July 12, 2011
Conscious action by individuals on behalf of systems intended to hurt, punish, dehumanise and humiliate – of which there has been plenty of in the Arab revolutions – discloses a type of mental impairment.
In these cases, it is easy to say that the political body has gone ‘bonkers’.
Such a body fails with respect to communication with the public, and is not aware of its moods. It behaves as if delusion were some kind of divine vision. It atrophies while not knowing what to morph into – in so doing, it surrenders to a total psychosis – baring a serrating machine that cuts reason into shreds and eats innocent lives.
The psychosis of the Arab revolution, notwithstanding its epic journey and gains, has not been spared examples of such violent cutting and eating.
Psychosis & metamorphosis
An act of self-immolation in an inconspicuous Tunisian town was enough to set the entire Arab Middle East on fire.
Thus, both a Shakespearean-like tragedy and mythological epic were conceived in that moment of indignant reaction felt by Mohammed Bouazizi that led to such a violent, irrational and voluntary act on December 17, 2010.
An angry showdown between a council warden and a non-bona fide pedlar produced the mother of all big bangs – shocking policy-makers, academics, the Arab populace and their deligitimised leaders.
Maybe that’s what history is: the unspoken narratives of quarrels, violence, and counter-violence in the corridors of power. From this, historical epics, mythological figures, and tragic endings are produced – as well as the valiant triumph of the human will over its own inner demons in order to subdue the outer demons that threaten its very existence.
Our unsung hero did not intend to change the Arab Middle East from Sanaa to Misurata. He probably did not know what he intended his self-immolation to change. Most certainly though, through self-immolation he was not burning a body; he was burning the fear, despair and humiliation which were possessing his body.
It is the prison inside him that he wanted to turn into lifeless, cindery soot. As if he wished to lead the demons in charge of that prison into jahannam – the Quranic word for hell and most severe punishment to be meted out to wrong-doers.
Bouazizi’s nightmare was his fear of Bin Ali’s wardens. They stood between him and free pedlary, which was essential to his livelihood. Without meaning to, perhaps, he enacted a displacement of inner anger into a social display of defiance and resistance. Thus he fired up the imagination of the now emboldened masses.
The Arab revolution & ‘sublimation’ en masse
The children of the revolution – from Cairo to Tunis, from Manama to Deraa – have cathected God and their new avatars of ‘freedom’ and ‘dignity’.
Note how they have rechanneled anger, humiliation, and indignation at political disenfranchisement, social exclusion and the absence of the proverbial loaf of bread into socially constructive and associative energy.
As if through sublimation en masse, they staged protests to counter state violence violence with peaceful protest, sang the national anthem in an electrifying chorus amidst a sea of charged up human souls, recited verses of defiance (Abu al Qasim al Shabbi) embraced the national flag, danced to music, and vocalised suppressed feelings about injustice and dictatorship.
The relics of Arab autocracy now fear the creative use of vocal chords to shout and sing. The late Ibrahim Qashoush, who sang ‘irhal ya Bashar’, enthused Hama’s protesters last week. His throat was slit on the 4th of July.
Voice, music, debka (folkloric dance in the Levant), the technology of culture, is deployed with potency – threatening regimes and often times prompting violent, suppressive reaction.
In Cairo and Tunis the transference of internal anger could have burst into violence against, respectively, the mugamma (a hated symbol policing, and part of the Interior Ministry) in Tahrir Square and the Ministry of the Interior (or “Inferior” in local sarcastic parlance).
They chose not to act with violence. For had they done so they would have become clones of the oppressive edifices of brutality.
Cathexis & power
In Freudian terms, a power fixation is the motivator of Arab autocrats. The cathectic energy invested into power grabbed by Arab autocrats has been quasi libidinal, with a slight oedipal twist.
Note the military revolutions which, one by one, harmed or killed the founding fathers of the 1950s (Egypt), 1960s (Libya, Syria, Iraq), 1970s (Yemen). Once wedded to the point of obsession with the love of the ‘motherland’ (Arab countries have feminine names), they have more or less blinded themselves to their obligation towards the populace, laws, and values of justice and freedom.
Today, as the Arab revolution unfolds, there is a kind of counter charge – initiated by the pillaging and violation of the ‘motherland’ by the revolutionary sons of the military founding fathers.
In colloquial Arabic, there are plenty of references to the ‘free riding’ of state and society by the oppressor. There is no love lost between populace and leaders – even if some still appear to maintain loyalty according to tribal or sectarian lines (Libya, Syria, and Yemen).
Hence, the banners that once advertised love for the leader (such as those seen in Syria) today read ‘manhibbak’ – we do not love you.
The Psychosis in Arab Revolution
The Arab masses might have linguistically metaphorised state-society relations in sexual terms, but state brutality have turned this into a reality for the oppressed.
The regime’s baltaga – thugs – in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya who at some stage or another were released on the masses like dogs in order to target the symbol of Arab and Muslim ‘honour’ – women. Nearly 1,700 women have thus far been recorded as victims of rape in Libya, many of whome are members of the Zintan tribe or hail from Misurata.
Note that sexuality is often used as a weapon in the hands of an oppressive state. The advent of the Arab revolution, however, has allowed the state – while slipping from the grip of strongmen – to vomit up its ugliness onto the open.
Iman al Obeid’s story, true or untrue, is just the tip of the iceberg on how sexual humiliation has been used under authoritarian regimes a weapon of oppression. Just ask the Islamists or former leftist prisoners of conscience from Rabat to Ramallah about the Arab torturer’s favourite method of torture: sexual abuse of all kinds.
One example of an oppresor’s ugliness that shocked the world is when thirteen year old Hamza Ali al Khateeb was tortured, castrated, kneecapped and killed by the Syrian security forces.
The signs have always been there: Who forgets the shooting of 12-year-old Muhammed al Durra in 2000 by the Israelis, and hundreds of Palestinian stone-throwers, or the 12-year-old Egyptian boy, Mohammed Mamdouh, killed under torture in August 2007?
The Arab revolution’s psychosis also includes the element of gender identities and citizenship. The Saudi women who are forbidden to drive cars – of which there is no Quranic injunction. Those obsessed with chastity ought to be chastised.
What is more liberating, equalising and ‘Islamic’? A woman behind the wheel or a woman riding in a car with a male chauffeur unknown to her?
When the dust settles and serious books are written about the Arab revolution, Manal al Sharif, and the women of Alexandria, Kairouan, Taiez, and Hama, will be heroines in the struggle for equal citizenship. They are victims of the fight for sovereign laws which protect men and women from sexual abuse, and such inhumane treatment as the bizzare ‘virginity’ checks reported in Cairo.
Deluge of revolution
Then there is the psychosis of the mass conversion into revolutionary identities.
One can hardly find non-revolutionaries: businessmen who pillage the wealth of the masses, police forces, sycophantic journalists, academics, lawyers and judges. Today, as ‘revolutionaries’ they are fomenting counter-revolutionary trends and general disorder.
Similarly, the psychosis is manifest in the power struggles behind the scenes amongst the newly empowered and legalised political parties and political elites. The character assassination of Al Baradei or the exclusion of Nobel Laureate Ahmad Zuwail on the grounds of dual citizenship in Egypt sows the seeds of political amorality.
However, their rivalry pale in significance when compared with the pathology of the oppressors – those with love-like relations with the state.
Like a deluge, the Arab revolution overwhelms with passion, feeling, struggle, colours, sounds and ousters. However, it also overwhelms with questions: What makes a people produce and then ignore entire regimes of brutality and dictatorship?
The Arab revolution is a timely redress to the conscience of people who have long been hungry for freedom. Now that they are on the cusp of the revolution they made, they must face their demons – and look deep into their common and individual unconscious. They must grasp the lessons of the past for the sake of a smooth transition into the future.
From lawlessness to law
The memory of Bouazizi and the children of the revolution’s legacy of fearlessness must not be lost. Indeed, they should be fearless towards everything except for laws, Godly or man-made. They are essential for the protection of the Arab, man or woman, Muslim or non-Muslim, rich or poor, ruler and ruled. Equal and sovereign laws are the true guardian against the return of political psychopaths.
Fear of such laws is essential for a painless transition into a new era of freedom and dignity.
Dr. Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratization: Elections without Democracy and The Search for Arab Democracy: Disclosures and Counter-Disclosures.