Caught in the Act

In the final scene of Askar we Harameyya, a comedic play penned by the late Egyptian playwright Alfred Farag and staged at the American University in Cairo in November, the protagonist, Fahim, is whisked offstage by police officers after being set up by his colleagues in a food cooperative for trying to foil their embezzlement scheme. Wearing nothing but his undergarments, he yells out to the audience: “I am the question, and you are the ones with the power to respond!”

Director Mahmoud El Lozy says he staged Askar we Harameyya, which in English translates to “Police and Thieves,” because corruption is something that is very much on people’s minds in Egypt today. “It’s so flagrant that you can’t even sort of rationalize it or defend it,” explained El Lozy. “It’s something that’s in the air, so to speak.” He cited bureaucrats charging parents for “free” birth certificates and private interests importing contaminated food with little government oversight as examples of the pervasiveness of corruption in the country today.

Askar we Harameyya employs cartoonish, often slapstick, characters and scenes that serve as a playful backdrop for Fahim, a tragic character motivated by honesty and integrity yet openly denigrated by coworkers who are driven by greed and social standing. El Lozy had two endings to choose from. The first version of Askar we Harameyya was written in the 1960s and ends with Fahim’s exoneration after a coworker agrees to entrap him by tricking him into undressing in the office but has a change of heart and confesses to the plot against him. A second version, the one El Lozy opted to stage, is dark and pessimistic. Farag rewrote the ending in the 1970s, El Lozy explained, intending to make a statement by leaving the outcome unclear. Rather than justice being served through an individual’s actions, such as the coworker’s confession, justice is left hanging in the hands of the people. Fahim’s last lines, El Lozy said, are a direct challenge to the audience—and to Egyptian society.

El Lozy, a professor of drama at AUC, is an actor, playwright, and translator in addition to being a stage director; he was an acquaintance of Farag, an eminent Egyptian playwright, literary critic, and social commentator for a half century, who died in 2005. El Lozy’s decision to stage a Farag play about corruption amid an ongoing clampdown on free expression could be seen as a not-so-veiled attack on Egypt’s post-revolution regime. El Lozy doubts a single play can inspire action, but says that the value of producing a comedy such as Askar we Harameyya is in enabling theatergoers to release frustration as they live through troubled times. “You laugh at something, so you no longer think of it as threatening, and maybe it reconciles you with reality,” he explained. “You laugh at something, why should you do anything about it? It becomes just an entertaining thing. It becomes a sign of your own impotence and you can cherish it and enjoy it. Humans like to laugh, and it’s good for them.”

Up to a point, perhaps. Noting that the corruption scheme in Askar we Harameyya is “child’s play”—the employees of the cooperative cooking the books in collusion with an unscrupulous vegetable merchant—El Lozy muses that if Farag were penning a third version today, he instead might have portrayed the corruption at the heart of the state system. “I think it would have been a much more threatening play,” he said.

Oriental Hall, etc.

Although women across the world now have better access to education, with girls often outperforming boys in school, there are still sociocultural and religious barriers to their full participation in society, argued Serra Kirdar, foundation fellow at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, during an October panel at AUC titled “Women as Agents of Change.” Women are now more visible in politics and across professional fields, but “there is much gender stereotyping in [school] curriculums and within cultures,” said Kirdar, editor of the forthcoming book Education in the Arab World. “Numbers are not reflective of reality—women are educated but still are not really represented in all fields of life because there are cultural and traditional barriers where women remain in the background.” Kirdar emphasized that “men and women need to work together to overcome this. We need more women who want to push the limits and men who want to support this.”

The Challenge for Liberalism

Few predicted the Arab awakening that swept through the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. It served as a reminder for Arab leaders that their constituents, especially the youth, were tired of the perpetual political status quo that had created and enabled the repressive regimes to stay in power for over three decades. The youth demanded their right to join the liberal world order and reap the benefits that would come with it: democratic institutions, better governance, a more open society, and economic growth. They were in search of meaning, for their identity as young Arab members of liberal societies.

The year 2016 has demonstrated that the West, the liberal order the Arab World sought to become a part of, was going through an identity crisis of its own. In many liberal democracies those who feel left out, pushed aside, or forgotten by their establishment politicians spoke out for change, against the maintenance of the status quo. Few analysts predicted that Britain would leave the European Union, that Donald Trump would become the next president of the United States, or took seriously the rising tide of rightwing populist politics gaining ground in Europe and beyond. The rise of populism in the post-2008 financial crisis era has demonstrated that liberal democratic systems were neither perfect nor immune to an awakening in the age of globalization.

There are many reasons for this. The appeal of populism in the West grew when economies became sclerotic and establishment politicians seemed to favor the status quo. Wages stagnated, jobs for decades had moved from the rural areas to the urban centers, and low-paying jobs offshored to India and China. At the same time, education and living costs increased while political leaders assured their constituents that things were getting better. The richest 1 percent were getting richer, which to many indicated that globalization was benefitting mostly the wealthiest sectors of society, the elites, who had the resources to benefit from offshoring and the seemingly borderless flow of capital from London to New York to Hong Kong. The political and corporate elites appeared above the law while heavily regulating the lives of others.

For many the frustration that ensued is exacerbated by the liberal and internationalist norms that come with globalization and are espoused by many elites and cosmopolitans: more openness, be it in terms of free trade or the promotion of multiculturalism and diversity.

Especially after the start of the Syrian civil war and the subsequent refugee crisis overwhelming the European Union, immigration has become an increasingly contentious issue. Immigrants, coming from the global south, were seen not only as catalytic, stealing the jobs of the working class, but more importantly as changing the social fabric in many Western countries. Even though globalization had increased the flow of capital, goods, information, ideas, and people, it had not undermined attachment to national identity or enhanced the level of tolerance in our societies. Globalization and cosmopolitanism have failed to offer the same sense of belonging that adherence to national identity can foster. In fact, for many, globalization had resulted in the degradation of their nations. Populist slogans that tout the need to “take back control” and “restore our country” appeal to those feeling alienated by globalization and cosmopolitan norms that impinge upon national sovereignty.

People began to lose their faith in international and regional institutions whose job was to facilitate the process of globalization and economic integration while maintaining and promoting the liberal international order. The forces opposing globalization saw their countries being bound by transnational rules and international laws that reduce policy options available to domestic policymakers, thus impinging upon their national sovereignty. Russian President Vladimir Putin has argued that this liberal world order was politically motivated and directed by the West. Many governmental authorities in the Middle East and beyond share this belief. Thus, the politics of Putin and Trump are seen by many as a positive force in the global arena, steering the focus from promoting liberalism to a more realist approach to domestic affairs and international diplomacy.

The current world order was established in 1945 after World War II. This order has resulted in the longest period of peace among states and spurred unprecedented economic growth, especially in the West. It has also brought Europe from the brink of destruction, lifted millions out of poverty throughout the world, and spread new freedoms to many countries. However, the liberal world order has failed to secure national and other in-group identities. The promise of secular democracy based on liberalism has not been able to offer citizens a strong enough sense of meaning and belonging. It is not only the Middle East where young people are losing faith in politics; in the West people are becoming tired of the technocrats in liberal democracies maintaining the status quo.

Despite its flaws, in liberal democracies the possibility of compromise exists. However, leaders must uphold the democratic institutions and traditions that guarantee equal rights for everyone. In the Arab awakening many had a very naive understanding of what it means to be a citizen: what the responsibilities and obligations are. It now seems that citizens in liberal democracies have forgotten what it means to be a citizen. Many of them have not engaged in politics and have let their representatives function on their own. Liberal Western democracies have to have frank discussions about the limits of liberalism and define what it means to be a citizen of a liberal democracy. Democracy, especially liberal democracies, will only satisfy aspirations if their citizens actively participate in defining and evaluating policies governing issues in the public domain.

Let’s not, however, draw the wrong conclusions. Recent events do not prove that the aspirations of the Arab awakening or the principles of Western liberalism are wrong. But the turmoil and call for change did underline that both required wise leaders and inclusive governance.

Nabil Fahmy, a former foreign minister of Egypt, is the dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo. He served as Egypt’s ambassador to the United States from 1999–2008, and as envoy to Japan between 1997 and 1999. On Twitter: @mnabilfahmy.

India’s Dream Jobs

A million Indians join their labor market each month, and India’s leaders are desperate to find them work. When Narendra Modi was running for office in 2014, he promised that if elected he would create 10 million new jobs a year. Today, Prime Minister Modi is hoping that Indians overlook a couple zeros; in 2015, the economy added just 135,000 jobs.

This failure is not from lack of effort. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has pushed bold legislation through parliament designed to grow the economy, including easing restrictions on foreign investment and simplifying the country’s sales tax regime. Their reforms have helped make India the fastest-growing large economy in the world. While some Indians are reaping enormous profit from this growth, the rising number of India’s jobless—the highest proportion in five years—sees little benefit.

To explain the paradox in India, Modi’s critics have focused on policy issues: the bloated public sector, or the BJP’s failure to relax the country’s rigid labor market or loosen restrictions on acquiring land for investment. However, a changing global economy may deserve more than Modi’s share of the blame. To absorb the huge number of workers joining the economy each year, a group the size of Belgium’s population, India must modernize at the rate and scale of China. China and the East Asian Tigers leveraged globalization two generations ago to grow their economies at remarkable rates. Unfortunately, Chinese-style factory-driven industrialization is no longer possible.

The eighteenth-century British economist David Ricardo anticipated India’s quandary when he hinted at the underbelly of his theory of comparative advantage, which shows that all countries benefit from each specializing in producing and trading goods according to what they do best. Ricardo’s examples of British textiles and Portuguese wine pointed toward a crucial qualification: countries can get stuck at certain levels of the value chain. America gets to make satellites while Bangladesh makes t-shirts. Bangladeshis make t-shirts while a few, highly skilled Indians make generic pharmaceuticals. The end product of increased trade is greater growth, to Ricardo’s credit (Americans, Bangladeshis, and Indians all get to consume more, in the aggregate). But the end product is not necessarily jobs and the equitable distribution of wealth. Globalization can condemn India to specialize in goods and services that do not need significant labor inputs.

Automation is the other fruit that fell from the forbidden tree. Before India began liberalizing its economy following a balance of payments crisis in the early 1990s, it was nearly an autarky. By shutting out foreign competitors, Indian leaders had hoped to incubate industry at home (an understandable belief given that it was a foreign company that had colonized India). That plan never worked, but Modi is trying to revive a similar focus on domestic production with his “Make in India” campaign. This time, he is hoping that foreigners will invest in India to replicate Mexico’s maquiladoras or China’s success in Shenzhen.

Yet when global corporations do arrive in India, they bring money and technology—but few jobs. Rising labor costs and low fuel prices are pushing firms to automate their production. Last year, Ford invested a billion dollars in Gujarat, Modi’s home province, to build one of the most highly automated plants in Asia. That plant will employ 2,500 lucky people. Fewer and fewer industries require the vast numbers of unskilled workers India can offer. And those that do often choose to set up shop in Bangladesh, which has cheaper labor and fewer regulations—and created twice as many jobs as India did in 2015.

Despite these challenges, if India still wants to develop rapidly à la East Asia, it will find that path increasingly illegal. When industrializing, East Asian nations at once opened their economies to global trade and instituted aggressive industrial policies to support target industries. However, deploying many such strategies today would trigger sanctions from the World Trade Organization (WTO). For example, when India tried to foster its nascent solar-panel industry through minimum domestic sourcing requirements, the United States complained to the WTO that these policies were unfair trade practices. India lost that case and its appeal last year.

Technology and the global economy have pushed some poor nations to deindustrialize at far lower levels of average income than in the past. The well-worn path of development is suddenly inaccessible. Scholars Amrit Amirapu and Arvind Subramanian have demonstrated that deindustrialization is already happening in parts of India. Industrial manufacturing is not the only path to development, and India’s success in the information technology sector is a significant driver for its economic growth. But the dismal state of the country’s education infrastructure does not encourage hope that the services sector will be able to provide anywhere near the number of jobs the country needs.

Indians handed Modi’s BJP the largest mandate in decades for its Hindu nationalism, relatively corruption-free reputation, and a “kick-the-bums-out” reaction to the Indian National Congress. However, Narendra Modi is prime minister because voters believed he could boost growth and deliver jobs, and he will be judged accordingly. So far, he has succeeded in the first goal but failed dramatically in the second.

His critics on the right decry Modi for not going far enough to implement the textbook plan for liberalizing India’s economy. Part of Modi’s inability to do so is due to the staunch opposition he faces in parliament, especially from the upper house, which he does not control. But the other cause is likely his own doubt that such prescriptions would work in India. The textbooks describing how a developing economy is supposed to modernize were made in another era, by Westerners writing in a wealthy corner of the globe. Few speak to an age of jobless growth in the developing world. If Modi fails to make good on his jobs promise, he may soon be forced to join the ranks of Indians looking for work.

Faisal Hamid is a reporter-researcher at the Cairo Review of Global Affairs.

The Modernity Trap

Lately the rise of the political right has turned some of the coolest heads into the gloomiest of prophets. Indian novelist and essayist Pankaj Mishra takes the long view. His new book, Age of Anger: A History of the Present, traces violent discontent with our modern world from the European Romantics to the Islamic State’s rule of terror. Mishra argues that the persistent failure of modern society to deliver on its promises—freedom, wealth, and equality—has again and again encouraged hateful and militant politics, from messianic revolutionaries in Tsarist Russia to the cultural nationalism of Germany’s Nazi era. As Mishra sees it, technology and the pursuit of wealth have shattered traditional societies across the globe, setting adrift millions of people who are “uprooted from tradition but far from modernity.”

For Mishra’s withering critiques of imperialism, the Economist called him the “heir to Edward Said.” Mishra’s book From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia declared Asia’s political awakening the twentieth century’s central event, and rebuked the notion that the West offers a benign one-size-fits-all model for modernity. Raised in Jhansi, in Uttar Pradesh, Mishra, 47, started as a travel writer documenting the quiet changes in India’s small towns wrought by economic and technological growth. His first book, Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in Small Town India, was a hilarious portrait of India’s upwardly mobile classes in the era of globalization. Cairo Review Associate Editor Amir-Hussein Radjy interviewed Mishra in London on December 1, 2016.

CAIRO REVIEW: Your new book Age of Anger: A History of the Present draws parallels between the Islamic State group, Donald Trump’s campaign, and hate-driven politics across the world. Where are we headed?
PANKAJ MISHRA: It’s very hard to say where it is taking us, and I think it is best to not be in the game of predictions generally. But we have seen this kind of anger before. We’ve seen this anger in the non-West—which for a long time was faulted for its failures to be modern, whether it’s Egypt, or Iran, or India, it was faulted for its rejection of modernity, often deemed fundamentalist or backward, or irrational—but we now see that rejection in the very heart of the modern West. The point that I try to make in the book is that we have been seeing that rejection of modernity within the modern West right from that moment when modernity began to be formulated in the late eighteenth century by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, that we see first an intellectual backlash to the cosmopolitan commercial ideals of the new bourgeoisie society, but then also a political backlash that we start to see in the nineteenth century, beginning with the Germans, to modern forms of imperialism. So in a way, Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and Napoleon’s invasion of Germany are kind of simultaneous events and the backlash to that, the response to that, should be seen together. The argument of the book is that the modern world as it came into being simultaneously spawned several reactions, which we have in the past called, or described as, counter-modern, anti-modern, anti-Western, anti-Enlightenment. But whatever you call them, those reactions, those angers, have always been there, have shaped politics, in many, many different countries. And now we’re seeing, we’re going through a phase, when that politics is being even more radically shaped by precisely that kind of anger.

CAIRO REVIEW: So you see in the election of Trump, in Brexit, in the rejection of the global order, a sort of return to the roots and origins of European modernity?
PANKAJ MISHRA: I see Britain and the United States—which are kind of the biggest sources of, proponents of, modernity—always upholding their experience as models for the rest of the world, setting themselves apart from the rest of the world as models, as examples to follow. But what we see now, they are rejoining the tormented history of the modern world from which they had kept themselves apart for so long. We are witnessing history as a kind of irony in motion.

CAIRO REVIEW: What inspired Age of Anger?
PANKAJ MISHRA: The primary inspiration was a local one, it was the election of a man who has been accused of mass murder as the prime minister of India, in May 2014. I’m talking of Narendra Modi, and that shattered every one of my political assumptions, not only about India as a democracy, but about democracy in general, about modernity. I felt that I had to go back and reexamine a whole set of ideas that I had grown up with, that I had internalized, that I had used to look at the world, and that I needed to really go back and examine them. The book came out of that, it really came out of an anguish and a despair, too. I think I should mention those because it was a time of really great torment for many of us in India, to see this man being elected, by a huge majority, people in our own families choosing to stand with them. I’m sure people in Egypt have experienced that kind of torn loyalties within families, over the past few years especially, but it was very painful in India. So it really came out of that urge to understand why it is that so many people voted for him, despite knowing what he did, what he represents—a kind of ethno-nationalism supremacism, which believes in violence, which believes in exclusion, which is a fundamentalist, a very dangerous, political project. Despite that, people voted for him. It was out of an urge to understand that that I began to think about this book, and started to think about ways of framing the argument.

CAIRO REVIEW: What is the importance of Buddhism to you?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Not so much as a guide to living, but as a guide definitely to thinking. As a practitioner of Buddhism, I’m a miserable failure. I mean, I don’t meditate, or at least I can’t meditate beyond five seconds, and I don’t actually observe many Buddhistic prohibitions. But as a way of thinking, it has had a huge effect on me, one that I’ve not really begun to understand, but its particular epistemology, its way of looking at life as flows rather than essences, its basic anti-essentialism, and also its, I wouldn’t say anti-humanism, but its non-humanism, of not seeing the human individual as the center of things, as seeing things as interdependent. All these things which modern science now tells us are true—I think it was a bit of a miracle for someone in the sixth century bc to be thinking of all those things and arriving at those conclusions without any scientific methods at his disposal. So it really opened a new way of thinking about intellectual processes, of thinking about the world, but as I’ve said, I haven’t examined in really any great detail how it did affect me, but it certainly has been a huge influence.

CAIRO REVIEW: Nationalist Indian leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi rejected unfettered Anglo-American individualism, at least in some form they certainly did. Do their ideas of political community and ethical action offer a viable alternative way of living in the modern world?
PANKAJ MISHRA: I think it’s a complicated question. What they were offering is a kind of ethical community, based upon regard for the values of the community and the values for social existence, as opposed to the individual pursuit of happiness, or contentment, through accumulation of material goods and that kind of thing. That critique has been restated in various forms, including by political Islamists, who think modernity and its pursuit of material goods and its upholding of the material life, as a supreme form of existence, and its privileging of individualism, is essentially a destructive force. I think in large part that critique is a correct one, is an accurate one.

The problem lies in moving from critique to the realm of political action. That’s when you find yourself replicating a whole lot of pathologies that your critique had originally identified in modernity. That, in a way, is the history of the non-Western world, that our attempts to escape are very justifiable attempts to escape that particular prison, that trap modernity has landed us in. I mean the Iranian revolution is a classic example of that. In many ways Khomeini’s program was not very different from that of Gandhi, in his desire for a new ethical community built around Islam, but we know what happened there, which was that the Islamic Republic of Iran became in some ways a more repressive state than the shah of Iran’s, who supposedly wanted to secularize and modernize Iran. This story has been repeated in various parts of the world. So that critique remains cogent and attractive but as to how it’s going to be realized, and institutionalized, that remains an open question.

CAIRO REVIEW: You’re a fierce critic of thinkers like Niall Ferguson who say the West, through imperialism and globalization, created modern wealth and democracy. Does the rise of the East hold out the possibility of a more just world?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Not really. But let me also say that people like Niall Ferguson should not be dignified with the term “thinkers.” These are people who—and there are many of them, he’s not the only one, he’s a particularly egregious figure in some ways—there are many people in Anglo-America who basically have flourished on the back of immense cultural, intellectual, military power that these countries have had. [They] have managed to retail their visions—which are very much tied to political power, and military power, in both these countries—they’ve managed to retail them all across the world, and they’ve been very influential in some ways. But what they are saying can essentially be boiled down to one sentence, which is that “the West is best.” There’s not much thinking involved in formulations like that; there’s simply crudities.

So I think to move from saying the “West is best” to the “East is best”—I don’t think we’ve traveled very far, because the rise of the East does not, by any means, guarantee a world of greater justice or greater freedom, for anyone. I think what we’ve seen is the deepening of oppressive practices, institutions that for a long time we identified with imperialism. Those practices, those institutions have now proliferated within the countries that were once victims of imperialism, whether it’s India or whether it’s China, any number of places we can name, including large parts of West Asia, where imperialism has returned wearing indigenous masks. So I just don’t think there’s anything to celebrate in this so-called rise of Asia, or rise of the East, because oppression and exploitation, discrimination, all the evils that we’ve identified with imperialism, are still very much there, and in some cases, you could argue they are much worse.

CAIRO REVIEW: What are the implications of the relative decline of Western dominance for the global order?
PANKAJ MISHRA: I think the word “global order” was always sort of a misnomer, in one sense. You had one country—supported by a loose alliance of Western nations, a few other people, including Israel—exerting its great will, helped with the biggest military the world has ever seen, over the so-called weaker nations, often going to war whenever it wanted to, often for no reason whatsoever. I think it’s more accurate to define that as a kind of controlled disorder where one country, one very, very powerful country, was supposedly in charge of maintaining global order, and at the same time it was also the source of great disorder. Now what the future holds—now that the United States has become, or is becoming, more crisis prone, more self-absorbed, presumably even more isolationist—who knows? But I think we certainly are in a phase of transition, from a kind of global disorder that flowed from the dominance of one nation, to more complex forms of global disorder.

CAIRO REVIEW: Not so long ago V.S. Naipaul called India a “wounded civilization” trying to catch up with the West. Today it is a global nuclear power. Has India moved on from the ghosts of its colonial past?
PANKAJ MISHRA: No country can really move on in that sense. It’s still obsessed with catching up with the West, beating it at its own game. So even though colonialism might have disappeared as a political and military fact, the fact is that it has left a whole lot of colonized minds behind it. [They] can only seek redemption through this very retrograde endeavor of beating the West, surpassing the West, becoming a bigger power, militarily, acquiring nuclear bombs, having a faster growth rate. It’s a kind of march of fantasy that many in the Indian elite have become victims of. So I don’t really derive much hope from this kind of strength and this kind of power.

CAIRO REVIEW: How is India changing under Modi?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Pretty dramatically, and I think that the consensus is pretty much for the worse. The ideological movement that he leads is remaking the country, really with great speed, occupying the state, colonizing the state, filling its institutions with loyalists—every institution, from military to cultural, to head of the film, television training institute, wherever you look there are loyalists and Hindu nationalists in place, so in a way it is a kind of takeover that the Muslim Brotherhood can only dream of. So obviously the country’s culture, shared national culture, everything has been altered, in just two years. [That] is not to say these changes had not been in the making for awhile, but I think the arrival of Modi himself has accelerated that, so you see a much more hardline Hindu nationalism, or Hindu supremacism, which is very belligerent, very harsh in its postures towards Pakistan, towards Indian Muslims, towards Kashmiris, towards minorities too, towards liberals—towards anyone they can identify as rootless cosmopolitans, so the same kind of pathologies we saw in Europe in the nineteenth century are flourishing in India right now. And economic growth remains jobless, remains highly uneven, and as long as it does, the ruling classes are going to find new enemies to identify, to persecute, and that’s what they’ve been doing, so you see all the classic signs of incipient fascism in the country today.

CAIRO REVIEW: Modi’s government has charged student leaders and academics who have sought to protect freedom of speech and minorities with “anti-nationalism.” Can the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindu nationalism coexist with the founding liberal, secular ideals of post-independence India?
PANKAJ MISHRA: There’s no question of coexistence because those ideas are pretty much dead, and the institutions and the individuals who might have sustained those ideas have been essentially either shut down or destroyed. It’s very hard to imagine a resurgence of social democratic or liberal democratic energies in the country today. And this may be a very bleak view, but I really don’t see any signs of hope right now.

CAIRO REVIEW: When did those ideals cease to function?
PANKAJ MISHRA: They were being weakened all this time, they were weakened not actually by the Hindu nationalist government.

CAIRO REVIEW: During Indira Gandhi’s rule?
PANKAJ MISHRA: I think historically, chronologically, there’s an argument to be made that she started, she inaugurated this long process of decline, but I think that it’s perhaps too easy. There was always, to use a kind of slang word, a kind of “design flaw” in the way Indian democracy, or the Indian nation-state was created, after an incredibly bloody partition in which millions of people were rendered homeless, and countless people lost their lives or were raped or tortured. So it was a trauma that essentially, under whose sign, India came into being, and I think we haven’t actually in a way—it became very clear two years ago—that we have not been able to overcome that trauma, and perhaps never will, or will never be able to recover from it.

Now many other local factors are in play here. The forces of globalization, the loss of legitimacy by the previous ruling regime, which was very corrupt, and very inefficient, very inept, the rise of a class of Hindus, who were getting more affluent materially, and wanted a bigger place for themselves both locally and internationally. There are many, many factors in play here, but I think the assault on the ideals of liberalism and democracy, which were created and upheld by a tiny minority of very well-educated Indians, that has been under way for awhile, and it’s not particular institutions or individuals, but they have been kind of ground, finely ground, by the various forces working on them.

CAIRO REVIEW: Modi, as governor of Gujarat, neglected to stop the massacre of Muslims in the 2002 riots, yet afterwards his political position was only stronger. Has the BJP used anti-Muslim violence to further its rise?
PANKAJ MISHRA: It’s always done that. One certain way is to identify the enemy, which is the Muslim, and to say this is the person undermining the unity of India, undermining our value systems, this is the true danger, also allied with various dark forces of terrorism internationally. So it’s always used these metaphors to advance its political ambitions, and they’ve done so more dramatically in the last few years.

The reason why Modi won despite that taint of Gujarat, I think it’s the same reason why Trump won despite everything he said—everything that, for any other political figure, would have been destructive of his chances. The time had come for the voters, for the masses, to express their rejection, to move away from what you and I think of as everyday ordinary morality. I think what we’re seeing today on a large scale is a kind of breakdown of ethical constraints of older ideas of morality [which held] that if someone is a serial groper, or boasts openly about rape, or is a brazenly racist figure, then you don’t actually vote for him. All those constraints have been thrown out in the last few years, but we saw that process first in India.

CAIRO REVIEW: That’s a very big sort of accusation to make. What was the cause of this move away from older ideals of morality?
PANKAJ MISHRA: It’s a very complex process, which cannot be easily summarized.

CAIRO REVIEW: Economic disintegration?
PANKAJ MISHRA: I think what we’ve seen is the decline of older models of politics and solidarity, and the rise of a kind of amoral individualism, [with] whatever means are available to you in the pursuit of success, in the pursuit of self-advancement; morality does not enter the picture in thinking of issues like justice, thinking of gender equality, which is what I grew up with, those collective ideals, which we knew we had to struggle for collectively. There’s been a massive shift to thinking of yourself as an individual without any particular history, without any particular sense of morality. As an individual you have to go forward, go forth into the world and make your own reality, and I think people like Trump and Modi are very much the beneficiaries of that kind of mentality, where history does not matter, structural injustices, structural inequalities don’t matter, violence does not matter, verbal violence does not matter.

CAIRO REVIEW: What is the impact of renewed violence in Kashmir on Indian domestic politics?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Kashmir, and generally violence against Muslims, again, is used to define the national community. So, this is the Hindu people, as it were, who are facing all kinds of challenges both at home and abroad, and here are this bunch of traitors who need to be beaten up really badly, and that sentiment, not just amplified by politicians, but media over the past few months, that we have to hit them hard, so that they don’t rise again. A bit like the Rodney King video—a person rising and he’s being beaten down again by the police—that was the lynch mob mentality manifest across TV channels and also across the print media in India.

CAIRO REVIEW: There was significant popular support for the government crackdown against separatists.
PANKAJ MISHRA: Very much so, and also from the media.

CAIRO REVIEW: President Obama has looked to India as a regional counterweight against China. How do you see India’s relationship with an expanding China?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Well, all these calculations have been essentially thrown out with the arrival of Trump, who seems to have no interest in pursuing Obama’s policies anywhere, whether domestically or internationally. Who knows what stance he might take towards India, towards China, or towards Asia, whether he might reverse the so-called pivot to Asia? At this point all our assumptions are really on hold. We have to wait and see what happens, and I don’t think we’ll ever get a coherent policy statement from this fellow.

CAIRO REVIEW: I’m sure you saw the transcript from his first phone call with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif—that he was doing “amazing things” in Pakistan, that he was a “terrific guy.”
PANKAJ MISHRA: Seriously! Boosterish business talk basically. They are both businessmen so I’m sure they’ll get along.

CAIRO REVIEW: How do you explain the election of Donald Trump?
PANKAJ MISHRA: I think the same way I explain the election of Modi or Brexit here, which is that a great sense of anger, ressentiment, simmering over many years, which was systematically disregarded by the media, by politicians, mainstream politicians—and he was just there, just at the right moment, to harvest this bit of fruit and come into power. There were a whole lot of people who were extremely frustrated by their failure to share in the bonanza of global capitalism, and they saw many others benefiting from it, becoming incredibly rich. At the same time they felt their lives being drained of meaning, not just by income inequality, but by the fact that they had to constantly deal with change, with upsetting change. Whether through jobs disappearing, or through immigration, the world was moving too fast, and it turns out many, many people were unhappy with this, and their rejection of this—the beneficiaries were these two figures, and there have been many others around the world.

CAIRO REVIEW: There may be Marine Le Pen in the Élysée Palace?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Yes, she may be next.

CAIRO REVIEW: Is liberal democracy in terminal decline?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Well, liberal democracy was always a bit of a sham, to be honest. It depended on—first of all, it always concealed the fact that a whole lot of violence had gone into its making, and a whole lot of violence went into preserving it, and that violence was truly universal. The countries, the big countries, where liberal democracy flourished were the countries, at the same time, engaged in simultaneous wars.

So if now it’s in decline, it’s because liberal democracy has failed to deliver the goods, even in its own heartlands, let alone in India, in Egypt, where its benefits were much doubted by the natives. So I think it faces a crisis of legitimacy that I don’t know how it would recover from. It faced a similar crisis back in the 1930s. What really saved it was the fact that its opponents were so monstrous that liberalism started to look attractive in comparison to Stalinism and Nazism, but we know that there was a destructive war in between, before liberalism could be rehabilitated.

CAIRO REVIEW: You speak of ressentiment. Why does the right dominate this resentment, this anger? Why not the left?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Well, there is no left. These questions get posed in these kind of familiar oppositions of left and right, but there’s only been the right for a very long time. There’s been no left. Certainly in Western Europe, certainly in India, there’s been no left in my lifetime, there’s only been a right with different names for different parties. I think very specifically if you’re talking about Western Europe and the United States, the so-called left was trying to reinvent itself as centrists, which basically meant appropriating the policies of the right. So there hasn’t been a left for a long time. So in a way, the extreme right, in this instance, the far right, was always extremely well placed to benefit from the failures of the right’s programs. The left basically did not exist until Bernie Sanders arrived, and that was too little. There just wasn’t enough time for him to do much.

CAIRO REVIEW: Margaret Thatcher, in the 1990s, was asked about her greatest achievement, and she said, “Mr. Tony Blair.”
PANKAJ MISHRA: I think that’s absolutely right. I think the so-called social democratic left, whether it’s the Labour Party here or the Democratic Party in America, they were obscenely keen to basically retool themselves in the image of their so-called rightwing opponents. If you look at what Bill Clinton did, his impact on especially the African-American community—much, much worse than any Republican president. What he did to accentuate inequality, much worse than any other Republican president in the 1980s or afterwards.

CAIRO REVIEW: What policies do you have in mind?
PANKAJ MISHRA: The incarceration policy, for one, which multiplied the number of African-Americans in prison—the tough-on-crime policy. The deregulation that he inaugurated, of what had been in place since the New Deal, all those sort of loosening, privatization, deregulation, all these processes whose victims voted against Hillary Clinton were set in motion by her husband. So there is a kind of karmic justice that Hillary Clinton should be defeated by the very forces that her husband unleashed in the 1990s.

CAIRO REVIEW: How do you explain the role religion is playing in politics today, across geographical borders?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Well, I don’t know whether religion can be seen as something separate from the realm of politics. I don’t believe in this particular distinction between religion and politics. Religion has always been present in politics. This is an arbitrary distinction to begin with. In the United States we’ve always seen religion playing a vital role in consolidating, in mobilizing large numbers of people, not just during elections but during the whole year.

In Europe, religion has always been invisibly present in the structures of secular society, in the way when the French presidential candidate speaks now of France as a “daughter of Christianity,” he is uttering completely obvious truths. It may seem blasphemous to people who think France is the capital of secularism, but I think he’s actually being more accurate. Christianity manifests itself in practically every national institution. Here, too, in this country. So it’s never been separate. These artificial distinctions were made to conceptualize Islam as this great “other” of the West, that Islam suffers from all these problems that we in the West don’t suffer from, that it doesn’t observe the great separation between religion and politics. But, you know, these were kind of ambitious intellectual attempts that never really succeeded.

CAIRO REVIEW: But certainly, in the Middle East, it’s clear that whatever you want to call it, Islamism or political Islam has enjoyed a resurgence and an enormous power it simply did not have in the mid-twentieth century. So specifically, why has religion suddenly acquired such an overtly powerful role?
PANKAJ MISHRA: I think religion is one of those sort of centers, one of those constructions like race or like class, around which you can mobilize people. So in countries where trade unions are more or less absent, there are no intermediate institutions. Class struggle is nonexistent, gender solidarity is nonexistent—there are certainly no institutions to make them effective in the political arena. Not surprisingly in so many of these countries, people invoke religion, they invoke Islam, and say, “Okay we’re going to organize around Islam.” And Islam so happens to have a whole lot of ideals about social justice that have become hugely relevant today in times of great inequalities. So it already has a program, you don’t have to push too much of your agenda on it. Islam within its own traditions offers a kind of belief in solidarity, brotherhood, and justice, so it’s not surprising at all that it has become a site of resistance against what is perceived as secular forms of injustice, modern forms of oppression.

CAIRO REVIEW: You said before, secular ideals in India had always been, anyway, upheld by a very small group of Indians. That gets back to the point of these liberal ideals being upheld in Egypt, in Iran, by a quasi-foreign elite.
PANKAJ MISHRA: And in the case of Iran, imposed brutally upon the rest of the population, which caused a great backlash in the Islamic Revolution. So we also have to understand that modernization, or liberal modernity, in these places, was something imposed by a tiny minority through extremely painful, traumatic experiments—getting all these people from the villages into the cities, not offering them jobs, not offering them decent places to live in, in Iran for instance. In Cairo, in Egypt the process happened differently, but the radical restructuring of people’s lives, people’s economies by this technocratic, liberal, cosmopolitan elite—in many cases Western-educated, or people educated in Western-style institutions—lording it over the rest, telling them that we are secular, we are liberal, we are superior to you, so we therefore have this great authority to radically reorder your lives. What we’ve been seeing over the past fifty or sixty years is the rejection of those claims, and a counter-claim that you guys are frauds, that all you want is to feather your own nest, and in many cases, that retort is devastatingly accurate. This is not to condone the religious fanatics that made those claims, but we have to acknowledge that those claims are also true, to a large extent.

CAIRO REVIEW: Fidel Castro gave Cuba independence at the cost of liberty, like Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Is the choice, in the global south, between national development and individual rights?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Well, it’s a very harsh choice, and one has to remember it has been imposed by historical circumstances, that countries like Cuba, Egypt, many countries one could name in that category—Cuba more so because Cuba was actually next-door neighbors to the most powerful country in the world, which did everything in its power to strangle, to stifle the country’s economy, and succeeded, I think. In that context, survival was seen as an achievement in itself, and the survival of the revolution, the survival of the nation, that became the end to which were sacrificed individual rights, individual liberties. One can see this as almost inevitable, that there was no way Cuba was going to be a free society, in that kind of geopolitical situation. So the tragedy of Cuba under Castro was inevitable, there was no way that country was going to be anything other than what it was, given the historical cards it held, given the very few chances and advantages it had.

CAIRO REVIEW: How do you explain the failure of the Arab Spring?
PANKAJ MISHRA: First of all, the spring itself—if I may be so bold—the actual political aspects of it were exaggerated and dramatized. The way we came to perceive it was deeply, deeply mediated. So our sense of it, our sense of the people’s uprising spawned a whole lot of unrealistic expectations about the arrival of democracy, and we simply did not reckon with the deeply entrenched structural problems of these countries, not just politically but their economies, how dependent they had become, how corrupt, and how hollowed out they had become, and that for a long time their fragmentation and their deep inner fractures were concealed by brutal dictators, and that once they were born, those fractures would be visible, those divisions would become violent. So the language of emancipation, which is a kind of modern language par excellence—that is modernity is about emancipation, so it’s great, people are liberating themselves from the dictator, having a revolution of their own—that was the lens through which we saw this, but we never really took into account the fact that revolution and that kind of regime change set off a whole series of processes which take many, many years, if not decades, to resolve. If you look at France, the sort of motherland of revolution, think of how long it took France—the better part of a century—to become a stable, not even liberal democratic, but just a stable nation-state. Liberal democracy did not come to France really until after 1945. But if you look at the nineteenth century, how many revolutions, and counter-revolutions, coup attempts, wars, imperialism, one imposture after another, anti-Semitism—one thing after another—so this notion that revolution leads to any kind of stable democratic government was a fantasy in itself.

CAIRO REVIEW: Are public intellectuals making any difference in today’s local or global politics?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Well, I think, as someone who is often identified as a public intellectual, I’ve come to be extremely wary of that term, and of the people who are also identified as public intellectuals. I think we need to have a more humble, modest sense of what the public intellectual is capable of. Public intellectualism too often shades into advocacy of a certain kind, affiliations with powerful people, and that is the end of any kind of intellectualism. I think an intellectual, at least the way I see it, always swims against the current. Once you start swimming with the current, it’s really over. You’re simply there to justify whatever power does, and I’m afraid there are obviously quite a lot of exceptions, but most of the people we identify as public intellectuals are there to provide elaborate intellectual justifications for what power does. So we have to cultivate a degree of skepticism and irony towards this historical figure.

The New Battle Over LGBTQ

In 1999, a wealthy 54-year-old businessman announced that he was exploring a run for the American presidency as a Reform Party candidate. Established by the tech billionaire and politician Ross Perot four years earlier, the Reform Party’s major concerns had been fiscal: a balanced budget, job promotion, an end to the North American Free Trade Agreement. But rightwing populist and social conservative Pat Buchanan made a grab for party leadership, and the party’s moderates believed that the businessman was their best hope for preventing Buchanan from getting the party’s presidential nomination in 2000. To distinguish himself on social issues from Buchanan—who had famously characterized the AIDS epidemic as nature’s way of exacting retribution from homosexuals—the businessman granted an interview in February 2000 to the Advocate, a slick gay magazine with a national circulation.

The businessman was Donald Trump, and he explained to Advocate readers that he’d grown up in New York City, a cultural metropole known for its tolerance. If he were president, he said, there would be a place for gays in his administration because he would be “looking for brains and experience. If the best person for the job happens to be gay, I would certainly appoint them.” He would promote pro-gay policies for the country, too. For instance, he was in favor of hate crimes legislation that would make it a federal offense to attack an individual because of animosity toward his or her sexual orientation. He also declared himself to be the first presidential candidate to propose a sweeping new approach to social justice for gays. As president, he declared, he would promote amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to “grant the same protection to gay people that we give to other Americans—it’s only fair.” His idea of fairness even extended to the repeal of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of tolerating gays in the armed forces as long as they did not announce their sexual orientation. Gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military, he said, just as they do in many European countries.

Trump’s views on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people proved to be disquietingly malleable after he became the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. He has backtracked on his former embrace of LGBTQ rights, courted political alliances with the anti-gay religious right, and chosen people with strong anti-gay track records for key positions in his administration. Given Trump’s past clear sympathy for gay rights, now that he has won the presidency, will he resist the push by his administration, the Republican Party, and the conservative movement to reverse progress? If he gives in to the right on social issues, there will surely be a sharp escalation of the civil rights struggle, pitting LGBTQ activists, strengthened by decades of progress, against conservatives and the religious right inside and outside government who have been emboldened by their political triumph.

Bathroom Behavior
As Trump was taking office in January, we could only speculate on how his administration would address hot-button social issues. Making confident predictions was difficult, if only because of Trump’s own cognitive dissonance on LGBTQ rights. Consider his flip-flopping over the course of a single day on the campaign trail, last April 21.

At 7:30 a.m., Trump appeared live at a town hall on NBC’s Today show, where he was asked his opinion of North Carolina’s controversial H.B. 2, known as the “bathroom bill.” Signed the preceding month by Republican Governor Pat McCrory, the bill prohibited transgender people from using public bathrooms that didn’t match the gender on their birth certificate. A boycott of North Carolina quickly ensued. PayPal cancelled plans to open a new facility that would have created hundreds of jobs in North Carolina; Lionsgate halted a scheduled film production; Cirque du Soleil, Ringo Starr, and Bruce Springsteen cancelled their shows in the state—the list of boycotting companies and entertainers grew by the day. On Today, Trump offered his gut response as a businessman, a New Yorker, and a longtime LGBTQ sympathizer: he regarded the North Carolina law, which had brought “economic punishment” down on the state, as unnecessary and foolish: “People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble because of it,” he scolded North Carolina, adding that if transwoman Caitlyn Jenner, who had been Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner, came into Trump Tower, she could use any bathroom she wished.

In an hour or so, Trump’s closest rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Ted Cruz, was already taking advantage of the frontrunner’s pro-LGBTQ comments to create a wedge issue. On a morning radio interview with rightwing pundit and Cruz supporter Glenn Beck, and immediately afterwards during a rally that Beck had organized for him in Maryland, Cruz launched his new offensive, opining that Trump was bowing to political correctness and succumbing to “the left’s agenda, which is to force Americans to leave God out of public life while paying lip service to false tolerance.” The Trump team evidently panicked: if Trump didn’t walk back his Today statements he risked losing the important religious right vote. By 3 p.m. the same day, Trump appeared on the Fox News show of conservative host Sean Hannity and did a 180-degree turn. “I think that local communities and states should make the decision,” Trump told Hannity. “I feel very strongly about that.”

Hannity, a consistent champion of Trump, whom he considered “a one-man wrecking ball against our dysfunctional and corrupt establishment,” made sure that Fox News viewers did not miss Trump’s metamorphosis: “In other words, let the state decide,” Hannity emphasized. “Kind of like your position on education. Give it back to the states.” Erasing the sin of that morning’s tolerance in no uncertain terms, Trump responded, “Yeah, let them decide. Absolutely.”

By June, Trump was in bed with the premier homophobic representatives of the religious right. He met with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, which claims that homosexuality is harmful, unnatural, and a threat to society. He met with James Dobson of Focus on the Family, which claims that homosexuality is a serious disorder that can be cured by “ex-gay” therapy. He spoke at the Road to Majority Conference, sponsored by the anti-gay organizations Faith and Freedom Coalition and Concerned Women for America, where he assured his audience that he was “100 percent with you” on the issues of “marriage and family” and “religious freedom,” code for state-sanctioned permission to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

For the remainder of his ultimately winning campaign, Trump periodically flirted with the LGBTQ community. When an apparently homophobic Muslim man and sympathizer of the Islamic State terrorist group slaughtered forty-nine patrons of a gay nightclub in Orlando, Trump cast himself as the defender of gay lives—pointing to his proposed ban on Muslims, “who murder gays,” entering the United States. Accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in July, Trump reeled off the crimes of Muslim terrorists including the attack in Orlando where “forty-nine wonderful Americans were savagely murdered.” His dual message was again intended to be assuring to LGBTQ people (“wonderful” Americans) and rousing to his base (Muslims are “savages”). When the delegates cheered though he’d dared say “protect our LGBTQ citizens,” Trump looked surprised for a moment, and then uttered what seemed an unscripted and heartfelt response: “I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said.”

Yet for all his attempted nuancing, Trump positioned himself with the religious right on LGBTQ issues. That seemed to be clear with his choice of a running mate, Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana and a former congressman from the state, which was of major concern to the LGBTQ community. Pence had racked up a record that made him one of the most blatantly homophobic politicians in America.

Running for Congress in 2000, his “Pence Agenda,” as he called it, included a vow to abolish “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—not because he thought gay people shouldn’t have to keep their sexuality a secret, but because the policy prohibited witch hunts of homosexuals whose “presence in the ranks weakens unit cohesion.” Pence’s plan also promised to “strengthen the American family” by opposing any effort to recognize homosexuals as a minority group entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities. He specified too that if elected he would halt federal funds to AIDS organizations that “celebrate and encourage the types of behavior that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.”

Once elected, Pence proved as good as his word, voting every chance he got against any measure that smacked of increasing the civil rights of LGBTQ people. In 2006, for example, he supported a proposed constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. In 2007, he opposed the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have prohibited discrimination against LGBTQ workers; such a law, Pence argued, “wages war on freedom of religion in the workplace.” He opposed the 2009 Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which made hate-motivated crimes against gays and other minorities a federal offense.

After Pence was elected governor in 2012, he continued his war on LGBTQ people. In 2013, for instance, he signed a bill that made it a felony for same-sex couples to apply for a marriage license. In 2015, he signed into law a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed business owners, on the basis of their religious convictions, to refuse to serve homosexuals. Clearly, Trump’s choice for his vice president—the man who is a heartbeat from the presidency—would gladly reverse every bit of progress that has been made toward the achievement of LGBTQ civil rights.

Obergefell v. Hodges
In the 1950s, every state in the union had a sodomy law, which meant that all homosexuals, simply because of their private sexual expression, were de facto criminals. They were also considered a threat to the nation—a moral menace at a time when conformity was seen as the antidote to the upheavals of the war years; a security menace because homosexuality was thought to be so reprehensible that a blackmailer sent by the Soviet Union could convince a homosexual to betray the country just by threatening to reveal his or her awful secret. Homosexuals had a hard time keeping a job. Private businesses didn’t want them: snoop companies were hired by employers to ferret them out so they could be fired before they infected other employees. They were hounded out of all government employment too, and out of the teaching profession.

Almost all gay Americans at that time were too scared to fight back. In the summer of 1950, when Harry Hay—who first conceptualized homosexuals as being sort of like blacks and Jews, “an oppressed cultural minority”—was struggling to organize them, he couldn’t get anyone to join him. Finally, Hay, a leftist, had a brainstorm. He went to a gay beach in Los Angeles with a Communist Party-sponsored petition that demanded that U.S. troops be withdrawn from Korea. He got more than five hundred signatures. After a person signed, Hay asked if he or she would also be interested in joining a group to talk about “sexual deviancy.” Not a soul said yes. Apparently everyone thought it was less dangerous to sign a Communist Party petition than it was to join a group associated with homosexuality.

Hay was finally able to establish the Mattachine Society with a few other gay men. Its aim was to unify homosexuals, raise their social consciousness, and come to the aid of persecuted gays. The Mattachine Society grew modestly and spread to only a half-dozen cities, but it was the opening salvo in the battle for gay rights. In 1961, Frank Kameny, an astronomer fired from his civilian job with the Army Map Service because he was a homosexual, co-founded Mattachine Society Washington, DC. Through the organization, he helped other sacked federal employees sue the U.S. Civil Service Commission, which had jurisdiction over the hiring and firing of government workers. It was one of the first significant victories for gay rights when Judge David Bazelon, the chief judge of a federal appeals court, ordered a fired homosexual employee reinstated, declaring that U.S. citizens had a right to privacy and did not need to answer questions about their sexuality—and that unless there was a nexus between private conduct and job performance, the private conduct was irrelevant. Bazelon’s ruling became a precedent; the courts continued to reinstate fired homosexuals until the Civil Service Commission finally issued a directive to all federal agencies which said that an individual may not be found “unsuitable for federal employment merely because that person is a homosexual.”

The year 1969 saw further dramatic developments in the gay rights movement. In response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, a common occurrence targeting gay bars in the area, young gay people followed the lead of blacks, anti-war protesters, and radical feminists and took their grievances to the streets. The Stonewall riot—a “hairpin drop heard round the world,” as wags of the day described it—was the start of a mass exodus from the shadows. More and more gay people became willing to openly acknowledge their sexual orientation, participate in massive public demonstrations such as pride parades, and demand all the rights of citizenship. Beginning in 1973, large national gay rights organizations were established, including the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Gay Task Force, and the Gay Rights National Lobby (forerunner of the Human Rights Campaign). With money donated by the gay community, the organizations hired legal and governmental experts not only to fight for gay rights in the courts, but also to lobby politicians to support gay issues. Gay litigators from all over America began meeting regularly as “The Roundtable,” where they strategized long-term plans to advance gay rights.

Gay groups became larger and savvier. For the sake of the struggle, activists learned to organize gays of every stripe, from radicals and lesbian-feminists to mainstreamers. In 1977, pop singer and Christian fundamentalist Anita Bryant led a charge to repeal the recent addition of the words “sexual or affectional preference” to an existing Miami-Dade County non-discrimination ordinance; when she prevailed, successful copycat campaigns spread across the country. The next year in California, State Senator John Briggs, ambitious to become governor and inspired by those examples of voter animosity toward gays, sponsored what seemed to be a surefire ballot initiative to ban homosexual teachers, and any teacher who said anything nice about homosexuals, from California classrooms. Early polls showed the Briggs Initiative would win by a landslide. But gays knew that if they didn’t stop Briggs, campaigns against their rights would keep proliferating. They worked relentlessly and defeated the initiative by a comfortable margin. Their ballot success became a turning point and a model for gay activism all over America.

Taking a page from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the first March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights was held in 1979 and drew one hundred thousand participants. The second march, in 1987, drew six hundred thousand. The third march, in 1993, drew almost a million, signaling to the nation growing LGBTQ unity, numbers, and willingness to fight. Recent years have seen phenomenal results. Sodomy laws, which had made all homosexuals de facto criminals, were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003. In 2009, Congress passed the first federal pro-LGBTQ law in American history: a hate crimes bill making crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity a federal offense. The following year, Congress repealed all barriers to gays serving openly in the military. In 2015, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. By then, lesbians and gays were truly beginning to feel like first-class American citizens.

Legal tactics, mass organizing, and huge public demonstrations have all been crucial to the struggle for gay rights; but perhaps most important was the demolition of the “closet,” which has helped change the hearts and minds of the American people. If you believe that homosexuals are nasties who skulk in the shadows ready to pounce on children, you support laws that criminalize and punish them. But if you know that your beloved brother or kindly aunt or good neighbor is a homosexual, you’re likely to support their desire for equal rights. In the 1950s homosexuality was a deep, dark secret that gay people kept from practically everyone but other gay people. In 1985, 24 percent of Americans said they had friends, relatives, or coworkers who told them personally that they were lesbian or gay. By 2013, 75 percent of Americans said they’d been told by a friend, relative, or coworker that they were lesbian or gay. Support for lesbians and gays serving openly in the military, marrying their same-sex partner, and enjoying equality in the workplace rose spectacularly with the rising knowledge that most Americans know and love someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or queer. And the growing popular sentiment in favor of equality has been a powerful influence on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, which in the last years have moved LGBTQ people closer to first-class citizenship than could possibly have been imagined just a few decades ago when hardly any straight people knew that they knew someone gay.

Indiana Values or New York Values?
Donald Trump’s election to the presidency caused widespread panic among LGBTQ people. Would Trump nullify the hard-won expansion of their civil rights? The GOP platform—which called for overturning Obergefell v. Hodges and supported the right of businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people as well as the right of parents to force their LGBTQ kids into “conversion therapy”—did not bode well. However, a president has no legal obligation to follow his party’s platform.

Trump’s mixed messages have created deep uncertainty about his intentions toward the LGBTQ community. In early 2016, just before the Iowa caucuses, Trump went on Fox News where he assured the right that if elected he would “strongly consider” nominating Supreme Court justices who would overturn Obergefell v. Hodges. Yet in November, five days after he won the general election, he told Leslie Stahl of CBS’s 60 Minutes program that the issue of same-sex marriage had already been decided by the Supreme Court—it was “settled,” and he was “fine” with it.

Nearly everything else Trump said or did on LGBTQ issues during his transition to the White House is troubling to the LGBTQ community. Of particular concern is his string of appointments of social conservatives with histories of anti-gay sentiments and actions. As the next attorney general Trump selected Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who the Huffington Post has described as “one of the most anti-gay politicians in Washington.” From powerful positions on the judiciary and budget committees, he has stood against same-sex marriage, workplace discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and expanding hate crimes to include attacks related to sexual orientation.

Trump named Republican operative Betsy DeVos to become secretary of education. She headed an effort in Michigan to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage; her billionaire family helped the rabidly anti-gay Family Research Council establish a lobbying office in Washington in order to “preserve and advance the heritage of religious belief and family values”—dog whistle phrases for condoning discrimination against LGBTQ people and challenging same-sex marriage and the adoption of children by non-heterosexuals. Trump named Republican Representative Tom Price of Georgia—who never encountered a piece of anti-LGBTQ legislation he didn’t like—to head the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2010, Price told the Conservative Political Action Conference that the right must “beat back” the “vile liberal agenda.” To head the Department of Housing and Urban Development Trump named Ben Carson, a medical doctor who has compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia.

Trump’s picks can do genuine harm to undermine decades of progress toward LGBTQ rights. Sessions, for instance, can rescind the federal government’s lawsuit against North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” which Attorney General Loretta Lynch initiated last May when she declared that H.B. 2 was “in direct opposition to federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity.” Sessions can decline to prosecute acts of discrimination against LGBTQ people. As secretary of education, DeVos can reverse President Obama’s order prohibiting school discrimination against transgender students. She can put a halt to public school programs whose purpose is to help LGBTQ kids. As secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Price will oversee the policies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration, all of which play important roles on issues relating to HIV and AIDS. Price will have influence over whether the Trump alternative to Obamacare will include provisions that protect LGBTQ people. As secretary of housing and urban development, Carson can refuse to enforce fair housing laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people; he can even institute a “religious exemption” that would permit landlords to evict tenants because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Trump’s words and actions as a candidate and president-elect were a far cry from his interview with the Advocate seventeen years ago. Then he seemed to flinch only on the subject of same-sex marriage. Along with almost two-thirds of Americans at that time, he believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But, he said, “It’s important for gay couples who are committed to each other to not be hassled when it comes to inheritance, insurance benefits, and other simple everyday rights,” and he pronounced himself in favor of “a very strong domestic partnership law that guarantees gay people the same legal protections and rights as married people.”

Trump withdrew from the Reform Party race shortly before the Advocate interview was published, yet on the issue of same-sex marriage he continued to evolve. Indeed, he evolved even more quickly than did Obama, who did not declare himself in favor of same-sex marriage until nearly the end of his first term of office in 2012. In 2005, Trump announced on his “Trump Blog,” which he wrote for Trump University, “There’s a lot to celebrate this holiday season. Elton John married his longtime partner David Furnish on December 21. . . . I’m very happy for them. If two people dig each other, they dig each other.”

Whether or not Trump takes up his “New York values” as president or chooses to repudiate them in office, the LGBTQ community, with its many decades of experience in the struggle for rights, can’t and won’t retreat. In 1997, Kameny, the astronomer fired from the Army Map Service forty years earlier, marveled about the progress he had witnessed: “We started with nothing, and look what we have wrought.” In the years since then, LGBTQ people have wrought so much more. They know how to fight in the courts, in the media, in the streets, and everywhere. Today, most Americans understand that LGBTQ people are their family, friends, and coworkers. Many straight Americans have become allies in the fight.

Lillian Faderman is emerita professor of English at California State University, Fresno. She is the author of The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle; Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America; and To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America—A History. On Twitter: @lillianfaderman.

Women of Egypt

Egypt’s women today are represented through two rather contradictory images. There are the powerful images of numerous women participating in the Tahrir Square uprising that ended decades of despotic rule. Their presence and contribution to the social upheaval demanding freedom and respect for rights during and after the Arab Spring were unmistakable. On the other hand, there are the other images from Tahrir Square, of women protesters publicly assaulted in gender-based violence.

Streets and squares represent public space where citizens go to express their disagreement or support, their joy or anger. It is also a symbol of what can be closed off to the population by those holding power under a declared state of emergency. During the Arab Spring, public space also became a place representing violence against women—the penalization of women for having taken to the streets alongside men.

During the eighteen days of mass mobilization in Egypt beginning on January 25, 2011, women faced no threats in public space due to gender. Media carried images of women and girls of all ages, social classes, religious beliefs, and dress codes, demanding change side-by-side with men and boys in Tahrir Square and in governorates across the country. These images carried around the world seemed to symbolize the positive changes occurring in the Middle East. The square was devoid of discrimination or oppression, with respect to gender as well as other differences that normally divide the population; instead, it was filled with a genuine call for change, expressing the value of universal citizenship. An outpouring of triumph and hope occurred as Egypt had not witnessed in a very long time. This phase of social cohesion and collaboration ended on February 11, 2011 when President Hosni Mubarak resigned after three decades in power.

And then came a sudden turn with the emergence of haunting images of women being sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square and other public places. The assault on reporter Lara Logan from the CBS television network made headlines around the world and the gang rape and mob sexual assault perpetrated against Egyptian women became an enduring feature of the Tahrir protests. The gender-based violence cast a pall on political developments to follow, and shaped some of the current of change in Egypt.

As the Mubarak regime collapsed, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) suspended the 1971 constitution, dissolved parliament, and put itself in power for a transitional period. Egyptian women fared poorly during this time. SCAF appointed no women to the committee responsible for drafting a new constitution, a decision that ignored the role women had played to bring about change. With protests escalating into violence with increasing frequency, women became visible targets for sexual harassment and even rape, as well as abuses committed even by Egyptian security forces. Notorious episodes of security forces subjecting detained protesters to “virginity tests” underscored the mistreatment of women—a far cry from revolutionary ideals. Some of the victims took the state to court over the tests, but justice was not served. While the practice of mandatory examinations of detainees was banned by an administrative court in late 2011, a military court in 2012 acquitted a military doctor of allegedly performing the tests on a group of female activists detained at a Tahrir Square protest in March 2011.

To be sure, there is a longstanding prevalence of sexual harassment against women in public space in Egypt. Successive regimes including those of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat were criticized for not addressing the problem of violence against women. But with the breakdown of police and law enforcement following the overthrow of Mubarak, a culture of perceived or real impunity emerged that unleashed attacks against women in public space. On International Women’s Day less than a month after the regime’s fall, women marchers found themselves surrounded by men chanting “the people want to bring down women”—a clear echo of the slogan of the January 25 revolt, “the people want to bring down the regime.” The double standard of welcoming the support of women in the revolution but denying their demand for women’s rights seemed prevalent among Egyptians.

The public sexual violence became more disturbing against the backdrop of continuing demonstrations and street clashes. One in particular, widely referred to as the “blue bra incident,” when a veiled young woman was dragged and beaten by Egyptian security forces as her underwear was exposed in public, captured the world’s attention. In response, thousands of Egyptian women of all ages and backgrounds marched in the streets of Cairo chanting “Egyptian women are a red line” and demanding an end to military rule and its mistreatment of women. During a protest on the second anniversary of the January 25 revolution, nineteen women and girls were reported to have been sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square. At a massive demonstration calling for the removal of President Mohammed Morsi, a leading figure of the Muslim Brotherhood, forty-six mob sexual assaults were recorded in Tahrir Square including the gang rape of a 22-year-old Dutch journalist.

The disturbing trend continued during Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s inauguration as president in June 2014, when a 19-year-old Egyptian girl was sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square and video distribution of the incident on social media provoked outrage. Afterwards, in his first days as president, El-Sisi paid a highly publicized visit to the girl in the hospital to check on her wellbeing. With more than five hundred reported cases of sexual violence since the 2011 uprising, El-Sisi’s move was seen by many as an effort to address the deteriorating conditions for women in post-revolutionary Egypt.

First Lady Phenomenon
The sharply contrasting images of Egyptian women today, and the dramatic deterioration of their rights and status after the January 25 uprising, can be explained partly by the way women’s rights were framed during the Mubarak era.

Since the year 2000, when the Mubarak government declared the importance of promoting women’s rights to meet the international legal obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and set up the National Council for Women (NCW), women’s rights were significantly advanced on legal terms, supported by what some observers call “state feminism” led by First Lady Suzanne Mubarak. The substantive progress made through the state-sponsored push for advancing women’s rights laid a critical foundation for improving the lives of Egyptian women and girls. But the effort was tainted by perceptions held by some that an authoritarian regime that suppressed freedom and social justice was instrumentalizing women’s rights in the name of modernization and to gain regime acceptance from Western partners and the international community at large.

Egypt’s recent history shows the importance of pushing a cause as important as gender equality and women’s empowerment with a movement supported by a large segment of the citizenry. Social transformation needs to evolve as a part of a wider social aspiration, growing beyond what is often referred to as the First Lady Syndrome. In Egypt, the limiting of the voice of civil society and of ordinary women prevented women’s rights from taking root in transforming the society. Top-down legislative action and policy development driven by the clout of the First Lady failed to sufficiently change the social norms and perceptions of ordinary citizens. This left the progress of the Mubarak years vulnerable to a regressive backlash.

Thus, when the first post-Mubarak elections brought conservative Islamist forces into government for the first time in Egypt’s history, the close association of the women’s rights movement with the Mubarak regime placed its accomplishments in a highly precarious position. The breakdown of law and order in the immediate aftermath of the uprising created the opportunity for a violent backlash against women seeking equal engagement in civic life. The shocking sexual assaults on women in the streets were manifestations of deep-rooted societal norms and perceptions about women’s right to choose and assert in public settings.

“Women Should Not Mingle with Men”
The first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, in December 2011 and January 2012, gave the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the ultra-conservative Salafists—groups that favored traditional roles for Egyptian women—a strong majority in parliament. Women’s representation comprised a mere 2 percent in the lower house and 2.8 percent in the upper house. Six months later Morsi narrowly won election as Egypt’s president on a platform showing no support for the empowerment of women. Morsi’s program of sixty-four promises to achieve in his first one hundred days in office included no reference to women’s rights or the societal barriers faced by women. Where women’s issues were mentioned, they focused on the family and women’s roles as mothers, not as citizens with equal rights and duties.

When the upper house of parliament took up a proposal to combat the violence against women, some suggested segregating them from men during public demonstrations. “Women should not mingle with men during protests,” Reda Al-Hefnawy, an MP of the FJP, declared. “How can the Ministry of Interior be tasked with protecting a lady who stands among a group of men?” While such comments reflected the mindset of some in positions of authority at the time, they also sparked a vibrant public debate that made ordinary women speak out against the curtailing of rights that women had won during the Mubarak era.

Especially in the last decade of his rule, Mubarak had overseen legislation that resulted in greater rights for women, particularly within the family domain. The most important and controversial among them was Law 1 of 2000, which guarantees women the right to file for divorce without the consent of the husband (known as the Khula Law), and the right to file for divorce in the case of unregistered marriages. Other measures included the adoption of a standard marriage contract permitting stipulations and allowing women to apply for a passport and thus to travel without spousal consent. Law 10 of 2004 introduced the system of family courts and Law 11 of 2004 established the Family Insurance Fund, a mechanism through which female litigants could collect court-ordered alimony and child support. Further, in 2008, the Child Law was amended to raise the minimum legal age of marriage to 18, criminalize female genital mutilation through the penal code, and grant children whose paternity is not proven the right to adopt their mother’s family name. Legislative amendments were made to extend the mother’s legal custody of children until they reach the age of 15. The amendment of the Egyptian Nationality Law No. 154 in 2004 gave children of Egyptian mothers married to a foreign national equal citizenship rights as children of Egyptian fathers.

However, as these changes were made through presidential decrees without sufficient change in the social climate, a backlash ensued from conservatives, including some members of the Egyptian judiciary. Once in power, the Muslim Brotherhood set its sights on repealing the reforms on the grounds that they violated sharia, or Islamic law. For example, Islamist member of parliament Montasser El-Zayat called for the repeal of family law legislation claiming that it had led to the breakdown of the Egyptian family. The president of the Family Appeals Court presented a draft proposal to the prime minister to amend the family law, including repealing the Khula Law, reducing maternal custody age to 7 for boys and 10 for girls, and enforcing a wife’s obedience by requiring her return to the marital home and ceasing alimony payments when her disobedience persists. The constitutional changes imposed by Morsi’s government in December 2012 were a further blow to women’s rights (as well as to civil rights and freedom in general); they referred to women only in the context of the family rather than as independent citizens with rights and duties.

Committee of Fifty
The moves to undo decades of progress in women’s rights in Egypt were met with strong condemnation and opposition by various women’s rights organizations and activists. The revolutionary spirit in the country combined with the growing onslaught against women during the Arab Spring years created a unique imperative for women to mobilize from the bottom up and press on for greater rights and social justice.

The renewed activism influenced the new constitution of 2014, which was drafted by the so-called Committee of Fifty after Morsi was ousted by the military amid a popular uprising against his rule in July 2013. The Committee of Fifty was more diverse than the constitution-drafting committee that operated under SCAF three years earlier. While the Committee of Fifty contained only five women (10 percent of the members), those women were highly visible and influential personalities in Egyptian society. Among them was Mervat Tallawy, the president of the National Council of Women; she had taken prominent stands against the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to roll back women’s rights, underlining their illegality under international frameworks such as CEDAW, ratified by Egypt, and various resolutions of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

The overall final outcome was the most progressive constitution in Egyptian history with respect to women’s rights, notwithstanding the disappointment of some liberal activists who pushed for expanded women’s rights such as a quota guaranteeing “fair” representation of women in the parliament (watered down to “appropriate” representation by the Committee of Fifty). One key achievement was to reinstitute the principle of gender equality that the 2012 constitution had removed. The constitution of 2014 explicitly states equality between men and women and stipulates the responsibility of the state to guarantee it.

Another significant victory was the provision guaranteeing the right of women to assume high positions in the state including in the judiciary, without prejudice to gender. The article on this in the constitution came after years of demanding women’s equal access to public and judicial positions. In support of the article, Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawqi Allam issued a religious ruling during the debates saying that it is permissible under sharia law for women to hold positions in the judiciary and the state. The new constitution also reaffirmed the many social rights for women introduced as decrees and amendments in the 2000s for the first time at the level of constitutional rights.

Other positive action was taken by the state in response to the wave of sexual assaults in public space. Interim President Adly Mansour issued a presidential decree to amend the penal code in 2014 to make sexual harassment a criminal act for the first time in Egyptian history. The adoption of the law was followed by efforts to strengthen police and judicial capacity in administering the provision of the law. While the Ministry of Interior as well as the judiciary struggle to secure sufficiently robust and appropriately trained staff to implement and uphold the law, there are signs that the commitment exists to move in that direction.

Beyond the state, various key social institutions also moved forward to take action to reduce violence against women. For example, anti-sexual harassment units were established at various public educational institutions. One of them is Cairo University, whose president has undergone an inspirational conversion; Gaber Nasser once blamed a female student’s attire for provoking sexual harassment, but has since become a staunch supporter of the HeForShe campaign promoted by UN Women, a global solidarity movement that calls on men and boys to become agents of change in promoting women’s rights.

Many others played their parts. HarrasMap, which started a campaign to encourage Egyptians to intervene to stop sexual harassment when they see it, and Operation Anti Sexual Harassment, which mobilizes to protect and support female protesters during demonstrations, are among almost countless groups and initiatives. Some employ innovative activism through the arts, such as Women on Walls, which uses graffiti to raise awareness and contribute to the empowerment of Arab women. These and many other civil society groups and on-the-ground activists undoubtedly proved an important force that raised public consciousness and pushed Egyptian authorities toward greater progress.

The Year of Women
The parliamentary election of 2015 brought further gains for Egyptian women: a record 14.9 percent representation in the 596-seat legislative assembly. In the balloting 75 women were elected, and another 14 were appointed to parliament by presidential prerogative.

Egyptian women’s right to vote and stand for election was first enshrined in the 1956 constitution and reaffirmed in subsequent constitutions. However, since obtaining their political rights, women’s parliamentary representation has been marginal, varying between 0.5 percent and 2.6 percent, except when the quota system and the proportional list system were adopted for the 1979, 1984, and 2010 elections. Between 1979 and 1984 women occupied 9 percent of seats in the People’s Assembly, and from 1984 to 1987 around 8.3 percent. In 2010, women’s representation reached 12 percent. For the first post-revolution parliamentary election held in late 2011 and early 2012 the quota was cancelled and women’s representation dropped to 2.2 percent. As a result of this decline, the 2013 “Women in National Parliaments” report issued by the Inter-Parliamentary Union gave Egypt a ranking of 136 among 190 countries. With women’s representation in the 2015 parliament up to the historic high of 14.9 percent, Egypt’s ranking is expected to rise.

However, in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report in November 2015, Egypt ranked 136 among 145 states, leading to headlines deploring Egypt’s position among the bottom ten countries in the world for this critical indicator of social progress. Even with the major advance of political representation factored in the 2016 ranking, Egypt ranked only slightly higher at 132 out of 144 countries. While the gender gap needs to be addressed on multiple fronts, a key challenge will be to make sure strong women’s representation in the current parliament leads to concrete gains for the society (including in, but not limited to, progress in legislative provisions and policies supporting women’s empowerment) and also that these gains in numbers are further translated in the elections for local councils expected in 2017, where the 2014 constitution guaranteed 25 percent women’s representation (equivalent to 13,500 elected seats across the nation).

The attitude of the regime and the voice of its top leader are important in shaping public opinion. From his early days in office, President El-Sisi has been on record acknowledging the increasing levels of sexual violence against women and publicly condemning sexual harassment. While El-Sisi’s many public comments commending Egyptian women initially may have been seen to be political pandering to a critical constituency, the president has taken several concrete steps toward empowering women.

Immediately following the inauguration of the Egyptian parliament in 2016, El-Sisi announced the renewal and rejuvenation of the National Council for Women, appointing an entirely new thirty-member board. The move has made the quasi-governmental body more diverse, with such figures as Mecca Abdel Mawla from Aswan, a rural woman who became a leader of her community by helping empower women. The NCW presidency was passed on to a younger generation with the election of Maya Morsy, a renowned Egyptian women’s rights advocate and a former UN Women country coordinator for Egypt and UN Development Programme regional gender practice team leader. In the context of Egypt today where women are key to solving many of the socioeconomic problems, the NCW in its new configuration could bridge various actors and harness a coalition of action including the grassroots movement of young Egyptians demanding improvement of women’s lives.

El-Sisi also appointed an equal number of women and men to the twenty-eight parliamentary seats that are the Egyptian president’s prerogative to fill. Among the appointed female parliamentarians was Caroline Maher, a human resources manager at a major Egyptian company, known as a leading advocate for Egyptians with disabilities (and as a local hero who became the first African and Arab woman to be inducted into the Taekwondo Hall of Fame). In a political and social environment where role models for youth and especially women are in short supply, such women in political office advance the empowerment of women by changing mindsets. El-Sisi’s designation of 2017 as the Year of Women also sends the right signal and suggests that the government will adopt economic and social policies with greater sensitivity to the needs of women.

Looking back on the turbulent years since 2011, there is a silver lining for women’s rights: the fight against regression brought activism to a new level of intensity, which in turn enabled the cause to become more deeply rooted in the minds of Egyptians throughout the country. Ultimate success will depend on whether women’s empowerment becomes a movement owned by the people and supported by the state, rather than the other way around.

In advancing the women’s empowerment agenda in the context of various social tensions, especially in non-Western, traditionalist contexts, it is worth noting that traditional feminist language and approaches may need to be recalibrated. The agenda and its ultimate goals may stand a better chance of becoming a national priority if the parlance and approaches used in advancing it are tightly tied to the local current needs and context. Progress may be best attained when the focus on women’s rights is less pronounced in advocacy of rights per se but rather embedded in the sine qua non for economic growth and social progress. It is heartening to see the leaders of the Egyptian women’s movement in government and in the civil society today engaged in such bigger picture thinking and navigating with sensitivity.

There is still a need to change structural and unconscious biases that limit the potential of women, and instead emphasize how women’s contributions can help build a healthy, safe, and prosperous society. While one can heave a sigh of relief that women’s legal rights were reinstituted and strengthened in the 2014 Egyptian constitution, the deeply rooted social norms and perceptions that limit women’s rights and allow gender-based bias never changed regardless of which side was in power. Hence, changing perceptions about women is an indispensable requirement for the social progress and economic development that Egypt so desperately needs. This should be a top priority for the government and all Egyptian citizens going forward as they aspire to build a healthy, stable, and prosperous Egypt where all its citizens can live in dignity.

Miwa Kato is regional director for Asia Pacific at the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, known as UN Women. She was UN Women’s country director for Egypt from 2015 to 2016. She previously served in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Story of an Egyptian Man

Violent. Aggressive. Brutal. Misogynist. Anti-Western. Anti-modern. Fundamentalist. Terrorist. Oppressor. Abuser.

Such are the stereotypes of Middle Eastern/Arab/Muslim men (obviously distinct categories yet often conflated) perpetuated by the Western media. The stereotypes not only stigmatize and marginalize but they also re-inscribe the division between “us and them” and recreate associations that contrast “our” enlightened ways with “their” backwardness. At the same time, such depictions deny Arab/Muslim men the status of human beings who deserve compassion, protection, and recognition.

Lost both in the popular discourse as well as in most existing literature on gender are the daily struggles and realities of Muslim men and the affective connections and ethics of care that tie them to their families, including female relatives. My ethnographic research over the past ten years in a low-income neighborhood in northern Cairo has been geared toward challenging simplistic and reductionist assumptions by focusing on the daily life of men and how they work (in collaboration with others, particularly female relatives) to materialize social values that define them as gendered subjects. My research seeks to highlight the importance of class, which, over the past two decades has been largely sidelined in analyses of gender in the Middle East.

Looking at the intersection between gender and class allows us to see the category “men” as a diversified group of agents who are positioned differently in the socioeconomic and political landscape. It helps us appreciate how one’s material, cultural, and social capital are deeply linked to the ability to materialize gender norms that define a proper man.

Here I would like to share the story of Samer,* an auto shop worker now approaching his late forties, whose “masculine trajectory” I have had the opportunity to follow over the past two decades. A masculine trajectory is the process of becoming a man. It aims to capture the contextual and shifting nature of masculinity and how men are expected to materialize different norms over their lifespan. Gender and class intersect in powerful ways in shaping this trajectory and how a man’s standing is evaluated, affirmed, and redefined by various social agents, including female relatives. Rather than a linear sequence of predetermined and fixed roles, the notion of masculine trajectory aims to account for the ups and downs, the successes and failures, and the expected and emerging discourses and challenges that shape a man’s standing in society.

Countering stereotypes and elaborating the humanness of men is not to present them as perfect and flawless creatures who transcend the limitations of their bodies and class positions. Rather, it is to capture men’s continuous struggle with patriarchal norms, market forces, and broader political systems that shape their access to economic and cultural resources. It is to account for the strengths, vulnerabilities, and intimacies that are key to the daily life of men and how these are shaped by broader forces and other actors. In Samer’s case, I noticed that as a young man he was recognized for his bravery, generosity, and decency. But over the past six years I have observed a shift in his masculine trajectory. His attempts to be a good husband and father have encountered the changing and challenging economic and political conditions that profoundly shape daily life in Cairo. Such factors affect the ability of men like Samer to live up to the social norms that define them as proper men.

Finding a Spouse
When Samer got married in 2010, everybody who knew him was delighted. A likable man, who was known for his courage, kindness, and helpfulness, Samer wedded at the age of 40, later than most of his close friends and relatives, who tended to marry in their late twenties or early thirties. Samer worked in an auto shop for several years in Libya. He had been engaged twice before, but broke the first engagement (when he was in his late twenties) because his fiancé insisted on continuing to work as a nurse in a nearby hospital and the second engagement (in his early thirties) ended due to the increasing financial demands of the young woman and her family. In 2010, Samer was introduced to Karima,* a delightful 38-year-old nurse who worked in a private hospital in another neighborhood. As a career woman, Karima had accumulated all the household goods newlyweds would need for a new home; the couple quickly became engaged and married within a few months. Karima was considered lucky by many people around her. In her neighborhood, an unmarried woman in her thirties is often considered a spinster and her marriage opportunities become limited. She might have to accept undesirable marriage proposals from much older men who are widowed or divorced. Samer was also happy with the match because he was eager to get married as quickly as possible and Karima’s readiness made the process quick and smooth.

Due to the limited housing options within their financial reach, they had to move out of the neighborhood where they had both grown up to a small apartment Samer had purchased while working in Libya in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Cairo. At first, they both kept in close contact with relatives, neighbors, and friends in their original neighborhood but they also started cultivating connections with their new neighbors. Samer became known in his new quarter as a caring and brave man, especially after helping a female neighbor, who screamed for help because her son was “kidnapped.” Without thinking about it, Samer chased the abductor for a while before the man and the child got into a car that was waiting in a side street. (It turned out that the “kidnapper” was the father of the child.) The neighbors were impressed by Samer’s courage and his reputation was bolstered.

At a younger age, the compliments Samer received from others about his daring and gallantry pleased him and his family and constituted him as a proper man. While both Samer and his wife were proud of his standing in their new neighborhood, achieved in part by his courage in chasing the “kidnapper,” other social norms had begun to exert pressure on the couple: at Samer’s age, values and desires such as providing and fatherhood had become even more important. Fatherhood in particular became central to his masculine trajectory and his personal desire and social expectation to have a child became salient in his life. Most men in his neighborhood, including his close friends, usually become fathers during their late twenties or early thirties. Having children for Egyptians is very important not only because like people everywhere they love children, but also because bearing children consolidates the status of the married couple and transforms their social standing. Many couples aspire for a first pregnancy as soon as they get married because having a child during the first year of marriage is expected and highly celebrated.

Becoming a Parent
Samer and Karima were a good match. By the time they got married, they were clearly in love and were eager to see each other happy. Their lives, however, changed in unexpected ways in the ensuing years. The first complication was their inability to get pregnant as quickly as they hoped. They so much desired to have a baby and took it for granted that pregnancy would occur immediately after their marriage. Because of their advancing ages and because Samer was famous for being so caring and gentle with his nephews and nieces, Samer’s family felt for him when his wife did not get pregnant within a few months of their wedding. They encouraged Karima not to wait for long before seeing a doctor. Faced with frustration, Samer and Karima began a long process of medical consultations, tests, and treatment. Finally in 2015, Karima gave birth to their baby girl after almost five years of marriage. The baby was born prematurely, and the parents had to draw on different economic and social resources to ensure the baby got the care she needed. First, the hospital where the delivery took place did not have an incubator and Samer had to shuttle between different hospitals until he found a functioning incubator to rent. Second, because Karima had a cesarean section and a complicated insurance plan, she had to be hospitalized in a different hospital, away from her baby. So she called on her nursing colleagues in the hospital where her daughter was staying to be sure the baby was receiving proper attention. Both she and Samer described the agonizing days they spent before knowing if their baby was going to make it or not. They were both thrilled the day the little girl left the hospital but with a hefty bill for the parents to pay. Karima had to pull strings within her professional and social networks to have the huge hospital bill reduced to a more affordable amount.

During their journey to parenthood, Samer and Karima experienced financial and emotional challenges that caused great suffering. They had to endure several setbacks, including a miscarriage and the great expense of several rounds of treatment. In addition to the financial worries, they also felt the pressure of time. When Samer was looking for a suitable wife, he often compared himself to some of his close friends, whose children were teenagers, and worried about living in good health long enough to raise his own children. As an auto body worker who relied heavily on his physical strength, he was mindful of how his stamina and ability to work for long hours under difficult conditions was becoming weaker. These anxieties intensified when his wife did not become pregnant immediately and he found it difficult to face disappointments and setbacks. During this period, his wife and family were a major source of support and they all were delighted when Karima became pregnant and it was clear that she would carry the baby to term.

In anticipation of the arrival of their baby, the couple decided to take an important step to improve Samer’s work conditions. At the age of 45 and having developed several health problems (mainly linked to his digestive system and injuries sustained during work), it was becoming difficult for him to work long and hard hours in an auto body repair shop. Leveraging her salary, Karima took the brave step of taking a bank loan of 100,000 Egyptian pounds (about $14,000 at the time) to buy a new minivan for Samer. This was a substantial amount of money but the couple thought it would be a wise investment that would enable Samer to transition to a less exhausting and better-paying occupation. The plan was that Samer would become a driver, using his new minivan to deliver material for shop owners in different parts of the city. With the baby on the way, and a new job for Samer set in motion, all seemed perfect in their lives.

A few days after Karima gave birth, disaster struck. It is the norm in Egypt that after giving birth new mothers take their babies and spend the first week or so being cared for at the homes of their own mothers. Although Karima’s mother was ailing she nonetheless decided to follow the custom. The mother had recently moved into an area on the outskirts of Cairo to be near another married but stay-at-home daughter who could look after her. Arriving one evening to spend the night with his wife and baby, Samer parked his minivan on the street and unwittingly fell into an extortion scheme.

Samer was awakened by a dreadful call. “Are you the owner of such and such a car?” the voice on the other side of the line asked. When Samer answered yes, he heard what many car owners in Cairo have come to dread since the 2011 revolution brought a surge in crime. The male voice declared that his gang had the minivan and demanded 20,000 Egyptian pounds (about $3,000 at the time) to return it. The shocking development filled Samer with rage. How could someone do such a thing to him, a man known for his courage and strength? But then, this was not his neighborhood. He was unknown here. He did not have the reputation that, in his own neighborhood, would have ensured the protection of his property. None of these neighbors knew him or would intervene to prevent the theft of his vehicle.

Fearful that Samer’s rage might lead to precipitous action and tragic results, Karima’s family suggested that her brother negotiate with the carjackers. Samer’s brother-in-law pleaded with the caller and managed to reduce the ransom to 5,000 pounds, which they strained to gather quickly as demanded. The brother-in-law was instructed to go to a certain place and drop off the 5,000 pounds in a designated spot, and to then find the minivan parked at a nearby gas station. He left the money as ordered, but then spent hours searching unsuccessfully for the minivan. When he arrived back home, Samer knew even before the man spoke that they had been deceived.

The loss was financially crippling. Samer and Karima lost the minivan and had very little disposable income left as most of Karima’s salary was paying the monthly installments to the bank for the minivan. Plus they had the additional expense of caring for a new baby.

The couple’s families recognized the enormity of the loss and fully sympathized with their plight. They offered material and emotional support whenever possible. But it was Karima who shouldered most of the burden. In addition to caring for their baby and home, she was now forced to resume fulltime work just a few weeks after giving birth. She considered herself lucky because the hospital where she worked had a daycare center, so she could take the infant with her and take breaks to nurse during the day. Despite the long hours it took her to get to and from work and the many hours she had to work, Karima was thrilled to be a mother and wanted her husband to fully enjoy the experience of being a father.

The blow to Samer’s standing as a man, however, was too great. The carjacking was materially and morally devastating, and deeply wounded his pride and dignity. He could not shake his anger, and spent many days checking with various police stations hoping to learn any positive news about the minivan. Samer’s fury over the stolen vehicle was compounded by his despair over the bank debt and his crushed dream of the better job he needed for his role as provider to ensure a bright future for his child. He was left with little that could help him be the type of father he had hoped to be. He sunk into a state of mourning and could not shake the terrible sense of loss he felt. Day after day he sat at home chain-smoking, lacking energy or motivation to work.

Karima sought the help of her husband’s family and, with their joint efforts—encouraging, comforting, pressuring, scolding, supporting—they managed after a few months to lift Samer out of his funk and back into the job market. He found work in an auto body shop located just across the street from his apartment. Initially, he was content; he was working on his own and did not have anyone to report to. Yet, shortly afterwards his employer let him go because of the downturn in the Egyptian economy. He found another job, but at a distant location demanding several modes of transportation and more than an hour of commuting time each way. He also had to accept the fact that, in this new job, younger men exercised authority over him. This signaled a sort of demotion for a man of his age who should be managing his own workshop, supervising several younger men and boys who are working for him and training to become ustas, masters of the profession.

Samer had indeed tried to establish his own workshop a few years before he met Karima, but the project failed. While everybody raved about the high quality of Samer’s work, he was frequently admonished by his siblings and coworkers for not following business practices that quantified time and turned hours into money. The more time he spent on a car to ensure the high quality he believed in, the less money he earned for himself and for the workshop. After several months of not being able to earn enough to pay the bills, he had to close that workshop and go back to working for a daily wage.

Dreams and Struggles
When I visited him in 2015, Samer seemed on the way to being a broken man who, at the age of 45, was feeling old and worn out. The glory of his youth, focused largely on his strength, bravery, and generosity, which were key to his standing as a man, became a distant memory that was not enough to offer him and others the type of validation that would make him a respected man. As a husband and father, it was his ability not only to protect and aid but to also provide and show care that became central to his standing as a man. His limited options and the family’s increasing reliance on his wife’s salary had placed him in an awkward situation and subjected him to explicit and implicit criticisms by family members and friends. A “proper” man would usually ask his wife to stop working after marriage or, if she is keen on continuing to work, would show clear disinterest in her salary and make a point of covering all the household expenses. In fact, Samer himself broke a previous engagement because he did not want his future wife to work and often stated that he did not want a working wife. So, for Samer to be unemployed or underemployed and sometimes needing pocket money from his wife changed the gender dynamics that define the relationship between men and women, and husbands and wives. His lack of financial resources have also undermined his relationship with his family in general, and his sisters and mother in particular. He is not able, even when one of them is sick, to offer the expected material support. Thus, he has resorted to distancing himself from his family and rarely visits them.

Such shifts are particularly problematic in a neoliberal Cairo, where men are responsible for securing good education for their children, providing adequate housing, paying for health services, and supplying daily foods and expenses. These social expectations and the ability to meet them are central to the standing of men and the recognition they garner from others. Men like Samer are often held responsible for what in reality are the failings of the state and the forces of the market. Samer clearly wanted to continue to materialize the social norms that expect him to be a good provider; the broader political and economic conditions as well as his aging body and deteriorating health limited this possibility. Samer and his wife planned, borrowed money, and tried hard to secure new opportunities that could help their family flourish. Yet, their efforts were frustrated by forces beyond their control.

The struggles of men like Samer are lost in media coverage of the lives of Muslim/Middle Eastern/Arab men. Stories like his don’t make news, which focuses on violence. Even when the Islamic State terrorist group slaughters Egyptian expatriate workers like Samer in Libya, we hear more about the killers than the victims and their aspirations and sacrifices. Yet it is important to learn stories like Samer’s to appreciate masculinity as a process of becoming and how a man’s standing changes over his life span and is strongly linked to his ability to negotiate different (and sometimes competing) economic and social demands and expectations. Such stories also help show how men in the Middle East are a differentiated group. They belong to different classes, religions, places of origin, and age groups. They might be single and working to find a spouse. They might be sons who take care of their older parents or parents who work for long hours under difficult conditions to secure the future of their children. They might be unemployed (or underemployed) or they might have to work in several jobs to secure enough money to provide for their loved ones.

To overcome dominant stereotypes and simplifications, we need to be mindful of the diversity of positions of men in the socioeconomic and political landscape of a country like Egypt. We need to humanize them by accounting for their dreams, struggles, successes, and vulnerabilities.

*The names used in this essay are pseudonyms to protect confidentiality.

Farha Ghannam is professor of anthropology at Swarthmore College. She is the author of Live and Die Like a Man: Gender Dynamics in Urban Egypt and Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo; and co-editor of Health and Identity in Egypt.

Acts of Annihilation

Camps for internally displaced persons dot the countryside around Duhok in northern Iraq. It is here, in tents and cargo containers, that the majority of the world’s Yazidis now live. Adherents of one of the world’s oldest religions, most fled their homeland, the nearby Sinjar region, in August 2014 as they came under attack by the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS. Thousands, however, were captured. Those who eventually returned to their community—who escaped, were rescued, or most often, who were sold back to their families—related tales of horrific abuse and bloodshed. In 2016, the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic determined that ISIS committed the crime of genocide, as well as multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes, in its coordinated assault on the Yazidis. By all accounts, the Yazidi genocide is continuing.

The ISIS campaign to eradicate the Yazidi community is an instrumental case of the central role that gender plays in the crime of genocide. Most of the living victims of the Yazidi genocide are female. Almost all survivors, whether female or male, have had male relatives killed by ISIS. Survivors, though taken from different villages, held in different locations, and sold back to their families at different times, have given near-identical descriptions of their experiences in ISIS captivity. The criminal acts against the Yazidis were carried out with a high degree of organization. Every encounter began in exactly the same way: ISIS fighters ordering the separation of men and adolescent boys from women and children. The crimes that followed depended, primarily, on the 
gender of the victim.

The Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, defines genocide as the commission of a prohibited act with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group—commonly referred to as “protected” groups. Prohibited acts include: killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about a protected group’s physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of a protected group to another group.

The primary aim of those who perpetrate genocide is not to take control of territory, spread terror, seize resources, or achieve a particular military objective—though such motivations may also be present. Rather, the perpetrators of genocide are driven by the absolute belief that the targeted group must be eradicated for the benefit of the society they are building.

As such, the perpetrators are heavily invested in fantasies of their own superiority. Before and during genocides, they emphasize their role as a purifying force while dehumanizing their victims. To the adherents of the ISIS ideology, the Yazidis are “devil-worshippers”; in earlier genocides, Armenians were seen as “tubular microbes,” the Rwandan Tutsis as “cockroaches.” Often (but not necessarily) taking place under the cover of warfare, genocide seeks the destruction of a particular group of people as a perceived necessary step to return a nation to actual or imagined former glory, whether that “nation” be Nazi Germany, Slobodan Milošević’s Serbia, Rwanda’s Hutu Power, or ISIS.

Genocide is principally a crime of intent, not one of scale. In common parlance, genocide is often understood to signify organized mass killings. While mass killings are a common facet of genocides, the crime may also be—and often is—perpetrated through non-lethal acts, such as sexual violence.

The distinction between genocide and other crimes is illustrated by the Khmer Rouge atrocities between 1975 and 1979 in Democratic Kampuchea, now Cambodia. During its brief reign, the Khmer Rouge killed nearly two million people. Although colloquially referred to as the “Cambodian genocide,” the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia determined that, for most of the crimes, victims were targeted because they belonged (or were perceived to belong) to a political group, or to a particular social class, which are not protected groups under the Genocide Convention. Consequently, the majority of the crimes, including the mass killings, were charged as crimes against humanity, not genocide.

The Genocide Convention, together with the jurisprudence of international tribunals, forms the legal basis for linking gender-based crimes to genocide. The Genocide Convention sprung from the work and lobbying of the Polish legal scholar Raphael Lemkin, who became interested in the concept of group extermination while studying the assault on Armenians by the Ottoman Turks and coined the term genocide in the context of the Holocaust. In his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Lemkin wrote that genocide is “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.” It is thus through the underlying strategy, implementation, and outcome of genocidal acts that the connection between gender and genocide is best understood.

“They Took All the Men and the Boys”
While both males and females belonging to the victim group may be killed during genocidal campaigns, it is men and boys who are disproportionately targeted for execution. This was the case in the Nazi extermination of European Jewry, the Hutu genocide against Rwandan Tutsis, the Serbian massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica, as well as in the Yazidi genocide. “They took all the men and boys, everyone masculine from the age of two. … Any boy who could walk was taken. They were put to one side…[and] killed nearby,” said a female survivor of an April 1994 massacre in southwestern Rwanda in an account recorded by African Rights in its report “Rwanda: Death, Despair and Defiance.” Twenty years later in August 2014, Yazidi men and boys would be similarly selected for execution. As a Yazidi girl told the Commission of Inquiry, “After we were captured, ISIS forced us to watch them beheading some of our Yazidi men.”

The disproportionate killing of men and boys occurs even in “root and branch” genocides, such as the Holocaust, where the objective is the complete annihilation of the targeted group. The Nazi regime’s genocidal attacks initially focused on Jewish men and then, progressively, on other members of the group. Sometimes the gender-based killings have occurred in such large numbers that it contributed to significant demographic imbalances in the sex ratio of post-genocide populations. “Rwanda has become a country of women,” observed a Human Rights Watch report issued in 1996 titled “Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and Its Aftermath.” The report found that an estimated 70 percent of Rwanda’s population was female following the slaughter.

Males, particularly men and adolescent boys, are targeted because they occupy gendered roles that genocide’s perpetrators find particularly threatening: those of community leaders, political figures, and fighters. It is due to the belief—and in most societies, the fact—that men hold the power in a nation’s public life, and hence their physical destruction becomes a priority. Moreover, in patriarchal cultures where men hold the dominant positions as well in private life, killing males is the ultimate assertion of dominance over the women and children belonging to the same group. “You have no husband. I am your husband now,” said an ISIS fighter to a captured Yazidi woman.

Male survivors often describe knowing instinctively that, as men and boys, they would be targeted for execution. The Africa Rights report determined that “the primary target of the hunt [for survivors of the early-stage massacres] were Tutsi men, particularly what extremist propaganda portrayed as the ‘ultimate’ enemy—rich men, men between their twenties and forties, especially if they were well-educated professionals or students.” In Rwanda, the killings of male Tutsis soon extended to young boys and infants. Members of the Interahamwe, the Hutu militia, tore clothes off children to ensure boys were not dressed in girls’ attire as a ruse to escape execution. Such killings, when committed with the requisite intent, constitute genocide.

In patrilineal cultures, such as that of the Bosnian Muslim community, where the ethnic and religious identity of the child is passed down from his or her father, the selection and killing of male members of a group is a prohibited act under the Genocide Convention’s prohibition on measures intended to prevent births within the group. In Yazidi society, both parents must be Yazidis for a child to be considered part of the Yazidi religious group. The very act of separating men from women—a separation made permanent by killing—makes it impossible for a new generation of Yazidis to be born.

Acts of Barbarity
Genocidal sexual violence is most often but not wholly directed against female members of the targeted group. Many genocidal campaigns have explicitly and implicitly sanctioned sexual violence, as is the case of the sexual enslavement of Armenian women and girls by the Ottoman Turks—echoes of which reverberate in ISIS’s holding of Yazidi females in sexual slavery. Sexual violence, while not as efficient a strategy of group annihilation as killing, is a shockingly effective means of both destroying the individual victim and tearing apart the community from which she or he comes.

Rape, sexual enslavement, and other forms of sexual violence, when carried out with the intention to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, are strategies through which genocide is committed. This was a point often missed in news coverage of the Yazidi genocide—reports dwelled on ISIS’s holding of Yazidi women and girls as sex slaves, with no attempt, or perhaps no understanding of the need, to place sexual violence within a continuum of genocidal destruction.

In the landmark case of Rwandan local official Jean-Paul Akayesu in 1998, a trial chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda determined that the targeting of members of a protected group for rape and other acts of sexual violence constituted “causing seriously bodily or mental harm,” a prohibited act under the Genocide Convention. The chamber ruled: “Rapes resulted in physical and psychological destruction of Tutsi women, their families and their communities. Sexual violence was an integral part of the process of destruction, specifically targeting Tutsi women and specifically contributing to their destruction and to the destruction of the Tutsi group as a whole.” The chamber concluded: “Sexual violence was a step in the process of the destruction of the Tutsi group—destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself.”

Sexual violence, when employed as a genocidal strategy, aims to destroy the victim as an incremental step to annihilating the group. It is simultaneously an assault on the victim, and on the existence, identity, and cohesiveness of the group. Sexual violence may leave survivors with profound physical and mental wounds. As a means of destroying the victim group, it has been particularly effective when employed in more strongly patriarchal cultures where women and girls carry the burden of the family’s honor and where their protection is believed to be the ultimate responsibility of their male relatives. In such contexts, female survivors of sexual violence are more likely to be cast out by their own community, left unable to marry, abandoned by their husbands, or—in the extreme—killed in order to remove the stain of the family’s “lost honor.” Sexual violence may also act as a measure preventing births, where the women and girls are so traumatized that they develop anxieties around any contact with men, and/or an unwillingness to procreate. Sexual violence against a group’s female members is also often perpetrated and understood as a means of deliberate attack on the group’s men, or more specifically on the gender roles that men are expected to play. Where men are expected to act as protectors of their female relatives and the female members of their particular group more generally, they may interpret the rape of “their” women as evidence of their own powerlessness, and thus, as a cogent assault on their identity as men.

Strategies of genocidal sexual violence differ between cultures. In Rwanda, rape was ubiquitous; the UN special rapporteur, in his 1996 report on human rights in Rwanda, determined that “rape was the rule and its absence, the exception.” The particularly brutal manner in which the rapes were committed betrayed deep suspicions within Rwandan culture toward Tutsi women and girls.

A remnant of Rwanda’s colonial past, Tutsi women were seen as (and were believed to see themselves as) an elite group, superior to Hutu women in beauty, intelligence, and charm. These prejudices filtered into fixations of nascent Hutu supremacists. Four of the infamous “Hutu Ten Commandments,” published in the December 1990 edition of Kangura (a Hutu supremacist newspaper whose editor, Hassan Ngeze, was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity before the international criminal tribunal in 2003), fixated on the supposed duplicity of Tutsi women.

The Rwandan genocide proceeded with a massive unleashing of barbarous sexual and gender-based violence targeting Tutsi women and girls. Men and boys belonging to the Interahamwe militia gang-raped Tutsi women and girls. They also raped them with objects, including bottles, stones, and tree branches. Some victims had boiling water poured on their genitals, or their breasts cut off. Interahamwe militia members afforded no respect for pregnant women, cutting open their wombs and killing the fetuses before killing the mother. Some Tutsi mothers were forced to kill their young sons in order to spare their other children. Interahamwe militia members were presented with Tutsi women and girls to rape as a reward for their commitment to the genocide. Female survivors reported their rapists calling them “arrogant” and explaining that the rapes were a punishment for their perceived contempt for Hutu men. Some Tutsi women were forced into sexual servitude (which was sometimes presented as forced marriage) in exchange for their lives. There was a strong class element to this, as the perpetrators then gained control over the women’s property. These non-consensual “relationships” broadcast more widely the dominance of the Hutus over the Tutsis, through the destruction of the Tutsi woman or girl, and by highlighting the inability of Tutsi men to protect them.

A large number of Tutsi women and girls were executed after rapes. In many cases the sexual violence itself was employed as the means of killing, usually as a result of impalement with objects or blood loss following sexual mutilations. Some 67 percent of Tutsi females who survived the genocide were infected with the HIV virus contracted during genocidal rapes. Many later died of AIDS, meaning that the killing of Tutsi women and girls continued for years after the genocide was seen to have ended. Even where the victim survived, the perpetrators caused severe and sometimes irreparable physical and mental harm, a prohibited act under the Genocide Convention. The psychological damage was magnified when the rapes resulted in pregnancies that were carried to term.

Giving Birth to Their “Masters”
During the Bosnian War, campaigns of forced impregnation of non-Serbian (and particularly Bosnian Muslim) women and adolescent girls became the hallmark of the sexual violence perpetrated by Serbian forces. These violations were charged in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as war crimes and crimes against humanity and not as genocide, possibly due to concern about proving the special intent to destroy the group in whole or in part to the required standard of proof. Nonetheless, the gendered facets of the crimes are instructive. Serbian soldiers and paramilitary fighters were encouraged to carry out rapes, including at camps established across Bosnia where women were held and raped repeatedly for months on end. One woman, a witness before the tribunal, testified that she had been raped approximately 150 times over a four-day period at a school and a sports hall in Foča, a small Bosnian town where she was held.

The 1994 Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts found that women and girls who became pregnant were denied abortions and forced to carry the pregnancies to term. In a patrilineal society, this has profoundly negative consequences for the women and girls, and for any children born of these rapes. The overlapping aims of the Serbs in seeking to rape and forcibly impregnate non-Serbian women and girls included: the creation of an ethnically homogenous Serbian community through the birthing of Serb babies; the prevention of reproduction of Bosnian Muslims; the physical and psychological obliteration of the direct victim and, through her, the non-Serb group to which she belonged; the shaming of the victims with all the social consequences that might ensue; and the assertion of the dominance and masculinity of the Serbs as seen visibly in the forced pregnancies of the Bosnian Muslim women and in the resulting children, who would have to be considered Serbs.

Many of the same aims were at work in ISIS’s sexual enslavement of Yazidi women and girls over the age of 9. While ISIS has not embarked on a campaign of forced impregnation (in part because pregnancies would limit fighters’ ability to resell Yazidi females on to other fighters), the group nonetheless considers any resulting offspring as Muslim, “children of the Islamic State.” In an article titled “The Revival of Slavery before the Hour,” published in its English-language magazine Dabiq, ISIS presented its adherence to a theory of patrilineage in the distressing phrase “the slave girl gives birth to her master.”

The sexual violence perpetrated by ISIS against Yazidi women and girls caused them serious bodily and mental harm. Some women were so traumatized by the sexual violence they had suffered that, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, they “did not want to marry, or to contemplate relationships with men now or in the future. This was compounded by a sense that they had lost their honor.” The Commission, drawing from the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice, determined that Yazidi women and girls “were subjected to organized sexual violence on a massive scale occurring in the context of their sexual enslavement” that amounted also to inflicting conditions of life on the group capable of bringing about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

Genocidal sexual violence also may be perpetrated against men and boys from targeted national, ethnic, racial, and religious groups. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia heard evidence in multiple cases of the rape, sexual assault, and sexual mutilation of men held in Serbian and Bosnian detention. While the perpetrators were charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes rather than genocide, the gendered rationale for this sexual violence also applies to genocidal sexual violence. Rape and other forms of sexual violence serve not only to inflict pain but also to humiliate and disempower the men, challenge both their masculinity and heterosexuality, and assert the supremacy of those directing the sexual violence. As is the case for female victims, the psychological damage resulting from the sexual violence can be so profound that men had difficulty building relationships and/or refused to procreate even years after the crimes had taken place.

In the Armenian and Yazidi genocides, children were taken from their families and forced into gendered roles, as conceived by their aggressors. Young Armenian boys were removed from their families and given to Turkish families. There they were given Muslim names, forcibly converted to Islam, and used for labor. For Yazidi boys aged 7 and above, this meant being forced into ISIS training camps where they were given Muslim names, instructed on how to follow Islam as interpreted by ISIS, and trained to fight. Later, these trained “converted” boys were made to fight in battles as part of ISIS forces. Yazidi girls aged 9 and above (and nearly a century earlier, Armenian girls) were taken from their mothers and sold into sexual slavery. While in captivity they were also forced to undertake domestic work—cooking and cleaning in the living quarters of their fighter-owners—which is to say, work compatible with their perceived gender roles.

To examine the gendered dimensions of genocide does not, as it is sometimes feared, mean that the crime against the individual is obscured by genocide being defined as a crime committed against a group. It was of particular concern to some feminist jurists that women and girls were not treated simply as vessels through which the perpetrators seek to achieve the destruction of a targeted group. This unease was particularly forceful when it came to crimes of sexual violence that, historically in international legal documents, had been described in terms of women’s “honor” and not as a crime of violence. These concerns have largely been allayed, in part because of the careful analysis and wording of the Akayesu judgment, but largely because of a greater recognition of the intersectionality of crimes: that is to say that victims are targeted because they are members of a particular national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, and because of their gender (or indeed their age or class).

Courage of the Yazidis
Focusing on the gendered nature of genocide brings us to a better appreciation of how the crime of genocide arises and how and why perpetrators implement it in the ways that they do. Gaining such an understanding has practical consequences for responses to nascent and ongoing genocides, and for humanitarian interventions in post-genocidal nations. In communities at risk of genocide, careful monitoring should be conducted to track any attempt to separate males and females of a group, with consideration being given to the prioritized evacuation of men and boys, they arguably being the most immediately at risk. In post-genocidal societies where a facet of the genocide had involved sexual violence (whether directed at females and/or males), specialized and adequately resourced counseling should be put in place. Specific resources should be dedicated to testing for and treating sexually transmitted diseases including but not limited to HIV. And the provision of safe, easily accessible abortion services should be made a priority for women and girls made pregnant by rape.

Where genocide has resulted in a disproportionately female population, particularly in patriarchal communities, a system to alert authorities to an increase in early marriages, or reports of honor killings, should be put in place. Attention must be paid also to any indications of a rise in polygamous relationships, particularly where this had not been a feature of the relevant society in recent years. Equally, longer-term strategies to promote female education, skills training, and employment should be implemented to ensure greater female political, social, and economic independence. A good in itself, this is also the most effective way to ensure that any marriages, or relationships entered into, spring from choice and not the vagaries of financial hardship. That children may grow up with few male role models within their own community is an issue that may need to be addressed in child education and mentoring programs.

The Yazidi community is providing an example of how a targeted group can respond in order to protect and reassert its identity and consequently minimize the impact genocide has on a community. Since the onset of the ISIS genocide campaign, Yazidis have slightly loosened the strictures on gender-appropriate behavior. Yazidi women have joined fighting units and, following training, have been involved in military action to recapture Sinjar from ISIS. The ensuing sense of autonomy and agency has had an empowering effect on Yazidi women and has challenged some of the preconceptions of the roles Yazidi women may play in their society. The Yazidi community has supported (and indeed pressured) men to embrace their wives and daughters who have been enslaved by ISIS; this has made them better positioned to understand the trauma suffered by their female relatives and provided them with the opportunity to take more responsibility for the emotional health of their families.

ISIS’s ongoing attack has enabled Yazidis to set aside many of the expected social consequences of being a victim of sexual violence. Yazidis seem to recognize that as a strategy of genocide, the assaults on women and girls are acts of violence against the group rather than against females as individuals. As a result, no shame or blame is projected on to the victim. Their religious leaders have stated that the survivors of sexual slavery remain Yazidi and are to be accepted by the community. This embrace rather than ostracism of female survivors has provided a space in which those who were unmarried at the time of capture can still marry within the faith, and in which those who are married are more likely to be accepted and supported by their husbands and extended families. This has allowed the group to maintain its cohesiveness, by supporting and including individuals who belong to it.

An important development is the championing of Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a young Yazidi woman enslaved by ISIS for several months, who has become the UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. Her courage in speaking out enables other Yazidi women and girls to feel more comfortable in discussing the crimes they themselves suffered and witnessed. In recognizing the trauma of the Yazidi women and girls and rallying around them, the Yazidis have reinforced their group bonds and reduced the destructive impact of the genocide on their community. One further consequence will be better documentation, which will aid future accountability processes bringing ISIS members to justice for the Yazidi genocide.

Sareta Ashraph is the global practitioner-in-residence at Stanford Law School. From 2012 to 2016 she served as the legal analyst on the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. She previously was an analyst for the UN International Commission of Inquiry on Libya, legal advisor to the Office of the Public Counsel for the Defence at the International Criminal Court, and Counsel for Defence before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. On Twitter: @SaretaAshraph.

Egypt, Rebranded

In mid-March 2015, I flew into Sharm El-Sheikh airport. The runway sits on a flat strip of sand between the Red Sea and the city’s “Ring of Steel” security wall, beyond which the Sinai mountain range, dotted with sunken canyons and high gardens filled with pomegranates, almonds, and mulberries, stretches for more than a hundred miles to the north. There were helicopter gunships circling low around the airport perimeter as I landed, and the highways from the airport were lined with Egyptian special forces units—balaclavas over their heads, black goggles over their eyes—baking silently in the desert heat. Large billboards were dotted around the town, featuring the word “Welcome” in English, alongside the logos of major Egyptian and multinational companies. At the International Congress Center, behind a series of military checkpoints, signs proclaimed “Egypt The Future” and flags fluttered in the wind.

Inside the center, corporate executives and Western politicians were slapping backs and breaking bread, leaving a trail of Danish pastry crumbs in their wake. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was there, and so was Sri Mulyani Indrawati, managing director of the World Bank. John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, gave a speech in the plenary hall, as did Tony Blair, Britain’s former prime minister, and Philip Hammond, the country’s foreign secretary; eighteen current kings, presidents, and heads of state were seated among the audience. High-level delegations from China, Russia, France, Germany, and Spain were in attendance, along with representatives from the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the African Development Bank. Senior bosses from Coca-Cola, Unilever, Siemens, Allianz, and oil giants British Petroleum, BG Group, and Total all took the stage at keynote sessions. Lunch was sponsored by CI Capital, the after-dinner “cocktail fun party” by telecoms billionaire Naguib Sawiris. “The images that have been coming out of this part of the world have been, by the nature of media, unrepresentative of what’s happening on the ground,” Ahmed Heikal, founder and CEO of Qalaa Holdings, one of the largest private investment companies in the Middle East, told me. “We want to convey the normal, more representative part of the story, which is that Egypt is open for business.”

Four years, one month, and seventeen days since Egypt’s anti-Hosni Mubarak uprising erupted, the corridors of counter-revolution were busier and more convivial than ever. “Conferences like this change the image,” Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, the world’s largest advertising agency, explained to me in a side room off the main lobby. He had just got off a plane and was wolfing down some breakfast on the go; the conference schedule was frantic, and Sorrell—one of the main organizers of the event—was struggling to make all of his meetings. “It changes the atmosphere, it changes the perception, and given what’s happened to Egypt in the past four years, obviously the brand has changed and there’s a necessity to reposition it.” He ran through his company’s various attempts to woo President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi at the last World Economic Forum in Davos, and the network of public relations consultants and brand advisers that since then had been working around the clock to remarket both the Egyptian president and his country to the world. I asked whether Egypt’s current turmoil—the political violence, the terrorist bombings, the insurgency raging not far away from us in North Sinai—made stability and investment a difficult message to sell on the international stage. He gestured at the hubbub around us and smiled. “In a world where CEOs are trying to get top-line growth … well, to put it very crudely, a ninety million population country doesn’t fall down from the sky very often,” he replied.

Fruits of the Strongman Era
Over three days, “Egypt The Future”—or the Egypt Economic Development Conference, to give the event its full name—attracted nearly 2,000 delegates and tens of billions of dollars’ worth of foreign investment deals. New investment and bankruptcy laws, timed to coincide with the conference, offered investors new incentives and protections including special dispute-resolution mechanisms to shield their operations from the Egyptian courts and permission to abandon privatized projects without penalty. As part of the legislation, state officials were granted the right to sell, rent, and dispose of public property for investment purposes by direct order, without having to carry out a public tender, and to do so for free; both state officials and investors were given blanket immunity in relation to the handling of public funds. New tax cuts and fiscal exemptions for corporations were announced as well. Diplomatic approval was universal. “They seem to be taking the right steps in a lot of different directions,” declared a representative of the U.S. State Department. “Egypt has been able to demonstrate its sheer commitment to transforming its own economy through the right policies, through the right regulatory reforms, as well as presenting the right set of investment opportunities,” beamed Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, minister of state in the United Arab Emirates.

This was a national coming-out party for the planet’s most ancient country as it outgrew its moody adolescent years of revolutionary upheaval and finally embraced the modern world. Special pullout supplements and customized content packages associated with the conference ran in all the major Egyptian newspapers, as well as the Wall Street Journal. When attendees weren’t applauding the various Gulf monarchs who had funded “Egypt The Future,” or ransacking the lavish refreshment tables, they were firing up the specially commissioned “Marketplace” smartphone app, a sort of neoliberal Tinder where “leaders and game-changers” could arrange to come together for “brain dates.” Around the coffee dispensers and bilateral breakout spaces, there was an all-pervading buzz of positivity and freshness, as if an economic strategy centered on foreign direct investment, GDP growth, and autocratic military rule had never been pursued before. If the weekend had come with a soundtrack, The Lego Movie’s “Everything Is Awesome” would have been an appropriate choice. El-Sisi said Egypt was on “a path to the future” and received a standing ovation; to enthusiastic cheers, Christine Lagarde declared that “the journey to higher growth has already begun.” From exile, the surviving leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood issued press releases insisting that Egypt “is not for sale,” seemingly forgetting that exactly the same business elites had been flogged to and fawned over by Mohammed Morsi as well. “The government of current President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has embarked on an ambitious economic reform agenda,” concluded Foreign Policy magazine, citing constructive meetings between the Egyptian investment ministry and American multinationals such as Exxon, IBM, and Kellogg. “These, then, are the fruits of a return to the strongman era of Egyptian politics.”

At the conference, no one talked much about the other fruits of that era: the “virginity tests” and the protest law, the thousands of political prisoners behind bars, the ninety detainees who were killed in state custody in Cairo alone the previous year, and the police stations now so infamous that locals had dubbed them “graves of the living.” It would have felt impolite, even unseemly, and anyway some of the websites detailing the violence—including that of Human Rights Watch, which has labeled El-Sisi’s assault on the Rabaa Al-Adawiya protest camp one of the largest state massacres of demonstrators in history—were blocked on the conference WiFi. “I think those are political, not business questions …” said Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, when he was asked whether there was a tradeoff between democracy and economic “stability.” “Frankly speaking, I’m not at all competent on that,” said Richard Attias, the conference producer, when I raised the issue of Shaimaa El-Sabbagh—the young mother and poet shot dead by security forces a few weeks earlier as she attempted to lay a wreath of flowers in Tahrir Square. “I think you should ask the local authorities. … It is not by excluding a country from the global community that you will help them solve their internal deep issues.” Blair insisted that Egypt needed “efficacy” and “leadership,” and praised El-Sisi for understanding the modern world. “Look, I’m absolutely in favor of democracy and I think that, in the end, all countries as they develop will go to a situation in which the citizens elect the government,” he said from the stage. “But I also think you’ve got to be realistic sometimes about the path of development, and that sometimes you will have a country [with] not what we would call 100 percent Western-style democracy, but on the other hand is going in a direction of development that’s really important.” A few days before Blair’s speech, the Egyptian government hanged the first of more than seven hundred Islamists sentenced to death since El-Sisi assumed the presidency.

Business Titans and Domestic Elites
Blair, Attias, and Sorrell are part of an interconnected grid of high-level country branding specialists tasked with helping El-Sisi’s regime reshape Egypt’s image in the international arena. The event was put together by Richard Attias & Associates, a strategic consulting firm owned by Sorrell’s WPP that shares its London headquarters with Global Counsel, the lobbying outfit run by former Labour minister Peter Mandelson, who publicly campaigned on behalf of Gamal Mubarak when the revolution first began. Mandelson is also a chairman and international representative of the financial consultancy company Lazard, who have been hired as economic advisers by El-Sisi’s government; his close ally Blair has advised El-Sisi too, as part of an Emirates-funded consultancy program. Among Global Counsel’s clients is British energy giant BP, whose chief executive Bob Dudley was, alongside Blair and Sorrell, another star turn at the conference. “You can almost feel the economic engine of Egypt starting to rev up,” claimed Dudley in a keynote speech, after announcing a new $12 billion BP investment package. “We are very pleased to be part of that.”

Country branding is a fast-growing industry. States have always attempted to market themselves as tourism and business destinations; now though, governments—especially ones tainted with a reputation for human rights abuses—can call upon a vast array of dedicated, global consultancy experts, fluent in what Bell Pottinger, one of the largest players in the business, calls “the dark arts” of identity management, in order to refashion themselves. A great deal of effort is made to keep these practices secret; the details or even mere existence of contracts between national governments and public relations firms are often not publicly disclosed, and journalists attempting to report on them have found themselves the target of legal action. Undercover investigations and leaked documents have revealed that Bell Pottinger, which counts the Mubarak regime among its former clients, seeks to exploit privileged access to Western political leaders for lobbying purposes, massages Google search result rankings and the content of Wikipedia pages, and places favorable opinion pieces and country supplements in prominent news outlets in order to serve their clients’ agendas. Media manipulation is a key tool in the armory; an internal report on the company’s services for Belarus—the country known as “Europe’s last dictatorship”—following a parliamentary election in 2009 in which every single seat was “won” by the president’s supporters, includes recommendations from Lord Bell on how to “seize the strategic initiative and turn the international news coverage away from the fact that no opposition candidates were elected, and that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reported the count as ‘seriously flawed.’” The rebranding of nations is now such a major business sector that it even has its own league table, providing rankings of which countries are on the rise or fall.

The job of country branders is to select certain national values and narratives—commercialized heritage, low-wage and placid workforces, strong governments with a friendly attitude to neoliberal reform—that are intelligible and attractive to global capital, and to steer them to the foreground; collective expressions of national identity that conflict with the PR “hymn sheet” are sidelined or suppressed. Through this prism, every aspect of a nation’s common memory and culture is assessed according to its usefulness in generating revenue and political legitimacy for the ruling forces, rather than any role it might play in fostering a sense of community within the country concerned. In Egypt’s case, the marketing message at the Economic Development Conference was clear: with ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) on the march and the region destabilized by extremism, El-Sisi was the only man who could simultaneously protect Egypt from imminent collapse and open the country’s resources up to ever greater levels of financial speculation and appropriation; under his supervision, the thorny issue of mass revolutionary uprisings could be safely left to molder in the history books.

Meanwhile, there was more palatable historical imagery for delegates to enjoy. In the congress center’s main lobby area, between stands for investment banks and property developers, a large multimedia display from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina—a modern iteration of the Library of Alexandria, supposedly the ancient world’s greatest ever depository of knowledge—projected stirring images of Egyptian pyramids, temples, and tombs to complement the corporate ambience. A nearby timeline of modern Egypt’s “milestones” included references to economic liberalization reforms in the 1990s and 2000s, but no mention of the massive protest movements that swept Mubarak, the architect of those reforms, from power. In Sharm El-Sheikh, marketing professionals were offering the world a commodified Egypt: an old Egypt, where things used to happen under the stewardship of the pharaohs, and a new Egypt, where things were going to happen under the stewardship of global business titans and domestic elites. Egyptians themselves, then and now, remained inert, or invisible. It is instructive to discover what this fantasia Egypt, so beloved by the international community, looks like; to see which kind of people are brought into focus and given a voice, and who is pushed to the edge. In the run-up to the conference, as part of the national rebranding program, an expensively produced music video was commissioned by the Egyptian government to draw investors and tourists from the Gulf region. Entitled “Egypt Is Close,” the video depicts a visitor from the Gulf wandering around an immaculate Cairo, where prominent Egyptian celebrities—dressed in the traditional garb of the humble Egyptian—glow with delight at successive opportunities to serve the visitor some coffee, take him on a felucca ride, or drive him around in a taxi. Actual Cairenes, who would have been cleared from the streets and kept behind well-guarded barriers to enable filming to take place, are nowhere to be seen; there are no ‘ashwa’iyat (informal settlements) residents, inhabitants of the non-city, in the video, nor any of those who have spent the past few years tearing up downtown Cairo’s paving stones—all replaced and polished for filming, of course—to hurl at the security forces. Such Egyptians occupy the places where the camera lens grows fuzzy, where no one would notice if you slipped out of shot altogether. The message for any potential foreign visitor, as the cartoonist and critic Andeel has observed, is that Egypt is close and cheap, that everybody there is poor, and if you come and visit you’ll feel like a king by comparison. “The video is humiliating and embarrassing, and it’s an extension of a low vision for what making a living and sorting things out means in the minds of those who decide how Egyptians will live,” Andeel writes. “If this country’s foreign policy is going to totally rely on begging and aid, and if the people living in it are not going to have a say in who’s going to rule them or plan for their lives, it’s even more miserable that those who decide everything will also decide the image and reputation of their subjects, as well as the channels through which their relationships with the surrounding world will happen.”

“Don’t Lead Us Astray”
Mubarak Country, Egypt as imagined by those who believe the old ways must hold firm, now lives on through the leadership of President El-Sisi; its vision of “Egypt The Future,” on sale at the Sharm El-Sheikh conference, is one in which Revolution Country—those spaces and minds where new ways of thinking predominate—is beaten back into smaller and smaller pens, with any ineradicable remnants carefully screened off from public view. But although the state’s practices today involve much that is familiar from Mubarak’s days, they are not identical, for the simple reason that the Egyptian people themselves have changed so profoundly. The exclusionary model has never been entirely static; it has always had to shift and adapt to maintain supremacy, at no point more so than with the start of the revolution. Since January 2011, Egypt’s citizens have propelled themselves unstoppably onto the political stage: time and again, and against the odds, they have made their presence and autonomy felt by brazenly contesting different variants of regime power, in the streets and in their communities, from Mubarak to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to Mohammed Morsi. At every turn, voices have suggested that this time, with this leader, the revolution must really be over; at every turn, those voices have eventually been proved wrong. It is because Egyptians have been so stubbornly resistant that Egypt now, caught in its moment of flux between the old and the new, is being ruled by a system that is more subtle than textbook authoritarianism: it is tyranny blended with a façade of proto-democratic features, a language of authority that echoes authoritarian Nasserism but at the same time sits comfortably with Western notions of liberal modernity. El-Sisi’s state constantly invokes “the people”; it has to, because the people will not go away. But to reconstruct those people in order to ensure they pose little danger to the neocolonial model, the regime has been forced to find new ways to try to deactivate them and deprive them of meaningful democracy. Here, the window-dressing of Western procedural democracies—as well as the many dysfunctional elements of such systems, which collectively ensure that sovereignty is never truly displaced from the top—has proved exceedingly useful.

Regular elections, strict consensus around an ever tighter embrace of markets, the careful curation of what sort of collective activity is seen as reasonable and what sort of protest is illegitimate, the balancing out of “individual rights” with a broader context of national stability and security: all these are now entrenched features of post-Mubarak Egypt. They enable Egypt’s rulers to adopt some of the terminology of revolution—sanitized revolution, that is, where resistance is subordinated under the logic of capital and unsanctioned forms of mobilization are rejected—and thus to differentiate themselves from the hated figures of the past, while at the same time framing Egypt’s development arc as something recognizable and benign to the international community. And yet these features are married to a discourse of chauvinistic hyper-nationalism and rigid social conservatism designed to turn individuals against one another and encourage citizens themselves to denounce any solidarities that might undermine the state. “Take care when you are demanding your rights, take care, don’t lead us astray with you,” El-Sisi warned in a speech in early 2015. “I’m not saying protesting is rejected, no. I’m just saying we have given protests a certain standing that is, appreciated, but those ninety million want to eat, drink, live, and feel secure about their future.” He went on to admit to some “violations” of human rights by security forces. “We do not approve of them,” he said, “but this is an exceptional stage in Egypt’s history.” It was a nuanced performance, combining a veneer of legal equality and freedom with an old-school articulation of division and threat. Protest is not rejected, it even has a certain standing—but then again, potential terrorists are everywhere; phone numbers and photos of dissenters will be posted on government-run Facebook pages to encourage public shaming and vigilante discipline; journalists will be imprisoned; in the interests of national security, parties participating in parliamentary elections will be encouraged to band together and form a unified list to avoid any risk of adversarial politics. Voluntary servitude to despotism will be harnessed from below, as well as imposed from above. And capitalism, through it all, will be presented as the pathway to agency, prosperity, and liberty; not a theory to be questioned, but a reality to be accepted and lived within. At the Sharm El-Sheikh conference, El-Sisi’s real message to the world was that even when a revolution was thrown at it, the state was able, ultimately, to survive and thrive. His promise was that after half a decade of turmoil and missteps, the custodians of the old ways had figured out the answers—and foreign partners could rest easy once again.

So it was that delegates at “Egypt The Future” were treated to projections of the country’s Pharaonic ruins at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina stand, instead of being shown pictures of the obelisk inscribed with the names of more than a thousand martyrs killed by the state, which revolutionaries once built and erected in Tahrir Square. This was why they were able to enjoy “authentic” Bedouin dance performances in the foyers of their five-star hotel resorts, while real Bedouins, whose tribal land was appropriated by the state in partnership with multinational companies many years ago to facilitate the Sinai tourism boom, were stuck on the wrong side of a twelve-mile security fence; why the Bedouins of Dabaa, who demonstrated a more radical concept of sovereignty and a more potent understanding of resistance than the one on offer here when they stormed the government’s nuclear reactor site, were nowhere to be seen on the conference shuttle bus. Delegates could watch Bob Dudley, chief executive of BP, give a major speech at the conference, yet they heard nothing from the people of Idku, a small community just east of Alexandria, who have spent years fighting off an attempt by BP to build a gas processing plant there on a beach used by local fishermen. “This is our land, where our parents and grandparents are from,” one Idku resident said in a campaign video by media collective Mosireen, which went on to highlight BP’s commercial dealings with dictatorial regimes in Azerbaijan, Algeria, and Angola and its alleged complicity in the actions of Colombian paramilitary death squads. “As long as we’re here no one can come and take it over.” After cutting roads, occupying construction sites, and holding massive rallies, the people of Idku succeeded in driving BP out in 2013; they won national support from Egyptians for whom memories of the Mubarak regime’s flagrant gas export corruption scandals—when Egypt’s natural gas reserves were sold abroad at below-market prices while Egyptians themselves were burdened with rising energy bills and frequent power cuts—remain painfully fresh. “British Petroleum is an agent of, and I know this sounds harsh, of looting … of looting this natural gas for the benefit of European nations,” says Saad Al-Shalaby, a citizen of Idku involved in the campaign against BP. “How should I allow you to come and divorce me from my land? . . . What sort of tyranny is this? What sort of imperialism is this?” “Egypt The Future” is a professionally marketed brand for a country in which inconveniences like the people of Idku are not supposed to trouble Bob Dudley, or any other delegate, ever again.

Excerpted from The Egyptians: A Radical Story by Jack Shenker, published by Allen Lane/Penguin Books. Copyright © 2016 by Jack Shenker

Jack Shenker is the author of The Egyptians: A Radical Story. He is the former Egypt correspondent for the Guardian. On Twitter: @hackneylad.

The Year of Living Dangerously

Brexit. Trump. In Britain, the country’s membership in the European Union is rejected in a referendum. In America, a maverick anti-establishment political outsider wins the presidency.

These results are monumental political upheavals in the two countries, with consequences that reach beyond their shores and throughout the world. Toward the end of 2016, the French president announced that he would not be seeking a second term, citing the pressure of extremist forces, and the Italian government was dispatched in a “populist” referendum. In Austria, the extreme anti-establishment attempt at the presidency failed, but the establishment candidates had already been dismissed before the final test. History will see 2016 as a watershed, the year of reaction.

Britain and America are the world’s core democracies. These countries have been bearers of a political–economic venture that has come to define the meaning of modern democracy. In 2016, to the surprise of winners and losers alike, the modern idea of modernity—“the liberal inheritance” that the philosopher John Gray described as the belief that the future is liberal and the arc of history, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “bends towards justice”—has suffered a defeat from which it may not soon recover. What was lost in these tests was finally a set of ideas.

To be clear, firstly: The results in both countries were eminently democratic. In Britain, it was the verdict of a referendum mandated by Parliament. In America, it was the outcome of the regular vote. In both countries, no voters could be in doubt that they were given radically different options to choose between. In both countries, the choice was between establishment and anti-establishment positions, with huge constituencies of angry voters rallying behind the policies and candidates of discontent.

As often in democracies, the results were messy. The winning margins were tight, with about the same electoral strength behind losers and winners. In Britain, there is (probably) a majority in the population in favor of continued membership in the European Union (EU), but because of low voter participation among the young, that majority did not prevail in the referendum. In America, the losing candidate won the majority of the popular vote, but not in enough states to carry the election as constitutionally required. In both countries, the campaigns were distressingly ugly, the blame for which has to be shared between the perpetrators of ugliness and those unable to lift the battles above it.

But to be clear, secondly: The purpose of democracy is not to be democratic. Democracy is a method. The purpose is a social order of equality in which all citizens enjoy security and inclusion, and adequate governance to maintain and improve that order—in the American constitution: “to form a more perfect Union.” We subscribe to democracy because we believe that such a system, being under popular control, is likely to protect citizens against oppression and, being governance by consent, is likely to be effective in delivery. There has been a vision of liberty, inclusiveness, tolerance, and internationalism, and of trust in the democratic method for the advancement of these ideas. The tenability of this vision is now in question.

What is distressing in both Brexit and the Donald Trump victory is not that complacent establishments were rejected—nothing could be more pleasing to the democratic mind—but that it was done on terms that negate both the ideas of purpose that underpin the democratic enterprise and the huge advances that have been made in safeguarding democratic values after the defeat of fascism in the world, the fall of communism in Europe, and the end of legal racial and other segregation. In both countries, ugly campaigns embraced and encouraged sundry voices of xenophobia, fear of the other, racism, and divisiveness which we until the fateful year of 2016 had thought had been marginalized to the dark and dusty corners of the house of modernity. In both countries, the unexpected victories of reaction were followed by a new assertiveness of hate-speak and hate-crime.

There are lessons to be learned for those of us who are concerned for the standing of democracy in the world. We have for some time been used to thinking that “the crisis of democracy” is located in the democratic fringes where democracy has struggled to take hold and cope, such as in Russia and North Africa. There are clearly cases of democratic failure, but by and large democracy is doing well in the world. The proposition that democracy as such is in crisis has been tested empirically and rejected, for example by the German political scientist Wolfgang Merkel. Democratic weakness, it is now clear to see, is not confined to the fringe. We therefore need to give renewed and critical attention to the core democracies and how they are performing. If democracy falters in Europe and America, it falters generally. Democracy theorists have also been used to thinking—usually with reference to their rightly admired Tocqueville—that democracy is something it is difficult to become but easier to be. Another lesson of 2016 is that democracy, even in the old democracies, remains something that is persistently difficult to be. To understand the democratic predicament, the “crisis” if you will, we should pay renewed and critical attention to the social conditions of democracy.

Failure of Leadership
What happened in Britain and America? Briefly, the establishment projects were rejected. In Britain, the government side and in America the Democratic Party represented the alternatives of continuity. It turned out they were hapless, but they were right. They were on the side of progress but were unable to stand up to the challenge of reaction. They had the wind of history behind them but were defeated by assaults of anti-politics. What came under attack was not just this or that candidate or party but the very venture of modernity as it has come to be understood in the age of liberty.

However, thus describing what happened, even in stark terms, is not to explain it. Why establishments that had history and the logic of progress on their side were overthrown by foes that were all but impressive and attractive, if not atrocious, is something that evades easy explanation.

In both cases, what the establishment sides brought to the party failed to inspire. In Britain, the government and its many allies fought for a continuation of EU membership, but never articulated any vision or idea to give life to their line. With stunning strategic incompetence, they fell back on patronizing scaremongering, which could not fail to alienate voters they needed to attract. In America, Hillary Clinton failed, from the primaries and on, to present herself as an attractive candidate with a program of purpose. With equal strategic incompetence, her campaign took swaths of voters, whose votes they just felt entitled to, for granted.

Already at this elementary level of explanation, we meet a factor that is recurrent from whatever angle we look at it: the failure of leadership. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative government failed to present its case as believable. In America, Clinton and the other Democratic leaders failed to present themselves as worthy of taking over the mantle. These tests were lost more than they were won. The sides that should have won failed to rise to the occasion and were given short shrift.

In my book Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience, I argue that democratic order depends strongly on good leaders who are able to exercise good and persuasive leadership. In both the British and American campaigns there was an absence of good and an abundance of bad leadership. That goes to both sides. Not only did the establishment sides fail to make their case, the challenger sides disdained the responsibility of leadership. One would have hoped, in mature democracies, that those who aspire to leadership accept that with ambition comes responsibility. That includes to behave with civility, to argue honestly, to respect the truth, to refrain from extreme demagoguery, to not stimulate base motives. The reason they should accept such responsibility is that if they do not, short-term opportunism strikes back in the form of long-term damage to respect for public service and governance and to rational deliberation and decision-making.

In these two cases, that responsibility failed utterly. It failed in particular (but not only) on the side of the challengers. In the Brexit campaign, the “leave” side built their challenge around known untruths about the economic costs of membership in the European Union. In America, the Trump campaign was simply a parade of untruths, as uncovered by fact-checkers among campaign observers. That was in both cases shocking, but equally shocking was that the establishment sides proved themselves to be without the authority to discredit utterly disreputable politicking. In both countries, the campaigns exposed weaknesses of political culture and a debilitating absence of cohesion between leaders and people which have rendered their respective systems dysfunctional.

The result of leadership failure was that the establishment sides were unable to mobilize their voters. In Britain, the young, who are overwhelmingly in favor of EU membership and who are the beneficiaries of the lifestyles of internationalism that come with European integration and therefore had much at stake in the referendum, were not mobilized. In America, the Democrats failed to mobilize not only the young but also women and minority voters, again groups that had much at stake in the election and in the defeat of the challenger. Astonishingly, those whose interests the government in Britain and the Democrats in America were promoting failed to rally behind those they should have seen as their champions. The campaigns did spiral down into distortion, but something so counterintuitive as these results cannot be explained by campaign tactics alone. We need to dig deeper.

The 2016 clashes of progress and reaction took place in an environment of post-economic crisis and extremes of inequality and rising inequality. In 2008, America and Britain, and gradually the rest of the world, plunged into an economic crash of a ferocity comparable only to that of 1929.

The fallout was, firstly, a collapse in standards of living. Many workers and families experienced the loss of jobs, the loss of savings, the loss of homes, and degradation in other ways. In Britain, real wages and working age incomes have been stagnant since the crash, and for some groups of workers in decline, and are not expected to reach pre-crash levels again until at least 2021. Poverty rates have soared. It is not that people have felt abandoned, it is that they were abandoned. It was not that their anger was the result of simple-mindedness or lack of sophistication, or that those who were rising up in revolt were, in Hillary Clinton’s words, “a basket of deplorables.” They may not all have been articulate (by educated middle-class standards) but they were angry because they had good reasons to be angry.

Secondly, the economic crisis followed through not only to deprivation but also to a loss of confidence in prevailing models and custodianship of the political economy. During the pre-2008 years of steady economic growth, mainstream economic thinking had been infested by hubris to such a degree that ministers of finance, central bankers, and high-visibility economists were promising a steady march of growth into the heavens of prosperity. As late as June 2007, as world capitalism was about to implode, the British chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, in the formal setting of his annual Mansion House speech, heaped praise on the financial industry and congratulated “the City of London on these remarkable achievements, and on an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age in which a new world order was created.” Then came the crash. A year later, testifying before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, the former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan described himself as in “shock” at having to face up to his free-market ideology, which he had been going by for forty years or more—“the model that I perceived is a critical functioning structure that defines how the world works”—being “flawed.” In the upheavals and the reaction to them, confidence in “the experts” died. This was to haunt the Brexit campaign in Britain. Near to unanimous warnings from official and independent economists that Brexit would come at a cost to the wallet had no traction, while the dismissal of these warnings for coming from “the experts” found an easy audience.

Long before the sudden economic crash, advanced economies, the American and British ones in particular, had entered into a period of ever-widening inequalities in income and wealth. In Britain, the turning point was around 1975, when a previous trend toward less inequality was broken for a new trend of rising inequality. In America, the share of pre-tax national income to the bottom half of earners had fallen to 12 percent in 2014, from 20 percent in 1980. Of children born in 1940, almost all would obtain a higher standard of living than their parents. Of children born in 1980, only a half can count on achieving that betterment.

Gradually, inequalities grew obscene, with most of the fruits of economic growth falling to a minority of the rich and super-rich, and with the majority of the population enjoying only moderate, if any, improvement in wages and real standards of living, except such improvements as were secured by more work through longer hours and two family incomes. (This has all been documented in great detail by, in particular, Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century.)

Nevertheless, as long as there was steady economic growth, inequalities were in some way tolerable since there was, or seemed to be, at least some improvement, and a great deal of hope, also for many. The economic crisis caused that to change in two ways. The excesses of ever-widening inequality became intolerable when those in the lower- and middle-income ranks fell from comfort into neglect and deprivation. And the political response to economic crisis deepened inequality, and the perception of inequality, even further. Post-recession policies sheltered significant sections of the economy and population from the fallout of crisis, while others were left to suffer. Suddenly, societies that had been seen to be reasonably harmonious, or at least on a good path toward harmony, were exposed as deeply divided. The non-sheltered have-nots naturally resented the sheltered haves, but also found scapegoats elsewhere, such as among immigrants, or those who are different or seen as less British or less American, or more abstractly in “globalization.” Opportunistic leaders, rather than accepting leadership responsibility, stimulated and exploited the politics of scapegoating. Out of this again grew a tangible anger so that when the tests of 2016 presented themselves, the time had come for reckoning—with the rich, the toffs, the experts, the immigrants, with globalization, and in Britain with “Europe.”

I was, no doubt, not alone in asking myself, in the days after the Brexit verdict in Britain and the Trump victory in America, “How could they be so stupid?” But now, in the cold light of analysis, what I see is not stupidity but reason. The establishments lost because they deserved to lose. They deserved to lose because they had lost confidence. They had lost confidence because they had presided over an enterprise in which values promised cohesion, but realities produced division. Democracy had done a job. “In a democracy,” once explained the great Max Weber, “the people choose leaders in whom they trust. Then the chosen leaders say, ‘Now shut up and obey.’ Later the people can sit in judgement. If the leaders have made mistakes, to the gallows with them.”

However, consigning the rascals to oblivion, although important, is not all we expect of democracy. In this case, it worked out perversely so that the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. The backlash hit not only failed leaders of the day but also the long-term venture to form a more perfect union.

“Fix Our Politics”
In the late part of the twentieth century, the world experienced an explosive spread of democracy. By century’s end, 140 of 189 countries had systems of multiparty elections (as counted in the 2002 United Nations Human Development Report). In the twenty-first century, the advance of democracy has now come to a halt and there have been setbacks. If that is a sign of democratic weakness, I believe the source of weakness lies more in the democratic core than in the fringe. Democracy as such does not fall into disrepute by not being embraced in, say, Saudi Arabia, or for stumbling in, say, Russia.

But if democracy does not perform reasonably up to expectations where it is long established, it is democracy itself that is in decline. That is now unfolding. Within the democracies, there is a lessening of popular trust in democratic rule while confidence in “stronger” and more autocratic forms of rule is rising. (These trends are now visible in European and World Values Survey data.) Internationally, soft power shifts to the dictators and dictatorships. After the American elections, for example, the leaders of China rushed into the vacuum to lecture the world that this is what you get when you are careless enough to let the people choose their leaders. At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Lima, Peru in late November 2016, Xi Jinping was the one to reassure anxious nations that they could trust China to be their guarantor of economic openness and stability.

What is to be done? We must pray that political and economic elites in Europe and America take the rejection by their peoples—for that and no less is what it is—as a warning that the future cannot be business as usual, that they must shake themselves out of complacency, and that they need to bring themselves into a mindset of reform.

We need systemic economic reform. Societies that define themselves by security and inclusion cannot live by deprivation and division. Globalization and automation, the targets of the politics of discontent, come with enormous benefits in the form of affluence and quality of work and life. But we have not found a way of combining this progress with inclusiveness. To underwrite democracy under advanced capitalism, we need a new social contract. Post-economic crisis governments in Britain sold hardship and public finance austerity with a story that “we are all in the same boat.” We never were, but that’s where we now need to get. The shallow individualism and small-government gospel of Reaganism and Thatcherism has shipwrecked. Before inclusiveness in public policy must come inclusiveness in mindsets. It is a matter of nothing less than a reinvention of a democratic political culture. As always, it will depend on leadership.

In Europe, the mindset of reform needs to include the European Union. The project of European integration has received a potentially mortal blow. Britain exiting and the rest of the European Union continuing as before is a strategy of high risk and low imagination. British and European leaders should swallow their pride and sit down to devise a reformed union that can embrace all of Europe. The European Union is already a structure with many different forms of adhesion, from Swiss and Norwegian types of quasi-membership, via various combinations of inside and outside of the Schengen and the euro, to the comprehensive arrangements of the full-membership countries. Flexibility has proved to work and is now needed in respect to Britain and to preempt other possible exits. Brussels may have to sacrifice a battle to win the war, but better that than to lose the war.

In Britain, the time has come for constitutional reform. It is a misunderstanding that Britain does not have a written constitution just because constitutional provisions are not collected into a single document with “constitution” its heading. But the constitution is poorly protected and open to political manipulation. The Brexit referendum was called by Prime Minister Cameron ahead of the 2015 general election for opportunistic party-political reasons. The necessary legislation breezed through Parliament without serious reflection or debate. Whatever the outcome, the referendum would have represented notable constitutional change, at the very least to have made referenda a normal instrument of political decision-making. If they can, politicians of the day will manipulate the constitution for their own advantage. That should not be possible. Constitutional provisions should be changeable, but changing the constitution is a serious business that should not be done without serious work and deliberation. By coincidence, the week after the vote, the Chilcot report of the inquiry into Britain’s participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath was published, with deep criticism of a dysfunctional system of decision-making which resulted in colossal mistakes both on the entry into war and post-war management. Britain does not have a safe system of political decision-making.

In America, what burst through the surface in 2016 was the pent-up pressure from a long, relentless, step-by-step erosion of political culture in which big business has fortified itself as the power behind the throne. Already President Dwight D. Eisenhower saw this coming and warned, in his farewell address in 1961, against “the military-industrial complex,” the influence of which, he said, was “economic, political, even spiritual” and “felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.” He was not heeded and the build-up of corporate backstage power has continued to now constitute a more general politico-corporate complex.

The rejection of the establishment in 2016 was in part a reaction against corruption and gridlock in Washington. The reason there is gridlock is that the holders of office, in Congress in particular, are not free to make policies for the public good. Since Eisenhower’s warning, corporate America has added organizational power to its already formidable arsenal of economic power. Through a vast network of partisan Political Action Committees, think tanks, media organizations, and lobbying groups, it has won control over the setting of political agendas. Furthermore, in the age of mega-expensive politics, candidates depend on sponsors to fund permanent campaigns. When big money is allowed to transgress into politics, those who control it gain power to decide who the successful candidates will be—those they wish to fund—and what they can decide once in office—that which is acceptable to those who hold the purse-strings. The representatives, or most of them, may not be personally corrupt, but the system in which they work is one of deep collusion between big politics and big money (the collusion, incidentally, of which Hillary Clinton was seen as the embodiment).

In his final State of the Union Address in early 2016, Barack Obama called on his fellow Americans to “fix our politics” to prevent “democracy from grinding to a halt.” This, he said, is “the most important thing I want to say tonight.” That was a shocking message from the president of the United States of America, speaking in Congress, to the nation. And in hindsight now, a message loaded with foreboding. He was repeating Eisenhower’s warning, but with the radicalism of substance disguised by the elegance of rhetoric.

Washington is dysfunctional, said the president, because elected representatives are “trapped” by “imperatives” which they dislike but cannot get out of, notably that of raising money—“dark money” he had called it in his State of the Union Address a year earlier. When Washington is unable to act, the next bastion to fall is trust. “A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, but it does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.” The reason trust breaks down is that “those with money and power gain greater control over the decisions, and then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes. Democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest. Too many Americans feel that way right now.” And further, since the representatives in Washington are trapped, “it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a president. We have to change the system. We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.”

It ought to be possible for Congress to extricate itself from the trap it has fallen into. The members of Congress hate it: the never-ending campaigning, the constant raising of money, the kowtowing to richness, the looking over their shoulders to the moneymen when they vote. And the people despise it. Democracy is a public good, it should be paid for publicly. It does not need mega-expensive campaigning. It is a misunderstanding that politicians chase money; it is money that chases politicians.

Reform Matters
Democracy in the world needs protection, good examples, and leadership. That must come from the core democracies, notably America and Britain. That they are able to reform matters for democracy in these countries. But it matters equally for the peoples of countries and areas that are dictatorial or where democracy is in its infancy. For my own part, I have recently been preoccupied with the political system of China. I have found it (as reported in my book The Perfect Dictatorship) to be a sophisticated totalitarian state. I have also seen that in the shadows of that mighty state, heroic activists risk life and livelihoods in a struggle for rule of law, freedom, and security. As a result of events in America and Europe, and through no fault of their own, their cause, and that of their fellows in other areas of oppression, has suffered a heavy setback.

Stein Ringen is emeritus professor at Green Templeton College, University of Oxford. He is the author of The Perfect Dictatorship: China in the 21st Century; Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience; and What Democracy is For: On Freedom and Moral Government. He has contributed to the Financial Times, Times Literary Supplement, Washington Post, and openDemocracy.

Picking Up the Middle East Pieces

With the unexpected and even shocking election of Donald Trump, President Barack Obama’s prioritization of transatlantic relations, norms of responsible global governance, and international institutions feels suddenly like a rearguard effort on behalf of a collapsing post-Cold War order. His centerpiece trade initiatives—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership—seem to have reached the end of the road.

In contrast, Trump’s focus on tearing up trade agreements, pursuing protectionist policies, and idealizing the art of the deal is undergirded by an implicit assumption of zero-sum global economic competition. Trump and many of his supporters apparently view the slow collapse of the current international order, which Washington so assiduously worked to construct at the end of World War II, not as calamitous to Western values, norms, and interests, but as the end of an age of unfettered globalization which hollowed out America’s manufacturing base and led to the creation of an effete, unelected bureaucratic and intellectual elite out of touch with mainstream American values. Such a mindset portends significant changes in Washington’s role in the world and in its relations with its North American neighbors, Europe, and East Asia, as international commitments and partnerships are reassessed and more aggressive unilateral approaches are considered.

Within this new context, many assume that big changes are also afoot in America’s Middle East policies. During the presidential campaign, Trump was especially critical of Obama’s approach, arguing that Obama should be credited with the creation of the Islamic State (or ISIS); as a result of his failings in the region, Trump said, Obama would “probably go down as the worst president in the history of our country.” Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick to be national security advisor, has written that the United States is involved in a global, probably multigenerational, conflict against radical Islam against which “we have to organize all our national power.”

But taking a closer look, I think there is reason to believe that there may actually be more continuity than change in Trump’s approach to the Middle East than anticipated. This is a region with little geopolitical order left to preserve and less scope for the frictions of economic nationalism—no Middle Eastern country currently ranks among the top fifteen trading partners of the United States.

After the overreach of the George W. Bush administration—most notably the disastrous invasion of Iraq—the most frequent critique of the Obama administration cites it with the opposite failing: that Obama led an American retrenchment from the Middle East that empowered Iran and Russia, undermined the security of American partners, and left chaos in its wake. But as Trump consistently stated during the campaign, he is deeply reluctant to involve the U.S. military in Arab civil wars and determined to end American experiments in nation-building and regime change, sentiments he shares with Obama—and with the broader American public.

Although it is difficult to imagine two American politicians more different in rhetoric, temperament, and style, Trump and Obama define American interests in the Middle East rather more narrowly than, say, George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton. Trump and Obama operate through the realist lens of core security concerns—energy security (which has faded in importance with growing indigenous energy production), the wellbeing of Israel and other allies, nuclear nonproliferation, and, above all else, counterterrorism.

Of course, one could imagine a Trump approach to the Middle East that blended militarism with economic nationalism. But Trump’s apparent disinterest in the region, his political mission statement to expand working-class economic opportunities, and his background as a real estate developer and reality TV celebrity suggest that he sees trade policy as the overriding focus of his administration’s foreign policy. That is certainly the takeaway from Trump’s choice of ExxonMobil Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson, an engineer with considerable negotiation experience but none in traditional national security policy, to become his secretary of state.

Trump’s Twitter feed is an unfiltered and unprecedented direct look into his worldview and governing priorities. In the month after his November 8 victory, Trump devoted dozens of tweets to his personal business interests, Japanese investments in the United States, allegations of Chinese currency manipulation, wasteful government contracts, and, most prominently, his efforts to prevent American factories from relocating abroad. But he issued only a single tweet referring even indirectly to Islam, Muslims, terrorism, or the Middle East, in response to a November 28 domestic mass stabbing attack at Ohio State University, claimed by the Islamic State.

What happens when Trump’s transactional approach to world affairs meets the cold realities of the Middle East? Let’s take a look at how Trump’s policy may play out in relations with America’s core regional partners, the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the military campaign against the Islamic State and the Syrian civil war.

Language of Hard Power
After several years of unusually strained relations with Washington, leaders in Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have been looking forward to a new American administration regardless of the outcome. The election of Trump represents, in their eyes, a stark repudiation of Obama—who was viewed by many of his Middle East counterparts as an uncertain leader who misunderstood both the nature of the region and America’s proper role in it. By contrast, in Trump, they see an alpha male who speaks a familiar but unnuanced language of hard power and transactional politics. A friend in Beirut jokes that while Arabs have long awaited the arrival of American-style leadership, Arab-style leadership has instead come to America, as evidenced by the advisory role Trump’s children play, his general suspicions of liberal norms, the blurring of his official and private interests, and even his affinity for gilded interior decoration. But an American president more to the liking of Middle East leaders may not be what Arab publics see as being in their best interests.

U.S. allies in the region will not lament the likelihood that under a Trump administration human rights and democracy promotion in the Middle East, which were already downgraded by the Obama administration, will be jettisoned altogether in all but name. For Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing government in Israel, Trump’s pro-Israel sentiment seems to represent an opportunity to greatly expand the pace of settlements in the West Bank, which some of his ministers openly hope will end any remaining hope in a “two-state solution” agreement to end the long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. David Friedman, Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, is an outspoken financial supporter of the Israeli settler movement who has endorsed the Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. While Trump has expressed his desire to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and designated his company’s top lawyer Jason Greenblatt as his senior international negotiator, the prospects of such an agreement seem exceedingly remote.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country and the surveillance of mosques, and warning that radical Muslims are “trying to take our children,” have raised serious concerns about discrimination against American Muslim communities and stoking religious tensions in the United States. For U.S. allies in the Middle East, Trump’s rhetoric might offer potential openings to leverage American popular anxieties about terrorism in order to potentially eradicate their own domestic rivals, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, even if the evidence linking some of these groups to violence and terrorism can be tenuous.

While Trump thus has an early opportunity to rejuvenate relations with these traditional, but sometimes testy, American partners in a region where foreign policy gains are difficult to come by, it is hard to predict how long this honeymoon might last. Trump’s election seems unlikely to reverse the longer-term trajectory of American military disengagement from the Middle East, and may well accelerate it. Over time, Arab leaders who were so vexed by the Obama administration’s hesitant approach to the Syrian civil war are likely to find Trump’s instincts—to increase security cooperation with Russia and to pull back remaining American support for Syrian opposition fighters—even less to their liking. Meanwhile, although Trump has no qualms about developing close relations with Arab strongmen, it remains to be seen whether the Arab street shares such enthusiasms.

Showdown with Iran?
No Middle East issue brought a starker public disagreement between Trump and Obama as the Iranian nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Obama sees the agreement, announced in July 2015, as perhaps his signature regional achievement, a deal with the potential to avert a nuclear arms race in the Middle East for a generation. Trump has called the JCPOA “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

While there were fears (and hopes) that Trump might seek to abrogate the agreement in his first days in office, it has become clear his administration will take a more cautious approach. Since Iran has already secured significant benefits from the agreement through sanctions relief, Iranian hardliners in fact would welcome an outright American abrogation of the JCPOA. That would enable Tehran to blame Washington for the agreement’s collapse, while removing the considerable nuclear constraints it has imposed.

James Mattis, the retired Marine general Trump chose to become secretary of defense, is widely known as an Iran hawk. Yet he has cautioned against a unilateral American withdrawal from the JCPOA, arguing that the difficulty in reestablishing multilateral sanctions on Iran could dangerously heighten tensions and put the region “on a road to perdition.” Trump himself, although his campaign rhetoric fluctuated, tended to compare the agreement to a bad real estate contract to be vigorously enforced or renegotiated rather than thrown out. It seems that no president, even one as brash as Trump, would seek to deliberately precipitate a nuclear crisis in his first days in office.

If an outright abrogation is unlikely, a more likely scenario is that the JCPOA will collapse under its own weight amidst reinvigorated antagonism between Washington and Tehran and tit-for-tat moves and countermoves. Trump’s national security team seems uniform in assessing that the Obama administration was insufficiently aggressive in challenging the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Hezbollah, and other Shiite militias in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and beyond. (Several years ago, I heard Mattis, who was CENTCOM commander at the time, tell a senior senator that his top three concerns in the Middle East were “Iran, Iran, and Iran.”) Trump’s ultimate success in currying favor with Jerusalem and Riyadh will depend in significant measure on the extent to which his administration reverts to form and again treats Iran as the most significant regional state threat.

Washington and Tehran have diametrically opposed understandings of one unwritten aspect of the JCPOA—namely, whether new American financial sanctions against non-nuclear activity, such as terrorism or ballistic missile testing, would constitute a violation. Sanctions, if carefully designed and implemented, can be effective tools in constructing a tougher American posture against Iranian regional interference, but it is not difficult to see how their application might unravel the agreement.

But the demise of the JCPOA is by no means preordained. Many regional leaders believe that deliberately or unintentionally Washington has given Iran a freer hand to support terrorism and sectarianism. But they now privately acknowledge—Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seems the exception—that the JCPOA itself has been effective in the narrower objective of severely constraining the Iranian nuclear program.

Indeed, the very logic that led to the JCPOA in the first place—economic relief for Iran in exchange for significant and verifiable curtailments in its nuclear program—may still prevail, even in an environment of escalating tensions as each side attempts to avoid both being blamed for the JCPOA’s collapse and a renewal of the nuclear crisis which could evolve into a military conflict that the American public is hardly clamoring for. If the Trump administration takes a hawkish but pragmatic rather than ideological approach to Iran that carefully weighs the potential benefits of increased pressure on Iran against the risk of JCPOA’s collapse, it is conceivable that a new bilateral equilibrium can be created, fragile though it might be.

As if this calculus were not complicated enough, two more variables are worth considering. First, in the fight against ISIS, Washington and Tehran are at least indirectly on the same side. As President Trump explores options to increase military pressure against ISIS, he may discover that finding capable regional partners is more complicated than candidate Trump had suggested, given the role that Iranian-allied Shiite militias play, especially in Iraq.

It is also worth watching how Trump’s economic nationalist instincts intersect with the Iran agreement. With the recent announcement that Boeing will sell eighty passenger jets to Iran for nearly $17 billion, the U.S. economy now has at least some financial stake in the survival of the JCPOA. On the other hand, in the event of a sharp deterioration in U.S.-Chinese relations, it is conceivable that extraterritorial Iran sanctions—which target third-country parties dealing with Iran—might be a useful stick to wield against Chinese economic interests.

The first six months of the Trump administration may be the most fraught period for the JCPOA, as both sides simultaneously recalibrate to each other. If the deal survives this period of first contact, the odds of it lasting the four years of Trump’s presidential term will become more likely.

Tale of Two Cities
Two urban battles about five hundred kilometers apart could have important implications for the future of the Levant and the ongoing role of the United States there. The fall of Mosul, in Iraq, to a motley assortment of the Iraqi army, Shiite militias, Kurdish peshmerga, and American-led airpower would not mark the end of ISIS but it could mark the beginning of the end of its physical caliphate and expedite its evolution toward a virtual one. In Aleppo, the joint Syrian-Russian assault on the remaining rebel redoubts utilized indiscriminate destruction on a scale not seen since the end of World War II. The fall of Aleppo in December will not end the Syrian civil war, but it shifts the conflict to a new phase in which the Bashar Al-Assad regime enjoys a decisive advantage, as it seeks to consolidate its control of Syria’s principal population centers.

Taken together, these two events—the first representing the relative success of the Obama administration’s approach to fighting ISIS in Iraq, the latter a symbol of American and international helplessness in Syria—could mark a conceptual sea change in how the overlapping conflicts are seen in Washington. The lightning pace of the assault on Aleppo was an obvious effort to create facts on the ground in advance of Trump’s inauguration as president. In contrast, the fight in Mosul seems likely to proceed more slowly both to minimize the scope of the humanitarian displacement and to delay the internal Iraqi political reckoning which will surely follow.

This sequencing presumably reinforces the political instincts of a new president committed to destroying the Islamic State but disinclined to get involved in Middle East civil wars, since he can inherit a significant military victory in Mosul set in motion by his predecessor, while blaming that same predecessor’s failures for leaving him with no meaningful options after the fall of Aleppo for supporting the Syrian opposition.

Iraq and especially Syria are likely to be unstable incubators of metastasizing radicalization and terrorism for years to come. As the recent history of the Levant makes amply clear, neither Iraq nor Syria will enjoy long-term stability absent new political arrangements and social contracts to address the catastrophic failures in governance which led to the emergence of the Islamic State in the first place. But achieving such arrangements will require a level of international, and by extension American, commitment and engagement which Trump has shown little inclination to pursue.

Instead, Trump has promised to escalate the military campaign against ISIS. Increasing numbers of special forces or changing rules of engagement might have some marginal benefit in killing ISIS fighters, but carry potentially significant risks as well, including ethical ones. He could tack more sharply toward the Kurds, but this could provoke a rupture with the Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He could seek closer cooperation with Moscow, but he’d likely find this easier said than done and possibly trigger a backlash from Congress, the military, and the intelligence community. Notwithstanding Al-Assad’s criminal violence against the Syrian people, some have speculated that Trump might even contemplate some sort of coordination with the Syrian regime. But Trump would quickly find the Syrian army nearly depleted and such an approach incompatible with a tougher stance against Hezbollah, Iran, and the IRGC.

Given his desire to avoid American “boots on the ground,” he is likely to find himself running into the same conundrums that so frustrated the Obama administration, particularly if he is simultaneously seeking to increase pressure against Iran and Shiite militias.

Though American tactics might well become more aggressive, it seems likely that Trump’s basic strategic approach to fighting ISIS will not look dramatically different from the one pursued by Barack Obama, especially if he inherits victory in the siege of Mosul. Military victories against ISIS will not solve the problems of Syria and Iraq, but they may allow a Trump administration to focus its attention elsewhere. As for the increased terrorist threat that may emerge in the aftermath, it is a diffused one, which perhaps the Trump administration will see as manageable, at least in the short term, since it will threaten Europe more than the United States, and Iraq and Syria most of all. 

Illusions of Authoritarian Stability
Despite the cascade of global crises during the Obama years, and the widespread perceptions that America has lost its way domestically and abroad, Trump inherits a relatively strong geostrategic position. The American economy has enjoyed seven consecutive years of economic growth, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest rate in a decade. Though Obama’s response to the Syrian civil war has been widely criticized, the estimated fifteen thousand troops deployed between Iraq and Afghanistan are a fraction of the 180,000 in place when Obama took office in January 2009.

Trump is the first Republican president since 1928 to enter office with elected Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and because of the vagaries of state and local election dynamics seems set to enjoy these majorities through his full four-year term. (Obama in contrast only enjoyed congressional majorities during the first two of his eight years in office.)

But there are two ironies in this situation. While Donald Trump enjoys an uncommon degree of domestic latitude in the Middle East, he seems disinclined to use it. And while Trump spent much of the last year skewering the Obama administration’s Middle East policies, he may discover his own policies do not end up looking terribly different.

Add all of Trump’s inclinations together—reluctance to become entangled in the Middle East, revitalized relations with security partners, backtracking on demands for Al-Assad’s removal, reduced emphasis on human rights and good governance—and you have a policy of promoting authoritarian stability in the Middle East. Such a policy has the benefit of keeping the United States out of the civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and thereby greatly reducing the potential for American military casualties and keeping military costs from spiraling.

But this is hardly an edifying policy. The region’s inhabitants will be the losers with such an American approach. Without American leadership, though possibly also even with it, the region’s four civil wars are likely to continue to burn before eventually simmering out, with all of the continuing humanitarian and geopolitical problems that these conflicts entail. The prospect of an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict recedes even further, and the region’s already beleaguered reformers, civil society members, and activists may find themselves under even greater pressure.

Authoritarian stability itself is a mirage, which is likely to produce more of the socioeconomic stagnation, cronyism, and corruption which gave rise to the 2011 Arab uprisings in the first place. With oil prices having collapsed from $110 a barrel in 2014 to roughly $50 today, the pillars of the rentier system which supported the authoritarian bargains of the past have crumbled, making further social explosions likely, though no one can say when.

However the Trump administration chooses to confront the many challenges of the Middle East, significant questions await it. In the wake of the battle for Mosul, how will the Trump administration react to Kurdish moves toward independence? How will it approach the Arab-Israeli conflict? How will it square Trump’s apparent desire for rapprochement with Moscow with its hostility toward Iran?

Amidst this turmoil, we shouldn’t expect a fully coherent approach from a fledgling administration. A contradiction-free American policy for the Middle East would only be possible with an ideological approach devoid of nuance or flexibility. We cannot predict Trump’s policies with any degree of certainty. Almost every American president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has entered the White House only to have their designs for the Middle East completely overturned. Events in the region are rarely linear, and sooner or later, Trump too will face his moment of Middle East truth.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric tells us relatively little about his specific policies in the Middle East, but it reveals much about his temperament. His apparent disinterest in either the details of governance or the nuances of foreign policy are not necessarily fatal defects. Neither Franklin D. Roosevelt nor Ronald Reagan were voracious readers, but they were effective leaders because they articulated compelling strategic visions of change that their lieutenants were empowered to execute.

But there is no precedent for a “post-truth” presidency, with a commander in chief who won election to office with emotional appeals and repetitive talking points rather than detailed policy formulations. If Trump does not feel the need to more than occasionally review his president’s daily brief, it is worth asking which of his closest advisors will. In a moment of crisis, who does Trump turn to for information and how does he process it? Indeed, the most dangerous period could be the early months of the Trump administration, when allies and adversaries alike seek to recalibrate their policies amidst the many unknowns of the American response. The Trump administration has some opportunities in the Middle East, but its biggest challenge may be Trump’s impetuosity itself.

Perry Cammack is a fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a lecturer at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He served on the policy planning staff in the office of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry from 2013 to 2015 and as a senior professional staff member for Senator Kerry on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 2009 to 2012. On Twitter: @perrycammack.

Uncharted Waters

Donald Trump has been skeptical of Japan for quite some time. In 1987, he took out a full-page advertisement in major U.S. newspapers to deride American foreign policy toward the close Asian ally. The criticisms he levied then are no different than the ones he made on the campaign trail throughout 2015 and 2016. Nearly thirty years ago, he accused the Japanese government of freeloading off the United States on national defense: “It’s time for us to end our vast deficits by making Japan, and others who can afford it, pay. Our world protection is worth hundreds of billions of dollars to these countries, and their stake in their protection is far greater than ours.” Last August, Trump repeated the sentiment during a campaign appearance in Iowa: “You know we have a treaty with Japan, where if Japan is attacked, we have to use the full force and might of the United States. If we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to do anything. They can sit home and watch Sony television, okay?”

The Japanese people are understandably alarmed by the result of America’s presidential election. The victor has an uncommonly negative opinion of Japan’s commitment to its partnership with the United States. The Japanese have been listening to Trump’s virulent distrust of their government for the last three decades. More broadly, there is uncertainty about how the Trump administration will engage the nascent Pacific Century. Similar concerns are being felt in all corners of the globe.

In truth, we know very little about how Trump will act as the forty-fifth president of the United States. Americans elected a candidate who has absolutely no experience in government. Without a resume or record to evaluate, we are reduced to examining Trump’s blow and bluster. There is a good argument that we should not jump to the conclusion that Trump will rule by fiat and bend the course of history to his will.

In the scholarly study of politics, or the study of society for that matter, there are two general ways of explaining the course of history. The first is structural—the notion that there are big, slow-to-change forces that push societies into acting in particular ways. Think of Marx’s claim that a peasant is born into poverty and thus is forced to play the role of the peasant. The second mode of thought is based upon the idea of agency—that individuals can make choices for themselves or for their societies free of the oppressive influence of structure. This is something like the idea of “free will” and emphasizes the role that an individual’s make-up plays in individual and collective action. Not surprisingly, presidential scholars tend to think in terms of agency, simply because they focus on the role of one individual in the American government. It would not be very interesting to write a book about a president that claims that he was just a cog in a machine, after all. So, it stands to reason that many of today’s Trump watchers, versed in the agency-based way of thinking, are pointing to his character and ideology as the strongest indicators of how his administration will govern over the next four years.

Indeed, the president is the most important and influential individual in the U.S. government. The president sits atop a vast bureaucracy and commands the world’s most powerful military. He sets an agenda for the government and, more importantly, a vision for the American people. As Henry Adams once wrote, the American president “resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek.”

But there are broad political and social forces at play that will both enable and constrain Trump’s agenda and his administration. One needs only look to President Barack Obama’s failed efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp to see how a president is not as all-powerful as the agency approach to presidential politics might suggest. During his first days in office in 2009, President Obama signed an executive order to close the controversial prison where war on terrorism suspects are held indefinitely without trial. Political opposition, legal challenges, bureaucratic red tape, and a lack of cooperation from American allies impeded the president’s honest efforts over his two terms in office.

Trump has promised to radically alter American foreign policy, by refusing to send the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the Senate for ratification, by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change, by not committing American forces to the defense of NATO allies, by reconsidering the “one China” policy, and by ending formal alliances if American allies do not contribute more to U.S. defense budgets. To fulfill these promises—which would amount to the largest peacetime adjustment to grand strategy in the history of the Republic—he will need the cooperation of a large swath of American and international society. Put simply, a lot more goes into making U.S. foreign policy than the whims of the president.

Navigating Without a Map
Trump’s lack of experience and expertise, inability to attract top talent to leadership positions, and bombastic personality point to a foreign policy characterized by chaos in the near term. With China’s steady rise as a military and economic power, the Asia-Pacific is a critical region to watch. While leaders across the world are anxious to see how a Trump presidency will unfold, those in the Asia-Pacific are particularly nervous. Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric is unlikely to reassure the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, or the transitional administration in South Korea. Why are they so nervous? They recognize that changes in U.S. foreign policy could set off a chain reaction of adjustments that would jeopardize a very fragile status quo.

Societies and governments around the region are at politically sensitive junctures. Japan is considering changes to its pacifist constitution. Slowing economic growth threatens to exacerbate social cleavages in China. South Korea remains embroiled in a political crisis following the impeachment of scandal-plagued President Park Geun-hye. North Korea shows no intention of stopping its nuclear weapons program. The populist president of the Philippines recently called for a “separation from America” in its foreign policy. Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar are hedging between Chinese and American spheres of influence.

Perhaps the most ominous developments are the maritime territorial disputes between China and its neighbors that are stoking nationalist sentiment across the region. A promising regional free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has been signed by twelve states but only ratified by Japan. China’s creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank presents a direct challenge to an American-led development agenda. The list goes on. The Asia-Pacific is crowded, wealthy, and inseparable from the global economy; and the United States is an indispensable part of its complex dynamic.

Trump’s hostile rhetoric toward China and Japan indicates turbulence ahead for the fragile balancing act at the heart of U.S. foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific. During his campaign, Trump portrayed China as a country that was taking advantage of the United States. He claimed that it was manipulating the value of the renminbi in order to maximize Chinese exports to the United States while minimizing American imports. He also pinned much of America’s economic woes on China, saying that the country was stealing away jobs from American workers. Trump also described China as a threat to American national security, often referencing alleged Chinese cyber attacks on the American private and public sectors. Perhaps most alarming was Trump’s outrageous claim that the Chinese government fabricated the idea of climate change in order to gain some sort of advantage in the global economy, at the expense of the United States. Remarkably, China’s leadership has shown considerable restraint in its response to Trump’s broad and often baseless accusations. Such claims, however, have a negative impact on bilateral relations in two ways. First, they will frame perceptions on both sides of the relationship in a more hostile context. Second, they heighten the stakes in Sino-American relations. Chinese leaders will have to “stand up” to the tough-talking Trump or face a backlash from the Chinese public, and vice versa, thus constraining the ability of both sides to find common ground on a host of shared issues.

The same dynamic would play out in America’s relationship with Japan. Because of Trump’s bluster on Japan, there is little room between the allies for compromise. And Trump’s campaign rhetoric on Japan highlights another problem for his foreign policy formulation—his lack of knowledge or respect for facts. Candidate Trump repeatedly claimed that the United States is losing money by defending Japan, and that the Japanese government does not contribute to the effort. This could not be further from the truth.

Japan’s “sympathy budget” is a cash transfer to the United States government intended to offset the expenses of forward deploying U.S. forces in the country. When combined with the land and utilities that Japan provides to the U.S. military gratis, Japan pays for about 70 percent of the total costs associated with the American troops. Trump seems to be unaware of this fact, or he chooses to ignore it. Moreover, Trump has threatened to remove U.S. troops from Japan if the Japanese government refuses to contribute more to the effort and claims that this is a cost-cutting measure. In reality, returning Japan-deployed American forces to the U.S. mainland would mean a new and significant annual expense because Japan would no longer be subsidizing those soldiers.

Judging from his inexperience and rhetoric, Trump badly needs a crash course in international relations. He becomes president with the mistaken notion that diplomacy is a set of bilateral negotiations. Instead, world politics is a system of interrelated relationships, interests, and problems. It requires policymakers to think in terms of the system and all of its interdependent variables. For example, a change in U.S.-Japanese relations would affect the U.S.-Chinese relationship, the Chinese-Japanese relationship, and so on. And small changes can have large ripple effects. Acting on the false premise that international relations are a set of unrelated business deals would lead to a series of unintended consequences for American foreign policy and world politics more generally. This would reduce certainty and encourage governments throughout the Asia-Pacific to adjust accordingly, all to the detriment of American interests.

For instance, an American withdrawal from Japan would guarantee changes to the pacifist Japanese constitution, which limits the arming of the country’s military. Such a move would result in a rapid military build-up, perhaps even in the extreme case with Japan seeking to become a nuclear power. At any rate, changes to Japanese force posture would encourage an arms race in the East Pacific, with the potential of drawing in India and Pakistan. This would threaten two of the few consistent goals of American foreign policy since the turn of the twentieth century: a stable balance of power and peace among the great powers of Eurasia.

Another concern for American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific and elsewhere is how Trump set up his administration. One of the most pivotal presidential appointments is the White House chief of staff, the de facto manager of the president’s daily operations. He or she serves as a gatekeeper and controls the flow of information to and from the Oval Office. In recent years, newly elected presidents have chosen strong personalities or proven managers as their first chief of staff, and for good reason. The president has to learn on the job, and having a seasoned hand will reduce embarrassing mistakes in the first hundred days. Trump’s choice was Reince Priebus, a Republican Party insider who rose to prominence on his abilities as a campaign fundraiser. Putting a mainstream GOP figure in a prominent White House role might be good for reconciling party divisions, but it does not bode well for a smooth transition of American power. It is likely that Trump will be inundated with information, requests, and influences from all directions if the chief of staff is not up to the task. In this environment, costly foreign policy mistakes are much more likely to happen. A poorly managed White House will struggle to manage a crisis in the Asia-Pacific.

Since 2001, there have been several near collisions and one actual collision between American and Chinese military crafts in the South China Sea. The root cause is a disagreement over whether or not China has the right to expel foreign militaries from its exclusive economic zone, the two hundred nautical mile zone that extends from its shores. Perhaps the most infamous of these incidents was the collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. Navy EP-3 in 2001. George W. Bush’s administration was tested by this diplomatic incident and relied heavily on Secretary of State Colin Powell, a man with extensive security policy experience, to find a peaceful resolution. Trump will have a very different secretary of state—Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil. It is doubtful that Tillerson will bring the same assets to crisis management that Powell did and unlikely that Trump will handle a high-level diplomatic incident as well as Bush did.

Power and Politics
The overall political and social structure governing American foreign relations may limit the chaos and resulting political damage. A strong reason to doubt a radical change of course is that other world leaders will nudge Trump toward responsible choices. At the highest levels of diplomacy, personal relationships shape outcomes. Take the friendship between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom and President Ronald Reagan, for example. Their rapport encouraged the close and indispensable cooperation between their two governments in the waning days of the Cold War. If Shinzo Abe can build a solid relationship with Trump, his government—which greatly prefers the status quo in world affairs today—can influence the president in a way that constrains rash action and dramatic changes to U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific.

American presidents are also constrained by institutional rules and regulations. The White House needs the support of federal agencies and Congress to lead the country. While Republicans will control Congress for at least the next two years, there are deep divisions among the GOP itself about the future of America’s foreign relations. On the issue of trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, there is an irreconcilable divide that cuts right down the middle of the party. When the president has the first-mover advantage—as he does with submitting trade pacts to Congress for ratification—he will have greater freedom to shape foreign policy. On other issues, such as the defense budget and the use of military force, Trump will need, at the least, agreement among factions of the GOP. Finding common ground among Republicans has become so difficult in recent years that it drove House Speaker John Boehner into early retirement. Trump will face similar, if not more acute, political obstacles if he chooses to radically alter America’s Asia-Pacific strategy and other foreign policy traditions.

Finally, Trump will not make foreign policy alone. He heads a mammoth network of government agencies that are responsible for two indispensable dimensions of foreign policymaking—analysis and implementation. In both dimensions, the bureaucracy can act as a balance to the whims of a president. Considering the fact that bureaucracies are hard-wired to maintain the status quo, we can expect that the federal bureaucracy will be a cautious and careful foil to Trump’s chaotic character.

In a foreign policy crisis, or even when considering changes to long-term strategy, bureaucrats use their resources and expertise to present options to the president. While the president and his advisors have the ability to influence what gets put on the agenda, the bureaucracy has multiple institutional advantages. This is especially true in an administration that is staffed at the highest levels by political novices, as the Trump administration appears to be.

There is an old joke in Washington about bureaucrats and policymakers. When a bureaucrat presents a policymaker with three options, the only correct answer is always B. This is because the bureaucrat shapes the choices to push the policymaker into the choice that the bureaucracy wants. A is always a horrible choice that no one would ever want. By comparison, B looks much better. C is a less attractive version of B. Thus, B is always the logical choice. A seasoned policymaker would not be fooled by this trick, but someone without much experience dealing with a huge bureaucracy would. So, we can expect the bureaucracy to game the choices that Trump will make over the next few years. Since the bureaucracy tends to prefer the status quo, this will serve as a strong constraint on Trump’s agency as chief foreign policymaker.

David Bell Mislan is an assistant professor in the School of International Service at American University and a Fulbright scholar at Yokohama National University in Japan. He is the author of Enemies of the American Way: Identity and Presidential Foreign Policymaking. On Twitter: @davidbellmislan.

Most Blessed of the Patriarchs

“Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination. By Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf. W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2016. 400 pp.

I spent the last few days before the election of Donald Trump in the company of Thomas Jefferson. As the Founding Father with the greatest contribution to the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Jefferson left a special mark on American ideals. As an eloquent theorist of liberalism, and at the same time one of the largest slave owners in the American South, he was a controversial man (some would say a hypocrite). In his years as minister to France, Jefferson, despite his limited command of French, immersed himself in European culture, particularly music, theater, and his lifelong obsession, architecture. But he rejected post-Renaissance European values; he abhorred Europe’s relaxed mixing of the genders and races, lack of reverence for patriarchs, and liberal sexual attitudes—interesting for a man who, in his forties, began a liaison with a 16-year-old slave, who was the half-sister of his deceased wife. Jefferson wanted his young nation, America, to absorb the heights of modern European culture and reject the old continent’s moral descent. He was the effective founder of America’s conservative party—which he envisioned as the beacon of liberal ideals in the nation that was to become “the shining city on the hill,” the refined example the rest of humanity would look up to—and in whose spirit Donald Trump ascended to the presidency some two hundred years later.

My journey with Jefferson was guided by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf, authors of “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination. This is neither a biography nor an analysis of Jefferson’s legacy. It’s a voyage into the man’s thinking through his papers, letters, and actions. The authors eschew chronology; we jump between different stages of Jefferson’s life. Our markers along the way are the themes the authors reckon dominated Jefferson’s thinking, shaped his views, and directed his choices.

Slavery is the most important of these themes. Gordon-Reed and Onuf devote a quarter of the book to dissecting the flagrant contradictions between Jefferson’s writings on liberty and his ownership of slaves, including ones who almost certainly were his own sons. The objective is far from condemning the man; these are authors who, after decades of studying Jefferson, are clearly in awe of their subject. Yet their admiration and strong feeling do not lead them to rosy assessments. They do not hide behind ascribing his actions to the mores and traditions of the time.

Though they repeatedly say that Jefferson was a product of his time and environment, they make it clear that he repeatedly chose to ignore the winds of change; often, they hint, he lacked the courage to lead, in action, the changes his ideals and writings advocated. The authors stop at the several moments in his life, most notably his years in Paris at the cusp of the French Revolution, in which he clearly saw that the world was moving beyond the social order into which he was born. And yet invariably, in these moments, Jefferson ignored the opportunity to ride these waves of transformation. He saw that slavery was both an illness that resided in the then-nascent American sociopolitical system, as well as a source of future conflict between the slavery-opposing northern states and the southern ones whose economies depended on it. But he shied away from fighting it.

Here presenting Jefferson’s foresight about the future of the political project (America) that he helped shape transcends the ills of the institution of slavery. This discussion casts light on the paths that Jefferson saw as potential routes for the new country: to continue being an extension of Britain, but on a grander scale; to pursue a “continental” (European) identity—becoming a Europe, rather than a Britain on the other shore of the Atlantic; or—the choice that he strongly believed in—to make tangible the ideals and aspirations of the settlers who left Europe, crossed the ocean, and sought to create a new form of society in this new world. We read about America’s “mission” (the ideals that “the shining city on the hill” embodies), what it has to achieve, the pitfalls it should avoid, and the perils (in the early nineteenth century) that could diminish the promise of that mission. Reflecting on these routes that the American Republic could have taken, and comparing them to what actually happened in the ensuing two centuries, would tempt many readers to leave Jefferson’s thinking, for a bit, and look at the Republic’s actual legacy and its state today.

Gordon-Reed and Onuf show us the evolution of Jefferson’s thinking about America’s place in the world, the prospects of expanding the Republic westward (with all the political, economic, military, and moral challenges associated with that expansion), and interestingly how or whether religion—and early Americans’ understanding of the divine—fits within what the Founding Fathers thought of the meaning of America. Is America “blessed by God?” Isn’t that a perpetuation of a form of religious thinking that America, supposedly, repudiates?

Often, when it comes to sensitive issues such as Jefferson’s own beliefs, the authors leave it to Jefferson to explain himself. Jefferson’s words on religion, the nature of God, the meaning of the message of Jesus, and the role of religion in society are intriguing; he shows us how he mixes disciplines, ideas, and experiences to form complex, and by the standard of his time, innovative definitions and understandings. But he does not explain himself fully, and certainly does not reveal the inner core of his beliefs. As much as he was clear and unequivocal in drafting the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was abstract and elusive when it comes to his personal beliefs. He takes you on an intellectual tour, but there isn’t a specific destination. It is likely that Jefferson the politician (thinking about his positioning, before and after his presidential terms) was concerned about the harm that Jefferson the thinker could do to himself.

Gordon-Reed and Onuf situate their presentation of Jefferson’s views on religion in a section they call “The Enthusiast.” Jefferson was hardly an enthusiast when it comes to faith. Relative to other Founding Fathers, especially the two he is often associated with—George Washington and Alexander Hamilton—Jefferson was not overflowing with political fervor or passion for any ideology. His defining characteristics were his intellectuality and consistent preference for reasoning and argumentation. Perhaps the enthusiast in Jefferson was fired up by culture and the arts. This is the section in which the authors introduce us to Jefferson the lover and critic of music and architecture. Based on what they tell us, his taste was highly refined, though limited. He knew what he liked, stuck to it, and sought it performed by the best in class. And if those were in Europe, he would grudgingly admit that, in the world of art and culture, Europe was far ahead of his young country.

Architecture was different. Jefferson approached it not just for indulgence and transcendence, and not just as a form of science and art, but as one of the most influential ways to manifest certain values and to project power. The authors devote big sections of the book to examining how he designed his estate in Virginia, Monticello, how separated his private quarters were from the rest of the mansion, which was almost always swamped by visitors who came to listen to the “great man,” and what those design preferences reveal about his character. But the important factor in this discussion is how he combined his views of what America means, the significance of the political project that he championed, with what he absorbed of the French (and by extension, the European) usage of architecture to demonstrate power. This is an intriguing discussion, even for readers familiar with Jefferson’s writings and with the history of America’s formative years.

Gordon-Reed and Onuf resist casting a judgment on Jefferson. Many, after reading tens of thousands of words on the man, the politician, and the thinker, would find that disappointing. After the many contradictions, ascent to greatness and descent to depravity, and vague expositions hiding as much as they are revealing, readers would want a conclusion and closure. But I think the authors’ approach is wise. The book is not a trial of Jefferson. It is a voyage into his mind. Readers with a penchant for philosophy, appreciation of the complexity of human thinking, sympathy for failings and weaknesses, and admiration for cultural refinement will enjoy this journey. They will get an understanding of, rather than a verdict on, one of the finest minds in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

Tarek Osman is the author of Islamism: What It Means for the Middle East and the World and Egypt on the Brink. He has been the writer and presenter of several BBC documentary programs on the Arab and Islamic worlds, most recently Sunni-Shia: Islam Divided. He is the senior political counselor for the Arab World and Turkey at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. On Twitter: @TarekmOsman.

Dangerous Years

Dangerous Years: Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward. By David W. Orr. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2016. 320 pp.

Though not trained as one, David W. Orr, a distinguished environmentalist and scholar, would have made an effective prosecutor. His latest book is a powerful indictment of mankind’s collective failure to build the institutions and mindset needed to deal with catastrophic climate change. All of the villains—money in politics, rampant consumerism, and an obsessive focus on the here and now—are present. And while they have been the subject of other books and articles, Dangerous Years: Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward is a thoughtful collection of work on what man owes to nature, how we ignore that debt to the detriment of ourselves and our posterity, and the monumental steps necessary for a course correction.

Dangerous Years illustrates the split in the environmental movement. One side sees mankind’s salvation in reforming capitalism in order to transition away from fossil fuels to low- and zero-carbon energy sources. Most who identify with this camp prefer some kind of market mechanism to kick-start that transition. There’s the economy-wide carbon tax, which exists in Ireland and parts of Canada. And there’s the cap-and-trade program, putting limits on emissions and allowing emitters to buy and sell allowances to stay within them, in place in California and the European Union and soon to be utilized in China. In the main, they believe that these measures, which will incentivize investments in renewables, will be sufficient to “green” the status quo and avert a catastrophic temperature increase in the twenty-first century.

Orr is a proponent of a more radical approach, which sees such reform measures as tantamount to putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. Far from advocating a course correction for capitalism, supporters of this approach envision fundamental reform of our economics, our governments, and our own psychological approach to our relationship to nature. Our political economy privileges corporations over people, ourselves over our posterity, and economic growth over anything else. Relying on a technological miracle to solve climate change without fixing the system that created the crisis in the first place would be, in Orr’s estimation, a fool’s errand. In what could serve as an epigraph for the entire book, Orr writes, it is still easier “for us to envision the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

Dangerous Years suffers from a paradox that Orr cannot seem to resolve. Many of his desired changes would take generations to fully realize, time the planet literally does not have. A lot of what Orr wants to happen will need to occur at the grassroots. It is up to communities to succeed where government has failed. In particular, the system of higher education, which is designed to equip youth with the skills they need for the future, appears to be singularly incapable of doing so when it comes to an appreciation for the natural world, and a working knowledge of how the planet works as a physical system. There is a lot of environmental and climate activism on American college campuses, but those movements arise out of a spirit of dissent and protest, rather than being initiated and supported by college administrations themselves. As a result, they exist as a fringe special interest, instead of a central part of the college experience that can instill values and beliefs which will last a lifetime.

It is less clear what Orr wants us to do now that will have an immediate and large impact on our upward trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. It is not until Orr is well into the book that he introduces some case studies from his own experience in changing systems in Ohio. His look at Chattanooga, Tennessee and his own academic home, Oberlin College, outlines some changes that individual institutions can make now: urban planning that sees a city as a living organism, requiring a strong circulatory system (read mass transportation infrastructure); and a campus where all decisions follow from a philosophy of sustainability, including deployment of renewable energy, efficiency policies, and a curriculum that prioritizes understanding of natural systems. Whether we have the foresight to apply those changes universally remains to be seen. A great environmental awakening is clearly necessary, but one gets no clear sense from Orr what the spark to ignite that awakening would be.

Orr’s analytical rigor also fails him in his argument that U.S. militarism, with its “manufactured” threats hyped by a “supply chain of violence,” is a direct impediment to our ability to effectively fight climate change. While very few could credibly argue that the Department of Defense always spends taxpayer money responsibly, or that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was not a strategic folly, the connections between these two facts and climate change is less clear. Canada and Australia, to take two examples, are by many measures far less militaristic and violent societies than the United States is, and they were both led by governments that were hostile toward action against climate change.

Indeed, the same military-industrial complex that Orr derides—calling it an unaccountable secret government—is quietly celebrated in his footnotes as a source for valuable research on the social impacts of climate change, particularly how those impacts affect international peace and security. The foreign policy elite he derides produced the analysis he uses to justifiably call attention to the emergency nature of the situation we find ourselves in.

The outcome of the U.S. presidential election significantly changes the context for Orr’s arguments. Much of his agenda would be difficult to achieve under a President Hillary Clinton, whom he would regard as an incrementalist; it seems downright impossible under President Donald Trump. Judging by his public statements expressing his rejection of climate change science, as well as the backgrounds of those in his White House inner circle and cabinet, the evidence suggests his administration may undermine every significant environmental regulation put in place in the past fifty years, regardless of the cost imposed on society. American politics is likely to get a lot coarser, with a chief executive disinclined to identify with any of the virtues Orr says are necessary to navigate the potentially dark future ahead. A “long emergency” indeed.

Neil Bhatiya is a former fellow at the Century Foundation. On Twitter: @NeilBhatiya.

Winter 2017

Our cover page shows the White House lit up in rainbow colors. It was President Barack Obama’s way of celebrating the 2015 Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriages. The choice of the cover image seemed appropriate: the White House has a new occupant as of January 2017, and the change in U.S. administrations is likely to see a fight over gay rights as well as other social issues. In our lead essay, “The New Battle Over LGBTQ,” Lillian Faderman traces the history of gay rights in America and previews the struggles ahead during the presidency of Donald Trump.

Faderman’s piece is part of our Winter 2017 issue’s Special Report: Gender Trouble. In “Women of Egypt,” Miwa Kato takes a close look at the backlash against women’s rights that followed the Tahrir Square uprising in 2011. Farha Ghannam contributes “Story of an Egyptian Man,” a profile that explores the political, economic, and social challenges related to gender roles that confront Arab men today. In “Gender and Genocide,” Sareta Ashraph explores how gender-based crimes against men as well as women are used in campaigns of genocide to eradicate protected groups.

The political earthquakes of 2016 are explained by Stein Ringen in his essay, “The Year of Living Dangerously.” He cites the alarm sounded by the outgoing U.S. president: “Democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.” In “Picking Up the Middle East Pieces,” Perry Cammack writes that despite common perceptions, Trump’s realist outlook may actually foretell more continuity than change in U.S. policy toward the region. David Bell Mislan takes a similarly cautious view about Trump’s overall foreign policy in “Uncharted Waters,” arguing that American presidents are constrained by broad political and social forces.

For another take on our uncertain times, Cairo Review Associate Editor Amir-Hussein Radjy traveled to London to meet Indian novelist and essayist Pankaj Mishra, whose new book, Age of Anger: A History of the Present, is out in 2017. Liberal democracy, he told Radjy, is a bit of a sham: “It always concealed the fact that a whole lot of violence had gone into its making, and a whole lot of violence went into preserving it, and that violence was truly universal.”