Wonk’s Saturday Reads: Permission to Narrate

Click image to go to Al Jazeera Live Blog on Egypt

Photo: via the NYT Lens. Egyptian anti- government protesters celebrated under fireworks at Tahrir Square in Cairo. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty)

Good morning all!

It’s the morning after Egypt took its first step toward self-governance, and I can’t stop thinking “power to the people!”

[See Al Jazeera Feb 12 Egypt Live Blog for the latest]

Just wow! Whatever happens in the long and challenging road ahead, the Arab youth and the rest of the Egyptian protesters have changed the narrative forever. Gone with Mubarak is the mythology that Arab peoples don’t want democracy and have to have it imposed on them, as if they were somehow intrinsically “different” from Lady Liberty’s tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Over the course of the past 18 days, the whole world saw what Egyptians wanted (freedom, dignity) and what the West wanted (first “stability,” then “orderly transition” to Suleiman-the-torturer).

Check out the headline on this new interactive map from the BBC: “Egypt: The camp that toppled a president.” (While you’re at it, check out the map, because it will answer the question that inquiring minds have been wondering, about just how did the protesters answer nature’s call!)

My rough timeline/liveblogging from yesterday:

The brutal police murder of corruption whistleblower Khaled Said was the turning point. Tunisia’s overthrow of Ben Ali was the awakening. Millions of people took to the streets and risked their lives. Thousands were wounded or “disappeared.” 300 are dead. Wael Ghonim’s interview after his release gave the protesters new life and the strength to carry on in the face of all the people who second-guessed them. The way I see it, though, the real “catalysts” were those 30 years of a regime that not only oppressed its people but served other countries’ interests, in the name of “stability” and stuffing their own pockets, while neglecting the needs of Egyptians.

I’ve had a helluva time trying to narrow down some Saturday reads to share with you, let alone getting myself away from the Al Jazeera live feed long enough to write this post. I’ve settled on a few favorites.

First, the Egyptian woman who has been holding down the fort in the Western media almost single-handedly–yes, that would be Mona Eltahawy–yesterday on the Brian Lehrer Show, reacting live to the news that Mubarak had resigned:

“I want to be realistic as well as kind of really love this moment. This is just a first step. We’ve said all along we want the regime to go. This is not about Mubarak. This is about getting rid of a regime that has suffocated the life of Egypt for the past sixty years. Egyptians deserve so much better. This is a wonderful moment in our life. And, it’s not going to stop. Everybody I know in Egypt is saying ‘We did it, but we’re not going to stop.’ And, I have total faith in them. I love Egypt, and I love being Egyptian today.” –Mona Eltahawy, breaking down emotionally, after weeks of nonstop tireless work pushing the Western media to look beyond its narratives on the Arab world.

Mona’s reaction reminded me of what MLK once said: “This is where we are. Where do we go from here?”

Dr. King’s next words: “First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amidst a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values.”

On Tuesday, I posted about Women’s Voices on Egypt, as inspired by Mona Eltahawy’s twitter query for analysis on Egypt from women’s voices instead of all the balding old men on tv. One of the writings I linked to was an excellent, must-read piece by Azza Karam — “The dignity of Egyptian youth.” In light of Friday’s historic developments, I’d like to revisit a couple passages from Karam’s essay:

The youth bulge in the Arab world (where nearly 60 percent of the population is under thirty years of age) has produced a dividend of human dignity across the region and way beyond. Regardless of what actually transpires, priceless milestones of social awareness, political savvy, cultural pride, and creativity have arisen. A deep yoke of humiliation—from a fear born of oppression and injustice, from a silence created by decades of clinking chains and printed lies, and from the combined pains of hunger, sexual frustration, and the stigma of poverty—has been thrown off. […] What are the specific demands of the youth? Not only the President, but the entire regime “has to go.” […] Their want, their demand, is not just a matter of a verb or a matter of course; it is the act of making this demand in and of itself that is critical.


Every moment lost in removing the strongest symbol of oppression is causing not only loss of life, not only mounting internal dissent, confusion, and violence, but, critically, every moment Mubarak remains in power is an opportunity for those calling on God to dominate the emerging scene. There is already a culture of appealing to God (and those who speak in his name) when there is a sense of helplessness. The Egyptian youth who have been fashioning—with their lives—a new discourse of change over the last eight days, without resorting to Islamist discourse of any kind, but with dignity, with passion, with love for their country and their heritage, must not be let down now. If they are, we will have to accept responsibility for allowing the forces of Islamism to step in as the people’s liberator.

Next up, as quoted by Dan Sisken of Mideast Brief, via his post at Mondoweiss — Arabs seize the ‘permission to narrate’:

Facts do not at all speak for themselves, but require a socially acceptable narrative to absorb, sustain, and circulate them. . . . as Hayden White has noted in a seminal article, “narrative in general, from the folk tale to the novel, from annals to the fully realized ‘history,’ has to do with the topics of law, legality, legitimacy, or, more generally, authority.”
– Edward Said, Permission to Narrate (1984)

Sisken writes:

Just as the Egyptian revolution has liberated the Egyptian people from the grasp of a US-backed authoritarian leader and seems likely to wrench Egypt out of its nearly total reliance on US support and largesse, the Egyptian people–as covered by AlJazeera–may be bringing about a new international media order. […] So, as we watch the unfolding drama of Egyptians reclaiming their voice and destiny, we watch and are enlightened by young and extremely well-informed Arab, and in many cases Egyptian, reporters and analysts. There is no western filter of former government officials, DC think tankers, former military officers, and other US policy wonks. No, what we are now witnessing is Arabs and Egyptians, not only making their own history, but having the international stature and reach to narrate it as well.

If you didn’t click on the link, you are missing the excellent and completely spot-on side-by-side comparison that Sisken put up of the Egypt coverage from Al Jazeera and the garbage rotating on Fox News.

The screengrabs that Sisken drew on were, by the way, from Salon’s reporting at the end of January that “Al Jazeera’s Egypt coverage embarrasses U.S. cable news channels.”

I could not bear to flip to Fox News for most of the day as hour after hour of celebration continued in the streets of Egypt, but the one and only time I did take a peek, it lasted a painful two seconds–the newsdesk gal was talking about illegal immigration. I thought that spoke volumes.

As you likely have already heard by now, and as the Guardian poetically notes here, February 11th was the day “Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran, his Islamic revolution cementing the downfall of the Shah, who had fled into exile – to Egypt.” And, now 32 years later on that same day, Hosni Mubarak has become the former president of Egypt. Another milestone you probably came across in the coverage of Egypt yesterday– exactly 21 years ago from yesterday, Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island after 27 years of political imprisonment. But, the Guardian also points out that, “On the same date in 1975 Margaret Thatcher succeeded Edward Heath as Conservative party leader. And continuing the theme of divisive female politicians – for Sarah Palin the date has an entirely different significance: it’s her birthday.”

Now, I don’t know what it all means that Palin and Thatcher are tied to February 11th as well (not that it means anything at all), but I’m going to switch gears for the rest of this post. Incidentally enough, earlier in the week the theme I had been thinking of centering my roundup on was “America’s Adaleens.” I don’t know how many of you watch HBO’s Big Love, but the character Adaleen Grant–played by the wonderful Mary Kay Place–is a strong-willed woman, all moxie, yet brainwashed and sells out the sisterhood. Sound familiar? I’ve been seeing her face all week watching the assault on American women continue to unfold–an assault which is unsurprising to me, as I’ve been waving that guttmacher pdf of mini-stupaks erupting across the country in every post I can for the past six months.

But, getting back to Adaleen and women selling out other women. We’ve got quite a few grizzlies in a skirt helping the bastards in Congress avoid doing anything on the economy by declaring armageddon on women’s civil rights. (If you missed Dakinikat’s righteous rant on the war on our rights, please go read it: “They think they own our bodies.”)

Speaking of which, did you happen to catch this piece of tripe from the warped mind of Phyllis Schlafly this week? Is it supposed to be a birthday present to Sarah Palin or something? Whatever it is, it’s a mess. Everything I have to say, I already said on the anniversary of Roe. That’s not feminism Schlafly is criticizing. It’s a figment of her imagination–a convenient strawman to prop up a house of canards. Feminism isn’t about hating housewives. It’s about creating the sociopolitical and economic opportunities such that a woman’s sphere can be *wherever* she makes good. It’s the Schlafly nuts who are hellbent on ostracizing and marginalizing any woman who won’t tow their traditionalist line. They want to assume power by undoing all the work of our foremothers who fought for our rights. And, they want ‘permission to narrate’ on feminism that they have not earned.

So, what do you want to say this Saturday morning? And, what’s on your reading list? Do your thing in the comments and have a great weekend.

[originally posted at Let Them Listen; crossposted at Sky Dancing and Taylor Marsh]


3 Responses

  1. From the AJ Live blog linked up top:

    3:11pm Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has just issued its fourth communiqué broadcast live on state television.

    In the announcement, the country’s new military rulers promised to hand power to an elected, civilian government. They also pledged that Egypt would remain committed to all international treaties – in an apparent nod to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

  2. (I got a comment about Big Love over at my TM crosspost, so I thought I’d add my reply here too….)

    I love Big Love… without giving too much away, let’s just say its got a lot of human interest value in terms of gender politics. It’s in its fifth and final season, and the main three female leads/wives (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin) are all having three different sorts of feminist awakenings specific to their character backhistory and storyline. Oh, and Mary Kay plays one of the most fascinating characters! She’s such a good actress that you want to love Adaleen for her pure resourcefulness and pluck in spite of some really horrific stuff, but she’s soooo tied her identity to worshipping a “prophet” in her husband and then in her son and all the polygamist compound life, that you can’t love her–she’s using her power to diminish her own power and the power of other women.

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