Today, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt announced their decision to join the mass protest in the country tomorrow. (That’s #jan28 in Tweetspeak.) This is huge. The MB is far and away the largest force in Egypt’s opposition. It has pursued a determinedly nonviolent path for nearly 30 years now– though that has not prevented the Mubarak regime from engaging in a sustained campaign of often horrendously abusive repression against its leaders and many of its cadres. The MB’s leaders have responded to the repression by sticking to a political course that is very conservative and non-confrontational. Often, in recent years, they have been criticized by members of other movements or even younger members of their own for not joining in or giving any support to the various waves of street protests or labor activity that have erupted around the country.
But now, they are joining in. This could very well mean the end of the Mubarak regime. Which has, of course, been the central pillar of the US-Israeli imperium in the region ever since the 1979 signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
I do not rule out the possibility that Mubarak and his people may try to cut a last-minute deal with the MB, in a last attempt to avoid the humiliating fate of his Tunisian friend, former Pres. Z. ben Ali. Or, that the MB’s leaders may be open to such a deal. Actually, I think the MB would be more open to discussing such a deal than Mubarak would be, to offering it. After all, for the guy who has been Pharaoh of all the Egyptians for 30 years now, and whose family and hangers-on have all profited very nicely thank-you from their control of the country’s economy, the idea of cutting a deal with these stern and powerful contenders for power must seem very threatening. Perhaps just flying to Saudi Arabia or Morocco while sending his son to watch over the bank accounts in Zurich would seem more attractive for an old guy now certainly ready to enjoy his “retirement”?
He and his American advisers probably have a few other ideas and/or tricks up their sleeves.
For now, the word from Washington seems– realistically– to be one of trying to urge Mubarak’s security forces not to use live fire against the protesters. That is certainly very welcome.
I imagine that Mubarak, the Americans, and maybe even the Israelis have networks inside Egyptian society that they might be tempted to activate, to act as agents provocateurs and undertake those kinds of acts that might, in the view of some, “justify” an escalation in the use of force by the Amn al-Merkezi riot police– or even, the intervention of the army.
It is not entirely clear, though, that in a situation of massive unrest, the regime could rely on the army.
Also, the acts of agents provocateurs can only really be successful in a situation where the opposition is ill-organized and/or lacks discipline. If the MB does bring its heft onto the streets tomorrow, they will bring correspondingly massive amounts of organization and discipline.
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What changes might we see if an MB-dominated or heavily MB-influenced government emerges in Cairo? Would such a government “immediately” revoke the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979– a step that has been part of the MB’s political program, ever since the program was first promulgated? Not necessarily. But the Cairo government’s policy on all (other) matters Palestinian would be very different from today. No longer would it merely act as the cat’s-paw of Israel and Washington in repressing Gaza, supporting a broad range of activities to undercut and destroy Hamas, and staying quite silent internationally on Israel’s many gross transgressions in the OPTs.
But (gasp!) such a deviation from the US-Israeli line might result– almost certainly would result– in the US Congress cutting off the
$2.3 billion $1.55 billion in aid that it sends to Egypt every year! Big deal. The vast majority of that aid never benefitted real Egyptians. Instead, it went to prop up the very same security forces whose main purpose has been to oppress them.
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By the way, the MB in Jordan is also calling for its supporters to participate in the popular protests there, after Friday prayers tomorrow. And Mahmoud Abbas is on the ropes. Good luck, Israel’s “peace partners” in the region, eh?
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I do not expect the US-Israeli imperium that has held sway over the whole of the Mashreq (Arab east) region– with the exception of Syria– for the past 40 years to disappear quickly, easily, or without putting up a fight. But after watching the region fairly closely for all these years I find the hollowness of the imperium now that it is being challenged to be quite notable.
There is an important confluence of events right now:
- * The US’s so-called “peace process”, that has been the cover and excuse for all sorts of misdeeds for most of the past 40 years, has now been revealed as consisting, over the past 15-plus years, only of a US attempt to support Israel in all its ventures, including its colonial aggrandizement and its systematic use of repression in the OPTs, and its recourse to periodic wars of aggression against its neighbors. Ever since the killing of Rabin in 1995 (and perhaps before then) there has been no peace in the peace “process.” That has been made clear for all to see.
* The degree of over-reach of the US military both within the Middle East and in Afghanistan has been made clear for all to see, both in the region and beyond it. As I (but woefully few other Americans) argued forcefully back in 2002 and early 2003, Pres. Bush’s decision to wilfully and quite unjustifiedly invade Iraq was a “bridge too far” for the country. It brought about a situation in which our country is now financially in a deep, deep hole; in which the credibility of US commitments to international law or values such as respect for national independence and the “consent of the governed” were speedily revealed as hollow; and even the ability of the US “model” to bring about fair and accountable governance was shown to be nonexistent… All this, at the cost of the enormous hardships and cruelty visited upon the Iraqi people.
* And then, finally, there is the “new” media. As I have remarked numerous times before, the development of border-crossing means of direct communication and the inability of the imperial governors to completely monopolize the discourse nationally or internationally means that the 21st century is very different from the heyday of imperialism back in the 19th century.
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I think this also needs underlining: the degree to which today, in 2011, the United States is incapable of offering any kind of an attractive “model” to the peoples of the Arab world. For a long time, prior to 1970, the U.S. did offer such a model. It presented itself as– and was widely seen in the region as– anti-colonialist, a supporter of national liberation movements, generous, good at solving the problems of socio-economic development, the author of good ideas on tricky issues of political accountability and good governance, an upholder of human rights, etc.
No longer. (See “Iraq”, above.)
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Another, albeit minor, aspect of the imperium’s current hollowness is the absence from the scene of the third significant Arab pillar of it: Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s diplomacy has always had an episodic, slightly elusive quality. But at some stages it has played a significant role: in supporting the US war against the Soviets in Afghanistan; in brokering the Taef Agreement for Lebanon in 1989; in spearheading the Arab Peace Peace Plan offer to Israel, of 2002…
Well, that last one got speedily broken off at the knees by the imperium, didn’t it?
And now, where are the Saudis? Can the monarch not be persuaded to intervene (somehow!) and deploy some of his billions to try to “save” the Mubarak or Hashemite regimes?
No, for a number of reasons. First, since the king and crown prince have both suddenly run up against the limits of medical and organ-replacement technology, the princes are all in the middle of their own succession struggle. Second, quite a lot of them– probably, the majority– are so alienated from Washington by its clear Zionist tilt over recent years that they would not be inclined to help even if there were no succession struggle to attend to. Third– what plan is it they would be supposed to be supporting, anyway?? There is no discernible plan.
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What happens to Israel if the “shield” that Mubarak, the Jordanian king, and Mahmoud Abbas have all provided to it for so long suddenly disappears?
That is a big question. It is very, very far from being the only big question– or even, the biggest of the many questions that are out there.
After all, the US’s sway over most of the Middle East until now has been a huge factor contributing to the US’s worldwide political position. Because of this, the rapid retraction of US power from the Middle East that we will be seeing over the coming two years will certainly have ramifications for US power at the global level.
I shall engage here in three seconds of sympathy for Pres. Obama. I mean, how unfair is it that he gets to be the president who has to preside over a retraction of US power spurred to a large degree by the decision his predecessor made in 2002-03 to launch a war that Obama himself clearly opposed at that time?
On the other hand, Obama did not have to continue and indeed intensify the clear pro-Zionist partisanship that GWB (and before him, Clinton) had manifested– which is what he did. That was a choice Obama made. He could have made different– and much, much wiser– choices on the core issues regarding the Palestine Question. He could have reframed the issue from the beginning as one of fairness, decency, human rights, and international law– and he could have spoken seriously and directly to the American people, using the unique “bully pulpit” that the presidency provides, about the need for our country to pursue a policy based on these important values. But no. He chose not to do that. Instead, he simply caved to the very short-term, myopic, Rahm Emanuel/Dennis Ross view that he needed above all to appease the always insatiable attack dogs (both Jewish and Christian) of pro-Israeli activism within this country.
So that pro-Zionist partisanship is now majorly helping to drag our country down. So be it. Let all Americans know and understand what is happening, and what gross follies (if not, crimes) have been committed by our leaders in the region, in our name.
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There will be major change in the Middle East. Though the US-Israeli imperium may find a way to survive in the region beyond tomorrow (#jan28), there is no way it can survive in its present form beyond the end of 2012.
And you know what? That will be a good thing for the vast majority of Americans and our country as a whole. After the imperium is brought to an end, it will be a whole lot easier for Americans to have good relations with both Israelis and the peoples of the Arab world– and they, with us– than it has been for the past 15 years. Ending the imperium is not a recipe for any kind of “clash of civilizations”. It is, rather, an essential prerequisite for being able to build a decent relationship based on fairness, mutual respect, and shared commitment to the values that all of us hold dear.