Exile and the prophetic: Jews of conscience takeaway on Egypt

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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.

The title of Alex Kane’s piece on American aid to Egypt tells it all:  Never Mind the Coup:  U.S. Military Aid Will Continue to Flow to Egypt.  Never mind martial law either.

What should American and Israeli Jews of Conscience think about this unfolding drama in Egypt?

American unbalanced aid – with more than a billion dollars going to the military and only several hundred million going to economic development – is less about freeing the Egyptian people than it is about buying the army’s continuing dominance in Egypt’s political affairs, Israel’s security and ensuring American influence. 

On the Egypt-Israel front, the New York Times reports reports that whereas President Morsi reduced communication with Israel to a minimum, the Egyptian army increased communication.  No doubt the army is keeping those lines open now.

What better way to communicate than army to army?  Since Israel is in many ways a military state – an issue rarely discussed in commentaries on Israel’s democracy – when you communicate with Israel’s elected government, you’re communicating with the army anyway.  And since the army is the bedrock institution in Egypt and bound to outlast any particular government it puts in place or removes, why bother with the civilian side of the political process?

Quite predictably, the coup and martial law in Egypt hasn’t solved anything.  Nor are either a continuation of the revolution – as the slogan goes.  Hosni Mubarak was a dictator who outlived his usefulness.  His ouster by the military – who placed him in power in the first place – had little to do with revolution. 

Like most political changes, the ousting of Mubarak and now Morsi, are at best, incremental.  Right now, we don’t know in what direction change will move.  If the Egyptian people are lucky it will be two steps forward, one step back.   Yet with coup after coup and an almost permanent martial law over the last decades the prospect is as likely to move in the opposite direction.

The words of Noura Erakat, a Palestinian human rights attorney,are important here.  Writing in her blog Erakat cautions against premature judgments, including creating a binary between military coup and democracy. She does not believe in Egypt’s “automatic progress” and Erakat worries that things can take a “dramatic turn for the worse.”

Despite planning and specific political approaches among Egypt’s dissident, Erakat realizes that Egypt is “now open to the possibility that the military use this unprecedented popular showing as an instrument to reassert itself.”  Her conclusion is important:  “As those with the comfort to watch from abroad, I think the least we can do is exercise the same level of nuance and complexity that Egyptians, who have tirelessly fought for their freedom and dignity since January 2011 and well before, have done.”

Well stated.  Euphoria doesn’t last long in any sphere of life and automatic progress is never guaranteed.  All struggles are long hauls with decisions being made along the way.  However, when the army is involved – anywhere – the odds are longer and more difficult.

As Erakat advise us, we shouldn’t forget the sacrifice of those directly involved in the struggles in Egypt.  As the story fades from the American political scene, the struggle – and the suffering – will continue.  Nonetheless, it is difficult to keep our distance when such a dramatic confrontation is taking place. 

Are American and Israeli Jews of Conscience distant from Egypt’s continuing crisis?  What is the Jewish takeaway from Egypt’s unfolding drama? 

To begin with we should think about our failure with regard to the American and Israeli armies who trot around the globe and peddle arms in our name.  And with Erakat we shouldn’t accept the binary between military influence and democracy.  Deeply immersed in (democratic) Empire America and (democratic) Empire Israel, Jews of Conscience are caught between Egypt’s rock and hard place, too.

In this latest coup, the least of Egypt’s army worry is confrontation with America and Israel – for good reason.  Egypt, America and Israel are much closer than we think.

Due to editor’s inattention, this post bore Phil Weiss’s byline for a couple of hours Saturday. Apologies.

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Arakat says things could take a turn for the worse, they could,Islamists are saying why bother to vote, if we win they will not recognize our victory, this is very similar to the Algerian situation in 1991 in many respects, in the early 1990′s, when the Islamist Salvation Front [FIS]… Read more »

While those in the region are able to think subtly and avoid false binaries we seem to be incapable of doing that. So if Israel (temporarily) benefits from the new situation it must be wrong. I say temporarily in that by the popular and clear rejection of both military and… Read more »

How many days has the Rafah crossing been closed by the Egyptian military now? That gang of thugs never relinquished power. They just worked around Morsi, in the interest of their paychecks, which means in the service of U.S. policy to crush Palestinian life. Now popular dissatisfaction with an elected… Read more »