I REALLY liked this article - (Marxist) anti-corporate w/o being doctrinaire . ..
Walking Like an Egyptian: Food, Farming and Foreign Policy
Egyptian civilians celebrate the marking of President Hosni Mubarak's resignation one week earlier, in Cairo's Tahrir Square, February 18, 2011. One week after Mubarak stepped down, thousands of Egyptians packed the square for a day of prayer and festivities and to maintain pressure on the military to steer the country toward democratic reforms. (Photo: Ed Ou / The New York Times)
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then "#occupy" protesters around the world this weekend just gave the Arab Spring an Academy Award. Of course, the chain of inspiration of freedom and justice seekers is unending in history, but there's no question that the Arab Spring opened a new chapter which is inspiring people to protest for justice worldwide.
No doubt, at this historical moment many people in the US will be preoccupied, as they should be, more with how Occupy Wall Street is going than with how the Arab Spring is going. But we still have reason to pay some attention to the Arab Spring.
Drawing inspiration from outside our immediate environment sometimes allows us to leapfrog over the crusty preconceptions of our historical surroundings. One thing Occupy Wall Street, like the Wisconsin uprising, has had in common with Cairo has been an explicit appeal for solidarity to the "security forces." In Cairo, they chanted: "The army and the people are one hand!" In Madison, the conduct of the mobilization for public employee rights defeated efforts of the Walker administration to split the police politically from other public employees. Today, #occupy protesters are telling police, "You are the 99 percent!" You could look at the police as armed employees of the state who have to follow orders to "maintain public order," or you could look at them as public employees who are largely unionized members of the working class and who often have a lot of discretion in how they interpret their mandate to "maintain public order." Not arresting protesters is a perfectly legitimate tool for keeping the peace and most police officers and officials know that well. As mom told us when we were little, honey usually beats vinegar.
In addition, while we all want to "walk like an Egyptian," there is a fundamental asymmetry in the relationship between us and the Arab Spring, which we have some responsibility to bear in mind. The protesters of the Arab Spring have focused on overthrowing the corrupt regimes that rule them, but Western governments - particularly the US government - are deeply implicated in these regimes. And if our government is implicated, then we are implicated.
We saw in the case of Egypt how, at the end, the Obama administration pulled support from the Mubarak regime, a shift which reportedly made the Saudis furious. This shift in US policy probably saved the lives of many Egyptians by stopping the Mubarak regime from fighting to the end.
It may well be the case that the broad parameters of US foreign policy are unlikely to change in the near future. But particularly in times of upheaval, "small" shifts in US foreign policy can have big consequences for the fate of people in other countries. Human rights groups and some members of Congress are now campaigning to block a planned US arms sale to Bahrain as a means of pressing the Obama administration to speak up more for human rights. If this small shift takes place, the empire will not collapse. But it could make a huge difference to people in Bahrain who are being suppressed for demanding their freedom.
In the case of Egypt, the shift that took place was partly due to the intense US media coverage of the uprising in Egypt. People in Peoria saw Egyptians demanding their freedom on American TV. That was a context in which "Mubarak is our friend because he suppresses the Muslim Brotherhood, supports Israel and opposes Iran" was a dog that wouldn't hunt.
This experience at least raises the possibility that broad, public opinion in the US could play a greater role going forward in constraining the US government from supporting repression in the Arab world. The benefits for humanity of such a shift would be so great that even a small increase in its probability deserves serious attention.
With these concerns in mind, I recently read Rami Zurayk's book, Food, Farming, and Freedom: Sowing the Arab Spring, about issues of rural development.
Just World Books arranged for me to interview Rami Zurayk. What follows is an edited transcript of our interview. For the most part, I just abridged my questions and edited both of us so that our conversation would flow a little more like text and a little less like speech.
Robert Naiman: Although you were mostly writing about Lebanon, throughout the book you raised issues concerning Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan. Before the Arab Spring exploded on American TV screens, it seemed in US media that there really wasn't such a thing as the Arab world politically. There were countries where people speak Arabic, but they didn't really have common concerns or care about each other very much. Then, all of a sudden, an uprising in Tunisia triggered an uprising in Egypt, and it turned out that people in Tunisia and Egypt were deeply invested in each other.
Rami Zurayk: One of the outcomes of the Arab Spring is that it has dispelled the concept that the Arab world does not exist, that the idea of Arabism is dead. The idea of belonging to the Arab world exists and it does not exist just because of the Arab League. It's cultural. Whatever happens in Morocco affects me directly. For the youth, the Arab Spring has replaced the Arab League. People feel deeply Arab everywhere in the Arab world.
And you have seen this last week with the events in Egypt [referring to the takeover of the Israeli embassy in Cairo]. You can see how the people feel about relations with Israel. And the youth didn't know the wars - they grew up during the "peace." And they don't want this relationship.
The Arab regimes, until today, are totally unrelated to and unrepresentative of the Arab people; let's agree on that, first; that's really important. And most of these [regimes] are surrogates to the empire. Syria was a little different, but also in many ways dependent and surrogate to the will of the US - playing with different players, but not flying very far [from the US] - and has been very pragmatic. But neither Syria, nor any of the other security regimes represent their people. Nor does anybody believe that these security regimes had any other goal than reproducing the regime itself. To do that, they needed the support and the acquiescence of the superpowers, which was provided on condition that oil kept flowing and Palestine was left ...
It's a simplification of a real situation, it is the skeleton. The Arab people, like any other people, have the right to be diverse in its political opinions. Yes, there are people in every single one of those countries that have internalized the division into nation-states that was imposed; there are people who are chauvinistic; there are people who are sectarian, many of them. But that does not mean that the vast majority of the Arab people do not believe that they belong to something together. Look at how the press could not term it but the "Arab Spring," even the Western media. And this is an endorsement of the Arab cause, of Arabism, that even the Western media that's opposed to this idea and is brainwashed by this rejection of the existence of Arabism cannot but admit that there is a phenomenon that is called the "Arab Spring." Now within this, of course there are a variety and a diversity of opinions.
You remember in 2006, when the Lebanese Resistance fought against the Israeli Army and humiliated it by not letting it set foot into Lebanon and by destroying tens of its tanks. The Lebanese Resistance became the hero of all the Arabs. In 2009, I traveled to rural Morocco. I stopped in a town where most people are of Amazighi stock, people who consider themselves Berber [i.e., not "ethnically" Arab]. And people asked me where do you come from? And I said I come from Lebanon. And they asked me which part of Lebanon? And I said south Lebanon. And the man there said, "innasr li Hizbullah," meaning the victory is for Hizbullah.
The Arab security states in exchange for protection by the US and the superpowers, smothered the whole feeling of resistance within the people. The Arab Spring came, is slowly removing the security regimes and is freeing the people for looking again toward Palestine. That's very important. Never mind what the Western media wants you to see or believe.
RN: You write in the book about all the negative effects of foreign aid. Do you think Lebanon would be better off without foreign aid?
RZ: These black-and-white questions are often not difficult to answer, but impossible to answer. Because I don't think that all forms of aid should be removed. But I think that most of the aid that I have seen has been really detrimental. It does some good things and a lot of bad things and on balance you're better off without it.
In Lebanon in particular, it's absolutely horrendous. The biggest donors are state departments or ministries of foreign affairs of different rich countries. And all of this money is politically tied to political agendas and there is no attempt to try to hide that; it is extremely clear. The money from USAID goes to certain people and not to others. Money from USAID is an aberration, because some of the money goes to foundations that are owned and founded by people who would be among the Forbes billionaires. For example, the Hariri Foundation, multibillionaires. Or to other billionaires who have foundations in their names and then USAID money goes to these? To implement projects to help farmers or rural areas.
So basically, the money of the American taxpayer goes to strengthen the positions of billionaires, sectarian politicians, in Lebanon. Am I the only one who thinks this is an aberration? These same people, Hariri etc., make big money donations to universities in the US, [getting] their name on a building. So, you get into these really odd situations in which your foreign aid is channeled through the foundations belonging to billionaires in order to strengthen their political clout in Lebanon, while these same billionaires give your educational institutions money because the state is not funding them enough. I find this really very odd.
And that is the reality of foreign aid. It is used as a tool and as a means to achieve foreign policy goals. And as long as it is like that, its detriments outweigh by far its benefits. When you use foreign aid in order to push political agendas and certain politicians, then how can you call this aid? It just becomes a foreign policy tool.
The rest is on the link above and it's very powerful stuff !!