Posts Tagged Mubarak
As usual, Paul McGeough’s weekend missive left me seething for about 30 minutes on an otherwise beautiful Sydney Saturday. It actually wasn’t so bad for a few paragraphs, until, naturally, he started blaming America for everything that went wrong in the Middle East
But Gaddafi had oil – lots of it. From time to time, leaders in the West would pay lip service to gross human rights violations in the region, but as long as Gaddafi and his ilk kept the oil flowing and were willing to act as Western proxies in fighting extremism, they could do as they pleased.
The West would buy their oil and arm them, asking for little more than a darkened room out the back, where ”enhanced interrogation” techniques that are frowned upon in the civilised salons of the West could be carried out on the QT.
He even figured that Council on Foreign Relations director Leslie Gelb “entirely ignored the nature of the revolutions” because he observed that the new Arab leadership will probably need to be more anti-Western in order to cater to various groups in their constituencies. McGeough’s quarrel with Gelb is that Gelb “missed the price that the Arab rank and file has been paying under Washington’s and the West’s deal with the dictators”.
That man’s ability to attribute every evil to the “puppet masters” sitting in the White House never ceases to amaze me; neither do the facts that he is still employed and people keep reading his work. He ends his “analysis” by condescendingly dismissing everyone who has doubts that Egypt and Libya are about to turn into Sweden, quoting analyst Fouad Ajami, saying:
”Grant the Egyptian people their right to swat away these warnings,” he writes. ”From afar, the ‘realists’ tell the Arabs that they are playing with fire, that beyond the prison walls there is danger and chaos. Luckily for them, the Arabs pay no heed to these ‘realists,’ and can recognise the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ that animates them.”
So apparently expecting that after thousands of years of dictator after dictator, a series of protests is not going to create a democratic haven overnight, is “soft bigotry”, but then expecting them to hate the rest of the democratic world is just common sense. After all, think of the “past crimes”. Luckily, not everyone shares this opinion. Israeli diplomat Dore Gold has pointed out that these revolutions may actually moderate the Arab world.
“For years, Arab leaders who thought they had legitimacy problems because they were not elected played several chords to the populace — Arab unity, Islamic solidarity, and most important, the struggle against Israel. So if you have regimes legitimized by democratic elections and accountable governance, then they will depend less on the conflict for their own internal standing.”
You see, most Arab dictators tended to use Israel and the West as distractions when their people began questioning why exactly these rulers were stealing all of their money. This policy has been very successful, creating a strong anti-Israel and anti-Western sentiment that is perpetuated hugely in the Western Left, meaning that a certain Sydney Morning Herald journalist and his ilk were ultimately helping to prop-up Arab dictators by re-enforcing the idea that it was really the US and Israel causing all of their problems and not the evil asshole sitting in the palace up the road.
In fact, this was the ideology that initially separated Al-Qaeda from the rest of the Islamist extremists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has always been focussed on overthrowing the “un-Islamic” regimes in Muslim countries and introducing Islamist regimes instead. Bin Laden, on the other hand, had the bright idea that the problems of the Muslim world were really a “Zio-Crusader” conspiracy, so attacking the Jews and the Christians wherever they were was the real way to “liberate” the Muslims. This is the ideology that eventually led to the terrorist threat that we in the West face.
So to sum-up, through his decades of embellishing the myth that the problems of the Arab world are solely caused by the US foreign policy and Israel’s undue influence on it, Paul McGeough has kept Arab dictators in power and supported terrorism. Good going McGeough…
Unconfirmed reports from an Egyptian newspaper were circulating last night that Mubarak fell into a coma on Saturday.
This would explain why his deputy, Suleiman, gave his concession speech, as well as explaining his apparent overnight change of mind. People have been speculating on his poor health for a while now, so this isn’t completely from left field, but I will stress that it could just be rumours.
Egypt’s deposed president, Hosni Mubarak, went into a full coma on Saturday night at his residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh, an Egyptian newspaper reported on Monday, quoting well-informed sources.
Mubarak and his family moved to Sharm al-Sheikh on Thursday night following his final speech, in which he handed over executive authority to former Vice-President Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm reported.
Egypt has erupted into a cacophony of celebration on the news that president Hosni Mubarak has bowed to demands that he resign.
…There was jubilation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square seconds after the news broke, while many simply sobbed for joy.
Engineer Sharif Rafat was among the celebrating crowd and says he hopes Egypt takes the place it deserves “among the free nations and the free world”.
“We want Egypt to set an example for all the Arab countries and all the developing countries. We want Egypt to take the place that it deserves proportional to its ancient history,” he said.
So he finally stepped down, big woop!
There’s just one little thing that they seem to be overlooking. Can you guess what it is? I’ll give you some hints:
“Citizens, during these very difficult circumstances that Egypt is going through, president Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down as the president of the republic and has entrusted the High Council of the Armed Forces to carry out the dealing of the country,”
Get it yet? Let’s try:
The military says the cabinet will be sacked, the parliament suspended and they will work with the judges of the Supreme Court to amend the constitution to allow for fair and free elections currently scheduled for September.
Read between the lines here. The military has sacked the cabinet and suspended the parliament and they are now “working with” the Supreme Court judges. We don’t know what exactly they are “working” on – “free and fair” can mean a lot of things; to Mubarak at least, “free and fair” elections used to be ones that overwhelmingly returned him to power. That’s fair, right?
See, this here is not a popular uprising forcing democracy; this is a military coup. There is every possibility that after everyone’s cooled-down, some general will take over and Egypt will be back to business as usual – the last 3 dictators in Egypt have all been military men.
There is also a possibility that there will be genuine democratic reforms, but when the military is still in complete control over the country, it’s way too early to start singing hallelujah.
Personally, my eyes were glued to a combined Balkan Beat Box and Infected Mushroom show being streamed live from Tel Aviv, which was amazing. It looked like one of the biggest performances I’ve ever seen and while obviously I had huge FOMO for not being there, at least I could have some idea of the experience, due to amazing advances in the internet and video streaming. Although Infected didn’t play much of their early work, which is their best in my opinion. They seem to be transitioning from the world’s number one psychedelic trance outfit into some kind of Linkin Park clone, but luckily they aren’t there yet and still put on an extremely impressive show.
That said, according to my Twitter and RSS feeds, everyone else was watching Hosni Mubarak not resigning. Luckily, the whole transcript was online, so I know what I
didn’t missed. Here are the highlights:
Our priority now is to facilitate free election – free presidential elections and to stipulate a number of terms in the constitution and to guarantee a supervision of the upcoming elections to make sure it will be conducted in a free manner.
…This time is not about me. It’s not about Hosni Mubarak. But the situation now is about Egypt and its present and the future of its citizens.
See? It’s not about him! He doesn’t have to resign, it’s just about facilitating democracy!
He even went on to tell everyone what a good, patriotic guy he is:
I was a young man, a youth just like all these youth, when I have learned the honor of the military system and to sacrifice for the country. I have spent my entire life defending its land and its sovereignty. I have witnessed and attended its wars with all its defeats and victories. I have lived during defeat and victory.
But apparently he did relinquish some power…to his newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, also the head of his brutal secret service, which he has used to oppress any opposition for the last 30 years. What a generous dude!
Apparently Suleiman told everyone that it’s ok and the protests are just Al Jazeera’s fault. Sounds reasonable, right? Anyway, back to Mubarak:
I have delegated to the vice president some of the power – the powers of the president according to the constitution. I am aware, fully aware, that Egypt will overcome the crisis and the resolve of its people will not be deflected and will [inaudible] again because of the – and will deflect the arrows of the enemies and those who [inaudible] against Egypt.
Now, I’m not Egyptian, but I have a feeling that the protestors were not quite satisfied with this whole thing. You see, I feel like contrary to Mubarak’s apparent sentiments, this whole thing really is about him. In fact, apparently the protestors didn’t take so kindly to the speech…at all:
People silently held up their shoes in disgust, and a great rallying cry “Leave! Leave! Leave!” went up. I have never been in a crowd wracked with such intense emotion. After he finished, men wept openly while their friends consoled them. There was rage and screaming and shock. People could hardly find the words to voice their frustration. “It is promises in the air!” “He wants to keep his military honor!” “He cannot imagine that his people are telling him to go.” People shook their heads and looked up to the sky as if for some answer. One woman told me with a cracked, inchoate voice: “I’m angry … we’ve been waiting for years … wait until September? And he’s sorry!” she spat with sarcasm. “It’s too much! Sorry is in actions, not words. It’s the same old story. It’s no change. We’re just running in circles.”
Huh, guess he wasn’t as convincing as he hoped.
That said, there is some sense in what he’s doing. One Tweet that came-up on my feed sums this up pretty well:
You see, emotions run high in protests like these, but as Middle East guru Daniel Pipes observes, democratising a country requires a huge shift in culture and infrastructure and can take decades, it won’t happen overnight. So the current regime does need to hang around, at least for a while.
There have even been suggestions that the army is allowing these protests to continue because the military leaders had grown tired of Mubarak and did not want his son taking over. This was supported by an announcement yesterday that Mubarak was transitioning power to the army. Even if Mubarak is eventually forced out, this scenario would spell more of the same for Egypt in the foreseeable future. I guess only time will tell.
Images from this photoessay from The Atlantic.
I came across this article in ABC’s The Drum Unleashed by Charles McPhedran, an “Australian journalist based in Berlin”. Reading McPhedran’s argument, it is quite clear that he is coming from a…very
trendy particular perspective:
Minutes later, Barack Obama, standing before a gilded 18th century fireplace and framed by the stars and stripes, reported that Hosni Mubarak had pledged to create a “better democracy” in his land. Obama himself wanted greater “freedom, opportunity and justice” for Egyptians, remarking rightly that this is what everyone everywhere wants. Like during his election campaign two years ago, Obama’s authoritative tone convinced – even as his words remained vague.
Like the imagery there? The rich an important American president speaking empty words about democracy while supporting a dictator? Of course, this is the year of Mark Zukerberg, and the real hero here who totally brought down the establishment was social media.
On Twitter, a cacaphony reported on events in Suez, Alexandria and the Egyptian capital in a dozen languages. On Facebook, protests were organised in every major city worldwide. A global public community emerged, exposing every lie and untruth of those leaders who refused to help the Egyptian people move towards popular democracy in Egypt.
Obviously this global roar of outrage wouldn’t have occurred without the public protest of millions of Egyptians. However, it has been the social networks that have amplified the message from Cairo, and helped to make a quick massacre of protestors less likely. Even though Twitter and Facebook are controlled by large corporations, over the past few days they have provided a space in which there is a global exchange of short reports and views going on.
I love social media probably more than the next guy, and I would love to thank Twitter and Facebook for everything that happens in the world, but it’s not always the case. For instance, Syria doesn’t seem to think it’s such a problem anymore. There has been a lot of debate recently in slightly more reputable publications than The Drum about how much political impact social media really has.
One of these was Malcolm Gladwell, possibly the most influential social commentator of our generation, in The New Yorker.
He outlines exactly how people like McPhedran are thinking:
The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coördinate, and give voice to their concerns. When ten thousand protesters took to the streets in Moldova in the spring of 2009 to protest against their country’s Communist government, the action was dubbed the Twitter Revolution, because of the means by which the demonstrators had been brought together. A few months after that, when student protests rocked Tehran, the State Department took the unusual step of asking Twitter to suspend scheduled maintenance of its Web site, because the Administration didn’t want such a critical organizing tool out of service at the height of the demonstrations. “Without Twitter the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and democracy,” Mark Pfeifle, a former national-security adviser, later wrote, calling for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools. Facebook warriors go online to push for change.
Then after looking at different examples of revolutions, he goes on to look at how social media really affects things:
The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life
…The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents.
Disputing internet “guru” Clay Shirky, adjunct professor in NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, his take-home point is that social media can help make people care more about something, but it is not about to change the world into a democratic haven overnight and cannot actually replace genuine protests. That said, Egypt has seen genuine protests, not just a series of Facebook groups, so there must be more to it.
Clay Shirky responded in Foreign Affairs, arguing that while social media is not the solution to all of the world’s despots, it does allow resistance movements to better organise themselves through facilitating communication:
Despite this mixed record, social media have become coordinating tools for nearly all of the world’s political movements, just as most of the world’s authoritarian governments (and, alarmingly, an increasing number of democratic ones) are trying to limit access to it. In response, the U.S. State Department has committed itself to “Internet freedom” as a specific policy aim. Arguing for the right of people to use the Internet freely is an appropriate policy for the United States, both because it aligns with the strategic goal of strengthening civil society worldwide and because it resonates with American beliefs about freedom of expression.
Finally, he points out that social media cannot change the world overnight, but it can effect change long-term, simply by allowing populations to be more informed and connected:
It would be nice to have a flexible set of short-term digital tactics that could be used against different regimes at different times. But the requirements of real-world statecraft mean that what is desirable may not be likely. Activists in both repressive and democratic regimes will use the Internet and related tools to try to effect change in their countries, but Washington’s ability to shape or target these changes is limited. Instead, Washington should adopt a more general approach, promoting freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly everywhere. And it should understand that progress will be slow. Only by switching from an instrumental to an environmental view of the effects of social media on the public sphere will the United States be able to take advantage of the long-term benefits these tools promise — even though that may mean accepting short-term disappointment.
Gladwell responded with:
This is the question that I kept wondering about throughout Shirky’s essay-and that had motivated my New Yorker article on social media, to which Shirky refers: What evidence is there that social revolutions in the pre-Internet era suffered from a lack of cutting-edge communications and organizational tools? In other words, did social media solve a problem that actually needed solving?
And Shirky had the last word:
Even the increased sophistication and force of state reaction, however, underline the basic point: these tools alter the dynamics of the public sphere. Where the state prevails, it is only by reacting to citizens’ ability to be more publicly vocal and to coordinate more rapidly and on a larger scale than before these tools existed.
This seems a little different from McPhedran’s idea that the world was informed about Egypt because of Twitter. From what Gladwell and Shirky were saying, the revolution in Egypt would probably have happened regardless of Facebook.
Another thing to consider is what Facebook and Twitter themselves could have done regarding Egypt. Adrian Chen at Gawker even argues that Facebook is getting in the way of the protestors and should be doing more to help the revolution along:
In many ways, Facebook has made itself actively hostile to those who would organize against a repressive regime or advance an unpopular idea. Most problematic is the policy that bans pseudonyms. Facebook defends the policy by saying their service is about “real people making real-world connections.” But what if the real world is full of secret police looking to crack down on dissent, or snooping bosses who might be supportive of a regime? Harvard Internet freedom expert Jillian C York calls the real identity policy “ludicrously out of touch.”
…Facebook should earn Egyptians’ thanks by doing more to enable protesters and activists to use their service safely. This isn’t just a matter of human rights, but of good business. Imagine if Facebook worked to improve its privacy and security practices to the point that an Iranian dissident would feel comfortable using the site to organize anti-government actions. (Under a pseudonym, of course.) There wouldn’t be much left for us to complain about! (To its credit, Facebook did something like this when it responded to the Tunisian government’s mass-hacking of Facebook by boosting security for all users, including Tunisian protesters.)
Chen does have a point, in that these social media giants wield huge international power without having any real policy, which is a strange situation to be in. It is possible that, had they made a decision either way, Facebook and Twitter could have stifled or spurred-on the revolutionaries. McPhedran’s Messiah complex aside, this is really the way in which social media could affect change, and is kind of worrying. What if one of the networks falls into the wrong hands?
I’ve been concentrating on other endeavours over the past three-or-so weeks, however with the aeroplane-based wifi that American Airlines seems to provide, I now have time to comment on the dramatic events that seem to be changing the face of the Middle East as I type. As everyone will be aware, this began with mass popular protests in Tunisia resulting in the as yet relatively benign ousting of long-time dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The reality here is that in the greater Arab world, Tunisia is one of the least volatile countries. As outlined by John Thorne in The National, Tunisia has an extensive recent history of forced secularisation, allowing for a minimalist Islamist presence:
Islam came to Tunisia in the 7th century with Arab armies sweeping across North Africa, and cities such as Tunis and Kairouan became centres of Islamic learning. French colonialism from 1881 injected secularist ideas into Tunisian society.
That set the stage for the policies of Habib Bourguiba, who ruled Tunisia after independence in 1956 and believed that Islamic tradition impeded the building of a modern state.
During Bourguiba’s three-decade rule, a new family code was enacted that gave women equality with men in key areas, the hijab was restricted, and Islamic schools and courts were shut down.
The lack of extreme sentiment in Tunisia is what allowed the revolution to maintain such a positive and peaceful atmosphere (at least so far). This is VERY different from the situation in other Arab countries.
The events grabbing the most headlines, of course, are the protests in Egypt – which look likely to end the 30-year reign of dictator Hosni Mubarak. What a lot of people, particularly the Obama administration, fail to grab is that Egypt is not Tunisia. At all.
It is understandable that, after realising that Arab dictators are not absolutely invulnerable and that mass popular actions can topple autocratic regimes, the people of Egypt decided to give this a shot. Mubarak’s ailing health had been the topic of headlines anyway, and widespread speculation that he was grooming his son Gamal for office had led to a lot of discontent amongst Egypt’s masses. The problem is that Mubarak for years has been a stalwart of Western policy in the region and has led one of the two most powerful Arab countries into clamping-down on extremists and minimising conflict in the region. We may not be so lucky with his successor, who could be:
The New Yorker‘s Joshua Hammer did some excellent coverage last year of this year’s planned presidential elections in Egypt, which explains the different parties and their positions.
Gamal Mubarak is widely seen as a symbol of nepotism and privilege. “A lot of Egyptians don’t like the perception that there is a dynastic process here,” the Western diplomat said. “This is a republic.”
Hammer goes on to explain that while a gifted economist, Gamal Mubarak’s “trickle-down” policies have led to an increasing rich-poor divide in Egypt and the view that he is only interested in furthering his own privileged class.
The other major contender is formar International Atomic Energy Agency president and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei – who has been sending mixed signals about his candidacy. While his achievements, particularly with the dismantling of Libya’s nuclear program, are undeniable, he does look less than ideal on a number of levels. In particular, he displayed a reluctance to aggressively pursue Iran over its nuclear program; his departure last year from the IAEA allowed the US to dramatically step-up its attempts at imposing sanctions on Iran. Also, extremely worryingly, he had this to say about Israel and the Palestinian resistance:
Palestinian violence [is] the only path open to the Palestinian people, because “the Israeli occupation only understands the language of violence.”
(As I have previously observed, the Palestinian resistance has a far, far superior path open – state building.)
These attitudes certainly raise certain doubts regarding ElBaradei’s foreign policy plans. Despite being a seasoned diplomat, it appears that he has a tendency to appease extremists and that he is not too friendly towards Israel. This means that the Egypt-Israel peace treaty could be in jeopardy. This treaty, formed several years after the last war between Israel and it’s more powerful neighbours, began the era of relative peace between Israel and the Arab world and continues to be possibly the single most stabilising factor in the Arab/Israeli conflict – there is apparently an Arab saying that goes “you cannot make war without Egypt”. It’s dissolution would be extremely dangerous and could lead to an unprecedented war in the region.
ElBaradei has been a little evasive on the issue, saying:
…again, the whole issue of peace in the Middle East is an issue which everybody – nobody wants to go to war, Fareed. Nobody was – not want not to have peace in the region, but as you know, the (inaudible) the credibility is not really whether you are supported by a dictator here. It’s whether you have a fair-handed policy, vis-a-vis the Palestinians. And that is really the question. The criteria is not the reaction of the Egyptians. And you’ll get the same reaction under Mubarak, under a democracy. The people feel they are unfairly treated. There is a double standard vis-a-vis the Palestinian issue, and that will continue.
But if you want to have Egypt and the rest of the Arab world have into policy as recognition of Israel, well, you need to review your policy. And however, you know, whatever, what – whatever is going to happen, you know, I am confident that dialogue, negotiation between democracies is much more effective than dialogue between dictators who are in no way representing their people.
Also, as noted here, he may not even last long as a leader as he does not seem to possess the strength that is required of Egyptian rulers, who had a habit of being assassinated before the ruthless policies of Mubarak came into effect.
Speaking of these assassinations, the big elephant in this room is, of course, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. For those of you who don’t know, Egypt was the cradle of the Brotherhood – the movement that began modern Islamism as we know it. Their brand of politicised Islam eventually led to Al Qaeda and all of the other Islamic terrorist groups and individuals we know today; however, they also now exist as an arguably non-violent political group (very arguable – they did assassinate the last two Egyptian presidents) with the goal of transforming Muslim states into Islamist ones. As Hammer notes:
Parliamentary elections were also held in 2005, and one opposition group performed significantly better than expected: the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party that supports Sharia law and has engendered such violent offshoots as Egyptian Islamic Jihad. (The Brotherhood renounced violence in 1970.) Although the organization has been officially banned since 1954, independent candidates who openly supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s positions were allowed to run for Parliament, and won eighty-eight seats—a fifth of the total. Many Brotherhood candidates portrayed the Mubarak regime as corrupt. The ruling party still controlled three hundred and eleven out of four hundred and fifty-four seats, but the strong showing of the Islamists was a shock.
This shows that the Brotherhood has a large popular support base and regardless of who takes over in Egypt, will wield considerable power. As noted here, the brotherhood, which is the parent organisation of Hamas, is already unequivocally calling for an end to the peace treaty with Israel. There is also a considerable concern for Egypt’s minority Christian group, which has been under attack in recent months.
The key question is: how much power will they have and how will this affect Egypt’s policies? Whichever way you look at it, the outcome is grim. The Muslim Brothers are a powerful force and every regime in the Middle East is struggling to contain them. If ElBaradei or anyone else takes over, it is unlikely that they will be strong enough to crush them and so will have to appease them in some way – most likely by cooling relations with Israel and America and turning the strongest Western ally in the Middle East into something a little less reliable. The problem is that by trying to nudge Mubarak out of power, Obama has guaranteed that Mubarak will not be as friendly as he once was if he does cling to power. I am very concerned for the future here…