'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt Erupts: The Chilean Solution? 

UPDATE 5: As'ad Abukhalil, the Angry Arab, is one of the speakers at yesterday's rally in San Francisco. His remarks began just after 4:55 of this YouTube video, but you should, of course, listen to those of the others who spoke as well. According to Abukhalil, the US and Israel are trying to achieve the perpetuation of the regime without the Mubarak family, but the Egyptians are too smart to fall for it. As mentioned below in UPDATE 4, there may also be economic incentives for doing so in addition to the obvious ones related to the perpetuation of Zionism and the war on terror.

UPDATE 4: Mubarak orders more state intervention in the Egyptian economy through subsidies, price controls and job creation. Oddly enough, this may accelerate his departure. His refusal to fully implement neoliberal economic orthodoxy, obliquely referenced by the US State Department as a failure to provide economic opportunity for young Egyptians, is associated with the increased power of the Egyptian workers in recent years, as profiled by Stanford Professor Joel Beinin. The US may already perceive Mubarak's departure as the means to more fully integrate Egypt into the global economic order. From a US perspective, Mubarak perversely takes on the oppositional qualities of an Allende, while Suleiman possesses the latent qualities of a Pinochet. His forced removal from power can therefore be explained to balky elites in the US, the UK and Israel as Egypt's entry into the next stage of neoliberal economic development.

UPDATE 3 (3:15PM Pacific time): Tweets from Hossam el-Hamalawy, the blogger who posts at 3arabawy:

The Popular Committees hold the seeds for what direct democracy could look like in the future. We need to focus on them instead of BARADIE!
20 minutes ago via web

There is no love whatsoever the protesters hold towards the US govt and Obama. They r hypocrites.
21 minutes ago via web

There r chants against Mubarak always, accusing him of being a traitor, a client to the US and Israel.
21 minutes ago via web

Situation in Suez is catastrophic in terms of deaths and injuries. The police fought the people in the same way Israelis fight Palestinians
23 minutes ago via web

Suez workers in several factories r on strike, calling for the overthrowal of Mubarak.
24 minutes ago via web

If you want to follow Hossam's tweets, sign up for @3arabawy or visit his blog. As near as I can tell, his tweets are the only thing currently being updated there given the shutdown of the Internet in Egypt. His reference to Popular Committees as the seeds of a future direct democracy in Egypt, as opposed to a deal brokered among elite leaders, alludes to the committees created in the neighborhoods of Cairo to defend against arsons and looting that many suspect have been organized by the security apparatus still loyal to the regime.

The roots of such institutions as the source of the legitimate exercise of political power have their roots in the early days of the Bolshevik Revolution as well as among the anarchists during the Spanish Civil War. More recently, they have been prominent in the Aymara communities of El Alto in Bolivia, although, according to Ben Dangl, they have recently been incorporated into the Movement for Socialism party of Evo Morales after years of direct action success against neoliberal policies, such as the proposed privatization of the Cochambamba water system that was abandoned in 2000.

Hat tip to the Angry Arab.

UPDATE 2 (8:35PM Pacific time): Issander El Amrani believes that power has already passed from Mubarak to Suleiman, and that the hard core of the regime is trying to preserve itself.

UPDATE 1: For on the ground reports, the We Are All Khalid Said Facebook page is still up, as it apparently originates from the UK. Issander El Amrani has been able to infrequently post articles at The Arabist, but I have yet to see anything new at 3arabaway or the Egyptian Chronicles since Thursday. Of course, that could change at any time. In addition to the live blogs at The Guardian and Al Jazeera, the BBC has a good one as well. And, don't forget the live news feed from Al Jazeera. As'ad Abukhalil is providing provocative commentary at The Angry Arab News Service as you would expect.

INITIAL POST (7;55AM Pacific time): Live reports from Cairo are not encouraging. Al Jazeera and The Guardian, among others, are reporting that the military is becoming more aggressive, with fighter jets and helicopters flying over Tahrir Square, where thousands of protesters are gathered, as they have done since the protests began. More troops and tanks are moving towards the square. Mubarak has already appointed a new Vice President, Omar Suleiman, who has served as his director of intelligence, has worked closely with the US in the war on terror, serving as the CIA's point man in Egypt for renditions.

As described by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker:

As laid out in greater detail by Stephen Grey, in his book Ghost Plane, beginning in the nineteen-nineties, Suleiman negotiated directly with top Agency officials. Every rendition was greenlighted at the highest levels of both the U.S. and Egyptian intelligence agencies. Edward S. Walker, Jr., a former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, described Suleiman as very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.

Technically, U.S. law required the C.I.A. to seek assurances from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t face torture. But under Suleiman’s reign at the intelligence service, such assurances were considered close to worthless. As Michael Scheuer, a former C.I.A. officer who helped set up the practice of rendition, later testified before Congress, even if such assurances were written in indelible ink, they weren’t worth a bucket of warm spit.

Make no mistake. If it happens, Obama will support the crackdown, while verbally suggesting otherwise, as he did when he rhetorically supported the public option while orchestrating its abandonment behind the scenes, as he did when he insisted that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy should not be extended while manipulating the legislative calendar to ensure it. Indeed, it is possible, if not probable, that Obama and Suleiman are acting in concert. After all, the CIA has their man in place. As in Chile in 1973, as in Algeria in the early 1990s, the US will privately give Suleiman and the Egyptian military a free hand even as it issues public denunciations. There is no limit to the number of dead Egyptians that the Obama administration will accept to maintain Egypt as a pro-Zionist ally in the war on terror. After an initial period of pro forma condemnation, the US will thereafter characterize the new Egyptian government as one committed to reform. Secretary of State Clinton sang from a similar songbook after the coup on Honduras in 2009, condemning the coup in public while consolidating the participants' grip on power in private.

But will a crackdown succeed? I don't purport to be knowledgeable about Egyptian politics and social life, but it strikes me as a high risk strategy, even if the US and the Egyptian military increasingly see no alternative. I recall an afternoon back in 1992, when protesters grew increasingly confrontational at the intersection of Florence and Normandie in Los Angeles in response to the Rodney King verdict. The LAPD began attacking the protesters as local TV helicopters broadcast the scene live. Within minutes, rioting erupted across the city. Would an assault upon the protesters in Egypt ignite a similar response throughout Egypt, and possibly much of North Africa and the Middle East? Of course, there is no way to answer this question authoritatively.

There is also a possibility that the military will not be able to fully restore order. Again, make no mistake here, either. The US and Israel will covertly provide whatever assistance is necessary to reassert control. As in Chile in the 1970s, the nascent Egyptian labor movement, the movement that participated in laying the groundwork for challenging the Mubarak dictatorship, will be crushed. A ruthless implementation of neoliberal policies of privatization and structural adjustment, policies that have been hesitantly pursued by Mubarak to date, would facilitate this objective quite effectively, although it remains to be seen whether Mubarak (if he remains in a position of power), Suleiman, Egyptian elites and the military would embrace it. We can only hope that the Egyptian people, and their supporters around the world, have the resiliency to overcome what Mubarak, Suleiman and the Obama administration have planned for them.

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