What this terrible article in the Atlantic Monthly means: nothing
I don't generally have the time or inclination to go after bad writing on the middle east, but this absurd "analysis" on the Atlantic Monthly's site is just too much, starting with the first paragraph, which states:
Astute observers of recent pro-Morsi protests in Egypt will note a new symbol cropping up in photos of the protesting crowds: Demonstrators are now holding four fingers in the air. Many carry yellow posters emblazoned with the same gesture.
How "astute" do you have to be to notice a hand gesture that is directed at every camera in the vicinity, and as the author says "emblazoned" on bright yellow posters?
The gesture that is here referred to as "the Rabaa" apparently "signals both a conscious shift in the Muslim Brotherhood’s focus from a global audience to an Arabic one and a rejection of the ideals of the Arab Spring." Unlike, the author argues, the V for victory that was used by earlier demonstrators and that "allowed protestors to communicate a set of shared ideals embodied in the initial self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit seller: half economic freedom, half national self-determination."
Where to begin? The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators that bid Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi an un-fond adieu used a panoply of slogans and symbols. The most common, meaningful and trans-national chant associated with the Arab Spring has to have been the Arabic chant "The People Want the Fall of the Regime." Not only is the argument that the V sign epitomized the Arab Spring extremely debatable; the comparison between the huge heterogenous masses in Tahrir and elsewhere almost three years ago and the mostly Brotherhood supporters protesting today doesn't make sense. They're different groups of people, in different circumstances, saying different things.
And as for the four raised fingers that derive from the Arabic word for "four" and refer to the Rabaa El Adawiya square where hundreds were killed on August 14 when Egyptian security forces cleared an Islamist sit in -- it's a distinct, eloquent gesture such as people might come up with to telegraph a political stance (although according to the author it is "orchestrated" and "not organic"). Is the author suggesting that people who want to express outrage and solidarity with the dead of Rabaa should be flashing a victory sign? What in the world is sinister with crafting a message based on your own language, addressed to your own people? Or do Arab gestures, to count as meaningful -- let alone inspiring -- all have to be addressed to an international audience? I guess all the ways that largely anti-Islamist young Egyptians have appropriated and subverted the Rabaa symbol is also at odds with the Arab Spring.
The way the writer makes four raised fingers stand for all the Muslim Brotherhood's faults is strange nonsense: "It reveals the Brotherhood’s roots as a political party and the propaganda upon which it relies. Morsi’s followers are not a popularly supported movement with a widespread and diverse base." The Brotherhood is an on-message political organization that isn't very popular right now -- I somehow knew that already. It wasn't "revealed" to me by this hand gesture.
The Atlantic's policy of soliciting unpaid freelance contributions for its site has been the source of recent controversy. This piece seems to show the results. But does The Atlantic also only use unpaid freelance editors? Does it have editors at all?