Can’t say anything but agreeing completely. From the people at Tahrir square, Egypt and in Tunisia to those in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Qatar, from the 15-M movement in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, to the Occupy protesters on Wall Street, New York, in London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, to those now marching against Putin in Russia: whatever the cynics, ‘realists’ and conservatives say, 2011 has been the year of the democratic protester.
Let’s hope it continues - in the Middle East, in Russia, and the West - in 2012. It’s still more than necessary.
Here in the Netherlands (the country that we write this blog out of), people may be largely oblivious to it, as a dictatorship may take over here tomorrow and all Dutch people will still sit outside on terraces enjoying their drinks. But in the rest of the world, Western and non-Western, mass demonstrations have for months been at the order of the day. These demonstrations – whether it is in Egypt or Madrid – are primarily attended by the young. This is Generation F*cked – a generation already suffering from mass unemployment, that is now also hit by the financial crisis.
It is a grave injustice that, for instance in Europe, massive budget cuts are made and the welfare state is pretty much done away with, to save a capitalist financial system that was wreckaged by a few corporate elites. I’m no socialist, but you can’t ignore the structural wrongness of the current neoliberal political-economic structure that has been in the making for thirty years and now seems to be at its apex. Why, really, should the public at large suffer to save free-for-all financial capitalism? There is something rather wrong with that.
It is therefore heartwarming to see that throughout the Western world, inspired by the Arab Spring, young people have taken to street to semi-permanently occupy public spaces and form something of an alternative, proto-democratic movement. The main examples are the acampadas in Madrid and Barcelona, of course, inspired by Tahrir Square. People here are camping out, debating, discussing, having fun, united by a shared loss of trust in the system. And since two weeks, the global heart of financial capitalism, Wall Street, is also subject to a similar youth movement: that of Occupy Wall Street.
The funny thing is that it’s almost completely being ignored by most established media. Of newspapers, only The Guardianpays serious attention to it. While the goals of the movement aren’t really clear, everybody at least wants to show signs of protest to the system that through sheer irresponsibility and recklessness is causing continuing mass suffering. Wanna know you manages your pension money? Who finances, in the US, every politician that wants to get elected? Who through malpractice has brought the entire Western economy to a halt? Occupy Wall Street.
So here’s how to inform yourself on the movement, that is gathering more crowds everyday (I read this morning that the unions are planning to join in) and keeps demonstrating. These are not only young people, by the way. Check out:
Check out The Guardian‘s live blog. Glenn Greenwald – neither, as far I know, a utopian, “leftist” or radical but like many people in the wake of the financial crisis simply concerned with the structural injustice of the current financial system, and happy that at least someone is sending a message - has the following commentary:
Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest: that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power – in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions — is destroying financial security for everyone else? Beyond that, criticizing protesters for the prominence of police brutality stories is pure victim-blaming (and, independently, having police brutality highlighted is its own benefit).
And before that, about Wall Street’s hold on American (in this case, Democratic) politics:
Electronic music as an art form is often credited to start with the likes of pioneers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer, in the 1940s and 1950s. However, one guy in Egypt was there earlier: Halim El-Dabh (1921), who in 1944 hit the streets of Cairo to record ambient sounds and music, and experiment with it afterwards.
While Pierre Schaeffer is often thought of as the father of the electronic music form known as musique concrète the gentleman above, Halim El-Dabh, actually got there several years before, 1944 to be exact. Born in Egypt in 1921, El-Dabh studied agriculture at Cairo University while playing piano and other traditional instruments as a pastime. One day, the student and a friend borrowed a wire recorder — a device predating magnetic tape — from the Middle East Radio Station and hit the streets to capture ambient sounds. El-Dabh recorded a spirit-summoning ritual called a zaar ceremony and ultimately found that he could use the sounds as the raw ingredients for a new composition.
An excerpt from the 1944 composition called “The Expression of Zaar” is here below, credited as ‘the earliest piece of electronic music ever produced’. I don’t know whether that’s true, but it sounds very ambient and cool. Not too surprising if you realize you’re listening to a spiritual ceremony from 1940s Cairo:
The Electronic Music Foundation has an interview with El-Dabh, who is currently Professor Emeritus of African Ethnomusicology at Kent State University. About the 1944 piece:
We had to sneak in (to the ritual) with our heads covered like the women, since men were not allowed in. I recorded the music and brought the recording back to the radio station and experimented with modulating the recorded sounds. I emphasized the harmonics of the sound by removing the fundamental tones and changing the reverberation and echo by recording in a space with movable walls. I did some of this using voltage controlled devices. It was not easy to do. I didn’t think of it as electronic music, but just as an experience. I called the piece Ta’abir al-Zaar, (The Expression of Zaar). A short version of it has become known as Wire Recorder Piece. At the time in Egypt, nobody else was working with electronic sounds. I was just ecstatic about sounds.
Recently I’ve become pretty disappointed with the New York Times, and this has all to do with their response to the Bin Laden killing. Their reporting was jingoistic, even nationalistic, up to the point of being an uncritical cheering of actions of a president clearly violating international and domestic law. When such things happen, one’s reminded that the NYT is basically nothing but an establishment newspaper that will never really be a truly critical government watchdog (and think about their refusal to call the Bush torture methods what they are: torture).
That aside, however, sometimes they have articles that remind why despite of that the NYT, in terms of the technical craft of journalism, is still undisputedly the best newspaper in the world. Maybe not the most critical, but at least the one with the ability to write huge pieces full of insight and a broad scope, sometimes even being almost literary in style.
The piece below, about the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions, is such an article. It covers the countries that have recently witnessed revolutions or failed attempts at making them, and how the legacy of that is now threatened by internal disputes based on old ethnic and religious divisions. It’s a very sad story actually, about the promise of a new national identity and citizenship versus ancient hatreds, and one can only hope that the great civic protests of 2011 will not have been in vain.
The revolutions and revolts in the Arab world, playing out over just a few months across two continents, have proved so inspirational to so many because they offer a new sense of national identity built on the idea of citizenship.
But in the past weeks, the specter of divisions — religion in Egypt, fundamentalism in Tunisia, sect in Syria and Bahrain, clan in Libya — has threatened uprisings that once seemed to promise to resolve questions that have vexed the Arab world since the colonialism era.
From the fetid alleys of Imbaba, the Cairo neighborhood where Muslims and Christians have fought street battles, to the Syrian countryside, where a particularly deadly crackdown has raised fears of sectarian score-settling, the question of identity may help determine whether the Arab Spring flowers or withers. Can the revolts forge alternative ways to cope with the Arab world’s variety of clans, sects, ethnicities and religions?
The old examples have been largely of failure: the rule of strongmen in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen; a fragile equilibrium of fractious communities in Lebanon and Iraq; the repressive paternalism of the Persian Gulf, where oil revenues are used to buy loyalty.
“I think the revolutions in a way, in a distant way, are hoping to retrieve” this sense of national identity, said Sadiq al-Azm, a prominent Syrian intellectual living in Beirut.
“The costs otherwise would be disintegration, strife and civil war,” Mr. Azm said. “And this was very clear in Iraq.”
In an arc of revolts and revolution, that idea of a broader citizenship is being tested as the enforced silence of repression gives way to the cacophony of diversity. Security and stability were the justification that strongmen in the Arab world offered for repression, often with the sanction of the United States; the essence of the protests in the Arab Spring is that people can imagine an alternative.
But even activists admit that the region so far has no model that enshrines diversity and tolerance without breaking down along more divisive identities.
In Tunisia, a relatively homogenous country with a well-educated population, fault lines have emerged between the secular-minded coasts and the more religious and traditional inland.
The tensions shook the nascent revolution there this month when a former interim interior minister, Farhat Rajhi, suggested in an online interview that the coastal elite, long dominant in the government, would never accept an electoral victory by Tunisia’s Islamist party, Ennahda, which draws most of its support inland.
“Politics was in the hands of the people of the coast since the start of Tunisia,” Mr. Rajhi said. “If the situation is reversed now, they are not ready to give up ruling.” He warned that Tunisian officials from the old government were preparing a military coup if the Islamists won elections in July. “If Ennahda rules, there will be a military regime.”
In response, protesters poured back out into the streets of Tunis for four days of demonstrations calling for a new revolution. The police beat them back with batons and tear gas, arrested more than 200 protesters and imposed a curfew on the city.
In Cairo, the sense of national identity that surged at the moment of revolution — when hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths celebrated in Tahrir Square with chants of “Hold your head high, you are an Egyptian”— has given way to a week of religious violence pitting the Coptic Christian minority against their Muslim neighbors, reflecting long-smoldering tensions that an authoritarian state may have muted, or let fester.
At a rally this month in Tahrir Square to call for unity, Coptic Christians were conspicuously absent, thousands of them gathering nearby for a rally of their own. And even among some Muslims at the unity rally, suspicions were pronounced.
“As Muslims, our sheiks are always telling us to be good to Christians, but we don’t think that is happening on the other side,” said Ibrahim Sakr, 56, a chemistry professor, who asserted that Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the population, still consider themselves “the original” Egyptians because their presence predates Islam.
In Libya, supporters of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi acknowledge that his government banks on fears of clan rivalries and possible partition to stay in power in a country with deep regional differences.
Officials say that the large extended clans of the west that contribute most of the soldiers to Colonel Qaddafi’s forces will never accept any revolution arising from the east, no matter what promises the rebels make about universal citizenship in a democratic Libya with its capital still in the western city of Tripoli.
The rebels say the revolution can forge a new identity.
“Qaddafi looks at Libya as west and east and north and south,” said Jadella Shalwee, a Libyan from Tobruk who visited Tahrir Square last weekend in a pilgrimage of sorts. “But this revolt has canceled all that. This is about a new beginning,” he said, contending that Colonel Qaddafi’s only supporters were “his cousins and his family.”
“Fear” is what Gamal Abdel Gawad, the director of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, called it — the way that autocrats win support because people “are even more scared of their fellow citizens.”
Nowhere is that perhaps truer than in Syria, with a sweeping revolt against four decades of rule by one family and a worsening of tensions among a Sunni Muslim majority and minorities of Christians and heterodox Muslims, the Alawites.
Mohsen, a young Alawite in Syria, recounted a slogan that he believes, rightly or not, was chanted at some of the protests there: “Christians to Beirut and the Alawites to the coffin.”
“Every week that passes,” he lamented, speaking by telephone from Damascus, the Syrian capital, “the worse the sectarian feelings get.”
The example of Iraq comes up often in conversations in Damascus, as does the civil war in Lebanon. The departure of Jews, who once formed a vibrant community in Syria, remains part of the collective memory, illustrating the tenuousness of diversity. Syria’s ostensibly secular government, having always relied on Alawite strength, denounces the prospect of sectarian differences while, its critics say, fanning the flames. The oft-voiced formula is, by now, familiar: after us, the deluge.
“My Alawite friends want me to support the regime, and they feel if it’s gone, our community will be finished,” said Mohsen, the young Alawite in Damascus, who asked that only his first name be used because he feared reprisal. “My Sunni friends want me to be against the regime, but I feel conflicted. We want freedom, but freedom with stability and security.”
That he used the mantra of years of Arab authoritarianism suggested that people still, in the words of one human rights activist, remain “hostage to the lack of possibilities” in states that, with few exceptions, have failed to come up with a sense of self that transcends the many divides.
“This started becoming a self-fulfilling myth,” said Mr. Azm, the Syrian intellectual.
“It was either our martial law or the martial law of the Islamists,” he added. “The third option was to divide the country into ethnicities, sects and so on.”
Despite a wave of repression, crackdown and civil war, hope and optimism still pervade the region, even in places like Syria, the setting of one of the most withering waves of violence. There, residents often speak of a wall of fear crumbling. Across the Arab world, there is a renewed sense of a collective destiny that echoes the headiest days of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and ’60s and perhaps even transcends it.
President Obama, in his speech on Thursday about the changes in the Arab world, spoke directly to that feeling. “Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else. But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore.”
But no less pronounced are the old fears of zero-sum power, where one side wins and the other inevitably loses. From a Coptic Christian in Cairo to an Alawite farmer in Syria, discussions about the future are posed in terms of survival. Differences in Lebanon, a country that celebrates and laments the diversity of its 18 religious communities, are so pronounced that even soccer teams have a sectarian affiliation.
In Beirut, wrecked by a war over the country’s identity and so far sheltered from the gusts of change, activists have staged a small sit-in for two months to call for something different, in a plea that resonates across the Arab world.
The Square of Change, the protesters there have nicknamed it, and their demand is blunt: Citizenship that unites, not divides.
“We are not ‘we’ yet,” complained Tony Daoud, one of the activists. “What do we mean when we say ‘we’? ‘We’ as what? As a religion, as a sect, as human beings?”
So it has now been two days since Mubarak finally exited the scene. There has been lost of interesting stories emerge since that time. Apparently the army expected Mubarak to resign Thursday night Egypt time. But, notwithstanding pleading from the head of his Party, fighting within his own appointed cabinet and military impatience, Mubarak could not be persuaded beyond the insistence of his son Gamal that “he could still ride out the turmoil“.
And, most importantly, the army has started to make moves. The most significant of these to date have come this morning. The Supreme Council of the Military has announced that it is dissolving the Egyptian parliament, suspending the constitution and calling for elections to be held within six months. The army is also leaving in place a civilian caretaker government meant to ensure the stability of the Egyptian economy and safety of the Egyptian people.
That said, as Al Jazeera is reporting, it is “”quite clear that the power now rests entirely” with the military council”. And, of course commitments for reform are not the same as reform. And at least two points of contention remain it seems. First, it is not clear if the suspending of the constitution is sufficient to end ‘emergency rule’, a clear demand of protestors. There are mixed reports on that point. And second, the same Al Jazeera piece is reporting that there have been some skirmishes between soldiers that are pushing for people to return home and to get back to ‘ordinary’ life and protestors who seem to want to continue to hold Tahrir Square until more is known.
Also, I am not seeing anything at this point about how the military intends to integrate opposition members and representatives of the protestors into the process of democratic reform or about the release of the many people still detained. These are very important points.
Nonetheless, while questions do remain (see this post), I see todays developments quite positively. Each of these moves, while somewhat ambiguous, are all very good news. There is a clear timeline to move to civilian democratic leadership, free and fair elections were simply not possible under the existing, now suspended, constitution and protestors rightly saw Parliament as illegitimate given the record of fraudulent elections and it has been sent home.
So. This is world history. The Egyptian Revolution is, in my view, now on par with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Ever since decolonization, the Middle East has been ruled by a series of secular autocratic regimes. These have been varying in levels of despotism and violence, but Egypt’s – the most populous and culturally the most influential Middle Eastern country - has not been the softest. Let’s not forget, moreover, that these regimes have been pillars of Western and especially US policy for decades. This is what fueled the islamist Iranian Revolution, and now the democratic Egyptian Revolution. For the first time (well, actually not, Tunisia was first), an Arab people stands up and en masse removes a dictator. That is news on a dizzying magnitude, and utterly unthinkable just two weeks ago.
While a jubilant mood on Tahrir Square and the streets of Cairo and Alexandria because of the removal of a dictator by masses of peaceful protesters, led by the young, is now in order, let’s not forget that this is not over. This is essentially a military coup. The army leadership - led by the torturer and chief of intelligence Omar Suleiman – is now in full control of the country, and one might wonder how eager they are to quickly relinguish that power. The military has huge political and economic interests in Egypt. So as Mark noted yesterday, a vigilant eye must be kept on the process of constitutional reform. The state of emergency must be lifted, a real dialogue with the opposition (liberal as well as islamist) must be opened, and open and fair democratic elections are in order.
A historian’s note though. Mubarak’s thirty-year regime has effected an almost total eradication of anything resembling a civil society in Egypt. The middle and lower classes (constituting the vast bulk of Egypt’s population) have no organizations representing them; no labor unions, no interest associations, no political parties, almost nothing. There is only the Muslim Brotherhood – a very dedicated, highly organized minority. And Facebook. In my view, a democracy cannot properly function without a vibrant and stable civil society; unorganized people are prone to manipulation by populists, and may even slid into violence caused by old rifts (witness Iraq). So, I’m very concerned about how a post-Mubarak Egypt will develop. Democratization is more than just quick elections (we can also see that in Iraq). What is needed are organizing principles within Egyptian society. But that takes time.
A glimmer of hope though: the organizing of these protests, albeit informal, has shown signs of being highly coordinated and effective. Maybe from this, like in East Germany post-1989, something can grow…
So, while this is huge and fantastic – we’re not there yet!
- Update: Just talked to a friend in Cairo who is not an organizer but has been at Tahrir Square daily for most of the protests. He is saying two interesting things. First, that he and others still trust the army, suggesting that people still feel safe in the army’s presence. This fits with images on TV of protestors still chanting that the people and the army are united. Second, that the army is now “everywhere” taking up a much more visible presence in the city then merely hours ago. Personally I do not see the army as a neutral force up to this point and am not convinced just yet that a hand off of power to the army is consistent with, or will fulfill, the demands of the protestors so I am less certain about what to make of this. Nonetheless the background noise during the call was truly joyful. Lots of people honking their horns (beyond the incessant horn honking that is normal in Cairo. People chanting and singing. And everybody seemed to be heading towards the square. If the protestors or a sizeable chunk off them reject whatever comes next tonight the result could be overwhelming. At the same time it may risk massive division with the protestors. I ended the call telling him to be safe and to have an amazing time the square tonight; he laughed, told me not worry, and told me how incredibly happy he was. Let’s see what will happen next.
- Update: NYT reporting indicates this is basically an army takeover, a military intervention. Should we be too happy about that?
- Update: Wael Ghonim has written on his Twitter feed:
Wael Ghonim, a Google executive and protest organizer whose anti-torture Facebook page helped spark the movement, wrote on his Twitter feed Thursday evening: “Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians.”
“This is not a coup in the traditional sense,” the official said. “But this is a transfer of the system of government from the civilian to military. The military is stepping up, recognizing its responsibility to the Egyptian people.”
“These were all definite and conclusive steps toward a political process under the constitution,” the official said, referring to the effort to implement reforms. “But this political process never received enough support” — neither from Egyptians nor the international community. “Now we have to go outside the constitutional frame.”
Word of this is going to spread and will begin to counter the dominant narrative in Egyptian media about the people and the army being one. The longer this crisis persists, the more difficult for the army to continue either playing a double game or sitting on the fence. With Omar Suleiman’s threats of coups and the protests spreading to work stoppages across the country, decision time will be coming for the protestors to make up their minds about the army (or launch a more pronounced campaign to persuade commanders), for the army’s leadership to decide how it will proceed in a context where it is losing control, and for rank-and-file in the military to decide where they stand in all this.
- Update: There are serious of key issues here that require further clarification before it becomes clear how much change is actually about to occur. They include, but are not limited to: 1) Who will succeed Mubarak?; 2) Will there be constitutional amendments that will actually democratize any forthcoming elections (e.g., allow opposition members to organize and run in elections)? 3) What role will representatives of the uprising have in making those changes?; 4) How fast will those changes and any elections happen?; and 5) What will happen to those who have been, and are currently, detained?
Until some of these questions optimism should be quite cautious folks.
- Update: Al Jazeera English is reporting that nearly 3 million people are now in Tahrir Square!
- Update: Mubarak is live! Doubt he is leaving, his first few minutes is filled with “I wills”.
He characterizes past problems like torture and fraud as “mistakes” that “can happen in any system of government”.
He is relying on previously announced concessions, ‘I promised you that I will not run again for elections’, we are examining the constitution, etc.
“We have lost martyrs”, calling people sons and daughters. This dude is daring those 3 million people to burn down his palace (not that I am endorsing that). What a stubborn bastard.
The crowd is going nuts. What is happening?
He is trotting all the same bullshit he trotted out last speech. How does he think that is going to go with protests that are growing in size as this carries on?
People are chanting Leave! Out! Out! and waving their shoes in Tahrir Square.
He is talking about the determination of Egyptian people wait till this poor bastard wakes up tomorrow!
And that is it for Mubarak with 3 million royally pissed off people in the square. This is about to get ugly.
Soooo… There was not a single new concession in that speech. He had already said that he delegated powers to the VP. He reiterated his commitments to fixing this himself. And he clearly did not step down. I argued last week that Mubarak is misstepping and I believe it even more tonight.
- Update: The Guardian‘s Matt Wells is in Tahrir Square:
At one point Mubarak made a reference to being a young man and understanding the young men of Egypt – basically the people who are here – and at that moment the whole square erupted in anger. At that point, the whole square exploded in anger. The way that Mubarak is comparing himself to the people on the ground infuriated them.
And when it became clear that the that Mubarak intended to stay on until September, the square shook with fury. “We are not going until he goes,” they chanted.
CNN is interviewing a guy saying that Mubarak clearly does not want “to leave the country in one piece” and “has no brain”.
- Update: So what happens tomorrow? The day will clearly start with Friday prayers. After that? Does the crowd swell again? Do they finally march on the palace? Do they move to face Parliament? Does the army stay out of the way or impede protests? Does Mubarak launch another crackdown that includes arbitrary detention, torture and murder using police and/or other thugs?
- Update: CNN is now reporting people are leaving the square and chanting that they are going to the palace? Al Jazeera reports of demonstrations in Alexandria, and people marching towards army headquarters. Mubarak’s infuriating speech may tilt the relationship between the protesters and the army. They’re reporting about extreme anger on Tahrir Square now.
- Update: Well, we here at LSDimension are going to sign off for a bit so that we can try to catch up. But first I wanted to make four points: first, everyone should know that his post is both the work of Adriejan and myself; second, Suleiman is about to speak, though I doubt it will add much of anything; third, I think Mubarak is attempting to goad more extreme protests so that he can justify a more violence crackdown (I am quite worried this is going to get really ugly); and, fourth, what has happened tonight also paints the American intelligence services in poor light again. Senior US sources were behind the false rumours that Mubarak was going. They were wrong. The CIA director also made comments that are now unfounded. After Obama’s comments earlier about watching a transformation and history in the making, the US again comes off looking poor in this.
As they just put in on Al Jazeera: the revolution will start tomorrow.
Despite his highly publicized meetings with opposition groups, the limited concessions and promises of future liberalization are not promising. Suleiman’s torturous ways have apparently not let up, with his dreaded Mukhabarat running makeshift torture chambers across Cairo, according to two New York Times reporters who witnessed one firsthand. When the opposition Wafd Party asked Suleiman if he was considering lifting the decades-old state of emergency, which allows the government to arrest and detain with impugnity, the longtime intelligence chief responded incredulously, “At a time like this?”
Suleiman’s repression and brutality — on behalf of both the U.S. and Mubarak — has been well-documented elsewhere (The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer was the first to flag it after the Egyptian uprising, while ABC News recounted how he once offered to chop off the arm of a Terrorist suspect to please the CIA … [Tuesday]‘s Times article does a decent job of conveying how unwilling Suleiman is to bring about anything resembling a real transition to democracy, how indifferent (if not supportive) the Obama administration seems to be about that unwillingness, and how dangerously that conduct is fueling anti-American sentiment among the protesters. But the fact that American policy has “changed” from imposing Mubarak on that country to imposing someone with Suleiman’s vile history and character belongs at the forefront of every discussion, especially ones purporting to examine who he is.
Two things appear to be clear as we round out two weeks of pro-democracy protests since the initial Egyptian ‘Day of Rage’ was launched on January 25th. First, that to the degree that protestors might have benefited in their hopes of realizing regime change in either the immediate or short-term from the support of Western democracies, including the United States and members of the European Union, any such benefits are not likely to accrue. The Western democracies uniformly appear happy to carve out a position marked by inconsistent messaging, tepid criticism, calls for change and, ultimately, acceptance of a slow process that formally leaves power in Mubarak’s hands as the best means of securing ‘stability’ and ‘orderly transition’. And by the way, I am not suggesting protestors wanted Western support. They likely did not. The point here is just that the West is willing to accept and support Mubarak rule for at least the next half-year at this point, and, as such, has made clear that its support for democracy around the world is conditional.
The latest example is aptly provided by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs who described ‘new’ Vice-President Omar Suleiman’s remarks that ‘Egypt is not ready for democracy’ as “very unhelpful”. Very unhelpful? Is Gibbs sure that won’t set off a diplomatic crisis?
Second, the protestors are not showing any signs of going away quickly. Many reports from news agencies and those on the ground today suggest that there were more protestors today than any day so far. This is truly remarkable. In the face of thinly veiled threats, violence and kidnappings by the state security apparatus, people have made clear they are rejecting the empty ‘concessions’ on offer from the Mubarak regime (and it is getting hard to keep up with the empty promises on offer). It appears, as per the message of protestors from the start, anything short of Mubarak’s actual departure will not satisfy the revolutionaries occupying Tahrir Square and spread throughout much of the rest of the country.
One of the most recent rallying points drawing more people to participate is the story of Wael Ghonim. Ghonim is a Cairo native who is married to an American and lives and works in Dubai as Head of Marketing for Google Middle East and North Africa. He is being credited with being an early, albeit, at the time anonymous catalyst of the movement. Ghonim, under a false identity started the “We are all Khaled Said“ Facebook page commemorating the torture and killing of a 28-year old Egyptian blogger at the hands of the police for exposing police wrongdoing, agitating against police intimidation and brutality as well as calling for the January 25th protest.
Ghonim ’disappeared’ on January 27th during the protests by the Egyptian regime, which under the leadership of Suleiman allegedly participated in the United States’ extraordinary rendition programme that used foreign countries to torture detainees as part of the so-called War on Terror. Considerable attention was called to his disappearance by journalists and internal human rights organizations such Amnesty International before his eventual release yesterday.
Shortly after his release Ghonim granted a highly emotional interview to Egyptian channel DreamTV which has since been posted on the web complete with English subtitles. I consider this essential viewing.
The sincere compassion shown to everyone involved in the protests including his interrogators and the even-handedness with which Ghonim assesses what is happening and what should happen is remarkable, especially for a man who is just hours removed from being held captive for 12 days by a regime that his own past writing makes clear is to be feared. Among the highlights of the interview are when Ghonim makes clear that this is not the time to settle scores, to divide up the cake or to impose ideologies.
It is not the place of anyone to set a barometer for which countries ought to be a democracy and which ought not, besides the citizens of those countries. But even if it was, what more could we ask for than what Wael Ghonim and his compatriots have put on offer? Personally, the interview lays bare just how hypocritical Western governments are being in choosing a brutal authoritarian regime that has no claim whatsoever to democratic legitimacy over hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who day after day have peacefully taken to the streets breaking down traditional gender, religious and socio-economic divides to demand justice and democracy. I could not imagine a more cynical and, frankly, disgusting stance.
Pretty cool, considering the events of the past week and all: a 1938 short movie about a visit to Cairo, in full Technicolor, by director James A. Fitzpatrick. Produced as part of his Traveltalk series for MGM.
Ah, good old colonial times… No I’m just kidding. Here it is:
A very clear recap of the current situation in Egypt, by Scott Lucas from Enduring America (which is, by the way, a great blog to turn to to follow the events as they unfold):
[There is] uncertainty surrounding political talks between the regime, led by Vice President Omar Suleiman, and the opposition. Government outlets were soon announcing that agreement had been reached on joint committees, including one for Constitutional reform, free media, and an end to the military emergency. Other signals cames from the opposition side: the Muslim Brotherhood, now acknowledged by the Government for the first time in more than 50 years, said it was not negotiating but only ensuring that the regime heard the opposition point of view; representatives of the Tahrir Square protesters insisted that the immediate departure of President Mubarak remained an essential precondition; and Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been named by opposition parties to present their position, said he had not even invited to the discussions, even though his representative was there.
Opposition sources later told media, including the BBC’s Jon Leyne, that the talks had been limited to two points: constitutional changes and the procedure to implement them. That would fit the regime narrative that President Mubarak has to be replaced in an “orderly” process, involving Parliamentary approval of a replacement and a procedure for elections, rather than stepping down immediately. Given that the Parliament was dissolved last week by Mubarak, the time involved in even these limited steps would let the President enjoying his office desk for more months.
This is the process that the US, for all the confusion surrounding its position, is backing. President Obama used the occasion of American football’s Super Bowl for a pre-game interview in which he got back to his Administration’s mantra of “orderly transition”.
You would think Berlusconi has enough to deal with in his own country. Still, Silvio couldn’t resist commenting on the ongoing revolution in Egypt. According to him “Mubarak is a wise man”. Berlusconi would like to see a move to democracy, with Mubarak staying place. He also said: “I hope there can be continuity in government”. Thereby he defies the international call for Mubarak to step down, supported by the U.S., the U.N., the E.U and the rest of the world. Obviously nobody in the international community is taking this 74-year old demented clown serious anymore, but he’s still in charge in Italy. It continues to amaze me how crazy this guy really is. If the Saudis or Emirates don’t want him, Mubarak can easily find a safe haven in Berlusconi Italy. Grazie Silvio!
Today is ‘day of departure’ in Egypt – while people on the street are calling on Mubarak to leave, President Obama is putting pressure behind the scenes to effectuate the same. Vice President Omar Suleiman is poised to take over leadership, and there is talk of inviting opposition groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, to discuss constitutional reforms. This may seem like victory, but what happens on the background probably has more weight.
Via Andrew Sullivan, a couple of analyses that put the events in Egypt of the past few days in perspective. Basically, they cast a (from our point of view) not-so-favorable light on the Egyptian military, as well as put Mubarak and his son’s decision not to run for president (again) in perspective. I’ll discuss them here in a couple of posts.
Even though the military in the first stage of this uprising has seemed to be on the hand of the people (or at least not striking them down), the extent to which the army dominates Egyptian society – politically, culturally as well as economically – can not be ignored. What happens in Egypt happens through the military – and that, apparently, also seems to go for who runs the country. With Mubarak’s son Gamal gone, the army seems to be in full control of the country again.
Samuel Tadros at The American Interest blog, in a great piece, provides background on the role of the military in Egyptian society, Egyptian politics in the last twenty years, as well as the Mubarak dynasty:
The Egyptian army, incidentally, is hugely popular, due to a well-established myth in Egyptian politics. The army—which is for all intents and purposes the regime—is seen as separate from it by the people. The army is viewed as clean (not like the corrupt government), efficient (they do build bridges fast) and, more importantly, composed of the heroes who defeated Israel in 1973. (It’s no use debating this point with an Egyptian.) Thus people really did think the troops and tanks appearing in the streets were on their side—whatever that might mean. Egyptians, putting their own reading on why the President’s upcoming address kept being delayed, fully expected Mubarak’s resignation.
Mubarak decided to appoint Omar Suliman as Vice President and Ahmed Shafik as Prime Minister. Both are military men, Suliman being the Chief of the Egyptian Intelligence Service and Shafik being the former commander of the Air Forces.
It is no news for anyone following Egyptian politics that Gamal Mubarak, the President’s son was being groomed to follow his father. In reality, the elder Mubarak was never fully behind that scenario. Whether because of a real assessment of his son’s capabilities or because of the army unwillingness to accept such a scenario, Mubarak was hesitant. It was Mubarak’s wife, rather, who was heavily pushing that scenario. Step by step, Gamal started to rise up the ranks of the ruling NDP party.
The army never liked Gamal or his friends. Gamal had never served in the military. And now to add insult to injury, their technocratic, neo-liberal policies were threatening the army’s dominance of the closed economy. The party was becoming, step by step, an actual organization capable of competing with army officers to fill administrative positions.
As long as President Mubarak was there, however, the army stayed silent. The army is 100 percent loyal to the President. He is an October War hero and their Commander in Chief.
As the recent events unfolded, the army was finally able to demonstrate their narrative to the President and get his backing—that narrative being that Gamal and his friends ruined everything. Their neo-liberal policies alienated people and robbed them of their subsidies, and they destroyed the political system by aiming to crush all opposition.
1. The Gamal inheritance scenario is finished.
2. Mubarak will not run for another Presidential term. His term ends in October and either he will serve the rest of his term or will resign once things cool down for health reasons. (These concerns, incidentally, are real; he is in fact dying.)
3. The army is in control now. We are heading back to the “golden age” of army rule. The “kids” are not in charge anymore; the “men” are back in control.
4. Until the economy fails again, neo-liberal economic policies are over. Forget about seeing an open economy any time soon.
Tadros also confirms what I’ve suspected since the beginning: that Mohamed El Baradei, the darling of the Western media, really does not have a role at all in real-life Egyptian politics:
You might, after all of this, be asking yourself where El Baradei and the Egyptian opposition factor into all of this. CNN’s anointed leader of the Egyptian Revolution must somehow be an important figure for Egypt’s future. Hardly! Outside Western media hype, El Baradei is nothing. A man who has spent less than thirty days in the past year and hardly any time in the past twenty years in Egypt is a nobody. It is insulting to Egyptians to suggest otherwise.
And what of the opposition? Outside the Muslim Brotherhood, no opposition group can claim more than about 5,000 actual members. With no organization, no ideas, and no leaders, the opposition is entirely irrelevant to the discussion. It is the apolitical-cum-political generation of young Egyptians that is the real enigma in all this.
- Edit: The NYT confirms this picture. Let’s just forget about Mohamed El Baradei, shall we?
On Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been authorized by the protesters to negotiate with the authorities, said no one from government had contacted him, but he was still standing by.
So the question is: will the army relinquish power, by opening up free and fair elections in September? Let’s have an honest answer to that…
Hi folks, I have now returned to and am settling into the Canadian tundra after spending nearly the last 10 months in a variety of locales around the world, including 40 days traveling through the Middle East (UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey) in December and January. The dramatic events that have ripped through Lebanon and Egypt since I have left that part of the world have gripped mine, like most everyone else’s attention. I will have more to say on some of the stuff I saw, especially in relation to current events but this is just a quick post following up on Adriejan’s earlier post noting that Mubarak’s announcement that he will not run again. The Guardian now has the full text of Mubarak’s speech online here.
I was shocked to hear this speech described by at least on pundit (on Al Jazeera English) as clever. My sense is that all he has done with this speech is pour gas on the fire by insulting and demonizing protestors and making no firm commitments on reform or to rescind internet, mobile or television restrictions. His commitment to not run again, after his chat with Obama, is a joke. Demonstrators have been clear all along they want him gone, and they want him gone now. His staying, even temporarily has never been negotiable with the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets across the country. And his commitment to having Parliament “discuss amending article 76 and 77 of the constitution” amounts to having his own cronies control the reform agenda. Yeah that is what the people wanted. And that is not to even mention the outright lies, like pointing the fingers at the protestors for looting when there is clear evidence emerging that his own thugs are responsible.
Does he really think that simultaneously treating the people like idiots at this point, digging in his heels and elevating the situation through fear mongering and dangerous rhetoric, like declaring “on this land I will die”, is a good idea? At this point I would say that he is remarkably lucky to be the beneficiary of the remarkable amount of restraint and poise exercised the impressive Egyptian revolutionaries that have taken to the streets.
I really do not think I have heard a speech so out of touch with the context in which it was delivered. The full text follows with some emphasis added:
“I talk to you during critical times that are testing Egypt and its people which could sweep them into the unknown. The country is passing through difficult times and tough experiences which began with noble youths and citizens who practise their rights to peaceful demonstrations and protests, expressing their concerns and aspirations but they were quickly exploited by those who sought to spread chaos and violence, confrontation and to violate the constitutional legitimacy and to attack it.
Those protests were transformed from a noble and civilised phenomenon of practising freedom of expression to unfortunate clashes, mobilised and controlled by political forces that wanted to escalate and worsen the situation. They targeted the nation’s security and stability through acts of provocation theft and looting and setting fires and blocking roads and attacking vital installations and public and private properties and storming some diplomatic missions.
We are living together painful days and the most painful thing is the fear that affected the huge majority of Egyptians and caused concern and anxiety over what tomorrow could bring them and their families and the future of their country.
The events of the last few days require us all as a people and as a leadership to chose between chaos and stability and to set in front of us new circumstances and a new Egyptian reality which our people and armed forces must work with wisely and in the interest of Egypt and its citizens.
Dear brothers and citizens, I took the initiative of forming a new government with new priorities and duties that respond to the demand of our youth and their mission. I entrusted the vice president with the task of holding dialogue with all the political forces and factions about all the issues that have been raised concerning political and democratic reform and the constitutional and legislative amendments required to realise these legitimate demands and to restore law and order but there are some political forces who have refused this call to dialogue, sticking to their particular agendas without concern for the current delicate circumstances of Egypt and its people.
In light of this refusal to the call for dialogue and this is a call which remains standing, I direct my speech today directly to the people, its Muslims and Christians, old and young, peasants and workers, and all Egyptian men and women in the countryside and city over the whole country.
I have never, ever been seeking power and the people know the difficult circumstances that I shouldered my responsibility and what I offered this country in war and peace, just as I am a man from the armed forces and it is not in my nature to betray the trust or give up my responsibilities and duties.
My primary responsibility now is security and independence of the nation to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in circumstances that protect Egypt and the Egyptians and allow handing over responsibility to whoever the people choose in the coming presidential election.
I say in all honesty and regardless of the current situation that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term. I have spent enough years of my life in the service of Egypt and its people.
I am now absolutely determined to finish my work for the nation in a way that ensures handing over its safe-keeping and banner … preserving its legitimacy and respecting the constitution.
I will work in the remaining months of my term to take the steps to ensure a peaceful transfer of power.
According to my constitutional powers, I call on parliament in both its houses to discuss amending article 76 and 77 of the constitution concerning the conditions on running for presidency of the republic and it sets specific a period for the presidential term. In order for the current parliament in both houses to be able to discuss these constitutional amendments and the legislative amendments linked to it for laws that complement the constitution and to ensure the participation of all the political forces in these discussions, I demand parliament to adhere to the word of the judiciary and its verdicts concerning the latest cases which have been legally challenged.
I will entrust the new government to perform in ways that will achieve the legitimate rights of the people and that its performance should express the people and their aspirations of political, social and economic reform and to allow job opportunities and combating poverty, realising social justice.
In this context, I charge the police apparatus to carry out its duty in serving the people, protecting the citizens with integrity and honour with complete respect for their rights, freedom and dignity.
I also demand the judicial and supervisory authorities to take immediately the necessary measures to continue pursuing outlaws and to investigate those who caused the security disarray and those who undertook acts of theft, looting and setting fires and terrorising citizens.
This is my pledge to the people during the last remaining months of my current term:
I ask God to help me to honour this pledge to complete my vocation to Egypt and its people in what satisfies God, the nation and its people.
Dear citizens, Egypt will emerge from these current circumstances stronger, more confident and unified and stable. And our people will emerge with more awareness of how to achieve reconciliation and be more determined not to undermine its future and destiny.
Hosni Mubarak who speaks to you today is proud of the long years he spent in the service of Egypt and its people. This dear nation is my country, it is the country of all Egyptians, here I have lived and fought for its sake and I defended its land, its sovereignty and interests and on this land I will die and history will judge me and others for our merits and faults.
The nation remains. Visitors come and go but ancient Egypt will remain eternal, its banner and safekeeping will pass from one generation to the next. It is up to us to ensure this in pride and dignity.”
Multiple sources have just confirmed that Tahrir, or Liberation Square, in Cairo has been filled with a million protesters, like demonstrators had hoped. So the genie definitely is out of the bottle, and this seems to be the culmination of the events of the past six days.
The military leadership has stated that it will not fire on protesters; the new vice president Omar Suleiman has indicated that he wants to talk about constitutional reforms; but Mubarak shows no signs of giving up (even though Turkey and the US seem to be giving up on him, and in Jordan King Abdullah has dismissed his government). Mohamed Al Baradei, meanwhile, is being pitched by Western media as a figurehead of the opposition, but the question is to which extent this conforms to street reality. And the question is: how does the Muslim Brotherhood fit into this?