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Friday, August 16, 2013

Day of Rage

Friday, August 16, 2013: A day of anger as proclaimed by Morsi supporters in Egypt. A day of death and carnage. A day of intransigence on both sides. Just a day earlier, the U.S. government had cancelled planned joint military exercises. Besides being largely symbolic rather than real sanction, the exercises were due to be downsized anyway due to the ongoing, across-the-board, sequester of the U.S. Government’s budget. Can something so convenient be counted as even “sending a signal?” Meanwhile, American foreign aid to Egypt, $1.3 billion—second only to what the U.S. gives Israel—continued, as if there were no sequester. As a direct result of the financial complicity, thousands of protesters in Turkey were shouting anti-American slogans. The protesters were so well informed that they were protesting the decision of the Obama administration not even to decide whether there had been a coup in Egypt when the military deposed Morsi. Turkey had emerged as one of the fiercest critics of what it has called an “unacceptable coup.”[1]

It is not as though the American aid gives the U.S. much leverage with the Egyptian military; aid from Middle East states, including Saudi Arabia (whose statement on the Day of Rage voiced support for the military), dwarfs that of the United States. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government, fearful of something worse (for the U.S.) in Egypt than its military, was not fooling the Turks or the rest of the world. The sad truth is that Americans could be harmed as a direct result of their government’s attempt to hold onto whatever leverage existed.
                                           The Egyptian military's "No Tolerance" in action on the Day of Rage.  AP/Hassan Ammar 
It is not as though cutting off foreign aid to Egypt would be so “radical” that the option was not realistic. On the Day of Rage, Germany, ein Land—wirklich Staat—auf die Europäische Union, suspended $25 million in aid to Egypt for climate and environmental protection projects.[2] Meanwhile, Germany, Egypt’s largest trading partner, joined with the French Government in calling for a federal response from the E.U.’s Council of Ministers and presumably the E.U.’s Foreign Minister. Indeed, one of the reasons for creating the E.U. had been that the states would have more influence together than separately. The states’ rights ideology was yet again obstructing Europe from attaining that goal.
I suspect that the difference in the respective reactions of the E.U. and U.S. with respect to foreign aid have to do with the power of the Israeli lobby being greater in the U.S. than the E.U. The U.S. Government was thus vulnerable to the accusation of hypocrisy on its democratic principles out of a rather obsessive concern for Israel’s safety. Had both unions withheld both foreign aid and trade with Egypt, the question would be whether the foreign aid from within the Middle East would be sufficient to sustain the Egyptian military in power. Ich weiß es leider nicht. At any rate, it is unfortunate that democracy and human rights can be so eclipsed by politics in the U.S. and even the E.U., the latter behaving as though it had one arm tied behind its back.

1. Clare Richardson, “Hundreds in Turkey Protest Against Egyptian Crackdown,” Reuters, August 16, 2013.
2. Associated Press, “Germany Suspends Egypt Aid As World Continues To React To Crisis,” The Huffington Post, August 16, 2013.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Business, Government, and Society: Making Humans Less Humane?

Richard Rinaldi, an innovative photographer in New York City, devised an interesting photo series, titled "Touching Strangers." It provides an answer to the following question: If brought together literally through touch, will two people who have never met begin, after some initial discomfort, to feel comfort, even a feeling of caring for the other person? Richard traversed the streets of Manhattan looking for pairs to put together. Seeing one person, and then another, who together would make an interesting picture, he would ask them simply to stand together. The  resulting picture would depict any initial reluctance. Then, he would arrange the two so they are touching each other in a friendly way.

A curious thing came out in the resulting pictures: a feeling of caring. Astonished, the subjects invariably reported that merely from the touching they actually had actually begun to care about a stranger! Reflecting on this feedback, Richard said in an interview that his “experiment” reveals humanity that lies within us, that we wish there were more of in the world, and that existed in the past. By “the past,” the photographer was referring to the photo shoots.

                                                            Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)  Source: Wikimedia Commons 

If we are willing to go a bit farther back in our reflection, say to the state of nature, whether mythic or historical, we can profit from the theory of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which can explain why we do not feel more caring and compassion as we inhabit great edifices of modern business, government, and society. Indeed, it may be that those tremendous artifacts within which we work, argue, and live may have gradually changed human nature itself—and not for the better.