It’s been just over a year since Egyptians, having thrown off the rule of Hosni Mubarak, voted in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi as their first-ever democratically elected president. At the time, it wasn’t seen as just a victory for politically minded Islamists, but also for the concept of democracy in the Muslim world. Founded in 1928 to agitate against British colonial rule, the Brotherhood had spent most of the intervening decades as a banned, secretive movement, its membership frequently rounded up by the country’s military rulers in mass arrests that often ended in torture and execution. As the expert on jihadist groups, Aaron Y Zelin, notes, the consequences of this conflict are still being felt: “After the military crackdown in 1954, we saw over the next two and a half decades different breakaway factions either attempt coups and assassinations or outright low-level insurgency campaigns. This led to the rise of what we know as jihadism today.”
After 80 years spent operating in the shadows, the Brotherhood’s electoral success seemed to disprove the claims of radical thinkers like Sayyid Qutb, who asserted that Islamism would never be allowed to govern democratically in the Middle East. (This claim is made often, despite the fact that in those few Arab countries that actually hold elections, Islamist parties consistently win the most votes.) Jihadist advocates of armed struggle had always claimed that the concept of democracy was a sham, and that as soon as an Islamist party achieved power, there would be a reoccurrence of the scenario seen in Algeria in 1991—when the newly elected Islamist government was overthrown by a military regime, plunging the country into a vicious civil war of almost unimaginable brutality.
Last week’s World Peace Update looked at the riots engulfing Slovenia, the trigger-happy Tunisian policemen who tried to blind the citizens of Siliana, and the looming possibility of Bashar al-Assad gassing what remains of his population to death with nerve agents. But Christmas is fast approaching, so the world should be gearing up to take a quick break from all the skull-crushing, right?
Not so fast, friends. While the Christmas cheer is gradually taking over my apartment and driving me mad every time I walk into any shop in central London, the loyalists in Belfast (yes, again), a few Bangladeshi politicians, and some Chilean pigs have been vying to take Scrooge’s crown as the biggest festive downer.
If you thought the spontaneous violence that took over Belfast last week (people got really angry at the prospect of flying the Union Jack at City Hall, remember?) was a one-off, then you were very wrong. Since last Monday, barricades have been set up sporadically across Belfast, followed by clashes between citizens and police, resulting in about 29 injured cops and 38 arrests. Friday saw the frenzy climaxing in a 200-strong crowd gathering near the city center to set up roadblocks and be chased by police. Cars were hijacked and set alight, causing the PSNI to deploy their water cannon to deal with the rioters.
However, the weekend was relatively quiet. I guess the loyalists needed to gather some strength before attacking that unmarked police car on Monday. (The policewoman inside the vehicle fortunately managed to escape unharmed.) The car in question was monitoring the office of Alliance Party MP Naomi Long, who, along with other Alliance members, has faced death threats for siding with left-wing party Sinn Fein in the vote to take down the flag. Politicians from both sides have been vocal about putting an end to the violence, but their calls have so far gone unheeded, with more protests set for the rest of the week. Merry fucking Christmas, Belfast.
This column has been running for 29 weeks, which is seemingly enough time to cover every single possible way people can fuck each other up. We’ve seen political parties being shut down, MTV parties being taken over by riots, strikes, revolutions, people fighting over soccer and fish… even milk being used as a weapon.
I figured I’d seen it all, but this week people from the city of Freirina, Chile fought over pig shit. Local residents fought police over the planned reopening of a pig processing plant (“processing” means systematic slaughter, btw) because of the smell that comes from hundreds of thousands of pigs wallowing in their own poop.
The government closed down the site in May after fears of a potential health risk but decided this week that all was safe now. Residents who didn’t want to be subjected to the smell once again came out in protest, blocked the roads, clashed with police, and launched raids against the plant’s guards with explosives. So I’m guessing the smell must be pretty bad.