Being a journalist or a pundit with the privilege to be able to voice your opinions, however risky, burdens you with the moral imperative to a) hold your own government accountable for every immoral, illegal, or imbecilic action it commits or openly intends to commit and to b) thoroughly educate yourself on the historical context and political nuances of a foreign country’s present situation before delivering commentary (that erases the imperial crimes of your own government).
Hey (group of mostly middle class white men),
I’m feeling, along with billions of other people all over the place, very voiceless and frustrated these days and you’re not helping much. I’m glad that you’ve become momentarily interested in this week’s Twitter Trending Topic (i.e. massive Egyptian political protest and Morsi’s ousting), but the tone you’ve chosen to discuss these events makes me more than a little ticked off. I’m going to explain two main sources of my disdain for your commentary, and then I’m going to make sure you understand what I’m not saying, and then I’m going to explain what I want you to do (as opposed to what you’re doing right now).
One phrase you group of chest-puffing, hubris-smoking pundits have been using generously is “a setback for democracy.” You think this thing is a “setback for democracy,” and this other thing is also a “setback for democracy.”
Okay, forgive me for my love of acknowledging historical context (when it comes to discussing politics), but you know what was an *unparalleled* setback for democracy in Egypt? The fact that your government, by that I mean the government of America, Land of the Free and Spied-On, was a key force in the maintenance of Mubarak’s brutal, thieving, and very long dictatorial rule. It wasn’t that Bush and Mubarak, or Obama and Mubarak, occasionally sent each other cute texts for support in times of crisis. The U.S. has a vested and destructive interest in Egypt (see: Suez Canal, Israel as a neighbor, etc.) and America’s role in Egypt is not separable from the rampant poverty, infrastructural problems, etc. in Egypt. And when Mubarak fell in 2011, it wasn’t as though Egypt suddenly recovered and should have gotten a great democracy running smoothly without pause. The effects of those decades are still here and they are worsening (why do you think millions of people were on the streets protesting?).
So here’s one source of my anger: Every time you use the phrase “a setback for democracy” without acknowledging the symptoms of the neocolonial poison that your government is so very responsible for, you reinforce undying implications that the lack of healthy, pluralist democracy in the Middle East (or in any majority-colored country) is solely the result of a fundamental savagery and/or backwardness, rather than acknowledging the fact that the West has a very long history of ensuring that “setbacks for democracy” keep happening in places that are not the West. Please remember that in America, democracy is something to be downright revered at home, but destroyed and/or subverted in “foreign” countries where and when it suits U.S. interests (this is not unique, necessarily, to America, but seems to be something that superpowers do based on what little history I know). When you don’t acknowledge this, your political analysis will never be accurate and only reinforces ever-present imperialist attitudes toward the Middle East which is the kind of thinking that in the worst cases justifies bombing people all the way to “liberation” and “democratization.”
Here’s another source of my anger and frustration: You know too well that in the Western-favoring hegemonic construct your voices are going to receive a lot more attention/traction than a lot of Egyptian voices. Why use it to pimp bad commentary? Why not interview and amplify the voices of the Egyptian protesters, who can know things that you cannot from your perch at your laptop? Why not use your privilege to get the West, for once, to engage in legitimate, mainstream dialogue WITH the Middle East, as opposed to AT the Middle East? Remember that one time you got that incredibly intelligent Yemeni boy (whose village was targeted and hit by a drone) to testify to Congress about the deadly and counterproductive effects of drone strikes in Yemen, and in about 15 minutes he peacefully and calmy explained to you EVERYTHING that is wrong with U.S. drone strikes? WE NEED MORE OF THAT. Dialogue (that is balanced and not racist) is the ONLY way to dismantle imperialism and exploitation in a non-violent way. As a vehement opposer of any and all violence, especially when wielded mercilessly by an imperial power with a neoliberal agenda, I BEG YOU TO HELP ME FACILITATE GOOD DIALOGUE. For real, I would be on my knees if I weren’t already comfortable in my quasi-cushy desk chair.
Now, here’s what I’m not saying: That events in Egypt, and everything that takes place in Egypt, whether good or bad, is directly the effect of American influence (I repeat: I do NOT think this).
I think that American influence needs to be accounted for by you, in no uncertain terms, and by that same token I think that Egyptians need to take their fair share of responsibility in terms of holding their government accountable when it fails to protect their interests. While Egyptians must hold themselves and their government accountable (rigorously), you must hold YOURS accountable for its misdeeds. That is not an option: that is YOUR JOB. You are supposed to be journalists and analysts. But until you get it together and indulge in some actual professionalism by understanding Egyptian history and politics and America’s role in all of it, you’re nothing more than gossip queens discussing the new hot couple.
So here’s what I want: If you’re going to continue to comment on MENA politics, it’s inexcusable for you to not have a thorough understanding of the region’s history. A good way to know whether or not you really know what you’re talking about is if you only use the terms “Middle East” and “MENA” ironically, for example (that’s an inside joke with the subaltern blogosphere, humor me). Understand the effects of colonialism (past, post and neo), of the drive toward Western-molded modernization (a.ka. embracing neoliberalism), and try to actually listen to subaltern voices. Spivak once famously said, “Can the subaltern speak?” Well, the subaltern has been speaking, but you’re not listening, so start for heaven’s sake. (“Everything that needs to be said has already been said, but since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” – André Gide).
Here’s what I promise: Once I myself completely (or as much as I possible can) educate myself on Egypt and its neighbors, I will likely do nothing for the rest of my life other than rigorously hold Egyptian governments accountable for every crappy, idiotic, unjust, and inhumane thing they do (as a dual citizen of Egypt and Canada). While I do that, and while other Egyptians are already doing that, you hold your own accountable. Enough with the hubris, enough with the thinly veiled orientalism, and enough with the overnight evolutions into self-proclaimed “Middle East” experts.