Egypt’s Invisible Protesters, One Year After the Coup

by Mohamad Elmasry

Egypt-coup-anniversary-protestDuring an interview about Egypt with a major Western media outlet three weeks ago, I mentioned the anti-coup protest movement in the country and its relevance as an oppositional force in Egypt’s post-coup political order. The Washington-based journalist who was interviewing me wondered about my assertion, telling me that, according to his knowledge, the protests were small, infrequent and insignificant.

Much Western media coverage of Egypt has failed to offer up the kind of context, nuance, and balance necessary to give news audiences a full sense of the debate and contestation inside the country. Coverage of Egypt’s mass death sentences, jailing of journalists, and human rights abuses notwithstanding, western reportage has, at least on some issues, surrendered to the Egyptian military’s narrative. In particular, many western media outlets seem to have adopted the Egyptian regime’s account that ongoing protests are small and not representative of a significant trend. Western media outlets have largely ignored the anti-coup protest movement that has continued unabated for 365 consecutive days.

Continue reading “Egypt’s Invisible Protesters, One Year After the Coup”

Collective Punishment and the Value of Israeli vs. Palestinian Lives

The following post was written by my colleague and friend Mohamad Elmasry, a Visiting Scholar at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies whose MA thesis examined American newspaper coverage of death in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In the aftermath of the tragic killings of three Israeli teenagers, Gaza has been bombed (yet again). More than 30 targets were hit last evening. Israel is good at collective punishment. We know this.

The murder of the three Israeli teens is quite awful. What is also awful is that these three kids will get more news coverage than the hundreds of Palestinian kids killed by Israel in the last several years. Numerous academic research studies all say the same thing: western reportage favors and humanizes the Israeli perspective, while delegitimizing and condemning the Palestinian perspective. The research also shows that Israeli deaths are covered more prominently than Palestinian deaths. For western media, Israeli lives are worth more than Palestinian lives. It’s that simple, really.

Palestinians do not have a military, and — after having been robbed of their land, slaughtered, and kicked out of their homes in 1948 — have been illegally occupied for nearly half a century. For many years, the US and Israel have been virtually the only countries in the world to vote against the UN resolution for “peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine,” which would require Israel to end its illegal occupation. The vote is usually something like 160 to 5 (with the Marshall Islands and Micronesia always voting with the US. and Israel, and the rest of the world voting in the other direction). In November 2012, the vote was 163 to 6. Israel and the US have also systematically obstructed peace negotiations, as has been meticulously documented by Norman Finkelstein and other leading scholars.

The occupation is utterly brutal (one need only consult any of the countless independent eyewitness accounts, or, alternatively, the human rights reports). Palestinians can do nothing without the permission of the Israeli Defense Forces, are not allowed freedom of movement, do not have control over their own resources, and have to put up with the regular home demolitions that make room for illegal Israeli settlements. Over the years, many thousands of Palestinians have been killed — including more than 1,300 children between 2000 and 2011 alone — and many thousands more imprisoned while defending themselves against IDF atrocities.

We Americans give Israel several billion dollars per year in aid. Most of us (Americans) do not know the first thing about the conflict and are too consumed with our busy lives (i.e. sporting events, television shows, movies, etc.) to give a damn what our government does with our tax dollars. To add insult to injury, our national media reportage of the conflict is dreadful, and, occasionally balanced reporting notwithstanding, overwhelmingly projects Palestinians as the aggressors and Israelis as the victims. Many studies have confirmed this basic finding. See the studies cited below, among numerous others.

REFERENCES

Ackerman, S., (2001). “Al-Aqsa Intifada and the U.S. Media.”Journal of Palestine Studies, v30 i2 p61.

Dunsky, M., (2001). “Missing: The Bias Implicit in the Absent.” Arab Studies Quarterly, v23 i3 p1.

Elmasry M. H., (2009) “Death in the Middle East: An Analysis of How the New York Times and Chicago Tribune framed killings in the second Palestinian Intifada.” Journal of Middle East Media 5(1).

Friel, H. & Falk, R. (2007). Israel-Palestine On Record: How the New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East. London-New York: Verso.

Ross, S. D. (2003). “Framing of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in thirteen months of New York Times editorials surrounding the attack of September 11, 2001.” Conflict & Communication online, vol. 2, No. 2.

Viser, M. (2003). “Attempted Objectivity: An Analysis of the New York Times and Ha’aretz and Their Portrayals of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, Vol. 8 Issue 4, p114.

 

Mohamad Elmasry is a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver and an incoming Assistant Professor in the Department of Communications at the University of North Alabama. Previously he was Assistant Professor and Graduate Director in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at The American University in Cairo (AUC). His work has appeared in the Journal of Middle East Media, the International Communication Gazette, the Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research, International Journal of Communication, Global Media Journal, Political Violence @ a Glance, Al Jazeera English, openDemocracy, The Immanent Frame and Jadaliyya, among other publications.

Syria & the Arab Uprisings: An Interview with Gilbert Achcar

Gilbert Achcar has been called “one of the best analysts of the contemporary Arab world” (Le Monde) and “the preeminent Marxist scholar of the region” (CounterPunch). He is Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at SOAS, University of London. His many books include:

Eastern Cauldron: Islam, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq in a Marxist Mirror

The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder

Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy (dialogues with Noam Chomsky)

The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives

Marxism, Orientalism, Cosmopolitanism

The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising

We recently had the pleasure of hosting Professor Achcar at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies for a stimulating series of lectures, forums and panel discussions about his recent work. During his visit, I recorded the following interview with him for our CMES Conversations series.

We took his book The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising as a starting point from which to examine the roots of the Syrian uprising, the nature of the Assad regime, the different shapes of the uprisings across the region, and the fate of Syria. Here it is:

Teaching John Stuart Mill in Iran: A Conversation with Norman Finkelstein

Norman Finkelstein is of course best known for his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—his bookslectures and media interviews on the subject over the last three decades—and for the considerable controversy it has generated.
 
Less known is that for many years he also taught political theory. It might come as something of a surprise that among his favorite works is John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. This might come as a surprise since Finkelstein is well to the left of most admirers of the iconic nineteenth-century liberal thinker. Of course Mill was also a socialist and a feminist—indeed an early one (see Martha Nussbaum’s comments at the end of this interview). But in postcolonial studies Mill is widely regarded as an imperialist and a racist. An ambiguous and contested legacy, to be sure—which is part of Mill’s enduring hold on us.
 
Finkelstein recently taught a short course on Mill’s On Liberty in Iran. There’s a whole literature devoted to this phenomenon. Norma Moruzzi has written about reading Hannah Arendt in Iran. Ali Paya and Mohammad Amin Ghaneirad have mapped the multiple spheres of influence that Jürgen Habermas enjoys in Iran. The Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo has published a book of conversations with Isaiah Berlin. (I myself have written a short book on Iran’s engagement with liberal thinkers.) When leading political thinkers (of varying persuasions) from Europe or North America—from Habermas and Antonio Negri to Richard Rorty and Immanuel Wallerstein—visit Iran, their lectures are major events and occasion considerable buzz. (For more on this, see Mehran Kamrava’s book Iran’s Intellectual Revolution, Farzin Vahdat’s God and Juggernaut: Iran’s Intellectual Encounter with Modernity, and Mehrzad Boroujerdi’s Iranian Intellectuals and the West.)
 
But Finkelstein did something a bit different. His students weren’t the usual liberal-minded suspects—who represent a significant swath of Iran’s educated classes, incidentally (a phenomenon that is underestimated and trivialized by many Western leftists, which I regard as a form of Left Orientalism).  It would have been easy for him to teach the depredations of U.S. and Israeli policy in such a context—but it also would have been incredibly boring. He did something far more interesting. He taught Mill to largely conservative-oriented students in an institution that cranks out apparatchiks for the Islamic Republic.
 
That is just wickedly cool. Here’s our recent conversation about that experience.
 
 
The interview was filmed on April 24, 2014, as part the series of conversations with our guest lecturers that our Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver produces. 

Alternative Left Perspectives on Syria

Syrian flag

The responses of most leftists to the Syrian uprising and subsequent war (it’s often forgotten that it started as an uprising — indeed a nonviolent and nonsectarian one) have been deeply disappointing. Disappointing to many Syrian activists, and to many of us on the Left who support the Syrian struggle for dignity and justice, which is now a struggle against both Assad’s killing machine and the jihadi counter-revolutionary forces.

The Left’s responses fall into three main categories:

  1. explicit support for the Assad regime
  2. monochrome opposition to Western intervention, end of discussion (with either implicit or explicit neutrality on the conflict itself)
  3. general silence caused by deep confusion

The first camp, while relatively small, represents a truly hideous, morally obscene and, I would argue, deeply reactionary position – siding with a mass murderer and war criminal who presides over a quasi-fascist police state.

The second camp, which encompasses a majority of peace activists and soi-disant anti-imperialists in the West, represents an (ironically) Eurocentric/US-centric stance (it’s all about the West, not the Syrian people) — a total abandonment of internationalism.

The third camp is at least understandable, given the complexity of the Syrian conflict. The book I co-edited on the subject is titled The Syria Dilemma for a reason. Yet this stance remains disconcerting: silence in the face of what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls “the biggest humanitarian and peace and security crisis facing the world” is a cop-out. Complexity is not a gag order.

There is a fourth camp, however: a small but growing group of progressives who embrace the goals of the Syrian revolution. There are several shades within this camp – it includes Marxists, pacifists, feminists, Third Worldists and leftists of various sorts. Some support the armed struggle in Syria, others do not, standing instead with the nonviolence activists in Syria. But what unites this camp is its solidarity with the Syrian struggle for dignity, justice and self-determination.

Continue reading “Alternative Left Perspectives on Syria”

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