Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Mubarakism without Mubarak"?

Daniel Luban at Lobelog cites Jim Lobe's description of where Egypt seems to be heading at this point - and this, despite the reports that the crowds that have turned out today for protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square are perhaps the largest ones yet, and have been re-energized by the release and emergence of Google exec Wael Ghonim (see videos at Mondoweiss). Add now, here in the US, a new Gallup poll shows that huge majorities in the US favor the protesters.

Even the major national dailies are beginning to call out Obama-Clinton for what seems to be increasingly obvious: the US is putting its money on the stability horse and its new jockey - or as Glenn Greenwald calls him, "Obama's Man in Cairo" - General and Vice-Pres. Omar Suleiman, who (according to the NY Times):
says he does not think it is time to lift the 30-year-old emergency law that has been used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders. He does not think President Hosni Mubarak needs to resign before his term ends in September. And he does not think his country is yet ready for democracy.

But, lacking better options, the United States is encouraging him in negotiations in a still uncertain transition process in Egypt. . . . The result has been to feed a perception, on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere, that the United States, for now at least, is putting stability ahead of democratic ideals, and leaving hopes of nurturing peaceful, gradual change in large part in the hands of Egyptian officials -- starting with Mr. Suleiman -- who have every reason to slow the process.
The Times' take jibes well with those of other informed, seasoned observers - among them, Tony Karon and Michael Wahid Hanna (both at Time magazine's site) - that
  • the Egyptian military (which is the basis of Mubarak's, and Suleiman's power, as well as the underpinning for every Egyptian ruler since the Naguib/Nasser revolution of 1952) is taking the situation in hand, intent on essentially preserving the status quo
  • the US and its European allies are content to see it happen.
As a group, all concerned are running out the clock.  Indeed, according to Joshua Stacher (writing at Foreign Affairs),
Despite the tenacity, optimism, and blood of the protesters massed in Tahrir Square, Egypt's democratic window has probably already closed.

For the protesters, and for all throughout the region - and in the US - who hoped for real democratic change in Egypt, and beyond, this, of course, cannot be enough.  Rami Khouri puts it with eloquent succinctness:

Just changing generals is not freedom

He goes on:
The dilemma for the brave Egyptians who have risked, and in some cases lost, their lives is that it is now clearer than ever to them and all other Arabs that the rights of Egyptians to live freely and determine their own lives are hostage to concerns of significant foreigners. Americans and Europeans are afraid that the Muslim Brotherhood might play a leading role in a new government, and American and Israeli politicians and media commentators, for the most part with only some exceptions, are more concerned about the rights of Israelis to live in security than the rights of Egyptians to live in freedom.

The armed forces, it seems, are the key to moving forward toward real political change in Egypt while avoiding more large-scale violence or chaos. That is a dubious prospect because it is precisely the diminution of the role of the armed forces in governance, rather than their assuming center-stage, that holds the key to genuine transition to democratic, accountable and stable governance in the Arab world.

The cruel irony is that the Egyptian people are being denied an opportunity to define themselves through a civilian transitional government in favor of military control, when the Egyptian people probably have more experience than any other people in the world in running their own affairs, given their 5,500 years of urban life and public authority. Arab leaders throughout the region are doing a softer version of this sad dance, in which they propose limited changes and superficial engagement with opposition forces in order to essentially maintain the status quo of security- and military-ruled states.

What is the alternative? It will not come from Arab leaders, or aging Arab generals. It is for Arabs everywhere to persist in their cry for self-determination and the right to live as free human beings, and to keep demanding that government spending and military-security organizations both come under civilian oversight through credible representative institutions.

It is also time for American and European governments – for one moment, for just one brief, shining moment – to declare that they truly support the rights of Arabs to taste genuine liberty, and human and civil rights, rather than to engage in an embarrassing scramble to find the next Arab general to take over from the last Arab general.

Eloquent pleas such as this, unfortunately, may not be enough to get it done.  But Egyptians taking power into their own hands to find a way to force the hands of the US and its allies - well, perhaps there's something there.  News now is that 6000 workers have gone on strike along the Suez Canal.  Al-Ahram (Egypt's semi-official pro-regime news agency) reports( also, here):
Suez Canal Company workers from the cities of Suez, Port Said, and Ismailia began an open-ended sit in today. Disruptions to shipping movements, as well as disasterous econmic losses, are expected if the strike continues. Over 6000 protesters have agreed that they will not go home today once their shift is over and will continue their sit-in in front of the company's headquarters until their demands are met. They are protesting against poor wages and deteriorating health and working conditions.

1 comment:

Timothy Jay said...

More and more it seems that without a blockage of traffic in the canal, no one is going to back the legitimate demands of the protesters. Sad to say, the West will only take notice when their wallets are at stake.



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