From Rome To Cairo: Struggles for Democracy

The service having id "google_buzz" is missing, reactivate its module or save again the list of services.

The Mediterranean is a place of apparent difference, but one in which politics and culture are often more similar than we might at first suspect. This blog looks at Italy, Egypt and the relationship each has with the other shore of the 'Med', thinking about political trends in both countries, reflecting on the dangers and opportunities for democracy each of these experiences presents us with.

 

Number Crushing

As the temperature heats up in the Northern hemisphere's spring, so does the political temperature. Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy have all seen various protest movements over the past few months (or, in Italy's case, years).

Italy's unnoticed opposition

Spain's recent pro-democracy movement, 'Los Indignados' (the outraged), has attracted a lot of international attention because it is directed against both Left and Right, both culpable of ignoring their voters, pushing austerity measures which hit the poorest hardest, and doing nothing for unemployment which stand currently at around 20% nationally. And foreigners have begun to notice that #ItalianRevolution is trending on Twitter. But Italy has had a series of protest movements over the past few years -- e.g.

Hannah Arendt and the Arab Uprisings

Hannah Arendt's Reflections on Violence in the New York Review of Books back in 1969 sounds about as topical as it gets on revolution, democracy, and the relationship between violence and power. Well worth a second read, and yesterday in the Interdisciplinary Approaches to Violence research group I co-chair it sparked a lively discussion on all sorts of political and theoretical issues, from the role of non-violence to the philosophy of the event!

Obstruction of Injustice

So the head of Suleymaniyya hospital in Manama was just on Al-Jazeera English stating that medical personnel arrested (and tortured) over the past weeks were detained because they prevented access to the hospital. Perhaps by security forces trying to find protesters? So, amidst the culpable silence of Western governments, a vicious crime against authoritarianism has been committed: Obstruction of Injustice.

Egypt's Referendum: Not About the Islamists

The build-up to Egypt’s first post-revolutionary constitutional referendum has been fraught with controversy. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was first accused by some of hijacking the democratic reformist spirit of the uprising by appointing a panel of (unrepresentative and conservative) Constitutional experts to amend the constitution instead of allowing the formation of a Constitutional Assembly which would re-write Egypt’s Constitution from scratch. The amendments, pushed through in what many feared would be a rushed process lasting only ten years, were criticized for retaining some of the old Constitution’s restrictions (e.g. Art. 2’s specification that the president must be a Muslim male).

Responsibility to Protect

The UN has the legal means at its disposal to intervene in Libya, and after yesterday's and today's reports that armed forces are explicitly and indiscriminately targeting civilians, it would be a travesty if it were not to do so. 

Massacre in Progress. Please do not disturb.

Every time I think Italy has plumbed the depths of political disgrace, I am proven wrong. Earlier today, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said of the massacres in Libya:

"The situation is still in flux and so I will not allow myself to disturb anyone."

Unspeakable.

Notes on the Revolution

So much is happening so fast across the Arab world that there seems to be little time to really think things through. What is clear is that people are taking to the streets, facing off repression with nothing but their bodies and the sheer stubbornness to go back into the streets. And if they succeed in Benghazi and Tripoli, despite the Gaddafi's sadistic repression, then the game really could be up.

A couple of things strike me. First, that it is no platitude to say that revolutions begin after the fall of a dictator. Tunisia and Egypt are teaching us as much yet again, attempting to defend their revolutions' early gains against the authoritarian drives to hijack what has been paid for at such dear cost by Tunisians and Egyptians.

Mabrouk, ya Masr!

A few days ago I found myself writing about the 'Second January Uprising' and hoping against my more cynical and 'analytical' judgement that the Crossing of 6 October Bridge towards Liberation Square could be more than symbolic. Well, here we are, February 12, 2011: Day 1 of the New Egypt! There's no time for a proper post, analyzing the intricacies, shadows and hopes of a new beginning, not just now - there'll be time enough for that tomorrow! For the moment, let's just rejoice in this great lesson in democracy Egyptians have given us all. Mabrouk, ya Masr!

Law v Politics

What are the constitutional conditions for change in Egypt? This was the question I was asked recently on Al-Jazeera English's Inside Story. My answers were evasive, and for a good reason: it's not about constitutional law (an ironic concern to have, given Mubarak's distaste for legality) but about the credibility of any compromise offered by the regime.