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Thursday, July 04, 2013

The Egyptian Revolution Is Unfinished. So Is Ours. Happy 4th of July.

Far too many who are wagging their fingers at the ongoing Egyptian Revolution, declaring the Egyptian people apparently just don't know how to "do democracy" or "do the rule of law" properly are indulging in what seems to me to be scarcely stealthed racism, not to mention exhibiting an almost flabbergasting ignorance of the fraught vicissitudes of the centuries long struggles of actual democratization of which they are the lucky beneficiaries. Definitely the spectacle of such castigatory self-congratulatory North Atlantic enjoyment is far less edifying that the marvelous spectacle the Egyptian people are making of themselves.

I will admit that I am as anxious as I am elated by the events in Egypt right now. I cannot pretend to know what is going to happen. Contrary to the smug assertions of the statisticians and the bomb-builders, politics is ineradicably unpredictable, and it is mostly when we are taken by surprise that we know real history is happening at all. I do know that I absolutely do not agree with those (possibly including too many in the White House) who declare Egypt more remote from the achievement of democracy today than it was while Morsi remained in power a few days ago.

Obviously, a hippie pinko commie queer like me is pretty much the last person in the world to celebrate military coups as any kind of general matter, but attention to specificity, not glib generality, is what really matters in assessing the meaning of ongoing political events when history unexpectedly breaks out like this. The ever-widening house arrest of Morsi supporters and the closure of news outlets by the Egyptian military is undeniably the more ominous the longer it goes on, but I can't say it is more ominous than the re-writing of the Constitution, the suspension of uncooperative judges, and the commandeering of news outlets by cronies of the Muslim Brotherhood was in the months leading up to these developments. There has been more than enough ominous to go around before now, but there is more promise than there was before, and that makes me more hopeful than fearful for now.

Surely it should matter to those who declare present events injurious to the eventual legitimacy of Egyptian governance that the police and armed forces are responding to the palpable will of millions of Egyptians on the streets. Surely it should matter to those who declare present events a defiance of the popular will embodied in last year's election that millions more people signed the petition for Morsi's removal than voted for his assumption of power. Surely it should matter to those who declare present events an attack on the rule of law that there were no provisions in Egypt's first constitution for the expression of a popular vote of no confidence or for the legal impeachment of a sitting president. Surely it should matter to those who are declaring that critics of the present government should wait for the next election to express their discontent that Morsi was conspicuously consolidating power in ways that suggested the next election could easily be the furthest thing from responsive to such discontent.

Why shouldn't the secular spirit (a word that does not connote irreligiosity but conviviality among a diversity of lifeways, variously religious and some not religious at all) of the still-vital Egyptian revolution refuse to be hijacked by forces of fundamentalist reaction? Why shouldn't one of the more diverse, inclusive, respected, and actually functioning institutional formations in the nation align with the people to insist on a government that better reflects the consent of the governed?

The real pace of history, of the struggle for social justice, of the work to democratize governance, of the process of progressive legislation and reform simply does not conform to the relentlessness and superficiality of the minute-by-minute news cycle and the second-by-second twitter cycle. It is not so much the Egyptian revolution that is failing to measure up to the standard of democracy as it is the networked commentariat whose judgment is failing to measure up to the substance of democratic struggle in my opinion.

I think that quite a few people who are castigating the latest turn in the Egyptian Revolution should take a break from their own backyard barbecues and badminton nets and celebrate the heartbreaking and demanding and unfinished work of democratization here and elsewhere in the world, rather than the mythical Declaration of an Independence in a text that was written before July 4, 1776, and not yet signed by July 4, 1776, and far from won by July 4, 1776. Americans should reflect on Shays's post-war Rebellion, on the utter abject failure of the small government of the Articles of Confederation, of the widespread unrest that accompanied the writing and ratification of the Constitution, of the radical instability and vulnerability of the first half century of American governance (very much including the anti-democratic mis-step of Founder President Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts) before they wag their fingers at "those Egyptians" who can't seem to do democracy right.

The Egyptian Revolution is unfinished. So is ours. Happy 4th of July.

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