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Around the world - Dec 4

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Thousands rally in Durban for climate action

Jonah Hull, Al Jazeera

Thousands of people have been taking part in a "Global Day of Action" in Durban.

The South African city is hosting the international conference on climate change.

Campaigners say they are frustrated by the slow progress at the talks and are demanding more help for poorer nations.
(3 December 2011)




Dateline: Tahrir Square

Eric Margolis, Eric Margolis
CAIRO – Standing at Tahrir Square, ground zero of Egypt’s revolution, is exciting and intimidating. The explosive anger, pent-up frustrations, and yearning for revenge of tens of thousands of demonstrators and onlookers breaks like waves across this vast, unsightly plaza.

This is the raw material of all revolutions. The whiff of near-toxic riot gas supplied by the US to Egypt’s security forces still lingers in places.

Off on side streets, wait large numbers of special black-uniformed security forces, ready to have another go at the thousands of young demonstrators thronging the world’s most currently famous square.

So far, at least 45 demonstrators have been killed and thousands injured by rubber-coated bullets, riot gas, clubbing or being crushed by security vehicles. Tens of thousands more have been arrested by the police who are not known for their gentleness.

But even stronger than the fear hanging over Tahrir Square is the pulsating thrill of raw revolution, and the hope it might somehow rid Egypt of decades of oppression and misrule.
(2 December 2011)




Letter from Cairo: the liberals, the Brothers, and the poor

Scott Long, Mundoweiss
So this is what violence in Cairo is like now: the city has grown inured to it. You can stroll down a sidewalk in perfect serenity, and ignore the fact that a few blocks away lies what the foreign journalists call a “war zone.” Tuesday night — the end of the first round of the parliamentary elections — I was wandering Mahmoud Bassiouny Street downtown. I reached street’s end and a tangle of highways by the Egyptian Museum, and suddenly there were people rushing across the pavement and screaming, and bright crashing flashes that I recognized as Molotov cocktails. Behind me, abruptly, aggressive young guys in leather jackets had built a makeshift barricade across the street and were diverting traffic, and waving large knives. Among their shouts, I could distinguish “Eid wahda” —“One hand.” A few shopkeepers motioned me to get the hell away. For months crowds have targeted foreigners amid gathering xenophobia, reviling them as spies. There was, however, no obvious place to run. I walked as calmly as I could back past the barricade and the multiplying mob, and it was only at Talaat Harb Street, as the usual bustle of the city settled in, that I checked Twitter and called my friends and realized I’d been in the middle of the latest installment of the Battle of Tahrir. By night’s end, around sixty people, democratic protestors attacked by their opponents, were in the hospital. At midnight, I watched demonstrators carrying their comrades, swathed in bandages, across the square.

I’ll say more later about exactly what was going on. First, though, the elections.

... I spent most of the last week talking to “liberals” in Egypt — a catch-all term defined quite differently than in the West. It includes Communists of various sorts, socialists, social democrats, anarchists, and free-market liberals, most but not all secular, united by a commitment to democracy, divided by disparate beliefs in what it means — some wedded to the parliamentary process, some dreaming of direct self-governance. Few, though, had an apocalyptic sense about the Islamists’ victory. They talk about three key things. First, as democrats they can’t reject out of hand the outcome of a democratic election. Second, the parliament will have little power in a government still run by a military junta. And third, the junta remains the real enemy.

... But the revolution has failed to do justice to their dignity. The poor may be at the forefront of the battles, but the revolution’s leaders are overwhelmingly middle-class. The front lines of democracy and the front lines of class are not the same. And the bourgeois leaders have failed to reach across Egypt’s yawning class divide.

Some of the failure has been programmatic. Over the summer, as revolutionary groups struggled to agree on a list of demands, they found consensus on democracy and civil liberties easy — but their concession to addressing economic issues dwindled to an anodyne promise to raise the minimum wage. Strikers from factories to public services who had put their bodies and jobs on the line for Mubarak’s overthrow felt ignored.

But some of the failure was more physical. The revolutionaries failed to leave Tahrir, failed to go into the neighborhoods and towns and villages, to talk to workers and peasants, to organize. The Salafists, despite years underground, didn’t make that mistake. They spent the summer recruiting a third of a million active members for el-Nour. The revolutionaries waited for the masses to come to them. The result is written in the election returns. Even Zamalek, the liberal island of the haute-bourgeoisie in mid-Nile, went for the Brotherhood. The doormen and maids and porters who slave for the wealthy live in Zamalek too, shunted to cellars and rooftop shacks — but they emerged, and they voted for the FJP.

The encampment in Tahrir is an ideal and almost a fetish for many leftist Egyptians. You can see why if you’ve been there: it’s an Arab Woodstock and Brook Farm, an alternative space to a corrupt society and state, a place where diverse identities can meet and share, where unities grow out of differences and one can imagine a new way of life, a new world. It’s beautiful. But too much time, many feel, was wasted this summer and fall defending Tahrir against the military, and too little speaking to the rest of society. An alternative community may represent the dream of comprehensive change, but does little to realize it. The hard work of talking across class boundaries and building solidarities to encompass the rest of Egypt fell by the wayside.

There’s still time to recuperate the revolution. But it will take hard work. It will take dialogue. It will take renewed respect for the multiple meanings of dignity.
(2 December 2011)

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