Juan Cole compares how Egypt’s ruling military, and America’s ruling oligarchy, respond to demonstrations demanding change.
In two protests thousands of miles away from one another on Saturday, a similar spirit of demand for government responsiveness to the people was made. In both cases there was a police crackdown and some clashes broke out. But in one case, the government showed flexibility and attempted to take steps to calm the anger of the people. In the other, the government was silent and no changes were envisioned.
While the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) cleared Midan Tahrir of protesters Saturday, they also offered some tentative concessions on the upcoming elections and the transfer of power. Meanwhile, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, safe in City Hall, instructed his police to lure hundreds of demonstrators into a trap and arrest them.
American government is often a kind of elective dictatorship, where politicians and bureaucrats feel that once they cast their ballots, the people should sit down and shut up and let those elected run everything and make all the decisions (even if those decisions clearly run counter to what the electorate was signalling it wanted). … When will American government show the flexibility and willingness to compromise on issues with an engaged democratic public that the generals in Cairo are showing?
Cole goes way too easy on the bemedalled mafiosi who now rule Cairo. #FuckSCAF is a popular hashtag on Egyptians’ twitter. And rightly. Until SCAF takes the crucial step of scrapping the emergency law — the century-old provisions that enable a regime of arbitrary arrest and torture — the generals will continue to fuck the country over in royal fashion. No cosmetic changes can substitute for the army’s pulling out on this one.
Meanwhile, neither Bloomberg nor Obama has exclusive power to remedy the Wall Street Occupation’s grievances, which strike close to the heart of the economic and political system. But surely Bloomberg sees his job as something larger than safeguarding his fellow billionaires. Right? Surely Hizzoner could, at a minimum, refrain from siccing his cops on peaceful demonstrators just because they point threatening middle fingers at his tax bracket.
Or could he? The New York Police Department is almost — not quite — as notorious for torture as its counterparts in Cairo. There’s nothing aberrant about this. As Mike Davis started arguing a decade ago: in the next century, cities will stop being centers of production, and turn into guarded, gated havens where the monied enjoy culture, surrounded by teeming slums of migrants without jobs or future. Policing, in this divided world, will become a matter of protecting the transnational rich — those plugged into global capital flows — against the encircling urban chaos of the dispossessed and hopeless poor. Brutality will be increasingly essential to keep the enclaves of money safe from those outside.
It’s Bed-Stuy against the Trump Tower, Embaba against Zamalek, and the forces of public order will morph more and more openly into a hired security squad defending the latter. That’s a dystopic vision. But Bloomberg may have just offered us a preview glimpse.