Thursday, July 11, 2013

Conflict in Egypt

By: Nancy Gallagher

On July 3, 2013, the military overthrew the elected Egyptian government. Led by the Muslim Brotherhood (the Society of Muslim Brothers), the government had come to power on June 30, 2012. Was it a second revolution, a necessary correction in the path of the January 25 (2011) Egyptian Revolution, or a military coup? Who were the Muslim Brothers, how did they rise to power, and why did they fall so spectacularly?

Hasan El-Banna, a schoolteacher and religious leader, established the Muslim Brothers in 1928. The organization initially sought to Islamize society in order to drive the British out, but King Farouk (reigned 1936–1952) and Gamal Abdel Nasser (president 1952–1970) severely suppressed it. Most of the Muslim Brothers leadership came to follow the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, who advocated the assassination of political leaders who did not adopt his interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, calling them “infidels.” Over the years, the organization won many supporters because of its grassroots religious leadership and extensive social welfare organizations. In the elections that followed the January 25 Revolution, the Muslim Brothers candidate, Mohammad Morsi, was elected to power with 52% of the vote. His opponent, the candidate of the old regime, went into exile.

Many people voted for Morsi because he had vowed to carry out the goals of the revolution. He, however, soon demonstrated that he would carry out the goals of the Muslim Brothers. He proved unwilling to work with other factions. He did not take steps to reform the brutal and corrupt state security sector. He did not reach out to the opposition. He did not include Coptic Christians and women in his government, despite his many campaign promises. In November, six months after being elected, he issued a decree that would shield him from judicial review. After intense opposition, he revoked the decree, but the damage was done. He then forced through a constitution that was narrow and exclusionary. Women feared they would lose their hard- and recently won rights. Copts and other minorities feared for their future in Egypt. The government did little to reassure them. Morsi and his appointees proceeded to go after the media, the NGOs, the judiciary, and the arts.

Before being elected he had announced a program to revive the economy, but it did not materialize. The economy continued to sink. A loan from the International Monetary Fund could not be obtained. Tourists did not return. He appointed a member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya—the organization allegedly responsible for the massacre of 62 people, mostly tourists, in Luxor in1997—to the post of mayor of Luxor.

He thought he had tamed the military when he dismissed Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, who had been Egypt's de facto ruler after the 2011 revolution, but Tantawi’s replacement, Abdul Fatah El-Sisi, proved to be the ultimate power broker.  When Morsi broke relations with Syria and encouraged his followers to wage jihad against the Syrian regime, without first informing him, Sisi decided Morsi had to go. 

On June 30, a year after Morsi came to power, at least two million people demonstrated against the government in response to the Tamarod (rebel) campaign that began with a petition calling for early elections. Egyptians claimed it was the largest demonstration in history. The Muslim Brothers bused members from outside Cairo to stage a rival demonstration, but the extent of public disaffection was clear.

On July 3, the army arrested Morsi. His supporters then confronted the military and dozens were killed. On July 8 the military opened fire on a demonstration in front of the Republican Guards headquarters, killing 59 and wounding over 300.

It was a military coup against an elected government, but one supported by a vast number of people who felt that the country could not survive such misrule much longer. The military hastily made Adly Mansour, head of the High Constitutional Court, interim president. Six judges and four lawyers were to revise the 2012 constitution. Noted economist Hazem el-Beblawi became prime minister, and opposition leader and Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei vice-president. The Gulf States rushed billions of dollars in aid to support the collapsing Egyptian economy. Nearly all the leaders of the Muslim Brothers were arrested and its television stations were closed.

The Muslim Brothers remain convinced that they were elected in free and fair elections and should have been allowed to complete their terms. Egypt is deeply polarized. The economy is weak, the security forces are unreformed, and the role of the military in future governments is unclear. Will the revolutionaries be able to realize their goals of “bread, freedom, and social justice?” The struggle has barely begun.

Nancy Gallagher teaches Middle East history at the American University in Cairo and is a research professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). She is a widely published expert on the Middle East and Arab North Africa.

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For more on Egypt and its history, check out these resources:

Denis J. Sullivan and Kimberly Jones

Mona Russell

Monday, July 1, 2013

B(l)ack in the Kitchen: Food Network

by Lisa Guerrero

The conversation surrounding Paula Deen and her use of the “N word” has simultaneously erased the accusations of job discrimination and harassment all while ignoring the larger issues of race and Food Network. In fact, Deen’s ultimate firing by the Food Network has allowed the network to position itself as anti-racist, as America’s moral conscience. Refusing to allow prejudice to stain its airwaves, the Food Network has situated itself as a progressive force of accountability and justice.

Deen, however, is reflective of their brand—one that normalizes and operationalizes whiteness all while reimagining the world of food as racially transcendent. Revelations regarding Deen burst that illusion. With this in mind, we are sharing an excerpt from Lisa Guerrero’s brilliant chapter from our recent book, African Americans on Television: Race-ing for Ratings

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In all of its programming, even within programs where race is undeniably apparent, either because of the celebrity or the cuisine, food is presented as a race-neutral cultural object.  Unfortunately, in a race-based society, as the United States is, “race-neutral” invariably gets translated as “white.”  Food Network trades in the notion of the “racelessness” of food to create a commodified sense of neoliberal inclusion and equality, wherein the focus is placed on individuals and not on systems. Food is portrayed across the network as a “universal language;” but as discussed above, it is definitely constructed as a specifically class-based language, as well as a language constructed in specifically racialized terms.  To be fair, Food Network is no different from most other cable television networks where whiteness is predominant and becomes easily normalized and rendered invisible to most viewers.
Ironically, the relatability that Food Network carefully crafts around its personalities is almost completely belied by the “everyday” lifestyles many of the network celebrities are show to have as they are strategically integrated into their respective shows, most notably with Ina Garten, Giada DeLaurentis, and Bobby Flay.  While the wealth and whiteness displayed in these, and much of Food Network’s other programming is conspicuous, they are treated as commonplace, the effect of which is twofold:  1) it creates a socioracial standard when it comes to the act of food consumption; and 2) it suggestively endorses the idea of food as a racial and economic privilege. 
Through its successful erasure of race and class, Food Network perpetuates certain understandings about the social landscape in which people think about food consumption and commodification as being generally equal amongst various populations, even as statistically and programmatically most people can see that food equality isn’t a reality.  But Food Network is able to maintain this profitable food fantasy by constructing its food narratives in a very particular sociohistorical vacuum that allows audiences to distance themselves from not only certain tediums surrounding daily food habits, but also the sociohistorical and socioeconomic systems of food production and preparation in the United States.  The strategic use of blackness on the network is one of the primary ways in which this distancing is enabled.
The relative absence of blackness on Food Network, while not unlike the relative absence of blackness on network television generally speaking, succeeds in denying the significant place African Americans have, both historically and contemporaneously, in the creation of American food culture and foodways.  This erasure, while creating an amputated impression of American food backgrounds, does so in deliberate ways that are in keeping with long histories of using whiteness to signify notions of expertise, virtuosity, superiority, propriety, and polish.  In other words, in order to cement the network’s guiding narrative of elevating food to a craft, an art, an aspiration, it needs to simultaneously elevate whiteness, usually white maleness. 
 Not surprisingly, the programming on Food Network frames American food in very Eurocentric terms, tracing food origins and traditions to primarily Western, European nations, while periodically recognizing the “exotic” fare of Latin America or Asia.  There is little to no recognition of African cuisines within programming, despite the growing popularity of African food and restaurants among American consumers sparked by growing numbers of African immigrants to the United States, and probably represented most notably by the often tokenized celebrity chef, Marcus Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden.  Neither is there much linkage drawn between the specificity of African American soul food and the development of much of what is considered American “southern food.”  The erasure of these African and African-American cultural linkages to American food habits and histories effectively reimagines a significant portion of American food architecture as almost exclusively white, a reimagining not supported by history. 
Now certainly Food Network isn’t The History Channel, and viewers aren’t necessarily expecting to be provided with critically accurate or developed histories of food origins, routes, or social significances.  Nonetheless, its lack of wider, more representative narrative frames within its programming results in two things:  First, there is a barely perceptible, encompassing whitening of both the network itself, as well as the perspectives it creates about food relationships within American populations.  Secondly, when racial “diversity” and representation do occur, they have the effect of “tokenism” rather than inclusion.  Nowhere is this latter effect more apparent than in the network’s small club of Black cooking personalities.
 The framing of Food Network and The Cooking Channel break down into simplistic terms as “The U.S.” and “The Global,” respectively.  As such, The Cooking Channel does appear to embrace diversity in a larger, more transparent way than Food Network.  However, the apparent differentials of framing are really only on a cosmetic level.  There are more people of color that appear regularly on The Cooking Channel, but only slightly more, and considering the overbearing whiteness of Food Network, it really wouldn’t take much to have “more” racial diversity.  But the neutralized by emphasizing the notion of  “the exotic.”  The people of color on The Cooking Channel are, by and large, not of the United States, creating a comforting distance between U.S. audiences and any troublesome considerations about racism. 
In scholarly terms, it wouldn’t be far off the mark to think about Food Network as “the colonial” and The Cooking Channel as “the postcolonial.”  In other words, Food Network denies race and its systems by trying to devalue and/or erase race altogether, while The Cooking Channel denies race and its systems by putting race on display in almost exhibitional terms so that audiences don’t relate to it as a “real” thing.  In both cases, whiteness is positioned as the fulcrum of food experiences and knowledges.  And ultimately, blackness, especially American blackness, is relegated to becoming the specialty ingredient that gets used sparingly in the recipe of televisual food programming for fear that its flavor won’t be palatable to American consumers.


As we’ve seen over the last few days not only with the vociferous response by Deen supporters, but also with SCOTUS gutting the Voting Rights Act, Texas scrambling to capitalize on that decision by pushing through a Voter ID bill, the dehumanizing tactics of the defense counsel in the George Zimmerman trial, and the countless racist microaggressions the accounts of which we are bombarded with daily, Paula Deen’s words and behaviors are, in themselves, unsurprising and relatively unremarkable, but rather indicative of the banality of American racism.  As several scholars have articulately pointed out in response to the Deen controversy, (including David J. Leonard), and as I have tried to address in this piece in broader ways, while Deen should certainly be held responsible for the ways in which her actions contribute to the continuation of systemic and ideologic racisms in the United States, the problem is much bigger than her use of racial epithets and her disturbing bucolic nostalgia for the racial order of the antebellum South. 

Perhaps the biggest problem of which Deen is but one very small symptom, is a problem which will, in all likelihood strangle equality and freedom for all American citizens; it is the problem of the United States’ misguided belief in its own magnanimity of race; the delusion that we have remedied our racial illnesses and no longer need to be vigilant about the sickness, and in fact, can be prideful about the “past tense” of our racial struggles.  This blind hubris (which Justice Ginsburg so aptly identified in her dissension to the Voting Rights Act decision), allows for people like Paula Deen to sincerely dislocate their actions from the insidiousness of racism…since racism has been fixed, (so it goes), then certainly what people do and to whom they do it can’t be considered racism. 

Unfortunately, this racist psychosis, the inability to see racism even as you are enacting it, supporting it, contributing to it, benefitting from it, is one of many deleterious side-effects of our post-racial nation, and is sure to kill us quicker than a Paula Deen recipe.   

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Lisa A. Guerrero is Associate Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies at Washington State University Pullman.  She is the editor of Teaching Race in the 21st Century: College Professors Talk About Their Fears, Risks, and Rewards (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and co-editor of African Americans onTelevision: Race-ing for Ratings (Praeger Press) with David J. Leonard.