It was Franklin Roosevelt, speaking of Nicaraguan dictator Somoza Garcia, who said “He may be an S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.” And Hosni Mubarak has been our son of a bitch, or maybe just our bitch, in Egypt for thirty years. As of this writing, he may still be America’s S.O.B., but he is apparently no longer Egypt’s dictator, and it appears that his designated successor, Omar Suleiman, is only passing through.
There are a lot of angles to this story. First and foremost, obviously, is how the massive frustration of the Egyptian people bred collective courage and determination and a largely non-violent, decentralized popular revolution. If only it would happen here!
There’s the question of why the Egyptian people feel so frustrated, what it will take to satisfy their demands, and how or even whether it is possible to meet those needs and aspirations.
There’s the question of how this may affect the situation with and within Palestine and Israel.
There’s the role of the Egyptian Army in the transfer of power.
There’s the invariably lame and sometimes downright bizarre responses of American politicians to this movement.
There’s the angle of American (as well as Egyptian) so-called “intelligence services” completely getting this wrong.
There’s the angle of the depth of support the U.S. government has consistently shown for Mubarak’s notoriously repressive rule in Egypt.
And there’s the question of who’s next. Saudi Arabia? Algeria? Mexico? The United States?
Let’s start with U.S. involvement and work more or less back up the list, but save “who’s next?” for last.
Thanks to WIkileaks, we know that America’s FBI schooled Egypt’s police in torture techniques at a Quantico, Virginia, training center–interestingly enough, the same one where Bradley Manning, of Wikileaks fame, is being held–but not tortured! Oh, no, no no! Verry interesting. But I want to focus on Egypt. Most of the weapons, from tear gas canisters to…let’s not go there, have “made in U.S.A.” stamped on them somewhere, and even the ones that don’t were mostly paid for by Hosni’s Uncle Sam. However President Obama tries to position himself now, it is clear that the U.S. has long known about and been a willing accomplice in Mubarak’s repression of the Egyptian people.
Obama’s approval of Suleiman is a case in point. Suleiman is widely known as “the CIA‘s man in Egypt.” He is head of the secret police. He’s co-operated with the U.S. to carry out kidnappings and torture, and to suppress Hamas, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the US because it is willing to use violence to resist violently enforced US/Israeli hegemony. I’m opposed to the use of violence, but I’m opposed to hypocrisy as well. Hypocrisy is just a subtle form of violence. Wikileaks has revealed that Suleiman’s attitude towards the Gaza Ghetto is that it’s OK for people there to “go hungry but not starve.” How compassionate! Considering Suleiman’s position in Mubarak’s government and the overwhelming popular support for the Palestinians around the Middle East, Obama’s endorsement of Suleiman is hardly a “change we can believe in.”
The problem for repressive regimes, in Egypt or the U.S., is that they grow increasingly out of touch with reality because, due to the fear factor, nobody is going to tell them anything they don’t want to hear. That’s why torture doesn’t work–people will tell their torturer anything just to stop the pain. It doesn’t have to be thumbscrews, either. Any kind of power over another person’s life will do. Can you say “paycheck,” boys and girls? How about “membership in the American upper class”?
Mubarak’s own “intelligence service” seemed bent on pinning the unrest on “outside agitators.” (ah, the “song of the South!), which would have been laughable if not for the number of people who were beaten, imprisoned, and outright killed due to this rhetoric. Our own so-called intelligence services seem to have been surprised by these events, just as they have failed, or simply refused, to foresee many major shifts in the currents of history–Pearl Harbor, Mao’s triumph in China, the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, the end of the Soviet Union and of so-called “Communist” hegemony over eastern Europe, the destruction of the World Trade Center. The Bush administration, in particular, was famous for fabricating “facts” that bolstered what it wanted to hear. Ah, the burdens of empire!
(Yes, I am quite open to the likelihood that the CIA, et al., neither failed nor ignored, but actively fomented some of the above events…but that’s another subject!)
Yes, the burden of empire will drive any country crazy. We have been treated to the ironic spectacle of Republican “populists,” frightened out of their tunnel-vision wits at the involvement of radical Islamist organizations like The Muslim Brotherhood in this revolution. throwing their support to Mubarak, who is exactly the kind of strongman they claim to see in Obama.
Ah, the tangled webs we weave, eh?
I mentioned the Egyptian Army, which is a very peculiar institution, as armies go. Last month I said that the U.S. military is one of the best examples of state socialism in the world today, but the Egyptian have us beat. Since the cessation of hostilities with Israel, they haven’t had a lot to do, militarily. Instead, they have turned their manpower and resources into an enormous business conglomerate that is involved with everything from resort hotels to agriculture to appliance manufacture to road building. They don’t want a protracted power struggle. When it comes to a choice between a stable, happy Egypt without Mubarak or a grim, sullen country with him, the army’s preference is obvious–and that is the choice they have made. Mubarak is out.
Whether Egyptians will find more happiness without Mubarak may depend on how philosophical the people can be. From a materialist standpoint, the numbers are not good. The population has tripled in the last fifty years and at current rates will double again in the next twenty. Most of the country is virtually uninhabitable desert. The Aswan dam has proved to be a trade-off: the country has more electricity, but soil fertility is slipping without the annual Nile floods, and, unreplenished by silt from those floods, the Nile delta, the largest concentration of both population and arable land in the country, is washing away into the Mediterranean Sea. The country’s oil production peaked fifteen years ago and has fallen 30% since, so it needs to import an increasing amount of its fuel as well as its food. The prices of both oil and food are rising.
What this boils down to is that the Egyptian standard of living is unlikely to improve. As long as the Egyptian people are glad to have more freedom to chart their own destiny in a world of diminished expectations, there is a chance that the country’s gross national happiness index will rise. If they were expecting a chicken in every pot and a car in every driveway once Mubarak left, they will be sorely disappointed.
A change to a more sympathetic government in Egypt could be very good news for the people of Palestine. If Egypt opens its border with Gaza and becomes more proactive in offering aid, the Israelis will have a much more difficult time keeping the screws tight on that unfortunate ghetto, and will have less energy and for making trouble elsewhere in the Middle East. Maybe it’s time they started checking out real estate in Nevada? Nevada, Negev, sounds a lot alike, nu? But I digress….
It’s that famous “butterfly effect.” An oppressed, underemployed fruit vendor immolated himself in Tunisia, and not long after that, the government of Tunisia fell. To the surprise of everyone and the delight of some, that energy bounced into Egypt and dislodged a long-established,seemingly intransigent regime there in a matter of weeks. The world is far too complex a system to predict where the next strand in the world-wide web will unravel, or when. But we seem to have reached a tipping point. In world politics as with the climate, bigger and bigger things are shifting faster and faster. It’s no longer “After us, the deluge.” The deluge is happening.
music: John Lennon, “Power
to the People”