Spare us your intellectual Disneylands

Rami G. Khouri writes: Egypt continues to mesmerize, and it seems for many people around the world, to mystify as well, at least to judge by the wild and definitive assertions we hear daily about the consequences of developments in Egypt: Islamism is dead in the Arab world. Pluralism is dead. Democracy has failed in Egypt. Qatar is fading. Saudi Arabia rules the region. The Turkish and Iranian leaderships have lost. Egypt will suffer either civil war or a democratic resurgence. Arab Christians have no future in the region. And many other such statements that are asserted with the illusory confidence of absolute fact. This is comical for revealing the ignorance of most analysts who make such statements, and insulting for revealing a subtle new form of Orientalist thinking that manifests itself in two ways: One assumes that Arabs and their political cultures can only be black or white – democracy or military rule, and nothing in between; and another assumes that the future of 350 million Arabs will be definitively set for decades by developments this week, or the next month at most, disregarding both the force of human agency and the powerful corrective measures that come with time.

The most offensive aspect of so much of the international, especially American, commentary on Egypt is its absolutist nature that assumes three things that I believe are wrong assumptions: That current events in a short span of time will define Egypt for many years; that the people of Egypt essentially only face two choices, namely the Muslim Brotherhood or the armed forces; and that loyalists of both parties will clash and one of them will win, with no space in between for subtleties or nuances or groups of citizens engaging each other to craft a new political culture that is neither absolutist nor autocratic.

Much of the analysis about Egypt these days misses how life, ideology, identity and politics actually operate across the Middle East, which is basically through a process of constant negotiations of identities and authorities by a wide range of citizens who often are not formalized in clear organizations, and for the most part do not have websites, or Twitter and Facebook accounts. If Egypt teaches us anything for now it is that dozens of different groups of citizens will continue to engage each other in political battle until they agree on the outlines of a national governance system that they can all accept as legitimate and appropriate for their country. [Continue reading…]

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