Monday, December 24, 2012

11/22: MERIP

I cant believe I didn't know about the Middle East Research and Information Project before. The shift from a efficiently coercive autocratic government to a triangulated politicization of the streets -  delineated in the material from MERIP - was a fascinating take on achilles heel of any and all absolutism. I recalled a the French historian Tocqueville recalling a letter the politician Mirabeau wrote to king louis xvi reassuring him that the modern idea of a single class of equal citizens would help provide a smoother surface on which royal power might more easily apply itself (as you can tell from my paper as well I've been obsessed with the french revolution's implications for modernity). SO how much can an autocratic government adapt to incorporate the motions and semblances of democratic rule? And on the other side, wouldn't any inkling of paranoia set a citizen into a dizzy spiral of logic that figures the ruling power as abuser? - since there is no arkhe that legitimate ruling of one over another (Ranciere). 

"Doing politics outdoors brought citizens face-to-face with the caste that rules the streets: Egypt’s ubiquitous police. Mubarak’s was not a police state because the coercive apparatus routinely beat and detained people. It was a police state because the coercive apparatus had become the chief administrative arm of the state, aggregating the functions of several agencies."

This line shocked me most: "Our preparations for January 25 were as per usual, and the instructions were not to molest demonstrators." There is this interesting trade off of the police as a necessary force of threat and fear, of the brute force of suppression (no limits except on the books try not to molest), which allows the autocratic government's self-preservation and then its the naturally target that surrounds the police as the visible and thus representative body of corruption and coercion. Not to try my hand at autocratic strategizing but there's a flaw in placing the object of fear in the streets, its too accessible. 

"The fears are diffusion and linkage. Indeed, the diffusion of collective action in time and space emboldened Egyptians, signaling the unwillingness or incapacity of the coercive apparatus to suppress demonstrations. The simultaneity of protests across very different locations, especially the filling of streets in neighborhoods entirely unused to such processions, revised citizens’ calculations of what was possible and reduced uncertainty about the consequences of action. The second fear is the coordination between the three organizational infrastructures of protest. Indeed, the state security directorate existed to frustrate precisely this bridge building. It had done so quite successfully with the April 6, 2008 general strike, and had a stellar track record in branding each sector of dissent with a different label: Associational protest was “political,” but workplace and neighborhood protest was “economic.”"

Differentiate the root causes of various protesting communities - now THATS coercive. Its interesting to compare the impetus for or strategy of revolution (Egypt) versus reform (Ai Weiwei). Reform seems to be rooted in an optimism for the boundaries of absolutism to be pushed by working through the system - which seems to call for just a more strategic absolutism/soft control. In an interview on the Colbert Report, the director of Weiwei's documentary (Alison Klayman) said "Its in China's interest to not be doing this - not just that it doesn't look good, but its not good for Chinese society". I think this sums up the mirror image: chinese society will benefit from a more adapted autocratic government - are there true and real freedoms in a semblance of democracy? Lets take free speech and the ability to express dissent - which Mubarak allowed for to some extent. Is it free speech if its being monitored? Is it free speech if it is only being quelled because of riot technicalities? 

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