Mubarak gives go-ahead to his goons

This afternoon (U.S. Eastern time) we were waiting anxiously for the statement that, Egyptian state TV promised, was coming “shortly” from– or on behalf of– Pres. Mubarak. Would it contain notice of his resignation or his departure from the country? In the end, no. He promised only that he “would not run again” in the presidential elections scheduled for September… And he vowed that:

    1. He intended to “die on Egyptian soil”, and
    2. He would stay in office until, apparently, the end of his term in order to “oversee” the process of transition in a way that would– he claimed– ensure stability.

He also accused the eight million protesters who, according to the German news agency DPA, had gathered in various cities around the country of having spread mayhem and said he had ordered his security forces to step in to suppress that.
(The truth being, as has been widely reported, that the protesters have been extremely peaceable and disciplined while such mayhem as has been observed seems often to have been undertaken by uniformed or un-uniformed thugs from the country’s various police forces.)
The effect– and likely also the intent– of Mubarak’s speech was to mobilize and unleash those thugs in many areas around the country. As I write this, I fear for the fate of the many heroic members of Egypt’s opposition movement. Their hopes were so high this afternoon! But now, as Egypt goes through the wee hours of the night, I fear many of them are being set upon by Mubarak’s hastily mobilized goons.
Of course, a lot depends on the attitude taken by the country’s large military. The army– and its military police– could have the capacity to protect the civilians of the opposition movement from the rampages of the goons, if it so chose. The statement by the military brass over the weekend that it would not actively intervene to suppress the protests was certainly welcome. But will it be enough to protect the populace from the goons’ rampages? And will the army stick to it anyway?
This evening in Washington, Pres. Obama also said a few words in public on the situation in Egypt.
I can’t find the full text of his remarks. But according to various accounts described the passion and dignity demonstrated by the people of Egypt as “an inspiration,” said the protesters would reach their destiny, and told them, “We hear your voices.” (That, from AP.)
Alternatively, from the WaPo’s own reporters we had this:

    Speaking after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s announcement Tuesday… Obama said he had called Mubarak after the speech and discussed the situation in Egypt with him.
    “He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that change must take place,” Obama said at the White House. He said he told Mubarak of “my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.”

I realize that Obama thinks he is is treading a thin line here. He does not want to be seen as “telling Mubarak what to do.” On the other hand, everyone in the whole world– including in Egypt– fully understands that Mubarak has been kept in power for the past 30 years only by the financial and “security” support he has received from Washington; so Obama and everyone else realizes that the U.S. will be held responsible for– is already being held responsible by the protesters for– the repressive actions, mayhem, and killings undertaken by Mubarak’s generously U.S.-funded deadenders.
We Americans, including Obama, need to understand the deeply anti-democratic nature of the claims Mubarak makes to any kind of “constitutional” legitimacy. He was elected president in 2005 in a heavily skewed election process. Read accounts of that election here. Then, last November. This one was also highly flawed. Read about it here.
Over the weekend, Mubarak for the first time in his 30-year presidency named a vice-president. This was almost like naming a “Crown Prince”, since he had taken over from Sadat because he was VP, when Sadat was killed in 1981; and Sadat had taken over from Nasser as President in September 1970m when Sadat was VP.
The man whom Mubarak named as VP on Saturday was Omar Suleiman, the man who as longstanding head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service has been responsible both for most of the tortures and other abuses committed against suspected regime opponents as well as the person responsible on a daily basis for coordinating with Israel in the continuing campaign against Gaza and Hamas.
I can completely understand why the protesters in Egypt’s towns, cities, and villages do not believe that the upcoming presidential elections this September cannot be free and fair if their preparation is overseen by this president, this vice-president, and this parliament.
Obama and the U.S. Congress, and all other governments around the world, should cut off all aid to this government of Egypt until a credibly free and fair transition process is in place. It cannot be one that remains solely in the hands of Mubarak, Suleiman, and their puppet parliament.
Tonight, Mubarak was given the chance to be Frederik De Klerk, the South African PM who– however belatedly– saw the need to open up his country’s election system to full, fair, and free participation by all parties. De Klerk, you remember, ended up winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his vision.
Instead, he chose to be Nikolae Ceausesu. Ceausescu did, it can be remembered, die on the soil of his homeland. But I hope that was not the choice Mubarak was thinking of. At this stage, the fate of the millions of Egyptian protesters hangs in the balance.

Arab democracy movements and the power of the ‘rule of law’

I’ve been writing yet another piece of journalism on the Egyptian uprising. (I hope I can share it with you soon.)
Writing truly does help me to think. So I was trying to think about– yes, this is a big topic in Washington DC!– what the attitude toward Israel of the post-Mubarak government in Cairo might be. I know the big fear felt– or anyway, propagated– by status-quo Israelis and their many friends and amplifiers here in the US is that a post-Mubarak government might speedily abrogate the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
There would be something of a precedent for that. In May 1983, the Israeli-installed Amin Gemayyel government in Beirut signed a very extensive Declaration of Principles with Israel… But then, the tides of power turned in Lebanon (read all about it in my 1985 book on the country) and by Feb 1984 Gemayyel was running cap-in-hand to Damascus to beg the forgiveness of the Syrians. The May 17 agreement went swiftly out the door and the Israeli “security liaison office” or whatever it was called that the agreement had allowed them to open in Beirut was closed.
However, that was not a full peace treaty. The abrogation of a treaty would, under international law, be a much weightier matter (and could provide a casus belli for Israel… more on that, later. Not here.)
What I’ve been thinking though is that if the popular movement now emerging so gloriously in Egypt has any single central organizing idea it seems to be one of support for the rule of law. Mostly, this has been expressed in terms of support for the rule of law at the domestic level: That no-one should be subjected to torture, elections should be fair, government transparent and accountable, the economy well and fairly run, etc etc.
Support for the rule of (a fair form of) law is indeed a powerful concept. But it need not, does not, stop at the water’s edge. People– In Egypt, in the U.S., or anywhere– should surely also support the rule of law in the international arena, and specifically as regards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
For ways too long, my government here in the U.S. has almost completely ignored the application of the rule of law to Israel, and has given continuing de-facto support to Israel’s many transgressions of it. Mubarak’s Egypt– like Jordan under both Hussein and now Abdullah– have both for many years now been co-conspirators in the US/Israeli-led trashing of the rule of (international) law in Palestine. Indeed, the vast majority of the American “aid” sent to those two countries has been predicated precisely on their continuing unwavering support for the American policies that undercut, indeed completely violated, the rule of law there.
It is that aspect of Egypt’s foreign policy that, I think, any successor government in Cairo will have to change if it is to be seen as responsive to the Egyptian people’s wishes and demands. Yes, I am sure there will be some grassroots pressure on the new government to abrogate the peace treaty. Who knows whether or not that might end up happening? But abrogating the peace treaty is not the only thing the Egyptian government can do to express its support for Palestinian rights. It can also join– indeed become an important leader of– the global movement calling for the application of international law to the Palestine issue.
(And if Egypt joins the international law camp in this way, Jordan, which also has a large and growing popular movement– and which also has a majority of its population who are of Palestinian origin– will not be far behind. There go Israel’s two “peace partners” in the region!)
How would a shift to supporting the application of international law change Egypt’s policies in practice? In many ways!

    * It would end its support for this (now completely shredded) fig leaf of a US-led ‘peace process’ and demand that the Palestine Question be sent back to the UN– without the US shielding Israel every time with its veto.
    * It would recognize the legitimacy of the PA elections of January 2006… Or perhaps, since actually the term of the PA “parliament” elected that year ended last month, Cairo would push for the holding of new elections there, to be held under free and fair conditions…
    * Anyway, the role of Egypt as Israel’s “spear” in the fight against Hamas would end. Cairo could become truly qualified to be a place supporting the respectful, equitable, resolution of inter-Palestinian differences.
    * The Egyptian and Jordanian governments could take concrete actions through international legal venues to help protect the property and other rights of Palestinians being repressed and ethnically cleansed from Jerusalem.
    * Cairo could lead the Arab world and much of the rest of the world in demanding the speedy convocation of an international conference charged with finding a final end to all the remaining strands of the Israeli-Arab conflict– and one that is based on the equal rights of all persons, and on international law. No more support for endless Israeli colonization and racial superiority!

Well, those are just a few of the ideas I’m mulling around. As you see, none of them necessarily involves the abrogation of peace treaties. But any or all of them would be game-changers for the Palestinians and the whole region…

My Middle East Channel piece on the MB

… is here.
The editors there took quite a bit of time to turn it around.
If I had had the time I would have tightened up the ending– and also, inserted some of the material from this well-reported article in today’s WaPo.
I would also have noted that on Friday, Essam al-Erian was one of the numerous MB leaders who were arrested and imprisoned by the security forces… and that for most of the weekend, the MB’s main website was down. (That, after the arrest of their webmaster at Cairo airport, Friday.)
However, the website is now back up again, and it’s providing pretty good, regular roundups of news from all around Egypt.
I don’t know if Dr. Erian has been freed yet? I hope so!
… Anyway,the material in that 2007 interview I was using in the MEC piece is still interesting. It certainly provides some good source material for a rational discussion by non-Muslims with (or about) the MB.
Right now, I am very worried that news of the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, and the participation of the MB in the uprising, may lead to a strong new wave of (appallingly ignorant) Islamophobia in the United States, such as the dreadful presidential candidate Mike Huckabee seemed to be trying to stir up during his latest visit to Israel (his 13th.)
Why should westerners be so scared about a party that is both explicitly Muslim and democratic– any more than they/we are of a party that is both explicitly Christian democratic, such as we have had in several west European countries over the years?
Luckily, we do already have a very good example in Turkey today, of a party that is explicitly Muslim, and democratic– and also pro-western, and also, a pretty good example of good governance. (Unlike, say, Italy’s Berlusconi or various other sleazebags of the western world.)
So studying the MB closely, and engaging with it respectfully, seems like me to be a good place to start…

My Salon piece on the geopolitical ripples from Cairo

… is here.
I only really got to the start of where I wanted to go with the piece, by the time I got to the last paragraph there.
I have another non-blog piece about to come out, too: On the Muslim Brotherhood, at Middle East Channel.
Both these pieces are spinoffs, really, from what I blogged here last Thursday about the upcoming end of the US-Israeli imperium in the Middle East.
I feel pretty good, actually, about having “called” the significance of the events of the past three weeks fairly successfully. Including in this blog post, on the morning of Jan.14, when I wrote that the broad incidence of fraternization between protesters and soldiers in Tunis seemed to signal the imminent end of the Ben Ali regime– he flew out of the country that evening– and then in that post of last Thursday when I said the MB’s decision to participate in the protests scheduled for Friday signaled the imminent end of not just the Mubarak regime but also, over time, of the whole US-Israeli imperium over the M.E. of which Egypt has been, since 1974, such a crucial linchpin.
True, Mubarak did not fly out Cairo that same evening– heck, the old guy is still hanging on! But what is happening in Egypt is HUGE.
I also think it is just amazing that we can now start to think of Israel returning to its proper proportion, as just “that small country of some seven million souls that perches just above Egypt’s northeast tip.”
Israel has succeeded, for so long, in subverting both the rights of its neighbors, the Palestinians, and the whole concept of international law! For many years now, as I wrote in the salon piece, Egypt’s government has been both its shield and its spear in protecting that state of affairs, and those policies. If a stable order is to re-emerge in Egypt after the events of the past week, the country’s government will not be playing that role any more…

Tactical deployment of Muslim prayer in nonviolence

Yesterday I tweeted (@justworldbooks) about this amazing, 9-minute video clip from the Egyptian paper Al-Masry al-Yawm, which shows the large-scale confrontation across, I think, the broad expanse of Qasr al-Nil bridge on, I think, Saturday. It is shot from high up, and with some amazing lenses that on occasion give amazing close-ups. There are also some shots taken from ground-level, particularly at the end.
Go and look at the whole thing if you possibly can. You see unarmed, unprotected protesters coming from the left-hand side of the bridge, being met by heavily protected Amn al-Merkezi (Central Security) phalanxes coming in from the right. The Amn people are supported by a few of their large, very well-protected (light-armored?) people-carriers, which careen toward the protesters and then slew around in their midst, scattering those they run into (and running right over more than a few) before they bumble back to their own lines.
The ‘frontline’ on the bridge shifts back and forth throughout the footage. First the protesters have the advantage, then the Amn.
But watch what happens for the half-minute from about 3:40 on. The protesters are right up against the Amn lines, on the ‘near” side of the bridge. The Amn bring up a couple of their very powerful water-hose trucks to try to break the protesters’ line. The protesters form into tight prayer lines and there, while being repeatedly basted by the ice-cold water from the trucks, they perform an afternoon prayer. One man in a white gellabiyeh has gone out in front of them to lead the prayer.
He– and all of them– have the amazing courage of “Tienanmen Square man”. But they are not acting individually. They are acting in a very deliberate, corporate, and disciplined manner.
I think I understand what they were doing. Engaging systematically in familiar, small actions can be a great way to calm panic and collect your thoughts. (Ask any woman who’s ever done natural childbirth; or the protesters in the U.S.’s own civil rights movement who sang hymns to calm themselves in the face of the attack dogs.) And there is no doubt in my mind but that performing corporate prayer is something these protesters are very familiar with. It does, after all, take quite a bit of practice to know “almost instinctively” how to form up into those lines without pushing or shoving, and while focusing on the rhythms of the prayer actions.
But I think this collective prayer action also had a couple of other effects. It held the line of physical space for the protesters on the bridge. It also, quite likely, served as a simple but powerful reproach to the water-cannon shooters. “Here we are, on this bridge, praying. Are you truly going to continue to blast as with water as if we were dirt?”
Well, I don’t pretend to read the minds of the water-cannon shooters. But what was evident, by the end of the clip, was that the protesters had “won” the Battle of of the Bridge and had pushed the Amn people away from it. Using disciplined, nonviolent mass action.
And then what did they do after they had won? You’ll have to watch to the end of the clip to see… (Or maybe you can guess.)

Cairo, Washington, etc

Issandr’s reporting and analysis, now that he’s back in Garden City from his brief stay in Tunis, has been extraordinary. He is The Man!
Earlier today:

    We have army and republican guard units in central Cairo, but I am not sure what the current military chain of command is. Last night Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Enan flew back from Washington, it’s not clear whether his role is the same. As expected, coup-proofing measures are in place.
    The hyper-caution and concern of the Americans was evident in the statements last night. They are potential kingmakers but appear terrified of acting before having a better understanding of the situation on the ground. I thought Mubarak’s speech was in large part directed at them, touching on all State’s and White House’s talking points: freedom of expression but responsibility not to use violence, making still uncertain concessions. At this point there will be a natural tension among Egyptians between those who are terrified (my middle class Egyptian neighbors are panicking) and those who are angry Mubarak is still there. More protests expected later today, situation may turn violent again. We just don’t know at this point, and having just experienced the uncertainty of post-revolutionary moments in Tunisia, I expect the situation and public mood will be extremely volatile, changing hour to hour between the desire to restore order and the realization that they may be tantalizingly close to the regime change they were clamoring for.

I love his observation that the Obama administration “appear[s] terrified of acting before having a better understanding of the situation on the ground.” Perhaps they would have had more self-confidence about their ability to assess the current situation in Egypt if successive U.S. administrations since 1993 had not, as I noted here yesterday, intentionally and ideologically blinded themselves by excluding from appointment to high office anyone who had shown him- or herself capable of understanding the complex political and social dynamics of the Arab world.
Issandr is also completely right to allude to the “class” aspects of the uprising. Egypt has HUGE economic disparities among its citizens– much greater than Tunisia, Jordan, or any other Arab country, I think. Plus, very deeply entrenched habits of upper-class disdain for working people. In any situation of breakdown of law and order, the long marginalized “mob” always threatens to intervene. I reported on it during the bread riots of January 1977. Some Mubarakist diehards may try to organize strands of the mob to pursue the kind of “delugist” (as in, apres moi le deluge), scorched-earth policy that we saw some of Ben Ali’s Repub Guard trying to organize in Tunis. And indeed, Jonathan Wright was reporting from Cairo back on Thursday that the “baltagiyeh” thugs frequently used by the govt in the past to beat up demonstrators were being given some visible support by elements of the security forces in some corners of town.
However, the MB and most of the other political forces seem very aware of the risk of the uprising getting hijacked by a “mob” (organized or spontaneous) in this way; and from the beginning there have been thousands of informal “stewards” of the movement publicly and continuously urging “calm and good morals”.
Here was Issandr’s report from later today:

    A lot of reports of looting and attacks on civilians by mobs. The Carrefour supermarket in Maadi is burning and looters have been shot by the army. Tonight might be dangerous in areas.
    Again, that being said, the vast, vast majority of protestors are peaceful people, mostly middle class, and they are showing great solidarity. People are still defending the Egyptian Museum. Volunteers are cleaning the streets and helping fireman. There is a great sense of civic duty out there, and great sadness at the looting and crime (which is being mostly blamed on police and baltaguia).

And here was the excellent reporter Jonathan Wright, also reporting from downtown Cairo today:

    I concur with Issandr that the spirit of solidarity and camaraderie was extraordinary. People shared everything — water, cigarettes, onions (for tear gas) and information. Largely there was also an amazing discipline and restraint. Whenever violence against public property looked imminent or people were about to throw rocks, others would chant ‘silmiya, silmiya’ (peaceful, peaceful) or ‘No to violence’. I know there has been some looting here and there but in some eight hours on the street yesterday I saw none, despite ample opportunities. The bravery of those who have been on the frontlines has also been extraordinary and I hope they one day they receive the credit they are due. The youngsters really are a very diverse crowd but yesterday evening, on a street corner in the eery halflight, I overheard a well-informed debate between a group of some seven or eight over who should replace Mubarak. Two of them favoured Mohamed ElBaradei as a transitional leader, but the others were less sympathetic. The most assertive man in the crowd said ElBaradei was part of the establishment and the country needed ‘new blood’.

Threat of sabotage & Islamophobia re Egypt

As Pres. mubarak desperately hangs onto his last threads of power, he and the many Egyptian and international forces who have supported him can be expected to engage in damaging sabotage and ‘delugeism’– and of course, also to try to stir up in the west the ever-lurking tides of Islamophobia.
In this regard, we all need to learn a lot, very quickly, about the positions and history of Egypt’s large Muslim Brotherhood movement. I don’t have normal internet access right now, or else I could delve into the JWN archives here and bring out some of the reporting I’ve done on the movement. (feel free to do so yourselves.) The MB’s own websites, in English and Arabic, would be another obvious resource, though they are largely disabled right now. I did however find this interesting article on the Ikhwanweb site, dating from last summer. It’s a discussion of the MB’s views on democracy.
More later. I’m writing this on a an iPad. Not easy!

Obama’s know-nothings discuss Egypt

Via TPM’s intriguing new “Egypt wire”, this:

    President Obama was reportedly briefed for 40 minutes on the situation in Egypt today. Here, a photo of his meeting with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes; Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; and Robert Cardillo, Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Intelligence Integration.

What is notable is the absence of anyone in the group who has any serious knowledge about either Egypt or the broader region.
So thorough-going has been the witch-hunt that AIPAC and its attack dogs have conducted over the past 25 years against anyone with real Middle East expertise that the U.S. government now contains no-one at the higher (or even mid-career) levels of policymaking who has any in-depth understanding of the region or of the aspirations of its people.
The campaign against anyone with regional expertise– the so-called “State Department Arabists”– was launched in the public sphere by the dreadful know-nothing Robert Kaplan, in the 1980s. It got a strong foothold throughout the federal bureaucracy– and far more broadly than in just the State department– with the arrival of Pres. Clinton in 1993. Clinton, that is, who brought along as his key advisers on the affairs of the whole region the two long-time pro-Israel activists Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk! Then, of course, under GWB, we had Elliott Abrams and rest of the neocons running regional affairs for the government.
And what was happening inside the State Department during all those years? Only hacks like Jeffrey Feltman or Donald Blome– the list is endless… — who could prove their unswerving loyalty to the pro-Israel agenda got promoted or retained. Throughout those 16 years of the Clinton and GWB presidencies, a generation of career diplomats grew up whose main mantra was to do nothing that might question or even upset Israel. (There were, of course, those heroic few who questioned the prevailing, AIPAC-fueled “wisdom” on the advisability of invading Iraq in 2003, who resigned their posts at the time.)
So now, in the Oval Office, we have the blind leading the blind and the blind advising the blind. No Chas Freeman, no Bill Quandt, no Rob Malley… (The list of those excluded on ideological grounds is pretty long, too.) No-one, in short, who can integrate into the advice the President desperately needs to hear any real understanding of how the peoples of the region think and how the regional system actually works. God save us all from their self-inflicted ignorance.

Note on the term ‘imperium’

A friend asked why I used that term in my big post yesterday. It was a semi-conscious reference to the (heavily British-dominated) “Anglo-Egyptian Condominum” that controlled the governance of Sudan from 1899 through 1956.
Of course, if you want to look at the many woes assailing the people of Sudan today, you cannot ignore the contribution made by that earlier (and very long-lasting) British imperial intervention in the country’s affairs.
Maybe I should have called the Israeli-US order in the area surrounding Israel as a condominium, not an imperium. But in the U.S. today, “condominium” is simply a kind of property-owning and -management relationship that is very common and generally very desirable. So I thought “imperium” carried more of the tone I wanted to give this concept.