Tamer’s article in the Guardian (Old attitudes stand in the way of a new Egypt) recently got me thinking about how the revolution was one against patriarchy and by association misogynist attitudes. The larger premise in the article is that Egyptians yearn for a fatherly figure, a leader if so to speak of the revolution. Yet this in itself is demonstrative of a number of facets that are all interwoven together into a large thread that makes up the fabric of society.
These threads together make up the different ideologies, the leftists have their own priorities, the neo-Islamists their cultural project that is grounded in their belief. Other facets may exist but marginally but all threads are traceable to a socioeconomic base. If we think of each thread separately as a story, a narrative that speaks to its community based on its class and economic strength then we can extrapolate multiple notions. All these threads together have a different viewpoint but all go together. We too mustn’t forget that old threat of crony capitalists who have merely withdrawn themselves but in the background. They too have their story to say.
However each one has its empowering features and dis-empowering capacity to his countervailing narratives. Leftists belief that all societal ills are brought about by capitalism and explain Isalmisization and religion in general as the logical refuge to poverty struck areas by a crony capitalist economy. Ahmed Ezz embodied that notion in a Great Gatsby aura that surrounded him. Neo-Islamists want to wage a new cultural project that shows they are not all fundamentalists and emphasize their plural nature. They want people to see them ‘pass the beard’ if so to speak.They believe their notion of Islamic culture is accommodating to a sea of different views, they cite Turkey as their example.
Both stories or narratives seek to empower a certain notion that is rooted in a societal class or economic base. Therefore each story seeks to explain reality differently but what people more often than not do not realize is that it shapes reality. We can even extend this to the radical Foucauldian notion that there is no reality out there but these are power struggles that seek to fundamentally create knowledge. Knowledge production is an exercise of power, power that can be rooted in an economic base such as Gramsci’s notion of hegemony. Or we can adopt Focault’s radical notion and borrow from Edward Said to say an intellect’s job is “speaking the truth to power”. It is no surprise that in the Egyptian expatriate community abroad no one is having panic attacks at all but they realize the fundamental gain of ‘public space’ because they’re reasons to immigrate was the regime’s denial of the reality they spoke. The truth they never got the chance to speak.
When exploring the idea and role of fatherhood or patriarchy we can then go back and realize why Nasser’s charisma was untouchable in the face of brutal crackdowns such as the Kafr Al Dawar massacre or the ‘massacre’ of the judges (which was an en mass layoff of 300 judges). His social contract and guaranteed economic welfare meant that political rights could be ceded. That was his hegemony. When looking at all these narratives and hegemony we must understand that when the regime claims there will be anarchy if the Islamists are let out of the cage that is a claim to knowledge derived from power. However the more they need to exercise their power to prove it, by brute force, the more they lose power. You cannot objectify power. Power is like matter: cannot be destroyed but can be dispersed or lost to a new state.
I believe this was one of the fundamental mistakes of those who feared Islamism, that they played into the hands of that empowering narrative of Islamism. Today we realize that Islamists don’t bite, rather they get nose-jobs, but the question remains can our learning curve sharpen to understand each others’ narratives? For many people they never tried to understand the fatherly narrative of Abdel Nasser and labelled it off as charisma. But it is time to take a critical deep look at narratives and look past the beards. This means we must explore myths that sometimes mean we question our past ‘victories’ and make some painful recollections. However by doing so we make a power claim as well and shape the knowledge of our own reality. Anyone who settles for the narrative on ‘democracy’ now, citing free and fair elections (run by a judge who seems to be at the whims of the Egyptian military) is clearly living in that old paradigm.