Political Economy

At the Weave we believe that politics and economics have always gone hand in hand. Political economy is about structures of power and how these structures shape the conditions within which all of us live our lives. This section of the Weave is devoted to analysis and discussion of current issues that reveal the dynamics of power, from the local to the global and everywhere in between.

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."


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.

Egypt’s Politics of Fearlessness V

The Second January Uprising, Part 5

Islam Was Not the Solution

The third element which ought perhaps to have struck more analysts is that throughout the early days especially, the Muslim Brotherhood was not only wrong-footed by events, but continued to make singularly bad political choices, as it had done during the recent electoral campaign. For a start, the Brotherhood initially called itself out of even supporting the January 25th strike. In a statement in response to the Interior Ministry’s accusation that the Brotherhood was behind the protests, MB spokesman Essam El-Arian and leader of its more politicized wing said “the protest in Tahrir Square erupted spontaneously,” and that the Brotherhood “did not send anyone.” Indeed, on the streets, Brothers were notable for their absence. A small number of Islamists did take part, but despite the Ikhwan’s lighting volte-face once the scale of protests became clear, there was no evidence of either the leadership or the numbers which the Brotherhood is credited with.

Egypt’s Politics of Fearlessness IV

The Second January Uprising, Part 4

Roots of Rage

The dissatisfaction with the regime is nothing new. Within four years of the ‘successful’ October War, Sadat was seen not as the hero of his people’s freedom, but as the agent of their oppression: his liberalizing economic reforms lowered subsidies on essential goods precisely during the recession induced by the war. To make things worse, to counterbalance his enemies on the Left Sadat had freed Islamist political prisoners, believing he could pitch one against the other and dividing, rule. By January 1977 things had reached crisis point, and his announcement of the cut in subsidies combined with a pay freeze lead to massive demonstrations on the 18th and 19th, protests to which Sadat reacted brutally, with over 800 killed and wounded, but which ended once his government announced the cancellation of the measures.

Egypt’s Politics of Fearlessness III

The Second January Uprising, Part 3

Resistance Is Not Futile

It can be easy to forget that even the fiercest authoritarianism can be fragile. We saw this in 1989 when the Soviet resolve to prop up its clients disappeared causing them to mostly just melt away. People took to the streets, and these regimes faced exactly the same choice as Mubarak’s today: either shoot the protesters into leaving, or acknowledge their own political impotence. Faced with these options, only Ceaucescu seriously attempted repression – and paid the ultimate price. The rapid fall in quick succession of what appeared to be monolithic autocracies engendered considerable optimism that the 1990s would witness a world-wide ‘Third Wave’ of democratic transitions. The more sobering truth, however, was that often these new democracies slipped back into bad old authoritarian ways. With some of the ‘color revolutions’ of Eastern Europe losing ground, the hope – and historical memory – that non-violent revolution was possible seemed to fade quickly, and the Middle East in particular was often presented as ‘Exhibit A’ in the parade of contexts in which democracy appeared stubbornly not to want to emerge.

Egypt’s Politics of Fearlessness II

The Second January Uprising, Part 2

Politics Beyond Fear

At the time of writing, whether they will achieve this dream is still not clear. By day, ordinary Egyptians turn out in their hundreds of thousands, millions, and make the hopes for a non-violent democratic revolution soar. By night, the protesters endure waves upon waves of attacks both in Tahrir and outside it, aiming to break their will. Within the regime, matters remain murky. Mubarak’s son Gamal may or may not have fled, but Mubarak himself is still President. It is likely that he will have had to make considerable concessions to Omar Suleiman, head of Egypt’s intelligence and now Vice-President, and to Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, Commander in Chief and Defense Minister, as well as the new Deputy Prime Minister who were also Gamal’s two main contenders for the presidential ‘succession’.

Egypt’s Politics of Fearlessness

The extraordinary events which are unfolding in Egypt have lead me to reflect a bit on the roots and implications of these unprecedented protests. I'm reprinting here an article appearing in openDemocracy.


The Second January Uprising, Part 1

New Crossings, New Heroes

One image more than perhaps any other struck me as I watched transfixed the first days of the Egypt’s Second January Uprising: the struggle of protesters to cross bridges into Tahrir Square. What is already being called the ‘Battle of Kasr el-Nil’ was an epic effort on January 28th by virtually unarmed protesters to drive back the feared Egyptian security forces in their riot gear and armed with clubs, sticks, tear gas and water cannons. The protesters took beating upon beating, but they just kept coming. The security forces kept being driven back, slowly but surely. By the end of the afternoon, they just broke and ran, as the protesters symbolically entered Tahrir Liberation) Square in triumph.