Big brothers, Condoleezza Rice and the angels of mercy!

It   amazes me how commonplace it has become in Egypt to rant about the American plot to destabilize Egypt by handing it over on a silver platter to Sunni Islamists so as to   plunge the region into an artificial sunni-shiite-Christian conflict which in turn would facilitate smoother control of the Middle East and warrants the security of Israel.

Is there really such a plot? To think that such a plot exists clearly betrays an underlying simple bipolar view of the world where Arabs are holy virtuous people manipulated by the   powerful villains. Second, it is based on an implicit assumption that decision making in the United States is a linear process, where a single authoritarian figure utters judgments in the name of the father; do I detect some projections here?  Finally   let’s hypothetically acknowledge the existence of this demonic plot, and then think what we are doing about it. What I see is something akin to a child whining for being grounded by the elders. Isn’t that what these apologetic complaints about the unjust world are tantamount to?

Now let’s put this plot to a reality test. It is a fact that the human political and cultural world is much more complex than the images run by the aforementioned simplistic view. That world is made up of global actors with economic and security interests that partly stem from the way their different cultures view themselves and others. It is not strange then    the United States, a mighty military and industrial power, has strategic interests in the region. The first goal of this strategy is securing the flow of oil from a region that has almost half of the world oil reserves. This entails the prevention of the rise an anti-western hostile power, one that controls these reserves and tampers with the industrial prosperity of the USA.  The geographic location of the Middle East and its proximity to Europe and vital trade routes makes this goal all the more important.

Second we get to the state of Israel. The western culture has strong affinity with the state of Israel since the Old Testament sentiments of the Israelites were the founding seed of America.  Further, the search for the Promised Land by the heroic Israelites is one of the foundations of western mobility and its Judeo-Christian subconscious.  Consequently guaranteeing the security of the state of Israel is the second tenet of this strategy.

In Arab modernization projects we have always revealed a total disregard for the rules of the game and prevailing power relations because we think in a cartoonlike way of world comprised of good guys and evil ones. Think of Nasser and Sadam’s rhetoric about the destruction of Israel and scraping western interests. The childish behavior peaked in 9/11 when a group of Islamist fanatics committed a horrendous crime by attacking heartland America mass killing thousands which was a terrible shock to the entire security of the western world.  This terrorist act was not a crazy attack by some deranged people, from an out of the way niche, with a deluded vision of the world, but rather it exposed an under-the-surface anti modernity and anti-western fervor in the Middle-East. An undercurrent of satisfaction could be detected throughout the Middle-East- sometimes overt support for the terrorist act was expressed. Even Well-off and westernized upper middle class Egyptians expressed sympathy for retaliating with power, for the first time, against the American hegemony and its support of the colonial state of Israel.

This childish attitude, based on a simplistic vision of the world, exposed that we are a traumatized people just like a child who went through a traumatic experience  and then suddenly  when they are a  grown-up they are exposed to an incident that lays bare the  origins of the traumatic experience.  The trauma stems from    long centuries of being the losers and a line of successive depredations perpetrated but turko-tartatric and European invaders and from contributions to humanity that had stopped in the 13th century. All these factors had shaken to the core the sense of superiority and security that had been the hallmark of the Muslim world.

Think of how the course of history would have changed had we focused since the 60s on industrializing our countries, combating poverty and ignorance and opening up to the world as partners of the entire international community. In other words, what would have happened if we were more self-critical and faced our reality with courage and determination to improve our conditions while bargaining rationally with the other actors in the world to ensure that mutually beneficial compromises are reached.  Alas, we focused instead on burying our trauma, rather than facing it. We have remained stuck in our childish world governed by our traumatic experience. There is no better place for us but the imaginary paradise of a prosperous and pious Arab-Islamic society of the medievals.

The first anchoring assumption of the satanic plot is thus undermined by the realities of the world. Let’s move on to the next assumption that is the way the USA drafts its foreign policy. America is basically a coalition of interest groups representing different business segments, farm blocs, religious interests and industrial tycoons. These groups share common values of economic liberty, minimized state intervention in markets and superiority of the American morals of loyalty, honesty and integrity .The different interest groups  continuously realign themselves  to the left and right (within the specific American spectrum) and gain access to decision making according to their relative power in a certain period. The foreign policy is shaped by political affiliations- whether hawkish interventionists or pacifist liberals- of the elements in power in a specific point of time. Affiliations of the groups in power are regulated by the institutional culture of the relevant American government organizations (CIA, state department, etc,) Input from  think tanks informs decision making  in the power corridors while voices from the concerned interest groups( big oil, military- industrial complex,  affected business segments) are accounted for.  We could see how the American tactics serving their Middle East strategy has always shifted from confrontation with Nasser to the containment then destruction of Sadam, to the support of militarized Islam in the 70s and 80s to combat the leftist encroachment on American oil interests in the region.

A seemingly perpetual alliance with the conservative Islamic regime of Saudi Arabia has been an enduring tactic since the 40s.

The ascent of a clutch of intellectually- driven, dogmatic politicians and intellectuals, called the neo-conservatives, to power in America coincided with the 9/11 attacks. The main tenet of the neo-conservative policy was regenerating American morals, in the face of what they perceive as an increasingly decadent society, by erecting an external enemy.  The iconic foreign policy figure of this group was Condoleezza Rice!

9/11, however, was a game changer, meaning that it cannot be reduced to just an opportunity for the neo-conservatives to enact their vision. The entire western security theory had been challenged and the Middle Eastern traumas were obviously on its way to boil over into a galvanization of the entire region in anti-western hostilities. That meant that a strategic shift in the American strategy for the Middle-east had become inevitable. The obvious goal is sorting out the Islamic threat. The neo- conservatives’ tactic was shock and awe; a swift blowing attack on the male figures of the muslims- Iraq and Afghanistan- which would expose the Middle Easterners to their reality. Thereby, the tensions in these societies, hidden by the illusions sustained by these societies to conceal its real traumas, would be exposed.

In Egypt we have a primitive capitalist system (I’m for clean capitalism, so I don’t anyone to say that I’m communist) that have failed to industrialize (modernize) Egypt. It is capitalism organized along despotic and archaic near-eastern agricultural lines, where big brothers (El-Kebeer) control the economy through networks of patronage and spheres of influence protected like women of the household (harem).  The big brother stifles spin-offs and innovation whereas the younger one resists the patronizing big brother by negative work values and internally disbelieving the whole system. The system has generated huge income and education gaps, strict immobile social hierarchies, class antagonisms and widespread negative religiosity, which represents a safeguard against insecurities, contradictions and a diminishing national self-esteem.

In Syria there is an underprivileged rural class of Sunnis ruled by a privileged Alawite minority allied with Christians and Sunni-middle- classers. In Iraq despite the secular and socialist tendencies of  Sadam’s regime, the Shiites stored a deep resentment for the sunni elite (victimology is a common denominator of all Arab Shiites while Iranians don’t share this sentiment).

Bang, bang! The tactics worked; the Middle East has been destabilized. Egyptian people has been going into dissent since 2004-2005, civil war erupted in Syria and Iraq has been technically divided. The Arab fetishistic rage against Israel has been redirected towards the formation of new identities in the Levant and Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines.

This is not yet the end of the story, American power leant leftwards with the presidency of the pacifist left-leaning Barack Obama. The new tactic takes for granted that the ripple and dominos effects of neo-conservative tactics are irreversible. The American tactic is now focused on preventing the backfire of these effects and stopping the destabilized region from falling a prey to Jihadist Islam. This is carried out through a tactical alliance with the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt and Syria and the Shiite Islamists in Iraq to ensure free elections in these countries, ones that would give the people a conduit for regime change which would eventually force the people out of the their traumatic state .

The long-term desired effect of a modern secular Islam will only come in the long-term. Meanwhile, expect a protracted period of economic failures, social unrest and political turmoil. I expect that in a 30 year time we will come back to the future and modernity having given our Illusions ample room to play out “democratically”.

Now we have seen that the second assumption of the satanic plot is fallible; there is no fatherly authoritarian single American figure conspiring against the angelic Arabs.

That said, I sincerely hope , for my own parochial interests, that the Egyptian non-Islamist opposition succeeds in toppling the  Brotherhood, though this a far cry from saying that the Islamists in general have no future in the short to mid- term in Egypt.

By the way, what do you think of Condi? Is she a she-demon or an angel of mercy in disguise?

Fears and horizons

I can never get to understand why the Arabs are so hell-bent on cutting each other’s throats just to appease Omar, Ali and Hussein! I really don’t know, but, nonetheless, I think it might be related to some belief that an imagined heavenly paradise existed on earth in the medieval times. Why so? I also don’t know, yet the first thing that comes to my mind is fear to face reality as it is. It might as well help if they learned that that crusades came to an end in the 13th century. This is not saying that there are no historic grievances; bad things happen. Grownups however play the game using rules that are very different from children’s.

The first step in the long weary road back to the future starts off by realizing that Ibn- Taymiyah, and Ghazaly were ordinary mortals who must not be confused with rocket scientists, social reformers and prophets.

The Middle Eastern Christians on their part must find a way to cope with the fact that the Pharoanic, Phoenician and Assyrian civilizations are dead; hence they had better invest their energies in finding new ways for all of us!

Magical tunes: the contemporary silk road!


“The near east is a magical spot”, said Miss Condoleezza Rice. Hope I have quoted the lady correctly. I can’t help recalling Miss Rice’s insightful statement whenever I listen to that catchy tune.In a documentary directed towards satisfying the whims of culture nerds I followed the obsession of two travelers with that mysterious Greek folk tune. The travelers put on the gild of Indiana Jones and traced the tune back to Asia until they found their own cup of the Christ; the closure of the exciting search was that the tune originated somewhere in the Turkic Eurasia. Isn’t it just as bizarre that tune was widespread in Egypt during the fifties (remember Bob Azzam)?

Now I think that Condi’s statement should be modified to include the entire Eurasian region (North Africa included) and maybe Greece as well. And by the way, I would spare a dime to the one who could find the missing link between the Iraq war and the Egyptian revolution.

Ramblings on the wine of conquistadores

Is the martyrdom of the conquistador warring for the indigenous sheep really ironic?  Man (or woman) has a soft spot for the Argentinean Chico, Che, getting into hand to hand bloody battles to lead the Cuban and Bolivian folk out of the cage of mental feudalism.  Whereas fellow conquistadores bemoan the hero who had been turned over by ungrateful serfs and a comrade Fidel happy to see the overbearing hero slide into a distant abyss, earthly beings bloat the caesarian liberator for seeking his own laurel wreath on account of their sweat.

It is not the “movies” effect at play here, for the biblical cinema record how Moses had to run in the sizzling Middle Eastern moors to liberate the Hebrew tribe which eventually turned against its saviour hero. This very human and eternally favorable theme per se supports the argument for    altruism being hard wired to our genes, yet for the complex human ( the indigenous in  this context) to be free he has break the idol of the liberator as well.

Hence, it is not ironic as such.

What is Ironic is that the whole liberator conquistadores’ lines have been the Semites main gift to humanity. While for the Athenian democrat, on the other hand, the Greek hero was all common free men. Fortunately, the protestant ethic partly liberated the new world (and parts of the old one as well) from the suffocating Middle Eastern shackles a much as the pristine values of Islam did- for a relatively short period, though (Mohamed was  made up of flesh and blood and was not a martyr)- with the near east. It is even more perplexing that although going far into the east we find a history swarming with conquistadores and good heroes, we scarcely, if ever,  come across a martyred- conquistador cult! Losers in pre- WW2 Japan undertake Hara Kiri, while in china Confucian and later on Maoist orderly harmony clogged the hardware of the martyred-conquistador gene.

I just can’t help driving away those uncalled for reflections whenever unsolicited headlines and news about the Egyptian political scene come over my way.  The Muslim Brotherhood, self-styled conquistadores, are hijacking the glimpse of free will that sparkled in a rare and particular point of time across an entire nation. They are chaining the whole nation in the iron of submission that has plagued the region since the death of the ancient near eastern civilizations. Another band of conquistadores- self-proclaimed revolutionaries, as opposed to true behind- the- scenes conquistadores masquerading as commoners- are whining for their perceived fair share of the spoils. Can the indigenous people become conquistadores on their own? I doubt.

I hope that my Johnny Walker induced ramblings may have been useful to some.

I drink a  toast to a very dear genuine conquistador whom I have misunderstood for so long.


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