A Time for Action – The Feminist Wire

A Time for Action

Abu al Qasim al-Shabbi (1909-943)

“Life’s Will”

Then it was earth I questioned:

“Mother, do you detest mankind?

And earth responded:

I bless people with high ambition,

Who do not flinch at danger.

I curse people out of step with time,

People content to live like stone

No horizon nurtures a dead bird.

A bee will choose to kiss a living flower…”

What we have feared for the last week is unfolding in Cairo’s Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square and reportedly all over the country: Violence has set the mood for events in this North African country and there is widespread bloodshed. The reasons Egyptian citizens are clashing in the streets after over a week of peaceful protests and unprecedented displays of unity are both complex and simple. All over the postcolonial world, autocratic leaders have taken advantage of an enormous reserve of impoverished and directionless men from which to draw and set to their repressive ends. Images and reports of captured Mubarack supporters found with identification cards from the notorious police forces (historically recruited from impoverished quarters) seem to confirm that this familiar practice is in acute operation. That anti-government protestors are holding their ground with calls that there is “no turning back” must be read as emblematic of the simple commitment to transformation that accompany such uprisings. Those trapped and others now re-assembling in Tahrir have been heard on Al Jazeera, English and Western media outlets shouting that they “owe it” to their fallen and injured number to keep fighting. Protestors have also universally maintained that “giving in” would mean almost certain deadly reprisals from the regime given the public nature of their dissent.  There is confusion, disorder and often violent anger in evidence; but they are re-grouping and settling in for what can only be characterized as an uncertain next couple of days.

More confounding is the high wire diplomatic rhetoric and inaction of the Obama administration. President Obama has reportedly spoken to his Egyptian counterpart twice and has reached out to other foreign leaders “candidly” stating that the time for an orderly transition is now and the only solution to this volatile confrontation. But given how grave the situation remains, we must be clear: The administration is treading incredibly lightly here because their interests are at profound odds with their espoused ethics and much-heralded support of the institutions of democracy. That the president and his advisors appear flat-footed and a step behind events has been widely attributed to the decade’s long perception (administration after administration) that propping up a despotic and authoritarian regime in Egypt is the path to a stable Middle East. But the obvious question insists itself: Stable for whom? Of the $1.55 billion earmarked annually for the Mubarack administration, $1.3 billion is in the form of military aid. Such asymmetry is staggering and one might understand if the United State’s historic calls for “democratic reforms” have fallen on deaf ears. Numbers can, but don’t often lie. And we have to agree that these figures communicate a great deal concerning American intent and priorities in the region. If numbers cannot relay the sense of dangerous frustration this set of arrangements has engendered, the fearful images of yesterday’s violent clashes (which have endangered ordinary citizens and journalists) might do so.

The fear of an Islamic-controlled neighbor to Israel—the leading recipient of military and economic aid behind Egypt—has allowed the leaders of this country to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the Egyptian people. Whatever the role of The Muslim Brotherhood in the long-term future of this sprawling and rapidly-changing nation (they are organized but numerically thin in country of 80 million; and this movement is most definitely populist) this we can surmise: The recent actions of the Egyptian people suggest they will no longer “live like stone” as impoverished pawns in the political quagmire of the region. Indeed, as protestors begin to once again gather in Tahrir Square seemingly unwavering in their mission to bring lasting change to this now desperately convulsing Repbulic, their message is clear and their ambitions are high. Now is the time for the “better angels of our nature” to make a compelling and lasting appearance.

Note: Many thanks to Christopher Winks for bringing my attention to the poem from which the above is excerpted.


Rich Blint, writer and cultural critic, is busy completing his dissertation, “Trembling on the Edge of Confession: Racial Figuration and Iconicity in Modern American Culture,” in the Program in American Studies at New York University. His areas of interest include, American capitalism, media studies, and US popular culture; American and African American literature and culture; postcolonialism and diaspora; and urban form and politics in the context of the global. Blint is guest editor of the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Black Renaissance Noir and co-editor (with Douglas Field) of a special issue of African American Review on James Baldwin forthcoming in 2012. He serves on the Executive Board of Vanderbilt University’s, ‘Issues in Critical Investigation: The African Diaspora,’ and has taught courses at NYU, The Brecht Forum, and Hunter College, The City University of New York. He lives in New York City.