Tag Archives: Cairo

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Failure of Tahrir Square 2011

Not a Revolution, Just a Useless Protest

Two years ago, when I was in the Occupy movement, my comrades and I argued about revolution. Was revolution necessary? What is it? The split that destroyed our movement — as it did the Left during the Sixties — pitted revolutionaries against reformists. The most frustrating part of the debate, however, wasn’t ideological. It was linguistic.

Even on the Left, few Americans know what revolution is: the violent overthrow of the ruling classes. In a revolution, everything — beginning with the power structure — changes.

The Tahrir Square encampments that led to the ouster of Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak were a huge influence on Occupy. But we couldn’t agree about what they meant. Was Tahrir a “revolution”?

No doubt, the 2011 Arab Spring was a powerful mass movement. Everyone agreed about that. For reformists — people who want to fix the system rather than replace it — Tahrir Square was a perfect example to emulate: a peaceful people-power transition that changed things for the better without shedding blood. Cut-and-paste the same phenomenon from Cairo to the United States — convince millions of peaceful demonstrators to camp out in American cities to demand change — and you’d get similarly dramatic results, reformist Occupiers urged. “Egypt had a peaceful revolution,” they said.

Revolutionaries — people who want to get rid of the existing system and start from scratch — countered that the Arab Spring uprisings were not revolutions at all and were thus insufficent. “Tunisia and Egypt,” I said, “were merely personnel changes.” The system, the way society, politics and the economy are organized, remained unchanged.

As recent events prove, the resignation of a president does not a revolution make.

In all the ways that matter, post-Mubarak Egypt remains the same. Those who were rich before are still rich; the same-old poor are the brand-new poor. Egypt’s generals, awash in billions of barely-audited American taxdollars and high-tech military hardware, continue to call the shots.

Egypt’s military brass is a canny lot. Corrupt and autocratic, they tack left and right along with the winds on the dusty streets. When Tahrir got big, they called back their rapists of demonstrators and told Hosni it was time to take a powder. When Mohammed Morsi won the election, they golf-clapped — until Mo’s numbers fell. Then it was his turn to vanish into house arrest.

The crowds in Tahrir cheered as fighter jets streaked overhead. Applauding their own oppressors.

Fools.

The proles get their concession. The figurehead performer everyone thinks runs the show, the big star who plays Mr. President on TV, gets fired after he turns stale. Yet, no matter how chaotic the politics, regardless of how much blood flows (spilled by projectiles made in the U.S.A.), the real bosses — the military, their business cronies, the publishers and owners of state media outlets — remain in charge.

Which now is plain as day.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew Morsi in a coup that dare not speak its name (in Western countries, whose quaint 20th century human rights laws would otherwise require the severing of lucrative weapons contracts that benefit major campaign donors), has apparently gotten so caught up in the serious business of slaughtering members of the Muslim Brotherhood that he’s completely forgotten to pay lip service to restoring democracy.

In the ultimate symbol of restoration (or feeling so confident they feel free to tip their hand), the military’s old friend/employee Mubarak is out of prison and may soon be released.

As two visiting U.S. senators recently witnessed firsthand, power has gone to al-Sisi’s telegenic little head. This isn’t a crackdown, but rather an attempt to grind the Muslim Brotherhood into oblivion. Al-Sisi’s soldiers have arrested the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, on brazenly trumped-up charges. And his fellow coup leaders are gearing up for a fascist-style ban of the party — another return to the Mubarak era.

As usual, Western liberals are smart enough to foresee future blowback from the Egyptian junta’s brutal campaign. “Attempts to exclude a party with the level of support recently secured by the Muslim Brotherhood will simply prolong Egypt’s agony. That is a tragic lesson from the history of Algeria in the 1990s,” Douglas Alexander writes in The Guardian.

Also as usual, Western liberals are too stupid to push for a stronger remedy than wouldn’t-it-be-nice hoping things will magically feel guilty and stop mass murdering. “The Muslim Brotherhood needs the opportunity,” Alexander continues, “to ‘get out of the streets and into the voting booth.’ Yet to do so, its supporters must believe there is a viable democratic path.”

Which of course there isn’t.

Which brings us back to Tahrir Square 2011. What should Egypt’s proto-Occupiers have done instead?

If their goal was actual change rather than new window-dressing, the protesters at Tahrir shouldn’t have settled for a personnel change at the pseudo-top. Mubarak’s departure wasn’t enough.

If you want to eliminate oppression, you must eliminate the oppressors. In Egypt, that would have meant rounding up every major official in the military as well as the government, and seizing control of the nation’s economy. Everyone who was anyone, rich and/or powerful, should have been imprisoned.

This would, of course, have required violence.

Revolution isn’t pretty. But as we’re seeing now in Egypt, neither is the alternative.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Cut-and-Paste Revolution, Part II

Time for the Occupy Movement to Come In From the Cold

The Occupy movement is an attempt to replicate Tahrir Square in the United States. But you can’t just cut-and-paste a model that (sort of) worked in Egypt to the United States.

Especially when you don’t understand Tahrir.

American media mischaracterized the Tahrir Square political uprising as an ongoing occupation cum encampment. True, poor people from outside Cairo who couldn’t afford hotel rooms slept in the Square throughout the rebellion against soon-to-be ex-president Hosni Mubarak. However, most of the tens and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators whose nonviolent protest led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak came and went throughout the day, often shuttling between their jobs and homes and the square. Unlike the U.S. Occupations, which devote most of their General Assemblies to logistical issues—are the cops coming? will the drummers limit themselves to two hours a day?—Tahrir was a laboratory of democracy where people from different cities, religious and political persuasions met to debate and discuss issues and problems. “Debates rage over the timing of elections, the power of Islamists, the weakness of civilian rulers and the lack of accountability of their military counterparts,” The New York Times reported on July 12th.

Other things are different. For example, Chicago is a lot colder than Cairo.

From a communiqué issued by Occupy Los Angeles: “Also, there is a movement going asking people to dress nicely—they are calling it ‘khakis and a polo.’ By day, that makes sense, but dress warmly for night time! Hypothermia is dangerous.”

Hypothermia? Not a huge concern under the palm trees of southern California. At this writing the daytime high is 20 degrees Centigrade and the nighttime low is 14. But the weather is a serious issue for much of the country. The mercury is dropping throughout the northern United States. Winter is on the way.

What will happen to OccupyMN in Minneapolis? OccupyMNers marched to local banks and the regional branch of the Federal Reserve to demand a moratorium on housing foreclosures in particular and lower income inequality in general. They’re living in tents near the local Government Center. Freezing temperatures will arrive in a week or two. Snowfalls of two and three feet are not uncommon. How long will the Occupiers of cold-weather cities like New York, Boston and Seattle last in their tents and sleeping bags?

Interestingly, the U.S. Parks Police-issued four-month permit for Stop the Machine (the Washington occupation on which the Occupations were originally modeled) expires in February.

The authorities are playing this like Russia when it was invaded by France and Germany: Retreat now, let the winter freeze the bastards out.

If the northern Occupations (which are the heart of the movement) are to survive the winter, they must move indoors. This will ratchet up the tension with the authorities. Which is the obvious next step anyway.

Occupy has to come inside. To avoid frostbite. And to avoid stagnation.

Movements move.

Occupy Albany is thinking about moving into New York’s state capitol building. There are countless options. Government offices, bank offices and branches, mortgage companies, colleges and universities with unsavory relationships to the top 1% who are screwing over most Americans—all are obvious candidates for occupations. Not to mention the millions of homes all over the country that have been vacated by illegal and immoral bank foreclosures.

The Nation notes that New York has many privately owned public spaces, including the atriums of buildings owned by Donald Trump, IBM and Citigroup. “These locations may not be altogether practical for the occupiers, and in fact protesters would likely face strong resistance from the properties’ owners if they were to try to hold any of these plazas and atriums,” writes Francis Reynolds. “But the fact that most of these privately owned public spaces are in the lobbies of banks and corporations is a powerful metonym for the way money is shaping our cities and our society. If Zuccotti falls, where will the occupation move next?”

So far, this question has been raised—only to be abandoned in favor of less pressing tangents at the major general assemblies. Occupy Wall Street can’t get it together long enough to set a drum circle schedule.

OWS must remain dynamic in order to survive. So a change of address would probably for the best. They need to stay warm. More importantly, they need to make a militant political statement. That hasn’t happened yet.

In repressive Arab states like Bahrain and Egypt, the mere act of appropriating a centrally-located public space to express discontent over a prolonged period was seen by the regime and their subjects alike as provocative and confrontational. Not so much in the U.S.

Wiggly fingers at general assemblies and arrest-by-the-numbers at non-threatening (in)actions aren’t going to cut it in this second phase.

Many of the young hipsters have gone home. Now OWS is substantially populated by the habitually homeless. Filth and smelly bodies abound.

It made sense to invite the most dispossessed Americans to join a movement dedicated to eradicating economic injustice. But openness has caused problems. “Now, protesters from Portland to Los Angeles to Atlanta are trying to distinguish between homeless people who are joining their movement and those who are there for the amenities,” reports the Associated Press. “When night falls in Portland, for instance, protesters have been dealing with fights, drunken arguments and the display of the occasional knife. One man recently created a stir when he registered with police as a sex offender living in the park. A man with mental health problems threatened to spread AIDS via a syringe. At night, the park echoes with screaming matches and scuffles over space, blankets, tents or nothing at all.”

At Occupy Wall Street discussions have been replaced by vacuous sloganeering in the form of politics (“end the fed,” “we are the 99%,” etc.)—nothing close to the energy of the ideological incubator of Tahrir Square. “What specifically are you protesting?” sympathetic New York Times columnist Charles Blow asked an OWS participant “I don’t know. It’s just cool,” she answered.

On a recent visit I found about 150 full-time OWSers, another 100 or so floating supporters, and at least 300 or 400 tourists running around snapping photos of signs and assorted freaks. And lots of foreign journalists. Everyone thought it was cool.

Cool is cool. But it ain’t revolution yet. Revolution is dangerous. No danger; no change.

OWS has become comfortable. The authorities have become comfortable with OWS. But that’s about to change.

If and when Occupiers move into indoor space, they may have to abandon their current strict adherence to nonviolent tactics. Unless they offer resistance, the state—guardian of corporate interests—will simply drag them out of The Donald’s atrium and off to jail.

OWS and its progeny will certainly go down in history as the first salvo of a nascent American revolution. Whether the Occupy movement survives to participate in what comes next (as opposed to serving as an interesting historical antecedent whose mistakes will be studied by future, more successful efforts), or whether anything will come next, will depend on whether they are willing to disrupt governmental and corporate activity—and assume greater risks.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in violent acts. But it does require courting a violent reaction from the authorities.

David Galland of the Casey Research blog sneers: “Like the ‘Free Speech Zones’ now mandatory for anyone caring to express an opposing opinion as presidential motorcades rush by, the Occupy Wall Street folks have allowed themselves to be corralled within the boundaries of a designated protest area, approved by the powers-that-be as suitable for the malcontents. Exposing the extent of the farce, the New York Police force has a portable, extendible watchtower that looms over the park, keeping a Sauron-like eye on the goings-on. That thing would have lasted about ten minutes back in the good old brick-throwing days. If I learned nothing back in the Sixties, it is that (once you decide on an objective) you need to assemble in the spot that most forcibly gets your point across—by disrupting business as usual—until the government has no choice but to arrest you, after which you return to same scene and repeat until someone gives. You win if the other guy blinks. Were I trying to discomfit Wall Street, I’d be blocking the doors of the major financial houses.”

In other words, no more four-month permits.

Right-wing radio talk personality Glenn Beck warns the establishment: “Capitalists, if you think that you can play footsies with these people, you’re wrong. They will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you…they’re Marxist radicals…these guys are worse than Robespierre from the French Revolution…they’ll kill everybody.”

Maybe.

Beck may be able to see further down the road than the OWSers—some of whom are sucking up to the cops who abuse them by saying they’re part of the 99% too—can see themselves. Wayyy down the road.

The Occupiers need a warm place to sleep before they begin feeding banksters to the guillotine.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: America Against the People

Why Is Obama Coddling Egyptian Dictator?

Here is Egypt, America’s neo-con dream come true. Democracy! In the Middle East! And it isn’t costing us a single soldier. You’d think American policy makers would be pleased as punch. So why are they messing it up?

At first glance the uprising in Cairo and other Egyptian cities puts the United States in an awkward spot. We’ve propped up Hosni Mubarak for three decades. If we cut him loose, our other pet dictators will stop trusting us. If we don’t, all that yapping about democracy and freedom rings hollow. Which do we choose, our purported principles or our actual allies?

Actually, it’s not that hard. We lost the trust of our puppet tyrants when Saddam dropped through the trap door. We lost the people with a zillion CIA-backed coups, not to mention the $37 billion we’ve paid to Mubarak. The dictator’s wealth is estimated at $40 billion. That’s right: no one dime of U.S. foreign aid made it to the Egyptian people.

The Obama Administration has an easy way out. They can disavow the policies of the past 30 years, policies they merely inherited. The president can make a clean break, announcing that he is cutting off U.S. funding to the Mubarak regime until things settle down. Then shut up.

Simple. Yet the president is handling this Middle Eastern crisis with all the class and diplomacy of a George W. Bush.

There’s the arrogance. On Fox News he agreed with Bill O’Reilly that he doesn’t want the Muslim Brotherhood to take over. “I want a representative government in Egypt,” Obama said. Dude, it doesn’t matter what you want or what we want. What matters is what the Egyptians want.

There’s the shortsightedness. Like previous presidents, Obama doesn’t understand that repression isn’t a synonym for stability.

There’s the failure to recognize the broader implications. Hated for Egypt’s joint blockade with Israel of the Gaza strip, Mubarak is viewed throughout the Muslim world as the embodiment of American-funded corruption. Obama’s refusal to cut him loose fuels radical Islamists’ argument that the U.S. will never allow the Palestinians to live with dignity.

Last but not least, there’s that classic Cold War-era mistake: backing the wrong side. In this case, Mubarak’s new vice president Omar Suleiman. Since 1993 Suleiman has run Egypt’s feared Mukhabarat intelligence agency. He is Egypt’s chief torturer.

As head of the General Intelligence Directorate Suleiman was the Bush Administration’s main liaison and coordinator for its “extraordinary rendition” program. Victims of extraordinary rendition are kidnapped by CIA agents and illegally transferred to other countries for the purpose of being tortured.

According to experts on the war on terror, Suleiman is a torturer’s torturer, a hard man who sets a high bar—from which he hangs his bleeding victims. Personally.

One of the CIA’s victims was Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen. U.S. agents bought him from Pakistani intelligence and shipped him to Egypt. “In Egypt,” reports Lisa Hajjar for Al Jazeera, “he was repeatedly subjected to electric shocks, immersed in water up to his nostrils and beaten. His fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks. At one point, his interrogator slapped him so hard that his blindfold was dislodged, revealing the identity of his tormentor: Suleiman. Frustrated that Habib was not providing useful information or confessing to involvement in terrorism, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a shackled prisoner in front of Habib, which he did with a vicious karate kick.”

Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi was a former trainer in the Afghan jihadi camps who famously “confessed” a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda while under torture in one of Suleiman’s dungeons. Colin Powell cited al-Libi’s “information” in his 2003 speech of lies to the U.N. arguing for war against Iraq.

Note the word “was.” Al-Libi died in a Libyan prison in 2009.

Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism analyst for NBC News, cites a classified source: “Al-Libi’s death coincided with the first visit by Egypt’s spymaster Omar Suleiman to Tripoli. “The Egyptians were embarrassed by this admission [that he had lied under torture…Omar Suleiman saw an opportunity to get even with al-Libi and traveled to Tripoli. By the time Omar Suleiman’s plane left Tripoli, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi had committed ‘suicide’.”

Suleiman’s fearsome resume may come as a surprise to you. But Egyptians know all about him. Headlines like ” Obama Backs Suleiman – Led Transition ” (from the New York Times) aren’t making us more popular.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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