Tags: arab spring, egypt capitalism, egypt military, egypt revolution, frantz fanon, morsi deposed, mubarak deposed, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander, tamarod, U.S. imperialism, war on libya, war on syria
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by Ajamu Baraka
In the two-and-a-half years between the ouster of Mubarak by the Egyptian military and the ouster of President Morsi by that same military, no revolutionary process occurred. Yet, “the emotional response to seeing hundreds of thousands of people on the streets seems to have created a case of temporary insanity,” an imagined revolution in which the “military and the people are one.”
by Ajamu Baraka
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” – Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
As the military in Egypt consolidates its putsch against the leadership and political structures of the Muslim Brotherhood, it should be obvious that the initial narrative rationalizing intervention by the military as a necessary corrective to a “revolutionary process” has lost all credibility. Yet many liberals and radicals appear united in a fanciful reading of the events in Egypt that not only legitimizes the coup but characterizes the collection of small-minded state-capitalists thugs who make up the top officer corps of the military as part of the people and the revolutionary process.
From bourgeois intellectual hacks like Isabel Coleman to venerable Marxist materialists like Samir Amin, who implied that the Egyptian army was a neutral class force, the emotional response to seeing hundreds of thousands of people on the streets seems to have created a case of temporary insanity, or as Frantz Fanon refers to it as – cognitive dissonance. This can be the only explanation for the theoretical and rhetorical acrobatics many are engaged in to reconcile their beliefs in democratic rights and revolutionary transformation with what is occurring right before their eyes in Egypt.
A revolution in name only
The popular use and acceptance of the term revolution to describe the events in Egypt over the last two years demonstrates the effectiveness of global liberal discourse to “de-radicalize,” with the collusion of some radicals, even the term “revolution.”
Eschewing the romanticism associated with revolution and the sentimentality connected to seeing the “masses in motion,” it has to be concluded that between February 2011, when Mubarak was ousted, and July 3, 2013, when the military officially reassumed power, there was no revolutionary process at all, in the sense that there was no transfer of power away from the class forces that dominated Egyptian society. No restructuring of the state; no new democratic institutions and structures created to represent the will and interests of the new progressive social bloc of students, workers, farmers, women’s organizations etc.; and no deep social transformation. In fact, the rapes and sexual assaults that occurred during the recent mobilizations were a graphic reminder that sexist and patriarchal ideas still ruled, untouched by this so-called revolutionary process.
A revolutionary process is a process by which structures of power are created by a broad mass of people that allow them to eventually transform every aspect of their society – from the structure and role of the State and the organization of the economy to inter-personal relations – all with a view to eliminating all forms of oppression. There were some important organizational advances made by some elements of the labor movement in Egypt, including the creation of independent trade unions. However, the organizational imperative for revolutionary change that requires the building of popular structures to sustain mass struggle and represent dual power, was not as strong as it should have been in Egypt.
“The liberal appropriation of the term ‘revolution’ to describe everything from the events in Libya and Syria to the Green movement in Iran not only distorts social reality but also advances a dangerous narrative.”
Early 2011 in Egypt saw mass agitation for social change and a mass rebellion against a dictatorship that galvanized previously disparate social forces and classes – Westernized secular liberals, labor rights activists, radical students, women’s rights activists and Islamic fundamentalists – into one oppositional social bloc. The initial demand was for the end of the Mubarak dictatorship and the creation of a democratic system that respected democratic rights – the essential component of an authentic national democratic revolutionary process. However, the maturation of this process was arrested due to three factors: (i) the seizure of power by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) on February 11, (ii) the channeling of mass dissent primarily into the electoral process, and (iii) the failure of the oppositional forces to organize sustainable mass structures to safeguard and consolidate the developing revolutionary situation.
The concern with characterizing the nature of mass struggle in Egypt and in Tunisia that eventually was branded as the “Arab spring,” is not driven by a desire for some kind of neat, categorical purity that abstracts complex social phenomenon from its historical context. But instead the concern is the need to differentiate politically and programmatically the specific political challenges and tasks between an insurrectionary phase of struggle and one that has entered a pre-revolutionary or revolutionary phase.
This is important because the liberal appropriation of the term “revolution” to describe everything from the events in Libya and Syria to the Green movement in Iran not only distorts social reality but also advances a dangerous narrative. That narrative suggests that revolutionary change takes place as a result of spectacle. It devalues organizing and building structures from the bottom up as unnecessary because it is the theater that is important; the episodic show; the display that refutes Gil Scott Heron’s admonition that “the revolution will not be televised!”
The perverted logic of this approach is reflected in both the failure of the opposition to organize itself beyond the spontaneous mobilizations of 2011 and the knowledge of Morsi’s opponents, the Tamarod – thanks to signals from their patrons in the U.S. – that if they demonstrated significant street opposition to President Morsi the U.S. would have the cover to support intervention by the military.
The military’s pre-emptive strike against revolution
To have a clearer view of the current situation in Egypt, we must debunk the nonsensical, a-historical gibberish that suggests that the Egyptian military is a neutral, grand mediator of contending social and political forces, and stepped into the political scene in January 2011 and again July 2nd as a national patriotic force allied with the interests of the “people.”
The reality is that what we have witnessed in Egypt is a lateral transfer of power, in class terms, from the civilians in the Mubarak government, representing capitalist interests tied to the State, to the military, which has similar economic interests, with their enterprises and retired officer corps populating companies connected to the State sector. In fact, under President Morsi, the military never really went away. It maintained an independent space in the Egyptian state and economy. Critical ministerial positions in the Morsi cabinet, such as the Interior Ministry, Defense and Suez Canal Authority, were given to individuals associated with the Mubarak regime that were allied with the military. And the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, populated by Mubarak-era appointees, was the main instrument used by the military to limit and control any efforts to restructure the state or expand Morsi’s power.
For U.S. policy-makers, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi government were never seen as an alternative to Hosni Mubarak. Despite the repression meted out to members of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Mubarak regime, it was well understood that the Brotherhood was part of the Egyptian economic elite and open to doing business with the West. Therefore, Morsi was seen as an acceptable and safe civilian face to replace Mubarak while the U.S. continued its influence behind the scenes through the military.
“We must debunk the nonsensical, a-historical gibberish that suggests that the Egyptian military is a neutral, grand mediator of contending social and political forces.”
Both the U.S. government and the Egyptian military had objective interests in making sure that the power of the Morsi Presidency remained more symbolic than real. The military, working through the Constitutional Court and the bureaucracy, made sure that President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood only had nominal control of the State. Morsi did not control the intelligence or security apparatus, the police, the diplomatic corps, or the bureaucracy, which was still staffed with Mubarak holdovers.
In fact, one of the major sources of tension between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood was the threat – and real moves – made by the Morsi government to use their nominal state power to curtail the economic activity of the military, which holds interests controlling anything from 15 to 40 percent of the economy, in favor of the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood itself, representing sectors of the competitive capitalist class.
One way of looking at the assault on the Muslim Brotherhood is that it was nothing more than a militarized solution to an intra-bourgeois class struggle within the context of Egyptian society, and had nothing to do with the interests of the fragmented and institutionally-weak opposition.
So the idea that the military, as a neutral force, allied itself with “the people” and only stepped in to resolve a political crisis is nothing more than a petit-bourgeois fantasy.
The class-based, social and economic interests of the military mean that it will oppose any fundamental transformation of the Egyptian economy and society, the ostensible aim of the “revolution.” Significantly, this means that the power of the military is going to have to be broken if there is to be any prospect of revolutionary change in Egypt.
A National Democratic Revolution: One step forward, three steps back
This analysis, however, should not be read to suggest that the people were just bit-players in a drama directed by powers they had no control over. The mass rebellion in Egypt created a crisis of governance for the corrupt elite that were in power and their U.S. patron. The demand for the end of the dictatorship was an awesome demonstration of people-power that created the potential for revolutionary change. The problem was that the dictatorship had severely undermined the ability of alternative popular forces to develop and acquire the political experience and institutional foundations that would have positioned them to better push for progressive change and curtail the power of the military. Unfortunately for Egypt, the force that had the longest experience in political opposition and organizational development was the Muslim Brotherhood.
The call by a sector of the “people” for the Morsi government to step down was a legitimate demand that expressed the position of a portion of the population that was dissatisfied with the policies and direction of the country. Yet, when the Egyptian military – a military that has not demonstrated any propensity for supporting democratic reforms – intimated that it would step in, the mass position should have been “no to military intervention, change only by democratic means” – a position that a more mature and authentically independent movement might have assumed if it was not being manipulated by powerful elite forces internally and externally.
“The mass position should have been ‘no to military intervention, change only by democratic means.’”
It was wishful thinking that bordered on the psychotic for liberal and radical forces in the country and their allies outside to believe that a democratic process could be developed that reflected the interests of the broad sectors of Egyptian society while disenfranchising the Muslim Brotherhood, a social force that many conservatively suggest still commands the support of at least a third of the Egyptian population, and is the largest political organization in the country. Liberals and some radicals that supported the coup did not understand that the construction of the “people” is a social/historical process that requires both struggle and engagement. Not understanding this basic principle has resulted in the killing of the national democratic revolution in its infancy.
The powerful national elites that bankrolled the anti-Morsi campaign and their external allies, including Saudi Arabia and the U.S., have successfully set in motion a counter-revolutionary process that will fragment the opposition and marginalize any radical elements. The Egyptian elite understood much more clearly than the Tamarod or the National Salvation Front that a revolutionary process would entail the development of a political program that has as its objectives the subordination of the military to the people, the public appropriation of state capitalist sector and the rejection of neoliberal capitalist development. Because of that understanding, they moved with textbook precision over the last year and a half to protect their interests.
Sadly, the liberal and radical collusion with the anti-democratic forces of the Egyptian military and economic elite has provided legitimacy for the same retrograde forces that dominated Egyptian society under Mubarak to continue that domination, but this time in the name of “revolution.”
Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist and veteran of the Black Liberation Movement. He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Baraka can be reached at www. Ajamubaraka.com.
Tags: arab spring, Blackwater, bradley manning, cablegate, civilian casualties, climate change, cluster munitions, daniel ellsberg, democracy, drone missiles, environment, hillary clinton, human rights, International law, Iraq war, julian assange, Media, Nisour Square Massacre, pakistan, press freedom, roger hollander, terrorism, thailand, torture, war on terror, wikileaks
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On the two-year anniversary of the start of Cablegate, the Wikileaks founder highlights some of the stories that have emerged. (Screenshot via firedoglake.com)
Thursday, November 29th, Bradley Manning testified for the first time since his arrest two and a half years ago in Baghdad. Today also marks the two-year anniversary of the first front pages around the world from Cablegate, an archive of 251,287 U.S. State Department diplomatic cables — messages sent between the State Department and its embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions around the world. In collaboration with a network of more than 100 press outlets we revealed the full spectrum of techniques used by the United States to exert itself around the world. The young intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was detained as an alleged source.
WikiLeaks came under attack, with American politicians and right-wing pundits calling for all of us to be designated as terrorists, some even calling for my assassination and the kidnapping of our staff. Speaking on Meet The Press, Vice President Joe Biden referred to me as a “high-tech terrorist,” while Senator Joe Lieberman demanded that we be prosecuted under the U.S. Espionage Act. The Department of Justice spokesperson Dean Boyd admitted as recently as July 2012 that the Department of Justice investigation into WikiLeaks is ongoing, and the Pentagon renewed its threats against us on September 28th, declaring our work an “ongoing crime.” As a result, I have been granted political asylum and now live in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, surrounded by armed police while the FBI portion of the “whole of government” investigation against us, according to court testimony, had reached 42,135 pages as of December last year.
Earlier this week, WikiLeaks released European Commission documents showing that Senator Lieberman and Congressman Peter T. King directly influenced decisions by PayPal, Visa and MasterCard to block donations to WikiLeaks, which has blocked 95 percent of our donors since December of 2010. Last week the European Parliament expressed its will that the Commission should prevent the arbitrary blockade of WikiLeaks.
Bradley Manning, who is alleged to be a source of the cables, started testifying on Thursday about his pre-trial treatment, which UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez said was “at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture.” Captain William Hoctor, the government psychiatrist with 24 years of experience who evaluated Manning at Quantico base in Virginia, testified that brig commanders had ignored his recommendations for Manning’s detention, something he had not even experienced in his work at Guantánamo bay prison.
Bradley Manning has been detained without trial for 921 days. This is the longest pre-trial detention of a U.S. military soldier since at least the Vietnam War. U.S. military law says the maximum is 120 days.
The material that Bradley Manning is alleged to have leaked has highlighted astonishing examples of U.S. subversion of the democratic process around the world, systematic evasion of accountability for atrocities and killings, and many other abuses. Our archive of State Department cables have appeared in tens of thousands of articles, books and scholarly works, illustrating the nature of U.S. foreign policy and the instruments of U.S. national power. On the two-year anniversary of the start of Cablegate, I want to highlight some of the stories that have emerged.
A War of Terror
The United States’ War on Terror has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, inflamed sectarian violence, and made a mockery of international law. Victims and their families struggle to have their stories acknowledged, and the U.S.’ systematic avoidance of accountability for war crimes implicitly denies their right to be considered human beings. Moreover, as the U.S. increasingly relies on clandestine military operations conducted outside the scrutiny of government oversight, the execution of this expanding War on Terror becomes increasingly uncoupled from the democratic process. While President Obama had promised the American people in 2008 that he would end the Iraq War, U.S. troops were only withdrawn when information from a cable revived international scrutiny of abuse occurring in Iraq, resulting in a refusal to grant continued immunity to U.S. troops in 2012 or beyond.
In 2007 the U.S. embassy in Baghdad obtained a copy of the Iraqi government’s final investigation report on the massacre of 17 civilians on September 16th, 2007 in Nisour Square. The report concluded that the incident was an unprovoked attack on unarmed civilians, asked for $8 million in compensation for each death and $4 million for each injury, and demanded that the private security firm Blackwater be replaced within six months. Blackwater continued to operate in Iraq for two years afterwards, and the U.S. Embassy compensated victims with $10,000 for each death and $5,000 for each injury. Five years later, the offending Blackwater mercenaries have escaped from accountability to Iraq, and attempts to bring them to justice in the U.S. have resulted in a long chain of dismissed cases and one undisclosed settlement. WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs release of 391,832 U.S. Army field reports uncovered 14 additional cases where Blackwater opened fire on civilians, along with numerous other incidents of abuse. The Iraq War Logs also showed how the United States handed over prisoners to be tortured in gruesome detail — stories of electrocution, mutilation and of victims being attacked with drills.
The fact that, five years on, the victims of the have seen no meaningful accountability is an atrocity. But it is unfortunately no surprise that the U.S. claims immunity for its forces in other countries, then fails to administer justice at home.
These events — and in particular one cable detailing the summary execution of 10 Iraqi civilians, including four women and five children — by U.S. soldiers and a subsequent airstrike to cover up the evidence, forced the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. The story of handcuffed execution and cover-up sparked outrage around the world in the midst of negotiations to extend U.S. troop presence into 2012 and, in response to international coverage, Iraq revived its investigation into the incident. Iraq ultimately refused to grant immunity to U.S. troops in 2012, forcing the U.S. to withdraw in December 2011.
This systemic violence and cover-up extends to the war in Afghanistan. When news emerged that a midnight bombing campaign on the Afghan village of Granai in 2009 had possibly resulted in the death of up to 100 civilians, U.S. officials publicly asserted that most of the dead had been Taliban fighters. A State Department cable written shortly after the event summarizes a meeting between the Red Cross’ Afghanistan chief Reto Stocker and U.S. Ambassador Carl Eikenberry in which they discussed findings from an investigation of the event. In the cable, Stocker is referred to as “one of the most credible sources for unbiased and objective information in Afghanistan.” The Red Cross report estimated that 89 of the dead and 13 injured were in fact civilians. Neither the U.S. government nor the Red Cross publicly revealed these figures.
WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring
The Tunisian cables describe the extreme corruption and lack of transparency of the Ben Ali regime. The Ben Ali extended family are described as the worst offenders, their lavish life accompanied by “a wide-range of corrupt schemes,” including “property expropriation and extortion of bribes.” We also learned that Ben Ali family assets included an airline, several hotels and a radio station. One cable describes state censorship of Tunisia’s only private broadcast satellite TV station, and a surprise tax judgment against the station of almost $1.5 million.
In its 2011 annual report, Amnesty International praised WikiLeaks and its media partners for catalyzing the revolution in Tunisia:
“While the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in Tunisia would not have happened without the long struggle of brave human rights defenders over the last two decades, support for activists from outside the country may have been strengthened as people scrutinized the WikiLeaks documents on Tunisia and understood the roots of the anger. In particular, some of the documents made clear that countries around the world were aware of both the political repression and the lack of economic opportunity, but for the most part were not taking action to urge change.”
When Tunisia’s president Moncef Marzouki spoke with me on The World Tomorrow, he thanked WikiLeaks for its work, saying, “I am very grateful for all that you have done for promoting human rights, truth, and I admire and support your efforts.”
Shortly following Tunisia’s revolution, protests erupted in Libya, and a new batch of cables revealed the strategic calculations behind U.S. support of the Gaddafi regime. In Egypt, cables revealed that Mubarak would rather die in office than step down and that his son would likely succeed him. Then, just as evidence emerged that Vice President Suleiman was tipped to replace Mubarak, cables were released detailing his former role as intelligence chief, as well as his close ties to Israel. Such elements became a crucial part of the ongoing Egyptian uprising.
A Global Death Squad Consulting Firm?
For years, WikiLeaks faced a chorus of accusations by U.S. officials and right-wing pundits of making the world a less-safe place, and of having potentially caused harm through publication of embarrassing secrets. In reality, the cables show that torture and killing are not isolated events, but the violent manifestations of an aggressive policy of coercion used by the United States in the pursuit of its strategic commercial and political goals around the world.
While U.S. law bans the training of military units with a history of human rights violations, in practice the law is easily and often circumvented. The Indonesian army’s elite special forces unit KOPASSUS has brutally repressed the West Papuans’ freedom movement (West Papua has been occupied by Indonesia since 1963), as has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch. Despite this, U.S. diplomats in Jakarta judged in 2007 that the time had come to resume collaboration with KOPASSUS, for the sake of “commercial interest” and “the protection of U.S. officials.”
A diplomatic cable from November 2009 mentions as a side note that right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia were responsible for the death of 257,089 victims, a figure well above the estimations of local human rights activists. The U.S. has nonetheless offered generous support to the Colombian military; Amnesty International, which has called for a complete cut-off of U.S. military aid to Colombia, has estimated that total U.S. aid in 2006 amounted to $728 million, of which 80 percent was given to military and police assistance. As of 2012, U.S. military support to Colombia is ongoing.
Such examples illustrate the United States’ liberal interpretation of the laws banning the training of military units with a history of human rights violations. In another cable from August 2008, U.S. officials acknowledge that the Bangladeshi death squad, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), has been involved in obvious human rights violations, making support for the RAB difficult — U.S. officials hoped, however, to improve the RAB’s record and polish its public image. U.S. officials praised the RAB for having “succeeded in reducing crime and fighting terrorism, making it in many ways Bangladesh’s most respected police unit.” In a diplomatic cable from 2009, it was also revealed that the UK had been training the RAB for the previous 18 months “in areas such as investigative interviewing techniques and rules of engagement.”
Foreign Service Spies
In 2009, Hillary Clinton sent an intelligence gathering directive to 33 embassies and consulates around the world. The directive asked diplomats to gather intelligence on UN officials, including credit card numbers and online handles. A similar cable requested intelligence on officials from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundy, Rwanda and Uganda, and specifically mentioned the collection of DNA samples, iris scans and computer passwords.
Another state department cable revealed that a mole within the German government was spying for the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, frequently updating U.S. officials on negotiations between Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and Westerwelle’s FDP on the formation of a new coalition government in 2009. Helmut Metzner, formerly chief of staff to Germany’s foreign minister, admitted to being the mole mentioned in these cables when this story broke in the press, and was subsequently fired.
Lobbying for Unaccountability — Manipulation of Judicial Process in Other Countries
Abuse that occurs in war, as it did in Iraq, is often dismissed by its perpetrators as exceptional, and we are often assured that when abuse has occurred, the accountability mechanisms in place will bring justice. The diplomatic cables have given us numerous concrete examples of the coercion used by the U.S. to manipulate and undermine judicial processes in other countries, and they establish a clear policy for the evasion of accountability in any form.
During the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, two journalists — including the Spanish journalist José Couso — were killed and three others were wounded when a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. An investigation into the event was subsequently launched in Spain, and an international arrest warrant was issued for three U.S. soldiers involved. Cables showed that the U.S. aggressively fought to have Spanish officials drop the case. Writing about the case in one cable, U.S. Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre emphasizes: “While we are careful to show our respect for the tragic death of Couso and for the independence of the Spanish judicial system, behind the scenes we have fought tooth and nail to make the charges disappear.” Shamefully, this quote was redacted in the original reporting on the subject from El Pais and Le Monde.
In another example from 2003, a German citizen of Lebanese origins, Kalid el-Masri, was kidnapped while on vacation in Macedonia, renditioned to Afghanistan by the CIA, and tortured for four months. When his captors finally decided he was innocent, he was flown to Albania and dumped on a country road without so much as an apology. In a cable from 2007, we learn that when a German prosecutor issued arrest warrants for agents involved in el-Masri’s kidnapping, the U.S. ambassador in Berlin warned German officials that there would be repercussions. No arrests have yet been made and el-Masri is still seeking justice.
The U.S.’ manipulation extended to the UK, where a cable shows that during a British public inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot into the UK role in the Iraq War, the Ministry of Defence had “put measures in place” to protect U.S. interests.
Global Powers Work to Break Environmental Solidarity, and to Exploit “Opportunities” of Climate Change
On environmental issues, cables show that the U.S. routinely makes symbolic gestures rather than initiating substantial practices to combat climate change, and works aggressively to tailor international agreements to its own commercial interests.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked embassies to gather intelligence on the preparations for the Copenhagen UN Convention on Climate Change Meeting in December 2009, asking for biographical details of representatives from China, France, Japan, Mexico, Russia and the European Union. Cables show that in Copenhagen the U.S. manipulated the accord talks by offering “gifts” to poorer countries to derail opposition to the accord proposed by first world powers. Another cable from the Secretary of State revealed that in 2010, a Maldives ambassador designate had stressed the importance of “tangible assistance” from larger economies to smaller ones. As a consequence of this meeting, the accord offered financial compensation to poor countries suffering from the effects of global warming.
In a visit to Canada in 2009 David Goldwyn, the State Department’s Coordinator for International Energy Affairs discussed public relations assistance to be offered to the oil sands industry. Goldwyn proposed consulting experts, scholars and think tanks to “increase visibility and accessibility of more positive news stories.” The cable was later used by environmentalists in their battle against the Keystone XL pipeline, which ships crude oil across the U.S.-Canada border. In early 2012, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, but recently publicly announced support for another proposal. It also turns out that Goldwyn eventually went on to work for Sutherland, a lobbying group in favor of Keystone XL.
The cables also reveal that the U.S. is carefully positioning itself to take advantage of new opportunities for harvesting hydrocarbons and minerals from the Arctic as climate change melts polar ice. U.S. diplomats were hoping to offer Greenland support for its independence from Denmark in exchange for access by American gas and oil companies to exploit the country’s resources. The U.S. has been closely watching Russia, America’s main competitor for Arctic resources, but American officials also showed concern over Canada’s potential territorial claim to the Arctic’s Northwest passage.
Secret Agreements — Circumvention of the Democratic Process
The State Department cables revealed that the United States and its allies systematically make secret arrangements with various governments, hiding details not only from the country’s public, but sometimes even from the country’s representatives, ministers and oversight bodies.
In 2009, Jeremy Scahill and Seymour Hersh broke a story in The Nation on secret U.S. special operations forces combat missions and drone strikes in Pakistan. When questioned about the story, Department of Defense spokesperson Geoff Morrell dismissed the claims as “conspiratorial theories.” Only one year later, cables released by WikiLeaks confirmed their story. In addition, cables quoted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani telling U.S. officials: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people — we’ll protest about it in the National Assembly and then ignore it.” Stories based on State Department cables also revealed agreements between the U.S. and Yemen in which the Yemeni government would claim responsibility for attacks launched by the U.S. on local militia groups. The release of State Department cables resulted in total transparency with respect to certain aspects of the War on Terror.
State Department cables also revealed that the U.S. worked with Australia to weaken the text of an international agreement banning the use of cluster munitions — bombs which spray thousands of smaller bomblets over a large area. Out of more than 13,000 casualties of cluster munitions registered by Handicap International, over 98 percent are civilian and one-third of those are children. Despite this, cables also revealed that the UK’s then-Foreign Minister David Miliband secretly approved the use of a legal loophole to allow the United States to store cluster munitions on UK territory, despite the fact that the UK is a signatory to a convention banning them. The United States is not a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and even attempted in 2011 to have the ban lifted by the UN.
In 2007, former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley asked U.S. officials for predator drones to help shore up liberal support for a sustained Canadian presence in the war in Afghanistan. At the time, Manley was leading a government-appointed panel charged with investigating Canada’s interests in a future role in Afghanistan. In August 2012, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the Canadian government is seeking to spend up to $1 billion on a state-of-the-art armed drone fleet.
The cables also revealed that Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper secretly promised NATO in January 2010 that Canada would remain in Afghanistan to conduct army training even after the end of its mission in 2011. The Canadian public was shocked when the government announced that it would be extending its mission in November of that year. Harper expressed concern to U.S. diplomats that an early departure of Canadian troops from Aghanistan would seem like a “withdrawal,” reflecting the low public support for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
In 2008, the U.S. proposed an “informal agreement” to Swedish government officials for the exchange of information on terrorism watch-lists. U.S. officials explained that they feared scrutiny by the Swedish parliament would jeopardize “law enforcement and anti-terrorism cooperation.” Cables also revealed that in 2009, the U.S. resumed full intelligence-sharing with New Zealand after it had been restricted in retaliation for the country’s ban against nuclear-powered or armed vessels in its ports. Both governments agreed that the newly resumed cooperation should be kept hidden from the public.
The Realpolitik of Commercial Lobbying
State Department cables illustrate that U.S. officials and their commercial partners take a default position of having an intrinsic right to resources and market dominance around the world.
In a 2007 cable to the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. Ambassador Craig Stapleton suggested taking a hard-line approach towards the European Union over its resistance to American genetically modified products and foods. France’s refusal to embrace GMOs and agricultural biotechnology, according to Ambassador Stapleton, would lead to a general European rejection of GMOs, and he suggested retaliation to help the French see things differently:
“Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory.”
The cables also showed that the U.S. revoked visas of then-Ecuadoran presidential candidate Xavier Neira and seven others due to their involvement in a legal case against the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer for unfair competition. The timing of the decision to revoke their visas coincided with the upcoming presidential elections and an impending court decision on the case. In its explanation of the revocation, officials cite “corruption” and the case against Pfizer.
The U.S.-based Shell Oil company has a long and sordid history in Nigeria, and its representatives spoke openly about activities in the country. In a 2009 meeting, Shell representatives told U.S. officials that they would be able to influence the Nigerian government’s 2009 Petroleum Industry Bill to suit their interests.
Cables from 2005 highlight U.S. determination to “improve the investment climate” for mining companies in Peru. Representatives from Canada, UK, Australia, Switzerland and South Africa met to strategize ways of circumventing anti-mining protests coming from a diverse group of NGOs, the Catholic Church and indigenous Peruvians. Once protests had turned violent, the U.S. used this as an excuse for monitoring NGO groups such as Oxfam and Friends of the Earth, and asked the Peruvian government to enhance security by taking control of roadways and transit areas.
In other cases, officials in the U.S. Embassy assisted in lobbying for or against particular pieces of legislation according to U.S. commercial interests. U.S. officials lobbied on behalf of Visa and MasterCard against a bill in Russia which would have created a national card payment system, taking away Visa and MasterCard’s market share.
Strategic Duplicity on Human Rights and Press Freedom
A cable summarizing a meeting with a director of Al Jazeera shows that U.S. officials expected a special report with graphic images of injured Iraqis to be changed and its images removed. In another cable, the director is asked to explain Al Jazeera’s lack of coverage of the Iran elections and protests as opposed to their “heavy” coverage of Gaza.
The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in the kingdom of Bahrain, and the U.S. has maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with the country’s leaders over the past years. In one cable, the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain praised the country and its king, pointing out that U.S. companies had won major contracts there. This same regime brutally cracked down on protesters during the Arab Spring, and Bahraini authorities shut down dissident websites and publications. While the U.S. State Department harshly condemned the crackdown on protests after Iran’s 2009 elections, it remained silent on the killings in Bahrain.
Thailand’s Monarchy Exposed
Thailand’s lèse majesté law prevents anyone in the country from speaking openly about the monarchy without risk of severe punishment. As such, any reports about political developments in the country are censored, and there is a huge gap in public knowledge about the country’s political environment. WikiLeaks’ release of State Department cables gives an unprecedented view of not only the monarchy’s deep impact on the politics of the country, but also the close relationship that Thailand had with the U.S. Journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall quit his job at Reuters to write his book Thailand’s Moment of Truth, using the Thai cables exposing obscured and taboo aspects of Thailand’s politics, history and international relations for the first time.
U.S. Aims to Reshape Global Views and Law on Intellectual Property and Copyright
U.S.-based lobbying groups work hand in hand with U.S. State Department officials around the world to aggressively lobby for legislation and trade agreements that favor American companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, or large film studios such as Disney, Paramount, Sony and Warner.
A 2006 cable from Japan describes the first draft proposals for a “gold standard” in intellectual property rights enforcement, called ACTA. This standard was meant to give intellectual property owners much stronger powers, even at the expense of citizen privacy and due process. ACTA was subsequently negotiated in secret, unknown to the general public, until WikiLeaks leaked the first draft in 2008. In the film industry, the lobbyist group for motion picture studios conspired with their Australian counterpart to establish a legal precedent for holding an Internet service provider accountable for copyright infringement in Australia. What is the effect of this push and pull? It is a global environment where legislation and legal precedents are set to benefit intellectual property owners who are rich, powerful and influential — even at the expense of public good.
Breaking the Monopoly on Influence
The examples I present above represent only a small fraction of what has been revealed by WikiLeaks material. Since 2010, Western governments have tried to portray WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization, enabling a disproportionate response from both political figures and private institutions. It is the case that WikiLeaks’ publications can and have changed the world, but that change has clearly been for the better. Two years on, no claim of individual harm has been presented, and the examples above clearly show precisely who has blood on their hands.
In large Western democracies, the political discourse has been so highly controlled for so long, that it is no longer shocking when Western experts fill in to speak for third world victims, or when an American president stands up at a podium to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, and makes the case for war. It is, in fact, no longer safe to presume that a media outlet such as The New York Times would perform the same act today as they did in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers.
In a panel discussion with Daniel Ellsberg and New York Times editor Jill Abramson discussing the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg voiced his dissent over the Times‘ acquiescence to the Bush administration’s request to delay James Risen’s story on warrantless NSA wiretapping until after the 2004 elections. Abramson equivocated:
“The thing is when the government says — you know — by publishing a story you’re harming the national security, you’re helping the terrorists. I mean, there are still people today who argue that the NSA program was the crown jewel, the most valuable anti-terrorism program that the Bush administration had going, and that it was terribly wrong of the Times to publish.”
On the same panel, Daniel Ellsberg said of the Pentagon Papers:
“The secrecy of these documents has so far condemned over 30,000 Americans to death and several million Vietnamese. And the continued secrecy of them will undoubtedly contribute to the death of tens of thousands more Americans, and so forth. I think that’s true. But that comes up in the WikiLeaks case, right now.”
Since the release of the diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks has continued its operations despite the financial blockade, publishing leaked documents from companies selling mass interception units to state spy agencies around the world; detainee profiles for almost all of the people detained at Guantánamo Bay prison; U.S. policy manuals for detention of military prisoners in the War on Terror; intelligence databases from the private intelligence firm Stratfor; and millions of documents from inside the Syrian government. The information we’ve disclosed frustrates the controlled political discourse that is trumpeted by establishment media and Western governments to shape public perception.
We will continue our fight against the financial blockade, and we will continue to publish. The Pentagon’s threats against us do the United States a disservice and will not be heeded.
Egypt, women and permanent revolution July 19, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Egypt, Revolution, Women.
Tags: arab spring, arab women, egypt, egypt revolution, genital mutilation, Marxist Humanism, Middle East, misogyny, mona eltahawy, revolution, roger hollander, sexism, terry moon, women
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NEWS & LETTERS, July – August 2012
by Terry Moon
Mona Eltahawy, an American-Egyptian journalist, wrote an eloquent essay published in the May/June edition of Foreign Policy titled “Why Do They Hate Us? The real war on women is in the Middle East.” The myriad negative responses to it reveal serious examples of counter-revolution from within the revolution in the wake of Arab Spring.
ARAB SPRING FACES COUNTER-REVOLUTION
Eltahawy takes up “the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East.” It is crucial that her essay is about the need for the revolutions of Arab Spring to continue and deepen. So important is this to her that she begins and ends with that point. On the first page she declares:
“An entire political and economic system–one that treats half of humanity like animals–must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.”
And on the last page she writes:
“The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man–Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation–but they will be finished by Arab women…. Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought–social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.”
Not one of the critiques I read mentions that this is what her essay is about. Rather than speaking to her essay’s content–the unbearable sexism that women experience in the Middle East–they try to discredit her. Where she talks of how “more than 90% of ever-married women in Egypt–including my mother and all but one of her six sisters–have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty,” she is chided for using the “wrong” word, genital mutilation instead of circumcision. Another critic attacks her by reminding the reader that genital mutilation of women did not originate with Islam or in the Middle East. But none speak to the actuality of genital mutilation, under whatever name.
FORM ATTACKED, CONTENT IGNORED
She was also widely criticized for publishing the essay in Foreign Policy, as if that somehow silenced other Arab women’s voices, even though Foreign Policy invited four responses from Arab women. Or, critics say, it was wrong to publish in Foreign Policy because her audience was presumed to be Americans, but no publications or websites the critiques were in would have printed her essay, and it is crystal clear from the responses that her essay was widely read by an Arab audience.
Then there was this age-old shibboleth, used whenever someone wants to shut up a woman who dares to bring up the fact that we live–all of us–in a deeply misogynist world: Eltahaway “blames and hates all men.”
Any who doubt the importance of what Eltahawy raises need only remember the Iranian women who, in the midst of revolution in 1979, came out by the thousands against Khomeini’s order to wear the chador. They cried out: “At the dawn of freedom we have no freedom.” They were calling for the Iranian revolution to continue. Had their demands been taken seriously by the Left, Iran might be in a very different place today.
NEED FOR PERMANENT REVOLUTION
In an interview given several weeks after her essay was published, Eltahawy reiterated that she is talking about deepening revolution:
“So what my essay is trying to do, is to say that the women…now have two revolutions that need to be completed: The revolution against the regime, which oppresses all of us; but also a second revolution against a society that oppresses us as women.”
While Eltahawy is not talking directly of Marx’s concept of revolution in permanence, that is what she is calling for. As Arab Spring faces counter-revolution from within and without–and is now facing an election where both candidates may well worsen women’s oppression–we call for the greatest possible solidarity with what Eltahawy is raising.
Egypt: End Game June 23, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt.
Tags: arab spring, democracy, egypt, egypt coup, egypt democracy, egypt election, egypt military, gywnne dyer, mubarak, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander, tahrir square
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“If we find that SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) stands firm against us as we try to fulfill the fulfill the demands of the revolution,” said Fatema AbouZeid of the Muslim Brotherhood as the final results of Egypt’s presidential election last weekend rolled in, “we will go back to the streets and escalate things peacefully to the highest possible level.”
“Now we have a new factor in Egyptian politics, the Egyptian people themselves…” she continued. “(They) will not accept a return to the old regime in any form, not after so much Egyptian blood was shed to remove it.” Well, maybe.
There’s nothing like an election to make things clear. Now all the cards are on the table in Egypt, and the last round of bidding has begun. The army has opened with a very high bid in the hope of scaring everybody else off, and now the other players have to decide whether to call or fold.
Sometimes, even in long-established democratic states, the players simply fold in order to avoid a destructive constitutional upheaval. That’s what the Democratic Party did when the United States Supreme Court awarded the state of Florida and the presidency to George W. Bush in the disputed election of 2000.
It was an outrageously partisan decision by the 5-4 Republican majority in the Supreme Court, but if the Democrats had rejected it the United States would have faced months or even years of political turmoil. If they had foreseen the devastation that the Bush presidency would cause they might have done otherwise, but at the time their decision seemed wise.
It is possible that the Egyptian “opposition” – a uneasy amalgam of the secular and leftist young who overthrew the dictator Hosni Mubarak on Tahrir Square sixteen months ago and the Muslim Brotherhood (which initially avoided direct confrontation with the old regime) – will also just fold. After sixteen months of upheaval so many ordinary Egyptians just want “stability” that the army might win a showdown in the streets.
The problem is that the Egyptian army has bid much higher than the US Supreme Court ever did – so high that if the other players fold they lose almost everything. This is a brazen bid to revive the old regime minus Mubarak, and restore the armed forces to the position of economic privilege and political control that they have enjoyed, to Egypt’s very great cost, ever since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s coup in 1952.
On 14 June, just 48 hours before the polls opened for the second round of the presidential election, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court announced that last year’s parliamentary election, in which Islamic parties won almost three-quarters of the seats, was conducted by rules that contravened the constitution.
There was a legitimate question about whether the political parties should have been allowed to run candidates in the seats reserved for independents. No, said the court, all of whose judges were appointed by the old regime. But rather than just ruling that there must be by-elections in those seats, they declared that the whole parliament must be dissolved.
This bizarre decision presumably meant that the 100-person constituent assembly created by the parliament to write Egypt’s new constitution was also dissolved. The army still swears that it will hand power over to the new democratically elected president on 30 June – but he will now take office with no parliament and no constitution to define his powers.
Might there have been some collusion between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Supreme Constitutional Court in this matter? Is the Pope a Catholic?
Last Sunday, only three days after the Court handed down its judgement and just as it was becoming clear that the old regime’s candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, would probably lose the presidential election, the SCAF issued an “interim constitutional declaration”. It effectively gives the military legislative powers, control over the budget, and the right to pick the committee that writes the new constitution.
Since that committee will not report until the end of the year, in the meantime there will be no election for a new parliament. There will be an elected president, but he will not even have authority over the armed forces: the army’s “interim constitution” strips him of that power, and no doubt its tame committee will write it into the new permanent constitution as well.
The SCAF can’t have come up with all this in just 72 hours after the decision of the Supreme Constitutional Court on the 14th. There had to be a lot of coordination between the military and the Court beforehand. You could call this a “constitutional coup,” but the more accurate phrase is “military coup.” So what can Egyptians do about it?
They can go back to Tahrir Square, this time student radicals and Muslim Brothers together, and try to force the army out of politics. That will be very dangerous, because this time, unlike February of last year, the generals may actually order the soldiers to clear the square by gunfire. Or the opposition, aware that the mass of the population has no appetite for more confrontation and instability, may just submit and hope for a better day.
If it does that, the Egyptian revolution is dead.
Gwynne Dyer has worked as a freelance journalist, columnist, broadcaster and lecturer on international affairs for more than 20 years, but he was originally trained as an historian. Born in Newfoundland, he received degrees from Canadian, American and British universities. His latest book, “Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats“, was published in the United States by Oneworld.
Why the Middle East Will Never Be the Same Again September 20, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: arab awakening, arab spring, Avigdor Lieberman, ehud barak, israel, israel colonies, Mahmoud Abbas, Middle East, netanyahu, oslo agreement, Palestine, palestine statehood, peace process, road map, robert fisk, roger hollander, west bank
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The Palestinians won’t achieve statehood, but they will consign the ‘peace process’ to history.
The Palestinians won’t get a state this week. But they will prove – if they get enough votes in the General Assembly and if Mahmoud Abbas does not succumb to his characteristic grovelling in the face of US-Israeli power – that they are worthy of statehood. And they will establish for the Arabs what Israel likes to call – when it is enlarging its colonies on stolen land – “facts on the ground”: never again can the United States and Israel snap their fingers and expect the Arabs to click their heels. The US has lost its purchase on the Middle East. It’s over: the “peace process”, the “road map”, the “Oslo agreement”; the whole fandango is history.
Personally, I think “Palestine” is a fantasy state, impossible to create now that the Israelis have stolen so much of the Arabs’ land for their colonial projects. Go take a look at the West Bank, if you don’t believe me. Israel’s massive Jewish colonies, its pernicious building restrictions on Palestinian homes of more than one storey and its closure even of sewage systems as punishment, the “cordons sanitaires” beside the Jordanian frontier, the Israeli-only settlers’ roads have turned the map of the West Bank into the smashed windscreen of a crashed car. Sometimes, I suspect that the only thing that prevents the existence of “Greater Israel” is the obstinacy of those pesky Palestinians.
But we are now talking of much greater matters. This vote at the UN – General Assembly or Security Council, in one sense it hardly matters – is going to divide the West – Americans from Europeans and scores of other nations – and it is going to divide the Arabs from the Americans. It is going to crack open the divisions in the European Union; between eastern and western Europeans, between Germany and France (the former supporting Israel for all the usual historical reasons, the latter sickened by the suffering of the Palestinians) and, of course, between Israel and the EU.
A great anger has been created in the world by decades of Israeli power and military brutality and colonisation; millions of Europeans, while conscious of their own historical responsibility for the Jewish Holocaust and well aware of the violence of Muslim nations, are no longer cowed in their criticism for fear of being abused as anti-Semites. There is racism in the West – and always will be, I fear – against Muslims and Africans, as well as Jews. But what are the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, in which no Arab Muslim Palestinian can live, but an expression of racism?
Israel shares in this tragedy, of course. Its insane government has led its people on this road to perdition, adequately summed up by its sullen fear of democracy in Tunisia and Egypt – how typical that its principle ally in this nonsense should be the awful Saudi Arabia – and its cruel refusal to apologise for the killing of nine Turks in the Gaza flotilla last year and its equal refusal to apologise to Egypt for the killing of five of its policemen during a Palestinian incursion into Israel.
So goodbye to its only regional allies, Turkey and Egypt, in the space of scarcely 12 months. Israel’s cabinet is composed both of intelligent, potentially balanced people such as Ehud Barak, and fools such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Ahmadinejad of Israeli politics. Sarcasm aside, Israelis deserve better than this.
The State of Israel may have been created unjustly – the Palestinian Diaspora is proof of this – but it was created legally. And its founders were perfectly capable of doing a deal with King Abdullah of Jordan after the 1948-49 war to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs. But it had been the UN, which met to decide the fate of Palestine on 29 November 1947, which gave Israel its legitimacy, the Americans being the first to vote for its creation. Now – by a supreme irony of history – it is Israel which wishes to prevent the UN from giving Palestinian Arabs their legitimacy – and it is America which will be the first to veto such a legitimacy.
Does Israel have a right to exist? The question is a tired trap, regularly and stupidly trotted out by Israel’s so-called supporters; to me, too, on regular though increasingly fewer occasions. States – not humans – give other states the right to exist. For individuals to do so, they have to see a map. For where exactly, geographically, is Israel? It is the only nation on earth which does not know and will not declare where its eastern frontier is. Is it the old UN armistice line, the 1967 border so beloved of Abbas and so hated by Netanyahu, or the Palestinian West Bank minus settlements, or the whole of the West Bank?
Show me a map of the United Kingdom which includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and it has the right to exist. But show me a map of the UK which claims to include the 26 counties of independent Ireland in the UK and shows Dublin to be a British rather than an Irish city, and I will say no, this nation does not have the right to exist within these expanded frontiers. Which is why, in the case of Israel, almost every Western embassy, including the US and British embassies, are in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem.
In the new Middle East, amid the Arab Awakening and the revolt of free peoples for dignity and freedom, this UN vote – passed in the General Assembly, vetoed by America if it goes to the Security Council – constitutes a kind of hinge; not just a page turning, but the failure of empire. So locked into Israel has US foreign policy become, so fearful of Israel have almost all its Congressmen and Congresswomen become – to the extent of loving Israel more than America – that America will this week stand out not as the nation that produced Woodrow Wilson and his 14 principles of self-determination, not as the country which fought Nazism and Fascism and Japanese militarism, not as the beacon of freedom which, we are told, its Founding Fathers represented – but as a curmudgeonly, selfish, frightened state whose President, after promising a new affection for the Muslim world, is forced to support an occupying power against a people who only ask for statehood.
Should we say “poor old Obama”, as I have done in the past? I don’t think so. Big on rhetoric, vain, handing out false love in Istanbul and Cairo within months of his election, he will this week prove that his re-election is more important than the future of the Middle East, that his personal ambition to stay in power must take first place over the sufferings of an occupied people. In this context alone, it is bizarre that a man of such supposed high principle should show himself so cowardly. In the new Middle East, in which Arabs are claiming the very same rights and freedoms that Israel and America say they champion, this is a profound tragedy.
US failures to stand up to Israel and to insist on a fair peace in “Palestine”, abetted by the hero of the Iraq war, Blair, are responsible. Arabs too, for allowing their dictators to last so long and thus to clog the sand with false frontiers and old dogmas and oil (and let’s not believe that a “new” “Palestine” would be a paradise for its own people). Israel, too, when it should be welcoming the Palestinian demand for statehood at the UN with all its obligations of security and peace and recognition of other UN members. But no. The game is lost. America’s political power in the Middle East will this week be neutered on behalf of Israel. Quite a sacrifice in the name of liberty…
Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.
U.S. Mideast policy in a single phrase August 21, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: arab democracy, arab public opinion, arab spring, arab street, arab transition, egypt, egypt democracy, egypt government, foreign policy, glenn greenwald, israel, Middle East, mubarak, roger hollander
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The CIA’s spokesman at The Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius, recently announced that the glorifying term “Arab Spring” is no longer being used by senior intelligence officials to describe democratic revolutions in the Middle East. It has been replaced by the more “neutral” term “Arab transition,” which, as Ignatius put it, “conveys the essential truth that nobody can predict just where this upheaval is heading.” Note that what was until very recently celebrated in American media circles as a joyous, inspirational awakening of “democratic birth and freedom” has now been downgraded to an “upheaval” whose outcome may be odious and threatening.
That’s not surprising. As I’ve written about several times, public opinion in those nations is so strongly opposed to the policies the U.S. has long demanded — and is quite hostile (more so than ever) to the U.S. itself and especially Israel — that allowing any form of democracy would necessarily be adverse to American and Israeli interests in that region (at least as those two nations have long perceived of their “interests”). That’s precisely why the U.S. worked so hard and expended so many resources for decades to ensure that brutal dictators ruled those nations and suppressed public opinion to the point of complete irrelevance (behavior which, predictably and understandably, exacerbated anti-American sentiments among the populace).
An illustrative example of this process has emerged this week in Egypt, where authorities have bitterly denounced Israel for killing three of its police officers in a cross-border air attack on suspected Gaza-based militants, and to make matters worse, thereafter blaming Egypt for failing to control “terrorists” in the area. Massive, angry protests outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo led to Egypt’s recalling of its Ambassador to Israel and the Israeli Ambassador’s being forced to flee Cairo. That, in turn, led to what The New York Times called a “rare statement of regret” from Israel in order to placate growing Egyptian anger: “rare” because, under the U.S.-backed Mubarak, Egyptian public opinion was rendered inconsequential and the Egyptian regime’s allegiance was to Israel, meaning Israel never had to account for such acts, let alone apologize for them. In that regard, consider this superbly (if unintentionally) revealing phrase from the NYT about this incident:
By removing Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian but dependably loyal government, the revolution has stripped away a bulwark of Israel’s position in the region, unleashing the Egyptian public’s pent-up anger at Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians at a time when a transitional government is scrambling to maintain its own legitimacy in the streets.
That word “loyal” makes the phrase remarkable: to whom was Mubarak “loyal”? Not to the Egyptian people whom he was governing or even to Egypt itself, but rather to Israel and the United States. Thus, in the past, Egypt’s own government would have sided with a foreign nation to which it was “loyal” even when that foreign nation killed its own citizens and refused to apologize (exactly as the U.S. did when Israel killed one of its own citizens on the Mavi Marmara and then again over the prospect that Israel would do the same with the new flotilla: in contrast to Turkey which, acting like a normal government, was bitterly furious with Israel — and still is — over the wanton killing of its citizens; in that sense, the U.S. is just as “dependably loyal” as the Mubarak regime was).
But as remarkable as it is, that phrase — “authoritarian but dependably loyal” — captures the essence of (ongoing) American behavior in that region for decades: propping up the most heinous, tyrannical rulers who disregard and crush the views of their own people while remaining supremely “loyal” to foreign powers: the U.S. and Israel. Consider this equally revealing passage from The Guardian:
Israel fears that the post-Mubarak regime will be more sympathetic to Hamas and could even revoke the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. “They feel the need to respond to the [Arab] street,” said an Israeli government official. “Instead of calming things down, they are being dragged.” The Egyptian statement was “a very dismal development”, he said.
“Arab street”: the derogatory term long used to degrade public opinion in those nations as some wild animal that needs to be suppressed and silenced rather than heeded. That’s why this Israeli official talks about “the need to respond” to Egyptian public opinion — also known as “democracy” — as though it’s some sort of bizarre, dangerous state of affairs: because nothing has been as important to the U.S. and Israel than ensuring the suppression of democracy in that region, ensuring that millions upon millions of people are consigned to brutal tyranny so that their interests are trampled upon in favor of “loyalty” to the interests of those two foreign nations.
This is why American media coverage of the Arab Spring produced one of the most severe cases of cognitive dissonance one can recall. The packaged morality narrative was that despots like Mubarak — and those in Tunisia, Bahrain and elsewhere — are unambiguous, cruel villains whom we’re all supposed to hate, while the democracy protesters are noble and to be cheered. But whitewashed from that storyline was that it was the Freedom-loving United States that played such a vital role in empowering those despots and crushing the very democracy we are now supposed to cheer. Throughout all the media hate sessions spewed toward the former Egyptian dictator — including as he’s tried for crimes against his own people – how often was it mentioned that Hillary Clinton, as recently as two years ago, was saying things such as: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family” (or that John McCain, around the same time, was tweeting: “Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his ‘ranch’ in Libya – interesting meeting with an interesting man.”)? Almost never: because the central U.S. role played in that mass oppression was simply ignored once the oppression could no longer be sustained.
And, of course, it wasn’t the case that the U.S. Government decided to cease its democracy-crushing, or that the American media one day decided to denounce the U.S.-backed Arab tyrants and celebrate democracy. They had no choice. These events happened against the will of the U.S., and only once their inevitability became clear did the American government and media pretend to suddenly side with “democracy and freedom.” Even as they indulge that pretense, they continued — and continue — to try to render the “democratic revolutions” illusory and to prop up the tyrannies that are still salvageable. In sum, American discourse was forced by events to denounce the very despots the U.S. Government protected and to praise the very democratic values the U.S. long destroyed.
This is what Ignatius means when he decrees that the U.S. should not try to be on “the right side of history” but rather, “what should guide U.S. policy in this time of transition is to be on the right side of America’s own interests and values” and, most critically, that “sometimes those two will conflict.” The U.S. has always subordinated its ostensible “values” (democracy, freedom) to its own “interests” in that region, which is why it has crushed the former in order to promote the latter. As we prepare to celebrate the reportedly imminent fall of Gadaffi just as we once celebrated the fall of Saddam — Juan Cole is already declaring large parts of Libya “liberated” — that behavior should be kept firmly in mind; whether a country is truly “liberated” by the removal of a despot depends on who replaces it and what their “loyalties” are: to foreign powers or to the democratic will of that nation’s citizens.
For Americans in such consensus to celebrate the fall of evil Arab tyrants without accounting for the role the U.S. played in their decades-long rule was bizarre (though typical) indeed. That “senior intelligence officials” are regarding these fledgling, potential democracies with such suspicion and longing for the days of the “dependably loyal” dictatorial regimes tells one all there is to know about what we have actually been doing in that part of the world, and have been doing for as long as that part of the world was a concern to American officials.
- More: Glenn Greenwald
Who Cares in the Middle East What Obama Says? May 30, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: 1967 borders, algeria, arab revolts, arab revolutions, arab spring, bahrain, bouteflika, egypt, gaza, hamas, intifada, Iran, israel, israeli settlements, jewish state, jordan, kurds, libya, Mahmoud Abbas, Middle East, netanyahu, Obama, Palestine, palestine papers, palestinian statehood, Palestinians, qatar, robert fisk, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria, tunisia, turkey, yemen
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Roger’s note: I don’t think you will find a better commentary on the situation in the Middle East than what follows. Robert Fisk, who has lived in and written about the Middle East for decades, is an amazing journalist, unfortunately a rare breed (at least in North America).
This month, in the Middle East, has seen the unmaking of the President of the United States. More than that, it has witnessed the lowest prestige of America in the region since Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz on the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake in 1945.President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)
President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)
While Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu played out their farce in Washington – Obama grovelling as usual – the Arabs got on with the serious business of changing their world, demonstrating and fighting and dying for freedoms they have never possessed. Obama waffled on about change in the Middle East – and about America’s new role in the region. It was pathetic. “What is this ‘role’ thing?” an Egyptian friend asked me at the weekend. “Do they still believe we care about what they think?”
And it is true. Obama’s failure to support the Arab revolutions until they were all but over lost the US most of its surviving credit in the region. Obama was silent on the overthrow of Ben Ali, only joined in the chorus of contempt for Mubarak two days before his flight, condemned the Syrian regime – which has killed more of its people than any other dynasty in this Arab “spring”, save for the frightful Gaddafi – but makes it clear that he would be happy to see Assad survive, waves his puny fist at puny Bahrain’s cruelty and remains absolutely, stunningly silent over Saudi Arabia. And he goes on his knees before Israel. Is it any wonder, then, that Arabs are turning their backs on America, not out of fury or anger, nor with threats or violence, but with contempt? It is the Arabs and their fellow Muslims of the Middle East who are themselves now making the decisions.
Turkey is furious with Assad because he twice promised to speak of reform and democratic elections – and then failed to honour his word. The Turkish government has twice flown delegations to Damascus and, according to the Turks, Assad lied to the foreign minister on the second visit, baldly insisting that he would recall his brother Maher’s legions from the streets of Syrian cities. He failed to do so. The torturers continue their work.
Watching the hundreds of refugees pouring from Syria across the northern border of Lebanon, the Turkish government is now so fearful of a repeat of the great mass Iraqi Kurdish refugee tide that overwhelmed their border in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war that it has drawn up its own secret plans to prevent the Kurds of Syria moving in their thousands into the Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey. Turkish generals have thus prepared an operation that would send several battalions of Turkish troops into Syria itself to carve out a “safe area” for Syrian refugees inside Assad’s caliphate. The Turks are prepared to advance well beyond the Syrian border town of Al Qamishli – perhaps half way to Deir el-Zour (the old desert killing fields of the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, though speak it not) – to provide a “safe haven” for those fleeing the slaughter in Syria’s cities.
The Qataris are meanwhile trying to prevent Algeria from resupplying Gaddafi with tanks and armoured vehicles – this was one of the reasons why the Emir of Qatar, the wisest bird in the Arabian Gulf, visited the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, last week. Qatar is committed to the Libyan rebels in Benghazi; its planes are flying over Libya from Crete and – undisclosed until now – it has Qatari officers advising the rebels inside the city of Misrata in western Libya; but if Algerian armour is indeed being handed over to Gaddafi to replace the material that has been destroyed in air strikes, it would account for the ridiculously slow progress which the Nato campaign is making against Gaddafi.
Of course, it all depends on whether Bouteflika really controls his army – or whether the Algerian “pouvoir”, which includes plenty of secretive and corrupt generals, are doing the deals. Algerian equipment is superior to Gaddafi’s and thus for every tank he loses, Ghaddafi might be getting an improved model to replace it. Below Tunisia, Algeria and Libya share a 750-mile desert frontier, an easy access route for weapons to pass across the border.
But the Qataris are also attracting Assad’s venom. Al Jazeera’s concentration on the Syrian uprising – its graphic images of the dead and wounded far more devastating than anything our soft western television news shows would dare broadcast – has Syrian state television nightly spitting at the Emir and at the state of Qatar. The Syrian government has now suspended up to £4 billion of Qatari investment projects, including one belonging to the Qatar Electricity and Water Company.
Amid all these vast and epic events – Yemen itself may yet prove to be the biggest bloodbath of all, while the number of Syria’s “martyrs” have now exceeded the victims of Mubarak’s death squads five months ago – is it any surprise that the frolics of Messrs Netanyahu and Obama appear so irrelevant? Indeed, Obama’s policy towards the Middle East – whatever it is – sometimes appears so muddled that it is scarcely worthy of study. He supports, of course, democracy – then admits that this may conflict with America’s interests. In that wonderful democracy called Saudi Arabia, the US is now pushing ahead with a £40 billion arms deal and helping the Saudis to develop a new “elite” force to protect the kingdom’s oil and future nuclear sites. Hence Obama’s fear of upsetting Saudi Arabia, two of whose three leading brothers are now so incapacitated that they can no longer make sane decisions – unfortunately, one of these two happens to be King Abdullah – and his willingness to allow the Assad family’s atrocity-prone regime to survive. Of course, the Israelis would far prefer the “stability” of the Syrian dictatorship to continue; better the dark caliphate you know than the hateful Islamists who might emerge from the ruins. But is this argument really good enough for Obama to support when the people of Syria are dying in the streets for the kind of democracy that the US president says he wants to see in the region?
One of the vainest elements of American foreign policy towards the Middle East is the foundational idea that the Arabs are somehow more stupid than the rest of us, certainly than the Israelis, more out of touch with reality than the West, that they don’t understand their own history. Thus they have to be preached at, lectured, and cajoled by La Clinton and her ilk – much as their dictators did and do, father figures guiding their children through life. But Arabs are far more literate than they were a generation ago; millions speak perfect English and can understand all too well the political weakness and irrelevance in the president’s words. Listening to Obama’s 45-minute speech this month – the “kick off’ to four whole days of weasel words and puffery by the man who tried to reach out to the Muslim world in Cairo two years ago, and then did nothing – one might have thought that the American President had initiated the Arab revolts, rather than sat on the sidelines in fear.
There was an interesting linguistic collapse in the president’s language over those critical four days. On Thursday 19 May, he referred to the continuation of Israeli “settlements”. A day later, Netanyahu was lecturing him on “certain demographic changes that have taken place on the ground”. Then when Obama addressed the American Aipac lobby group (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on the Sunday, he had cravenly adopted Netanyahu’s own preposterous expression. Now he, too, spoke of “new demographic realities on the ground.” Who would believe that he was talking about internationally illegal Jewish colonies built on land stolen from Arabs in one of the biggest property heists in the history of “Palestine”? Delay in peace-making will undermine Israeli security, Obama announced – apparently unaware that Netanyahu’s project is to go on delaying and delaying and delaying until there is no land left for the “viable” Palestinian state which the United States and the European Union supposedly wish to see.
Then we had the endless waffle about the 1967 borders. Netanyahu called them “defenceless” (though they seemed to have been pretty defendable for the 18 years prior to the Six Day War) and Obama – oblivious to the fact that Israel must be the only country in the world to have an eastern land frontier but doesn’t know where it is – then says he was misunderstood when he talked about 1967. It doesn’t matter what he says. George W Bush caved in years ago when he gave Ariel Sharon a letter which stated America’s acceptance of “already existing major Israeli population centres” beyond the 1967 lines. To those Arabs prepared to listen to Obama’s spineless oration, this was a grovel too far. They simply could not understand the reaction of Netanyahu’s address to Congress. How could American politicians rise and applaud Netanyahu 55 times – 55 times – with more enthusiasm than one of the rubber parliaments of Assad, Saleh and the rest?
And what on earth did the Great Speechifier mean when he said that “every country has the right to self-defence” but that Palestine would be “demilitarised”? What he meant was that Israel could go on attacking the Palestinians (as in 2009, for example, when Obama was treacherously silent) while the Palestinians would have to take what was coming to them if they did not behave according to the rules – because they would have no weapons to defend themselves. As for Netanyahu, the Palestinians must choose between unity with Hamas or peace with Israel. All of which was very odd. When there was no unity, Netanyahu told us all that he had no Palestinian interlocutor because the Palestinians were disunited. Yet when they unite, they are disqualified from peace talks.
Of course, cynicism grows the longer you live in the Middle East. I recall, for example, travelling to Gaza in the early 1980s when Yasser Arafat was running his PLO statelet in Beirut. Anxious to destroy Arafat’s prestige in the occupied territories, the Israeli government decided to give its support to an Islamist group in Gaza called Hamas. In fact, I actually saw with my own eyes the head of the Israeli army’s Southern Command negotiating with bearded Hamas officials, giving them permission to build more mosques. It’s only fair to say, of course, that we were also busy at the time, encouraging a certain Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. But the Israelis did not give up on Hamas. They later held another meeting with the organisation in the West Bank; the story was on the front page of the Jerusalem Post the next day. But there wasn’t a whimper from the Americans.
Then another moment that I can recall over the long years. Hamas and Islamic Jihad members – all Palestinians – were, in the early 1990s, thrown across the Israeli border into southern Lebanon where they spent more than a year camping on a freezing mountainside. I would visit them from time to time and on one occasion mentioned that I would be travelling to Israel next day. Immediately, one of the Hamas men ran to his tent and returned with a notebook. He then proceeded to give me the home telephone numbers of three senior Israeli politicians – two of whom are still prominent today – and, when I reached Jerusalem and called the numbers, they all turned out to be correct. In other words, the Israeli government had been in personal and direct contact with Hamas.
But now the narrative has been twisted out of all recognition. Hamas are the super-terrorists, the “al-Qa’ida” representatives in the unified Palestinian leadership, the men of evil who will ensure that no peace ever takes place between Palestinians and Israeli. If only this were true, the real al-Qa’ida would be more than happy to take responsibility. But it is not true. In the same context, Obama stated that the Palestinians would have to answer questions about Hamas. But why should they? What Obama and Netanyahu think about Hamas is now irrelevant to them. Obama warns the Palestinians not to ask for statehood at the United Nations in September. But why on earth not? If the people of Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen and Libya and Syria – we are all waiting for the next revolution (Jordan? Bahrain again? Morocco?) – can fight for freedom and dignity, why shouldn’t the Palestinians? Lectured for decades on the need for non-violent protest, the Palestinians elect to go to the UN with their cry for legitimacy – only to be slapped down by Obama.
Having read all of the “Palestine Papers” which Al-Jazeera revealed, there is no doubt that “Palestine’s” official negotiators will go to any lengths to produce some kind of statelet. Mahmoud Abbas, who managed to write a 600-page book on the “peace process” without once mentioning the word “occupation”, could even cave in over the UN project, fearful of Obama’s warning that it would be an attempt to “isolate” Israel and thus de-legitimise the Israeli state – or “the Jewish state” as the US president now calls it. But Netanyahu is doing more than anyone to delegitimise his own state; indeed, he is looking more and more like the Arab buffoons who have hitherto littered the Middle East. Mubarak saw a “foreign hand” in the Egyptian revolution (Iran, of course). So did the Crown Prince of Bahrain (Iran again). So did Gaddafi (al-Qa’ida, western imperialism, you name it), So did Saleh of Yemen (al-Qa’ida, Mossad and America). So did Assad of Syria (Islamism, probably Mossad, etc). And so does Netanyahu (Iran, naturally enough, Syria, Lebanon, just about anyone you can think of except for Israel itself).
But as this nonsense continues, so the tectonic plates shudder. I doubt very much if the Palestinians will remain silent. If there’s an “intifada” in Syria, why not a Third Intifada in “Palestine”? Not a struggle of suicide bombers but of mass, million-strong protests. If the Israelis have to shoot down a mere few hundred demonstrators who tried – and in some cases succeeded – in crossing the Israeli border almost two weeks ago, what will they do if confronted by thousands or a million. Obama says no Palestinian state must be declared at the UN. But why not? Who cares in the Middle East what Obama says? Not even, it seems, the Israelis. The Arab spring will soon become a hot summer and there will be an Arab autumn, too. By then, the Middle East may have changed forever. What America says will matter nothing.
Women Rise to the Challenge in the Arab Spring May 27, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Women.
Tags: abi abdullah saleh, arab spring, arab women, egypt, egyptian women, feminism, islam, islamic law, libya, michelle chen, revolution, roger hollander, selah, tahrir square, tunisia, women's rights, yemen
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The scene would have had most Americans readjusting their television sets—or their preconceived notions about Arab society. In the April sun, throngs of protesters washed over the streets of the southern Yemeni city Taiz, most clad head-to-toe in black, their eyes steely with determination. The crowd was festooned with bright baseball caps and signs bearing English slogans such as, “We want a new Yemen without Saleh” in seeming defiance both of the autocratic regime and of society’s expectations.
It was only a few months ago that demonstrations exploded across the Maghreb and the Middle East. If you trace the sweep of the revolutionary contagion, a trendline emerges: The seedbed of the revolt, Tunisia, may have lacked democracy but was fairly advanced in providing equal rights for women. The next domino to fall, Egypt, could not have toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak without the support of women activists who took the helm at Tahrir Square. And now Yemen, a relatively conservative and impoverished country, has seen women gathering in a groundswell of resistance–paralleled by increasingly tense uprisings in Syria and Libya.
The BBC recently reported on one of the figureheads of the Yemeni uprising, Tawakul Karman, a former stay-at-home mother whose political passion was galvanized when her husband became a political prisoner:
In the last three months, Mrs Karman has been imprisoned, beaten and humiliated in the state media. As a result, she is a household name in Yemen and an inspiration to many women here. ‘This goes beyond the wildest dream I have ever dreamt,’ she says. ‘I am so proud of our women.’
With Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime on the brink of implosion, women’s role in the revolution is coming to the forefront, as Karman and other women become fixtures at the demonstrations in Sana’a‘s Change Square. The outrage flared after Saleh denounced women protesters as violating Islamic law. The attempt at intimidation backfired: One activist told the BBC, “Ali Abdullah Saleh turned me into a stronger woman.”
The outpouring of social and economic frustration has subverted gender hierarchies and stereotypes both in the political establishment and in the opposition. While Yemen’s Western-backed authoritarian regime faces rising public wrath, the opposition Islamist party Islah may actually offer women a greater voice.
According to news reports, Islah activists may not see women’s rights on their main agenda, but they’re keen on engaging women, at least for pragmatic reasons. As anti-government protesters start to envision life after Saleh, each woman will ultimately count as one vote in future elections.
Yet the rising profile of female revolutionaries remains shadowed by the gendered burdens of authoritarian oppression. Terrorized women and children form the bulk of the refugee tide spilling out of Syria over the border to Lebanon in order to escape the crackdown on the roiling uprisings. In Libya, civil war has reportedly spawned an epidemic of rape as a military weapon.
Back in Egypt, the solidarity of the January 25 uprising, which for a moment united people across lines of class, religion and gender, now appears to be ebbing into sectarian and socioeconomic strife. The protests continue, sometimes spilling blood on the streets. Egypt’s struggle for gender justice has followed a similarly precarious trajectory. Although many women activists became icons of the youth-driven revolutionary movement, military rule now threatens to rollback their gains. According to political analyst Valerie M. Hudson, recent stirrings in parliament could effectively squelch women’s participation in government:
Reacting to these reports, women’s organizations in Egypt have called for the quota to either be maintained, or for a 3-3-4 party list system to be instituted. In that system, a woman candidate must figure among the first three listed candidates, among the second three listed candidates and then among the next four listed candidates. As Noha El Khoury of the [Egyptian Center for Women's Rights] has written with great concern, the status of Egyptian women ‘is not getting better’ after the revolution.
The complex symbolism of women in protest movements is nothing new, not even in the Middle East, as seen in the martyrdom of “Neda” in the Iranian uprising of 2009. But today, some activists in the region fear women risk being co-opted by reactionary agendas. The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights sharply criticized a recent clash between Muslims and Christians at a march that had been billed as a rally against sectarian strife. In a statement [PDF] issued earlier this month, the group said, “The incidents that happened between Muslims and Christians are a clear attempt to abort the 25th of January revolution through the use of women to fuel strife.”
After the overthrow of Mubarak, as Ms. reported earlier, women demanded social and cultural revolution in addition to political change. The reaction was telling: Many felt anxious or threatened by feminist rebellion in the still-fragile democracy. Cairo-based activist Jumanah Younis recalled attacks on women at a Tahrir Square demonstration in March:
As I struggled to stay upright, a hand grabbed my behind and others pulled at my clothes. When, a few minutes later, I found the other women I was with, one told me that a man had put his hand down her top, while another woman had been pushed to the ground and held down by a man on top of her. The police continued to direct traffic around the square as the incident was taking place.
Such outrageous displays of contempt for women cannot be allowed to persist in the new Egypt. Time and time again so-called “women’s issues” have been relegated to the bottom of the agenda: We must end corruption first, we must have political freedom first, etc., etc. On Tuesday, Egyptian women said: ‘Now is the time.’ There is no freedom for men without freedom and equality for women.
The Arab Spring has raised a beacon of democratic change and shattered walls of fear in a region long dominated by tyrants or foreign powers. But the scope of the struggle also complicates the dialogue about gender, social justice and democracy in the communities that are being rapidly reborn. In a climate of militant protest, however principled, warped notions of nationalism and masculine valor tend to surface, and can easily dissolve into violence and chauvinism.
The history is still being written. Back in Tunisia, subtle gender dimensions continue to unfold from the scene that spawned the Arab Spring, the self-immolation of a young street vendor. The common narrative suggested Mohamed Bouazizi had been slapped and humiliated by a female police officer, Fadia Hamdi. But this framing of the events—the indignity suffered by the emasculated jobless youth versus the arrogant aggression of the police woman—has come undone. The legal case was dropped and Hamdi’s name effectively cleared in the media. In the end, the woman held responsible for sparking nationwide revolt was greeted with cheers outside the courtroom hailing her freedom, according to press reports. No longer pressing the case, Bouazizi’s mother reportedly declared, “For me, it is enough that Mohamed’s martyrdom has resulted in freedom and the fall of tyrants.” So it goes with the mercurial politics of revolution.
Women’s voices have carried far and wide on the Arab Spring’s winds of revolution, fading in and out as in the tumult still churning throughout the region. But no matter where women march from here, there’s a recognition that no matter what, there’s no going back to the way things were.
Obama, Hands Off Our Spring May 26, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: arab activists, arab democracy, arab revolution, arab spring, arabs, democracy, egypt, Middle East, revolution, roger hollander, soumaya ghannoushi, tunisia, U.S. imperialism, yemen
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The US wants to turn the Arab revolutions into eastern Europe part 2. It is destined to fail
The first wave of Arab revolutions is entering its second phase: dismantling the structures of political despotism, and embarking on the arduous journey towards genuine change and democratisation. The US, at first confused by the loss of key allies, is now determined to dictate the course and outcome of this ongoing revolution.
What had been a challenge to US power is now a “historic opportunity”, as Barack Obama put it in his Middle East speech last week. But he does not mean an opportunity for the people who have risen up; it is a chance for Washington to fashion the region’s present and future, just as it did its past. When Obama talks of his desire “to pursue the world as it should be” he does not mean according to the yearnings of its people, but according to US interests.
And how is this new world to be built? The model is that of eastern Europe and the colour revolutions; American soft power and public diplomacy is to be used to reshape the socio-political scene in the region. The aim is to transform the people’s revolutions into America’s revolutions by engineering a new set of docile, domesticated and US-friendly elites. This involves not only co-opting old friends from the pre-revolutionary era, but also seeking to contain the new forces produced by the revolution, long marginalised by the US.
As Obama put it last week: “We must … reach the people who will shape the future – particularly young people … [and] provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned.” To this end he has doubled the budget for “protecting civil society groups” from $1.5m to $3.4m.
The recipients are not only the usual neoliberal elements, but also activists who spearheaded the protest movements, and mainstream Islamists. Programmes aimed at youth leaders include the Leaders for Democracy Arabic project, sponsored by the US state department’s Middle East partnership initiative. A number of Arab activists, including the Egyptian democracy and human rights activist Esraa Abdel Fattah, were invited to an event hosted by the Project on Middle East Democracy in Washington last month – one of many recent conferences and seminars. Meetings between high-ranking US officials – such as the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer – and the Muslim Brotherhood took place in Cairo last month, while the deputy chairman of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party has recently returned from a visit to Washington to “discuss democratic transition”.
Washington hopes that these rising forces can be stripped of their ideological opposition to US hegemony and turned into pragmatists, fully integrated into the existing US-led international order. Dogma is not a problem, as long as the players agree to operate within parameters delineated for them, and play the power game without questioning its rules. It remains to be seen, however, if they risk losing their popular base in return for US favours.
Containment and integration are not only political, but economic, to be pursued through free markets and trade partnerships in the name of economic reform. Plans “to stabilise and modernise” the Tunisian and Egyptian economies – already being drafted by the World Bank, IMF and European Development Bank at Washington’s behest – are due to be presented at this week’s G8 summit. A $2bn facility to support private investment has been announced, one of many initiatives “modelled on funds that supported the transitions in eastern Europe”.
As usual, investment and aid are conditional on adoption of the US model in the name of liberalisation and reform, and on binding the region’s economies further to US and European markets under the banner of “trade integration”. One wonders what would be left of the Arab revolutions in such infiltrated civil societies, domesticated political parties, and dependent economies.
However, although the Obama administration may succeed with some Arab organisations, its bid to reproduce the eastern European scenario may be destined to fail. Prague and Warsaw looked to the US for inspiration, but for the people of Cairo, Tunis and Sana’a the US is the equivalent of the Soviet Union in eastern Europe: it is the problem, not the solution. To Arabs, the US is a force of occupation draped in a thin cloak of democracy and human rights.
No one could have offered stronger evidence of such a view than Obama himself, who began his Middle East speech with eulogies to freedom and the equality of all men, and ended it with talk of the “Jewishness of Israel”, in effect denying the citizenship rights of 20% of its Arab inhabitants and the right of return of 6 million Palestinian refugees. In vain does the US try to reconcile the irreconcilable – to preach democracy, while occupying and aiding occupation.
Tags: aipac, arab revolution, arab spring, bahrain, brian becker, democracy, egypt, gaza, golan heights, human rights, Iran, isreal-palestine, mara verheyden-hilliard, Middle East, middle east democracy, middle east dictatorship, middle east oil, mubarak, obama administration, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria, war, west bank
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By Brian Becker and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard
President Obama took to the airwaves today to discuss
the revolts and conflicts spreading throughout the Middle East. The U.S.
dominance over this strategic and oil-rich region has been the pivot of U.S.
foreign policy for decades. Utilizing a system of proxy and client regimes, in
addition to its own vast military forces in the region, the United States has
supported a network of brutal dictatorships and the Israeli regime for decades.
Now that system of imperial control has been shaken
by the popular risings that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and
elsewhere, the Obama administration spoke today at the U.S. State Department as
part of an effort to reassert U.S. leadership over the swiftly changing
Using the rhetoric of democracy and freedom to mask
the responsibility of U.S. imperialism in the enduring oppression and suffering
of the peoples of the Middle East, President Obama’s speech was a demonstration
of profound hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy: President Obama said that
the “greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the
talent of its people.”
Reality: The U.S. strategy is based
on control of the Middle East’s most coveted resource: two-thirds of the world’s
known oil supply. The U.S. government has given billions of dollars and armed
the most brutal dictatorships in the Middle East for decades, a practice fully
continued by the Obama administration. The U.S. government never cut funds to
the Mubarak dictatorship even while the regime murdered more than 850 peaceful
protestors. More than 5,000 civilians in Egypt have been convicted and jailed
since Jan. 25 following trials conducted by the Egyptian military. The United
States continues to provide massive funding to Egypt’s military in spite of the
ongoing repression against the people.
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated,
“it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region,
and to support transitions to democracy.”
Reality: The only governments in the
Middle East that have been targeted for invasion, economic sanctions and
overthrow by the U.S. government are those that pursue policies that are
independent of U.S. economic, political and military control. The U.S. never
imposed economic sanctions on the Mubarak dictatorship and only came out
publicly against Mubarak when the tide of revolution had become irresistible.
Likewise, the U.S. supports the brutal Saudi monarchy.
Hypocrisy: President Obama
championed for the people of the Middle East the “basic rights to speak your
mind and access information,” stating, “the truth cannot be hidden; and the
legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed
Reality: The Obama administration
has gone out of its way to punish those who would inform the public by shedding
light on the activities of the U.S. government. Bradley Manning remains jailed
with the threat of life in prison, having been held in brutal conditions that
caused the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture to seek an investigation. The
Justice Department is working at full speed to find a way to prosecute Julian
Assange of Wikileaks for disclosing government documents to the public, many of
which expose the U.S. role in the Middle East. The Obama administration has
undertaken a major campaign more aggressive than any prior administration to
criminally prosecute whistleblowers who expose the truth of illegal government
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated:
“The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people
of the region.”
Reality: The United States under
Obama is involved in the invasion, occupation, and bombings of four
predominantly Muslim countries simultaneously: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and
Pakistan. Moreover, the head of state who has been the single biggest violator
of the basic human rights of Arab people and the perpetuator of violence in the
region is George W. Bush, whose illegal invasion of Iraq cost the lives of more
than one million people. The March 19, 2003, invasion was a war of aggression
against a country that did not pose any threat to the United States or the
people of the United States. The invasion and occupation of Iraq led to the
deaths of more Arab people than have been killed by all the dictatorships in the
region combined. President Obama today called Osama Bin Laden a mass murderer.
September 11, 2001, was indeed a great crime that took the lives of thousands of
innocent working people, but measured in order of the magnitude of victims
killed, Bush’s crime of mass murder in Iraq is unmatched. George W. Bush has not
been arrested for the mass killings of Iraqi people but is treated honorifically
by the Obama administration.
Hypocrisy: In an effort to appease
Arab public opinion, President Obama’s speech made it appear as if the United
States was insisting that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders. Obama stated,
“precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth:
the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a
Reality: Israel’s war against the
Palestinian people would be impossible without U.S. support, which continues
unabated. The single biggest recipient of U.S. foreign aid is the state of
Israel, which uses the $3 billion it receives annually to lay siege to the
people of Gaza, continue the illegal occupation of the West Bank and prevent the
return of the families of the 750,000 Palestinians who were evicted from their
homes and villages in historic Palestine in 1948. The United Nations in various
resolutions has condemned the 1967 Israeli invasion and occupation of Gaza, the
West Bank, and Syria’s Golan Heights. Far from imposing economic sanctions,
President Obama has promised Israel a minimum of $30 billion in military aid
over the next 10 years, thus functioning as a partner in the occupation. Obama’s
speech also made it clear that the United States would support Israel retaining
vast swaths of the West Bank. This is what he meant by referring to “land
swaps.” In the coming days, Obama will have private meetings with Benjamin
Netanyahu and will be a featured speaker at the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC) conference. He will undoubtedly reinforce the strong
U.S.-Israeli military ties and U.S. financial support.
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated:
“We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the
freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women
under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders – whether you
live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran…. [W]e will continue to insist that
universal rights apply to women as well as men.”
Reality: While the U.S. government –
along with Britain and France (the former colonizers of the Middle East and
Africa) – are bombing Libya with the latest high-tech bombs and missiles in the
name of “protecting civilians” and “promoting democracy,” the Obama
administration offered the most tepid pro-forma criticism of the Bahrain
monarchy as it and the Saudi monarchy kill and imprison peaceful protestors in
Bahrain. No sanctions have even been hinted at for Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. The
Saudi monarchy is the ultimate negation of democracy, depriving women of all
rights, depriving workers of the right to form unions and depriving all sectors
of the population of any right to free speech, assembly or press. There has
never been an election in Saudi Arabia. But the Saudi monarchy functions as a
client of the U.S. government and, as such, is not targeted for economic
sanctions or “regime change” as are the governments of Syria and Libya. The
Bahrain monarchy likewise functions as a U.S. client and allows the U.S. Fifth
Fleet to use Bahrain as its home port, which is why he referred to the monarchy
as “a long-standing partner.”
Hypocrisy: President Obama denounced
the Iranian government, stating that “we will continue to insist that the
Iranian people deserve their universal rights,” and condemned what he called
Iran’s “illicit nuclear program.”
Reality: He failed to mention that
it was the CIA along with its British counterpart that staged the overthrow of
Iran’s democratic government in 1953 and reinstated the Shah’s monarchy. They
overthrew Iran’s democracy when Iran nationalized its own oil from AIOC/British
Petroleum. The U.S. only broke relations with the Iranian government when the
Shah’s dictatorship was overthrown by a populist national revolution. Regarding
nuclear weapons, the Israeli government has refused to sign the nuclear
non-proliferation treaty and has accumulated 200 “illicit” nuclear weapons. Of
course, the United States has thousands of nuclear weapons and remains the only
country to have used nuclear weapons, destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Hypocrisy: President Obama told the
world that the United States shares the goals of the Arab revolution, that
“repression will fail, that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is
endowed with certain inalienable rights.”
Reality: The U.S. government,
whether it is led by Democrats or Republicans, views the oil-rich Middle East
through the lens of empire. Operating through a network of proxy regimes
including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, the Shah of
Iran until his overthrow in 1979, and other regimes in the region – and
supplemented by tens of thousands of U.S. troops positioned in U.S. bases
throughout the region and on aircraft carriers – the United States aims to
dominate and control a region that possesses two-thirds of the world’s known oil
supply. It has and continues to finance a network of brutal client
dictatorships, and it has funded the Israeli war machine and staged repeated
invasions, bombing campaigns, and occupations against the people of the region.