Empire Burlesque, January 28, 2011
Astounding things are happening in Egypt. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, are on the streets. As I write, there are reports that protestors have taken over police stations and attacked headquarters of the ruling party in several cities. Activists are now reporting that police in Alexandria have downed their weapons and are mingling peacefully with the crowds. And some police officers in Cairo are apparently now siding with the protestors. As the Guardian notes in its continuous live-blogging of the events:
In another extraordinary audio report Jack Shenker in Cairo reports on signs that the police are siding with the protesters. He saw a senior police officer discard a teargas canister to signal to protesters that he was on their side. Will the regime fall, he asked a state journalist. "It's already falling, it can't stop," Jack was told. Jack has seen tens of thousands of protesters on the streets.
I recommend the Guardian site as one of the best places to keep track of these breaking historic events as the day unfolds.
Meanwhile, here are a few quick takes I put down earlier this morning.
As you might expect, As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab," has some pertinentobservations about the protests in Egypt, and the, shall we say, attenuated response to them from the American political and media establishments. First, he examines this key question: What if this was Iran?
The Egyptian regime is clamping down hard: they stopped the internet altogether, they stopped SMS, (and Twitter and Facebook obviously shut down). Vodaphone and two other phone companies stopped SMS. Najib Suwayrus, the Egyptian billionaire friend of Jamal Mubarak, is a collaborator in the repression. Even the regime's mouthpiece, Al-Ahram, has been shut down. Egyptian goons are erasing clips of repression from Youtube. In Suez, the land lines are down.
What if this was Iran?? When there were protests in Iran, Twitter (the company) and Facebook (the company) came out in support of the protesters. The US media were enamored with the protesters back then. Why are those protesters not sexy for you? You can't say that they are Islamists this time (as if Islamists have no rights to protest -- but let us go along with the argument for the sake of it), and yet they are all alone. It will be remembered (when you ask now and later why they hate us), that Mubrak's repression took place with the full support of both parties in the US and the Obama administration. Do you know now why whenever a US official, any US official, ever utter the word "democracy", Arabs get a strong urge to throw up? In Iran, the US covertly smuggled those cute camera pens for demonstrators. They were not cute enough for the Egyptian people.
He also points us to the jaw-dropping performance of VP Joe Biden, as the Palinesque dimbulb and corporate bagman made clear the support of his boss -- the Nobel Peace Laureate -- for the bloodstained tyranny of Egyptian boss Hosni Mubarak. AbuKhalil gave an excerpt from a Christian Science Monitor piece by Dan Murphy:
Ahead of a day that could prove decisive, NewsHour host Jim Lehrer asked Biden if the time has "come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?" Biden answered: "No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that – to be more responsive to some... of the needs of the people out there." Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: "Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator."
Think of that: all Mubarak needs to do -- after decades of iron-fisted control over a system that has plunged millions and millions of people into destitution and despair -- is to begin to move in the direction of being a bit more responsive to some of the needs of the people. And as Murphy notes, Biden went to question if any of the protestors' concerns are legitimate:
Biden [told NewsHour] "...we’re encouraging the government to act responsibly and – and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out."
If they are -- which means they might not be. Tens of thousands of ordinary people, risking their liberty and their lives to ask for bread, justice, freedom and opportunity -- this might not be legitimate. In fact, only the government which drove the people to such desperate acts can determine, after "discussion," which "claims" of the people might or might not be legitimate.
This is the position of the administration of the Nobel Peace Laureate, the Democratic Party champion whose political fortunes, we are told, must be the main focus of all decent people. This is what Barack Obama -- and his dimbulb deputy -- believe. That a tyrant is not a dictator. That no protest -- against an American factotum, that is -- can be "legitimate," unless that factotum vets the "discussion," and determines which "reforms" he might begin to move in the direction of considering.
Believe me, As'ad, it's not just Arabs who see all this and want to throw up!
Meanwhile, what is really happening in Egypt, beyond the gasbaggery in the Beltway? Ahdaf Soueif reports in the Guardian:
In Tahrir Square, in the centre of Cairo, on Tuesday night Egypt refound and celebrated its diversity. The activists formed a minor part of the gathering, what was there was The People.
Young people of every background and social class marched and sang together. Older, respected figures went round with food and blankets. Cigarette-smoking women in jeans sat next to their niqab-wearing sisters on the pavement. Old comrades from the student movement of the 1970s met for the first time in decades. Young people went round collecting litter. People who stayed at home phoned nearby restaurants with orders to deliver food to the protesters. Not one religious or sectarian slogan was heard. The solidarity was palpable. And if this sounds romantic, well, it was and is.
Then, at1am, Central Security attacked. Ferociously. Within five minutes more than 40 canisters of teargas were thrown into the crowd. When they did not disperse, the special forces went in with batons, water cannon and finally rubber bullets. People were grabbed and thrown into police trucks. Hundreds were driven off to police stations and detention centres. Private cars chased round after the police trucks to keep track of where they were taking people.
...There is a level of organisation springing up here that can best be described as solidarity in action. At various centres round the capital young activists are manning phones, documenting injuries, setting up impromptu clinics.
At the Hisham Mubarak (no relation to the president) legal centre people have not slept for 48 hours. They have documented, since 25 January, eight people killed, 24 injured and more than 800 detained. But the hotlines published on the websites have now all been blocked so fewer calls are coming in. But information keeps coming: they detained a 90-year-old man in Suez. He used to be a leader of the resistance in 1956. And he's in the protests now.
As I write, it is early Friday afternoon in Egypt. Thousands of people are in the streets. The security forces are cracking down harder than ever. (Perhaps they've gotten the green light from the regime's Potomac patrons to do whatever it takes to preserve the oh-so-non-dictatorial regime of Mubarak.) As AbuKhalil noted, the non-dictatorship has shut down the internet, and is forcing telecoms to "suspend services."
Mohamed ElBaradei, the dissident figure (who is also a Nobel Peace Laureate, even though he has never launched a single drone attack on an undefended village), has been "detained" by the non-dictatorship. His arrest comes after he issued statements criticizing Hillary Clinton for America's for bolstering the regime, which he declared was "on its last legs." Before he was taken, ElBaradei pointed to the government's efforts to cut off communication within the country, and with the outside world. As the Guardian reports:
"Egypt today is in a pre-information age," he said. "The Egyptians are in solitary confinement – that's how unstable and uncomfortable the regime is. Being able to communicate is the first of our human rights and it's being taken away from us. I haven't seen this in any other country before.
"The international community must understand we are being denied every human right day by day," he said. "Egypt today is one big prison. If the international community does not speak out it will have a lot of implications. We are fighting for universal values here. If the west is not going to speak out now, then when?"
Well, "the west" has spoken out. And it has declared that the Egyptian dictator is not a dictator, even when he is killing and beating his people in the street. It has declared that any complaints his repressed people have might not be legitimate -- and in any case, should only be addressed by the dictator himself, as he sees fit, in his own good time. Vviolence, repression, injustice, inequality, and authoritarian power as the sole determiner of "legitimacy" in society: these are the "universal values" being articulated by the leaders of the west in Washington.
But as the American bard sang long ago: "Don't speak too soon, for the wheel's still in spin;/And there's no telling who that it's naming." Like a frozen river in spring, the ice of repression is breaking in Egypt, and it is by no means certain that the factotum and his patrons will be able to dam or direct the flow.