Monday, February 14, 2011

the godfather, the patriarchy, the egyptian revolution

I invested four hours, over two days, watching The Godfather for the first time in my life.  This, after investing many more hours watching a Peoples’ Revolution, for the first time in my life.  When The Godfather was released I was 11 years old.  At the time of the Peoples’ Revolution, I’m approaching 50. 

Wael Ghonim, the Google executive captured by Mubarak forces and held for 12 of the 18 day Egyptian Revolution, was born a year after I graduated high school. 

I spent last night with dreams and nightmares, inspired by The Godfather, and my fears that the Egyptian Revolution is being usurped without much awareness of what's going on.  It’s Valentine’s Day and my task, as a writer, an activist, and an aging human still trying to understand how the world works (for my own sake, if nothing else), is to put all of this together.

My understanding is that the Sicilian Mafia has honourable beginnings.  The island was being invaded by foreign forces, so families formed a militia to protect themselves and each other.  I live on an island, I can understand that.  The Egyptian Revolution also has honourable beginnings.  Millions of peaceful and non-violent civilians took to the streets and demanded the end of tyrannical rule.  I also live under tyrannical rule, though it’s nicely packaged and sold as “democracy” so few question it.  I can understand what motivates people to take to the streets.  

My only knowledge of modern day mafia is taken from movies and TV, The Godfather and The Sopranos.  Gang warfare and violence isn’t exactly a hobby of mine.  I can guess, and probably fairly correctly, they’re a patriarchal, hierarchical, economic force.  From this little girl’s perspective, they’re a bunch of men clamouring for power and control, brutalizing anyone who stands in their way, ultimately leaving this world feeling unfulfilled and superficial.

I would also guess that their methodology has evolved over the centuries, and that they infiltrate any and all portions of society where there’s money to be made, and power to be had.  Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Government …. maybe even Big NGO’s and Big Charities.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to consider that there’s some Big Gang related influence in whatever may grow from the ashes of Mubarak’s Regime.  They’re not so blatant as to acknowledge their involvement, or name themselves, because they need to appease the masses, convince them that they’re on their side, that they too believe in freedom and democracy. 

Enter Wael Ghonim.  Now this is all speculation, and I’m not suggesting that Wael’s tears for his fallen brothers and sisters weren’t real, but there’s something rotten, methinks, and something conspiratorial going on.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t a big set up, with Wael Ghonim as the ultimate pawn. 

The powers that control the governments and resources of this world realize that the people are waking up.  They know we facebook and twitter, they understand it’s becoming more and more difficult to pull the wool over our eyes – over the eyes of those of us who are paying attention, at least.  How’s this for conspiracy theory:  the boys let the people take to the streets, they loosed their thugs onto the crowd but allowed them to “win,” meanwhile taking a symbolic “everyman” into their custody.  And they chose him well – Wael Ghonim is a marketing executive for Google Corp.

Lest you think I’ve finally lost my bonkers for real, think about this for a moment.  How many people do you know who “google?”  How many people do you know who actually know what it means “to google?”  People throw that word around like the best marketing scam ever. Google is not a verb, it is a corporation.  Before they were a corporation, some geeky brainy kids built something like a library index system, aka a “search engine.”  They (and perhaps their marketing team) named that “search engine” cleverly.  Google is a catchy name, a very innovative brand.  Now they’ve got half the world saying their name on a daily basis.  If you listen carefully you can hear the cash register’s “ca ching” every time it’s spoken.  Even activists and feminists define their activity using the name of a corporation.  But what you’re doing isn’t “googling.”  You’re using a “search engine,” you’re doing a “search” of all the internet sites in the world.  Google happened to have designed a good mouse trap, and they named it well. You could just as easily use Yahoo’s search engine, or the search engine, or my preferred one,  It’s not a catchy name, but it offers good search results, and they don’t provide all my search information to the US Government, like Google does.  Whether or not you choose to use Google as your “search engine,” please consider that what you’re doing is “searching.”  Google is a corporation, not a verb. 

So along comes Wael Ghonim, marketing executive for Google Corp.  The job of a marketing executive, regardless of who they work for, is to package something so it’s attractive and people will want to buy it or invest with it.  My first thought, upon hearing of Wael’s imprisonment and devotion to the revolution, was that he’d quickly be released, or encouraged to take early retirement, from Google Corp. Corporations don’t generally show a fondness for revolutionaries.  But according to Wael’s tweets (I’m unable to find his blog), he and 7 other “young guys” met with “2 generals from the higher council of the armed forces and freely exchanging our opinions.”  I replied to his tweet, asking if he was there as an individual or as a representative for Google Corp., but I haven’t had a response.

In a later tweet Wael promises to write an account of the meeting, and says “Got approval from the army to start the 100 Billion Pounds campaign to reconstruct Egypt and help the families of martyrs & injured.”

Isn’t this just how the mafia works?  Bring someone from the other “family” into your “family” and convince everyone that it’s all okay now, we’re friends, we’ll make reparations and move forward towards our common goal?  Then blow their heads off …

Here’s my concern.  Where are the women of Egypt’s revolution?!!  Cleaning up Tahrir Square??!!  We, collectively on this damaged earth, don’t have time for another failed revolution.  And I just don’t see how handing power to the military and a corporation with ties to the US Government is going to save any of us.  I realize I’m not Egyptian, have never been to Egypt, have really no idea how their society is organized and certainly that’s ultimately up to them.  But I am a citizen of a planet that’s in need of some truly radical change, I have studied feminist theory, I have witnessed for almost 50 years the evils of patriarchy and its insistence on dominance at the expense of all living things.  I remember when Google obeyed the Chinese government’s request to censor search results to Chinese Citizens a few years ago.  (I think they’ve changed that policy, but it’s too little too late as far as I’m concerned.  Who will they censor next?!) 

I’ve worked in the high tech industry, and quit when the small company that hired me sold out to a huge international corporate conglomerate … and that was many years prior to my two decades of educated activism that have followed.  What I’m saying is that I know how that world works.  It’s attractive.  It makes you feel special.  You get a business card with a fancy title, you stay in fancy hotels, you travel business class and meet with other people with business cards and fancy titles.  You get a nice salary and wear nice clothes.  It feeds the ego.

Wael Ghonim is probably very genuinely motivated by the revolution of his people.  He’s the perfect pawn.  He’s young, with a young family, and a need for a decent income to support them.  He’s trained to package things to make them look better than they are, so that others can sell them to people who may or may not need them.   

Our world is, quite literally, teetering on the brink.  I live in Canada, a cold northern nation where approximately 250,000 are homeless again this winter.  This is not only completely unnecessary, it’s downright cruel.  We need change.  We need, all of us, corporate executives included, to chose to live simply so others may simply live.  We need an infusion of feminist principles into all our structures, principles of equality and understanding and co-operation.  Capitalism is founded on principles of never-ending growth and competition.  The earth simply can’t sustain that, but it seems impossible to completely transform it. 

Even the Cubans, whose socialist revolution has resulted in highly educated and healthy people living in the only truly self-sufficient country in the world, are moving towards capitalism.  But they’re doing it with eyes wide open, and with extreme caution …. they’re embracing the favourable bits, like small business entrepreneurialism and with strict limits on foreign ownership, and they’re encouraging co-operative rather than corporate structures. 

Happy Valentine’s Day, Egypt.  You’ve given the world a beautiful gift.  You’ve given us hope.  Please keep a close eye on it.