What does the political future for women in Egypt hold?

If nothing else, 2011 was the year of revolution and uprising. Set off by the unprecedented Arab Spring, akin to the counter-soviet revolutions preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall, a series of countries in North Africa and the Middle East are searching for the roots of fundamental liberties underneath the paved streets of their capital cities. A symbol of the times, Cairo’s Tahrir Square is also now the center of attention for women’s rights. Women are targeted by the police and are manhandled, sexually assaulted and raped. Foreign journalists are no exceptions. Are women more severely punished for their involvement in the revolution? In the Western world, concern is spreading like wildfire since the new free elections result in an Islamist leadership. What is the point of an uprising, if the country, and more specifically its women, are thrown back into the darkness of an unequal society? Are women aware they are gambling with their own future more than their male counterparts? With those very important and complex questions in mind, Suz Richards-Benson met those Egyptian women currently facing their future, their fate, and ultimately, the consequences of the revolution.
As the world looks back on an unforgettable 2011, many in the Arab world are looking forward wondering what 2012 will bring. Egypt has been in the spotlight for many months now, either as a result of peaceful protests ravaged by violence, or the increasing support for Islamists emerging through the parliamentary election polls. Analysts and key note speakers focus on the questions of Egypt’s political future, but what about the question that isn’t being raised? What about the women in Egypt that helped to bring about the end of the Mubarak regime?
“Despite the monumental part that they played, women were subjected to gross violations and abuse at the hands of the police, the army, and even the protesters themselves”

During the January and February protests, an often unspoken but notable fact was the role that women played in toppling Mubarak. Yet despite the monumental part that they played, women were subjected to gross violations and abuse at the hands of the police, the army, and even the protesters themselves. Stories were abound of women who were physically assaulted and groped in the streets, of veiled girls who had their hijabs torn from their heads, to the extreme conditions of women who had “virginity tests” imposed on them while in remand of the military. The official line in response to these tests were that they were a necessary evil to ensure that the women would not be able to turn around and cry foul, accusing army soldiers of rape and molestation. Never mind the degradation that such tests invoked. Just within the past few days, a court in Cairo on Tuesday ruled that any future “virginity tests” are not permitted, saying “These acts involve deliberate humiliation and intentional insult to women participating in protests.”  No injunctions were brought against soldiers who had already committed these tests on women. So while it marked a small victory for women in Egypt, it provided little solace for the women who had already suffered as a result of such brutality.

With the increasing voices of the Islamists in Egypt, more and more women felt that the freedom and the revolution they had shed blood for was being lost among the rhetoric. To ensure that their revolution stayed on track, they took to the streets en-masse on the 20th of December. As the march made its way to the now infamous Tahrir Square, its numbers swelled, but stayed shy of the gatherings activists had hoped for. This begs the question, what does the political future hold for women in Egypt? With thisquestion in mind, I took to the streets.

“Neither situation pre or post revolution is good for women. Women in Egypt have a long fight ahead of them”

One remarkable facet of Egyptian society is how highly striated it is. Those in positions of power will claim to be connected to their people, when in reality they are grossly disjointed. How can someone who has never had to struggle just to provide 5 dollars a week to feed a family of seven possibly relate to the poor citizens in Egypt’s streets. One can argue that one of the biggest mistakes that many liberal candidates made during their campaigns for the elections was to equate the “Tahrir protester” to the average Egyptian. It is important to note that those sitting in Tahrir represent a minimal fraction of the country’s population. This is what set the Islamist parties aside, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the more extreme Salafi trend. While these two trends invoke fear in the hearts of many Westerners, a surprising number of Egyptians turned out on voting day, and sent the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi candidates into the lead in many constituencies, often garnering more than 50 % of the vote.  Is it possible that the Islamists will become the new rulers of Egypt? And how will this impact the women in the country?

In the course of researching this article, I spoke with women from many different walks of Egyptian society. One common thread emerged; they all felt that their political future in Egypt was in jeopardy, but for some they believed the revolution had provided women with a voice they felt was previously ignored, while others felt little to no change. As 28 year old Zainab puts it: “Neither situation pre or post revolution is good for women. Women in Egypt have a long fight ahead of them. We are fundamentally not respected as much as we should be. We are to be seen and not heard. We are treated as objects and possessions. During this process, Egyptian society has only begun to feel our presence by us being active and visible in protests, in elections, in the media.”

One female interviewed, a 22 year old college student Nihal, discussed her perspective on the emerging political atmosphere in Egypt. Eligible to vote, she used her voice to support the Muslim Brotherhood, saying: “I gave them my voice because they are simply the world’s oldest and largest Islamist movement. They started out by ONLY six members and now they are millions, meaning they know exactly what they’re doing. The Muslim Brotherhood is a very well-organized movement and they have a historical background in the political field, in my own opinion I think it’s time to give them a chance and they know more than well that everyone who gave them their voice is watching very closely.”

Conversely, another woman interviewed who requested anonymity, did not vote in the elections, but feels that women have now been granted more liberties than they previously had in the Mubarak regime. She had this to say about the emerging Islamists domination in the political realm: “…I fear, because they will over control us, they will destroy the tourism [thereby destroying] the economical case too … they will control people’s normal lives! There will be no outings, no freedom, no democracy at all! They will force girls to wear … The whole main reason that if the Islamists ruled, there will be no more real Egypt.” She did not comment on her decision to not vote.

“The road ahead remains a long one for women in Egypt. Their new found “freedom” brought about at the hands of the January 25th Revolution may not be around much longer.”

In recent weeks, one woman’s struggle for democratic freedom of expression in Egypt caught the media lime light. Aliaa el-Mahdy is a college student, who in an attempt to undermine the process of censorship and control of freedom of expression, posed nude on her blog. Within 48 hours, millions of hits were registered to her website, and Aliaa was catapulted to the front of a gender battle that has been silently raging for years in Egypt. I had to wonder; how accurate was Aliaa’s struggle? Did her posing nude really represent the freedom that women in Egypt were fighting for? Throughout the course of interviews, the dominant answer was “No, she did not.” In fact, not one of the women interviewed expressed their support for Aliaa’s bold statement. Instead, some proclaimed her “right to undress in her home, take pictures and upload them on the net,” but highlighting that Aliaa’s struggle for freedom did not “speak” for them. Magy, a 26 year old Cairean commented that: “[there are many things that] represent our [women] struggle for freedom “posing nude” is not one of them.” Another woman, who also requested anonymity, had this to say about Aliaa’s move: “My first thought was: What a perfect timing! Just before elections, this is exactly what the Salafists needed to win more votes telling the people that this is what liberal parties would encourage in Egypt. I think she made the battle more difficult.”

The road ahead remains a long one for women in Egypt. Their new found “freedom” brought about at the hands of the January 25th Revolution may not be around much longer. Over half of the women I interviewed admitted that they did not vote. This in part due to their lack of knowledge about the political parties in Egypt, but also in part to a looming unfamiliarity with having the right to speak their opinions. This same half of women who did not vote, also did not participate in the Tahrir protests directly, fearing their own safety. It left me with one lingering question in mind. Should the Islamists ascend to power in Egypt, will women in the country take to the streets to defend their civil liberties and freedoms? The answers shed light on how far women still have to go; with most believing that only a small fraction of women would fight for their own rights.

In this day and age, with so many countries struggling for a so-called democratic state, the practice of imposed beliefs and rituals remains a dominant trend. Those who support one faction are ostracized, while others are earmarked non-believers for pushing for a more liberal state. I will leave you with the words of Nihal, who said: “I think people should start accepting other’s opinions and point of views, after all if we started a revolution for freedom then we must respect different beliefs.”

 

Susan Richards-Benson is a journalist who has been living in Egypt for the past 5 years.  Susan keeps an updated blog with relevant information on Egyptian current events and news, which can be found at: egyptunbound.blogspot.com

The frustrating and brilliant Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, 1949 - 2011

Christopher Hitchens is dead. How terribly un-British. British people don’t die, but rather they cease to exist.

“His best writing though, which I want to talk about, gets ignored in this analysis of his life: the writing which showed him as someone of conscience.”

The story of Christopher Hitchens here is partly my own story. I was first introduced to Hitchens’ work at 14. I had previously been limited to recounting various facts about British history and politics. If it was a party trick, then it was a pretty dull one. But his ability to be brilliant and frustratingly appalling opened up a whole new world and life to me. I hope there are others like me who had this world democratised for them by Mr. Hitchens. Even with his often elitist, name dropping writing, that at its most polemical could often completely detach itself from its audience, it somehow managed to remain accessible. Hitchens was by his own admission, somewhat of a hack. Much of the focus in his death has been in his writing abilities and his polemical stances. Those praising him see his polemical stances as part of the attraction of his writing. His detractors, particularly bearing in mind his grave mistake in supporting, and defending, what appeared to be a very different Iraq war in his mind, think his polemicism to be cynical. However, this defence or criticism of Hitchens’ “churn-churn” essay writing as Dave Weigel called it, appears to be too crude of a demarcation. He was often, undeniably, good at expressing an opinion for the sake of expressing an opinion. This was often entertaining, such as when expressing the virtues of saying the more British “fuck off” rather than “fuck you”. It was often chauvinistic and infuriating though, such as his flawed reasoning (questioning whether he actually believed it) for saying women aren’t funny. His best writing though, which I want to talk about, gets ignored in this analysis of his life: the writing which showed him as someone of conscience.

Christopher Buckley has commented this week in a touching essay about his friend that Hitchens’ writing contained soul. He correctly suggested that this was despite how much Hitchens would resent the implication. Hitchens thought of the sphere of debate as the battleground for pursuing and moving towards a more objective ‘truth’. Despite his flitting in and out of the establishment throughout his life, he maintained, at least ostensibly, a healthy sceptical attitude. He thought the media has lost its faculties for criticism and holding truth to power, stating “I became a journalist partly so that I wouldn’t ever have to rely on the press for my information.” His flirtations with establishment figures and ideas often impacted on his own critical faculties. The critiques of systems were often lacking in comparison to the more comfortable terrain of total disdain for individual figures. But this didn’t mean an absence of conscience or soul in his pieces. It has often been stated about his writing that when he was good, there were few like him, but when his opinions were bad, few people could be more infuriating. His good writing was immediately tied up with a conscience that would affect the reader. His arguments weren’t unconventional enough to deeply affect the reader by itself. His ability to go to the core of an issue was his strength, imparting a certain morality that was able to convince to convince his audience of why the issue was important. An essay about the benefits of returning the Elgin marbles to Greece was not enough-he was able to argue why a seemingly more abstract debate was just so important, in fulfilling a certain destiny for Greece and in helping to resolve Britain’s ideas about itself in terms of empire. His arguments about Mother Teresa were perhaps the best example of this. It wasn’t enough to simply challenge her more troubling views-men and women of conscience could still have unsettling opinions. What he did was to strip away the notion of her as someone of conscience at all. The totality of his opinions that was often so damaging was the only option in this case. Mild criticisms couldn’t work: he had to expose her as a cruel, fundamentalist, fraudster, which he did in an absolutely extraordinary way. His own identity was conceived in terms of soul. He saw himself as born on the wrong side of the Atlantic. His writings on America were so very American, summing up the contradictions of the idealistic nation seeking to be “more perfect” with its crimes that have prevented it from being so (some of the crimes he brilliantly criticised, and others he was unfortunately a cheerleader for). His writings on Britain were also, oh so terribly, British, whether expressing love or disdain for this island. They went right to the core of Britain’s crisis of identity, namely in terms of class and empire. Whether on monarchy or Northern Ireland, there was a sense of criticism of the understated nation that thinks far too highly of itself to have any legitimate criticisms of America. He perhaps conceived of himself as a Paine-like figure, whose radicalism was destined for other countries.

“He knew he was no Orwell, but he was living partly in the shadow of what he saw as his inspiration in being a foe of totalitarianism”

It was this strength however, that was also his weakness. John Gray in a review of Hitchens’ last collection of essays saw his strength as being the ability to go to the core of a debate to expose its own truths. But his undoing was taking pre-determined truths in his arguments that could turn him to plain denialism. This is of course in his often infuriating and absurd arguments after 9/11. Many have commented in recent days that Hitchens was looking for a Spanish civil war, of a clear cut ‘good’ and ‘right side, and of an ‘evil’. His friend Ian Buruma said as much in 2006 to the New York Times. He was a British republican in search of Spanish Republicans, who ended up schilling for Texas Republicans. He knew he was no Orwell, but he was living partly in the shadow of what he saw as his inspiration in being a foe of totalitarianism. But Orwell himself recognised that the main “shouters” for the Spanish civil war were the journalists themselves. Hitchens’ principles of always siding against what he saw as totalitarianism could describe him as one of the “men and women of conscience” as Martha Gellhorn would have had it. These varied from prominent radicals to those dissenters whose names are long forgotten as ‘ordinary’ men and women. Gellhorn herself was such a woman of conscience in always, as she saw it, siding with the people. But this too took her to dangerous places. Like Hitchens, she could be a ‘hater’, though more against systems than individuals. She lived in the shadow of admiration for the Spanish republicans and the idealism of the left in the 1930’s in her total support for Israel. Her anti-Arab views don’t seem to correspond with her philosophy unless we consider that she was looking for a group of people to call brownshirts. The often primitive attitudes Hitchens had towards Muslims after 9/11, as an other that had to be destroyed, was his own attempt to find brownshirts that had to be eliminated. He absurdly saw ‘Bin Ladenism’ as Naziism. If ‘Bin Ladenism’ didn’t have a state machine like the Nazi regime, then that’s what made it so dangerous for Hitchens-it was something requiring slaughter on a massive international scale. He seemed to abandon his own Marxism here. Marx thought of religion as a painkiller. Religion was not going to be removed by increasing the pain to the extent that the painkiller was rendered useless. The idea that the Bush administration was in anyway interested in democracy required these denialist attitudes. The text to his friend Stephen Fry “More Bosnia, less Iraq”, when Fry held a talk about Hitchens recently, is a reflection of this. It may be that the excuse making for the slaughter in Iraq was something he couldn’t reconcile, but felt like he had to.

And yet, and yet…as often as Hitchens would frustrate anyone, he would have to make you think about just why you were so angry about his writing. His commentary on the Iraq war contained the worst neo-conservative innuendo. It didn’t even fit neatly with his previous hawkish tendencies, such as on intervening in Bosnia or the Falklands. But the internationalist Hitchens provided some important questions for the anti-war left about just why they were anti-war. His solidarity was ultimately with Kurdistan. In Kurdistan, he saw the potential for a social-democratic Iraq. But where was the anti-war left’s solidarity? In many ways, as vile and genocidal as his excuse-making became for the Iraq war became, he still managed to hold up a mirror to a left that was no longer a left: a left that had replaced the often naïve, but valuable utopian street politics with a utopian faith in the inaccessible lecture halls discussing postmodernism. Anti-war attitudes were explained with crude and patronising ‘cultural’ explanations. We didn’t need to express solidarity with Iraqis because they wanted a strongman and not democracy-who were we to tell them that ‘our way’ is better? The left that was no longer a left was fulfilling Hitchens’ notion of being a Marxist without a socialist movement to speak of.

Christopher Hitchens debating Rev. Al Sharpton (left)

The frustrating Hitchens, and the brilliant Hitchens, can not meet either the total praise or total detraction of recent days. Both sides of this writing possessed an incredible power to make one think, whether filled with rage at Hitchens or with an imperative to act. He was irreconcilable with any one set of values, particularly in his more contrarian tendencies. But he was someone of great value in making people think and act. Though the often genuinely appalling views are something that can not be ignored if the record about Hitchens is to be kept straight, every generation needs a Hitchens.

 

 Josh Kitto is studying history and political science at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, United Kingdom. He has been featured on independant media outlets such as Citizen Radio talking and discussing the student protests on the tuition hikes in 2012. An avid Howard Zinn reader and an admirer of Amy Goodman, his motto is, “Go where the silence is”. You can read his blog at Confessions of an autistic boy.

“To Flee Immediately! is to ironically explore remaining.”

Renee Carmichael

 We have interviewed comics, writers, political activists, in our quest for creativity, imagination, and pro-active search of the self in a world that overvalues the immediate art of information. Amidst the desperation illustrated by the Occupy movement, and the necessity to make themselves a place in the sun, college graduates are amongst the poorest in all demographics. Rising unemployment rates and abandon of one’s aspiration and motivation is how we picture the youth of today. It only just occurred to us that the most imaginative and resourceful people we knew could be one of us, could be so close to what we want to achieve through this blog and through this organisation. We have therefore chosen to interview, depict and portray those who inspire us and could just as well see you through one of those days. Renee Carmichael is one of those unique minds who had to create her own space to breathe and explore what she loved to do most. A Bachelor from the American University of Paris and a Master’s degree from the prestigious Goldsmiths School of Arts in London, a native of Seattle, WA, Renee is an international, interdisciplinary, and unfathomable human being. Here, she presents her project, the new publication Flee Immediately!, and what pushes her through.

Can you explain what your most recent degree at Goldsmiths is about and what you expected from it?

The Masters I did at Goldsmiths College is called Interactive Media: Critical Theory and Practice. But that’s really a horrible name for it. No, I do not design websites or create showy interactive objects that use the latest technology. Instead, what the course is about is thinking critically about technology within social and political contexts and creating out of that. Software is not a given, it is as much a cultural decision as anything else. And MAIM takes that idea in order to experiment in terms of both methodologies and themes. Its about not being afraid to fail. And its as much about putting theory into practice as it is putting practice to theory, whether it may be through viewing a pen and paper as technology or by putting the pen and paper aside to write a computer programming code.

As the course is half practice and half theory, I was really expecting to start to develop a practice for myself. I had challenged myself through writing academic essays and using theory in interesting ways within them, but I wanted to expand my creativity beyond that. I think the course really did help me to do that. You really get a lot of support to develop and experiment within an area of choice (hence why its hard to say exactly what the course is about – it must be experienced). I normally don’t go as far as calling myself an artist just yet, but I do feel that I have a practice. And ironically, I’ve gone full circle from growing up wanting to be a writer, to wanting to expand beyond writing within this Masters, to finally calling myself a writer and exploring writing in completely new ways such as writing code poems and combining writing with other more physical elements and manifestations.

“Flee Immediately! was the result of a fire that burned underneath me. I had to do something. I was frustrated. I couldn’t find a job.”

How did the idea of Flee Immediately! came to be?

Flee Immediately! was the result of a fire that burned underneath me. I had to do something. I was frustrated. I couldn’t find a job. And even more, a job that related to what I studied as described above.
And most importantly, I wasn’t willing to sell my soul to a job that I could do but wasn’t interested in. So instead, I made Flee Immediately! as a way to not only help myself to achieve something despite what was going on around me, but to help everyone who did my course as well. I wanted it to become a forum that we could all use to explain and explore the complicated way that we see, use and explore technolog(y)ies – to give that experience to others that we all have a hard time describing. As writing has always come naturally to me, I thought a printed publication would be most suitable as a starting
point. But I have never seen Flee Immediately! as limited by this form. In fact, its printed on a1 folded down to A5 and then put into an envelope which actually gives the form itself a lot of flexibility.
Also, each issue can expand and change based on what people want, need, or just for the purpose of experimentation. It can also serve as a way to build events, exhibitions and performances. We’ve already done some readings, workshops and even a treasure hunt last summer before the first issue was printed which was great.

How did you choose the title?

I have to admit that I cannot take credit for the title, as I had help in coming up with it. But I do think it works well in a number of different ways. It originally stems from the friendship/battle between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Both were exploring the magical world, but in very different ways. Houdini practiced magic, but he revealed how he did every trick. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used seances to explore the spirituality and secrecy of magic. Both of these approaches can be used to look at technology. The sending of the first telegram was both spiritual and magical. But the term ‘Flee Immediately!’ actually comes  from a dinner that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had with some friends. They got around to speaking about the idea of secrecy and the idea that everyone must have secrets. To test his theory, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sent an anonymous message to a random friend saying ‘All is revealed. Flee Immediately!’ And that friend was never seen again.

That’s where Flee Immediately! has its roots, but to me, it also works in quite an ironic way. It is a way to Flee Immediately! the classic responses you get when saying that you studied Interactive Media, like for example, that I design websites or that I create iphone applications, or anything like that. In the editorial of the first issue, I think I came up with the best way of putting it: ‘To Flee Immediately is to ironically explore remaining.’

"I just wish he wasn't so much of an airhead sometimes" - Renee Carmichael

“I can say that I wish to I leave it up to people to explore and experiment with what inspires them.”

So far, what is the publication focusing on and how do you recruit contributors?

There is only one issue out at the moment, but I’m working on a second one that will come out in January/February next year (2012). I think the focus is quite clear in that is looking at technology in more critical ways. But its also quite open and I’m experimenting and exploring what it can become.

The first issue was completely open. I wanted to show how different ideas could meet upon the fold but still relate to this idea of technology and interactive media. It includes: a project on databases and tea leaf reading, an essay on pregnancy and coding,  a proposal for a project on food, data, and crime, a study of hawla money networks, a proposal for the importance of faking it in teaching dance and technology, and even a creative writing piece about a ship which is mapped out by a code poem.

For the next issue, the theme is ‘manual’, to be interpreted in many different ways: manual labor, manual as in hand, manual as the book that comes with your technology, man as machine, any way that inspires you. The first issue developed what Flee Immediately! could be and what it could explore, now this issue will give it a manual. But it won’t just be any manual and the content and the design will reveal that. I’ll leave it as a surprise for now.

The future focus, is still yet to be written. However, in terms of content, I can say that I wish to I leave it up to people to explore and experiment with what inspires them. It can be essays, creative writing, photography, film stills, anything you can think of really. The only limitation is that it somewhat relates to technology or technologies in a critical, social, political way. For the first
issue, I tried an open call but I think it was a bit too open and didn’t end up working too well. I ended up just asking people that I knew to submit things that I thought would represent the variety and type of projects that illustrated the conceptual basis of Flee Immediately!. This next issue, however, submissions have come from a mailing list I’m building, through interest taken up through friends of friends, and just a slow build up of interest in general. I don’t even know some of the people who have submitted. I always want to leave it open to people from all backgrounds to submit and explore for each issue.

“Before I could even think of doing something creative, I needed a job to be able to survive.”

How many people are working on the project?

At the moment its really only me. But that’s not to say that I am alone. I have a support network of people I studied with, who, although not completely involved, I have asked to help me out in various ways as I go along. I also plan to work with a designer for each issue. Overall, I want Flee Immediately! to be something collective so I’m happy if anyone wants to join at any point and in
any capacity that they feel they can. I think each issue will have new input from a variety of people which will help the project to continue to evolve and be a learning experience.

How do you think of expanding it? What do you want it to become?

I’ve already talked about this a lot through the previous questions. But for me, and for everyone, I think Flee Immediately! should be a forum where we can continue to expand and experiment. I’d like to continue doing more events in the future, and coming up with new ways of thinking about what these events can be, whether its an exhibition, performance, screening, party or so on. Not all people who are interested in the themes of Flee Immediately! will make something that fits on a printed page and I want to be able to accommodate that as well as as explore the ways that the printed form can take shape with and beyond the page.

To me Flee Immediately! was just something I had to do, whether it failed or not. I’m in it deep though as its really starting to gain a lot of interest. Even as it grows, however, I have not planned completely for its future.  I do want it to continue to expand and become something else, but what that will be I want to leave up to the experimental and collaborative ideals behind the project itself.

What are the biggest hurdles you faced after graduation and coming up with a project?

I’m going to say it straight up: money. Before I could even think of doing something creative, I needed a job to be able to survive. And without one, I just kept being stressed about money. So much so, that I could never really relax as the thought of money was always there. Now I’m by no means rich, but I have enough that I don’t have to think about it and I finally have the freedom to create.

Also, in terms of Flee Immediately! I needed money to do it in the first place. To be honest, everything else seemed to come together: the ideas, we had interest from GALERIE8 in London to do workshops before the first issue was even printed, participation in publication fairs lined up, but how to actually make it happen? At the time it didn’t matter, as I had that fire underneath me I was determined and I was going to do it anyway. It all came together and I did. But now as it goes along, funding is an issue that I really need to start focusing on to make it a long term project. I would eventually like to have enough money to not only pay for the printing itself, but to give support to the contributers, designers, and makers of the project as well. For now I’m quite amazed at how little you can do these things with, and I would say it shouldn’t stop anyone in the future.

the Grand Old Party: no longer grand, probably still old, seeking help

For a long time, the media and the political sphere were undecided on Occupy Wall Street (OWS); was it a fluke? Was it a short-lived movement that would dissipate as soon as the first winter frost would bite their unprotected fingers? Unsure of the future of the movement, Wall Street bankers and other lobbyists refused to intervene or simply ignored the protesters, seemingly growing more and more uncomfortable as the idea(l) spread across the country like wildfire. It wasn’t until the massacre in Oakland, CA that the general public was faced with a manichean decision: to support or not support OWS? Who are those college graduates, mothers of two, recently laid off executives, and journalists willing to suffer at the hands and batons of their local police department for their beliefs? Curiosity didn’t kill the cat: it is however threatening the hegemony the Republican Party is trying to create for itself. After their 2010 victory in the House of Representatives, Republicans, with Tea Party candidates as their herald, can no longer ignore the stomping feet and angered grown knocking on their door. Is the Republican Party just the shadow of what it once was?

Occupy Wall Street protest in Washington, DC on October 6

It made the headlines this week: the GOP is scared of Occupy Wall Street, because it has an “impact”. We are always scared of the unknown, the unexpected, what springs upon us unseen and unplanned – the scariest is that Republicans never saw it coming. The financial divide splitting the country in two, the one articulated in simple mathematics by the OWS rhetoric – “the 99%”, the people, the masses, the proletariat, the working and middle classes, versus “the 1%” of extremely financially secure, the rich, the over rich, the über rich, but most importantly, the ones not subjected to taxes – is finding an echo chamber in America. The GOP had it all until then: banging against the President for violating what the “founding fathers” had in mind, appealing to the historically conscious; the religious right had never seen such better time even under George Bush Sr, finding in House Leader John Boehner the crusader they had been waiting for; the rich, the lobbyists, the employers resting comfortably on their armchairs knowing their interests were just as secure with every Republican vote as it would be in a safe in Switzerland.

“It has been replaced, with much help of spin doctor Karl Rove and economist Francis Fukuyama, into war-mongering machine “

I believe the GOP no longer is the party it once was, the structure that spawned George Bush Sr. What could be labelled “rational conservatism”, advocacy for the social convenance of the much-altered “family values” capable of evolving with its time, paired with fiscal conservatism and expensive foreign policy, has vanished. It has been replaced, with much help of spin doctor Karl Rove and economist Francis Fukuyama, into war-mongering machine pandering to the religious right and calling for the return of much forgotten values belonging, literally, to another century. Stephen Singular, author of the book “The Wichita Divide”, wrote in April,

When people at the very top of society sanction hatred in a public way, it filters down to those not only less fortunate, but sometimes to those who are emotionally unstable. Then violence becomes not just likely, but virtually predictable. And then, when it’s too late, the haters claim they had nothing to do with the bloodshed and run for the hills. Whether we want to be or not, we’re all involved in this war and we’re all responsible for what we bring to it. This is a fight for the soul of the nation, just as the first Civil War was. We can’t afford to lose the sense of co-operation and balance that have kept America alive, and kept religion and politics separate, throughout more than two centuries. We are perilously close to the edge. (1)

What the GOP is attempting to do in the modern United States is nothing more, nothing less of a divide in morality, a sanctioned, self-righteous concept of right and wrong. Its popularity however clearly declined the second the ordinary American citizen, embodied by the infamous Joe the Plumber, once campaigning behind Sarah Palin, could no longer afford to pay his credit card bills, or found himself homeless after his home was foreclosed by Bank of America. The divide is not drawn between religious beliefs; it is not drawn between war-supporters and the so-called tree huggers. It is not the concept of right and wrong, left and right as we had seen it to this day. What Occupy Wall Street has highlighted is a divide between those who can’t and those who can; those who can’t are however those who could and would. It’s the coulda-woulda-shoulda-but I have been out of work for more than four months. The GOP has always tried to portray itself as the party of the working class, the undereducated, the simple man seeking to feed his family. Besides those suits, those ties and those secondary homes in Florida, GOP representatives have always catered to those who haven’t been in college but are still upholding the same education values their parents had once cherished. The left, especially during the John Kerry campaign of 2004, was the college man, the separatist with his books and his Latin – in short, a character that was unrelatable. John Kerry, despite all his qualifications, could not be the representative of the entire American people. He did not fit with the narrative George W. Bush was pushing forward: that of a former failure that made it good, of the underdog that was handpicked in the crowd to lead his flock into a tiresome but necessary battle. John Kerry, using arguments against the Iraq war that no one could understand, that never appealed to the passionate core of popular politics, lost in a desperate and frankly pathetic fashion. A leader has little to do with knowledge. It has everything to do with charisma.

from BlogForIowa on WordPress

“Occupy Wall Street represents a formidable paradox in American politics: it is the precise opposite of the Republican movement, yet it uses and benefits from the same popular appeal”

Under the younger Bush’s reign – more so under Rove and Fukuyama’s – the GOP no longer was about governance and democracy, but protecting lobbyists’ interests. The party was transformed to please those funding it, and could care less about the interests of the people, the very one they were representing in Congress and in the Oval Office. The battle for the hearts and minds of the American people was won with little effort in the days following 9/11, with a collective morale so low it could only find its way upwards. The 9/11 skeptics, the deniers, were called treaters to the nation, they were accused of befriending the terrorists, of embracing their cause, of ruining America with a disbelief that only belonged at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, where European socialists were shaking their heads at the upcoming and unavoidable pro-war propaganda that would be unleashed. There is no distance to ever be taken. Occupy Wall Street represents a formidable paradox in American politics: it is the precise opposite of the Republican movement, yet it uses and benefits from the same popular appeal. Appealing to the passionate, the have-nots, all those without a cause is what Occupy Wall Street do best. It had the elite confused in the first months of the movement, but quickly grew into an idea that had people riled up, that churned everyone’s guts, that divided a country into the financially secure and the precarious. It drew a line everyone knew their side on.

The one thing about Occupy Wall Street, though, is what no one had counted on: the deafening silence on the Republican side. Democrat senators such as Barney Frank and independent – yet Republican primary runner – Ron Paul supported the movement from the get-go. The vast majority of those in office, however, remained completely mute. For a long time their lack of appropriate commentary justified itself by a so-called vagueness as to where the movement was heading and what their precise demands were. When the first violent clashes with law enforcement took place, they took place with the world watching: on the nightly news, but more importantly on Occupy Wall Street’s own livestream, the self-generated source of information on the movement. In New York City, the home base of the movement, the police operation labeled “Bloomberg Dawn” by the occupiers was met with unprecedented support from the every day man and even elected officials: among the arrested was a City Council member. From then on, especially after the terrifying demonstration of force by the Oakland Police Department, Occupy Wall Street showed more than simple discontentment with banks and their allies – it proved disenchantment and lack of trust towards the very institution of government, the need for a real freedom of speech, and hard proof that democracy still exists. Hardly had the United States seen such uprisings, such grasp on civil liberties held by the very Constitution the Tea Party claimed to respect. There was fear in the incumbent eyes. Their answer to disagreement and discontentment is not more elections or more town hall meetings, it’s oppression and repression. That everybody, thanks to the internet, can now see and access.

The GOP doesn’t play the democracy game anymore. It just wants to be in charge all the time. And they certainly didn’t plan OWS.

What is shocking and bewildering to them is that the police state no longer scares people. They’re ready to fight. The threat of pepper sprays, of mace, of batons, and of imprisonment without clear charges is expected, even accepted among the occupiers. The National Lawyers Guild even provided free legal aid to those without assistance during arrest. The General Assemblies provided information on how to peacefully resist arrest. Several million dollars were donated through private funds to the cause so occupiers can have shelter, food, and electricity for their laptops and iPhones, instrumental for the message to keep on spreading. The tables have turned: the lyricism in the discourse, the great calls for justice, the appeal to the morals of putative supporters, the poking of socio-political buttons is now in OWS’s cold, callous palms. There is not a single family in the great land of the free that doesn’t have a son, a brother, a cousin, a mother that is out of work, whose house’s mortgage is slipping out of their hands, with a stepbrother recently graduating college having to deal with not having a future in sight. The nation is rising and asking for the American dream to be handed back to them, the people; for transparency and trustworthiness; for a reason to believe, and another reason not to be afraid. Chuck Palahniuk once wrote that once you’ve lost everything, you’re free to do anything. Nothing could illustrate it better than Occupy Wall Street, people leaving the comfort of their apartment to live under a tent with a thousand strangers all reunited against the same cause. The Republican Party is failing because it has failed the very people that would once buy into their easily articulated spin. The Democrats are losing momentum because they no longer know how to speak to a youth movement that was once easily acquired in the polls. Occupy Wall Street is now more than a movement. It is. And it will stay.

Read more on OWS: interview with journalist and occupier John Knefel // interview with writer, comedian and all-around muckracker, Lee Camp