26-Jan-12 World View: Revolutionary and Brotherhood Demonstrators Fill Egypt's Streets

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com.

  • Two different demonstrations fill Egypt’s Tahrir Square
  • Egypt’s Salafist al-Nour party draws strength from rural villages
  • Around the world, people turn to religion in a generational crisis era
  • The ‘Vogue of the Veiled’: High-fashion headscarves in Turkey
  • Saudi law permitting women to sell lingerie draws fire overseas
  • Dramatic political upheaval moves Hamas from Iran to Turkey’s Sunni bloc
  • Forced selling of Portugal’s bonds after downgrade to junk
  • China clamps down on Tibet during New Year celebrations

Two different demonstrations fill Egypt’s Tahrir Square

Cairo's Tahrir Square on Wednesday
Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Wednesday

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Egypt on Wednesday, on the first anniversary of the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution that began last year on January 25. Many were protesters complaining that Egypt was worse than it was before the revolution, since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is still ruling Egypt, and is following many of the same policies as the deposed dictator, Hosni Mubarak. But there was a second, perhaps larger group of demonstrators who were celebrating — the huge victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in the recent free Parliamentary election, winning 41% of the seats. The young protesters that filled Tahrir Square a year ago now fear that the revolution has been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the Brotherhood has made a corrupt deal with SCAF so that they’ll both remain in power — something that the Brotherhood denies. Al-Ahram (Cairo)

Egypt’s Salafist al-Nour party draws strength from rural villages

The surprise of Egypt’s Parliamentary elections was the strength of the religiously conservative Salafist al-Nour party, winning 27% of the seats, showing strength particularly in rural areas that were ignored for decades under the rule of Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood has been putting some distance between it and the al-Nour party, but the al-Nour supporters in Egypt’s rural areas do not hesitate to make their beliefs clear:

“Islam is clear. If someone steals his hand will be cut off, killers will be killed, and adulterers will be stoned to death. In that way the whole country will be made safe.”

Another supporter adds, “If in this village someone steals something and their hand is cut, do you think someone else will then think about stealing something?” BBC

Around the world, people turn to religion in a generational crisis era

As they usually do, mainstream journalists and pundits completely missed the broader point of last weeks debates, where Newt Gingrich stuck it to Fox’s Juan Williams over his racist diatribe, and stuck it to CNN’s John King over his feminist diatribe. The broader point has nothing to do with Gingrich, who may or may not succeed in these kinds of retorts.

When the Tea Party burst upon the scene, mainstream journalists “blamed” it on CNBC’s Rick Santelli, who made a rant one morning criticizing President Obama’s bailout plan. As I pointed out at the time, what was special about this situation was not that Santelli ranted about something — he rants about something every day — but that the rant achieved “viral” status and spread around the world, leading to the large Tea Party demonstrations.

The same kind of thing was true with Gingrich’s remarks. The point is not that Gingrich was clever (though he was). The point is that the public is finding these 1960s kinds of racist and feminist diatribes to be increasing tired and stale, indicating that the public is changing, irrespective of what happens to Gingrich.

In a generational crisis era, where corruption and anxiety are rampant, gender roles become more conservative and stereotypical. In America, the pendulum has been swinging back towards greater modesty in women. See, for example, “Victoria’s Secret changes from ‘too sexy’ to ‘ultra-feminine'” from 2008, and “‘It’s going to be the 1950s all over again'” from 2004.

This is the reverse of the trend that began in the 1960s, when male and female stereotypes were supposedly thrown out in favor of “women’s equality.” The return to stereotypes is happening in America, but it’s worth pointing out that the same kinds of changes are occurring throughout the world, because people return to the comforts of religion at times of great distress.

Thus, many Muslim women are returning to the comfort of the hijab, and both Turkey and Egypt have voted to move in the direction of more conservative Muslim precepts, including Sharia law. And I’ve recently reported that ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel are moving in a similar direction, with women covering themselves from head to toe with multiple layers of clothing. These trends will be reversed once more, after the next world war.

The ‘Vogue of the Veiled’: High-fashion headscarves in Turkey

Wearing a headscarf has been politically contentious in Turkey since the early 1920s, when Ataturk declared Turkey to be a secular state, and headscarves were even banned for decades in public buildings. However, the rise of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party (AKP, pronounced “ahk party”) has moved Turkey away from Ataturk’s secularism back to its Ottoman roots. Erdogan’s wife Emine wears a headscarf, and this provoked an extremely acrimonious political controversy after Erdogan’s election. (See “In Turkey, May 16 election may bring Islamist President into power” from 2007.) However, the controvery over headscarves in Turkey appears to have died down, and it’s now OK for a woman to wear a headscarf or not, as she wishes.

Some magazine entrepreneurs in Turkey have launched a new magazine called ” lâ”, which is Vogue magazine for women who want a beautiful lifestyle wearing “veiled” fashion. The name of the magazine, which stems from the Ottoman era, means “the most beautiful of the beautiful.” The magazine has been completely successful, and only uses models that wear headscarves and only advertises brands specializing in women’s clothing that conforms to Islamic customs. Spiegel

Saudi law permitting women to sell lingerie draws fire overseas

A directive was issued by Saudi Arabia’s labor ministry on Jan 4, 2012, permitting only women to work in lingerie stores in the kingdom. The ministry’s announcement came after a boycott campaign initiated by Saudi women fed up with the awkwardness of purchasing undergarments from male shopkeepers, most of whom are foreign workers. However, foreign commentators point out that the law is not some sort of feminist victory, but is actually part of a xenophobic pattern to deprive migrant workers from holding all kinds of jobs, as part of a “Saudization” campaign. Indeed, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), which oversees the kingdom’s Saudization program, has allowed a grace period for “red” companies that have large numbers of migrant workers, but that grace period expires soon. Every company will have to employ the stipulated number of Saudis or else face severe consequences. Dawn (Pakistan) and Arab News

Dramatic political upheaval moves Hamas from Iran to Turkey’s Sunni bloc

The Sunni versus Shia realignment of the Mideast that I have been talking about for years is moving into place rapidly, thanks to the Arab Spring. The split between Hamas and Iran, which began last June in earnest when Hamas refused to support Iran’s ally, Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, who was slaughtering unarmed Sunni protesters, has now become a chasm. Hamas’s disengagement from Iran has been made a lot easier by the surprisingly aggressively position taken by Turkey with respect to Israeli policies — and specifically the policies involving Gaza — which came to a head during the Gaza flotilla debacle. The new Turkish pledge to give $300 million to Hamas has soothed Hamas’ transition to the Sunni bloc and has paved the way for Turkish leadership in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Jerusalem Post

Forced selling of Portugal’s bonds after downgrade to junk

Two weeks ago, Standard & Poor’s became the last of the three rating agencies to downgrade Portugal’s bond to junk status. This has resulted in forced selling of Portugal bonds by investment funds that are allowed to hold only investment-grade bonds. The yield (interest rates) on Portugal’s 3-year bonds reached 19.4% on Wednesday. With Greece headed for default, investors believe that Portugal will be next. Washington Post

China clamps down on Tibet during New Year celebrations

The Chinese New Year celebrations formally began on Monday, January 23. China has become 4710 years old as per its lunar calendar. Both the Chinese and Tibetans are known worldwide for their New Year celebrations, which involves family reunions, meeting friends, and conducting prayers. For the Tibetans, however, the celebration of their New Year has been a somewhat muted affair in recent years, with the Chinese government dampening the celebrations by sealing Tibet from the outside world and banning foreigners’ travel to Tibet during the period. This will be the fifth consecutive year of such a ban. Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi