Sins of the Father

Don't underestimate the power or importance of the Hosni Mubarak trial.

Accompanying the screenplay of his highly successful film Romulus My Father, starring Hollywood heartthrob Eric Bana, is an essay by Melbourne philosopher Raimond Gaita where he explains why he even wrote the story detailing the hardships of growing up with a damaged yet stoic man:

There is no single reason why I wrote Romulus, but I wrote it partly because I wanted to bear witness to, rather than merely record, or even celebrate, the values that defined my father's moral identity...I am certain that the way people have been moved by it is inseparable from the fact that they believe it to be entirely without fabrication.

Gaita's words are searing in the context of watching, and simultaneously tweeting during, the live coverage of the House of Commons questioning of another Australian father and son - Rupert and James Murdoch - over the News of the World phone hacking scandal. More viscerally for me however was watching, alongside my Egyptian flatmate who was in Tahrir Square earlier this year, the Mubarak boys, carrying Qurans, clad in white gowns, and shielding their decrepit father Hosni Mubarak as he lay on a hospital bed behind bars. It was truly a historical moment - and relayed live to the other side of the world. The burdens of bearing the fathers' sins and vice versa were apparent in both of these media spectacles.

Many western commentators have pointed to the patriarchal politics that is at the heart of Arab despotism where governance is passed around like a gerontological baton from father to son - Syria, Jordan, Morocco & Libya. The leading foreign correspondent, Robert Fisk, makes this connection too. He opens, in article a couple of weeks ago, with a description of Rupert Murdoch as "a caliph, I suppose, almost of the Middle Eastern variety. You hear all these awful things about Arab dictators and then, when you meet them, they are charm itself."

But even Fisk, in his articles, has occasionally lapsed into an almost casual orientalism that solidifies the image of the Arab leader as a demi-God or a father figure to his rebellious children - that is, the citizenry - who do not know their own political good; one who is invariably western educated and returns to run the family business of autocracy with an orientalist disdain for his country's trivial problems of not having basic services and freedoms provided.

More recently Thomas Friedman, the self-proclaimed expert on the Middle East, asks: "That is, once these regimes are shucked off, can the different Arab communities come together as citizens and write social contracts for how to live together without iron-fisted dictators...?" Friedman still sees democracy, and the unprecedented trial of a corrupt dictator, with due process, as intrinsically outside of the Arabs' political DNA.

What Fisk & Friedman, unfortunately albeit in different ways, are unable to recognize is the chaos of multiple technological, political, social, economic, religious and, most of all, age dynamics and split loyalties currently at play in the so-called Arab street, where there has been a lot of gains and there are still more to come.

What is being witnessed not just in Tahrir Square but in other regional towns across Egypt and the Arab world are the organic operations and intricate mechanics of more than just an Arab spring or summer. Mubarak's trial is a reminder to the other Arab autocratic governments, and to the western governments who prop them up, not to peddle in false dreams of freedom that disillusioned our fathers in previous decades.

Farid Y. Farid is a doctoral candidate and freelance writer based at the University of Western Sydney

 

 

 

 

 

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Unite stewards urge members to back Owen Smith

In a letter to Unite members, the officials have called for a vote for the longshot candidate.

29 Unite officials have broken ranks and thrown their weight behind Owen Smith’s longshot bid for the Labour leadership in an open letter to their members.

The officials serve as stewards, conveners and negotiators in Britain’s aerospace and shipbuilding industries, and are believed in part to be driven by Jeremy Corbyn’s longstanding opposition to the nuclear deterrent and defence spending more generally.

In the letter to Unite members, who are believed to have been signed up in large numbers to vote in the Labour leadership race, the stewards highlight Smith’s support for extra funding in the NHS and his vision for an industrial strategy.

Corbyn was endorsed by Unite, Labour's largest affliated union and the largest trades union in the country, following votes by Unite's ruling executive committee and policy conference. 

Although few expect the intervention to have a decisive role in the Labour leadership, regarded as a formality for Corbyn, the opposition of Unite workers in these industries may prove significant in Len McCluskey’s bid to be re-elected as general secretary of Unite.

 

The full letter is below:

Britain needs a Labour Government to defend jobs, industry and skills and to promote strong trade unions. As convenors and shop stewards in the manufacturing, defence, aerospace and energy sectors we believe that Owen Smith is the best candidate to lead the Labour Party in opposition and in government.

Owen has made clear his support for the industries we work in. He has spelt out his vision for an industrial strategy which supports great British businesses: investing in infrastructure, research and development, skills and training. He has set out ways to back British industry with new procurement rules to protect jobs and contracts from being outsourced to the lowest bidder. He has demanded a seat at the table during the Brexit negotiations to defend trade union and workers’ rights. Defending manufacturing jobs threatened by Brexit must be at the forefront of the negotiations. He has called for the final deal to be put to the British people via a second referendum or at a general election.

But Owen has also talked about the issues which affect our families and our communities. Investing £60 billion extra over 5 years in the NHS funded through new taxes on the wealthiest. Building 300,000 new homes a year over 5 years, half of which should be social housing. Investing in Sure Start schemes by scrapping the charitable status of private schools. That’s why we are backing Owen.

The Labour Party is at a crossroads. We cannot ignore reality – we need to be radical but we also need to be credible – capable of winning the support of the British people. We need an effective Opposition and we need a Labour Government to put policies into practice that will defend our members’ and their families’ interests. That’s why we are backing Owen.

Steve Hibbert, Convenor Rolls Royce, Derby
Howard Turner, Senior Steward, Walter Frank & Sons Limited
Danny Coleman, Branch Secretary, GE Aviation, Wales
Karl Daly, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Nigel Stott, Convenor, BASSA, British Airways
John Brough, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
John Bennett, Site Convenor, Babcock Marine, Devonport, Plymouth
Kevin Langford, Mechanical Convenor, Babcock, Devonport, Plymouth
John McAllister, Convenor, Vector Aerospace Helicopter Services
Garry Andrews, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Sunderland
Steve Froggatt, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Jim McGivern, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Alan Bird, Chairman & Senior Rep, Rolls Royce, Derby
Raymond Duguid, Convenor, Babcock, Rosyth
Steve Duke, Senior Staff Rep, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
Paul Welsh, Works Convenor, Brush Electrical Machines, Loughborough
Bob Holmes, Manual Convenor, BAE Systems, Warton, Lancs
Simon Hemmings, Staff Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Mick Forbes, Works Convenor, GKN, Birmingham
Ian Bestwick, Chief Negotiator, Rolls Royce Submarines, Derby
Mark Barron, Senior Staff Rep, Pallion, Sunderland
Ian Hodgkison, Chief Negotiator, PCO, Rolls Royce
Joe O’Gorman, Convenor, BAE Systems, Maritime Services, Portsmouth
Azza Samms, Manual Workers Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Dave Thompson, Staff Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Tim Griffiths, Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Paul Blake, Convenor, Princess Yachts, Plymouth
Steve Jones, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Bristol
Colin Gosling, Senior Rep, Siemens Traffic Solutions, Poole

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.