This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Has anything changed since the bloodshed in Egypt Saturday? The Muslim Brotherhood remains intact. The military is emboldened. The government continues to build its case against ousted President Morsi. The American administration is mute with some sideline Congressional noise about reviewing aid packages to Egypt.
Expect more violence in the coming weeks.
The Muslim Brotherhood and politicized Muslims in general feel abandoned. Where are their Christian and secular allies who wanted democracy? Yet the question remains as to where politicized Muslims would be if the tables were turned. Was the Muslim Brotherhood committed to democracy as a process, therefore able to accept defeat and failure? Were they prepared to hand over power democratically if President Morsi was defeated at the polls when his Presidential term came to an end?
The answers to these questions are unknown – the military preempted the process. Nonetheless, this is a point of serious reflection. Yet how can there be reflection when the military is hell-bent on destroying political Islam within Egypt?
Yesterday there was a fascinating take on the situation at this site written by a scholar of Islam, Mbaye Lo. Lo is a native of Senegal, Assistant Professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic at Duke University, and a Duke Islamic Studies Center affiliated (DISC) faculty member. Lo has spent the last several weeks in Cairo observing the unfolding events.
Lo’s article is well worth reading. It is in turn outrageous, all over the place, insightful and superficial, open and judgmental. In defending the military coup – without calling it exactly that and without defending the military’s excesses– Lo assumes that if the choice has to be made in Egypt the militarized deep state is preferable to an Islamist state. Lo’s main point though is that President Morsi acted more like an Islamic religious leader than a head of state. Employing fascinating examples, Lo shows how Morsi often went off text, reciting passages from the Koran and making alliances with Islamists in the Middle East that the Egyptian state didn’t sanction and didn’t want.
In short, Morsi went Islamic rogue. My take away from Lo’s article is that If Morsi succeeded as president, Egypt would have become a failed Islamic state instead of the secular authoritarian failed state it has become.
Thinking about Lo’s take on Morsi, I thought about the criticisms of President Obama. From progressive quarters, Obama is criticized precisely because he hasn’t gone Progressive rogue, precisely because he has been hemmed in by and bowed to the deep state in America. This is why Obama has been neutralized and why his leadership is questioned. Whatever progressive achievements Obama can claim have been hard-fought and gutted in the process of being achieved. Examples among others include his “overhaul” of the health insurance system and his military “withdrawals” from Iraq and Afghanistan. Failures are also to be noted. Though Obama pledged to close Guantanamo within a year of his first day in office, it remains open.
So which way do we want it? Or do we want the leaders of whatever country to go rogue or cater to the deep state when it comports with out sensibilities?
Speaking of Obama on the deep state script, the Israeli-Palestinian talks are set to start tonight in Washington. Not much new there either. The lead negotiators are Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, two veterans of the Israeli and Palestinian politics. Though Livni is considerably more liberal than Prime Minister Netanyahu, she reminds me of Hillary Clinton. Scratch her and she’s more like Benjamin Netanyahu than she – or we – would like to believe.
My personal favorite is Livni’s take on peace negotiations and the Nakba. In her view, once a peace agreement is signed, the Palestinians have to strike the Nakba from their vocabulary – or use it exclusively to refer to how Arab governments have treated Palestinians. Livni’s quest is to remove the Palestinian grievance against Israel from history and, in so doing, to wipe Israel’s past clean. Her comments in 2007 at the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s website referring to the establishment of Israel and the Nakba are important:
I believe that the solution of two nation states serves the interests of both sides. Not every celebration of ours is cause for sorrow on the other side, and vice versa. I say to my Palestinian colleagues: Do not bemoan the establishment of the State of Israel; establish your own state, rejoice in its establishment and we will rejoice with you, since for us the establishment of the Palestinian state is not our Nakba, or disaster - provided that upon its establishment the word “Nakba” be deleted from the Arabic lexicon in referring to Israel.
In the international arena any final agreement signed by both parties cleanses the record in the legal sense. Safely confined to academia’s Ivory Tower, historians will be left to bicker among themselves about Israel’s origins.
This is the point of Israel forcing Palestinians to sign on to Israel as a Jewish state. Though it seems a point of Israeli and Jewish pride and thus outside the political process of international statesmanship, it carries supreme political weight. Once again it’s about wiping Israel’s historical slate clean.
If Israel is a Jewish state, how can anyone complain about Israel’s origins, including the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians necessary to create a Jewish state? Obviously, the Palestinian right of return becomes mute. If a Jewish state is legalized in the international arena and signed on to by Palestinians, Palestinians forfeit all original and ongoing claims against Israel.
Should Jews of Conscience sign on to the white-washing of Israeli and Jewish history? Final agreements do that in the political arena. Of course, Jews of Conscience have no say in the negotiations. We sit on the sidelines speaking, writing and protesting various injustices. Perhaps a final agreement would give space for other things to happen, including a historical reckoning with Israel and Jewish history. Yet the political balance is so unbalanced that a final agreement could only finalize an injustice so grievous that the old wounds would fester, waiting for another moment to explode.
Another round begins. I doubt it will turn out any different than the past rounds. Palestinians will make their own decisions, if there is anything offered to really mull over.
Livni and Netanyahu are part of the Israeli deep state. They are the Jewish equivalents to Mubarak, the Egyptian military and whoever is ultimately selected to front the Egyptian government.
Should Jews of Conscience sign on the peace process or go rogue and say enough is enough?