It is amazing how the incumbent French president Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to campaign on everything, but on his domestic agenda and accomplishments. I have already noted on this blog that Sarkozy cannot run on his record and win his reelection bid. So, he is running away from it as I have predicted, and the legislation criminalizing denials of the Turkish genocide against the Armenians population in the early 20th century is a flagrant example of this electoral strategy.
However, beyond the electoral strategy, this legislation clearly exceeds the French Parliament legislative prerogatives, and violates one of the most basic democratic foundations and rights, which is the right to free speech and expression.
It is not up to the French Parliament to either write history or dictate its version of historical events. Parliamentarians are not historians and they will never be. Their role is limited to making laws dealing with the country’s political, economic and social needs. One would understand if the French Parliamentarians wanted to deal with France’s own past and history (the U.S. Congress did that when it recognized the responsibility of the Federal government in the massacres of Native Americans). One would also understand if the French Parliamentarians, for instance, wanted to clarify the role of the French Republic in the Second World War, or in the Holocaust, or in its colonial conquests. After all, those were events that involved directly the responsibility of the French Republic. However, for the French Parliamentarians to deal with events that occurred on another continent, in another country, about a century or so go, where the French Republic was not involved directly or indirectly, is a clear violation of their legislative prerogatives and duties.
Nowhere in the constitution of the Fifth Republican does it say that the Parliament has the constitutional duty to take up such an action, to revise and/or write or rewrite the history of another country and to assign blame. The functions of any Parliament (at the exception of the House of Commons) are enshrined in the country’s constitution. It is that general framework that limits the actions of any parliament, and the French Parliament is no exception. Thus, enacting “memorial laws” is clearly beyond the constitutional prerogatives of the French Parliament, and going as far as criminalizing the denial of a historical events—no matter how horrific that event is—not only is it unconstitutional, but it is also a violation of freedom of speech, expression and thought which are fundamental civil liberties that any democracy must uphold and defend.
Furthermore, the president has the duty to uphold the constitution. That is what the presidential oath is. Here, president Sarkozy by defending this legislation has chosen to violate the constitution that he swore to uphold. So, what is going on here? Why is Sarkozy pushing for the criminalization of the denial of the Armenian genocide? Why is there a need for a new law especially when there is already a law passed in 2001/2002, which officially recognizes the Armenian genocide? Well, here we go to the electoral game and the electoral strategy that the incumbent president Sarkozy has chosen. As I have stated it in a previous post, Sarkozy cannot win on his abysmal domestic record, so he has to carve electoral niches and tap into the fear and anger of each of those electoral niches. For the last 2 or 3 months, Sarkozy has been taping into the National Front electorate. You just need to read the numerous inflammatory and racist declarations of his minister of the interior, Claude Geant, to know that Sarkozy is going after Marine Le Pen’s electorate. Now he is upping the ante and doubling down on his bet. He is taping into the Armenian electorate, which roughly represents about 200, 000 votes according to the electoral data published in 2002. Granted, the French-Armenians usually vote center-right or right. However, with a president that has so little domestic accomplishment and who electoral coalition is breaking down daily, he had to find a way to consolidate one of those electoral blocks. By backing this law and supporting it, Sarkozy is making sure that the French-Armenian electorate will vote Sarkozy in the first and second round. So, as we say “mission accomplie”; however, i don’t think that the Armenian vote alone would be enough to secure his reelection.
In addition, how can anyone outlaw a thought? This is what this legislation does. It says that there is no discussion or debate surrounding a historical event that occurred in early 1900s, thousands of kilometers away from France, and on another continent. The French Parliament has substituted its judgment (more like an opinion to me) to the historians’ scientific work and investigation. By doing so, the French Parliament has criminalized any scholarly driven research into the events that took place in the early 1900s. By doing so, the French Parliament has outlawed any other conclusion or interpretation of those events and forced French historians and academics to endorse its conclusion, and banned them from arriving to any other interpretation or conclusion, but its conclusion. Not only does this violate freedom of speech in the most flagrant and obvious way, but it also violates the basic elements of a well designed research. We do not start with a conclusion and then work our way backward to find support for that conclusion, but we start with a question and hypothesis and go about finding systematic and rational support for either rejecting it or failing to rejecting it. I think, French historians and French graduate students in history should be abhorred by such a Stalinist law.
In sum, i am not surprised by this new law. It is motivated by pure electoral concerns. Sarkozy does not give a damn about the Armenians in France, nor does he give a damn about their early 1900s plight. He is only interested in their votes. And he will do and say anything to secure that vote.
I highly advise the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to pass a law (he certainly has the majority necessary to easily secure its passage) recognizing the responsibility of the French Republic (the Third, Fourth and the Fifth Republic) in the Algerian Genocides (yes genocides in plural because there are several) that took place between 1830 and 1962. Such a move would certainly anger the corrupt Algerian government since Bouteflika and his minions are known for kowtowing to their French masters; it would also please the Algerian people; but most of all, it would force France face to its real history and its real crimes.
Where does the crisis of civilization that has suffocated the Arab-Islamic world for more than a century come from? This is what Dr. Malek Bennabi tries to answer in the 3 videos posted below and in his published work. Of course, his analysis neither fits the orientalist frame that the West has been enamored with for decades (and Edward Said vehemently criticized in his work) nor does it suit the radical Islamist and Salafist’s frame.
It goes without saying that one cannot judge the work of Malek Bennabi based on these 3 short videos. For a better understanding of his overall intellectual contribution–one that i deem the most important intellectual work in analyzing the Muslim society–i recommend to my dear readers the following books authored by Bennabi: Discours sur les conditions de la renaissance algerienne: Le probleme d’une civilisation (1948); The Question of Ideas in the Muslim World (republished in 1970); Vocation of Islam (1954); Problem of Ideas in Muslim World (1970); The Ideological Struggle in Third World Countries; Islam and Democracy; An Idea of Islamic Commonwealth; Islam in History and Society (1st edition 1988).
Malek Bennabi (1905-1973) wrote about 24 books. Most of them deal with the intellectual collapse of the Islamic civilization and the root causes of such a collapse. He is a harsh critic of the Muslims, the Salafists, the radicalism of the Islamist political philosophy, and the Muslim world in general.
Attempting to summarize or analyze (like I am trying to do in this post) Malek Bennabi’s work is a very hard task. However, when we read some of his work (seminal pieces), we realize that there is a coherent and substantive analytical theme and an evolution to his thinking that he presented throughout his works.
Bennabi is not shy at identifying a period that according to him represents a turning point for the Muslim world. The 1200s or the fall of the Almohad dynasty represents a critical political, intellectual, social, economic, and cultural juncture for him. The post-Almohad is a period where the production of new ideas—i.e., original intellectual work and contribution—started to slow down. The failure to produce new ideas and the failure for those ideas to move the Muslim society forward led to the sclerosis of the Muslim world as a whole. As Bennabi argues in several of his books, a society that does not move forward and is stagnating on its previous acquisitions is a dying society. With a social death comes, inevitably, the civilizational one.
It is important to understand that Bennabi conceptualizes civilization as an organic body or structure whose most basic, and yet most vital, building block is the idea. When this organism does not produce new ideas, logically the organism dies. Using this heuristic exercise, Bennabi arrives to the conclusion that the death of new ideas post- Almohad led to the death of the Muslim civilization or, as he puts it, to a civilizational bankruptcy.
At the core of Bennabi’s overarching argument of why societies emerge and prosper is the production of new ideas. Without the fuel of new ideas, societies tend to die. Not only are new ideas essential for civilizational survival, but they are also essential for the production of culture. Again, everything is organic and everything is related to each other in Bennabi’s thinking. We cannot separate culture from the production of new ideas, nor can we separate culture from the prosperity of a civilization. Culture, argues Bennabi, is the mode of being and becoming of a people, and this process of cultural production (notice here that culture is not a static concept, but a living one just like civilization) cannot be separated and must include artistic, scientific, technical, and ethical norms and values. If new ideas have to be produced, the norms and values upon which a culture is based have to be well defined and articulated because ideas do not emerge in a vacuum; they do not emerge from a chaotic society; they do not emerge from a society that is plagued by artistic, scientific, technological and ethical backwardness. The emergence of new ideas comes from vibrant and dynamic society, which would ultimately and inevitably lead to the emergence of a new civilization.
Whether a society lives or dies, vibrates or stagnates, moves forward or backward, has to do with the system of ideas at the core of every society. When the system of ideas changes, every other characteristic changes. When a society develops, then new ideas are produced, and each phase of that social development corresponds to a level of production of ideas. When a given society is in its renaissance phase of development, that society has acquired or developed a system of ideas that is able to propose solutions—i.e., new ideas—to the vital problems in that particular society. And with each phase comes news problems, and of course society produces new ideas to deal with those problems.
How does the production or necrosis of ideas relate to the civilizational crisis in the Muslim world? Bennabi argues that there was a drastic change in the conceptions of states’ relations between the 19th and the 20th century. The relation between states in the 19th century was based on a balance of power. The measure of the power of any given state was measured through the raw projection of military power and economic mercantilism. That conception of state relations changed during the 20th century in which ideas, their production and projection, became the norm among nations and the basis of national and international power (many international relations scholars would vehemently disagree with Bennabi, and would produce empirical analyses that contradict his assessment, but for the sake of argument, let us overlook this point). However, this change was not fully digested by many underdeveloped and developing states. Bennabi argues that because these underdeveloped states (and most of the Muslim world belongs to this category) had such a gap in the production of new ideas, they developed an inferiority complex, which perverted and twisted their understanding of the causes behind this new development. These states began to worship the material criteria of power. They began to value the symptoms of the new development rather than the causes or the pathologies of this new development. In many ways, they began to value material objects coming from the west rather than value the causes behind the production of those material objects.
Trying to grapple with the ever-widening gap between the west and the Muslim world, Muslims have attributed (and still attribute) the causes of this widening gap to material objects. They analyze their backward situation as a disgrace mainly caused by the lack of sophisticated and powerful weaponry, or advanced banking systems, or rapid means of transportation and so forth. By thinking that the gap between the west and the backwardness of Muslim society is mainly due to “new shiny” objects, Muslims absolved themselves from all societal necrosis. Instead, this object-laden gap led to a pervaded psychological depression and general pessimism, which can only be cured by the acquisition of those shiny objects, and a perverted mimicry of the symptoms of this new development.
In this new cognitive framework, Muslims doubt their capacities to produce any new substantial ideas; they doubt their ability as a community t0 produce and/or trigger change. So when change happens and new genuinely produced ideas emerge, Muslims, intellectually crippled by their inferiority complex, ascribe those new ideas automatically to the west and blame the ever-conspiring west for the change that is occurring within their societies. This is one way to understand why conspiracy theories in the Muslim world are culturally produced and reproduced out of sheer intellectual paralysis and deep low self-esteem.
A way of dealing with this gap is through the acquisition of objects. However, the problem is deeper than that, and cannot be solved by the simple acquisition or the worship of those shiny objects. Muslims forget to look inward. They forget to look into the deep layers of their society. They forget to understand that their backwardness is caused mainly by the necrosis of ideas, and by the abysmal level of production of new ones. They forget that those new shiny objects are the by-products of a vibrant production of new ideas, of a vibrant society, and of a vibrant civilization. The boom in the new world, argues Bennabi, is based on ideational and intellectual norms. Of course, colonization of most of the Muslim world did not ease the rapid necrosis of new ideas in the Muslim world; it did actually worsen it by deepening the complex of inferiority and strengthening the false belief that the acquisition of object is the solution. In this vacuum of new ideas, backward ideas have come to flourish and dominate the Islamic society. Ideas, that again misdiagnosed the real disease of the Muslim society and prescribed the wrong medication, come to be the only sanctified ones that dominate the intellectual marketplace at all levels–from our primary schools to our universities to our hospitals, the disease of archaic and dying ideas has taken over. Instead of deeply reforming our society to reignite the engine of ideas, yesterdays and nowadays Muslim leaders preach the return to the source; they preach for a jump in time and space toward the source. This obsession with digging up the past and lamenting on a vanished glorious time distract the Muslims from asking the real questions and from working hard in order to bridge the gap of ideas. When Nasser called upon the Ummah to rise up and rearm itself after the debacle of the Six-Day War in 1967, Bennabi argued that the Muslim world was not in need of more cannons, planes and bombs, but it was in a dire need of intellectual renewal. He further argued that it is not by going back in time, and absurdly and mistakenly imitating the life of the prophet and his companions that Muslims would revive their society. Rather any revival would only come through learning from that prosperous period the political values that worked, and discarding those that did not. Only then, we can use those values–such as hard work, meritocracy and popular consultation–to lay down the foundations of a more modern society; a society driven by new ideas and moving toward a civilizational renaissance. But for the production of new ideas, the Muslim world would stay in its rigor mortis phase.
This is the overarching argument of Bennabi. He is not enamored with the West nor is he enamored with the past. For him, a modern society and civilization are measured by the level of new ideas they produce. For him, Islam can produce a backward society (this is the major difference between Bennabi’ and Sayd Qutb) if it becomes a hurdle and obstacle to the production of new idea. Therefore, importing and transferring knowledge without producing it is perpetuating and deepening the complex of inferiority. Maybe in the first stages, such a transfer is necessary, but it cannot last forever. Sooner or later, production of new ideas is a must, otherwise societal and civilizational decay is unavoidable.
During this transitory and tumultuous period that the Muslim world is undergoing, it is very important to reflect on Bennabi’s intellectual contribution to the body of knowledge. One is tempted to ask, what would Bennabi think of the Arab Spring? And i guess he would say, this is a good beginning, but it is not enough. He would urge us to dig deep and build political, economic and intellectual institutions that reflect our values and norms–but again he would warn us that our values and norms have been in a comatose-like phase for centuries, and that they need new fresh blood, and new fresh ideas.
This morning, as i often do, i sat down at my desk and fired up my computer to read the news of the day. I started, as i usually do, by reading the New York Times, the Washington Post, the overnight breaking news form Reuters and AP, and then Le Monde. Nothing caught my attention until i went to the NouvelObs.com. And there, i read an article by Renaud Dély titled “Hollande face au piège sarkozyste de ‘l’union nationale’.” The article sounded very familiar. The arguments presented by Mr. Dély felt like i read them somewhere else. Then, it hit me. Of course, those arguments sounded familiar to me because i wrote them, on this blog about two months ago in a post titled “France: Sarkozy, une strategie electorale a la Bush 2004.”
This is a classic case of plagiarism. Mr. Dély took my arguments, rewrote them, reworked them, and presented them as his. If Mr. Dély were one of my students, i would fail him for presenting an argument that is not his without properly citing the original source or citing the original work.
In my October 27, 2011 post, i argued that the incumbent president Sarkozy’s main strategy would be to present himself as the only valuable, unifying, and less risky candidate out there. His reelection strategy would be to limit the choices of the French voters to a binary choice/option. Either they choose an “experienced, battle-hardened, steady-handed leader and the captain who navigated the treacherous waters and brought [Ship France] to a safe harbor in these dire times”, or gamble and choose an alternative that would be a very risky option in this time of crisis–i.e., choosing Hollande. Sarkozy (just like Bush in 2004)
“cannot run on domestic issues. He has one of the worst record in job creation of the fifth republic; he has introduced highly controversial reforms that have not yielded any results (social security reform, retirement reform, education and so forth) he has a poor record on immigration control; he has a poor record on the economy and economic growth; and he has a poor record on security. During his tenure, deficit spending went through the roof and the overall charge of the national debt has tremendously increased. So what else out there is left to run on? In two words: leadership and national unity” (Laseptiemewilaya, October 27, 2011).
Furthermore, in the same post, i argued that Hollande has to have a careful electoral campaign strategy and must focus on tying Sarkozy to his record. If Sarkozy is trying to run away from his abysmal record, Hollande, as the challenger in chief, has to focus like a laser beam on the incumbent’s record.
Well, this is what Mr. Dély basically wrote in his article today. Why did he not cite my work? That is a question that Mr. Dély needs and has to answer. I sent him an email and left a comment below his article (I think the comment has magically disappeared from the comments section). Now the ball is in his camp. Although i am not expecting him to reply and answer my request, but i have to say that i hate plagiarism. Plagiarism is cheating; plagiarism is taking someone else’s work, ideas, arguments and presenting them as yours. It is a flagrant sign of intellectual laziness and dishonesty, and Mr. Dély has shown himself to be a good incarnation of these two nefarious values.
President Moncef Marzouki addresses the Tunisian Parliament in his first inaugural speech as a President of Tunisia
Earlier today, Dr. Merzouki delivered his first speech as the president of Tunisia. An Inaugural speech is an important indicator of how the executive branch (or its head in this instance) would behave itself in the future. It is also a way to gauge the priorities of head of the executive. In this first speech, this is exactly what President Merzouki did. In a very sober, yet very powerful, speech, he laid down what he saw as the most important challenges facing Tunisia. He reaffirmed his solemn belief in the core values of the Tunisian Revolution–democracy, rule of law, justice for all, economic justice, and transparency–and briefly sketched the road ahead.
However, what stood out for me as the most important section of the speech is when President Merzouki enumerated in a very direct way the enormous challenges he and his government are asked to deal with, and enumerated the values that he and his government are asked to defend. In that section, President Merzouki says,
We are asked, at the same time, to carry out the objectives of the revolution and to foster stability. We are asked to rapidly engage in the most urgent reforms without delaying the more structural one. We are asked to create jobs without sinking in debt. We are asked to encourage investment without encouraging speculation and exploitation. We are asked to protect the rights of the employees without forgetting about the rights employers. We are asked to develop and invest in the depressed regions of our country without forgetting about the other regions. We are asked to find the right balance between holding former and current leaders accountable without forgetting to seek reconciliation. We are asked to develop our Arab and Muslim identity and open up ourselves to the rest of the world without forgetting to deepen our relations with the East, the West and the South. We are asked to protect and defend the veiled women, and to to protect the right to protest and protesters without forgetting to protect the institutions targeted by the protesters. We are asked to preserve law and order without threatening liberty. We are asked to comfort and support the opposition and tell them that there is no room for vengeance in today’s Tunisia. [translated by the blogger]
Well, here is the entirety of the speech. It is in Arabic. I will try to find a translation or do the translation myself if I have time.
Here is Dr. Merzouki’s investiture speech before Tunisia’s newly elected parliament.
Everyone is confused by the Egyptian electoral system. Journalists and reporters–especially journalists from Le Monde and NouvelObs who literally showed a deep, and serious and sometimes malevolent understanding of the Egyptian electoral code–have made a mess out of it. They tried to explain it, but the more they try, the more idiotic they look. So, here is a nice and concise guide to the Egyptian electoral code, courtesy of our Egyptian friends at the Ahram in English
The new system in Egypt’s 2011 elections may seem overwhelming to those trying to figure out how the winners will be calculated. The introduction of the list system and calculations using the ‘largest remainder’ method has been a cause for confusion. Also, in the individual system, voters can now vote for any two candidates as opposed to one professional and one worker/farmer. Ahram Online examines the various rules involved in determining the winners of the elections.
How individual winners are determined per district
Each district will have two seats to be awarded to two candidates. At least one of them must be a worker/farmer.
In the first round a candidate may win a seat by getting a number of votes greater than 50% of the total number of ballots (50% +1 vote). Meaning if a total of 10,000 voters cast their ballots correctly, a candidate would have to get 5001 votes to win a seat.
Since every voter must choose two candidates, each ballot contains two votes. This means the total number of votes made available by 10,000 voters will be 20,000 votes. It is then possible for two candidates to each win 5001 votes in the first round. Two candidates winning 5001 votes or more can secure seats in parliament without a runoff, provided one of them is a worker/farmer.
Candidates unable to secure a seat by garnering the necessary votes go to the second round or runoffs.
Runoffs and the 50% worker/farmers rule
The following are the different cases for which there is a runoff, either no candidates won or one of them did.
· If no candidate managed to secure the total number of votes, then the runoffs will include the top two professionals and the top two workers.
· If the winner in the first round was a professional, the top two worker/farmer candidates compete in a second round.
· If the first winner was a worker/farmer, the next two candidates with the highest votes compete in a second round irrespective of their category
· If two candidates were elected in the first round and were both professional then only the one with the highest number of votes will be chosen and the top two worker/farmer candidates will compete in a second round.
How list winners are determined per district
Each district will have several seats to be distributed to the lists participating in the district. A single district may have four, six, eight, ten or 12 seats.
How are lists ordered?
Lists are ordered so that no two consecutive professionals appear on the list. Any candidate can be placed on the top of the list.
In each district there are a number of seats assigned to it for lists. Each seat has a cost in the number of votes. This cost is determined as the total number of votes divided by the number of seats. For example if there are 100,000 votes for 4 seats, the cost of 1 seat would be 25,000 votes. If there are 8 seats, the cost of one seat would be12,500 votes.
Let’s take the example of one seat costing 25,000 votes. If one list receives over 25,000 votes it will be granted one seat. If a list receives over 50,000 votes, it receives 2 seats.
What about fractions of a seat?
Fractions of the full cost of a seat follow certain rules determined by a system called the largest remainder. In its simplest form, after all the whole seat quotas (e.g. 25,000) has been deducted from the total number of votes for each party, the largest number of votes remaining for any of the lists receives a seat.
Total number of valid votes: 100,000
Number of seats in district: 4
Cost of one seat = Total Number of Valid Votes / Number of seats = 25,000
Because the revolution continues got more than the quota or cost for one seat, it is awarded a seat. The rest of the parties did not get enough votes to secure one seat. So where do the remaining three seats go? They go to the largest remainders after the full votes for a complete seat are subtracted.
The three largest remainders are: Freedom and Justice Party (23k), Al-Wasat (17k) and Revolution Continues (15k).
The three seats go to the three largest remainders.
In order for a list to be eligible to win any of the seats, a list must have won at least 0.5% of the nationwide valid votes.
How are seats allocated within the list?
The general rule is that each list has an ordered list of candidates. The candidates chosen on the list are by order. The candidates on the list win the seat according to their order within a list. If for example a list wins three seats, then the first three on the list have seats in parliament.
50% worker/farmer rule
The exception to this rule is when the professionals that will be in parliament are more than 50%. In this case, one of the lists will have to skip the professional and give the seat to the next worker/farmer on the list. The list that will have to suffer this is the one with the least ‘coefficient’.
A ‘coefficient’ is calculated as = total number of valid ballots / number of seats won by list.
Who is a worker?
A worker is a person who depends mainly on his income from his manual or mental work. He shall be a member of a trade union and holds a high academic qualification.
Who is a farmer?
A farmer is an individual whose sole profession and main income is through farming, lives in the countryside and does not own more than 10 feddans of land.
Nationwide Numbers for Peoples’ Assembly
- Number of elected individual seats: 166 (1/3 of total seats)
- Number of elected list seats: 332 (2/3 of total seats)
- Total Number of elected seats: 498
- Percentage of seats that must be allocated to farmers/workers: At least 50 %
- Total number of electoral districts / constituencies for lists: 46
- Total number of electoral districts / constituencies for individuals: 83
Seats per district/constituency for lists
- 15 districts have four seats
- One district has six seats
- 19 districts have eight seats
- Nine districts have 10 seats
- Two districts have 12 seats
The partial results from the Egyptian legislative elections have started to trickled down slowly. From the early results, what we can conclude is that the Islamists ideological block has won big. The Freedom and Justice Party-Democratic Alliance (a.k.a. The Muslim Brotherhood) is clearly the big winner followed in second position by the Al-Nour Party (Salafists).
Moreover, from what we have noticed, there will be several runoffs in several districts between the FJP and Al-Nour Party. This is going to be a very important and interesting situation to see how the FJP leadership react, what kind of directives they will give, and how the voters behave in these situations.
Just click on the pictures to have a larger view of the results. It is important to keep in mind that these results are partial results. We will have a fuller and complete electoral picture with a serious analysis in a few weeks when we get the final results.
All these charts and graphs are courtesy of the folks at arabist.net. Please pay them and visit and thank them for their effort.