Protests, demands for change, and a general feeling of discontent and instability.
It seems as if Americans and Israelis will have to get used to changes in the Middle Eastern political landscape over which they have little or no control. This may be a good thing for meddling has gotten us all into so much trouble in the past. Great power “games” that ignore the rights and lives of local populations have succeeded in bringing us closer to a chaotic world than ever, and the use of force is no longer a viable option, as Mubarak is finding out, and as we, to our sorrow, found out in Iraq.
The knee-jerk American reaction will be to support Israel with more arms and money, but these will not change the fundamental impulse toward freer and fairer governments. Israel which has been heading toward more and more authoritarian behavior finds itself facing the results of past uses of force exerted for its selfish aims.
Update: February 3, 2011. It looks as though the Arab world is in turmoil. There seem to be protests everywhere, according to Aljazeera. Some rulers are changing their tunes in hope of stalling off the kinds of riotous protests the Egyptian government has caused. There’s a great picture of 3 men on horseback, 2 with whips (knouts) and the 3rd with what looks like a bamboo club, riding past the anti-Mubarak protestors. I wonder how many in the US will take the trouble to look at it, though I hear through NPR (I think) that many in our government are watching because it has become their only reliable source of information. What a joke! Especially after Bush did his best to squash it. It tells of protests in Beirut, a planned protest by Palestinians on the West Bank, protests in Yemen, and the Algerian President’s lifting of Emergence Powers that have been in place for 10 years in attempt to stave off violent protests in his country.
So the Arab street has finally come alive. There’s no telling how this will all come out, and although people on both the right and the left complain about Obama’s response, I really don’t see that there is much that he or the US government can do. After Iraq and Afghanistan, we don’t have the credibility as a leader for human rights and democracy that we once may have had. As Juan Cole puts it, we let Netanhayu get away with humiliating defiance over the settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, so Mubarak, who made the deal with Israel to contain the Palestinians in Gaza, is defying Obama so he, Mubarak, can stay in power. There was a threat about revisiting aid to Egypt, but it has not been repeated, and, tragically, was never even suggested for Israel. In order to maintain the status quo, the flow of oil, we will tolerate brutal authoritarian regimes whose behavior toward their own people belie everything that the US is supposed to believe in. The government machinery serves neither the President, nor the country’s best interest. ( See Noam Chomsky’s piece at TruthOut)
Think back to all the words that have come from the State Department over the years in support of Israel, regardless of its actions against its neighbors or its own Arab or other minority populations. It has become as much a far right theocracy as Iran, with rulers as brutal as Mubarak, Qaddafi, or any other Arab despot you can name.
Update: Friday, February 4
Pepe Escobar has some wise things to say over at the Asia Times, where lots of very good analysis of all sides can be found.
The NYT says that the Obama administration is in talks with Egyptian officials about a transition. Watch out, Egypt! They will do their very best to snatch your chance for democracy away from you – all for the sake of “stability”. The Times seems to be all about raising fears in America. Fears of the Muslim Brotherhood. Fears of a leaderless mob in control of the state. We have to have something “manageable” there or the world will end in chaos. It’s sickening.
Update: Saturday, February 5. Al Jazeera is reporting Frank Wisner’s statement the Mubarak should stay in office to steer the“process of gathering national consensus around the preconditions for the way forward. This is not exactly what the Obama administration is saying in public, nor will it satisfy those in Tahrir Square who just want Mubarak gone. It begins to look as though American meddling will be paving the way for the next dictator (Suleiman?) or military rule all in the name of “stability”. That kind of meddling will surely be counter-productive both for our own interests and for those of the Egyptians. We will be seen as meddling on behalf of the Israelis (which may well be true) earning us nothing but further hatred from the Arab street. For their part, the Egyptians may truly revolt against the imposition of another arbitrary rule, thus making the situation worse, not better. The truth is that we really do not know how to resolve this crisis, and haven’t learned from out experiences in Iraq and elsewhere to respect the abilities of people to make up their own minds about what they want and how they want to achieve it. At bottom, it is not up to us to decide anything, and we would do well to back off, letting Egyptians come to their own solution.
I’d suggest reading the entire article on Aljazeera. It sounds to me as though the Egyptian government is totally unrepentant and doing its best to round up those spreading the word of its activities and abuses such as journalists and human rights advocates. The ugly continues in the background and unfortunately, few Americans are willing or able to see or find the truth.
One of our biggest problems in the West is our superiority complex. Far too many of our elites are too willing to accept the view that peoples outside the exclusive club of the “democratic” west are really and truly capable of self-government unless its a top down military or tribal autocracy. It’s a condescending, unreconstructed colonialist attitude that has been invented to maintain a feeling of superiority, and to avoid accepting that ways of doing things other than ours are possibly just as good. The “natives” must always be less human than “us”. Otherwise we could not tolerate the destruction and atrocities we bring on them. The attitude of racial superiority is behind most of the tragedies in the world. What we are doing and saying about what is happening in Egypt is part of the same syndrome. “Everybody knows the Arabs (or Africans, or Native Americans, or Latin Americans, or Filipinos, or Vietnamese or whoever, especially of a different color) are incapable of ruling themselves”
Sunday, February 6: The West has chosen continued repression in the person of the security chief Suleiman. It is a sad day for Egypt and for Western diplomacy. We are betraying what we call our “core beliefs” in the name of stability. Stability equals harsh dictatorship, and once again the tail of Israel is wagging the dog of the United States. The only hope now is that the demonstrators outlast the defiance of the Dictator and Western “policy”. We are all being exceedingly stupid and will pay dearly in the blowback that is sure to come. No matter what Hillary may say about Wisner not speaking for the US, our government is just spinning and shows a ghastly lack of imagination.
Frank Rich in today’s NYT:
The consequence of a decade’s worth of indiscriminate demonization of Arabs in America — and of the low quotient of comprehensive adult news coverage that might have helped counter it — is the steady rise in Islamophobia. The “Ground Zero” mosque melee has given way to battles over mosques as far removed from Lower Manhattan as California. Soon to come is a national witch hunt — Congressional hearings called by Representative Peter King of New York — into the “radicalization of the American Muslim community.” Given the disconnect between America and the Arab world, it’s no wonder that Americans are invested in the fights for freedom in Egypt and its neighboring dictatorships only up to a point. We’ve been inculcated to assume that whoever comes out on top is ipso facto a jihadist.
Gee thanks, George. What a terrific legacy you have left us of hate and intolerance and irrational fear. That was the product you sold us in the US because you wanted “your” war. How shameful! No wonder European protestors won’t have you give speeches in Switzerland. No wonder you and your cohorts are targets of the legal systems of honest people.
Listen to and watch El Baradai’s conversation with Roger Cohen.
Here’s a bit from Roger Cohen’s column in the NYT from February 5. Read and learn:
All of this raises a question: In the name of what exactly has the United States been ready to back and fund an ally whose contempt for the law, fake democracy and gross theft flout everything for which America stands?
There are several answers. To stop the jihadists, who threaten American lives; to ensure the security of another ally, Israel; to spread free markets, however distorted, from which U.S. corporations benefit; to secure stability in the most dangerous of regions. Hey, the world’s an imperfect place. Sometimes the best strategic choice is just avoidance of the worst. It wasn’t only during the Cold War that our thugs had their place.
I understand all these arguments. As our thugs go, Mubarak’s been solid. But such views have endured through a persistent blindness: The unwillingness to see that the Middle East has evolved; that American hypocrisy is transparent to everyone; that Islamic parties can run thriving economies and democracies like Turkey’s; that popular rage over cronies’ green gardens feeds the jihadist cause; and that the most effective support of Israel is not one that leaves Israel locked in a defensive crouch but one that encourages it to reach out to the modernizing forces in the Middle East, not least in the West Bank.
Democracies can coexist with politically-organized religious extremists, as Israel itself demonstrates. That is one of their strengths.
In Tahrir Square, the mini-republic that is the Egyptian uprising’s ground zero, I ran into Seif Salmawy, the managing director of a publishing company. He was smiling; I asked why. “Suddenly we are human beings,” he said. “We think we can decide and that what we decide has worth and that we have some value as humans. Before there was the president, the police, the army and their money: We the people were just there to serve them.”
“We the people.” Isn’t that how good things like “the general welfare” begin?
Too bad too many at places like Fox News, MSNBC, and other network tv news outlets don’t get the message.