One thing that struck me during the past twelve days of huge
demonstrations in Egypt was the general lack of an anti-American tone.
Generally, if someone burns an American flag at anywhere at any
demonstration on earth (outside of Miami, of course), Faux News lovingly
runs the clip four times an hour, just to reassure their frightened
viewers that 'they' really, really hate all Americans. Even Faux was
having trouble finding much anti-American sentiment. So instead, they
went looking for anti-Israeli sentiment instead, since to Faux,
criticism of Israel is tantamount to treason against the Republican
Party, but they couldn't find a convincing amount of that, either. Not
even among self-identified members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the bogeyman.
It wasn't that big a surprise. Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt for
the past 30 years, was never an American stooge. Al Jazeera did a half
hour biography of the man just last night, and I was surprised to learn
that in the beginning, he was widely seen as a patriot and a war hero
(with good cause) and was wildly popular when he came to office. He was
there because Egyptians wanted him there, rather than Washington.
Mubarak dealt with the US, of course, but any Egyptian leader would.
Thus he is seen as a domestic problem, and not one forced upon Egypt by
America, or Israel. And as Egyptian problem, he is one to be solved by
So there wasn't much reason to burn flags. And very few, if any, were
The Obama administration, caught flat-footed by the scale and breadth of
the middle-east upheavals, reacted calmly and fairly sensibly. Glenn
Beck claimed not to be surprised, and showed that the upheaval in Cairo
was all part of a grand conspiracy involving ACORN, Code Pink, the
ancient evil empire of Babylon, and eighth-dimensional malevolent
entities from Betelgeuse, but that's Glenn Beck. [Note; I made that
forth horseman of the conspiracy up. Could you tell?] Even Israel
admitted their intelligence didn't see this coming.
The demonstrations grew, and those of us who watched on al Jazeera or,
failing that, at least CNN International, came to admire and respect the
people of Egypt for their courage, their tenacity, and for the amazingly
non-violent nature of the demonstrations. Egypt was showing the world
How It's Done.
A week ago, when the administration started making noises about a
“peaceful, orderly transition” many of us figured that it would only be
a matter of days before Mubarak would have to step down. I'm sure
Mubarak was not thrilled when Israel called on the Egyptian people to
keep Mubarak in the interests of stability. He doubtlessly shot a
betrayed look in the direction of Tel Aviv and muttered something about
how “this is what 30 years of a good working relationship gets me”.
Mubarak offered a two-part counter punch: he would not run for
reelection in September (a promise later broadened to include his hated
son) named the head of his secret police apparatus, Omar Suleiman to be
his first vice-President, and followed that up with a thinly disguised
police assault on the protesters. It was very notable that the Egyptian
military refused to take sides, saying they would not order their
soldiers to fire on their own people.
A glance at al Jazeera right this moment shows that the gambits didn't
work. The crowds are out there still, twelve days now, hundreds of
thousands and perhaps over a million of them. It's two in the morning in
that desert city, and in a rarity, cold and raining. It's pretty obvious
that they don't want Hosnik Mubarak to stay in office, and they don't
want him replaced with Suleiman.
So what does the United States do next, having managed fairly well for
the first 12 days? First, a informal envoy to Egypt, one Frank Wisner,
opines that Mubarak should stay in power until the September elections.
Wisner is reportedly a close personal friend of Mubarak's, and stepped
well outside the middle course Obama was trying to steer. Wisner's next
foreign assignment might involve penguins. Specifically, counting penguins.
But the official Washington position—that Suleiman should head up a
transitional government—is just as reviled by the demonstrators in
Egypt, and by trying to influence, America has lost what little input it
had to begin with in the Egyptian revolution. Mohamed ElBaradei, who is
the /de facto/ face of the uprising, told Reuters that US support for
Mubarak or Suleiman to lead Egypt's transition would be a "major
setback". ElBaradei has already stated unequivocally that he has no
interest in becoming President, and it is he, not the despicable
Suleiman, that the US should be backing to head a transition. For one
thing, he is a secular, and the US knows that a secular regime will be
easier to deal with than a possible Islamic one.
The chances that the seculars will prevail are fairly good. The Muslim
Brotherhood, the leading Islamic political force in the country, came
late to the party, ignoring the demonstrations for the first several
days, dismissing them as just the usual activists who were upset about
the horrible poverty and unemployment rates, and the authoritarian and
repressive nature of the Mubarak government. The Brotherhood, like most
such outfits, is reactionary, and itself represents interests that are
authoritarian and repressive, and while mouthing about charity, care
little for economic justice.
According to Ikhanweb, the official website of the Brotherhood, “we seek
neither power nor authority and we have no intentions of nominating any
MB members for presidency”. This is welcome news. I suspect that the
large majority of the demonstrators will be happy to hear it, devout
Moslems or not. They need only look at Saudi Arabia to see that Islamic
regimes don't serve the popular interest.
Here in America, the far right has been losing its mind over this. Much
of the arm-waving concerned the bugaboo of an Islamic republic in Egypt,
but I can't help but think what really has them alarmed is the notion
that class issues can still cause massive popular uprisings, and
regimes, no matter how powerful and repressive, can be swept aside by
the tide of public opinion.
America isn't at immediate risk for a popular uprising, but the far
right know, deep in their hearts, that the vision they have for America
would create a society not unlike Mubarak's Egypt. They've already put
thirty years into propagandizing the public by turning the once-free
press into their own propaganda organs and dumbing down the population,
they've put thirty years into destroying unions and dissent groups,
they've put thirty years into weakening the middle class, and they've
put thirty years into persuading workers that their best interest lie in
supporting the wants of the wealthy.
They've seen the Mubarak government use all the tools that they rely on
to keep order; the militarized police, the control of communications,
the meaningless “reforms” offered as a “compromise”, and the general
efforts at attrition, outwaiting the demonstrators. None of it has
worked, and it has the far right deeply concerned.
At least part of their efforts to play up the role of the Muslim
Brotherhood was aimed at Egyptian audiences as much as American ones. In
America, the idea was to terrify; in Egypt, to try and divide the
It didn't work in Egypt, and it only worked among the people dumb enough
to view Glenn Beck as a newscaster here in America. Worse, millions of
Americans got to see al Jazeera, and learn what REAL broadcast
journalism is like.
We previously saw the right wing massage the last really big popular
uprising that worked: the fall of the USSR. By the time they got done
massaging it, Ronald Reagan was the figurehead and inspiration of the
Russian people, who were tired of the worker's paradise and yearned to
breathe the free – or at least moderately-priced – air of unbridled
Actually, the Russian people rebelled because the USSR was anything but
a workers' paradise, and the graft, corruption, and accumulation of
wealth among a privileged elite had thrown the country into poverty.
Much as what Mubarak's regime had done in Egypt, and much like what the
plutocrats who head the GOP and the Teabaggers envision for America.
The aftermath required even more massaging, since unbridled capitalism
killed off over ten million Russians over the subsequent ten years (the
population of the area actually DROPPED by 5% over that time).
Do you have any idea how hard it is to sell Randroid ideals when your
examples are dying of starvation or alcohol because there is nothing for
them in life?
Few revolutions work out well. They tend to be more like the French
revolution, or the Russian revolution of 1918. A lot of people die, and
the interim governments tend to be worse than what they replaced.
America's revolution is an exception, not the rule. Most eventually do
get better, but it takes time. And in most cases, in the end, there is a
So even as I wish the courageous Egyptian people all the best fortune, I
don't expect them to see better lives any time soon, no matter how
courageous or well-intentioned they might be. And I hope that, in the
end, they gain over the life they had under Mubarak.
And for the rest of us, they are a reminder that the autocrats of the
world can be taken down. And that remains our most steadfast hope.
Posted: February 10, 2011