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On Public Lecture: Jeffrey C. Alexander “The Performative Revolution in Egypt”

Jeffrey C. Alexander, the Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology at Yale University gave a public lecture today at Tallinn University. He was talking about the Egyptian revolution – event that he considered the most important in the Arab world and a day-by-day drama that could be dated between 25 January and 11 February 2011 during which drama the activists were ready to die and many people were killed. I was understanding the words “the most important” here in the terms of Egyptian influence in the Arab world – for example, Egypt as the major film producer can most influence the whole sphere of Arab thought and consciousness.

Professor Alexander was looking the events from inside – trying to reflect the consciousness in the streets as much as possible for a scientist constrained by the given limited research tools available. As a possibility he pointed to Al Jazeera journalists’ reflections as a scientific source. What is Al Jazeera?

How qualified are the journalists in understanding and interpreting the symbols? The essence and meaning of revolution? Understanding that materiality is illusion, but factuality is not, professor Alexander said that social facts in themselves do not speak, but their interpreters do. (The interpreters giving always subjective meaning to the facts.) From my side, I would question the qualification of journalists to ultimately notice and distinguish the essential social facts as one can only notice the symbols s/he is aware of.

Professor Alexander defined revolution as a kind of drama that has to lift citizens to new hope if it wants to succeed. But as we know, citizens are different, and the ultimate happiness of one citizen does not necessarily match the understanding of happiness by another citizen. Alexander raised the point of Egyptian revolution for common collective consciousness (that does not develop in itself and during a short period) as a revolution of dignity, moral aspirations and dreams and freedom (meimagines the opposition using the failures of a nation for demonstrating that the nation received her freedom but did not know what to do with it. This is not impossible also in the case of Egypt as if one looks at the new commercial advertisement on Egyptian TV where the Tahrir Square is getting coloured from gray, one may notice Coca Cola bottled in  t i n  -  opening of any tin can releases some tin into the substance which is detrimental to health. When one observes Egyptians, even the materially poorest of them (which does not mean mental poorness!) look very healthy especially with their strong black shiny hair. I was thinking of that and noticed that the Egyptians eat beans, other vegetables, bread, and fruit, but do not like to buy food with additives – if that attitude changes with the change in economic power also the health of the nation may change.)

Coming back to the role of media in social processes, with regard of the events in Libya the World media was almost entirely reflecting only the US standpoint – which for me demonstrates the importance of media and raises questions about journalism but also new media as reliable sources of scientific research.

But – do we have any better sources as we as scientists cannot physically participate everywhere, in addition noone can be expert in all sciences. So in such cases as the Arab revolution we rely on the data provided by journalists. Professor Alexander demonstrated the role of media as first clustered in a negative discourse toward Mubarak, but thereafter being manipulated into positive reflection of him – Mubarak as protector of modernity.

Somewhere in the end of his lecture professor Alexander posed the question discussed by media – whether Egypt becomes a secular and democratic society now, answering the question rather negatively, and I strongly share his opinion as the Egyptian people deeply honour traditions. Here ideologists may intervene and oppose the narrative about the fall of the Egyptian “Golden Age” occurring during Mubarak’s regime, indicating the fall of the Pharonic Age and the national set of symbols, the Greeks coming in, and thereafter Islam, and British colonization as the reasons of the fall – These are strong arguments for attacking also Islamic influence and traditions in Egypt and for separating Egypt from the rest of the Islamic world, and to my mind somewhere here could lie the main reason why Mrs. Clinton selected to support Mubarak earlier.

Alexander posed the question whether Egypt is able to go from the “dark side” to the “right side” without Mubarak? In order to go to the “right side” the nation must first define the “right side” for herself. To my mind this nation probably has to very wisely combine all her historical developments in order to succeed here. This is a question whether “a Mummie from the old Pharonic days could give the nation back their spirit” or should also other developments be combined with the “Mummie” if one thinks about the understandings of the audience of youth. And how to escape such trends among the youth that Martini and beautiful Western clothes (and tin-canned CocaCola) are cool – which could constitute a liberal drama for Egyptians. Should one oppose such trends violently and what would be the consequence of violence here (has forbidding drugs made drugs less popular?).

How dangerous could the too strong concept of Egyptian nationhood be for the Islamic world? Professor Alexander raised the already important ideological questions – whether “Coptic Christians and Muslims are equally [considered] Egyptians?” and “How do Egyptian civil sphere and global civil sphere interact?” meaning – what are the ideals for Egyptians? “What kind of symbols do the Egyptians have?”

I was thinking of the forthcoming presidential elections in Egypt. Obviously the outside world is very much interested in the result of these elections for the aforementioned reasons. As far as I have understood, the President will be elected by the Parliament. The list of candidates ranges from supporters of Mubarak, and previous representatives of Egypt in the UN to extreme nationalists.

What is the media’s and the World media’s role in the elections?



One Response to On Public Lecture: Jeffrey C. Alexander “The Performative Revolution in Egypt”

  1. Extremely well organized fundamentals and history of what the economy really means and the cause and effect within global commerce. The historic ebb and flow of trades of goods and/or monetary tokens is very well illustrated.

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