The pitiless limit to the hours in the day, & shameless self-promotion.

Why look! It's me!

I have a post that I’m working on, a follow-up of sorts to my Lara Logan post, but it’s not ready yet, and frankly, I am dazed and confused and exhausted from a sudden – whoosh! – onslaught of work that came right at the same time as –whoosh! – a sudden onslaught of rage about rape and then – whoosh! – a sudden onslaught of lovely response to the post that my rage produced! And I got a flat tire.

So I’ve decided to take advantage of the rush of new eyeballs to my end of the Internetsylvania Super Information Highway of Dreams, and offer up a small handful of older, far more light-hearted posts for your enjoyment. Please: Read, enjoy, comment, and come back now and then! (Or at least tomorrow, when I hope to have that follow-up up!)

1) THINGS I SHOULDN’T HATE NEARLY AS MUCH AS I DO.

You know how there’s genuinely annoying stuff that you kind of don’t really notice? And then there’s pretty mild stuff that you actually actively hate? And probably shouldn’t?

Oy, don’t get me started.

Oh, ok, I’ll get started:

– People who say “ATM machine” and/or its direct corollary: “PIN number” – So ok, I’m not a monster. I don’t hate those people. But I fucking hate what they say! People, people: You don’t need to tack the noun on — it’s right there in the acronym! Right there and handy! All bundled up, for the ease of your elocution! Lesser hate: The use of the word “social” in place of the apparently-far-too-long-for-mere-mortals-to-get-their-mouths-around “social security number.” To read the rest of this sorry list of shit I really should let go of, click here.

2) THINGS YOU CAN’T PUT ON YOUR RESUME.

I may have mentioned that I am bereft of work. You know, a time or two. Ahem.

This is not, however, a post about that! No, it’s a post about resumes, or rather: the things I can’t put on mine, now that I’m thinking about it so much.

Like most people, I have skills — not to say skillz — that are finely honed, often unparalleled, and frequently dead handy. But useless on a resume.

SUCH AS:

I can collate a messy pile of papers faster than just about anyone you might meet. To learn more about my rockin’ skillz, click here.

3) BUZZ KILL.

Lately the husband and I find ourselves sharing deeply personal cultural artifacts with the boy and the girl.

The girl and I are working our way through the Betsy-Tacy-Tib books, having not long ago completed the Little House series, and even more recently, the Winnie the Pooh books. In each case, it’s been a joy and privilege to share these pieces of my heart and soul, and in each case, I’ve been stunned by the quality of the work. Of course, it was always quality, but one hears things differently when one is an adult — one gets to see, I suppose, just how genius is The Man/Woman Behind The Curtain.

…Here’s the thing though: Not everything that carries a place in one’s heart is of equal value. Not everything that we might want to share is worthy of it. By this, of course, I mean: John Denver. To find out just how much John Denver sucks, click here.

4) I CONTAIN MULTITUDES!*

I recently mentioned that I often don’t enjoy the publications geared to my demographic.

Which is what? You may ask.

I think that, in terms of advertising, my demographic is probably this (though I’m sure an advertising professional would put the following in a different order):

  1. Upper middle class
  2. Highly educated
  3. 45 years old
  4. Female
  5. Married mother of two
  6. White
  7. Suburban

The cover lines just write themselves, don’t they?

Here are some of the things that More thinks will interest me: “Get Sharon Stone’s Body”; “Shirtless Stars We Love”; “MORE talks with Jennifer Aniston’s Trainer”; “How Not to Act Old at the Beach.”

…Oh.My.GOD. So much do not want. To find out what else is wrong in the magazine publishing world (not to mention where that asterisk leads!), click here.

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The assault on Lara Logan & the reality of rape.

I’ve never been raped.

Why? Because I’m lucky.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

I’ve been groped on more than one occasion. I’ve been followed by men in a car late at night. I’ve been harassed on the street, and more than once not been certain it was going to end at “harassment.” A friend and I once found ourselves in a shared taxi with two men who tried to convince the driver (in a language they shared and we barely understood) to take us somewhere they could attack us (the driver physically pulled them from his car). I once discovered that my gynecologist was no longer in business – because he had raped several patients.

I am a woman, and I live in the world. This is what living in the world looks like, if you happen to be a woman. If none of that becomes rape? You’re lucky. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And while I might not have been raped, I know many women who were. Some more than once. Some when they were children. Some by people they believed loved them. Rarely, but occasionally, by strangers. And this is just the people I know.

I also spent five years as a rape counselor at the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center, where I learned just how tenuous my status as someone who had never been assaulted is. One of the most famous cases we handled involved a young woman and her date — a well-known musician. They got to his place, and after saying yes, she said No. She said no so vehemently, with such certainty, that he had to tie her up to complete his rape. And yet some people still wanted to blame her.

The other day, as all of Egypt poured into the streets to celebrate their victory over tyranny, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was separated from her camera crew, surrounded by a large group of men, and then brutally and repeatedly assaulted. She was saved by Egyptian women and Egyptian soldiers, and CBS reports that she is still in an American hospital.

When Twitter got wind of this, folks went nuts. Some want to blame Middle Eastern culture, or Egyptians generally. Some say the rapists were hired goons, unrepresentative of anything remotely related to those who participated in the Egyptian uprising. Some have actually managed to blame Logan, and one man who should have known better made light of her fate and suggested it would have been “funny” if Anderson Cooper had been raped, too (he’s since apologized, so I won’t link).

But the simple truth is that the only culture that is responsible for this is human culture.

In far too many minds, all over the world, a female human is little more than an outlet or repository for male wishes or power. Rape is regularly and consistently used as a weapon of war. Rape is regularly and consistently used as a method of control.

But rape is also just regular and consistent. Men rape for no reason other than that they think they can get away with it — all the time, every day. Doctors rape, clergymen rape, husbands rape, boyfriends rape, employers rape, “dates” rape. Sometimes they employ tricks and ploys and intoxicants in order to convince themselves that what they’re doing is not (as Whoopi Goldberg so memorably put it) “RAPE rape” — but if she said no, or couldn’t say no, or was too afraid to say no? It’s RAPE rape. It’s all rape.

And lots of times, rapists don’t even bother to convince themselves. They wanted a vagina, and there was one in the room. They wanted to bond with their boys, and a vagina walked by. They wanted to show that bitch, or prove their worth, or relieve themselves, or take what any man in his right mind would take. RAPE rape.

Like most crimes, rape is a crime of opportunity. You don’t drive across state lines to pick-pocket — you go down to the corner. You don’t get on a bus to find women to attack — you attack the ones who are there and handy. Most of the time, those who commit sexual assaults do so within their own communities. Often within their own families.

Men and boys are also raped — every day — and that is at least one reason why that one tweet was so beyond-the-Pale wrong. No rape is ever funny, and the particular suffering of male victims is one with which we as a society have yet to grapple.

But men and boys, as a class, do not grow up and live with this fear, this threat, across the world and across cultures. This is women’s lot, and it falls on all of us.

Every.single.one.of.us.

I feel such pain and sorrow for Ms. Logan — not only did she survive this horrific attack, but her story is now public property, to be analyzed and picked over by all and sundry, people who have never met her and never will.

But her story is not as rare, or as easily dismissed as random violence, as so many would like it to be. Would wish it to be. And until we — humanity — admit that, millions upon millions of women and girls will be raped and assaulted year in, year out.

I’ve been lucky so far. I pray to God my daughter will be, too.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

 

UPDATE: Melissa Bell, a blogger at the Washington Post, wrote a very good, brief response to the reactions to the attack on Ms. Logan, including some important statistics. Please click through and read the whole thing.

A 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women experience public sexual harassment, from groping to assault.

Here’s why this story is not just about Egypt, either:

In 2000, in New York’s Central Park, an assault similar to Logan’s occurred during a parade. Seven women were attacked. In the United States. Attacks occur everywhere, every day. Again and again.

The assault did not happen because Logan was a reporter in a dangerous country. It did not happen because that country happens to be Muslim. It happened because sexual assault occurs every single day to women everywhere in the world.

Book review: Palestinians narrating.

It’s an axiom in my field that “Arabs aren’t allowed to narrate” — and it’s a pretty accurate one, at that, at least in the West (or: It was until last Friday. Perhaps the Egyptians are now ushering in a new age for the Arab peoples [with, of course, an important h/t to the Tunisians]).

I would submit, however, that nowhere is this axiom more true than with regard to the Palestinians.

The story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been seen in the West almost exclusively through the the Israeli lens. For many decades, this meant that the Israelis were the brave, besieged ones, whereas the Palestinians were the craven, evil ones — “Palestinian” often serving as something of a synonym for “terrorist.”

The good news is that last ten years or so have seen a certain re-focusing of the lens, as Western intellectuals, leaders, and the occasional Jew have rediscovered that other, rather more universal, axiom: There are two sides to every story.

The bad news is that we still have a long way to go. Because the truth is: Both sides have done evil. Both are victims. Both have been badly misunderstood and unfairly maligned. Both have stories of horror and heroism to tell the world.

But one side has a state. One side is supported by the world’s one remaining superpower. One side has tanks and a functioning economy, and one side is actually — literally — besieging the other. One side, the Israeli side, is still writing the history.

Into this breach, then, come two new Palestinian authors daring to narrate their own history, in beautiful, telling memoirs. I was lucky enough to review both for the Dallas Morning News yesterday:

… Sami al-Jundi’s The Hour of Sunlight (co-authored by Jen Marlowe) and Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I Shall Not Hate . Both men were born into Israeli occupation, but on opposite borders — al-Jundi grew up in Jerusalem , Abuelaish in the Gaza Strip — and the near-simultaneous publication of their memoirs creates an unusual opportunity to deepen the understanding of the conflict’s human cost.

Each author has spent his adult life dedicated to coexistence efforts, and the books deal at length with questions of nonviolence, mutual compassion and the search for Israeli-Palestinian peace — but as with all really good memoirs each also brings a great deal more to the table.

Yet for all that, Abuelaish’s convictions were unable to protect his family during the 2009 Gaza war: Two days before the cease-fire, the doctor’s residence was targeted by an Israeli tank — a shell ripped through a wall, killing his niece and three of his daughters.

Abuelaish recalls running to the shattered room: “Schoolbooks, dolls, running shoes, and pieces of wood were splintered in a heap, along with the body parts,” he writes. “There was brain matter on the ceiling.”

Yet somehow, he also writes of “the potential good that could come out of this soul-searing bad” — the possibility that the sides “might bridge the fractious divide that has kept us apart for six decades.”

Both authors are scrupulously honest (about their own limitations, as well as those of the peoples they long to see live in peace), their books heartfelt, moving and beautifully written, each in a distinctive voice, telling separate and equally important stories.

To learn more about/order these two marvelous books, please click here: Hour of Sunlight and here: I Shall Not Hate.

To read the rest of my review, please [UPDATE] click through to after the jump.

(more…)

Mabruk ya Masr! !مبروك يا مصر

Congratulations, Egypt!!!

I’m overcome with emotion right now, and it feels a little odd and unearned — the Egyptians are not my people, and their uprising unfolded without a grain of help from me. And yet the joy, the sense of possibility, the renewed faith in humanity and our gifts — it’s just overwhelming!

Tears roll down my face as I type, just as they did when I heard the news on Al Jazeera (how funny that I’m grateful that I was in front of the computer when the news came that Mubarak had resigned. I’ve known about this new reality precisely as long as the Egyptian people, and for some reason, that feels wonderful).

I have many concerns and fears. I’ve discussed some of them here, and others — such as an amorphous dread that this doesn’t bode well for Israel/Palestine (which may amount to little more than a vicious awareness that if Israel can screw things up, it almost always does) — are floating around, in my head and the blogosphere and halls of academia and centers of power, right now. Mubarak had hardly gone, the crowds still wildly cheering in Egypt’s streets, before People Who Know Things were online and on the air, talking about how uncertain the days ahead are, and how we mustn’t be too thrilled with this thrilling turn of events.

And all I can say, on this day, the day on which the people of Egypt threw off their chains is: Stop talking. Please – just stop talking.

Instead, listen. Listen to the people in Tahrir Square*, listen to the joy in the voice of Egyptian journalist Mona Elthahawy**, listen to the tears of activist and political scientist Rabab al-Mahdi***. Listen and watch and allow the sheer, unmitigated euphoria of the Egyptian people wash over you and through you. Allow them their moment – honor their moment – and be humble and gracious enough to realize: We might not have any idea what their lives are like.

We might not know what it means to live under a brutal, dehumanizing regime for our entire lives, never free to tell the truth, never allowed to play a role in bettering our lives or our nation, held in a position of penury and often hunger by the rapacious appetites of men who have always found us to be beneath contempt.

We might not know what it’s like to lose loved ones — children, wives, husbands — to the grinding, bloody gears of an inhuman security apparatus. We might not know what it’s like to be tortured to within an inch of sanity ourselves. We might not know what it’s like to be arrested for having long hair, or talking to the wrong foreigner, or taking action to better our community.

We might not know. But the Egyptians do.

They know what they’ve left behind far better than we can ever imagine, and, likewise, they know far better than we the challenges they face. They are neither blind, nor stupid. Their joy is a thing of immense, almost palpable beauty, a thing which comes from the very core of the human heart, and it deserves its space and its place.

There’s nothing easier on God’s green earth than being dismissive, cynical, or unimpressed. It requires no effort, no investment of the self, and often, very little thought. On the other hand, there’s nothing more punk than faith. On this day, I’m choosing faith over fears, and elation over cynicism.

I know the Egyptians have a long road ahead — frankly, all of us have a long road ahead. Their road may yet get ugly, it may get much more bloody, and it may very well be fraught with disappointments and petty failures. Such is our human lot. If we were angels, we wouldn’t need revolution in the first place.

But today is not a day to tell Egypt and the rest of humanity to reign in our joy, to temper our hopes. Today is a day to allow our hearts to fill to overflowing, and to bask in the beauty that we humans can sometimes achieve.

Today is a day for joy.

*******************

(Just listen to what Joe Strummer says at the start of his version of Redemption Song – it’s like he was still here with us. [I discovered that the official video of this song is embedding disabled, so I’ve substituted a non-official, audio-only version. [I’ve since discovered that Sony are a bunch of skinflint jerks who don’t want anyone, anywhere to listen to their music in anything but the pre-approved fashion! Or so it would seem. So, as I am reduced to this, I highly recommend that you watch the official video of Joe Strummer’s version of “Redemption Song” – to do so, click here. It’s achingly lovely, & expresses much of what I feel about the uprising]. I wished he’d lived to see this day).

*

**

***

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Things that are green, or: The fantasies of a nerdy Jew.

This could be a Seder table. You don’t know that it’s not. And maybe that’s a Haggadah! Who’s to say? A Haggadah with a particularly modern-looking Jew in it.

Things that are green:

1) The Iranian democracy movement.

2) Kermit The Frog.

3) Me — because my internet pal/Angry Blogging Overmistress (aka Angry Black Lady) met a Very Seriously Funny Person yesterday (spoiler alert: It was Aasif Mandvi…!), and I did not.

But the truth is that I’m already on record as not really being interested in meeting the famous people I admire — I’m not talking about “running into,” I guess, but rather events like, oh, I don’t know: radio contests and meet-and-greets. If I won some contest that intentionally placed me square in a room with Jon Stewart? I would be in an instant misery of squirmy doubt and certain inadequacy. (I mean honestly: What would we talk about — how awesome I find him? That might get boring for him in a tick or two).

Anyhoo, this brings me to the following inconsistency in My Philosophy, Marty (remember kids! I-am-perfectly-capable-of-contradicting-myself-I-have-a-bicameral-mind!): Though I don’t officially want to try to schmooze with the people I admire from afar, I do maintain a running list for my Fantasy Seder (like fantasy football, but for weird, non-athletic Jews).

First on the list, of course, is the afore-mentioned Jon Stewart (who, you may recall, I mentioned, afore, that I would be too nervous to meet). At the Seder, I imagine he would be cracking wise about growing up in New Jersey and feeling awkward around his own guests as he passed the gefilte fish; not sure how he would feel about reading the Haggadah, but I’m willing to take that chance.

Then the list gets a little more random. Peter Himmelman — semi-obscure rocker, Orthodox Jew, and son-in-law to Bob Dylan is totally invited. I hear he’s a fascinating conversationalist with all kinds of rad thoughts on philosophy and theology (my source for this? Terri Hemmert, DJ on Chicago’s own WXRT, and a woman lucky enough to have chatted with Peter on more than one occasion). Heck, I’d even have the event catered for him, as I rather doubt my kitchen is kosher enough. (Peter, call me!)

Adam Sandler – natch. He’s a mensch. It oozes from his pores, you can see it plain as day. I think he’d be helping me get the food on the table, and actively helping ease my nerves.

And oh, oh! Barney Frank! Totally! I would feel not nearly smart enough to actually talk to him directly, but I would love to her him talk with, say, Peter Himmelman. Or with Jack Black! Who is, of course, also invited. Can you imagine Barney Frank and Jack Black shooting the shit over the matzah ball soup? Dude. To be a fly on that wall!

The Gyllenhaal siblings are also a shoo-in, though I fear I would jibber and jabber — and possibly giggle — over Jake. Given that I presume my husband will also be attending, fingers crossed that I keep that in check. And Maggie — the presence of the man’s Too Cool For Me sister might also impose a certain respectability. One can only hope.

Currently, the list is woefully short of Famous Lady Jews. And we don’t even have a minyan yet, and somehow, it seems a Fantasy Seder should at least have a minyan. So I’ll have to work on that.

But my goodness, Passover is weeks away. I’ve got time. And then — then! — we’ll just see who’s green with envy!

Update: Ooh, ooh, what was I thinking! Freshly minted Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan! She’s an awesome Famous Lady Jew. But she can’t sit next to Rep. Frank. They’d start talking DC inside baseball, and we’d all be like, What up, Elena Kagan and Barney Frank? Talk with the rest of the class! I think I’d put her between Jack Black and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

This moment.

Technically, I suppose it’s already Shabbat, and as we all know, I don’t roll on Shabbat. But I just came home from my second wake in eight days, and I feel the need to write — to reach out, I suppose.

The first wake, a week ago yesterday, was for a woman who had lived long and reached the end of a terrible illness. It was a death that might have been better, but came, at last, as a release. The second wake, today’s, was for the 26 year old father of a three year old girl (today, it turns out, was her birthday), a police officer who happened to be the grandson of the woman who died last week. He was killed in a car accident, two days after his grandmother’s funeral.

I didn’t know either of these people — they were the mother and beloved nephew of a close friend. I had met the young man at his grandmother’s wake, and watched his daughter play (watched her with the relief that you feel when you see a child enjoying herself at a funeral), but neither loss was my own.

Yet at the end of this week, bracketed and filled with death and loss, sorrow and fear, I feel entirely drained, and so, so sad. And I feel my attachment to those I love as a tender and wondrous thing, gentle, fragile, a thing to be cradled tonight, held close and with joy.

So all I want to say as we close this week is this: Hold those you love. Take a moment to consider them and their place in your heart, imagine in your mind the delicate filament the ties you to them, and hold them. Tell them that you love them, and remind yourself how lucky you are to have their love.

We can never know when death will come. It may come (as it did for my father) at the end of cruel illness that stole him away over the course of a year; it may come (as it did for that 26 year old police officer, and dozens upon dozens of Egyptians this week) in an instant; it may come (please God) at the end of a long and fruitful life. But of course: It will come.

All we can know is that we have this moment. This is the moment to let love wash over and through us. This is the moment.

Shabbat shalom, to you, to those who mourn, and to all who struggle and strive across God’s earth. May we know peace, in our hearts and in our lives. Shabbat shalom.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (or: Egypt ’11 is also not Iran ’79).

One word for Mubarak: "Leave."

Please see update, below.

It’s been, as they say, a day. I didn’t have time to think about Egypt or matters much beyond the end of my nose, and though I wanted to write about how Egypt ’11 is even further from being Iran ’79 (the Islamic Revolution) than it is Iran ’09 (the fallout of the stolen election), I’m only just now getting to it.

But the good news is that blogger and Israeli-Palestinian peace activist Mitchell Plitnick has kicked it off for me:

The Egyptian MB [Muslim Brotherhood] is not a reactionary, violent group. In fact, although there was a period in their history decades ago where a strain that embraced violence held sway in the group, they have since repeatedly and explicitly renounced violence as a means to their ends and have stuck to that despite the violence they faced from the Egyptian government. Their association with the birth of Hamas is going to be a commonly heard refrain, but it says a lot more about what Hamas was when it was first created (a social and religious network which Israel actually wanted to see grow because they thought that they would be like the MB, a religious counterweight to the secular PLO but less inclined toward armed struggle than the PLO and its Fatah leadership at the time. Little did they know…) than it does about where either Hamas or MB are now.

Indeed, due to the repression of decades, it’s hard to know where the MB stands now. They certainly represent conservative religious values, and, like any opposition group whether religious or secular, their openness to true inclusive democracy may or may not withstand the actual acquisition of power. It’s certain that MB will not favor the sort of cooperation with Israel and the US that has characterized Egyptian policy for 35 years, but how far they would break from the past is unknown.

click through for the whole thing – there are good links, too

Aside from anything else, when Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran, he’d spent years building a following, and had become the symbol — no: the embodiment — of the people’s hopes and dreams. He was joyfully welcomed home by any and all, including people who were entirely secular and had no desire to live in an Islamic Republic (people who’ve gone on to become dissidents) because his charisma and their desperation were such that they believed he could lead them to freedom, and form a government that reflected a national consensus.

At the same time, after some 14 years of exile, Khomeini was known only through the statements and cassette tapes his followers smuggled into Iran. Iranians hadn’t seen him up close and personal for a long time, and so while he was their symbol, he was also something of unknown quantity.

On the other hand: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is well-known, and fairly ineffective. The movement is officially banned in Egypt, but unofficially tolerated, its “independent” members sometimes allowed to “win” seats in elections, while other times, coming up goose-egg (literally: in 2005, Brotherhood candidates took 88 seats; in 2010, not a one).

It’s a fair assessment to say that Mubarak, et al, have used the Brotherhood as both prop and foil — a tool with which to convince the West that Egypt allows a certain freedom of expression, and a weapon with which to frighten the West into believing that any more freedom of expression would be bad (“look, I’d love to open up elections, but you know who would win? The Brotherhood!”). Members of the Brotherhood are sometimes allowed into parliament, sometimes arrested, sometimes tortured.

Knowing that whatever influence they do have comes at the whim of a hostile regime hasn’t encouraged the Brotherhood to bold action. Until the 2005 elections, they focused largely on social behavior (observance, faith) — and even the act of taking part in elections and attempting (and mostly failing) to affect legislation indicates a willingness to work within the system, not overthrow it. While it’s clear that their 2010 whupping was government orchestrated, there were also indications they would’ve lost some support anyway — their constituents had watched them closely, and seen them fail.

Furthermore, if we’ve seen nothing else in watching the Egyptian uprising, we’ve seen that it doesn’t have a Khomeini. The closest the movement has to a single leader is Mohammad ElBaradei, a man I hesitate to call “secular” because I have no idea what his personal faith is, but he is certainly no Islamist. As I understand it, the Brotherhood was actually playing catch-up for a few days last week, joining the protests a little late.

And finally, and not for nothing, but: Iran is a Shi’ite nation. Egypt is Sunni. Treating the different branches of the Muslim family as two peas in a pod is not unlike doing so with the 700 Club and the Catholic Church. Nuance — indeed, stark cultural difference — actually matters.

Though of course, having said all that: No one knows what will happen next.

If free and fair elections are held (a thing which, as I suggested yesterday, I’m not all that certain is in the offing), it’s possible the Brotherhood would come up the big winner — but even if it does, we still don’t know what that would mean. Everything I’ve read about the Brotherhood in Egypt suggests to me that while I might not want them to make laws for me, they’re neither al Qaeda, nor Khomeini. They’re a highly conservative religious movement that has largely failed to have an impact on Egyptian politics, such as they are.

And if the Egyptian people do vote the Brotherhood into office?

Well — isn’t their right to do just that precisely what I’m hoping to see realized?

***********

Note: Yesterday’s book list is applicable here, as well.

Update: It turns out that I’m not the only one trying to make this point! CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviewed Mohammad ElBaredei yesterday, asking him about the Brotherhood, and ElBaredei said

You know, the Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with the Iranian model, has nothing to do with extremism, as we have seen it in Afghanistan and other places. The Muslim Brotherhood is a religiously conservative group.  They are a minority in Egypt.  They are not a majority of the Egyptian people, but they have a lot of credibility because all the other liberal parties have been smothered for 30 years…. As you know, Fareed, I’ve worked with Iranians, I’ve worked here.  There is 100 percent difference between the two societies.

And Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University and author of God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World, wrote a piece on CNN’s Belief Blog yesterday that’s strikingly similar my own (great minds! etc), concluding

[The] Muslim Brotherhood could become something like Khomeini’s Revolutionary Council, and Egypt’s army could become a Revolutionary Guard. But each of these prospects seems unlikely, fueled more by fear (and analogy) than logic.

More reasons that Egypt 2011 is not Iran 2009: Pessimists’ edition.

Like many Egypt-watchers, I’ve been fearing a crack-down, or mass violence, since the protests started last Tuesday, and finally, here we are.

I want first to point out that it’s remarkable that what we’re seeing today didn’t happen earlier. It’s true that in the first few days, dozens of protesters were killed and probably hundreds injured, and that protesters fought back, as well as setting fire to police stations, but these events were sporadic, and there were also moments in which the police backed down or soldiers came to the defense of protesters — there was no sense of general, organized crackdown, no sense that all hell had broken loose.

Today, it seems, hell has broken loose. Or, rather, in all likelihood: Hell has been loosed, by those who hope to be served by it.

In my reading of the situation, the regime has been trying to wait the people out, because at a certain point, people will be literally hungry (a large percentage of Egyptians lives hand-to-mouth — if they don’t work on Monday, they don’t eat on Monday night) and exhausted from the effort of protest. I have a feeling that Mubarak had been hoping either that chaos would ensue when he pulled police off the streets on Friday, or that protesters would get violent, so that he would have an excuse to crack down and swoop in as the stabilizing factor — and when that didn’t happen yesterday, of all days, with upwards of two million people in Tahrir Square, I think he and those trying to save the regime decided to foment it.

So: You send in your police, out of uniform. You draw on those sectors who are supported by your patronage, along with petty criminals to whom you can give pardons, and — I presume — the folks who still genuinely prefer you. At a certain point, you’re also going to have people who don’t care about Mubarak but they’re damn hungry and unhappy, and they just want to get back to work, so they’ll be happy to go bust heads in anger, in the hope that life can get back to “normal.” You bus all these in, you give them leaflets, and you tell them to bring sticks and rocks — no live ammunition! — to make sure it looks organic.

No less important: You make sure that the army (which is still holding back, still hedging its bets) will at the very least not overtly intervene, even as it quietly lets trouble-makers into the square. You make sure that there are enough soldiers in place to give a patina, a whiff, of protection (making sure that they’re centralized around important buildings, like the Ministry of Information and the Museum), but not enough that they could have any real effect. And you hope to hell (in fact — you’re likely entirely confident, because for 30 years, you’ve been very good at brutalizing your people) that the violence goes your way, and you and those you would hope to see follow you in power can claw back what the people have taken.

And yet, even though the army has been present throughout all of this, it’s shown no indication that it’s particularly anxious to help Mubarak.

I suspect that the military’s plan is to allow things to continue to fall apart to the point that Mubarak is ousted (as of this writing, on Wednesday afternoon CST, I still think this could happen before another day dawns in Egypt, but I certainly believe it will be in the next few days) and then swoop in as saviors, forming a “temporary government.”

I imagine the “temporary” military-led government will then improve the people’s’ financial circumstances enough to dampen the desperation, and it may even reign in the police corruption and barbarity a bit, but democracy will not be first on that government’s list of priorities. Neither will human rights. It’ll be a new authoritarian government against which people will find themselves having to organize again.

All of this is already different from Iran 2009, in that there’s no cleavage between the regime and the military in Iran, and furthermore, in 2009, there was not much more than a minute of hesitation before heads were being cracked.

However the biggest difference, to my mind, is this: I think Iran will move onto the path of genuine democracy in the next ten years or so, but Egypt likely won’t.

There’s the fact that far more Egyptians are poor, and Egypt’s education rates much lower, than in Iran. These are huge issues.

But more to the point (though, of course, there is correlation): The Iranians have experience with actual, functioning democracy, even if truncated (there’s a reason they were so furious when their votes were stolen in 2009 — they expected their votes to count), and they’ve been slowly building a civil society since the years of the Reform Movement/the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997.

Iranians have a civil society infrastructure, and decades of working within a (limited) version of representative democracy — and in 2009, a regime that still had a certain degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the people thoroughly discredited itself. No regime is a monolith, no ruling party speaks with one voice, and Iran’s is cracking, to some degree, under many strains, not least the aftermath of the stolen election and the resultant violence. I believe that sometime in the next decade, disaffected members of the regime and those members of the clergy who have gotten off the Islamic Republic bus will create the circumstances that allow real change to occur — and however the change is triggered, it will be followed by the establishment of mechanisms that will lead to a genuine Islamic democracy.

I just don’t see that happening in Egypt. There is too much hunger, too little literacy, and essentially nothing in the way of democratic traditions — whoever takes over next will either have to be more magnanimous than most people who grasp power generally are, or more open to the drivers behind the uprising than I expect them to be.

So, to sum up yesterday’s and today’s posts: From the stand-point of the heat of the revolutionary moment, Egypt’s prospects are better than Iran’s were — I am confident that the Mubarak regime is falling (has essentially fallen) and cannot be saved.

On the other hand, from the stand-point of what next?, I’m very worried that Egypt faces many more years of repression, but am fairly confident that Iran is just a few years from a much better future.

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Please note: I do not consider myself an expert on either Egypt or Iran by any stretch. I’m just a MidEast geek who’s read a lot. Here’s a short list (in no particular order) of some of the books I’ve read that inform the opinions expressed above – if you click through to the links, you’ll find short descriptions:

  1. Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East (2008) – Robin Wright.
  2. Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam (2008) – Mark LeVine.
  3. The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday (2009) – Neil MacFarquhar.
  4. Muhajababes: Meet the Middle East’s Next Generation (2008) – Allegra Stratton.
  5. Let the Swords Encircle Me: Iran – A Journey Behind the Headlines (2010) – Scott Peterson.
  6. The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future (2011) – Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel (eds).

Among the reasons that Egypt 2011 is not Iran 2009.

I posted the following as a comment in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Open Thread today, and decided to post it here, too (with light edits). I understand the impulse to compare Cairo to Tehran, but I think the comparison ultimately fails. I will say this: I believe that what happened following the 2009 Iranian elections has likely helped inspire events in Tunisia and Egypt, but beyond that — oppressed Muslims rising up and inspiring other oppressed Muslims to do the same — there are genuinely very few similarities.

My academic background is the contemporary Middle East, and by chance I happen to have reviewed a sizeable handful of books about Iran since the 2009 elections, and I think I see a number of important differences between the two situations.

  • First of all, in Iran, things got bloody very quickly. In Egypt, on the other hand, the response of security forces has been mostly restrained, not to say entirely muted, and last night the army even went so far as to say that “freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody,” and say, up-front, that they wouldn’t be firing on the crowd today. The crowd of somewhere between one and two million (!) has been in Tahrir Square for about 11 hours as of this writing and as far as I know, not a single shot has been fired.
  • And that’s likely a result of the more important fact that in Iran, the Revolutionary Guards are firmly in control of nearly any and all levers of state power, be they internal security, the military, the economy, the bureaucracy, what have you, and they remain entirely behind the hardline conservatives who stole the election and are currently in power. Indeed, the leadership of the Guards has said very clearly in recent years that their biggest concern is no longer “external threats” to the Islamic Republic, but “internal threats.”
  • On the other hand, in Egypt, the army has, at the very least, not taken a side — or, one could argue that they have taken a side, and it’s not the government’s. The police, on the other hand, are one of the most loathed institutions in the country, for their brutality in carrying out the demands of the regime, but they appear to be of two minds, or, at the very least, are clearly not willing to go all out against the people and the army.
  • Finally, in Iran, the American government really had no pull whatsoever — on the contrary, any attempt to affect the outcome would have been a terrible, terrible mistake, playing into the hands of every single conspiracy-monger that Iran can muster. Regarding Egypt, on the other hand, just by saying (last Wednesday or Thursday) that the Administration would be “reviewing” US aid to Egypt, DC sent a powerful message that the Obama Administration was supporting reform. Then by saying, flat-out, that the US “calls on the government not to resort to violence,” the Administration was using code for “because if you do, you won’t get any help from us.” And in the meantime, saying — over and over and over again — that the future of Egypt is in the hands of the Egyptian people is really important code for “we will support the people over efforts to repress them.” And then there are the oft-repeated call for “an orderly transition.”

I have no idea what might happen next. Absolutely none. There are too many unknowns, and with literally no history of genuine democratic processes, and the constant, brutal repression of civil society, the simple truth is that there is very little in place in Egypt that could reasonably replace the current system. Moreover, human history shows just how often and how easily “people power” can be usurped by people with power.

But having said that, I am absolutely confident that the Mubarak regime is over, and what happened in Iran in 2009 won’t happen in Egypt.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.