Transcending Sectarian Differences

by NORMAN POLLACK

Navigating through the recent events in Egypt requires more factual material (the specifics of Morsi’s record) and more intelligence (than I possess) to evaluate what is happening from a broad theoretical perspective about the nature and meaning of democratic processes and obstacles to their realization.  One’s reflex action is to say, all military intervention, especially in deposing an elected leader, is wrong, to be deplored, and resisted.  The Egyptian crowds, in the exact circumstances, would disagree.  Their argument, as near as I can make out, is that Morsi, by his actions, traduced the Egyptian Constitution in spirit if not also in fact, and thus forfeits the right to its protection for himself and raises the question of its own adequacy to contain and counter perfidious leadership.  We think of constitutions, rightly so, as constituting a higher law, a framework of governance from which standards are set forth for guiding legislation and judicial interpretation and mediating between conflicting principles and jurisdictions of authority.  Wrongly, we think of constitutions as engraved in stone.  Yet, the higher-dimension cannot be dismissed; altering the fundamental law should not be a product of force or expedience.  So, where are we, with military intervention, a president who, despite his earlier promises, reverts to Muslim-Brotherhood partiality, and mass protest on a scale that is larger than the one that brought down Mubarak?

My point does not come easily.  Military intervention is invariably a danger signal.  Yet the Egyptian masses have shown themselves to be a cut above their American counterpart in political sophistication and consciousness, not least in detecting the shortcomings of Morsi.  Obama has had a similarly poor record on curbing unemployment and, because he promised so much more in 2008 than Morsi ever did, fell far further short than he in execution, with still, in America, no sign of consequential, resolute mass opposition, let alone demonstrations, whether over job creation, foreclosures and homelessness, now, near-universal surveillance, but throughout, a disregard for civil liberties, protection of the environment, and widening wealth differentials (created through his own policies of feckless regulation).  Who then is America to talk about events in Egypt (or elsewhere, for that matter), deploring the removal of “the first democratically elected president,” when the US itself has been in the habit of removing democratically elected presidents for some time, the trade mark of the CIA, and more broadly, interpreting Egyptian events solely in terms of US self-interest, i.e., its own regional presence as the dominant power, the many aspects to the politics of oil, and its Israel-centric military paradigm.  Again, though, what of the events?  Here my faith lies in the Egyptian people—their power is greater than that of the army’s, moral, perhaps to the extent of actually transforming the Egyptian army into an authentic people’s army—or at least, by their presence, neutralizing its influence and compelling it to keep its promise of early elections.

I am encouraged because in Egypt, and Brazil and Turkey, we are witnessing mass activation against, not flat-out despotism, but somewhat moderate governments (especially, a Brazilian president herself no stranger to torture and imprisonment by the Generals), which suggests a will to democratization beyond its slow historical pace (even Morsi cannot be caricatured as Mubarak) and, I would like to think, part of an inexorable political-ideological trend in which religion, hierarchy, wealth, indeed, all manifestations of division on lines facilitating exploitation, false consciousness, self-pacification, and  whatever else demeans or obstructs popular rule, is in process of weakening and eventual disappearance.  This means,                               events in Egypt, as elsewhere, must be internally determined, obviously, without American interference.  Humanitarian intervention is the cruel practice of Imperialism under liberal auspices.  Obama’s initial hope was that the Arab Spring would quickly transform itself into Winter, but instead we have a New Summer, where even liberal politicians can become roasted, the people in the streets and squares of Cairo already appreciating that to be liberal is to be antiradical.  Thus far, class per se has not been raised as a banner of justice, yet even to see through moderate government (with its air of liberalism), just as to see through sectarian warfare, supposes an incipient awareness of class: in this sense, that power is stratified on whatever lines it chooses to represent itself, this stratification, graded statuses, under whatever label, representing in practice forms of inequality and attendant inequities that must be abolished if social democracy is to prevail.

In Tahrir Square the watchword appears to be, not class consciousness, but a recognition that religious conflict (here, Morsi’s support for Brotherhood measures and appointments) is a distraction from the greater fight, economic privation facing the masses.  Too, not to be underestimated, there is a clear concern that Islamic fundamentalism is a repressive force and denial of the democratic life to which the people aspire.  I’m not interested in directly finding Marx’s requirements for class analysis or a class spirit because they are implied in the fact that the people are questioning, questioning the record of a failed government.  Were we in America only so fortunate!  My Comment to the New York Times article on military intervention follows (July 4):

It is too early to determine the outcome. But every media report emphasizes that Morsi was “the first democratically elected president” Egypt has had, stated ad nauseum–I say this because we view the situation with American blinders. He, like Obama, was democratically elected; he, like Obama, betrayed every promise that gained him election. I am not recommending military intervention in America. I am saying, to be democratically elected, if anything, gives the person a higher standard to meet: that of honesty, integrity, consistency in carrying forth one’s promises.

Morsi failed the test. His sectarian bias contradicted his appeal; the response in Tahrir Square was not, andi-Brotherhood per se. Rather people were saying, we must go beyond sectarian differences and address the REAL problems facing Egypt (which Morsi did not do): unemployment, shortages in key areas, all for the sake of sectarian favoritism. I, like so many, had great faith in him, applauding his election as precisely the TRANSCENDENCE of sectarian differences. It turned out to be otherwise, and anyone who loves democracy (I do not include the Obama administration) will share the feelings of the anti-Morsi crowds, strikingly large by any measure and indicative of popular feeling.

Our $1.3B support of the Egyptian military is obscene in its own right, as the American social safety net is in tatters. Perhaps, STOP military aid everywhere. Period.

Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University. His new book, Eichmann on the Potomac, will be published by CounterPunch/AK Press in the fall of 2013.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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