CAIRO - One of the most memorable scenes from the Libyan revolution was when the rebels, in wretched clothes and advanced weaponry, seized a house of the oldest son of Muammar Gaddafi. They famously entered his living room, sat in his couch, watched his TV, ate his food and slept in his bed.
Mohamed Morsi has now completed his first 100 days as Egyptian president, during which he and his society of Muslim Brothers have done nothing significant, except eagerly sleep in former President Nasser’s bed.
When Morsi won the presidential elections, the Brotherhood entered into Egypt's old palaces of power. There they found relics of the post-colonial regime created 60 years ago by Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Nasser’s legacy left Egypt encumbered by hefty and dysfunctional state institutions. However, despite being crushed by Nasser decades ago, the Brothers were enthralled at taking over the government’s damp buildings, occupying the broken chairs made by their very torturers.
But Morsi has failed in doing what Nasser — regardless of his oppressive policies — did in his first 100 days. The Brotherhood has managed to obtain a strong grip over apparatuses of repression in Nasser’s state, but appears incapable of dealing with the colossal economic realms he erected.
In his first 100 days, Nasser turned a military coup that deposed a king and kicked out a colonizer into a social revolution. He responded to the demands of the lower classes and altered the socio-economic order.
The coup took place on July 23, and by Sept. 9, 1952, the new regime had implemented a radical land reform that confiscated thousands of acres from the landed aristocracy and distributed them to impoverished peasants.
Morsi, in his first 100 days meanwhile, has responded to none of the demands of the lower or middle classes that were put forth during the January revolution. He has not raised the minimum wage that Tahrir Square so loudly cried for, nor has he fulfilled his promise to relieve peasants from debt to state banks (despite the cosmetic erasure of some agricultural loans). Likewise, he has offered no serious response to the demands of schoolteachers, doctors, government employees, and other working people.
Moreover, he is now on track to gradually lift subsidies from basic goods — which Nasser created to support the poor — in order to meet the conditions of the International Monetary Fund loan he has applied for.
Morsi has essentially followed the same neo-liberal policies of Mubarak, when a small elite of businessmen controlled the country, with an immense social gap separating them from the rest of the country. While Morsi has not spared the time to meet with trade or peasant unions, he did form a committee of business tycoons, headed by his fellow Brotherhood member Hassan Malek.
Other unprivileged groups are constantly protesting and striking across the country, demanding a dignified livelihood.
Into Brotherhood hands
Unlike Nasser, Morsi has turned a popular revolution into a process of regime change in which bearded business tycoons have replaced Mubarak’s clean-shaven magnates.
In the 1960s, Nasser created a socialist state that had both bright and dark aspects. On the bright side, Nasser established heavy industrialization through the public sector, created cooperatives and subsidies for small peasants, established free education and healthcare, and subsidized basic foods.
On the dark side, he established state TV and newspapers solely for broadcasting government propaganda, co-opted all workers into one trade union tied to the ruling party, created an inflated bureaucracy with millions of low-income employees, and formed a tyrannical security apparatus.
In the process of transforming the country from socialism to a market economy, both former presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak dismantled segments of Nasser’s state and maintained others to serve their autocratic interests.
Arriving in power, Morsi seized the crumbling remains of Nasser’s state. At the same time, Morsi and his Brothers have failed to manage the gigantic state-owned economic enterprises. What remained of the state-owned factories and companies has fallen in the Brothers’ laps, but they have been left clueless as to how to operate this sector.
They clearly lack any experience with manufacturing industry. Their economic expertise is limited to retail business ventures and their economic capabilities are confined to managing big supermarkets and stores of imported luxury goods.
The Brothers might be happy to take over the remnants of Nasser’s Egypt, but there is little more disturbing than rejoicing in sleeping in your dead enemy’s bed while pathetically pretending to fix the collapsing house we all occupy.
*Zeinab Abul-Magd is an assistant professor of history at the American University in Cairo and Oberlin College.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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