martes, 15 de febrero de 2011
February 11 - 13, 2011
The Mummification of Pharaoh on Display
Egypt's Judgment Day
By ESAM AL-AMIN
“L’Etat, C’est moi.” (I am the state.)
King Louis XIV of France
Leave means Get out
Don’t you comprehend?
O Suleiman O Suleiman
You too must leave
Sitting in sitting in
Till the regime is gone
Revolution revolution until victory
Revolution in all Egypt’s streets
Chants by two million Egyptians, Liberation Square, Feb. 10, 2011
Thursday, February 10, was slated to be a day of preparation for the following day’s activities in Egypt. Friday was dubbed “Defiance Day,” in reference to the test of wills between the people and the beleaguered president. Despite seventeen days of massive demonstrations across the country, Hosni Mubarak remained defiant, still stubbornly refusing to submit to the will of the people, who were coming out by the millions to demand his ouster.
A day earlier, the leaders of the revolution called for a major escalation with another round of massive protests scheduled for Friday. Not only did they ask the people to come to Tahrir Square by the millions, but they also planned to march on state symbols around the country.
By midnight, the buildings of the Council of Ministers, the People’s Assembly (lower chamber of parliament), the Consultative Assembly (upper chamber), and the Interior Ministry were totally surrounded by thousands of people. Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq could not reach his office that day and had to relocate to the Ministry of Civilian Aviation.
The youth of the revolution also issued a passionate appeal to the labor movement and unions as well as to all professional syndicates to join the revolution in full force and ignore the regime-appointed union leaders, who were calling for calm as part of the propaganda machine to undermine the people’s demands.
Strikes and protests by Egyptian labor are neither novel nor surprising. According to Egypt’s Center of Economic and Labor Studies, there were 478 labor protests in 2009 alone, in which 126,000 workers were laid off, tragically resulting in 58 suicides. It was no surprise that this fervent pro-democracy call ignited a spark throughout Egypt.
Tens of thousands of workers across Egypt responded to this appeal and flocked to the streets. As a strike by thousands of workers in the state defense industries was declared in Cairo, these workers managed to block the streets leading to the factories where no one crossed the picket lines.
Other state-owned factories and government agencies throughout Cairo have declared strikes and took to the streets as well. For example, government employees at the Ministry of Environment, the medical Heart Institute, and sanitation workers were on strike. Similarly, public transport workers went on strike while holding a protest calling for Mubarak’s ouster. Postal workers organized their protests in shifts.
In the cities of Asyut and Sohag in Upper Egypt, thousands of workers in the pharmaceutical factories, state electrical power and gas service companies, as well as university employees declared a strike and marched across their respective towns.
Furthermore, in the Nile delta cities of Kafr el-Sheikh, el-Mahalla al-Kobra, Dumyat, and Damanhour, major industries such as textile, food processing, and furniture, have completely halted all production. The strikes then spread along the canal and coastal towns of Suez, Ismailiyyah and Port Said. Approximately 6,000 workers at five government companies managed by the Suez Canal Authority continue to be on strike, threatening to spread widely, impacting the passage of international shipping through the canal.
Furthermore, according to the Ministry of Tourism, over 160,000 tourists left Egypt in the last ten days, resulting in a total loss of at least $1.5 billion in tourism-related revenue to the economy. The Abu Dhabi-based paper The National reported that the country’s industrial output has dropped eighty per cent. The daily economic loss is estimated to be between $300 million and $400 million.
Rahma Refaat, a lawyer and programs coordinator for the non-governmental Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services (CTUWS) told The National, “Most of those on strike say that they have discovered that the resources of our country have been stolen by the regime.”
She then cited several strikes as a response to the general call by the pro-democracy leadership of the revolution. She listed 6,000 workers at the Spinning and Weaving Company in the industrial city of Helwan, outside Cairo, 2,000 workers from the Sigma pharmaceutical company in Qesna, while about 5,000 unemployed youths stormed a government building in Aswan demanding the ouster of the governor. “Every hour we hear about a new strike.” She continued.
In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Kamal Abbass, executive director of CTUWS promised that if Mubarak was not out by Monday, all workers across Egypt would be on strike, a move that would paralyze the whole country.
Similarly, professional syndicates heeded the call and showed up to the protests in full force. On Wednesday evening, hundreds of judges dressed in their black robes and green sashes joined with other demonstrators in Tahrir Square.
According to Al-Jazeera over twelve thousand lawyers dressed in their black robes marched on Thursday to Abdeen, one of Mubarak’s presidential palaces in central Cairo, demanding that he resign.
The same day thousands of medical doctors and pharmacists marched in their white coats to Tahrir Square, joining the demonstrators calling for Mubarak’s departure. Meanwhile, thousands of journalists chased their government-appointed union president from his office, and marched to downtown Cairo declaring their support, to the delight of the protesters.
Likewise, actors, writers, directors, singers and musicians were not far behind. For the first time in recent history hundreds of artists joined while chanting with the public in an unprecedented display of support and solidarity.
In addition, many Muslim and Coptic leaders such as the former Mufti of Egypt, Muhammad Nasr Farid and Father Fawzi Khalil, showed up at Tahrir Square calling for unity and declaring their support to the Revolution of the Youth as one called it.
In one of the most emotional moments of the day, three army officers, two majors and a captain, showed up in uniform declaring their total support for the goals of the revolution. Maj. Ahmad Ali Shoman declared on live television that he handed his pistol over to his commanding officer earlier in order to join the nonviolent and peaceful struggle against the regime.
He called on President Hosni Mubarak, Vice President Omar Suleiman, Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq, and Defense Minster Field Marshall Muhammad Hussein Tantawi to resign. He then called on the Army and its Chief of Staff Sami Anan to take over and depose the president on behalf of the people.
The King is checkmated but still wants to play
By early afternoon, over one million people swelled into Tahrir Square. The leaders of the revolution declared that over ten million people across Egypt would be expected to demonstrate the following day after Friday congregational prayers if their demands were not met.
Subsequently, thousands left Tahrir Square that afternoon and surrounded the government-run television and radio building, which has been running anti-revolution propaganda since the first day of the protests. Immediately, government authorities evacuated the building while the army protected it from being stormed by the people, who camped out around it.
By late afternoon, an unexpected declaration by the army was read on state television. It was dubbed Communiqué One, a name reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s army coups. It was read in the name of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which consists of the Minister of Defense, the Joints Chief of Staff, Chiefs of the four military branches, as well as the Commanders of the different weapon systems.
As president, Mubarak is the commander-in-chief of this council. But he was conspicuously absent, which led many people to believe his departure was imminent. The declaration by the spokesperson, Gen. Ismail Etman, gave credence to this conclusion when he declared that the SCAF was “in total support of the legitimate demands of the people.” He further stated that SCAF would be meeting in continuous session in order to decide on what “course of action it should take to secure the demands and gains of the people.”
Shortly thereafter, state television declared that Mubarak would address his people at 11 PM. This declaration fueled speculation that Mubarak was about to step down and resign. This expectation was also bolstered when CIA director Leon Panetta, testifying that afternoon before the House Intelligence Committee, stated that he believed Mubarak would indeed step down that evening. When President Barack Obama delivered a midday address in northern Michigan, he hinted that the Egyptian people would soon accomplish their demand as they were “witnessing history unfold.”
Nevertheless, the embattled Egyptian president’s third address since the inception of the revolution on Jan. 25 was true to form. The delusional president gave a pathetic address in which he reiterated all his earlier “concessions” (not running for a sixth presidential term in September and offering some constitutional reforms.)
He further claimed that the call for him to step down was a “foreign dictation” in a clear reference to Washington. With a straight face he declared that he had never given in to foreign demands and pressure and was not about to do so in this instance, totally ignoring his thirty-year history of providing services to the U.S. as a regional client state.
After pledging that he would remain president until September, he then offered to transfer some of his powers to Vice President Suleiman in order to defuse the crisis. It was a pitiful performance by a person completely oblivious to reality. Incredibly, he once more succeeded in insulting millions of Egyptians by accusing them, in effect, of being part of a conspiracy to depose him and destabilize Egypt.
Shortly thereafter, his Vice President followed Mubarak on television, arrogantly beseeching his countrymen and women to stop the protests and go home. Once more he showed fierce loyalty to Mubarak and thanked him. Perhaps as someone who has served him for eighteen years as the head of the intelligence service, it was to be expected.
He stated that now, as acting president, he has taken over the duties of the president, and was ready to lead in the path of reform. However, in his address, he totally ignored the demands and the will of the people who have withdrawn the legitimacy from Mubarak and his regime.
Likely scenarios: people united will never be defeated
Upon hearing Mubarak and Suleiman back-to-back, the Egyptian people were enraged. Millions who had been in the streets for hours, were now joined by the hundreds of thousands flocking to the streets, displaying their anger, and vowing to stay in the streets until the ouster of the regime. They chanted incessantly, “The people demand the fall of the regime.”
Further, they felt disappointed that their hopes of Mubarak’s stepping down, which were generated earlier by the army’s declaration and by the statements of the American officials, were dashed. What added insult to injury was Mubarak’s contention that the revolution was a foreign conspiracy directed at Egypt to destabilize it, ironically contradicting another statement he gave when he stated that he respected the protesters’ demands.
At every stage in this crisis, Mubarak has proven that he has always been two steps behind the people. Had he given this address two weeks ago, perhaps he would have found more sympathy. But with every speech he has succeeded in enraging and alienating the Egyptian people, in effect uniting them against him because of his arrogance and gross miscalculations.
According to the New York Times, Mubarak has been emboldened by the international support he has received from the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, and the U.A.E. All these leaders have leaned heavily on the Obama administration, pleading Mubarak’s case and urging the administration not to abandon its close ally.
On January 29, Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubair spent twelve straight hours on the telephone rallying congressional and diplomatic support to influence the administration to back Mubarak, at least until his term expires in September.
To some extent certain international actors, such as the United States, by virtue of having considerable leverage over the regime, may actually play a limited role in deciding the success or failure of Egypt’s revolution. But judging from the fast-paced events, there are currently three major domestic players in this high stakes game that might ultimately dictate its outcome: the Egyptian people, who are sustaining the revolution with its almost universal support; the embattled regime, including its stubborn president and vice president; and finally, the army.
To the dismay of their friends in Washington, Mubarak and Suleiman have played their risky move badly. In essence, Mubarak tied the fate of Suleiman (the favored American and Israeli candidate to keep Egypt in the orbit of the West) to his own. In their addresses, both have decided to challenge the Egyptian people, hoping to either divide or exhaust them.
Nonetheless, the people are determined to carry on with their revolution, calling for a massive day of demonstrations and strikes on Friday. Every segment of society has pledged to participate. The joke in Egypt is that the only person who would stay home on that day is Mubarak.
They also vowed not only to demonstrate and stay in Tahrir Square but also to march to several presidential palaces and other government buildings. The pro-democracy organizers insist on escalating their campaign until every corner in Egypt is part of the action and the country is at a stand still.
The crucial question is this: How much is the third side of this triangle, namely the army, willing to tolerate the country’s polarization? How would it determine the outcome of this tense confrontation?
On Friday morning, SCAF issued its second Communiqué, basically endorsing the Mubarak/Suleiman roadmap.
Here are the facts known so far.
The army has pledged to protect the people and their revolution. It declared flatly that it would not shoot at the demonstrators. On the other hand, the army leadership has also shown not only incredible loyalty and deference to Mubarak and his dying regime, but also endorsement of its limited reform program, without the critical support for the ouster of Mubarak or his regime. In short, Suleiman would govern under the protection of the army. Thirdly, the army leadership has expressed grave concerns about the situation, vowing to continuously monitor it, and to intervene at crucial moments, but most likely on the side of the regime.
In his speech Suleiman claimed to have the backing of the army. He confidently warned the people and asked them to go home. The army in its subsequent communiqué confirmed that. Meanwhile, the people rejected his call and vowed to protest by the millions. For their part, the protesters continue to chant that the people and the army are one, expressing an unwavering confidence in that institution.
Observers present different scenarios. One possibility is the direct interference of the army if the situation either turns violent or violence is somehow interjected by other actors despite the non-violent and peaceful posture of the revolution and its leaders.
In this case the army would crack down hard on the people, declaring martial law, and then imposing political leaders as occurred in Algeria in 1992. This could only take place if the regime was able to instigate massive violence on the part of the opposition to justify the army’s violence. As the Algerian model demonstrates, this is a very risky and costly scenario. In this case, the people have to split and the regime must receive unqualified Western backing. An unlikely outcome on both counts.
Another scenario is for Mubarak to leave the country soon under a medical pretext, so that Suleiman could claim that the main demand of the opposition has been fulfilled and thus people should go home while he manages the political dialogue and supervises the process of constitutional reforms.
However, the majority of the people would most likely reject this stand, arguing that whatever presidential authority Mubarak has transferred to Suleiman, he could always retrieve whenever he wishes. More importantly, the pro-democracy revolutionaries have demanded the downfall of the regime, not just the ouster of Mubarak. In their eyes, Mubarak and Suleiman have become indistinguishable. In that case, the army would be forced to intervene.
If the people are not split and stay firm on their demands, including the ouster of the entire regime, the dissolution of both chambers of parliament, the formation of a national unity government, the lifting of the emergency law, and the establishment of a new constitution based on democratic principles, judicial independence, and safeguarding civil rights and freedoms, then it’s unlikely that the army would crack down on the demonstrators.
In this hopeful scenario, the army would calibrate its position, stand with the people, and change its indirect support of Mubarak and Suleiman. In this case, the revolution would have spectacularly succeeded in achieving all of its goals. Clearly, its impact on the region would be enormous.
Already, several countries have been influenced by the events in Tunisia and Egypt. But the successful outcome of Egypt’s revolution would unleash its great potential and serve as the model to neighboring countries. Undoubtedly, this would seriously upset several pro-Western despots in the region, many of whom have already been trying to stem the Egyptian tsunami coming their way.
Algeria, for instance, declared this week that it would lift its state of emergency that has been in effect since 1992. Still the opposition group “Free Youth Movement in Algeria,” called for massive demonstrations against the regime on Saturday, Feb. 12. Many other opposition groups have also vowed to join.
Yemen’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, declared in a recent address that neither he nor his son would be candidates in the next presidential elections, scheduled for 2013. Nevertheless, opposition groups have insisted on calling for huge protests on
Friday to pressure the regime to open up the political system.
In Jordan, King Abdullah II sacked his Prime Minister in an effort to quell massive protests against the government persisting since mid-January. He has also started a dialogue with the opposition in the hopes of deflecting any revolutionary change.
According to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, many political observers, including CIA experts, believe that the Saudi regime has all the characteristics of a society suffering from social instability and economic inequality. They consider it a ripe candidate for serious protests and political turmoil.
After eighteen days of massive popular protests and widespread mobilization, it is clear that Egypt’s revolution has been embraced by all of its people. Judgment day is upon the regime and its defenders. Mubarak and his regime have failed. Soon, the army may either usher a new bright dawn for Egypt’s future or a new abyss that would lead to more instability and chaos.
As John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Esam Al-Amin can be reached at email@example.com
viernes, 11 de febrero de 2011
February 9, 2011
From Stalemate to Checkmate
Meet Egypt's Future LeadersBy ESAM AL-AMIN
O Youth, today is your day so shout
No more slumber or deep sleep
This is your time and your place
Bestow on us your talents and efforts
We want Egypt’s youth to hold fast
As they resist the aggressor and outsider
Egyptian Poet Ibrahim Nagi (1898-1953)
On June 6, 2010, soft-spoken businessman Khaled Said, 28, had his dinner before retreating to his room and embarking on his daily routine of surfing the Internet, blogging, and chatting with his friends on different social websites. Several days earlier, he had posted a seven-minute online video of Alexandria police officers dividing up confiscated drugs among themselves.
When his Internet service suddenly was disrupted that evening, he left his middle class apartment in the coastal city of Alexandria and headed to his neighborhood Internet café. As he resumed blogging, two plain-clothes secret police officers demanded that he be searched. When he inquired as to why or on whose authority, they scoffed at him while blurting out: emergency law. He refused to be touched and demanded to see a uniformed officer or be taken to a police station.
According to eyewitnesses, within minutes they dragged him to a nearby vacant building and began to severely beat up his tiny body, eventually smashing his head on a marble tabletop. His body was subsequently dumped in the street to be retrieved later by an ambulance that declared him dead. According to his mother, Leila Marzouq, his body was totally bruised, teeth broken, and skull fractured.
Immediately, the Interior Ministry started the cover-up campaign. The official report claimed that Said was a drug dealer who tried to escape arrest. They claimed that when he was busted he died by asphyxia as he tried to swallow the narcotics. The authorities backed up this incredible account with two medical reports from the state’s medical examiner. The government print and TV media recycled the official version by painting the reclusive and shy blogger as a reckless drug addict and dealer.
However, when graphic images of Said’s body began to circulate online, other political bloggers and human rights activists were enraged and the nascent youth movement to rescind the 29-year old emergency law started to transform itself from online group discussions to popular protests in the streets of Alexandria, which were predictably met with more police repression and brutality.
Since he became president in 1981, Hosni Mubarak has been utilizing the emergency law as a club to beat down political activity and civil liberties, as well as a means to sanction abuse and torture. According to human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Egyptian human rights groups, no less than 30,000 Egyptians have been imprisoned under the law, which allows the police to arrest people without charge, permits the government to ban political organizations, and makes it illegal for more than five people to gather without a permit from the government.
Even the U.S. government confirmed the regime’s atrocious record when the 2009 State Department Human Rights Report submitted to Congress in March 2010 stated, “Police, security personnel, and prison guards often tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, sometimes in cases of detentions under the Emergency Law, which authorizes incommunicado detention indefinitely.”
Said’s case is hardly unique. A recent report published by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights documented 46 torture cases and 17 cases of death by government secret police between June 2008 and February 2009.
Since his murder the case of Khaled Said has become the cause célèbre for Egypt’s youth. Hundreds of thousands of young people across Egypt have watched related online videos, songs, raps, sketches, or participated in group chat room discussions. A simple Google search of his name yields millions of results, almost all anti-government.
One of the groups that embraced this cause was the April 6 Youth Movement. It started as an Egyptian Facebook group founded by Human Resources specialist Isra’a Abdel Fattah, 29, and civil engineer Ahmed Maher, 30, in spring 2008 to support the April 6 workers strike in el-Mahalla el-Kobra, an industrial town along the Nile Delta.
On their Facebook page, they encouraged thousands to protest and join the labor strike. Within weeks, over 100,000 members joined the group, who were predominantly young, educated, and politically inexperienced or inactive. Moreover, by making extensive use of online networking tools, they urged their members to demonstrate their support for the workers by wearing black, staying at home, or boycotting products on the day of the strike.
As the secret police cracked down on the April 6 labor strikers, both Abdel Fattah and Maher were arrested, tortured (in the case of Maher, threatened with rape), and detained for a few weeks. Both came out of the prison experience more committed to the cause of freedom and democracy, as well as more determined than ever to carry on with their program of political reforms.
Asma’a Mahfouz, 26, a petite Business Administration graduate, is another prominent figure in the April 6 Youth Movement. By her account she did not have any political training or ideology before joining the group in March 2008. With her two colleagues she immediately helped set up the Facebook page urging Egyptians to support and join the strikes.
More significantly, Mahfouz played a critical role in the mobilization efforts for the current popular revolution. She posted passionate daily online videos imploring her countrymen and women to participate in the protests. In a recent interview, she elucidated her role when she stated, “I was printing and distributing leaflets in popular areas, and calling for citizens to participate. In those areas, I also talked to young people about their rights, and the need for their participation.”
She continued, “At the time when many people were setting themselves on fire, I went into Tahrir Square with several members of the movement, and we tried a spontaneous demonstration to protest against the recurrence of these incidents. However, the security forces prevented us and removed us from the Square. This prompted me to film a video clip, featuring my voice and image, calling for a protest.”
“I said that on the 25th of January, I would be an Egyptian girl defending her dignity and her rights. I broadcasted the video on the Internet, via Facebook, and was surprised by its unprecedented distribution over websites and mobile phones. Subsequently, I made four further videos prior to the date of the protest,” she added.
If Maher is the movement’s national coordinator, Muhammad Adel, 22, a college junior majoring in computer science, is its technology wizard and media coordinator. Online he jokingly calls himself “The dead Dean,” in a reference to his young age and what could be in store for him from the secret police.
In November 2008, he was arrested at the age of twenty, detained and placed in solitary confinement for over 100 days because of his political activities on the Internet. He was denied any means of communications with his family during the whole period. His interrogators pleaded with him to stop blogging so he could be freed. He refused to give them any commitment until he was freed in March 2009.
According to the “April 6 Youth” movement’s platform, its main concerns include promoting political reforms and democratic governance through a strategy of non-violence; constitutional reforms in the areas of civil rights, political freedoms, and judicial independence; and economically addressing poverty, unemployment, social justice and fighting corruption. Their focus is primarily the youth and students. Their means of communications, education and mobilization relies on the extensive use of technology and the Internet.
Wael Ghoneim, 30, a brilliant communications engineer, has been working for several years in Dubai, U.A.E, as Google marketing director for the Middle East and North Africa. As a consequence of the murder of Khaled Said by Mubarak’s regime, he was enraged and created the popular Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said.” A few days before the current uprising he left Dubai to Cairo so he could be part of the historical events.
As the administrator of the popular webpage, Ghoneim was instrumental in the online mobilization efforts of the Jan. 25 uprising. So on the evening of Jan. 27, four plain-clothes secret police officers kidnapped him during the protest, an event that was captured on tape. For the next twelve days the government refused to acknowledge that he was arrested until the newly appointed Prime Minister announced his release on Feb. 7 as a gesture to the demonstrators because of his popularity and prominence in the youth movement.
Upon his release, Ghoneim said that he was kept blindfolded and in isolation the entire time he was in detention as he was interrogated about his role in the uprising. After his release he gave an emotional TV interview calling the three hundred people that have lost their lives during the popular revolution the real heroes of Egypt.
Furthermore, one of the most articulate voices of Egypt’s revolution is thirty-seven year old Nawwara Nagm. Since her graduation as an English literature major, she has been a well-known political activist as well as a severe critic of Mubarak’s regime working as a journalist and blogger for opposition newspapers. In 1995 she was first arrested and sent to prison at the age of twenty-two because she protested the inclusion of Israel in Cairo’s annual Book Fair.
Both of her parents are also well known in Egyptian society. Her father, Ahmad Fuad Nagm, 81, is perhaps the most popular poet in Egypt today. He has been in and out of prison during most of the past five decades (during the reigns of Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak) because of his political and satirical poems that directly attack not only the regime but also its head. Her mother is Safinaz Kazem who broke many barriers as a female journalist. Educated in the U.S. in the 1960’s, she became one of the most respected literary and film critics and political analysts publishing in major Egyptian newspapers and magazines.
Since the uprising began on Jan. 25, Nawwara has been an eloquent spokesperson expressing the steadfast political demands of the organizers and protesters, and in the process mobilizing the support of millions of Egyptians and Arabs who are constantly following the revolution on Al-Jazeera and other satellite networks.
On Sunday Feb. 6, the youth groups that spearheaded Egypt’s revolution formed a coalition called the “Unified Leadership of the Youth of the Rage Revolution.” It consisted of five groups with a grassroots base and are considered the backbone of the organized activities of the revolution.
The coalition includes two representatives from each of the April 6 Youth Movement, the Justice and Freedom Group, the Popular Campaign to Support El-Baradei, the Democratic Front Party, and the popular Muslim Brotherhood Movement. In addition four independent members were also added to the leadership for a total of fourteen members. Maher, the coordinator of the April 6 movement, and Ghoneim, an independent, were elected to the leadership. All members are from the youth in their late 20s or early 30s.
Ahmed Naguib, 33, a key protest organizer, has explained how the leadership was formed. He said, “There are people from the April 6 and Khaled Said movement,” referring to groups that worked non-stop to set off the uprising. Speaking of some opposition parties that want to hijack the revolution or negotiate on its behalf, he said, “They talk a lot about what the youth has done, but they continue on the same path as the government, marginalizing young people - except for the Muslim Brotherhood and El-Baradei group."
Coalition spokesperson is attorney Ziad Al-Olaimai, 32, from the Popular Campaign to Support El-Baradei. He read a statement on behalf of the coalition at a news conference that laid out their seven demands, namely: the resignation of Mubarak, the immediate lifting of emergency law, release of all political prisoners, the dissolution of both upper and lower chambers of parliament, the formation of a national unity government to manage the transitional period, investigation by the judiciary of the abuses of the security forces during the revolution, and the protection of the protesters by the military.
Muhammad Abbas, 26, is another leader of the coalition representing the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood movement (MB). After initial hesitation at the beginning of the uprising, the MB has brought since Jan. 28 tens of thousands of its supporters to join and help organize the efforts in Tahrir Square as well as in other demonstrations across the country.
On Feb. 2, government goons were beating up, throwing Molotov cocktails, and shooting at the demonstrators. Some of the female demonstrators under siege called Muslim Brotherhood leaders Mohammad El-Biltagi and Esam El-Erian pleading for help. Both leaders rushed to Tahrir Square after midnight leading over five thousand MB members to break the siege.
Dr. Sally Tooma Moore, 32, a Christian Copt and an independent member of the coalition’s leadership, is an Egyptian-British medical doctor. Under gunfire, she helped save hundreds of lives using a makeshift hospital in a Cairo mosque during the violent attacks of the security forces and the outlaws sponsored by the ruling party.
In a recent interview she demonstrated the unity of all Egyptians, Muslims and Copts when she said, “It's totally beyond description how the mosque has been transformed into a working hospital. It is a mosque but there are no religious divisions.” Her answer to a question by Al-Jazeera about the regime’s assertion regarding the lack of stability in the country was, “What is stability without freedom?”
Revolution and counter-revolution: A test of two wills
Since the inception of the popular revolution on Jan. 25, the regime’s reaction has gone through many typical stages. The first phase was the customary use of security crackdown and utilization of police brutality, which yielded over three hundred people killed and five thousand injured.
A list of the people killed by the regime since Jan. 25 was published on the opposition’s magazine website, Al-Dustoor. It shows that over seventy per cent of those killed were under the age of 32, including children as young as ten, with female casualties constituting about ten percent of the total.
During this stage, the regime cut off all Internet, mobile phone, and instant messaging services in a frantic attempt to disrupt communications and information exchange between the organizers of the revolution. But the genie was already out of the bottle.
When that failed miserably, and in a desperate attempt to end the uprising, the regime created a state of chaos by withdrawing the police and security forces from the streets including from neighborhood police stations, while releasing thousands of criminals from prisons around the country hoping to spread terror and fear as a substitute to stability and order as the beleaguered president warned in his first address.
The formation of popular committees to protect the neighborhoods coupled with the arrest of the thugs roaming the streets was able to defeat this deplorable scheme. The thugs that were arrested by these committees were handed over to army units deployed throughout the country.
The next stage was a tactical retreat by the government, occurring as the embattled president tried to deflect the popular call for his immediate resignation. Four days after the commencement of the uprising and the subsequent crackdown, he gave an address dismissing his cabinet; mainly sacking his Interior minister as well as other corrupt businessmen who were doubling as ministers of major industrial sectors of the economy.
He appointed his old Air Force colleague, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, as the new Prime Minister while still incredibly retaining eighteen ministers in the cabinet. He also appointed his long-serving intelligence chief, Gen. Omar Suleiman, as his first ever Vice President so he could be the face of the regime in leading a “dialogue” with the opposition to enact “political reforms.” But these acts were considered too little too late by the revolutionaries, and were rejected outright. In their eyes, he had lost his legitimacy when the first protester was shot dead on Jan. 25.
Within days, the regime offered many sacrificial lambs in the hope that public anger would subside. The ruling party that Mubarak has headed for decades, the National Democratic Party (NDP), was overhauled. All senior leaders, including his son Gamal, were purged. Many corrupt businessmen, who were considered influential party members just before the revolution, were now under investigation by the state prosecutor and prohibited from travel. A few were put under house arrest. Still the angry public was not satisfied, continuing to call on Mubarak to leave.
Moreover, throughout the popular protests the regime used all means to taint the main organizers of the revolution. First, they claimed that the protesters were members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. This claim while parroted by American Islamophobes and right-wing media, was never taken seriously in Egypt. It was clear to all that the main organizers did not belong to any political party or ideology. In fact, the MB did not join the protests until the Day of Rage on Friday, Jan. 28.
Then the state media repeated the claims that the organizers were agents of foreign powers, financed and manipulated by a foreign hidden agenda. The accusers could not make up their mind. They accused them of working for Iran, Qatar, Hezbollah, Hamas, the U.S. and Israel.
In one instance, state media falsely claimed to have obtained seven Wikileaks documents that showed a conspiracy between Qatar (read Al-Jazeera), the U.S. and Israel to de-stabilize Egypt. Why the U.S. and Israel would undermine a staunch ally like Mubarak was never addressed.
Najat Abdul-Rahman, a journalist in a state-owned magazine called 24 Hours, admitted to her boss that she was pressured by the regime to call a pro-government TV station and falsely claim to be one of the organizers of the protests. She then claimed on air that she and other fellow organizers were trained in the U.S. and Qatar by the Israeli Mossad to spread chaos in Egypt. Although she tried to change her appearance and mask her voice while on camera, her colleagues at the magazine were able to identify her and reveal her identity. She has been suspended without pay pending an investigation.
The regime then turned its fury against the media. It stripped the broadcasting license of Al-Jazeera and withdrew the accreditation of all its correspondents. It also started arresting, harassing, and beating up foreign journalists including CNN’s Anderson Cooper, ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, and CBS’s Katie Couric. This prompted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare, “This is a violation of international norms that guarantee freedom of the press. And it is unacceptable under any circumstances.” Egyptian journalist Ahmad Mahmoud was killed after being shot point blank while taking a photograph.
With intense international pressure mounting, Mubarak gave a second address in which he promised not to seek re-election for a sixth six-year term this September, but nonetheless he refused to bow out and resign. Throughout the crisis, he tried to portray a false image of being confidant and in charge. But clearly the ego of this dictator was bruised as he was denounced daily by millions of his people.
By the end of the first week, it was clear that the stubborn president would not listen to anyone. He was able to at least secure the neutrality of the army, which was not prepared to turn against the people. But it was still loyal to its long-serving commander-in-chief, and would not depose him.
Meanwhile, Vice President Suleiman moved quickly to contain the political fallout of the revolution, and invited the opposition parties for a dialogue including the regime’s nemesis, the MB. Although all opposition groups initially echoed the street demand of Mubarak’s ouster, some groups, which had very little public following, gladly joined Suleiman hoping to have a seat at the table and to get some attention.
But everyone knew that without the participation of the youth movement or the MB, any dialogue with the regime would be meaningless. While the youth steadfastly maintained their position of “no dialogue unless Mubarak is out,” the MB fell into the trap of the regime and participated, along with many other opposition groups, in a dialogue with Suleiman.
It was a classic trap. More than forty opposition members entered a room where a huge portrait of Mubarak hung on the wall, a slap across the face of millions of Egyptians who were chanting for his ouster in the past ten days. It was clear that Suleiman was in charge of the meeting as he chaired the session and dictated the agenda. The groups were guests in his house. Not a great start.
At any rate, the regime did not give an inch. Suleiman even refused to entertain discussing the idea of Mubarak’s ouster. He simply reiterated all the “concessions” given by Mubarak in his earlier speeches including cosmetic changes to the constitution, and pledging that Mubarak would not run in the next presidential elections.
It is not clear why the MB participated, but most observers believe that the group sought legitimacy after being outlawed since 1954. It is ironic that the group would seek legitimacy from a regime that has just been de-legitimized by its people.
Upon the end of the meeting, the regime immediately issued a communiqué that thanked Mubarak, and reiterated the regime’s perspective and interpretation of events. It claimed inaccurately that all participants agreed on the road map towards finding a solution to the “crisis,” which was based on limited reforms to the constitution and elections, while maintaining all state institutions and characters including the fraudulent parliament. It did not promise the immediate lifting of the emergency law. Ironically, a day after the dialogue Suleiman declared on national TV that “Egypt is not ready for democracy.” So much for a reform agenda.
The MB leaders who attended the meeting held a press conference afterwards that not only contradicted Suleiman’s assertions, but also previous statements given by other MB leaders such as Abdul Monem Abu-el-Futooh, who maintained the original stand of no negotiations until Mubarak’s ouster. It seems that for a perceived short-term gain, the MB was looking weak and confused. A day later the MB rejected Suleiman’s characterization of the talks and renewed its demand for Mubarak’s ouster.
Meanwhile, the Youth leadership in Tahrir Square immediately rejected Suleiman’s offer and proclamations. They declared that they were neither party to any agreement nor willing to consider any proposals until Mubarak is removed. For the previous twelve days they have been able to mobilize over ten million Egyptians in the streets, why should they compromise on their first demand? They asked rhetorically. The will of the people shall be respected, and must defeat the stubbornness of Mubarak and his regime, they declared. After fifteen days the crowds have been sharply on the rise all over the country. Daily they number in the millions from all walks of life.
Checkmate: Revolution legitimacy trumps an archaic constitution
For a day, the declared results of the so-called dialogue by the regime created breathing space for the feeble regime to recover. On Monday Feb. 7, the U.S. and its European allies, which for days had been hinting and pushing for Mubarak’s resignation, suddenly changed their stand and accepted for Mubarak to stay until September in order to allow for “a constitutional transfer of power.”
On Feb. 8, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowly stated, “if President Mubarak stepped down today, under the existing constitution, … there would have to be an election within 60 days. A question that that would pose is whether Egypt today is prepared to have a competitive, open election.”
In effect, supporters of the revolution feared that its momentum might slow down, a stalemate may come to pass.
Since the uprising began, Mubarak has been hiding behind the new face of the regime, Gen. Suleiman. The U.S, Israel and other Western countries strongly prefer him over any other candidates to maintain the status quo and “stability,” in order to keep the current balance of power in the region, which is hugely in favor of Israel.
Newly released Wikileaks documents reveal that Suleiman has been a long-standing favorite by the U.S. and Israel to succeed Mubarak for many years. The London Daily Telegraph recently published leaked cables from American embassies in Cairo and Tel Aviv showing the close cooperation between the Egyptian Vice President and the U.S. and Israeli governments.
The newspaper described that “One cable in August 2008, stated that “Hacham was full of praise for Suleiman, and noted that a ‘hot line’ set up between the MOD and Egyptian General Intelligence Service is now in daily use,” in reference to David Hacham, a senior adviser from the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
In another cable, Tel Aviv diplomats added: “We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Suleiman.” Moreover, the paper stated that “the files suggest that Mr. Suleiman wanted Hamas isolated, and thought Gaza should go hungry but not starve.”
Regardless, the organizers of the revolution declared that they have no trust in the regime. They asked rhetorically how could they trust a Vice President whose loyalty is to a discredited and illegitimate president. Thus they firmly rejected not only Suleiman and his parameters for a way forward, but also the premise that any real change would come from adhering to a constitution that has been shredded many time by an illegitimate regime. They advocated a position that called for the legitimacy of the revolution over any outdated constitutional legitimacy.
The youth leaders maintain that all institutions of state power, except the army, which on the surface declared its neutrality, have lost their legitimacy in lieu of the will of the people to support the revolution. They insisted that the people have already spoken and called for Mubarak’s ouster, the dissolution of parliament, the replacement of the government, and the formation of constitutional experts to re-write a new constitution. Therefore, all efforts by the regime to re-constitute itself through promised reforms to maintain its grip on power are illegitimate and rejected. This is a popular revolution not a protest, they maintained.
As the government attempts to weather the storm and deal with Tahrir Square as a Hyde Park phenomenon, a place where people vent their frustrations, the leadership of the revolution has devised new tactics to force the regime to accept their demands.
They have called for massive demonstrations not only in public squares but also called for similar protests around strategic governmental buildings. For example, on Feb. 8 in addition to a million demonstrators in Tahrir Square, hundreds of thousands held huge demonstrations around the Prime Minster’s building, preventing him from reaching his office. They also blocked the parliament, preventing any member from going in or out. They vowed that soon the presidential palace would be surrounded.
The protesters were also joined this week with professional syndicates and labor unions. Hundreds of judges stood in Tahrir Square on Tuesday wearing their judicial robes in support of the revolution. Similarly, hundreds of journalists chased away the pro-government head of their union declaring the union independent and free. Likewise, hundreds of university professors from colleges across Egypt showed up at Tahrir Square declaring their full support for the goals of the revolution.
Next week schools and universities will be back from the Spring break. The organizers plan to call on hundreds of thousands of students to participate in the demonstrations that could paralyze the whole education system. Meanwhile, they have also reached out to labor unions calling for massive strikes across the nation, especially in state factories and public industries. When this is fully implemented, Egypt’s export business could come to a screeching halt.
Slowly but surely selected major industries such as transportation, oil, or navigation through the Suez Canal could also be severely hindered. Sports activities have already ceased. The film industry has stopped all productions. There is no end to what activities the revolutionaries could advocate or call for. The initiatives are in their hands. They believe that they have the legitimacy and the support of the people.
In short, the revolution has adapted to the maneuvering of the regime and has adopted a comprehensive program of activities that are creative and extensive. Time is no longer on the regime’s side. With the passing of each week more Egyptians are joining the revolution. A culture of freedom and empowerment is on the rise.
Meanwhile, the international community could speed up the inevitable, which is the collapse of the corrupt and repressive regime. Last week the Guardian and several financial publications including the Wall Street Journal and MSNBC, showed that Mubarak’s family might be worth between $40 to $70 Billion. Most of this wealth is believed to be in the U.S, the U.K, Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. In short, Western governments have access to ill-gotten money that belong to the Egyptian people. They can start investigations to determine the legality of these assets.
Similarly, they can encourage Mr. Mubarak to go to Germany for his annual (extended) medical check-up, after which he could render his resignation. The people of Egypt would not forget who stood with them during their revolution, who stood against them, and who was on the sideline.
When Mahfouz, the revolution’s video blogger was asked what her expectations are now after the massive demonstrations, she answered, “All Egyptians, not only the protestors, have broken through the fear barrier. I expect only one outcome - protests will continue until Mubarak steps down from power.”
Mubarak and his Western backers better take notice. Checkmate.
Esam Al-Amin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
viernes, 4 de febrero de 2011
February 4 - 6, 2011
From Counter-Attack to Departure Day
Mubarak's Last Gasps
By ESAM AL-AMIN
There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.”
--V. I. Lenin (1870-1924)
“Victory is accomplished through the perseverance of the last hour.”
--Prophet Muhammad (570-632 AD)
According to the CIA's declassified documents and records, senior CIA operative, Kermit Roosevelt, paid $100,000 to mobsters in Tehran, in early August 1953, to hire the most feared thugs to stage pro-Shah riots.
Other CIA-paid men were brought weeks later, on August 19, into Tehran in buses and trucks to take over the streets, topple the democratically elected Iranian government, and restore Shah Reza Pahlavi to his thrown. It took the people of Iran 26 years, enormous sacrifices, and a popular revolution to overthrow the imposed, corrupt and repressive rule of the Shah.
This lesson was not lost on the minds of a small clique of officials who were meeting in desperation in the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 31, 2011, in Cairo. According to several sources including former intelligence officer Col. Omar Afifi, one of these officials was the new Interior minister, Police Gen. Mahmoud Wagdy, who as the former head of the prison system, is also a torture expert. He asked Hosni Mubarak, the embattled president to give him a week to take care of the demonstrators who have been occupying major squares around the country for about a week.
Not only he had to rapidly reconstitute his security forces, which were dispersed and dejected in the aftermath of the massive demonstrations engulfing the country, but he also had to come up with a quick plan to prevent the total collapse of the regime.
The meeting included many security officials including Brig. Gen. Ismail Al-Shaer, Cairo’s security chief, as well as other security officers. In addition, leaders of the National Democratic Party (NDP)- the ruling party- including its Secretary General and head of the Consultative Assembly (upper house of Parliament), Safwat El-Sherif, as well as Parliament Speaker, Fathi Sorour, were briefed and given their assignments. Similarly, the retained Minister of Information, Anas Al-Feky, was fully apprised of the plan.
By the end of the meeting each was given certain tasks to regain the initiative from the street; to end or neutralize the revolution; and to defuse the most serious crisis the regime has ever faced in an effort to ease the tremendous domestic and international pressures being exerted on their president.
They knew that eyes around the world would be focused on the massive demonstrations called for by the youth leading the popular revolution while promising million-strong marches on Tuesday, Feb. 1. True to their promise the pro-democracy groups drew a remarkable eight million people (ten percent of the population) throughout Egypt on that day.
People from every age, class, and walk of life assembled and marched in every province and city by the hundreds of thousands: two million in Tahrir Square in Cairo, one million in Martyrs Square in Alexandria, 750 thousand in downtown Mansoura, and a quarter million in Suez, just to name a few. It was an impressive show of strength. This time, they demanded not only the immediate removal of Mubarak but also the ouster of the whole regime.
An evil plan devised
As the fierce determination of the Egyptian people to remove their autocratic president became apparent, governments around the world began pressuring Mubarak to step down and be replaced by his newly appointed Vice President, the former head of intelligence, Gen. Omar Suleiman. President Barak Obama, for example, dispatched over the last weekend former U.S. Ambassador, Frank Wisner, a close friend to Mubarak to deliver such warning.
Wisner indeed delivered a firm but subtle message to Mubarak that he ought to announce that neither he nor his son would be presidential candidates later this year. He also urged him to transfer his powers to Suleiman. Western governments have been alarmed by the deterioration of the situation in Egypt and were trying to give their preferred candidate, Gen. Suleiman, the upper hand before events favor another candidate that might be less amenable to Israel and the West, and therefore shift the strategic balance of powers in the region.
On Saturday Jan. 29, The National Security Council advised the president to ask Mubarak in no uncertain terms to immediately step down. However, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whom the president consulted, strenuously objected and pleaded for time to allow Mubarak to stay in power at least until he finishes his term in September.
Openly criticizing Obama, former Israeli Defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a longtime friend of Mubarak, said, “I don't think the Americans understand yet the disaster they have pushed the Middle East into.” The Israeli lobby and Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir went overdrive and intensified their lobbying efforts in Congress in order to exert immense pressure on the administration. Reluctantly, the U.S. president relented.
Meanwhile, the last touches of a crude plan to abort the protests and attack the demonstrators were being finalized in the Interior Ministry. In the mean time, the leaders of the NPD met with the committee of forty, which is a committee of corrupt oligarchs and tycoons, who have taken over major sections of Egypt’s economy in the last decade and are close associates to Jamal Mubarak, the president’s son. The committee included Ahmad Ezz, Ibrahim Kamel, Mohamad Abu el-Enein, Magdy Ashour and others.
Each businessman pledged to recruit as many people from their businesses and industries as well as mobsters and hoodlums known as Baltagies – people who are paid to fight and cause chaos and terror. Abu el-Enein and Kamel pledged to finance the whole operation.Meanwhile,the Interior Minister reconstituted some of the most notorious officers of his secret police to join the counter-revolutionary demonstrators slated for Wednesday, with a specific plan of attack the pro-democracy protesters.
About a dozen security officers, who were to supervise the plan in the field, also recruited former dangerous ex-prisoners who escaped the prison last Saturday, promising them money and presidential pardons against their convictions. This plan was to be executed in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Port Said, Damanhour, Asyout, among other cities across Egypt.
By Tuesday evening, Mubarak gave a speech in response to the massive demonstrations of the day. He pledged not to seek a sixth term, while attacking the demonstrators and accusing them of being infiltrated, in an indirect reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Nevertheless, he pledged to complete his term and that he would not leave under pressure.
Although he pledged not to run, he was silent about whether or not his son would be a candidate. He ended his 10 minute address by giving his nation a grave warning that the situation was extremely dangerous, and that the country would face either “stability or chaos,” presenting himself as the embodiment of the former. Leaders of the pro-democracy demonstrators immediately rejected his characterization and insisted that he leave power.
Although Sen. John Kerry, the Chairman of the Senate Relations Committee, called publicly on President Mubarak two days earlier to disavow any plans for his son to seek the presidency, the Egyptian president ignored his call. However, a former senior intelligence aide, Mahmoud Ali Sabra, who used to present daily briefs to Mubarak for 18 years (1984-2002), said publicly on Al-Jazeera that Mubarak has indeed been grooming his son to become president since at least 1997. Although Jamal had no official title in the government, Sabra stated that Mubarak asked him to present these daily intelligence reports to no one in the government except to him and his son.
Sabra also described how Mubarak was disturbed after the first stage of the 2000 Parliamentary elections, when the Muslim Brotherhood won a majority of seats. He then ordered his Interior Minister to manipulate the elections in the subsequent stages and forge the results in order to put NDP on top.
Shortly after the besieged president’s address to his nation around midnight on Tuesday, the baltagieswere unleashed on the pro-democracy demonstrators in Alexandria and Port Said beating and clubbing them in a rehearsal for what was to come the following day at Tahrir Square.
Tahrir or Liberation Square has been the center of action in Cairo throughout the protests. It’s the largest square in the country located in downtown Cairo where millions of demonstrators have been gathering since Jan. 25. Eight separate entrances lead to it including the ones from the American Embassy and the famous Egyptian museum.
Around 2 PM on Wednesday Feb. 2, the execution of the plan of attack ensued in earnest. Over three thousand baltagies attacked from two entrances with thousands of rocks and stones thrown at the tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators gathered in the square, while most attackers had shields to defend themselves against the returning rocks. While a few were armed with guns, all baltagies were armed with clubs, machetes, razors, knives or other sharp objects.
After about an hour of throwing stones, the second stage of the attacks proceeded as dozens of horses and camels came charging at the demonstrators in a scene reminiscent of the battles of the middle ages. The pro-democracy people fought back by their bare hands, knocking them from their rides and throwing their bodies at them. They subsequently apprehended over three hundred and fifty baltagies, turning them over to nearby army units.
They confiscated their IDs which showed that most assailants were either NDP members or from the secret police. Others confessed that they were ex-cons who were paid $10 to beat up the demonstrators. The camel and horse riders confessed to have been paid $70 each.
The third stage of the attack came about three hours later when dozens of assailants climbed the roofs in nearby buildings and threw hundreds of Molotov cocktails at the pro-democracy protesters below, who immediately rushed to extinguish the fires. They eventually had to put out two fires at the Egyptian museum as well. By midnight the thugs started using tear gas and live bullets from a bridge above the protesters killing five people and injuring over three dozens, ten seriously.
Interestingly, one hour before the planned assault the army announced to the demonstrators on national TV that the government “got the message” and then implored the protesters to end the demonstrations and “go home.” But when the protesters begged the army units to interfere during the brutal attacks that persisted for 16 hours, the army declared that it was neutral and partially withdrew from some entrances despite its promise to protect the peaceful and unarmed demonstrators.
By morning, the Tahrir Square resembled a battleground with at least 10 persons killed and over 2,500 injured people, 900 of which required transport to nearby hospitals as admitted by the Health ministry. Most of the injured suffered face and head wounds including concussions, burns and cuts because of the use of rocks, iron bars, shanks, razors, and Molotov cocktails. Al-Jazeera TV and many other TV networks around the world were broadcasting these assaults live to the bewilderment of billions of people worldwide.
Before the attacks started that afternoon, the Minister of Information had also executed his part of the plan. He called on all ministry employees to demonstrate on behalf of Mubarak in an upscale neighborhood in Cairo. He then asked the Egyptian state TV to broadcast live- for the first time in nine days of continuous demonstrations- the ensuing confrontation between the protesters and the government-sponsored thugs, in order to show the Egyptian people what chaos would bring to the country as Mubarak had warned them in his address just the previous night.
The battle plan was for the baltagies to block seven entrances of the Tahrir Square, leaving only the American Embassy entrance open for the thugs to push back the demonstrators in order for them to come so close to the Embassy that its guards surrounding it would have to shoot at them and thus instigate a confrontation with the Americans.
But the heroic steadfastness of the demonstrators lead by the youth was phenomenal as they not only withstood their ground but also chased them away every time they were pushed. By the next morning the assault fizzled and the whole world condemned the Mubarak regime for such wickedness, cruelty, and total disregard of human life.
“The events in Tahrir Square and elsewhere strongly suggest government involvement in violence against peaceful protesters,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the Human Rights Watch. “The U.S. and other allies should make clear that further abuse will come at a very high price.”
By that afternoon every major Western country has called for Mubarak to step down including the U.S, the European Union, the U.K, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Norway and many others. In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the violence by the pro-Mubarak crowd “outrageous and deplorable” and warned that it should stop immediately.
On the other hand, by daybreak, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians joined their fellow pro-democracy activists in order to show support and solidarity. The leaders of the protests have already called for massive demonstrations on Friday across Egypt after congregational prayers, calling the event “Departure Day,” in a reference to the day they hoped to force Mubarak to resign or leave the country.
In an attempt to contain the damage about what happened in Tahrir Square on Wednesday, Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq offered his apology to the people. He also denied his government’s involvement, calling for a prompt investigation and swift punishment for those who were responsible. Moreover, Vice President Suleiman appeared on state TV offering an olive branch to the opposition, declaring that all of their demands would be accepted by the government, while ignoring the main demand of Mubarak’s ouster. He then pleaded for time to implement political reforms.
He also appealed to the nation to allow President Mubarak to complete his term until the upcoming presidential elections in September. For the first time, the regime then vowed that the president’s son would not be a candidate. He further called for dialogue with all opposition parties.
Ahmad Maher, 29, the national coordinator of the “April 6 Youth” movement, the primary group that called for and organized the uprising, immediately rejected the offer by Suleiman, calling it a trick to abort the revolution. He insisted on the main demand of removing Mubarak from power before any negotiations could take place.
All other opposition groups, including the popular Muslim Brotherhood, followed suit. Friday’s “Departure Day” is promising to be a decisive day where the pro-democracy demonstrators vowed to continue the protests until Mubarak is ousted.
Meanwhile, the regime in a last-ditch effort to limit the effect of the demonstrations have asked all foreign journalists to leave the country before D-Day (Departure Day), and dismantled all cameras from Tahrir Square. There is not a single network in Cairo today that can broadcast the event live. Clearly, this last ploy was designed to intimidate the demonstrators who insisted that they would not cowed.
Likely scenarios: remember Marcos?
The Obama administration is evidently very frustrated with Mubarak because of his stubbornness and obliviousness to reality. President Obama bluntly declared on Tuesday, “It is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now.”
Since the crisis began ten days ago, the U.S, which has been supporting and subsidizing the Egyptian regime for three decades, expected that its beleaguered ally would listen to its advice, limit the damage, pack up and leave. But his performance and ruthless behavior have endangered its other allies in the region, and caused long-term damage to its strategic interests, namely, Israel, stability, oil, and military bases.
Egypt was one of the most important countries and allies to the U.S. in the region. It was a cornerstone in its strategic equation. If Egypt were to be lost to a more independent leader, the strategic balance of power in the region would radically shift against America’s interest or its allies.
In turn this change might cause a major re-assessment of the long-term American strategy in the region, especially in regard to policies related to Israel and counter-terrorism. Thus, Vice President Suleiman is considered by the U.S. and other Western allies, as the best person who could fulfill this role of maintaining the status quo. Thus, the more Mubarak maneuvered to stay in power, the less likely this prospect would be realized.
Ambassador Wisner, who has been in Egypt since Saturday, was asked to deliver to Mubarak an ultimatum from Obama. It would be similar to the one given to Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines in 1989 by then President George H. W. Bush. Mubarak would be told that he should resign and transfer his presidential powers to his vice president.
If he refuses, the army would then remove him anyway, while Western governments would go after the billions in American and European assets that he and his sons have hoarded over the years. He would also be told that he would face a certain indictment by the International Criminal Court on War Crimes against his people. Surely, Mubarak would be expected to choose the first option and leave either to Germany under a medical pretext, or join his two sons in London.
As Omar Suleiman is promoted to become the new President of Egypt, this appointment will be hailed by Western governments and media as a great victory by the pro-democracy forces and as the expression of the will of the Egyptian people. Political and economic reforms will then be promised to the people, in an effort that allows great leeway in internal reforms but keep foreign policy intact.
However, this move will undoubtedly divide the country. The leaders of the revolution, namely the youth, who have led the demonstrations for the past two weeks and sacrificed blood for it, would continue to press for total and clean break from the previous regime. They will also be supported by popular and grass-roots movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
On the other hand, other opposition movements, which have little or no popular support bur were largely created by the Mubarak regime as a décor to portray a democratic image, will accept Suleiman and embrace the new arrangements in order to have a seat at the table and get a piece of the pie. The Egyptian public will likely be split as well.
With the monopoly of the government over the state media and other means of government information control, the new regime may bet on getting a slack from the public while it consolidates its power.
Alternatively, the youth movement, which started its march towards freedom and democracy using social media and independent means of communications, while spearheading the most robust and forceful democracy movement in the whole region, may actually have the last word.
Esam Al-Amin can be reached at email@example.com
El Tatic de Chiapas
por Miguel León Portilla
Comenzaré recordando algunos de los atributos naturales y culturales de Chiapas, donde el tatic Samuel Ruiz laboró incansable durante cerca de 40 años. Chiapas, con algo más de 74 mil kilómetros cuadrados –aproximadamente la extensión de Austria– y cerca de 250 kilómetros de costas en el Pacífico, posee una geografía variada y abundante en recursos: tierras altas, mesetas, bosques, selvas y planicies costeras, grandes ríos como el Grijalva, Mezcalapa, Usumacinta, Santo Domingo y también no pocos lagos, como los de Montebello. Chiapas y Tabasco son los estados más lluviosos de México. Entre sus recursos sobresalen la madera de sus bosques, las plantaciones de cacao, café y maíz. En sus pastizales prolifera el ganado.
Posee petróleo, gas natural, azufre, en tanto que sus aguas a lo largo de sus litorales, sus lagos y ríos son ricas en pesca. Un moderno y muy grande sistema de presas –Malpaso, La Angostura, Nezahualcóyotl y Chicoasen– hace que hoy Chiapas sea el primer productor de energía eléctrica en el país. Y debe notarse de entrada que esto poco aprovecha a la mayoría de cerca de millón y medio de indígenas que carecen de electricidad y de agua potable.
Recordemos que desde hace muchos siglos, Chiapas fue escenario de un gran desarrollo cultural. Habitada principalmente por grupos mayenses –choles, lacandones, tzotziles, tzeltales, tojolabales, canjobales, mames y otros– así como por zoques y gente de origen nahua-pipil, fue tierra donde, desde el periodo preclásico anterior a la era cristiana, hasta la Conquista, floreció esplendente el universo cultural maya. Testigos de ello son las estelas de Izapa y Chiapa de Corzo, y de siglos posteriores los extraordinarios asentamientos de Yaxchilán, Toniná, Chilón, Bonampak y Palenque, entre otros.
Pero en esta tierra de tantas maravillas, en el siglo XVI incursionaron Pedro de Alvarado, Luis Marín y Diego Mazariegos, a los cuales los pueblos originarios se opusieron a tal grado que los conocidos como "indios chiapas", tras heroica resistencia, prefirieron despeñarse en el cañón del Sumidero antes que someterse a los conquistadores.
En 1545 llegó a Chiapas como obispo fray Bartolomé de las Casas. Contempló ahí cómo en ese paraíso de luz y calor, subsistían los indios sojuzgados y sometidos en las encomiendas. Las Casas actuó con vehemencia, defendió a los indios, se enfrentó a los encomenderos, denunció ante el emperador Carlos V el drama que ahí se vivía. Pero no obstante que luchó por ellos hasta su propia muerte, en 1566, la explotación y la consiguiente miseria perduraron.
Cerca de cuatro siglos después otro obispo, Samuel Ruiz García llegó también a Chiapas y pudo percatarse de que, no obstante que México había alcanzado su independencia y no obstante la reforma liberal y la Revolución de 1910, la situación de los indios poco o nada había cambiado. Para él, que había estudiado en Roma y tenía muy buena preparación teológica y en general académica, fue un choque lo que contemplaba. Le llevó tiempo enterarse cabalmente de lo que ocurría. Tristes símbolos de ello eran los indios que, al encontrarse en la calle con los ladinos y los coletos, bajaban de la banqueta para que éstos pasaran muy cómodos y también ver en los caminos a mujeres indígenas encorvadas con pesadas cargas a la espalda.
Conocí a don Samuel y con él hablé en algunas ocasiones y también en otras muchas oí hablar acerca de él. Unos, como el antropólogo de origen maya Alfonso Villa Rojas, que había trabajado en el Centro Indigenista de San Cristóbal de las Casas, me dijo varias veces que nunca se había imaginado que un obispo fuera como don Samuel. Me decía: "fíjese, pienso que se parece a fray Bartolomé de Las Casas". Por mi parte, añadiré que, al verlo, me pareció hombre alejado de cualquier arrogancia, inteligente y bondadoso. Al padre Las Casas lo aborrecieron los encomenderos y al tatic también lo detestaron los finqueros, los ricos y muchos políticos que no querían que les "agitaran las aguas".
Pienso que don Samuel, al que los tzotziles y otros llamaban ya tatic, padre, hizo suyos dos principios claves que normaron su actuar. Uno fue que había que liberar a los indios de las injusticias acumuladas por siglos y exigir respeto a sus derechos. Y por cierto que tiempo después sus demandas coincidieron en gran parte con lo que fueron reclamos de los zapatistas en las discusiones que llevaron a los acuerdos de San Andrés Larráinzar. El tatic, como lo había hecho cuatro siglos antes fray Bartolomé, alzó muchas veces su voz, haciendo denuncias, aunque con ello perturbara a no pocos potentados, políticos, clérigos y al Vaticano mismo.
El otro principio clave, expuesto con claridad por él mismo, consistió en reconocer que, si como obispo, tenía que entregarse a la evangelización de los indios, debía emprenderla no ya imponiendo ni menos atentando contra la cultura indígena. Así habían actuado muchos frailes desde el siglo XVI. Don Samuel se propuso entonces, y en ello tuvo seguidores, adaptar el cristianismo a la cultura indígena, y no al revés, destruyéndola e imponiendo lo que le era ajeno. Desde luego que esto, en tanto que aceptado y reconocido por algunos religiosos, como sus amigos el dominico Miguel Concha y el jesuita Eugenio Maurer, perturbó a otros, desde curas y obispos hasta llegar al nuncio del Papa y a la curia Vaticana.
El tatic participó en todas las sesiones del Concilio Vaticano II, allá por 1962, convocado por Juan XXIII. En él, entre otros asuntos, se discutió ampliamente sobre las formas de evangelización de los pueblos de culturas distintas de la occidental. El principio del respeto y lo que se llamó "la inculturación" del cristianismo en los usos, costumbres y visión del mundo de los pueblos originarios de América Latina, África y Asia, comenzó entonces a abrirse camino; don Samuel ahondó en ello y, así como defendía los derechos de los indios, adoptó una nueva forma de actuar. Antes que cualquier otra cosa buscó y logró la participación en la acción evangelizadora de hombres y mujeres descendientes de los pueblos originarios: instauró la formación de diáconos indígenas; propició el empleo en las iglesias de las lenguas nativas, no sólo en los oficios religiosos sino también en traducciones de la Biblia. Sin ambages reconoció el valor de muchos de los símbolos indígenas ancestrales. Él mismo conoció y habló tzotzil, tzeltal y tojolabal.
Todo esto –la lucha por los derechos indígenas y la nueva forma de presentarles el cristianismo– molestó a muchos. Y cuando el primero de enero de 1994 ocurrió el alzamiento zapatista, el tatic, lejos de permanecer pasivo, se aprestó con valentía para encontrarle solución. Ante todo actuó para impedir el derramamiento de sangre. En tal empeño formó parte del grupo mediador entre los zapatistas y el gobierno federal, al lado de hombres como Pablo González Casanova, Gonzalo Ituarte, Juan Bañuelos y Concepción Calvillo viuda de Nava. Su participación, siempre atenta a las demandas indígenas –autonomía, restitución de territorios ancestrales, representación en las cámaras, respeto y apoyo al uso de sus lenguas...– no sólo influyó sino que fue decisiva.
Además de denuncias y exigencias en pro de los indios, dio apoyo y protección a los refugiados nativos de Guatemala que huían de la persecución gubernamental de ese país. También levantó la voz cuando ocurrió la matanza en Acteal. Todo esto incrementó el disgusto y rencor de sus adversarios. El ya mencionado Miguel Concha recuerda que don Samuel recibió amenazas de muerte en varias ocasiones, al grado tal que incluso autoridades que lejos estaban de simpatizar con él, como el gobernador de Chiapas Patrocinio González Garrido, ordenaron su protección.
Hoy, al evocar la muerte del tatic, acaecida el 24 de enero de este año, podemos afirmar que, con su pensamiento y acción, ha dejado profunda huella no sólo en Chiapas sino en México entero, en América Latina y en otros lugares del mundo. Al difundirse la noticia de su fallecimiento las reacciones de inmediato se dejaron sentir. No sólo sus hijos tzotziles, tzeltales y los demás nativos chiapanecos, sino también incontables académicos –principalmente antropólogos, sociólogos y periodistas– y aún políticos de casi todas los partidos, incluso de aquellos que en ocasiones lo difamaron acusándolo de cómplice en el levantamiento zapatista, en fin, la sociedad civil, han lamentado públicamente su muerte. Numerosos artículos y esquelas en diversos medios de comunicación dan testimonio de ello.
Y si esto es en verdad elocuente, hay algo más que debe ponerse de relieve. El tatic, como lo había hecho fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, ha dejado un legado perdurable. Ambos, como defensores de los indios, actuaron sin reposo y diseñaron formas de proceder para lograr la defensa de sus derechos. Y también como cristianos verdaderos, expresaron público rechazo a las imposiciones y abrieron caminos para "inculturar" su mensaje en el ser de los pueblos originarios. Si Chiapas posee grandes atributos naturales y culturales, su riqueza incluye también, y de modo muy especial, la presencia y acción de hombres como Bartolomé de Las Casas y Samuel Ruiz. La memoria de sus personas, ideas y actuación es ya parte de la historia de Chiapas y también de México, América Latina y otros muchos ámbitos de cultura.
Quiero concluir esta mínima recordación del tatic aplicándole las palabras con que los antiguos sabios nahuas describían al tlamcazqui Quetzalcóatl, el sacerdote cuyo título evocaba a dicha deidad, conservadas en el Códice florentino entre los textos que reunió fray Bernardino de Sahagún:
Aún cuando fuera pobre,/ aún cuando su madre y su padre/ fueran los pobres de los pobres,/ no se veía su linaje,/ sólo se atendía a su género de vida,/ a la pureza de su corazón,/ a su corazón bueno y humano,/ a su corazón firme./ Se decía que tenía a Dios en su corazón,/ que era sabio en las cosas de Dios.
Creyente como fue el tatic, podemos afirmar que fue él un yolteotl, tuvo a Dios en su corazón, fue bueno y humano.
miércoles, 2 de febrero de 2011
February 1, 2011
People Power in Action
The Making of Egypt's Revolution
By ESAM AL-AMIN
Freedom lies behind a door, closed shut
It can only be knocked down with a bleeding fist
-- Egyptian Poet-Laureate Ahmad Shawqi (1869-1932)
On April 21, 2008, an assistant high school principal placed an advertisement in Al-Ahram, the largest daily newspaper in Egypt, pleading disparately with President Hosni Mubarak and his wife to intervene and release her daughter from prison.
It turned out that her 27 year-old daughter, Israa’ Abd el-Fattah, was arrested 10 days earlier because of her role in placing a page on Facebook encouraging Egyptians to support a strike in the industrial city of al-Mahalla that had taken place on April 6.
In her spare time, she and two of her colleagues created the Facebook page. Within days of posting it, over 70,000 people supported their call. After the security forces cracked down against the huge riots in al-Mahalla on April 6, Abd el-Fattah was arrested.
What was odd about this arrest was that although thousands of people have been arrested over the past three decades, it was the first time that a warrant was issued against a female under the notorious emergency laws imposed in the country since 1981. To get out of prison she had to apologize and express regret for her actions. But the experience made her more determined than ever to be politically active.
On that day, the “April 6 Youth” movement was created. For the next two and a half years it maintained its presence and created one of the most popular political forums on several social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
When the president of Tunisia, Zein al-Abideen Ben Ali, was deposed on January 14, following a four week popular uprising, the April 6 movement, like millions of youth across the Arab World, was inspired, energized, and called for action.
Changing of the Guard: the Youth leads
Looking at the calendar, Israa’ and her colleagues picked the next Egyptian holiday, which was ironically “Police Day” falling on Tuesday, January 25. Within a few days they called on all social media sites for massive protests and an uprising against the Mubarak regime.
They called for marches to start from all major squares, mosques and churches in Cairo and Alexandria while asking others to help plan in other Egyptian cities. They insisted that the protests would be peaceful and that no one should bring weapons of any type.
They had four demands: that the government develops programs to address poverty and unemployment; that it would end the state of emergency and uphold judicial independence; the resignation of the interior minister whose ministry was notorious for torture and abuse of human rights; and for political reforms including the limitation of presidential terms to two, the dissolution of the parliament, and for new elections to be held after the massive elections fraud of last November.
Within a few days, over ninety thousand youth signed up and charted a comprehensive protest throughout Egypt. Initially, neither the government nor the opposition took them seriously. Even former IAEA director Dr. Mohammad Elbaradei, who has been criticizing the regime for over a year, was abroad due to his frequent speaking engagements.
In a show of force, the government assembled over two hundred thousand of its security forces surrounding the protesters throughout the country. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of protesters marched representing broad cross sections of society, men and women, young and old, educated and illiterate, and declared that their demonstrations were peaceful but that they were determined to press their demands.
When they could not control the crowds the police beat back the protesters using water canons, tear gas and rubber bullets. By the end of the day there were over a dozen casualties and hundreds of injuries. This not only outraged the demonstrators, but also ignited the whole country.
Most of the protesters refused to go home and escalated the confrontation declaring an open demonstration in Liberation Square in downtown Cairo and throughout the country. The government continued its crackdown calling for curfews in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez from 6 PM to 6 AM.
The curfews for the following days kept getting longer until the government called for a general curfew from 3 PM to 8 AM. But each time the people simply ignored it and increased their demands, calling for total regime change and the ouster of Mubarak.
An Uprising turns into a Revolution
By Thursday, the organizers called for “A Day of Rage” after Friday’s congregational prayers. The next round of protests included participation by all opposition groups, the largest of which was the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Immediately hundreds of their leaders were rounded up and detained. As millions of people across Egypt took to the street, all 350,000 security forces and police were mobilized, advancing on the protesters and turning Egyptian streets and neighborhoods into battlegrounds. By the end of the day dozens more were killed and thousands injured.
Afterwards, security forces evacuated from all the cities. Chaos and confusion ensued. Police stations and buildings belonging to the ruling party were torched. The secret police opened all police stations and prisons releasing all criminals in a scorched-earth attempt to spread fear and chaos. The regime hoped to regain the upper hand by proving its worth to the people as their source of security.
After a four-day absence, at midnight on Friday, the 82-year old Egyptian president addressed his nation of 85 million by blaming his government, describing it as “inept,” and promising to appoint a new cabinet. By the following day he appointed two generals, his chief of intelligence, Gen. Omar Suleiman as his first ever vice president and Gen. Ahmad Shafiq as prime minister.
People immediately dismissed the superficial gestures and demanded an end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule. By Monday the new cabinet was sworn in, retaining 18 of the previous ministers, including those occupying the important posts of defense, foreign, communications, justice, and oil.
The only major change was the sacking of the interior minister, appointing another general in his place. Not a single opposition party was consulted, let alone appointed. The first order of business of the new government was to reconstitute the security forces and restore order.
Although by Friday the authorities had completely cut mobile phone and Internet services, the genie was already out of the bottle. When asked by the French news service AFP, Abd el-Fattah, who has been camping with her colleagues since Tuesday in Liberation Square, said, after the government disrupted the internet, "We've already announced the meeting places. So we've done it, we no longer need means of communication."
She continued, “We want the regime to go. We've been asking for reforms for 30 years and the regime has never answered or paid attention to our demands.” She then added, "It won't just be tomorrow, but the day after and the day after that as well. We won't stop, we won't go home.”
Amidst the chant “the People demand the fall of the regime,” Abd el-Fattah talked to Al-Jazeera TV, which has been covering the unfolding events non-stop since it began four days earlier, and called for all opposition parties to form a transitional government. But by Saturday the regime interrupted all satellite channels including Al-Jazeera. Egyptians were now totally cut off from all means of information and communications.
By Sunday afternoon a provisional parliament, made up of the major opposition parties including the MB, the liberal Wafd, and the April 6 and Kefaya movements, met at Liberation Square and appointed a 10-member committee, headed by Dr. Elbaradei. Their mandate was to negotiate with the regime the departure of the embattled president. The April 6 youth was disappointed since they had hoped for a formation of a transitional government rather than a committee that would initiate negotiations with the despised regime.
Meanwhile, in the absence of the police and security forces, the president sent the army to restore order and intimidate the protesters. Tanks and armed vehicles were occupying major squares, thoroughfares, and public buildings. The following day F-16s and military helicopters were roaming the skies in a show of force. But the protesters immediately embraced the army, hugging them, chanting for them, and asking them to be on their side.
The head of the army declared that the military would not attack or intimidate the people but would only protect the country and maintain order. A few officers even joined the demonstrators in denouncing the regime. Overall, however, the army seems to have kept its loyalty to the regime despite the popular call to oust the president.
Meanwhile, people formed popular committees to protect their properties and neighborhoods. Hundreds of looters caught by the people were found to be either deserted police officers or common criminals released by the police. All were turned to the army for detention.
Despite the massive demonstrations, the total paralysis of the country, and the increasingly hardened will of the Egyptian people, President Mubarak remained arrogant, stubborn, and unmoved by his people’s rage towards his regime. He also was emboldened as he received support from other authoritarians such as the King of Saudi Arabia, and the leaders of Libya and the Palestinian Authority.
Furthermore, a former Israeli defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, considered one of the closest Israeli politicians to Mubarak, told the Jerusalem Post after speaking to Mubarak, “I have no doubt that the situation in Egypt is under control.” He then added, “Our relations with Egypt are strategic and intimate.”
As the events unfolded the regime seemed confounded and shaken. Initially, the official news agencies in Egypt blamed some members of the ruling party and low-ranking officials. For instance the party demanded and received the resignation of Ahmad Ezz, the right-hand man of Jamal Mubarak, the president’s son and undeclared heir apparent.
Ezz was a corrupt billionaire businessman who quickly rose through the party ranks and oversaw the latest fraudulent parliamentary elections where the party won 97 per cent of the seats. Just a few weeks ago, he was praised by ruling party officials for orchestrating the overwhelming victory despite more than 1500 judicial orders that overturned much of the election results, but were ignored by the government. Ezz and his family immediately left the country in his private jet.
Likewise, both of Mubarak’s sons and their families left to London in their private jets. The head of the Cairo International Airport also announced that 19 private jets owned by the richest families in the country left to Dubai on Saturday. One of these corrupt billionaires was Hussein Salem, a former intelligence officer and a close confidant of the president. Dubai airport officials declared that they seized over $300 million in cash from him.
Salem was the head of a private energy company that teamed up with an Israeli conglomerate to secure a long-term contract to sell natural gas to Israel. In June 2008 Les Afriques reported that Egypt was subsidizing Israel with hundreds of millions of dollars every year in energy purchase. By January 2010, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz exposed the secret and reported that Israel was in fact receiving natural gas from Egypt at a 70 per cent discount. The scandal was swept aside by the former Egyptian prime minister who refused to divulge to the parliament the terms of the contract. Subsequently when the government was sued, a judge ruled against it and invalidated the contract, which the government totally ignored.
Looking the other way: Human Rights but not for all
The Mubarak regime had one of the worst human rights records in the world. In June 2010, Human Rights Watch reported that “the Egyptian Government continued to suppress political dissent … dispersing demonstrations; harassing rights activists; and detaining journalists, bloggers, and Muslim Brotherhood members.”
Even the U.S. State Department 2008 Human Rights Report to Congress stated that “The (Egyptian) government's respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas.” It continued, “The government limited citizens' right to change their government and continued a state of emergency that has been in place almost continuously since 1967. Security forces used unwarranted lethal force and tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, in most cases with impunity.”
It concluded, “Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals, in some cases for political purposes, and kept them in prolonged pretrial detention. The executive branch placed limits on and pressured the judiciary. The government's respect for freedoms of press, association, and religion declined during the year, and the government continued to restrict other civil liberties, particularly freedom of speech, including Internet freedom, and freedom of assembly, including restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Government corruption and lack of transparency persisted.”
But despite this massive indictment of the Egyptian regime by the U.S. government, the U.S. continued to support the Mubarak regime, providing it with almost $2 billion annually, the second largest foreign aid recipient after Israel. According to the Congressional Research Report submitted to Congress in September 2009, the U.S. had subsidized the Egyptian regime with over $64 billion since it signed the peace treaty with Israel in 1979, including $40 billion in military hardware and security gear.
It also rewarded the regime with $7 billion debt relief in April 1991 for its support of the Gulf war earlier that year. Furthermore, it intervened with the Paris club to forgive half of Egypt’s $20 billion debt to Western governments. In short, the U.S. and other Western governments favored establishing a strategic relationship with Mubarak, because of the peace treaty with Israel, overlooking the nature of the regime’s corruption and repression.
After 9/11, the Mubarak regime played a major role in aiding and abetting the U.S. counterterrorism policy on rendition and torture. In 2005, the BBC reported that both the United States and the United Kingdom sent terrorist suspects to Egypt for detention. In that report, Egypt's prime minister acknowledged that since 2001, the U.S. had transferred some 60-70 detainees to Egypt as part of the "war on terror.” According to journalist Jane Mayer’s investigative book “The Dark Side,” the new Vice President, Suleiman, was the coordinator of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program during the Bush era. [See Stephen Soldz’s account of Suleiman’s role on CounterPunch, January 31.]
Despite George Bush’s grandiose rhetoric on democracy and freedom, Bush welcomed Mubarak, calling him a “good friend” and explaining that he looked forward to “his wise counsel,” when the Egyptian president visited Bush in his Crawford ranch in April 2004. With Mubarak standing next to him Bush said, “Our nations have a relationship that is strong and warm. Egypt is a strategic partner of the United States.” He then thanked Mubarak’s efforts on rendition and torture when he said, “I'm grateful for President Mubarak's support in the global war against terror.”
In fact, the Bush administration subsequently received Jamal Mubarak at the highest levels of government in an attempt to groom him to succeed his father. In May 2006, the Washington Post reported that, “It was unusual for a private foreign citizen with no official portfolio to receive so much high-level attention.” The younger Mubarak met with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, during his “private visit” to the U.S. While he was at the White House the former President stopped by to “welcome him.”
The sacred equation: Egyptian Dictatorship equals Secure Israel
The strategic relationship between Egypt and the U.S. was bipartisan. When President Barak Obama was asked by the BBC during his celebrated visit to Egypt in June 2009, whether he regarded President Mubarak as an authoritarian ruler, Obama answered with an emphatic “No.” Then he spelled out the strategic value of Mubarak when he said, “He has been a stalwart ally in many respects to the United States. He has sustained peace with Israel which is a very difficult thing to do in that region.”
This perceived security for Israel was key in the West’s continued support of the Egyptian regime. When Vice President Joe Biden was asked to comment about the turmoil in Egypt by Jim Lehrer of PBS, he shamelessly declared on January 27, that Mubarak was not a dictator. Presenting the Israeli viewpoint, Biden said, “Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he's been very responsible on-- relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel. I would not refer to him as a dictator.”
On the same day, while Egypt’s security forces were killing, beating and gassing the Egyptian people by the thousands, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered this flimsy reaction: "Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people."
Likewise, when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked whether the White House believed the Egyptian government was stable, he replied without hesitation: “Yes.” When he was next asked whether the U.S. still supports Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, he reiterated that Egypt remains “a strong ally.”
Not a single U.S. government official or member of Congress condemned the Egyptian government for killing and attacking its own citizens. When Neda Agha-Sultan was killed in Tehran in June 2009, many Western governments immediately issued world-wide condemnations blaming the Iranian government. But not so for the hundreds of Egyptians gunned down by their own government in broad daylight. Regretting the loss of life without denouncing the culprits is a disguised attempt to cover for the crimes and protect the perpetrators.
As the Egyptian people showed determination and resilience while the embattled regime intensified its brutality, the administration tried to backtrack. President Obama offered a stark warning to Mubarak when he said on Friday evening, "Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away." Without condemning the regime he then urged Egyptian authorities to refrain from violence against their citizens," Obama stressed that governments "must maintain power through consent, not coercion," and that "Ultimately the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people.” Human rights advocates were encouraged and relieved by these statements.
Take a stand: Either with the people or with the regime
The following day the President convened his National Security Council and spoke to several world leaders. He gave a statement imploring Mubarak to open the political process and engage the opposition. Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union also called for political openness as well as restraint against the demonstrators.
In an interview with CNN on Sunday January 30, Secretary Clinton, sensing the weakness of the Egyptian regime, gave implicit support to the guarded approach in handling the popular revolution when she said “What we're trying to do is to help clear the air so that those who remain in power, starting with President Mubarak, with his new vice president, with the new prime minister, will begin a process of reaching out, of creating a dialogue that will bring in peaceful activists and representatives of civil society to, you know, plan a way forward that will meet the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people.”
Yet all these mixed statements were not lost on the millions of protesters. In denouncing these ambivalent stands they chanted “No to Mubarak, No to Suleiman… No to the agents of al-Amrikan (the Americans).” Dr. Elbaradei declared that the moment of truth has arrived, “The U.S. has to side either with the people or the regime. They could not be with both.” But on Monday January 31, Press Secretary Gibbs said that the administration would not take sides in the confrontation between the regime and the people.
This hypocritical stand was in a stark contrast to the position Obama took two days earlier, or that of successive U.S. administrations with regard to the color revolutions in the past 20 years as in the Ukraine and Georgia in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, or the demonstrations by the opposition groups in Iran in the aftermath of its elections in June 2009.
So what happened over the weekend for the administration’s turnabout?
The answer to this double standard seems to be the influence of Israel and its supporters in Congress, where the new Republican Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders supported the administration’s ambivalent policy of not abandoning the Egyptian dictator.
In Israel, a real hysteria has engulfed the political establishment. On January 31, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a news conference in Jerusalem that he was concerned about the fate of Israel's peace treaty with Egypt should President Mubarak be forced out of power and replaced by someone more hostile toward Israel. He asked for support of the Egyptian regime lest an antagonistic regime emerges in its place.
The same day Haaretz reported that Israel called on the United States and a number of European countries over the weekend to curb their criticism of President Hosni Mubarak to preserve stability in the region.
It was reported on the Cairo streets that when a speech writer of President Mubarak rushed into his office and said “Mr. President; this is your farewell speech to the nation.” Mubarak remarked, “Why? Are the people leaving the country?”
This Egyptian joke captures the essence of the stalemate in the streets. Mubarak insists on staying in power regardless of any consequence, counting on his security apparatus, the army, and the implicit backing of the West. Meanwhile, the popular committee headed by Dr. Elbaradaei is not recognized by the regime, let alone to engage with it in meaningful negotiations.
Meanwhile, the decisive moment seems to have arrived. The protesters called for a million-man march in Liberation Square in Cairo and for a similar one in Alexandria on Tuesday February 1. Upon hearing this move, the military sent an important signal to the people. Gen. Ismail Othman, the military spokesman declared on national TV that the army recognizes the legitimate demands of the people and would not shoot at them. With this declaration the army gave an unmistakable sign for the president to yield. The government immediately went overdrive blocking all entrances to Liberation Square and stopped all public transportations to Cairo and Alexandria including trains coming from the delta and upper Egypt.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have flocked to Liberation Square. Politicians and party leaders, Imams and priests, judges and lawyers, former military officers and veterans, labor and farmers, professionals and the unemployed, taxi drivers and garbage collectors, young and old, women and men, families with their children, as well as prominent actors, artists, poets, movie directors, journalists, and authors have declared their support and participation in this massive march. Egypt had never seen such unanimity in its modern history.
Trickery and treachery are the practices of fools
On Monday January 31, the new vice president Suleiman addressed the nation saying that he was asked by Mubarak to open a dialogue with all opposition groups and to ask the judiciary to overturn the disputed elections results of last November. It was a tactical retreat by the regime in order to waste time and exhaust the protesters.
However, the protest leaders instantly rejected this disingenuous offer and insisted on their main demand of the total removal of Mubarak and for regime change.
It seems that the embattled president would have to make a choice soon. He will either submit to the demands of the popular revolution and leave power or employ his exhausted security forces to battle his people, transforming Liberation Square to Tiananmen Square.
On the other hand, the challenge to the Egyptian people is whether they will stop their impressive revolution when the West and its local hirelings give up Mubarak in order to save his regime. The leaders of this revolution and civil society groups that have joined have so far insisted on regime change, not change of characters.
A few weeks after 9/11, the neo-cons persuaded Bush that after Afghanistan, the U.S. should pursue regime change in Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and its allies in Lebanon, and to give Israel a green light to eliminate the Palestinian resistance in the Occupied territories.
After almost a decade, the U.S. is struggling in Afghanistan and has enormously enhanced Iran’s strategic regional posture by handing Iraq to its allies. Moreover, its ally in Lebanon was toppled while Hezbollah’s candidate is forming the new government. The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiating team have completely lost their credibility in the eyes of the Palestinian people after the recent publications of the Palestine Papers. The West has lost its ally in Tunisia, and is about to lose another in Egypt. Meanwhile its allies in Algeria, Yemen and Jordan are hanging on by their fingernails.
What a reversal of fortunes!
For most of the past sixty years, the U.S. has perceived the Middle East, and the Muslim world at large, from the dual prisms of Israel and oil. It has provided Israel with massive military aid, economic assistance, political cover and diplomatic shelter that not only denied the Palestinians their legitimate rights, but also prolonged their suffering and misery.
Furthermore, in securing its short-term interests of oil and military bases, successive U.S. administrations have favored dictatorships and repressive regimes in the name of stability at the expense of the right of self-determination to the people of the area.
Thirty-two years ago the U.S. lost Iran and has ever since been in a contentious relationship with it for its refusal to admit its role in maintaining the regime of the Shah. It is doubtful whether the U.S. government has learned that lesson and whether it would be willing now to clearly and completely side with the people or respect their will to be free and independent.
In his farewell address of 1796, George Washington warned his countrymen and women against the “passionate attachment” to a foreign country and advised them that “against the insidious wiles of foreign influence . . . the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”
Esam Al-Amin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org