Tuesday, March 4, 2014

To Sarah Carr, on Finkelstein and Morayef

Norman Finkelstein makes a fool of himself by suggesting you have been anything but forthrightly opposed to military rule from the word go.  He's over the top about Morayef as well.  That's a shame, because he might have made a more measured criticism of her that would lead, unfortunately, to a more measured criticism of you. I'm risking a furious reaction here because Morayef, I know, is all but sacred.  I take the risk because my reservations about your stance seem less unproductive than what Hellyer, sleazily, likes to call "the blame game".

Here's what you say à propos of Morayef.

As for his cheap little slur against Heba Morayef, I’ll let her respond to that should she choose to. The only point I want to make is that one can have crap politics and still be a good human rights monitor, just as one can have good politics and be a crap human being. A human rights monitor’s job is to monitor, as objectively and as neutrally as possible, regardless of his or her political views, and if Norman Finkelstein believe that Heba Morayef failed to do this, and if he is unaware that she is one of the few high profile Egyptians to have retained their professionalism, neutrality and humanity while the rest of the country went mad then he knows even less about Egypt and what happens here than I feared."
That's the response of a friend, but it's not accurate.   Professionalism and neutrality would not countenance Morayef's pronouncements against Morsi.  They go well beyond what you describe as her job: "to monitor, as objectively and as neutrally as possible, regardless of his or her political views".  They extend to very contestable analyses of Morsi's role and rule.

I contested them here and indirectly here.  Maybe I'm wrong about the alleged Morsi-SCAF alliance, but even then enough remains to establish that Morayef's comments impinge on her alleged professionalism.  It is not reasonable to see neutrality in a person so forthright in condemning Morsi yet so wishy-washy about condemning the coup, as she certainly was here:

EMMA ALBERICI: Tell us why is it that millions of people who fought so hard for democracy just a matter of a couple of years ago are now trying so hard to overthrow their first democratically elected government?
HEBA MORAYEF:  "Do ya know, I think that's not really the question. I think the question is: why did 14 million people turn out on June 30th. I think some of the coverage of this crisis in Egypt right now is oversimplifying it as a choice between democracy or the military and it's really far more complex than that. Because 14 million people is the biggest demonstration that Egypt has ever seen and that was not a pro-military demonstration. That was an anti-Morsi demonstration. So the question is: why have we got to a moment where 14 million people turn out in opposition to President Morsi's rule and what has he done in the last year to bring us to this moment? Now there are those at this point who would welcome the military in with other open arms. There are others who have deep reservations about a military - a return of the military to power. But I think the question is not purely one of legitimacy versus a coup. And in a sense, President Morsi's speech has framed it in that way. His speech last night spoke only of the legitimacy of his rule and addressed no concessions to the millions of Egyptians who are deeply, deeply dissatisfied with his rule."

One could add that someone who accepted without demur the military's crowd estimates doesn't inspire confidence as a neutral  observer.  But this isn't just about a lack of neutrality; it's also about the job of a director of Human Rights Watch.  If their job is merely "to monitor", Human Rights Watch doesn't seem to have got the message, because they very actively condemn régimes and developments that in their view harm the cause of human rights.

The coup was just such a development, and that was entirely obvious.  It was entirely obvious that cementing the military in power would be a far greater blow to the cause of human rights than Morsi's so-called administration, which was never 'his' in the first place. If nothing else, Morsi could never hope to acquire a tiny fraction of the repressive resources the military has always had at its disposal.  So if ever there was a time for Human Rights Watch to condemn, without ambiguity, a political change, it was in July.  This wasn't 'complex' and it wasn't time to talk about how dissatisfied people were with Morsi.  Failing to meet voter expectations isn't a violation  of human rights.  Everyone knew with absolute certainty that the army would systematically mutilate those rights, and a human rights 'professional' had an obligation to say so.  So Morayef both failed to be neutral and, beyond this, to fulfill her professional responsibilities.

Why did this happen?  Why have you insisted, contrary to the record, on her neutrality and professionalism?  The answer may lie in your own record.  You loathed Morsi and covered him with ridicule.   Sandmonkey* is sure that the ridicule from the circle of sophisticated liberal social media users, to which you belong, was incredibly damaging to Morsi, simply beyond comparison with anything visited on Sisi.  I doubt it was as damaging as all that but it represented a choice.  You and many others may claim clean hands because you were and are equally opposed to SCAF and to the Brotherhood, to Sisi and to Morsi.  But that's just why your hands don't seem very clean.  There is no doubt that Sisi is far worse, has far more blood and repression to his name.  It was utterly clear that this would be the case.  Your even-handedness - or if  you prefer, your insistence on nuance - took no account of this weighting.  That's a shame.

The Arabist* claims that Egyptians were naïve and could not see what June 30th would bring.  That's the excuse he might offer you, assuming you're as naïve as the average Egyptian is supposed to be.  But I cannot for one moment believe that the average Egyptian wasn't much more aware of the realities than those of us who predicted them.  I don't think this was or is about naïveté.

There is a more plausible and very simple explanation for the disastrous even-handedness of the 'principled' liberals and 'revolutionaries' who wrongly portrayed Morsi and the military as two equally bad alternatives.  It is a sort of anti-Islamist revulsion which does great political damage, even when it does not descend to the hatred against persons that you yourself have noted.

Secularists of all kinds cannot but detest the stifling, repressive norms that Islamists would impose on Egypt.  'Would' is wrong.  The Islamists have imposed these norms with increasing success since the start of the 1990s.   The visceral reaction of those whose lifestyles are under attack is natural.  But even a detestable régime bent on upholding detestable norms is far better than puffed-up military scum who smirk at torture and massacre.

Islamists can be fought with the framework of a democracy, even one with questionable constitutions and institutions.  The Egyptian military cannot be fought except by an alliance of secularists and Islamists.  It would indeed be naïve to expect such an alliance.  But if there is any hope at all for Egypt's future, it is in willingness to at least postpone the antagonism.


*  twitter exchanges