Sunday, 23 October 2011

ألإسلام هو الحل

WAIT! I am not promoting the Muslim Brotherhood. Read on!

I am just adding my $ 0.02 to the discussion on whether they and others should be allowed to use religion-based slogans in the upcoming elections.

My opinion is YES OF COURSE they should be allowed.

Here's why:

  1. CENSORSHIP: Any form of censorship used to curb slogans by a specific group or party is practically censoring of the people's right to choose freely. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom to attract voters should not be limited by law for or against one type of campaigning. Besides who decides what is acceptable and what is not? SCAF?! Isn't this the people's revolution? Aren't these elections for the People's Assembly? Of course they are. Then let the people decide. I am not suggesting a referendum (although I suspect strongly that a referendum would produce 70-something % in favor of allowing religion-based slogans) but I believe the results of the elections will be just as indicative. Should the people end up voting into parliament a party or parties which used religious slogans in their campaigns, then practically the people are saying "Yes, we think it's OK to use these slogans". If on the other hand, the parties which use these slogans fail to get seats in parliament, then it is fair to assume the people were none too pleased with the use of such slogans or at least that these slogans were not a decisive factor.
  2. WHY PICK ON THESE SLOGANS? There is no neutral, logical, rational difference between this slogan and any other. All slogans are designed to represent ideologies. Forbidding "Islam is the Solution", is the same as forbidding "Communism or Capitalism or Liberalism - or any other ism - is the Solution". For a fair and level playing ground, all parties must be allowed to use whatever slogans they want. Anything else would be unfair both to the parties themselves and, at least as importantly, to the voters.
  3. UNFAIR: Specifically in the case of the MB, this has been their slogan for decades, it is associated with them, and forbidding them from using it would be robbing them of a phrase they have built a lot of recognition around. Simply unfair and rationally unsupportable. You may or may not want them in power, but that is irrelevant. The only fair way to ensure they do not get into power is to more successfully present the public with something better.
  4. WHAT IS THE REAL ALTERNATIVE? What would you rather do? Push those who would use religion-based slogans under the rug or into detention camps a la NDP? Do you really want to go there? I don't. Any attempt to regulate through censorship is bound to produce a black market.
Of course there are many arguments against allowing the use of religion-based slogans. Here is why I believe these arguments are weak at best and just plain false at worse:
  1. If we allow "Islam is the Solution", we open the door to "Christianity or Judaism is the Solution": Of course we do, and we should argue just as strongly for allowing any party to use either of these two and let the people pick what they want. And if indeed the people do want the party raising "Christianity is the Solution" or "Judaism is the Solution" then that's what the people should get.
  2. We should not mix religion and politics: That is ONE point of view, maybe yours, maybe mine, but certainly not everybody's. Nobody has the right to decide for everybody what should and should not be allowed into politics. For many Egyptians (we'll find out just how many after the elections) politics and religion SHOULD be mixed, in fact, for many Egyptians, politics is just one more element under the umbrella of religion and religion is an integral component of political belief. Many for example, would not want an atheist president. Who are you and I to decide otherwise for them?
  3. Using religion in politics is like blackmail, vote for me you go to heaven, don't and you go to hell: This argument comes up in various forms including "these parties are fooling people through using religion in their campaigns" or "religion is different, people are sensitive" or "simple people will be drawn towards these parties without thinking" etc.. all of which assume a degree of stupidity and naivety in our population which I reject completely. It is arrogant to assume you and I know what is best for them. People know that there is no party which holds the keys to heaven or can close the gates of hell. 
  4. Nobody has the right to monopolize Islam: I completely agree and in fact this is one of the slightly better arguments, BUT it is still rather weak. Reason being that parties which say "Democracy is the solution" or "Secularism is best" or "Communism is the way out" don't (and don't claim to) have a monopoly on democracy or secularism or communism, do they? Nobody claims they have a monopoly on anything! All they are saying is "This is what we believe", NOT "this is what we believe and we are the only ones who believe it"!
  5. These people are just using this slogan to attract voters, but they have no real programs: IMHO this is a completely different discussion. Whether or not a party has a solid program is irrelevant to the discussion on whether or not they may use religion-based slogans. To the promoters of this argument, I would recommend you challenge parties on their programs, not their slogans!
  6. If they fail, it will be seen as a failure of Islam: Rubbish! Do we all think Saudi Arabia or Iran or the Vatican are successful or unsuccessful BECAUSE they are (ostensibly) religion-based states? NO, of course not! Whether they fail or succeed is related to how they run their programs. Again, the people of Egypt are not so stupid or naive as to believe that should the MB (or other religion-based groups and parties) fail, that means there is something wrong with the religion itself! Does North Korea's failure as a state mean that communism and atheism can never be successful? NO! Does the current world economic crisis mean capitalism is doomed? NO!
So what's my reco?

Let parties use whatever slogans they want, religion-based, ideology-based, even gender-based and social-class based. If someone wants to run as the defender of the poor or the carrier of women's rights or the Jewish candidate or the one who will ensure Christians get their rights, then let them. If they perform, the people will re-elect them, if not, they will be ousted.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Life at Label Level

Can you tell me which party or political group would propose the following vision for the Egypt of the future?

1. A Government 
  • Where the legislative, judiciary and executive (I would add media) arms are well-separated and completely independent
  • Which views itself as a provider of services to the people and not the LORD OF THE LAND
  • Where there is accountability for actions
  • Which is representative of all Egyptians through a fair and free election process
  • Where torture and detainment without charge are certainly not encouraged and not even condoned
  • Whose objective is the country and people's prosperity and not the maintenance of a status quo
  • Whose ministries have clear objectives, strategies to achieve these objectives and their performance is measured against these achievements
2. A President
  • With significantly reduced authorities
  • Who is non-corrupt, does not espouse nepotism and does not treat the country and its citizens like his fiefdom and the farmers inhabiting it
  • Who can be held accountable
  • Who will be changed in four or eight years
  • Whose son has no political ambitions
3. An Economic Environment
  • Which promotes productivity, creativity, efficiency and competitiveness
  • Where the less successful are not marginalized
  • Where free enterprise is encouraged but regulated
  • Which is sustainable and not standing on one (tourism) or two (add Suez Canal) or three (add real estate or natural gas) rickety pillars
4. Relation between Police and Population
  • Where both parties respect the rule of law
  • Which reflects mutual respect rather than fear on one side and disdain on the other
  • Where the motto "protect and serve" is real and moves beyond the sign on the police station and into the street
  • When your son or daughter can look at a policeman and think of him as someone who can help, not someone to be afraid of
  • Which moves away from the auditor-victim dynamic to a public servant-public dynamic
5. An Army
  • Whose sole responsibilities are protecting the country from aggression and ensuring we have a qualitative and quantitative edge over potential enemies
  • Which is not involved in business, road-building, gas cooker manufacturing or other forms of profiteering
  • Which is completely neutral/neutered politically
  • Which gets its directions from the government and is just one more tool in the hands of the state, which is in the hands of the people
  • Which we can all believe is nationalist, non-corrupt and incorruptible
  • Which is loved and respected, not feared and mistrusted
6. A Social Environment
  • Where people have freedom and respect for that freedom
  • Where our values and traditions and religions are respected 
  • Where being veiled is not viewed as a sign of religious constipation and being unveiled is not a sign of moral looseness (and a million other examples here)
  • Where Christians are TRULY an identical member of society to Muslims, except they pray in a different place
  • Where at school kids are taught and raised, where values are supported not destroyed, where they have a class in civics and another in human rights
So back to the question. Can you tell me whose program this is? Which party wants Egypt to look like this?

You can't? Of course you can't, and neither could I, because this is the Egypt we ALL want!

So what's the point?

The point is that in addition to rolling alliteratively off the tongue, the title Life at Label Level, has -in Kissinger's words - the added benefit of being the truth. 

We, here in Egypt, have successfully, miraculously, now reduced intelligent conversation to the Level of Label. 

Liberal, Islamist, communist, revolutionary, Facebook kid, intellectual, the poor, political activist nauseum. Some go a tiny step forward and add a tag to the label, yielding: Islamist - will close pubs and force women to wear the veil; Liberal: will allow gay marriages and cancel Article 2 of our constitution   communist: will kill private investment and return us to the dark ages (this bit also applies to Islamists); revolutionary: is ruining the economy through endless demonstrations; Facebook kids: a bunch of spoiled pansies who would do well to get a real job; intellectuals: anyone with a PhD even if their dissertation covered the living conditions of coal-miners in Poland during the industrial revolution; the poor: anyone not dressed nicely and/or not owning two cars; political activist: your guess is as good as mine.

The problem is this moves us in the EXACT opposite direction to the one we need to be moving in. 

Towards splintering and away from unity. 

And to my mind that is the biggest danger of all. We all suddenly become experts on everything simply because we know all the labels, and whoever is labelled differently to me, is an opponent. And so liberals don't like Islamists who dislike them back; "real" revolutionaries don't think much of the Facebook kids who in turn deride them etc.

And so instead of a populace united behind a single objective we get broken up into all these tiny fragmented sub-groups each of which believes it knows everything there is to know about the rest, so much so, we don't even need to talk to each other anymore. Isn't he an Islamist? Well, it's a waste of time talking to someone who wants to force women to wear the veil! Isn't she a Facebook kid? Useless conversation, she needs some Tahreer-time before we can have a meaningful discussion. And so on and so forth.

But the reality, the truth, and you really don't need to scratch the surface all that hard to get at it, is that we all have an almost identical picture of how we want Egypt to be. The similarities between visions are so many and cover such wide ground, that the differences fade into proverbial insignificance.

Anybody with any experience in just about anything can tell you, you have a vision first (and all the lists above are vision-level stuff), BEFORE the details of implementation. We can discuss those a leisure, but we cannot afford the leisure of waiting for an agreement on vision, otherwise alternative visions, none of which will be to our liking will come forth.

So again, what's the point? 

The point is please remove the blinders and ear-plugs, look, listen, communicate, discuss, seek points of agreement and before you stick a label on a box and neatly compartmentalize our country and countrymen and women into ridiculously simplistic groups, make sure you really know what their concepts, ideas and goals are. I'll bet you ten to one, they are more similar to your own than you ever imagined.