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.
So the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg – who happens to be a former Wall Street banker and the 12th most wealthy person in the US – has evicted the nucleus of the Occupy movement from Zucotti Park, where they had been camping for two months. In that process, the NYPD has not shunned violating constitutional rights, including the right to free speech and the right to protest, in addition to preventing the democratic press from doing its job. Books were burned.
This process is likely to repeat itself elsewhere. In the Netherlands, local politicians of the conservative liberal (and, arguably, banking-aligned) VVD party are demanding the exit of Occupy protesters from public places throughout the country. Public attention has declined. So what’s next for the Occupy movement?
In all honesty, personally, while I am very sympathetic to a vocal social movement addressing the immense wealth and especially political power of global financial institutions, the injustices in that sector (such as exorbitant bonuses, the sale of intransparent financial products, and the power of credit rating agencies to almost topple entire economies), and rising economic inequality, I had become a bit disappointed with the Occupy movement. During my (admittedly short) visit to Occupy Amsterdam, what I saw was a shanty town with a lot of pot smokers and squatters, talking vaguely about the need to discuss, not have any organization, etc.
Of course any movement that starts out from a feeling of discontent needs time to organize and formulate demands, but the point of Occupy seemed to be to disavow any kind of organization or concretization. Again: I very much admire proto-democratic experiments, and disagreed with the choir of commentators who kept blattering from the very beginning that it was unclear what Occupy was about (that’s very clear), but even a die-hard communal hippie has to admit that a certain point, you need organization and representation.
Occupy has historical predecessors way earlier than the Tahrir Square protesters. The early labour union movement in the nineteenth century everywhere started out grass-roots democratically; but during the way, they learned to organize, formulate demands, and still keep an internal democratic process. You need a distinction between principles and concrete demands, for instance; or a distinction between a general assembly and working groups; and people who specialize in tasks they’re good at (like creating leaflets, organizing, negotiating, doing practical stuff, etc.). In that way, you can develop from an inspired, resounding but vague movement to an organization that actually works.
Once again, I completely understand the distaste of Occupy protesters for “standard” kinds of political organizaton, like political parties and trade unions, and wouldn’t want them to develop in that way. But any movement that doesn’t develop further than a general assembly that discusses every tiny little detail doesn’t get very far (the meeting reports of Occupy Amsterdam attest to that). And now, public attention has declined, the authorities have zoomed in and it will probably not take long before the physical manifestion of Occupy on squares around the world disappears.
So what’s next for Occupy? Opinion polls are showing that they have struck a nerve – in the US, but I imagine also elsewhere, economic inequality and financial malpractices are on the agenda, and opposed by a majority of voters. In that sense, Occupy has already been a success. Some people are arguing that the forced removal of protesters from squares may re-ignite the movement (it would have been wiser for the authorities to wait for winter). Others are saying that the Occupiers need to penetrate existing movements and organizations to address their (and our!) concerns.
Personally, I would like a vocal and identifiable Occupy movement to remain in existence, get its act together, and start thinking about ways to reform the system while continuing to exert pressure on the political-financial axis. This could be done by spreading awareness (the big pro of this movement) and keep protesting, even occupying places. After all, the big invention of the Arab Spring was the protesting technique of permanently occupying a place, rather than having your average one-afternoon demonstration. However, it is essential (I think) to develop an organization, first to make sure that encampments aren’t turned into shantytowns, trouble makers are fended off, and violence doesn’t spread; second to develop ideas, demands and rallying points, appoint representatives, and create a more focused media outreach.
Will this happen? Probably not, but I hope so. The Tea Party has shown that you can move from a vague movement to something approaching a working organization. For Occupy as well, it’s probably time to move from subcultural self-expression to a fight for political change.
[The] truth is, Bloomberg might have just done Occupy Wall Street a favor. Next week, temperatures are projected to dip down to the high 30s. Next month, they’re projected to dip into the mid-20s. The month after that, as anyone who has experienced a New York winter know, they’re going to fall even lower.
The occupation of Zuccotti Park was always going to have a tough time enduring for much longer. As the initial excitement wore off and the cold crept in, only the diehards — and those with no place else to go — were likely to remain. The numbers in Zuccotti Park would thin, and so too would the media coverage. And in the event someone died of hypothermia, or there was some other disaster, that coverage could turn. What once looked like a powerful protest could come to be seen as a dangerous frivolity.
In aggressively clearing them from the park, Bloomberg spared them that fate. Zuccotti Park wasn’t emptied by weather, or the insufficient commitment of protesters. It was cleared by pepper spray and tear gas. It was cleared by police and authority. It was cleared by a billionaire mayor from Wall Street and a request by one of America’s largest commercial real estate developers. It was cleared, in other words, in a way that will temporarily reinvigorate the protesters and give Occupy Wall Street the best possible chance to become whatever it will become next.
The question is what, if anything, comes next for Occupy Wall Street. The movement has already scored some big wins. As this graph by Dylan Byers showed, they have changed the national conversation. Income inequality is now a top-tier issue. Before Occupy Wall Street, it wasn’t.
And perhaps that will be the legacy of Occupy Wall Street. That would certainly be more than most protests achieve. If they are to go further, however, they are going to have to figure out a way to wield power in a more direct and directed form. The movement has always been uncertain on whether it wants to do that, and if it does, how to do it. It requires a willingness to work with the system that is, in certain ways, inimical to the founding of Occupy Wall Street. The good news, if they choose to make that transition, is that they don’t need a park to do it. The bad news is that, in most cases, it requires more hierarchy, clearer leaders, a more obvious agenda.
Back in October, I asked Rich Yeselson, a union researcher and a scholar of social movements, what he thought Occupy Wall Street would need to do to survive and succeed. “Whether they will grow larger and sustain themselves beyond these initial street actions will depend upon four things,” Yeselson said. “The work of skilled organizers; the success of those organizers in getting people, once these events end, to meet over and over and over again; whether or not the movement can promote public policy solutions that are organically linked to the quotidian lives of its supporters; and the ability of liberalism’s infrastructure of intellectuals, writers, artists and professionals to expend an enormous amount of their cultural capital in support of the movement.”
I still think that’s right. So then: Can the post-Zuccotti Park incarnation of Occupy Wall Street furnish skilled organizers who are able to keep the protesters involved, come up with solutions — or at least problems — they’re willing to agree on and fight for, and attract the sort of media attention that they need if they’re going to be able to continue forcing their issues into the national conversation?
The odds are probably against it. The odds are against any social movement, always. But it’s probably likelier under these conditions, where the occupiers were cleared from the park all at once, under sympathetic conditions, and so all of them can agree that this is the moment in which to decide what comes next.
Supporters of the Occupy movement are gearing up for a national day of protest and direct action across America, taking in dozens of events from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles.
Thursday has been declared a day of “solidarity” with the Occupy Wall Street activists in New York after their camp in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park was raided and dismantled by police. But it is also aimed at highlighting several of the movement’s broader aims in terms of income inequality and a desperate need for job creation in America’s floundering economy.
The Occupy movement, which began two months ago with the occupation of Zuccotti Park, has since spread to scores of cities and towns across the country, with varying success. It has often rejuvenated left-leaning political activists but also brought down a heavy police response, frequently at the behest of city mayors.
In recent days, police evictions and crackdowns on protesters in New York, Seattle, Berkeley, Portland and other places have caused widespread condemnation of alleged heavy-handedness by police.
In New York, protesters are planning actions all day in each of the city’s five boroughs. A potential early flashpoint will be a rally planned to begin at 7am that will target Wall Street itself, as the protesters seek to disrupt the operations of the New York Stock Exchange before the ringing of the opening bell that signals the start of trading at 9.30am.
Since the protests began, Wall Street has become a virtual permanent protest zone, ringed by steel fences and heavily policed. Later actions are planned to take place across the city’s subway system, as marchers will enter at 16 different stations and begin protesting.
Finally, the day will end with a rally at Foley Square, near New York’s Town Hall, and then a march to the Brooklyn Bridge, where hundreds of protesters were arrested in a previous headline-grabbing mass action.
Bridges will be the focus of some actions in other cities too. In Boston, Detroit, Washington DC, Portland and Seattle, protesters, some allied with union workers and community groups, will march on high-profile bridges in order to highlight the problem of America’s crumbling and underfunded infrastructure.
The range of activities across America spans a spectrum from the dramatic to the small-scale, including teach-ins, rallies and direct actions aimed at banks and corporations. In Portland, Oregon, protesters plan to target a city bridge and then try to organise flashmobs to go to local banks. In Detroit, protesters are marching from their camp downtown to the city’s municipal centre, where they aim to highlight the brutal impact of government cuts on ordinary citizens.
Morgen is het zo ver: de Nederlandse vertakking van de Occupy-beweging slaat haar vleugels uit te Amsterdam. De Occupy Wall Street-beweging in de V.S. is al wekenlang bezig, in groeiende getale en onder toenemende media-aandacht, een progressieve protestbeweging van formaat te worden. Een linkse variant op de Tea Party.
De concrete doelen zijn wellicht nog onduidelijk, maar het van de Arabische Lente overgenomen permanent kamperen op de heilige grond van het financieel kapitalisme blijkt een succesvolle innovatie in protestmethodes te zijn. Evenals in Caïro, en daarna in Madrid en Barcelona, wordt geëxperimenteerd met directe vormen van democratie en participatie, als alternatief naast de vertegenwoordige democratie. Men maakt bovendien – eindelijk - een vuist tegen die sector die de Westerse maatschappij nu al jaren in haar greep houdt: de financiële industrie. De door haar veroorzaakte financiële crisis wordt betaald door de belastingbetaler, die er het oprollen van de verzorgingsstaat voor terug krijgt. Ondertussen worden de bonussen nog steeds uitgedeeld. Gek genoeg zijn het alleen de meest linkse partijen in het parlement die hiertegen ageren.
Er bestaat regionale variatie – in de V.S. staan drommen politici op de loonlijst van Wall Street, in Griekenland is de staat mede debet aan de ellende – maar overal in het Westen kan de financiële sector uiteindelijk verantwoordelijk worden gehouden voor de huidige economische ellende. In de meeste landen buiten Nederland is de (jeugd)werkloosheid afschuwelijk opgelopen; er groeit nu een ‘verloren generatie’ op zonder uitzicht op een baan. Speculanten houden de eurozone bovendien nog steeds in hun greep. Maar ook in Nederland zijn onder dit kabinet, met haar domme mantra van ‘achttien miljard‘, de gevolgen groots: eliminering van zorg voor (jong)gehandicapten, sociale werkplaatsen, speciaal onderwijs, korten op hoger onderwijs, het verdwijnen van openbaar vervoer, bezuinigingen op kunst en cultuur, en ga zo maar door. Terwijl er tegelijkertijd wél een extreem kostbare subsidie voor rijken in stand wordt gehouden: de hypotheekrenteaftrek.
Ik hoop dan ook dat de Nederlandse Occupy-beweging dáárover zal gaan: de Nederlandse issues, die niettemin niet los van de internationale financiële crisis kunnen worden gezien. Het kabinet-Rutte staat evident niet aan de kant van gedupeerden in de crisis. Er is Nederland meer, meer dan genoeg om massaal tegen te protesteren, waarbij het overkoepelende punt zou kunnen zijn: de onrechtvaardige maatschappelijke verdeling van de kosten van de crisis. Dat geldt in alle landen, en dat is waarin in Nederland die waardeloze, onnadenkende bezuinigingen vandaan komen, terwijl de financiële sector op oude voet verder gaat en regelingen voor het niet-hulpbehoevende deel der natie in stand blijven.
Occupy Amsterdam heeft potentie. Tradionele media als Nieuwsuur, 1Vandaag, DWDD, BNR en AT5 hebben er al aandacht aan besteed. De Twitter loopt, en de Facebook-pagina telt bijna 3500 aanmeldingen. Het is te hopen dat men een algemeen aansprekende, op Nederland toepasbare boodschap weet te formuleren; en het is te hopen dat de boel niet, zoals in Nederland vaker gebeurd, door krakers of andere links-radicale figuren wordt overgenomen. Kritiek op de uitwassen van een doorgeschoten kapitalisme en haar vervlechting met politieke systemen isniet per se links of radicaal; het is pure common sense die iedereen aan kan spreken, wat hij of zij ook stemt.
Volgens mij bestaat er onder veel mensen die zich niet vertegenwoordigd voelen door dit kabinet – en met name onder jongeren – al tijden een grote behoefte om de straat op te gaan. Misschien wordt dit ‘m dan…
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:
Sharp is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, who in 1973 published a book about methods of non-violent revolution called The Politics of Nonviolent Action. In the book (which I didn’t read), Sharp presents an analysis of the state as a power complex designed to keep citizens subservient, through a variety of political and administrative institutions (courts, policy, regulatory bodies) and cultural norms (religion, leadership cult, moral norms).
If that doesn’t sound too original (think Foucault and every theorist concerned with despotism and state power since Hobbes), what’s special about Sharp is that he presents a whole list of possible methods of nonviolent resistance. From boycotts to strikes, to using colors, to sit-ins, to empowering women and children, to employing peaceful symbols, Sharp seems to draw on methods and techniques of protest and revolution from Louis Blanqui to Gandhi to the New Left.
Now, I’m a bit hesitant to say that this person was “the brain” behind all those complex revolutions, and have the idea that Sharp’s influence is exaggerated a bit much by Western commentators (like as usual at the NYT). Yet, his ideas have been denounced by dictators ranging from Hugo Chavez to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Sharp’s other important book From Dictatorship to Democracy, moreover, seems to have influenced civic youth movements from Serbia (during the overthrow of Milosevic) to Ukraine to Belarus, who again are said to have taught nonviolent revolutionary skills to each other and to the Arab youth protesters.
So anyway, check the trailer below, interesting stuff!
HOW TO START A REVOLUTION is a new documentary film revealing how one man’s work has helped millions of people achieve freedom in the face of oppression and tyranny.
Gene Sharp is a shy, modest and little-known man. But his work has inspired a generation of people to challenge dictators through non-violent action in a tidal wave of revolutionary spirit and reform that has swept from Eastern Europe, though Asia and to the Middle East and North Africa.
18 months ago we started work on this feature-length documentary. Through the candid and intimate testimony of the people responsible for non-violent revolutions our film seeks to tell the story of how people power can be used topple dictators.
To make this film our director (Ruaridh Arrow pictured above) slept overnight in Tahrir Square in Cairo at the height of the February revolution. He’s met the leaders of the Syrian pro-democracy movement and the people responsible for overthrowing dictators in Serbia and Ukraine. He has spent time with Gene and his colleagues as they spread their message of effective non-violent revolution.
The film reveals how the leaders of an uprising in one country train the participants in the next and how social media now threatens dictators and tyrants around the world in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago.
Not only is this documentary an important film of record of the civil uprisings that have shaken the world in the last decade but we also hope it will help inspire future pro-democracy movements develop their strategies for non-violent revolution in the face of apparently overwhelming odds.
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.
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.
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”.
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?
The role of the United States is, basically, to try to smooth the way behind the scenes for something approximating a South Korean-type endgame, where a transitional regime affiliated with the old powers agrees to play by new rules, paving the way for an opposition coalition to win in the future. Is that possible? I don’t think anybody can say for sure. But we don’t need to know, because second-best outcomes follow the same path.
The worst-case scenario would be for Egypt to arrive at a truly revolutionary situation, with the collapse of the government and the seizure of power by a temporarily united opposition. This is the most likely scenario to lead to an Islamic regime, precisely because the Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized non-state political force, which privileges it in a situation of political chaos.
Nearly as bad would be for the army to side explicitly with the Mubarak regime and crush the Egyptian people by force, as this would make the Egyptian regime transparently illegitimate, and would make it practically impossible for the United States to continue its relationship with Egypt as it has in the past (and the Egyptian regime would, undoubtedly, look for other sponsorship to shore up its position). The only way to avoid either scenario would be to rely on the military to ease the current regime out, and do so in a context of some dialogue with the opposition. This appears to be pretty much what the United States is quietly nudging the military to do behind the scenes.
(Picture: A relatively recent screenshot of Tahrir Square, Cairo, where fighter jets scrambled over earlier today and people are making preparations to stay during the night, from this live-blog.)