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Outline notes of a revolution

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
February 5, 2011

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 Egyptians.

So there wasn't much reason to burn flags. And very few, if any, were burned.

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 demonstrators.

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 capitalism.

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 gain.

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

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