Like most native informers and like all liberal elites, she continues to engage in the selective (mis)translation of the current uprisings throughout the Arab world…She does not represent the vast majority of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims but rather represents the narrow, privileged few, who have no qualms about using their privilege to dissent at a comfortable distance, and to conditionally select which struggles – and of what nature – they are willing to support.
Since the 18-day uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak, a few key phrases have been circulating widely throughout Egypt. On the tongues of everyone from ordinary working Egyptians to celebrities, mass media pundits, political forces and so on, has been talk of the mythical baltageyya, or paid thugs, gawasees and ‘umala, spies and foreign agents respectively, rumuz al nidham (symbols of the regime, typically in reference to those prominent NDP actors, their regime cronies and Mubarak’s aides) and most crucially: fulul al nidham.
The lattermost phrase translates roughly to “the remnants of the regime” but is more effectively translated as “the residue of the regime”. The former translation, “remnants” unwittingly implies that while the regime has fallen – or rather, been ousted – there remain loose strands of its fabric that must be tied up or otherwise treated with caution. In effective reality, however, the counter-revolution is much bigger than a few “bad weeds” and consists of a well-organized state apparatus that greatly depends on the biopolitical force of entrenched hierarchy and corruption serving – mostly consciously but occasionally unwittingly – the interests of the very same transnational Egyptian ruling elite which was the product and progenitor of the Hosni Mubarak era.
My choice of translation – “residue” – therefore, aims to highlight the deeply embedded nature of these actors, as well as their legacy of physical, structural and discursive violence against the Egyptian people throughout the 25th January uprising and well beyond. ‘Remains’ are tangible institutions, so that overnight we are asked to believe that ‘State Security’ – having been transformed into ‘National Security’ – has ceased to exist. This, despite the fact that the body of acting generals in that institution remain in service, and despite the fact that the worst violence perpetrated by the state against dissent over the last thirty years plus was done at the hands of paid street thugs, hired variously by the Ministry of Interior and prominent business owners to infiltrate and disperse protesters, striking workers, and so on. What the Egyptian revolution and likewise its Arab sister revolutions have to deal with in the way of fulul is much more serious, and it is a residue – a legacy – that is still very much in power and that will remain for years to come.
The narrative of this legacy, in which we are instructed by media pundits that run the gamut from the liberal to the conservative and the Islamist, and which is carried out by members of the urban poor who are bought out by corporations and local authorities, is a perversion of patriotic national memory, in which Hosni Mubarak is posited as a war hero innocent of anything but protecting Egypt’s national security and stability and bringing it nothing but wealth and development. In this narrative, the real revolutionaries – activists, human rights workers and the countless urban poor that have been dispossessed by neoliberal economics since the days of Sadat – who insist on nothing less than real justice for the families of the martyrs, and who refuse to tolerate the continued presence of the Egyptian military in the political arena – a fact of life since summer of 1952, not winter 2011 – in other words, those of us that insist upon the original demands of 25th January for the effective downfall of the regime and a real revolution at the structural, economic level – are explained away, dis-translated, as thugs, spies, foreign agents, or any other variety of rabble-rousers that are inherently unpatriotic and therefore serving Western and Israeli agendas. This false and dangerous narrative pretends to be an Egypt-first narrative, but quickly reveals itself to be an elite-first story in which ‘agalet al intag - the wheel of production – is the only protagonist and the revolutionaries, rendered threats to national security.
We know, from military communiques accusing activists of foreign collaboration, media pundits and celebrities including but not limited to Amr Moustafa, Raghda and Ghada Abdel Razek all the way to the very well-organized Roxy-grown Asfeen Ya Rayyes movement which kidnappedand abused friend, comrade and beloved human rights activist Amr Gharbeia during the Abbasseyya battle, that we are dealing with a thoroughly vicious counter-revolution spearheaded by those who benefited the most from Mubarak’s regime: regime-hired celebrities, corrupt government officials, businessmen and pampered academics and bureaucrats that were paid exorbitant salaries in exchange for their loyalty. In other words: we are only at the tip of a crystal clear and inevitable phenomenon that will be the true test of revolutionary desire – we are in the middle of a class war.
Mona el Tahawy, like many other Arab and Muslim native informers to the West, must be situated politically as an instance of these very same counter-revolutionary dangers, because they are lasting relics and symbols of the Camp David era, in which Egyptians were violently and perversely isolated from the Arab world, in a move that signaled merely a climax in the historic abandonment of the Palestinian cause by Arab states. Granted, Mona el Tahawy does not live in Egypt, nor does she – apparently – deploy the aforementioned narrative that criminalizes dissent against the ruling SCAF. If anything, she has been largely supportive of the Egyptian – and other Arab – uprisings against regional dictators. And yet, when challenged, she resorts to much the same rhetoric that characterizes the counter-revolution led by fulul al nidham.
In recent exchanges on Twitter, Mona el Tahawy refused to respond to myriad demands for a statement of her position on the Palestinian-led global BDS movement against Israel. She resorted, instead, to making pre-emptive defensive accusations of libel and defamation, name-calling, and multiple other condescending insinuations of superiority. She went as far as to play the authenticity card and question the relevance of a non-Egyptian, Lebanese activist – namely,@LeilZahra - who has been at the heart of the uprising throughout the seven months – by dismissing his input as “conformist” to “make up for the fact that he wasn’t Egyptian”. This kind of discourse dangerously echoes General Hassan al-Roueiny of the ruling SCAF and hisdenigration of Egyptian-Palestinian poet Tamim al Barghouthi’s criticism of Egyptian foreign policy, on account of Tamim’s having a “weird accent” and “features that are not very Egyptian”.
But so much for identity politics and crises of authenticity. Mona el Tahawy also went so far as to inform her audience that she was too “busy with 4 or 5 revolutions” to respond to the legitimate challenges posed to her by parties who rejected statements she recently made at J Street on behalf of Egyptians, Palestinians and other Arabs. Speaking to the liberal Zionist group, Mona el Tahawy repeatedly celebrated the “non-violent” nature of the Egyptian uprising, as though non-violence is a sacrosanct principle and not a tactic, and as though the uprising was anything but violent before she went on to declare that the Egyptian revolution had nothing to do with hatred for Israel and that there was “not a single anti-Israeli banner or sentiment” throughout the Tahrir uprising. She then went on to passionately promise the group that should they – presumably, Jewish Zionists within Israel and without – deign to march for Palestinian freedom, she would “be there” and so would countless other Arabs from throughout the region.
By dispensing barefaced lies about the uprising and its relationship to the Zionist entity, and by speaking to J Street about the relationship between Israeli or American Jews and Palestinian freedom in any context, and by promising an open embrace by other Arabs for the quasi-liberal charity of Zionist fascists, Mona el Tahawy not only dared to categorically and undoubtedly claim herself to speak for Egyptians as well as Palestinians, but she also insulted the intelligence of millions of Arabs by deliberately non-translating the thousands upon thousands of banners that colored Tahrir square during the winter uprising and which almost uniformly articulated a consciousness of Empire as embodied in the alliance of the Mubarak family, the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. By valorizing non-violence as a condition of legitimacy, Mona el Tahawy participated directly in the post-9/11 exceptional demonization of armed resistance and in the same breath, legitimized the incomparably brutal reign of death waged on Arabs and Muslims – as well as countless other nations in the global south – by Israel, the US, their puppet police states, compradors and allies.
But in fact, to those of us exposed to Mona el Tahawy before her wave of fame following Jan25, none of this is new. As she proudly states in her official website bio, not only is she a “proud liberal Muslim” but she also “was the first Egyptian journalist to live and to work for a western news agency in Israel”. And despite having normalized with the Zionist entity in vulgar violation of both the popular Palestinian and popular Arab boycotts thereof, she still had next to no useful insights into the Israeli occupation and massacre of Palestinians, or the practices of the comprador Palestinian Authority. The single most profound revelation she had to share with us?“Israel is the opium of the Arabs“ and in the same breath, unsurprisingly, Hamas - the only democratically elected government in the Arab world at the time of the Israeli massacre of 2008-2009 – should be held to blame. Mona el Tahawy has repeatedly lamented the alleged lack of resistance on “internal issues” in contrast with mass demonstrations against Israeli war crimes, but all that this reveals is the historic brutality of Mubarak’s police state and its perverse, pseudo-patriotic use of Israel as scapegoat for the status quo.
I have news for Mona el Tahawy and her blind followers: Israel is not the opium of any ordinary Egyptian or Arab. Israel is the opium of advanced capitalism and its thirst for war. Israel fills me and most Egyptians and Arabs on this earth with visceral hatred, disgust and the desire to do nothing less than end – at whatever just cost it might take, because morality, humanity and justice are not conditional – its apartheid practices, repression of Palestinians and denial of the right of return for Nakba refugees, and constant theft and occupation of Arab land. More importantly, we happen to know that these aims are not separate from the desires of all Egyptians to live dignified lives and to achieve true social justice. We happen to know this because the day that the Arab revolution was officially killed – that is, the day the Camp David accords were signed – was the same day that the dictator Sadat, House Arab par excellence, cemented the subservient position of the Egyptian state to global capital, leaving us with decades of a neoliberal nightmare that was only exacerbated with corruption and increased policing under Mubarak.
Never mind the fact that “sitting on the fence“ in the face of Apartheid is raw-faced and selfish complicity. Never mind the fact that while Mona el Tahawy was building a career based on pseudo-dissent while living in New York, Egyptians have spent the last decade mobilizing to destroy the very “fence” of inequality that sustains her in the US as well as Israel next door. Never mind the fact that Mona el Tahawy gets away with lying and distorting popular opinion as long as she is telling the white Zionists of J-Street, FOX News and other corporate media what they want to hear. If simple and clear humanity is not part of Mona el Tahawy’s referential world – as she tells us, Egyptians should stop thinking about Israel and worry more about their ‘real’ problems – then the concrete capitalist interests sustaining the Arab, Israeli and American political elites should be enough reason for anyone to despise the existence of the military bootcamp that is the Jewish Apartheid state, whose presence in the region has been a constant source of instability and therefore, profits for these elites – of which Mona el Tahawy is in her own way a part, given that she has made a lucrative and “busy” career out of playing all-too-naive native informer to the West.
Not only does Mona el Tahawy pretend to speak on behalf of Egyptians and Palestinians on the question of Palestine. She also pretends to speak on behalf of Muslim and Arab women everywhere. Which is why she calls herself a Muslim feminist, is committed to informing racists at Ground Zero of the diversity of the Muslim world (and therefore, we have no choice but to conclude, our potential for civilization). It is also why, despite her defense of so-called diversity, she supports the criminalization of Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab. Mona el Tahawy is emblematic of the Good Arab – the Moderate Muslim, the Modern Woman. She informs our oppressors that we demand “freedom” and regime change, but refuses to realize that what we demand is in fact justice and equality. She refuses to realize these things because she is, in short, a part of the problem. And she would not be who she is, or have the career that she does, or wear the jewellery that she wears, if it were not for the very same inequalities and injustices of Camp David that brought her out of AUC and into Israel and New York. Indeed, when Mona set out to “retrace Sadat’s footsteps to Israel“ she made it clear she supports Camp David. She has described Sadat as “daring” and “bold”. And Jihan Sadat reassured her Camp David was the right thing for Egypt. Who better to interview when trying to understand Egyptian popular views of Camp David and Israel?
When Mona el Tahawy tweets that 25th January is not for anyone to “own”, she sounds much like every single political party and commentator, Egyptian, Arab, or otherwise, in the region and in the US, that has sought to ride the wave of dissent and reap the benefits – political and economic, for they are not separate – for themselves. She is like the World Bank, the IMF and Obama, who rushed to translate the revolution in monetized, calculated terms as early as possible. Like most native informers and like all liberal elites, she continues to engage in the selective (mis)translation of the current uprisings throughout the Arab world, at times knowingly and at other times unwittingly carrying out a performance that denigrates the fundamental reality of our revolutions – a reality in which, she may be disappointed to know, she is not so much the oppressed as the enabler of the oppressor.
It would be a mistake to dub Mona el Tahawy, as others have done, a colonial feminist. Colonial feminism is, as Spivak famously put it, white men (and women) saving brown women from brown men. Mona el Tahawy is a brown woman informing white men (and women) on how to “save” some brown women from brown men, and on how to save all brown people from themselves. She is a native informer of the worst kind, and for all of these reasons, she should not be followed blindly, or tolerated silently. She does not represent the vast majority of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims but rather represents the narrow, privileged few, who have no qualms about using their privilege to dissent at a comfortable distance, and to conditionally select which struggles – and of what nature – they are willing to support.
For all her fame and fortune, and for all the “controversy” or “hate” she would fancy herself warranting, Mona el Tahawy is an utterly boring and empty talking head who is emblematic of countless other native informers at home and abroad. But unlike Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Wafa Sultan, or Irshad Manji – all of whom are categorically self-loathing, Zionist House Muslims – Mona el Tahawy’s peculiar brand of posturing and selective mistranslation is the benevolent kind. You know, the peaceful, defensive, “I’m busy with four or five revolutions” kind. The kind that is the most dangerous, because it’s the most invisible – or so she thinks, egged on as she is by her 60,000 + following on Twitter and lucrative career in the English-speaking world.
For all of these reasons, those of us committed to justice in Palestine – the cause at the very heart of the anti-imperial struggle for justice in the Arab world and elsewhere – we ask you, Mona el Tahawy, House Arab and House Muslim, kindly ikhrassi. Our blood pressure is high enough at home without your added distortions.