The Cairo massacre and winner-takes-all politics

In one of the more insightful comments on the Egyptian military coup, The New Yorker’s George Packer wrote back in July on the political culture of “winner takes all” that dominates the country in the post-Mubarak era.

Islamists and secular-minded Egyptians regard one another as obstacles to power, not as legitimate players in a complex game that requires inclusion and consensus. Versions of this mutual negation can be seen across the region, from the liberal mini-uprising in Istanbul’s Taksim Square to the brutality of Syria’s sectarian civil war.

Clearly, today’s massacre (is there any other fitting word to describe what took place?) should strengthen this view.

Packer attributes this culture to post-tyrannical regimes. I think that the more likely explanation has to do with the disintegration of national societies, caused by global capitalism and the technological changes of the last decades.

In fact, one could clearly see the emergence of “winner takes all” politics in the Western countries too – whether in the new partisan culture in Washington, or in the on-going effort by the Israeli right to change the rules of the political game.

We live in an age in which states are more powerful than ever, but the societies they claim to represent are breaking into pieces.

Those fragments are determined to take control of powerful state mechanisms, and when they do, they feel less bound to other groups under the same regime.

The post-tyrannical effect Packer mentioned may help explain the ruthlessness of the struggle in some countries as compared to other societies. But it could also just be a matter of wealth distribution. In certain places, it seems that people have way less to lose from the anarchy.