The Egyptian Unrest


It’s very difficult to know what’s going on in Egypt.  You can be sure there’s as much going on behind the scenes as what is shown on TV or found on the printed page.  It appears however that the demonstrations against Mubarak are secular in nature, and widespread, although why it has taken this manifestation at this time is unclear.  Mubarak has been the only president since Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981, which means he has been in power for thirty years.  Of course we here in the West wouldn’t accept a ruler come to power, declare martial law and remain in power for that long.  Many people can’t bear an Obama administration that lasts only four years, so the excuse that Mubarak is necessary for peace and stability in the Middle East is ludicrous.

Also ludicrous is the insane fear surrounding one of the largest parties in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood.  A very good piece that you probably won’t read or hear about in main stream press here makes some very good points about that party.  Even the  mild mannered former International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei, for now says he is willing to work with them to build Egypt.

The Egyptian Brotherhood renounced violence years ago, but its relative moderation has made it the target of extreme vilification by more radical Islamists…..Egypt’s new opposition leader, former International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei, has formed a loose alliance with the Brotherhood because he knows it is the only opposition group that can mobilize masses of Egyptians, especially the poor. He says he can work with it to change Egypt. Many scholars of political Islam also judge the Brotherhood is the most reasonable face of Islamic politics in the Arab world today.

Meanwhile, Egyptians from across all religious denominations have come together to oppose the 30 year reign of Mubarak, with the rallying cry, ‘Muslims, Christians we are all Egyptians’;  this coming after recent attacks against Christian churches, which were blamed on Egyptian Muslims but were roundly and uniformly condemned by them,  will surely be exploited by Israel and other secularists who want to drive a wedge between the two groups. The Mubarak regime won’t relinquish power easily and is even willing to allow lawlessness to reign during the unrest in order to make the point he is indispensable.  Moreover there is now the threat of the Army or some other forces which have the ability to do so to shed blood on a score sufficient to get the people to stop for what is now a spontaneous eruption against a despot.  Look for just that result; it will be meant as a sign for all Middle Easterner who are chaffing under oppressive regimes not to follow the examples of Tunisia or Egypt.

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Robert Fisk on Tunisia


The end of the age of dictators in the Arab world? Certainly they are shaking in their boots across the Middle East, the well-heeled sheiks and emirs, and the kings, including one very old one in Saudi Arabia and a young one in Jordan, and presidents – another very old one in Egypt and a young one in Syria – because Tunisia wasn’t meant to happen. Food price riots in Algeria, too, and demonstrations against price increases in Amman. Not to mention scores more dead in Tunisia, whose own despot sought refuge in Riyadh – exactly the same city to which a man called Idi Amin once fled.

If it can happen in the holiday destination Tunisia, it can happen anywhere, can’t it? It was feted by the West for its “stability” when Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was in charge. The French and the Germans and the Brits, dare we mention this, always praised the dictator for being a “friend” of civilised Europe, keeping a firm hand on all those Islamists.

Tunisians won’t forget this little history, even if we would like them to. The Arabs used to say that two-thirds of the entire Tunisian population – seven million out of 10 million, virtually the whole adult population – worked in one way or another for Mr Ben Ali’s secret police. They must have been on the streets too, then, protesting at the man we loved until last week. But don’t get too excited. Yes, Tunisian youths have used the internet to rally each other – in Algeria, too – and the demographic explosion of youth (born in the Eighties and Nineties with no jobs to go to after university) is on the streets. But the “unity” government is to be formed by Mohamed Ghannouchi, a satrap of Mr Ben Ali’s for almost 20 years, a safe pair of hands who will have our interests – rather than his people’s interests – at heart.

For I fear this is going to be the same old story. Yes, we would like a democracy in Tunisia – but not too much democracy. Remember how we wanted Algeria to have a democracy back in the early Nineties?

Then when it looked like the Islamists might win the second round of voting, we supported its military-backed government in suspending elections and crushing the Islamists and initiating a civil war in which 150,000 died.

No, in the Arab world, we want law and order and stability. Even in Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt and corrupted Egypt, that’s what we want. And we will get it.

The truth, of course, is that the Arab world is so dysfunctional, sclerotic, corrupt, humiliated and ruthless – and remember that Mr Ben Ali was calling Tunisian protesters “terrorists” only last week – and so totally incapable of any social or political progress, that the chances of a series of working democracies emerging from the chaos of the Middle East stand at around zero per cent.

The job of the Arab potentates will be what it has always been – to “manage” their people, to control them, to keep the lid on, to love the West and to hate Iran.

Indeed, what was Hillary Clinton doing last week as Tunisia burned? She was telling the corrupted princes of the Gulf that their job was to support sanctions against Iran, to confront the Islamic republic, to prepare for another strike against a Muslim state after the two catastrophes the United States and the UK have already inflicted in the region.

The Muslim world – at least, that bit of it between India and the Mediterranean – is a more than sorry mess. Iraq has a sort-of-government that is now a satrap of Iran, Hamid Karzai is no more than the mayor of Kabul, Pakistan stands on the edge of endless disaster, Egypt has just emerged from another fake election.

And Lebanon… Well, poor old Lebanon hasn’t even got a government. Southern Sudan – if the elections are fair – might be a tiny candle, but don’t bet on it.

It’s the same old problem for us in the West. We mouth the word “democracy” and we are all for fair elections – providing the Arabs vote for whom we want them to vote for.

In Algeria 20 years ago, they didn’t. In “Palestine” they didn’t. And in Lebanon, because of the so-called Doha accord, they didn’t. So we sanction them, threaten them and warn them about Iran and expect them to keep their mouths shut when Israel steals more Palestinian land for its colonies on the West Bank.

There was a fearful irony that the police theft of an ex-student’s fruit produce – and his suicide in Tunis – should have started all this off, not least because Mr Ben Ali made a failed attempt to gather public support by visiting the dying youth in hospital.

For years, this wretched man had been talking about a “slow liberalising” of his country. But all dictators know they are in greatest danger when they start freeing their entrapped countrymen from their chains.

And the Arabs behaved accordingly. No sooner had Ben Ali flown off into exile than Arab newspapers which have been stroking his fur and polishing his shoes and receiving his money for so many years were vilifying the man. “Misrule”, “corruption”, “authoritarian reign”, “a total lack of human rights”, their journalists are saying now. Rarely have the words of the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran sounded so painfully accurate: “Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings, and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again.” Mohamed Ghannouchi, perhaps?

Of course, everyone is lowering their prices now – or promising to. Cooking oil and bread are the staple of the masses. So prices will come down in Tunisia and Algeria and Egypt. But why should they be so high in the first place?

Algeria should be as rich as Saudi Arabia – it has the oil and gas – but it has one of the worst unemployment rates in the Middle East, no social security, no pensions, nothing for its people because its generals have salted their country’s wealth away in Switzerland.

And police brutality. The torture chambers will keep going. We will maintain our good relations with the dictators. We will continue to arm their armies and tell them to seek peace with Israel.

And they will do what we want. Ben Ali has fled. The search is now on for a more pliable dictator in Tunisia – a “benevolent strongman” as the news agencies like to call these ghastly men.

And the shooting will go on – as it did yesterday in Tunisia – until “stability” has been restored.

No, on balance, I don’t think the age of the Arab dictators is over. We will see to that.

 

Robert Fisk

The Independent

Stick and Carrot diplomacy


The wingnut “right” does have a place in American politics.  If one is perceptive enough you can vaguely see an outline of the foreign policy objectives of Washington spewing from the mouthpieces of right wing pundits/racists. Despite the apparent “hate” relationship between the present occupant of the White House and those on the vociferous “right” the pundits of insanity, plunder and racism give government an idea of just how far it, government, can go in its never ending battle for empire and dominion. It is not necessary for diplomacy or policy to be carried out in just the same way the racist homo/Islamophobes express but it probably comes close.  Case in point, Sean Hannity’s latest imperialistic diatribe.

With rising gas prices and a stagnant economy, Hannity’s solution of taking over another country’s natural resources because we can most likely strikes a chord in the minds of many a besieged listener who wants to settle scores with the Islamic/Muslim hordes they’ve so assiduously been warned about this last decade.  Current Washington probably has entertained the same ideas while former Bush administration officials said as much when making their case for war with Iraq.  The Obama administration on the other hand, supposedly carries a carrot not a stick, unlike its predecessor.  It must have the appearance of  remaining true to the kinder, gentler prescription for diplomacy, hence this from the Secretary of State, Clinton.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a scalding critique of Arab leaders here on Thursday, saying their countries risked “sinking into the sand” of unrest and extremism unless they liberalized their political systems and cleaned up their economies.

Speaking at a conference in this gleaming Persian Gulf emirate, Mrs. Clinton recited a familiar litany of ills: corruption, repression and a lack of rights for women and religious minorities. But her remarks were striking for their vehemence, and they suggested a frustration that the Obama administration’s message to the Arab world had not gotten through.

Secretary Clinton, taking a page from the wingnuts, makes many in the Middle East who are victims the cause of their victimization.  Lest one forget, there were no WMDs in Iraq which was invaded after a decade long blockade that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis; Gaza is an outdoor prison camp, with the West Bank merely an enclave within the modern state of Israel with no territorial sovereignty or integrity and the second largest recipient of US aid is a 30 year long dictatorship.  Notice the tone of the above article.  Words like “vehemence” and “frustration” are designed to send signals that unless things change diplomacy may give way to something harsher.  Let’s not forget that in the 80s Saddam Hussein was Washington’s leader of choice for Iraq, but only 20 years later encouraged and cheered on his execution.  That shouldn’t be lost on the leaders of oil producing countries that serve an insatiable American public the oil which fuels the American economy.  Hannity’s arrogant bluster and frustration regrettably is probably  an outline for future American policy.

Stunning words from the mainstream


Paul Craig Roberts is a maverick of sorts, ever since he left the Reagan administration and began writing editorials about current events.  He still reflects fondly on Reagan, the conservative most modern day conservatives like to pattern themselves after, but speaks disdainfully of GW Bush and the people who surrounded him, calling them ‘brownshirts with the same level of intelligence and morals as Hitler’s enthusiastic supporters.’ Amen to that.  However, he has written a damning editorial on the war on terror, written by the way, at about the same time as Dick Cheney’s rather high treasonous remarks, which speaks volumes on how that war has been carried out and whether it’s real.  I’d like to produce exercepts of it below. He does a far better job of saying it than I ever could.

According to US government propaganda, terrorist cells are spread throughout America, making it necessary for the government to spy on all Americans and violate most other constitutional protections. Among President Bush’s last words as he left office was the warning that America would soon be struck again by Muslim terrorists.

If America were infected with terrorists, we would not need the government to tell us. We would know it from events. As there are no events, the US government substitutes warnings in order to keep alive the fear that causes the public to accept pointless wars, the infringement of civil liberty, national ID cards, and inconveniences and harassments when they fly.

The “war on terror” is a hoax that fronts for American control of oil pipelines, the profits of the military-security complex, the assault on civil liberty by fomenters of a police state, and Israel’s territorial expansion.

There were no al Qaeda in Iraq until the Americans brought them there by invading and overthrowing Saddam Hussein, who kept al Qaeda out of Iraq. The Taliban is not a terrorist organization, but a movement attempting to unify Afghanistan under Muslim law. The only Americans threatened by the Taliban are the Americans Bush sent to Afghanistan to kill Taliban and to impose a puppet state on the Afghan people.

Hamas is the democratically elected government of Palestine, or what little remains of Palestine after Israel’s illegal annexations. Hamas is a terrorist organization in the same sense that the Israeli government and the US government are terrorist organizations. In an effort to bring Hamas under Israeli hegemony, Israel employs terror bombing and assassinations against Palestinians. Hamas replies to the Israeli terror with homemade and ineffectual rockets.

Hezbollah represents the Shi’ites of southern Lebanon, another area in the Middle East that Israel seeks for its territorial expansion.

The US brands Hamas and Hezbollah “terrorist organizations” for no other reason than the US is on Israel’s side of the conflict. There is no objective basis for the US Department of State’s “finding” that Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations. It is merely a propagandistic declaration.

The retired American generals who serve as war propagandists for Fox “News” are forever claiming that Iran arms the Iraqi and Afghan insurgents and Hamas. But where are the arms? To deal with American tanks, insurgents have to construct homemade explosive devices out of artillery shells. After six years of conflict the insurgents still have no weapon against the American helicopter gunships. Contrast this “arming” with the weaponry the US supplied to the Afghans three decades ago when they were fighting to drive out the Soviets.

The films of Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza show large numbers of Gazans fleeing from Israeli bombs or digging out the dead and maimed, and none of these people are armed. A person would think that by now every Palestinian would be armed, every man, woman, and child. Yet, all the films of the Israeli attack show an unarmed population. Hamas has to construct homemade rockets that are little more than a sign of defiance. If Hamas were armed by Iran, Israel’s assault on Gaza would have cost Israel its helicopter gunships, its tanks, and hundreds of lives of its soldiers.

The great mystery is: why after 60 years of oppression are the Palestinians still an unarmed people? Clearly, the Muslim countries are complicit with Israel and the US in keeping the Palestinians unarmed.

The unsupported assertion that Iran supplies sophisticated arms to the Palestinians is like the unsupported assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. These assertions are propagandistic justifications for killing Arab civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure in order to secure US and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East.