Jan 282011
 

 By Stephen Lendman

 [print_link]

An August 2009 Council on Foreign Relations Steven Cook report headlined, “Political Instability in Egypt,” saying:

Facing possible instability, (m)ost analysts believe that the current Egyptian regime will muddle through its myriad challenges and endure indefinitely (with) enough coercive power to ensure” it. 

It’s also “entering a period of political transition. President Hosni Mubarak is (81) and reportedly” ill. His (46 year old) son Gamal “is evidently being groomed to succeed him.” However, the “process could prove difficult.”

“Thus, while Egypt on the surface appears stable, the potential for growing political volatility and abrupt discontinuities (ahead) should not be summarily dismissed.”

Cook suggested two possible scenarios:

– contested succession resulting in military intervention; or

– “an Islamist push for political power.”

One indicator to watch for, he suggested, would be “the number of protestors in the streets….in response to a leadership transition,” not public anger against high unemployment, extreme poverty, and Mubarack’s dictatorship, inspired by mass protests ousting long-time Tunisian despot Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, what some observers thought impossible until it happened and began spreading across the region. More on that below.

US Government Responses

Note: Egypt is the largest, most significant Arab state, vital to US regional interests. After Israel, it receives more aid than any other nation, nearly $2 billion annually. Around two-thirds is for military use, including repressing dissent. The rest is economic for neoliberal reforms, including privatizing state resources. 

Washington worries that Egypt’s uprising may grow if not stopped. It won’t tolerate revolutionary change that potentially could spread globally, including on US streets where millions face depravation levels unseen since the Great Depression.

Yet a January 25 White House press release said:

“As we monitor the situation in Egypt, we urge all parties to refrain from using violence, and expect the Egyptian authorities to respond to any protests peacefully. We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.”

A same day PJ Crowley State Department statement said:

“We are monitoring the situation in Egypt closely. The United States supports the fundamental right of expression and assembly of all people. All parties should exercise restraint, and we call on the Egyptian authorities to handle these protests peacefully.”

Secretary of State Clinton added:

“Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”

Don’t be fooled. Her message is harsh and clear. Washington tolerates no dissent and will help Egypt crush it brutally. In fact, working with local police, Washington does it domestically against global justice and other protests, including during 2000 and 2004 presidential political party conventions brutally.

Media and Analyst Responses

On January 25, New York Times writers Kareen Fahim and Mona-El-Naggar headlined, “Violent Clashes Mark Protests Against Mubarak’s Rule,” saying:

“Tens of thousands of people demanding an end to (his) 30-year rule….filled (Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, and other Egyptian streets), in an unusually large and sometimes violent burst of civil unrest that appeared to threaten the stability of one of America’s closest regional allies.”

Amr Hamzawy, Carnegie Middle East Center research director said:

“The big, grand ideological narratives were not seen today. This was not about ‘Islam is the solution’ or anything else.”

 It’s about people fed up with a repressive, corrupt dictatorship, wanting democracy, jobs and poverty relief. It’s about Mubarak denying them for decades.

Protest organizers coordinated online for a “Day of Revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment,” on a day honoring police used by dissidents to protest their brutality.

Drivers and others joined protesters, chanting, “The people want the downfall of the regime….Freedom, freedom, freedom!”

According to American University of Cairo Professor Mustapha Makel al-Sayyid:

“I think it is the beginning of (broader social unrest). Some of the demonstrators are still in (Cairo’s) Tahrir (Square) and said they will not leave until their demands are met by the government.” After police forced them out, al-Sayyid added, “Their demands will not be met….but they will not give up.”

On January 26, London Independent long-time Middle East observer Robert Fisk headlined, “A new truth dawns on the Arab world,” saying:

“(T)he Egyptian people are calling for the downfall of President Mubarak, and the Lebanese are appointing a (Hezbollah-allied) prime minister….Rarely has the Arab world seen anything like this….(A)cross the Middle East, we are waiting to see the downfall of America’s friends. In Egypt, Mr. Mubarak must be wondering where he flies to. In Lebanon, America’s friends are collapsing….We do not know what comes next.”

 Neither does Washington and regional despots, perhaps arranging their own safe havens.

On January 25, Al Jazeera headlined, “Egypt protesters clash with police,” saying:

Some “hurl(ed) rocks and climb)ed) atop an armored police truck” chanting anti-Mubarak slogans. Police responded with water cannons, tear gas, and attacking crowds with batons. Several deaths were reported and dozens of arrests. Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh called the protests “unprecedented,” especially after authorities warned about not emulating Tunisia, and Egypt bans all demonstrations without permits rarely given – never for large numbers.

Egyptian blogger Hossam El Hamalawy spoke for many saying:

“We want a functioning government. We want Mubarak to step down. We don’t want emergency law. We don’t want to live under this kind of oppression anymore. Enough is enough. Things have to change and if Tunisia can do it, why can’t we?”

Online, a domino effect spread similar sentiment. El Hamalawy said Facebook organizers wrote:

People are fed up with Mubarak and his dictatorship and his torture chambers and his failed economic policies. If Mubarak is not overthrown tomorrow then it will be the day after. If it’s not the day after it’s going to be next week.”

Egypt’s state-owned Al Ahram quoted Said Hossam Zaki, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman saying Egyptian demonstrations aren’t new, without explaining state restrictions or Mubarak’s policy to target dissent. Instead he said:

“It is incumbent on everyone to realize that there is a new law against terrorism, which replaces the emergency law applied until now, but what should be emphasized is that people who want to go out to the streets to voice their demands” may do it.

Wednesday night, January 26, Al Jazeera reported “running clashes throughout Cairo.” More protests are expected as demonstrators show “no signs of stopping so far.”

Al Ahram also said 90 were arrested in Cairo, more elsewhere, and many others targeted for investigations perhaps leading to imprisonment, torture and death. An independent lawyer coalition reported six deaths and said at least 1,200 were detained. For sure many more will be as protests continue.

On January 25, University of Wisconsin Professor Seif Da’Na headlined, “The Mideast: ‘A New Era’ from Cairo,” saying:

“Repercussions of the Tunisia example will be deep and significant and will be felt throughout the region. The uprising signifies not only the failure of the neoliberal model that Arab regimes pursued, but also the futility of political oppression to enforce this model in the long run. The event signifies the beginning of a new era that must be seen as a process of change and might lead to the creation of a new region.”

Possibilities are, in fact, breathtaking and broad, embracing political, economic, and social demands “signifying the dead-end of a system that employed excessive political oppression to enforce destructive neoliberal economic policies. Privatizing the public sector essentially reversed the post independence economic achievements of these countries,” creating inequality and intolerable conditions for most people. Now they’re reacting, inspired by early Tunisia successes that continue demanding ouster of all former government officials.

Most interim cabinet members, including acting Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, are regime holdovers. For days, police showed restraint. On January 24, they changed tactics with tear gas, razor wire barriers, and other measures against protestors refusing to disperse, defying curfew orders by camping out peacefully all night, demanding a new government. 

Twenty-two year-old Othmene spoke for others, saying; “We will stay here until the government resigns and runs away like Ben Ali.” Teachers and civil servants went on strike joining them, assuring protests continue.

Potentially the entire region is affected. Other protests erupted in Algeria, Yemen and Jordan, at times met with deadly force. On January 22, AP said over a dozen people were killed in Algiers, Algeria’s capital. Protesters said dozens more were injured. Said Sadi, head of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), said the group’s leader, Othmane Amazouz, was arrested.

On January 21, RCD, the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), and four trade unions formed a national democracy movement for change.

In a region with endemic poverty, Yemen is the Arab world’s poorest country with extreme depravation and youth unemployment levels, an explosive mix fueling unrest. On January 22, around 2,500 demonstrated at the University of Sanaa. Others occurred in Aden, Lahj and elsewhere. Police and military forces responded repressively with tear gas, live fire and mortars, arresting dozens and causing at least one death.

On January 21, thousands protested in Amman and other Jordanian cities demanding “bread and freedom,” as well as ouster of government officials, chanting: “(Prime Minister Samir) Rafia, out, out! People of Jordan will not bow!”

Throughout the region, common interests drive protests, including state repression, mass unemployment and poverty, rising food and fuel prices, malnutrition, and for some starvation, a neoliberal caused catastrophe erupting regionally for change. 

Today, in the Middle East. Tomorrow perhaps globally given growing levels of human depravation everywhere, including in developed countries like America.

_______________

Senior Editor Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/.

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Jan 282011
 

There’s never been a rightwing dictator that the US did not support or empowered. That’s the core command of American foreign policy in one sentence.  All else is lies. 

by Peter Hart  |  [print_link] 01/28/2011

Yesterday (FAIR Blog, 1/27/11) the Washington Post tried to argue that U.S. policy under the Obama administration has shifted to one of open support for pro-democracy movements in Egypt and Tunisia. There was little, if any, evidence to support this idea.

Today (1/28/11) the New York Times steps in with a report based largely on WikiLeaks cables that paints a rather unflattering portrait of Obama policy towards Egypt.  As the Times put it, the cables

show in detail how diplomats repeatedly raised concerns with Egyptian officials about jailed dissidents and bloggers, and kept tabs on reports of torture by the police.

But they also reveal that relations with Mr. Mubarak warmed up because President Obama played down the public “name and shame” approach of the Bush administration. A cable prepared for a visit by Gen. David H. Petraeus in 2009 said the United States, while blunt in private, now avoided “the public confrontations that had become routine over the past several years.”

The Times story unfortunately buries some of the most damning details:

American diplomats also cast a wide net to gather information on police brutality, the cables show. Through contacts with human rights lawyers, the embassy follows numerous cases, and raised some with the Interior Ministry. Among the most harrowing, according to a cable, was the treatment of several members of a Hezbollah cell detained by the police in late 2008.

Lawyers representing the men said they were subjected to electric shocks and sleep deprivation, which reduced them to a “zombie state.”  They said the torture was more severe than what they normally witnessed.

To the extent that Mr. Mubarak has been willing to tolerate reforms, the cable said, it has been in areas not related to public security or stability. For example, he has given his wife latitude to campaign for women’s rights and against practices like female genital mutilation and child labor, which are sanctioned by some conservative Islamic groups.

So a key U.S. ally is run by a torturing, election-rigging authoritarian who the U.S. mostly refrains from criticizing in public. “Cables Show Delicate U.S. Dealings With Egypt’s Leaders” would seem to be a rather gentle way of putting it. Scanning coverage of the protests in Egypt overall, it seems like long-standing U.S. support (including billions in military aid) receives scant attention.

But U.S. policymakers are being asked the tough questions, right? Not exactly. Here’s Jim Lehrer at the PBS NewsHour (1/27/11) in an exclusive sit-down with Joe Biden:

LEHRER: The word to describe the leadership of Mubarak and Egypt and also in Tunisia before was dictator. Should Mubarak be seen as a dictator?

BIDEN: Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel.  And I think that it would be–I would not refer to him as a dictator.

Lehrer has long viewed his job as not pushing his powerful guests too hard. “My part of journalism is to present what various people say,” as he once put it . “I’m not in the judgment part of journalism.” That’s a good thing for Biden.

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Jan 282011
 
North Africa and the Global Political Awakening,
Part 1
Global Research, January 27, 2011

 

For the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive… The resulting global political activism is generating a surge in the quest for personal dignity, cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world painfully scarred by memories of centuries-long alien colonial or imperial domination… The worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening… That awakening is socially massive and politically radicalizing… The nearly universal access to radio, television and increasingly the Internet is creating a community of shared perceptions and envy that can be galvanized and channeled by demagogic political or religious passions. These energies transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches…

The youth of the Third World are particularly restless and resentful. The demographic revolution they embody is thus a political time-bomb, as well… Their potential revolutionary spearhead is likely to emerge from among the scores of millions of students concentrated in the often intellectually dubious “tertiary level” educational institutions of developing countries. Depending on the definition of the tertiary educational level, there are currently worldwide between 80 and 130 million “college” students. Typically originating from the socially insecure lower middle class and inflamed by a sense of social outrage, these millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting, already semi-mobilized in large congregations, connected by the Internet and pre-positioned for a replay on a larger scale of what transpired years earlier in Mexico City or in Tiananmen Square. Their physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred…

Member, Board of Trustees, Center for Strategic and International Studies

[The] major world powers, new and old, also face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.[1]

- Zbigniew Brzezinski

Former U.S. National Security Advisor

Co-Founder of the Trilateral Commission

 

ANDREW GAVIN MARSHALL | [print_link]

AN UPRISING IN TUNISIA led to the overthrow of the country’s 23-year long dictatorship of President Ben Ali. A new ‘transitional’ government was formed, but the protests continued demanding a totally new government without the relics of the previous tyranny. Protests in Algeria have continued for weeks, as rage mounts against rising food prices, corruption and state oppression. Protests in Jordan forced the King to call on the military to surround cities with tanks and set up checkpoints. Tens of thousands of protesters marched on Cairo demanding an end to the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of activists, opposition leaders and students rallied in the capitol of Yemen against the corrupt dictatorship of President Saleh, in power since 1978. Saleh has been, with U.S. military assistance, attempting to crush a rebel movement in the north and a massive secessionist movement growing in the south, called the “Southern Movement.” Protests in Bolivia against rising food prices forced the populist government of Evo Morales to backtrack on plans to cut subsidies. Chile erupted in protests as demonstrators railed against rising fuel prices. Anti-government demonstrations broke out in Albania, resulting in the deaths of several protesters.

It seems as if the world is entering the beginnings of a new revolutionary era: the era of the ‘Global Political Awakening.’ While this ‘awakening’ is materializing in different regions, different nations and under different circumstances, it is being largely influenced by global conditions. The global domination by the major Western powers, principally the United States, over the past 65 years, and more broadly, centuries, is reaching a turning point. The people of the world are restless, resentful, and enraged. Change, it seems, is in the air. As the above quotes from Brzezinski indicate, this development on the world scene is the most radical and potentially dangerous threat to global power structures and empire. It is not a threat simply to the nations in which the protests arise or seek change, but perhaps to a greater degree, it is a threat to the imperial Western powers, international institutions, multinational corporations and banks that prop up, arm, support and profit from these oppressive regimes around the world. Thus, America and the West are faced with a monumental strategic challenge: what can be done to stem the Global Political Awakening? Zbigniew Brzezinski is one of the chief architects of American foreign policy, and arguably one of the intellectual pioneers of the system of globalization. Thus, his warnings about the ‘Global Political Awakening’ are directly in reference to its nature as a threat to the prevailing global hierarchy. As such, we must view the ‘Awakening’ as the greatest hope for humanity. Certainly, there will be mainy failures, problems, and regressions; but the ‘Awakening’ has begun, it is underway, and it cannot be so easily co-opted or controlled as many might assume.

The reflex action of the imperial powers is to further arm and support the oppressive regimes, as well as the potential to organize a destabilization through covert operations or open warfare (as is being done in Yemen). The alternative is to undertake a strategy of “democratization” in which Western NGOs, aid agencies and civil society organizations establish strong contacts and relationships with the domestic civil society in these regions and nations. The objective of this strategy is to organize, fund and help direct the domestic civil society to produce a democratic system made in the image of the West, and thus maintain continuity in the international hierarchy. Essentially, the project of “democratization” implies creating the outward visible constructs of a democratic state (multi-party elections, active civil society, “independent” media, etc) and yet maintain continuity in subservience to the World Bank, IMF, multinational corporations and Western powers.

It appears that both of these strategies are being simultaneously imposed in the Arab world: enforcing and supporting state oppression and building ties with civil society organizations. The problem for the West, however, is that they have not had the ability to yet establish strong and dependent ties with civil society groups in much of the region, as ironically, the oppressive regimes they propped up were and are unsurprisingly resistant to such measures. In this sense, we must not cast aside these protests and uprisings as being instigated by the West, but rather that they emerged organically, and the West is subsequently attempting to co-opt and control the emerging movements.

Part 1 of this essay focuses on the emergence of these protest movements and uprisings, placing it in the context of the Global Political Awakening. Part 2 will examine the West’s strategy of “democratic imperialism” as a method of co-opting the ‘Awakening’ and installing “friendly” governments.

The Tunisian Spark

A July 2009 diplomatic cable from America’s Embassy in Tunisia reported that, “many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities. Extremism poses a continuing threat,” and that, “the risks to the regime’s long-term stability are increasing.”[2]

On Friday, 14 January 2011, the U.S.-supported 23-year long dictatorship of Tunisian president Ben Ali ended. For several weeks prior to this, the Tunisian people had risen in protest against rising food prices, stoked on by an immense and growing dissatisfaction with the political repression, and prodded by the WikiLeaks cables confirming the popular Tunisian perception of gross corruption on the part of the ruling family. The spark, it seems, was when a 26-year old unemployed youth set himself on fire in protest on December 17.

With the wave of protests sparked by the death of the 26-year old who set himself on fire on December 17, the government of Tunisia responded by cracking down on the protesters. Estimates vary, but roughly 100 people were killed in the clashes. Half of Tunisia’s 10 million people are under the age of 25, meaning that they have never known a life in Tunisia outside of living under this one dictator. Since Independence from the French empire in 1956, Tunisia has had only two leaders: Habib Bourguiba and Ben Ali.[3] The Tunisian people were rising up against a great many things: an oppressive dictatorship which has employed extensive information and internet censorship, rising food prices and inflation, a corrupt ruling family, lack of jobs for the educated youth, and a general sense and experience of exploitation, subjugation and disrespect for human dignity.

Following the ouster of Ben Ali, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi assumed presidential power and declared a “transitional government.” Yet, this just spurred more protests demanding his resignation and the resignation of the entire government. Significantly, the trade union movement had a large mobilizing role in the protests, with a lawyers union being particularly active during the initial protests.[4]

Protests in Tunisia
Social media and the Internet did play a large part in mobilizing people within Tunisia for the uprising, but it was ultimately the result of direct protests and action which led to the resignation of Ben Ali. Thus, referring to Tunisia as a “Twitter Revolution” is disingenuous.

Twitter, WikiLeaks, Facebook, Youtube, forums and blogs did have a part to play. They reflect the ability “to collectively transform the Arab information environment and shatter the ability of authoritarian regimes to control the flow of information, images, ideas and opinions.”[5] [Editors Note: The US based foundation Freedom House was involved in promoting and training some Middle East North Africa Facebook and Twitter bloggers  (See also Freedom House), M. C.].

We must also keep in mind that social media has not only become an important source of mobilization of activism and information at the grassroots level, but it has also become an effective means for governments and various power structures to seek to manipulate the flow of information. This was evident in the 2009 protests in Iran, where social media became an important avenue through which the Western nations were able to advance their strategy of supporting the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ in destabilizing the Iranian government. Thus, social media has presented a new form of power, neither black nor white, in which it can be used to either advance the process of the ‘Awakening’ or control its direction.
Whereas America was publicly denouncing Iran for blocking (or attempting to block) social media in the summer of 2009, during the first several weeks of Tunisian protests (which were largely being ignored by Western media), America and the West were silent about censorship.[6] Steven Cook, writing for the elite U.S. think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, commented on the lack of attention being paid to the Tunisian protests in the early weeks of resistance prior to the resignation of Ben Ali. He explained that while many assume that the Arab “strongmen” regimes will simply maintain power as they always have, this could be mistaken. He stated that, “it may not be the last days of Ben Ali or Mubarak or any other Middle Eastern strongman, but there is clearly something going on in the region.” However, it was the end of Ben Ali, and indeed, “there is clearly something going on in the region.”[7]

France’s President Sarkozy has even had to admit that, “he had underestimated the anger of the Tunisian people and the protest movement that ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.” During the first few weeks of protests in Tunisia, several French government officials were publicly supporting the dictatorship, with the French Foreign Minister saying that France would lend its police “knowhow” to help Ben Ali in maintaining order.[8]

Days before the ouster of Ben Ali, Hillary Clinton gave an interview in which she explained how America was worried “about the unrest and the instability,” and that, “we are not taking sides, but we are saying we hope that there can be a peaceful resolution. And I hope that the Tunisian Government can bring that about.” Clinton further lamented, “One of my biggest concerns in this entire region are the many young people without economic opportunities in their home countries.”[9] Her concern, of course, does not spur from any humanitarian considerations, but rather from inherent imperial considerations: it is simply harder to control a region of the world erupting in activism, uprisings and revolution.

The Spark Lights a Flame

Tunisia has raised the bar for the people across the Arab world to demand justice, democracy, accountability, economic stability, and freedom. Just as Tunisia’s protests were in full-swing, Algeria was experiencing mass protests, rising up largely as a result of the increasing international food prices, but also in reaction to many of the concerns of the Tunisian protesters, such as democratic accountability, corruption and freedom. A former Algerian diplomat told Al-Jazeera in early January that, “It is a revolt, and probably a revolution, of an oppressed people who have, for 50 years, been waiting for housing, employment, and a proper and decent life in a very rich country.”[10]

In mid-January, similar protests erupted in Jordan, as thousands took to the streets to protest against rising food prices and unemployment, chanting anti-government slogans. Jordan’s King Abdullah II had “set up a special task force in his palace that included military and intelligence officials to try to prevent the unrest from escalating further,” which had tanks surrounding major cities, with barriers and checkpoints established.[11]

In Yemen, the poorest nation in the Arab world, engulfed in a U.S. sponsored war against its own people, ruled by a dictator who has been in power since 1978, thousands of people protested against the government, demanding the dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. In the capitol city of Sanaa, thousands of students, activists and opposition groups chanted slogans such as, “Get out get out, Ali. Join your friend Ben Ali.”[12] Yemen has been experiencing much turmoil in recent years, with a rebel movement in the North fighting against the government, formed in 2004; as well as a massive secessionist movement in the south, called the “Southern Movement,” fighting for liberation since 2007. As the Financial Times explained:

Many Yemen observers consider the anger and secessionist sentiment now erupting in the south to be a greater threat to the country’s stability than its better publicised struggle with al-Qaeda, and the deteriorating economy is making the tension worse.

Unemployment, particularly among the young, is soaring. Even the government statistics office in Aden puts it at nearly 40 per cent among men aged 20 to 24.[13]

Protest of the Southern Movement in Yemen

On January 21, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Albania, mobilized by the socialist opposition, ending with violent clashes between the police and protesters, leading to the deaths of three demonstrators. The protests have been sporadic in Albania since the widely contested 2009 elections, but took on new levels inspired by Tunisia.[14]

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom stressed concern over the revolutionary sentiments within the Arab world, saying that, “I fear that we now stand before a new and very critical phase in the Arab world.” He fears Tunisia would “set a precedent that could be repeated in other countries, possibly affecting directly the stability of our system.”[15] Israel’s leadership fears democracy in the Arab world, as they have a security alliance with the major Arab nations, who, along with Israel itself, are American proxy states in the region. Israel maintains civil – if not quiet – relationships with the Arab monarchs and dictators. While the Arab states publicly criticize Israel, behind closed doors they are forced to quietly accept Israel’s militarism and war-mongering, lest they stand up against the superpower, America. Yet, public opinion in the Arab world is extremely anti-Israel, anti-American and pro-Iran.

In July of 2010, the results of a major international poll were released regarding public opinion in the Arab world, polling from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. Among some of the notable findings: while Obama was well received upon entering the Presidency, with 51% expressing optimism about U.S. policy in the region in the Spring of 2009, by Summer 2010, 16% were expressing optimism. In 2009, 29% of those polled said a nuclear-armed Iran would be positive for the region; in 2010, that spiked to 57%, reflecting a very different stance from that of their governments.[16]

While America, Israel and the leaders of the Arab nations claim that Iran is the greatest threat to peace and stability in the Middle East, the Arab people do not agree. In an open question asking which two countries pose the greatest threat to the region, 88% responded with Israel, 77% with America, and 10% with Iran.[17]

At the Arab economic summit shortly following the ousting of Ben Ali in Tunisia, who was for the first time absent from the meetings, the Tunisian uprising hung heavy in the air. Arab League leader Amr Moussa said in his opening remarks at the summit, “The Tunisian revolution is not far from us,” and that, “the Arab citizen entered an unprecedented state of anger and frustration,” noting that “the Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession.” The significance of this ‘threat’ to the Arab leaders cannot be understated. Out of roughly 352 million Arabs, 190 million are under the age of 24, with nearly three-quarters of them unemployed. Often, “the education these young people receive doesn’t do them any good because there are no jobs in the fields they trained for.”[18]

There was even an article in the Israeli intellectual newspaper, Ha’aretz, which posited that, “Israel may be on the eve of revolution.” Explaining, the author wrote that:

Israeli civil society organizations have amassed considerable power over the years; not only the so-called leftist organizations, but ones dealing with issues like poverty, workers’ rights and violence against women and children. All of them were created in order to fill the gaps left by the state, which for its part was all too happy to continue walking away from problems that someone else was there to take on. The neglect is so great that Israel’s third sector – NGOs, charities and volunteer organizations – is among the biggest in the world. As such, it has quite a bit of power.[19]

Now the Israeli Knesset and cabinet want that power back; yet, posits the author, they “have chosen to ignore the reasons these groups became powerful,” namely:

The source of their power is the vacuum, the criminal policies of Israel’s governments over the last 40 years. The source of their power is a government that is evading its duties to care for all of its citizens and to end the occupation, and a Knesset that supports the government instead of putting it in its place.[20]

The Israeli Knesset opened investigations into the funding of Israeli human rights organizations in a political maneuver against them. However, as one article in Ha’aretz by an Israeli professor explained, these groups actually – inadvertently – play a role in “entrenching the occupation.” As the author explained:

Even if the leftist groups’ intention is to ensure upholding Palestinian rights, though, the unintentional result of their activity is preserving the occupation. Moderating and restraining the army’s activity gives it a more human and legal facade. Reducing the pressure of international organizations, alongside moderating the Palestinian population’s resistance potential, enable the army to continue to maintain this control model over a prolonged period of time.[21]

Thus, if the Israeli Knesset succeeds in getting rid of these powerful NGOs, they sow the seeds for the pressure valve in the occupied territories to be removed. The potential for massive internal protests within Israel from the left, as well as the possibility of another Intifada – uprising – in the occupied territories themselves would seem dramatically increased. Israel and the West have expressed how much distaste they hold for democracy in the region. When Gaza held a democratic election in 2006 and elected Hamas, which was viewed as the ‘wrong’ choice by Israel and America, Israel imposed a ruthless blockade of Gaza. Richard Falk, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Inquiry Commission for the Palestinian territories, wrote an article for Al Jazeera in which he explained that the blockade:

unlawfully restricted to subsistence levels, or below, the flow of food, medicine, and fuel. This blockade continues to this day, leaving the entire Gazan population locked within the world’s largest open-air prison, and victimized by one of the cruelest forms of belligerent occupation in the history of warfare.[22]

The situation in the occupied territories is made increasingly tense with the recent leaking of the “Palestinian Papers,” which consist of two decades of secret Israeli-Palestinian accords, revealing the weak negotiating position of the Palestinian Authority. The documents consist largely of major concessions the Palestinian Authority was willing to make “on the issues of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, territorial concessions, and the recognition of Israel.” Among the leaks, Palestinian negotiators secretly agreed to concede nearly all of East Jerusalem to Israel. Further, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (favoured by Israel and America over Hamas), was personally informed by a senior Israeli official the night before Operation Cast Lead, the December 2008 and January 2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 Palestinians: “Israeli and Palestinian officials reportedly discussed targeted assassinations of Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists in Gaza.”[23]

Hamas has subsequently called on Palestinian refugees to protest over the concessions regarding the ‘right of return’ for refugees, of which the negotiators conceded to allowing only 100,000 of 5 million to return to Israel.[24] A former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt lamented that, “The concern will be that this might cause further problems in moving forward.”[25] However, while being blamed for possibly preventing the “peace process” from moving forward, what the papers reveal is that the “peace process” itself is a joke. The Palestinian Authority’s power is derivative of the power Israel allows it to have, and was propped up as a method of dealing with an internal Palestinian elite, thus doing what all colonial powers have done. The papers, then, reveal how the so-called Palestinian ‘Authority’ does not truly speak or work for the interests of the Palestinian people. And while this certainly will divide the PA from Hamas, they were already deeply divided as it was. Certainly, this will pose problems for the “peace process,” but that’s assuming it is a ‘peaceful’ process in the first part.

Is Egypt on the Edge of Revolution?

Unrest is even spreading to Egypt, personal playground of U.S.-supported and armed dictator, Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981. Egypt is the main U.S. ally in North Africa, and has for centuries been one of the most important imperial jewels first for the Ottomans, then the British, and later for the Americans. With a population of 80 million, 60% of which are under the age of 30, who make up 90% of Egypt’s unemployed, the conditions are ripe for a repeat in Egypt of what happened in Tunisia.[26]

On January 25, 2011, Egypt experienced its “day of wrath,” in which tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to protest against rising food prices, corruption, and the oppression of living under a 30-year dictatorship. The demonstrations were organized through the use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook. When the protests emerged, the government closed access to these social media sites, just as the Tunisian government did in the early days of the protests that led to the collapse of the dictatorship. As one commentator wrote in the Guardian:

Egypt is not Tunisia. It’s much bigger. Eighty million people, compared with 10 million. Geographically, politically, strategically, it’s in a different league – the Arab world’s natural leader and its most populous nation. But many of the grievances on the street are the same. Tunis and Cairo differ only in size. If Egypt explodes, the explosion will be much bigger, too.[27]

In Egypt, “an ad hoc coalition of students, unemployed youths, industrial workers, intellectuals, football fans and women, connected by social media such as Twitter and Facebook, instigated a series of fast-moving, rapidly shifting demos across half a dozen or more Egyptian cities.” The police responded with violence, and three protesters were killed. With tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets, Egypt saw the largest protests in decades, if not under the entire 30-year reign of President Mubarak. Is Egypt on the verge of revolution? It seems too soon to tell. Egypt, it must be remembered, is the second major recipient of U.S. military assistance in the world (following Israel), and thus, its police state and military apparatus are far more advanced and secure than Tunisia’s. Clearly, however, something is stirring. As Hilary Clinton said on the night of the protests, “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”[28] In other words: “We continue to support tyranny and dictatorship over democracy and liberation.” So what else is new?

Egyptian Protest, 25 January 2011

According to some estimates, as many as 50,000 protesters turned out in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other Egyptian cities.[29] The protests were met with the usual brutality: beating protesters, firing tear gas and using water cannons to attempt to disperse the protesters. As images and videos started emerging out of Egypt, “television footage showed demonstrators chasing police down side streets. One protester climbed into a fire engine and drove it away.”[30] Late on the night of the protests, rumours and unconfirmed reports were spreading that the first lady of Egypt, Suzanne Mubarak, may have fled Egypt to London, following on the heels of rumours that Mubarak’s son, and presumed successor, had also fled to London.[31]

Are We Headed for a Global Revolution?

During the first phase of the global economic crisis in December of 2008, the IMF warned governments of the prospect of “violent unrest on the streets.” The head of the IMF warned that, “violent protests could break out in countries worldwide if the financial system was not restructured to benefit everyone rather than a small elite.”[32]

In January of 2009, Obama’s then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the greatest threat to the National Security of the U.S. was not terrorism, but the global economic crisis:

I’d like to begin with the global economic crisis, because it already looms as the most serious one in decades, if not in centuries … Economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they are prolonged for a one- or two-year period… And instability can loosen the fragile hold that many developing countries have on law and order, which can spill out in dangerous ways into the international community.[33] 

In 2007, a British Defence Ministry report was released assessing global trends in the world over the next 30 years. In assessing “Global Inequality”, the report stated that over the next 30 years:

[T]he gap between rich and poor will probably increase and absolute poverty will remain a global challenge… Disparities in wealth and advantage will therefore become more obvious, with their associated grievances and resentments, even among the growing numbers of people who are likely to be materially more prosperous than their parents and grandparents.  Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality, terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism.[34]

Further, the report warned of the dangers to the established powers of a revolution emerging from the disgruntled middle classes:

The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx.  The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states.  The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat to social order and stability, as the burden of acquired debt and the failure of pension provision begins to bite.  Faced by these twin challenges, the world’s middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.[35]

We have now reached the point where the global economic crisis has continued beyond the two-year mark. The social repercussions are starting to be felt – globally – as a result of the crisis and the coordinated responses to it. Since the global economic crisis hit the ‘Third World’ the hardest, the social and political ramifications will be felt there first. In the context of the current record-breaking hikes in the cost of food, food riots will spread around the world as they did in 2007 and 2008, just prior to the outbreak of the economic crisis. This time, however, things are much worse economically, much more desperate socially, and much more oppressive politically.

This rising discontent will spread from the developing world to the comfort of our own homes in the West. Once the harsh realization sets in that the economy is not in ‘recovery,’ but rather in a Depression, and once our governments in the West continue on their path of closing down the democratic façade and continue dismantling rights and freedoms, increasing surveillance and ‘control,’ while pushing increasingly militaristic and war-mongering foreign policies around the world (mostly in an effort to quell or crush the global awakening being experienced around the world), we in the West will come to realize that ‘We are all Tunisians.’

In 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his famous speech “Beyond Vietnam”:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.[36]

This was Part 1 of “North Africa and the Global Political Awakening,” focusing on the emergence of the protest movements primarily in North Africa and the Arab world, but placing it in the context of a wider ‘Global Awakening.’
Part 2 will focus on the West’s reaction to the ‘Awakening’ in this region; namely, the two-pronged strategy of supporting oppressive regimes while promoting “democratization” in a grand new project of “democratic imperialism.”

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a Research Associate with the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG).  He is co-editor, with Michel Chossudovsky, of the recent book, “The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century,” available to order at Globalresearch.ca. He is currently working on a forthcoming book on ’Global Government’.
Notes

[1]        Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Global Political Awakening. The New York Times: December 16, 2008: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/opinion/16iht-YEbrzezinski.1.18730411.html; “Major Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next US President,” International Affairs, 85: 1, (2009); The Dilemma of the Last Sovereign. The American Interest Magazine, Autumn 2005: http://www.the-american-interest.com/article.cfm?piece=56; The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership. Speech at the Carnegie Council: March 25, 2004: http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/4424.html; America’s Geopolitical Dilemmas. Speech at the Canadian International Council and Montreal Council on Foreign Relations: April 23, 2010: http://www.onlinecic.org/resourcece/multimedia/americasgeopoliticaldilemmas

[2]        Embassy Tunis, TROUBLED TUNISIA:  WHAT SHOULD WE DO?, WikiLeaks Cables, 17 July 2009: http://www.wikileaks.ch/cable/2009/07/09TUNIS492.html

[3]        Mona Eltahawy, Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, The Washington Post, 15 January 2011: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/14/AR2011011405084.html

[4]        Eileen Byrne, Protesters make the case for peaceful change, The Financial Times, 15 January 2011: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/82293e38-20ae-11e0-a877-00144feab49a.html#axzz1C08RDtxu

[5]        Marc Lynch, Tunisia and the New Arab Media Space, Foreign Policy, 15 January 2011: http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/01/15/tunisia_and_the_new_arab_media_space

[6]        Jillian York, Activist crackdown: Tunisia vs Iran, Al-Jazeera, 9 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/01/20111981222719974.html

[7]        Steven Cook, The Last Days of Ben Ali? The Council on Foreign Relations, 6 January 2011: http://blogs.cfr.org/cook/2011/01/06/the-last-days-of-ben-ali/

[8]        Angelique Chrisafis, Sarkozy admits France made mistakes over Tunisia, The Guardian, 24 January 2011: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/24/nicolas-sarkozy-tunisia-protests

[9]        Hillary Rodham Clinton, Interview With Taher Barake of Al Arabiya, U.S. Department of State, 11 January 2011: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/01/154295.htm

[10]      Algeria set for crisis talks, Al-Jazeera, 8 January 2011: http://aljazeera.co.uk/news/africa/2011/01/2011187476735721.html

[11]      Alexandra Sandels, JORDAN: Thousands of demonstrators protest food prices, denounce government, Los Angeles Times Blog, 15 January 2011: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2011/01/jordan-protests-food-prices-muslim-brotherhood-tunisia-strike-thousands-government.html

[12]      AP, Thousands demand ouster of Yemen’s president, Associated Press, 22 January 2011: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g3b2emEy39Bn52Z_haypKxNPGMSw?docId=d324160638a74e84b874baeada16bb4c

[13]      Abigail Fielding-Smith, North-south divide strains Yemen union, The Financial Times, 12 January 2011: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c7c59322-1e80-11e0-87d2-00144feab49a.html#axzz1C08RDtxu

[14]      EurActiv, ‘Jasmine’ revolt wave reaches Albania, 24 January 2011: http://www.euractiv.com/en/enlargement/jasmine-revolt-wave-reaches-albania-news-501529

[15]      Clemens Höges, Bernhard Zand and Helene Zuber, Arab Rulers Fear Spread of Democracy Fever, Der Spiegel, 25 January 2011: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,741545,00.html

[16]      Shibley Telhami, Results of Arab Opinion Survey Conducted June 29-July 20, 2010, 5 August 2010: http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2010/0805_arab_opinion_poll_telhami.aspx

[17]      Shibley Telhami, A shift in Arab views of Iran, Los Angeles Times, 14 August 2010: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/14/opinion/la-oe-telhami-arab-opinions-20100814

[18]      Clemens Höges, Bernhard Zand and Helene Zuber, Arab Rulers Fear Spread of Democracy Fever, Der Spiegel, 25 January 2011: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,741545,00.html

[19]      Merav Michaeli, Israel may be on the eve of revolution, Ha’aretz, 17 January 2011: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/israel-may-be-on-the-eve-of-revolution-1.337445

[20]      Ibid.

[21]      Yagil Levy, Israeli NGOs are entrenching the occupation, Ha’aretz, 11 January 2011: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/israeli-ngos-are-entrenching-the-occupation-1.336331?localLinksEnabled=false

[22]      Richard Falk, Ben Ali Tunisia was model US client, Al-Jazeera, 25 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/01/201112314530411972.html

[23]      Jack Khoury and Haaretz Service, Two decades of secret Israeli-Palestinian accords leaked to media worldwide, Ha’arets, 23 January 2011: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/two-decades-of-secret-israeli-palestinian-accords-leaked-to-media-worldwide-1.338768

[24]      Haaretz Service and The Associated Press, Hamas urges Palestinian refugees to protest over concessions on right of return, Ha’aretz, 25 January 2011: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/hamas-urges-palestinian-refugees-to-protest-over-concessions-on-right-of-return-1.339120

[25]      Alan Greenblatt, Palestinian Papers May Be Blow To Peace Process, NPR, 24 January 2011: http://www.npr.org/2011/01/24/133181412/palestinian-papers-may-cause-blow-to-peace-process?ps=cprs

[26]      Johannes Stern, Egyptian regime fears mass protests, World Socialist Web Site, 15 January 2011: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/jan2011/egyp-j15.shtml

[27]      Simon Tisdall, Egypt protests are breaking new ground, The Guardian, 25 January 2011: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/25/egypt-protests

[28]      Ibid.

[29]      MATT BRADLEY, Rioters Jolt Egyptian Regime, The Wall Street Journal, 26 January 2011: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704698004576104112320465414.html

[30]      Catrina Stewart, Violence on the streets of Cairo as unrest grows, The Independent, 26 January 2011: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/violence-on-the-streets-of-cairo-as-unrest-grows-2194484.html

[31]      IBT, Suzanne Mubarak of Egypt has fled to Heathrow airport in London: unconfirmed reports, International Business Times, 25 January 2011: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/104960/20110125/suzanne-mubarak-of-egypt-has-fled-to-heathrow-airport-in-london-unconfirmed-reports.htm

[32]      Angela Balakrishnan, IMF chief issues stark warning on economic crisis. The Guardian: December 18, 2008: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/dec/16/imf-financial-crisis

[33]      Stephen C. Webster, US intel chief: Economic crisis a greater threat than terrorism. Raw Story: February 13, 2009: http://rawstory.com/news/2008/US_intel_chief_Economic_crisis_greater_0213.html

[34]      DCDC, The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme, 2007-2036, 3rd ed. The Ministry of Defence, January 2007: page 3

[35]      Ibid, page 81.

[36]      Rev. Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html

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Jan 282011
 

opinion

 

While scholars dispute whether Tunisia serves as model Arab world uprising, many agree that it was near-perfect US ally. It is part of the reality in the region that American strategic and ideological goals point one way and the popular will of the people point in the opposite direction. It is either hypocritical or a sign of deep confusion for American leadership to advocate democracy in the Middle East without being willing to alter its grand strategy. As of now, there is every indication of continuity in the American approach to the region, signaled by its passivity in the face of Israeli extremism, its continuing military presence in Iraq, and the degree to which keeping Gulf oil reserves in friendly autocratic hands is an unquestioned goal of American foreign policy.

 

Richard Falk  Aljazeera  25 January 2011

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Ben Ali’s government was assumed to be immune to serious challenges to its widely validated power [AFP]

Almost six years ago, President George W. Bush’s otherwise inconsequential Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, gave a speech at the American University in Cairo that grabbed headlines.

While lauding the autocratic leadership of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Rice indicated a new approach to the Arab world by the United States in these much-quoted words: “For sixty years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.”

Explaining further this new approach in Washington, she went on to say, “Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty. It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy.”

Any close listener at the time should have wondered what was meant when at the same time she praised Mubarak for having “unlocked the door for change”, whatever that might mean. As it turned out, outlawing opposition parties and locking up their leaders seemed to remain the bottom line in Egypt without generating a whimper of complaint from the White House either in the Bush years, or since, in the supposedly milder presidency of President Obama.

And supporting “the democratic aspirations of all peoples” seems to have run aground for the White House after the Gaza elections of January 2006 in which Hamas triumphed, and the people of the Gaza Strip, regardless of how they voted, were immediately punished despite the internationally monitored elections being pronounced among the fairest in the region.

It should be remembered that Hamas was enticed to participate in the political process as a way of shifting the conflict with Israel toward nonviolent political competition, and that when victorious in the elections Hamas immediately declared a unilateral ceasefire as well as indicated its openness to diplomacy and a long-term framework of peaceful co-existence.

Maybe these Hamas initiatives were not sustainable, but they was neither welcomed, reciprocated, nor even explored. Instead, humanitarian assistance from Europe and the United States to Gaza was drastically cut and Israel engaged in a variety of provocations including targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders.

In mid-2007, after Hamas seized control of the governing process from Fatah in Gaza, Israel imposed its notorious blockade that unlawfully restricted to subsistence levels, or below, the flow of food, medicine, and fuel. This blockade continues to this day, leaving the entire Gazan population locked within the world’s largest open-air prison, and victimized by one of the cruelest forms of belligerent occupation in the history of warfare.

There is another aspect to the Rice/Bush embrace of democracy that was disclosed by their avowedly disproportionate response to the indiscriminate bombing campaign unleashed in 2006 by Israel on population centers in Lebanon in retaliation for a border incident. In the midst of the carnage Rice observed at the United Nations that the Lebanon War exhibited “the birth pangs of a new Middle East”, while her boss in the White House described the one-sided assault on a helpless civilian population as “a moment of opportunity”.

The point here being that when the people get in the way of imperial policies, it is the people who are sacrificed without even shedding a tear, really without even noticing. If their lives and well-being is so easily cast to one side in this callous geopolitical manner, surely the American posture of welcoming democracy in the region needs to be viewed with more than a skeptical smile. Supporting Israel’s aggressive wars initiated against Lebanon in 2006 and its massive assault for three weeks on Gaza at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 are clear demonstrations of the priorities of American foreign policy.

Looking back at the 20th century

Actually, this pattern has far deeper historical roots. During the Cold War there were strategic excuses constantly being given by Washington that overlooked oppression and corruption in Third World countries so long as they aligned themselves with the United States in the ideological struggle against the Soviet Union and put out a welcome mat to foreign investors. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, this geopolitical argument evaporated, but the economic and strategic priorities remained unchanged.

This supposed American dedication to democracy has all along seemed schizophrenic, lauding its virtues, but often dreading its genuine emergence, especially if strategic interests associated with economic and military priorities are at stake as they usually are. [The same dichotomy obtains at home—Eds.] Consult the record of “gunboat diplomacy” in the Western Hemisphere carried out under the aegis of the Monroe Doctrine (1823) if any doubt exists.

Turning back to North Africa in 1992 when the FIS in Algeria won hotly contested elections for legislative representation. The military intervened to impose its will; Washington was silent and remained so during the “dark decade” of strife followed in which at least 60,000 Algerians lost their lives. It is part of the reality in the region that American strategic and ideological goals point one way and the popular will of the people point in the opposite direction.

It is thus either hypocritical or a sign of deep confusion for American leadership to advocate democracy in the Middle East without being willing to alter its grand strategy. As of now, there is every indication of continuity in the American approach to the region, signaled by its passivity in the face of Israeli extremism, its continuing military presence in Iraq, and the degree to which keeping Gulf oil reserves in friendly autocratic hands is an unquestioned goal of American foreign policy.

Given these considerations what are we to make of America’s cautiously affirmative response to the Tunisian Revolution, or as it often called, the Jasmine Revolution? It is certainly prudent to be wary of the words issued by our government in particular, and to keep an eye out for its contrary actions, although such a gaze may well be obstructed by reliance on covert activities, and only when the next Julian Assange steps bravely forward will the public get any real understanding of the realities that take refuge behind non-transparent walls.

There is no doubt that during the twenty-four years of cruel dictatorial rule of Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, the United States government, despite the words of Rice, the “democracy promotion” schemes of the Bush presidency, and the new approach to the Islamic world promised by Obama, found nothing to complain about – ignoring report from respected human rights organizations.

As Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist and activist dedicated to the Palestinian struggle has written of the American response to the violence directed by the police during the Tunisian uprising, “Not one word of condemnation, not one word of criticism, not one word urging restraint came from Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton as live ammunition was fired into crowds of unarmed men, women, and children”.

Compare the strong denunciations of Iranian authorities when they used similarly brutal tactics to suppress the Green Revolution in Iran. The point is that geopolitics calls the tune in Washington.


Old Tunisia as ideal US ally

Indeed, Tunisia exemplified what the United States believed serves its interests: a blend of neoliberalism that is open to foreign investment, cooperation with American anti-terrorism by way of extreme rendition of suspects, and strict secularism that translates into the repression of political expression.

The Arab regimes throughout the region that seem most worried by the regional reverberations of the unfolding story in Tunisia all resemble the Ben Ali approach to governance, including dependence in various forms on the United States, which is usually accompanied, as in the Tunisian case, by aloofness from the Palestinian struggle for self-determination that is so symbolically significant for the peoples in these countries. There is no way for any government in the region to follow the Ben Ali path without becoming beleaguered and led to rely on extreme repression, denial of rights, abuse of political prisoners, and police violence designed to induce fear in the population – and shield the privileged corrupt elites from accountability and public rage.

The spontaneous popular eruption in Tunisia that followed the tragic suicide of Mohammed Bouazizi in the central Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010, was the spark that lit the revolutionary fire. This flame surge only could have occurred in an environment of acute grievance that was felt deeply and widely by ordinary Tunisians, so deeply and widely that in a few weeks time it shifted the locus of fear from the oppressed to the oppressed.

This shift was signaled by the abdication of Ben Ali on January 14, a pattern repeating the departure of another bloody dictator, Idi Amin, a few decades earlier. But the main lesson here is that oppressive regimes alienated from their populations are vulnerable to political bonfires that can be started by an insignificant spark in a faraway part of the country. Facing such a prospect can only make rulers dependent on force both more insecure and more inclined to extend the reach of political firefighting so as to achieve the impossible – spark prevention!

The martyrdom of Mohammed Bouazizi epitomized the plight of many young jobless and tormented Tunisians. This impoverished young vegetable street seller set himself on fire in a public place after the police confiscated his produce because he lacked a permit.

Such an act of principled and spontaneous suicide is not common in Arab culture where suicide, if it occurs in a politically relevant mode, is usually a deliberate instrument of struggle, relied upon by Palestinians for a while and currently by parts of the opposition to developments in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Such forms of political suicide are usually, although not always, targeting civilians, and are inconsistent with basic ideas of morality and law.

Bouazizi’s acts were expressive, not aggressive toward others, and recall practices more common in such Asian countries as Vietnam and Korea. When Buddhist monks set themselves on fire on the streets of Saigon in 1963 it was widely interpreted within the country as a turning point in the Vietnam War, a scream of the culture that was outraged by both oppressive Vietnamese rule and by the American military intervention. The intensity of Mohammed Bouazizi’s emotional funeral on Janurary 4 was intoned in these words exhibiting sadness and anger: “Farewell, Mohammed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today. We will make those who caused your death weep”. In the end one hopes that these almost inevitable sentiments of revenge, however understandable given the background of suffering and injustice, do not become the signature of the revolution.

‘Bread, freedom, dignity’

Another more hopeful direction was captured by a slogan that was said to draw inspiration from the French Revolution: “bread, freedom, dignity”. To be worthy of the sacrifices of those who took to the streets, confronting the violence of the state without weapons during these past several weeks, any new governing process must attend to the material needs of the Tunisian masses, open up the society to democratic debate and competition, and assert the protection of human rights as an unconditional commitment of whatever new leadership emerges.

Not many revolutions manage to carry out their idealistic promises that infused the period of struggle against the established order. Typically, they quickly succumb to the temptation to punish wrongdoers from the past and imaginary and real adversaries in the present instead of improving the life circumstances of the people.

It is not a simple situation. Such a revolution as has taken place in Tunisia is likely to beset by determined efforts to reverse the outcome. Powerful and entrenched enemies do exist, and rivalries among those contending anew for power will produce imaginary enemies as well that can discredit the humanistic claims of the revolution by tempting the leadership to launch bloody campaigns to solidify its claims to run the country. It is often a tragic predicament: either exhibit a principled adherence to constitutionalism, and get swept from power or engage in a purge of supposed hostile elements and initiate a new discrediting cycle of repression.

Will Tunisia be able to find a path that protects revolutionary gains without reverting to oppression? Much depends on how this question will be answered, and that will depend not only on the wisdom and maturity of Tunisians who take control at this time, but also on what the old order will do to regain power and the extent to which there is encouragement and substantive support from without. As Robert Fisk pointedly observes, “Tunisia wasn’t supposed to happen”.

Undoubtedly, Tunisia faces formidable challenges in this period of transition. As yet, there has been no displacement of the Ben Ali bureaucratic forces in the government, including the police and security forces that for decades terrorized the population. There were an estimated 40,000 police (2/3 in plainclothes, mingling with the population to monitor and intimidate).

It was said that friends were afraid to talk in cafes or restaurants, and even in their homes, because of this omnipresent surveillance. So far even prisoners of conscience have not been released from Tunisian jails, sites that daily exposed the brutality of the Ben Ali regime. Heading the interim government are longtime allies of Ben Ali, including Mohammed Ghannouchi, his main aide, regarded as being more aligned with the West than with the Tunisian people, although these days promising to step aside as soon as order is restored. But even if such an intention is carried out, is it enough?

We know that the revolution came about because of the courage of young Tunisians who took to the street in many parts of the country, faced gunfire and vicious state brutality, and yet persisted, seeming to feel that their life circumstances were so bad that they had little to lose, and everything to gain.

We know that the flames of revolution spread rapidly throughout, and beyond the borders of Tunisia, by interactive reliance on the Internet, many throughout the Arab world replacing personal pictures on their Facebook page with admiring pictures of revolutionary turmoil on Tunisian streets or as a sign of solidarity, posting pictures of the Tunisian flag.

There were even suicides of regime opponents in several Arab countries. What we don’t know is whether a leadership can emerge that will be faithful to the revolutionary ideals, and will be allowed to be. What we cannot know is how determined and effective will be internal and external counter-revolutionary tactics. We do know from other situation that elites rarely voluntarily relinquish class privileges of wealth, status, and influence, and that Tunisian elites have allies in the region and beyond who are silently opposed to the Jasmine Revolution, and extremely worried about its wider implications for other similar regimes in the region that stay in power only so long as their citizen is held in check by state terror. 

We also know that policymakers in Washington and Tel Aviv will be particularly nervous if Islamic influence emerges in the months ahead, even if vindicated by electoral outcomes. Fisk reminds us that Ben Ali was praised in the past for keeping “a firm hand on all those Islamists”, which was itself code language for bloody repression and a terrorized populace. It may even be that if Islamic-oriented political parties demonstrate their popularity with the Tunisian citizenry by winning the forthcoming promised election for a new democratic selected leadership, then the counter-revolutionary backlash will be particularly severe. 

There is some reason to believe that Islamic political forces currently enjoy great popularity in Tunisia, and that the main voice of the most important political party with an Islamic identity, Ali Larayedh (imprisoned and tortured for 14 years; and harassed for the past six years by Ben Ali’s secret police), articulates a moderate line on the relation of Islam to the future of Tunisia that resembles the development of recent years in Turkey rather than the hard line and oppressive theocratic developments that have so deeply tainted the Iranian Revolution.

The future of the Tunisian Revolution is filled with uncertainty. It remains at this moment a great victory for the people of the country, and those of us in sympathy with the struggle for “bread, freedom and dignity” must do all in our power to honor these goals and preserve this victory. A Palestinian journalist living in Norway, Salim Nazzal, put the situation well: “Arab observers agree that even if it is difficult to know where things would go in the future what is sure is that the Arab region is not the same after the Tunisian Revolution”.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Anderson Falk (born 1930) is an American professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, writer (the author or co-author of 20 books and the editor or co-editor of another 20 books),[1] speaker, activist on world affairs, and an appointee to two United Nations positions on the Palestinian territories. He has been a key figure in the development of the political theory of cosmopolitan democracy.[citation needed] A 9/11 truther,[2] Falk has been condemned by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and others for suggesting that the George W. Bush administration, rather than al-Qaeda, was responsible for the September 11 attacks.[3]

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Washington facing the ire of the Tunisian people

by Thierry Meyssan* | 25 January 2011

The real of power in Tunisia is no longer the Republican Palace, but the Embassy of the United States (right). This is where the Ghannouchi government was concocted. Located on the outskirts of Tunis, in a vast gated campus, the Embassy is a gigantic bunker that houses the main CIA and MEPI functions for North Africa and part of the eastern Mediterranean.

While western media are celebrating the “Jasmine Revolution”, Thierry Meyssan lays bare the U.S. plan to curb the anger of the Tunisian people and salvage this insconspicuous CIA and NATO backwater base. According to him, the insurrectional process is still ongoing and could rapidly give rise to a real Revolution, to the great dismay of Western capitals.

From Beirut (Lebanon)

The big powers abhor political upheavals that escape their control and thrwart their plans. The events that have electrified Tunisia for the past month are no exception, quite the contrary.

It is therefore rather surprising that the international mainstream media, staunch cohorts of the world domination system, should suddenly acclaim the “Jasmine Revolution”, churning out reports on the Ben Ali family fortune which they had up until now turned a blind eye to, despite their ostentatious luxury. Western countries are chasing after a situation that has slipped from their hands and which they are trying to rein in by painting it as it suits them.

First and foremost, what must be borne in mind is that the Ben Ali regime was supported by the United States, Israel, France and Italy.

Regarded by Washington as a country of minor importance, Tunisia fulfilled a security role more than an economic one. In 1987, a soft coup d’état deposed President Habab Bourguiba in favour of his Interior Minister Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, a CIA agent trained at the U.S. Army Intelligence School, Fort Holabird, Maryland. According to revelations that have recently come to light, it would seem that Italy and Algeria were akin to that power takeover [1].

The minute he settled into the Republican Palace, Ben Ali set up a military commission in conjunction with the Pentagon, which has met in May of each year. Wary of the army, he relegated it to a marginal role, keeping it under-equipped with the exception of the Tunisian Special Forces which train with the U.S. military and take part in the regional “anti-terrorism” device. The ports of Bizerte, Sfax, Sousse and Tunis host NATO vessels and, in 2004, Tunisia joined the “Mediterranean Alliance” under NATO auspices.

Not expecting anything in economic terms, Washington allowed Ben Ali to systematically bleed his country. Every expanding firm was requested to yield 50% of its capital plus the accompanying dividends. However, things turned sour in 2009 when the ruling family, which jumped from greed to cupidity, intended to impose their extortion racket also to U.S. firms.

For its part, the State Department began to prepare for the inevitable demise of the president. The dictator meticulously eliminated his rivals and had no heir. A solution had to be found and some sixty figures apt to play a political role in the future were brought on board. They each followed a three-month training at Fort Bragg and received a monthly salary [2].

Although President Ben Ali parroted the anti-Zionist rhetoric prevailing in the Muslim world, Tunisia extended several facilities to the Jewish colony of Palestine. Israeli citizens of Tunisian descent were authorised to travel to and trade in the country. Ariel Sharon was even invited to Tunis.

The revolt

The desperate act on 17 December 2010 of Mohamed el-Bouzazi, a street vendor who set himself on fire after the police confiscated his cart and produce, touched off the initial protests. This personal drama, which resonated with the Sidi Bouzid residents, sparked a general uprising. The clashes spread to several regions before engulfing the capital. The General Union of Tunisian Workers, best known under its French acronym UGTT, and lawyers’ groups joined in the demonstrations, thus sealing spontaneously an alliance between the popular and middle classes around a structured organisation.

On 28 December, President Ben Ali attempted to regain control of the situation, making a bed-side visit to young Mohamed el-Bouazizi and addressing the nation that same evening. Yet his televised speech exposed his obliviousness. He treated the protestors as extremists and paid agitators, promising a ferocious crackdown. Instead of appeasing the people, his intervention transformed a popular revolt into an insurrection. The Tunisian people are not only mobilised against social injustice, they are also questioning the political power system.

Producer and Nessma TV magnate Tarak Ben Ammar (left) is an associate of Silvio Berlusconi and the uncle of Yasmina Torjman, wife of French Industry Minister Eric Besson.

It became clear to Washington that “our agent Ben Ali” had lost the reins. The National Security Council, Jeffrey Feltman [3] and Colin Kahl [4] concurred that the time had come to drop this spent dictator and to organise his succession before the insurrection could morph into a genuine revolution, i.e. a challenge to the system.

The media were enlisted, in Tunisia and the rest of the world, to circumscribe the insurrection. The attention of the Tunisian people would be focused on social issues, the corruption of the Ben Ali family, and press censorship. Anything to stave off a debate on the reasons that, 23 years earlier, had prompted Washington to invest the dictator and to protect him while he pilfered the country’s economy.

On 30 December, private Nessma TV channel defied the regime by broadcasting protest reports and organising a debate on the need for a democratic change. Nessma TV is owned by the Italo-Tunisian group of Tarak Ben Ammar and Silvio Berlusconi. The message rang out loud and clear for those who were still sitting on the fence: the regime was split.

Concurrently, U.S. experts (as well as Serbian and German) were detailed to Tunisia to channel the insurrection. Exploiting the collective emotional wave, they attempted to plant their slogans during the demonstrations. Attuned to the techniques of the so-called “coloured revolutions”, fashioned by the Albert Einstein Institution of Gene Sharp [5], they shone the spotlight on the dictator to forestall a debate on the country’s political future: “Ben Ali, out” [6]

On 2 January 2010, the group Anonymous (a CIA front) hacked the official website of the Prime Minister, inserting an ominous message in English on the home page. The logo corresponds to the international Pirate Party, whose Tunisian member Slim Amanou will be propelled by the U.S. Embassy within the “national unity government” as Youth and Sports Minister.

Hidden behind the pseudonym of Anonymous, the CIA cyber-command – already deployed against Zimbabwe and Iran – hacked Tunisian official sites, implanting a sinister message in English.

The insurrection

The Tunisians continued to spontaneously brave the regime, stage massive street demonstrations, and set fire to police precints and shops owned by Ben Ali. Courageously, some have even shed their own blood. Pathetic and overtaken by events, the dictator stiffened without understanding.

On 13 January, he ordered the army to open fire on the crowd, but the Army Chief of Staff refused. Having been contacted by Africom Commander General William Ward, General Rachid Ammar informed the President that Washington was enjoining him to flee.

In France, kept in the dark about Washington’s decision, the Sarkozy government failed to analyse the various repositions. Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie set out to save the dictator by dispatching law-enforcement specialists and equipment, enabling him to hold on to power through more orthodox means [7]. A cargo plane was chartered on Friday the 14th. By the time customs formalites were completed in Paris, it was too late: Ben Ali no longer needed the aid; he had already taken flight.

His erstwhile friends, in Washington and Tel-Aviv, Paris and Rome, denied him asylum. He ended up in Riyad. He is said to have taken with him 1,5 tons of gold stolen from the Public Treasury, which the authorities still in place have denied.

Marketing: (left) the logo of the “Jasmine Revolution” is unveiled at the exact moment of Ben Ali’s flight. In the center, a raised fist, which is the ex-communist symbol used in all the “colour revolutions” since Otpor in Serbia. From Washington’s perspective, what is important is to affirm that the events are over and that they are part of a liberal international order. Also, the title appears in English and the Tunisian flag has been reduced to a simple ornament on the letter R.

A bit of jasmine to calm the Tunisians

The U.S. communications strategists tried next to blow the whistle to call the end of the game, while the outgoing Prime Minister was assembling an interim government. It is at this juncture that the press agencies launched the “Jasmine Revolution” mantra (in English, if you please!), assuring us that the Tunisian population had just lived through its “colour revolution”. A national unity government was on the rails … and all is well that ends well!

The epithet “Jasmine Revolution” evokes bitter memories to Tunisians of older generations: it is the same one alread used by the CIA in its communications at the time of the 1987 coup that placed Ben Ali in the seat of power.

The Western press – henceforth better controlled by the Empire than its Tunisian counterpart – turned its floodlights on Ben Ali’s doubtful fortune. No mention was made of the report by IMF Managing Dominique Strauss-Kahn commending Tunisia’s decision-makers in glowing terms just a few months after the 2008 hunger riots [8]. Nor was any mention made of the latest Transparency International report stating that Tunisia was less corrupt than certain members of the European Union, such as Italy, Romania and Greece [9].

The regime militia which had terrorised the civilian population during the riots, forcing it to organise through self-defense committees, disappeared from the scene overnight.

The Tunisians, considered as depoliticised and malleable, proved to be extremely muture. They realised that the Mohammed Ghannouchi cabinet is tantamount to the earlier version without Ben Ali. Despite some cosmetic changes, the bosses of the sole ruling party (RCD) held on to the key ministries. The UGTT trade unionists refused to be associated with the U.S. manipulation and walked out of the coalition government.

An opponent “made in the USA”.

With a little help from Nessma TV magnate Tarak Ben Ammar, film director Moufida Tlati was nominated Culture Minister. Less in the limelight, but far more significant, Ahmed Néjib Chebbi, a National Endowment for Democracy pawn, was given the Ministry of Regional Development. The obscure Slim Amanou, a blogger familiar with the methods of the Albert Einstein Institute, filled the slot of Youth and Sports Secretary under the label of the shadowy Pirate Party attached to the self-proclaimed hacker group Anonymous.

The real of power is no longer the Republican Palace, but the Embassy of the United States. This is where the Ghannouchi government was concocted. Located on the outskirts of Tunis, in a vast gated campus, the Embassy is a gigantic bunker that houses the main CIA and MEPI functions for North Africa and part of the eastern Mediterranean.

Needless to say, the U.S. Embassy did not invite the Communist Party to be part of the so-called “government of national unity”.

On the other hand, preparations got underway for the return of Rachid Ghannouchi (unrelated to the Prime Minister), a legendary leader of the Rennaissance Party (Ennahda) who was exiled in London. A Muslim (formerly of the Salafist tendency), he extols the compatibility between Islam and democracy and has been preparing a reconciliation with the Democratic Progressive Party headed by his friend Ahmed Néjib Chebbi. In case of a coalition government breakdown, this pro-US duo could offer an illusion of change.

Tunisian street power is still alive, with the people expanding the slogan that had been handed down to them: “RCD, out!”. In the villages and workplaces, they stalk the collaborators of the fallen regime.

On the road to Revolution?

Contrary to what has been reported by the Western media, the insurrection is not yet over and the Revolution has not yet commenced. It is clear that Washington has channeled nothing at all, except for western journalists. Today, even more than last December, the situation is out of control.

________

Thierry Meyssan

French political analyst, founder and chairman of the VoltaireNetwork and the Axis for Peace conference. He publishes columns dealing with international relations in daily newspapers and weekly magazines in Arabic, Spanish and Russian. Last books published in English : 9/11 the Big Lie and Pentagate.

 •

[1] Declaration made by Admiral Fulvio Martini, then Chief of theItalian Secret Services (SISMI).

[2] Direct testimony recorded by the author.

[3] Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

[4] Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East.

[5] The Albert Einstein Institution: non-violence according to the CIA, by Thierry Meyssan, Voltaire Network, 4 January 2005.

[6] The Technique of a Coup d’État, by John Laughland, VoltaireNetwork, 5 January 2010.

[7] Proposition française de soutenir la répression en Tunisie ReseauVoltaire, 12 January 2011

[8] Video

[9] “Corruption Perceptions Index 2010“, Transparency International.

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CROSSPOST: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/01/201112314530411972.html

http://www.voltairenet.org/article168224.html

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Jan 282011
 

Tyrants and exploiters can never learn that gross injustice is the spawning ground of all rebellions.

28 January 2011  | [print_link]

TWO WEEKS after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Arab leaders that their region’s “foundations are sinking into the sand”, the growing revolutionary upsurge of the masses has revealed that the pillars of Washington’s own policy in the Middle East are rotten and crumbling.

The mass uprising that toppled the 23-year rule of Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has now been followed by tens of thousands of young demonstrators in Egypt taking to the streets, defying security forces, and in increasing numbers giving their lives, to demand the downfall of Hosni Mubarak and his nearly three-decade-old regime. Thousands more demonstrated Thursday in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, calling for the ouster of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled the country for more than 30 years.

In every case, masses of youth and workers have risen up against regimes that are synonymous with social inequality, corruption, political repression and torture and which have been firmly aligned with and largely financed by US imperialism. They have been driven to act by the same conditions of unemployment, rising prices and government abuse that led the young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi to set himself ablaze in protest, inspiring the demonstrations that swept his homeland.

These conditions have rendered life increasingly intolerable for millions of people throughout the region, while denying the younger generation any future. They are the legacy of an entire epoch of colonial domination followed by the inability and unwillingness of the bourgeois nationalist movements of the region to forge any independence from imperialism. Now these conditions of mass poverty and oppression have been deepened immensely by a historic crisis of world capitalism that has its center in the United States itself.

It is nearly a decade since the administration of George W. Bush, utilizing the September 11, 2001 attacks as a pretext, launched wars first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, with the aim of exploiting US military supremacy to establish the unchallenged hegemony of American imperialism in the region. Having cost the lives of over a million people and drained the US economy of over a trillion dollars, these continuing wars and occupations have achieved none of their original goals, while deepening the hatred toward Washington throughout the Middle East and internationally.

During the heady days of imperialist triumphalism that accompanied the launching of these wars, the Bush administration proclaimed its support for a “freedom agenda.” It advanced the thesis that a “liberated” Iraq would serve as an inspiration for the masses of the region to embrace “freedom” and “democracy” while aligning themselves with the interests of the United States and Israel.

Washington’s purported support for democracy and free elections in the region was short-lived. A parliamentary election in Palestinian occupied territories delivered a clear victory to the Islamist Hamas movement, which rejected the framework of the US-sponsored “peace process” and the US responded by supporting an attempted coup and then a partition of the West Bank and Gaza, with the Palestinian people subjected to unceasing collective punishment for their choice at the ballot box.

Similarly, the recent coming to office of a government backed by the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, in accordance with the rules of the country’s parliamentary system, has been treated by Washington as an illegitimate coup prompting threats of aid cutoffs and even military aggression.

In an interview on National Public Radio, Thursday, Graeme Bannerman, the former Middle East analyst on the US State Department Policy Planning Staff, voiced the real position of the US government—under both Bush and Obama—hidden by all of the rhetoric about supporting reform and human rights.

“Popular opinion in the Middle East runs so against American policies,” he said, “that any change in any government in the Middle East that becomes more popular will have an anti-American and certainly less friendly direction towards the US which will be a serious political problem for us.”

Nowhere is this more true than in Egypt. For 34 years, ever since Anwar Sadat made his trip to Jerusalem and subsequently signed the Camp David accords with Israel, the US has backed the military dictatorship headed first by Sadat and then his successor, Mubarak.

Egypt has served as the linchpin of US policy in the Middle East. In return, the US has lavished $1.3 billion in military aid upon the Egyptian regime every year. The bullets, tear gas and truncheons employed against the youth and workers demonstrating in Cairo and elsewhere bear the clear stamp of “Made in the USA.”

From the outset of the spreading revolt in the Middle East, official Washington has been taken aback by events. In Tunisia, just three days before Ben Ali boarded an aircraft and fled the wrath of his own people for exile in Saudi Arabia, US Secretary of State Clinton expressed her concern over the “unrest and instability” in the country, while extolling the “very positive aspects of our relationship” with the country’s longtime dictator. She insisted that Washington was “not taking sides,” as US trained and equipped troops were shooting down demonstrators in the streets.

Only after the downfall of its ally Ben Ali, did the Obama administration discover, in the president’s words, “the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people.” In his State of the Union speech he proclaimed that the US “stands with the people of Tunisia.” He extended no such verbal backing to the people of Egypt, where that very day riot squads and secret police thugs had carried out mass arrests and beaten demonstrators and journalists alike.

On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden made clear the administration’s continued commitment to the hated dictatorship in Egypt. “Mubarak has been an ally of ours on a number of things. And he’s been very responsible … relative to (US) geopolitical interests in the region … to normalizing relationship with Israel,” Biden declared. “I would not refer to him as a dictator,” he added, insisting that Mubarak should not step down.

The unmistakable message is that if the Mubarak regime must resort to a bloodbath to prevent being overthrown by the masses in the streets, it will be firmly supported by Washington. All of the talk about urging the regime to carry out self-reform is utterly hollow. The time when the sclerotic Egyptian dictatorship of the 82-year-old Mubarak was even capable of such measures is long past.

Meanwhile, as the Wall Street Journal put it Thursday, “the US is trying to re-channel the spreading anger in the region.” It has dispatched Jeffrey Feltman, the top US State Department official for the region, to Tunis to oversee the maneuvers aimed at salvaging the Ben Ali dictatorship without Ben Ali. In Egypt, the arrival in Cairo of Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the UN nuclear regulatory agency, may well signal the launching of a US initiative aimed at achieving a negotiated settlement.

Washington fears, above all, the entry into mass political struggle of the tens of millions of Egyptian workers. In a country where 40 percent of the population subsists at the poverty level of $2 a day or less, US-fostered “freedom” has been delivered in the form of “free market” capitalism, which has promoted wholesale privatizations, opening of markets and other measures that have enriched a thin layer at the top, while driving the bulk of the population into deepening misery.

The global capitalist crisis that is fueling the upheavals in the Middle East has its center within the United States itself. The debacle confronting Washington in the region is a telling measure of the deepening decline of US imperialism.

The workers of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and elsewhere in the region who are entering mass struggles will find their greatest ally in the working class of the United States, which is confronting the deepest attacks on jobs, living standards and basic rights in its history.

The demands of the workers and youth who have taken to the streets of Tunis, Cairo and other Arab cities for jobs, livable wages and democratic rights can only be achieved in a revolutionary struggle to put an end to capitalism, which is incapable of meeting even the most basic needs of the working population in any country.

The burning task posed by these events is the building of a new revolutionary leadership, fighting for the unification of the working class across national boundaries in the struggle for the United Socialist States of the Middle East and the Maghreb as part of the world socialist revolution. 

Bill Van Auken is a senior political analyst with the World Socialist Web Site.

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