Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Revolutionary Contagion.

Run Mubarak Run! 

The people of Egypt have been in revolt for about a week now. Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt under a perpetual state of emergency since 1981, has made a "concession" of forming a new government in the face of civil disobedience on an unprecedented scale. Of course the "new government" would still include himself but would be made up of entirely new officials to do his bidding. In other words the Egyptian bourgeoisie are doing the exact opposite of their Tunisian equivalents. Don't throw out the dictator and keep the administration, throw out the administration and keep the dictator. The situation in Egypt has people like Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia coming out in support of Mubarak out of nothing but fear. The King of Jordan is emulating Mubarak in his "concession" to appease the people. To the layman it would seem that just weeks, or even days ago, Tunisia and Egypt were peaceful spots for Western tourists to holiday. This is the line of the Western media who are so "shocked" by the events in Tunisia and Egypt. An undercurrent of racism can also be seen here "Why is this happening? Who are these people to ruin our holidays?"

Some of the holiday adverts for Egypt in Britain claim "it all begins in Egypt", in reference to the notion of Egypt as the 'Mother of the World', but in this case Tunisia is the 'Mother of the Revolution'. For it all began in Tunisia just as 2010 was coming to a close when Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolated in protest of the rampant corruption of the state and police brutality, which led to the revolt that forced President Ben Ali into exile. A government consisting mostly of the old faces below Ben Ali with some new blood favourable to the Jasmine movement. It should not be forgotten that the Tunisian kleptocracy was propped up by France, Britain and the US as part of the "War on Terrorism". Israel and the US soon became concerned for the region's "stability" as the demonstrations led to Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia - along with $35 million worth of gold. And so the contagion soon began to spread as others self-immolated in Algeria and Egypt. The inevitable spread of the revolution was predictable, so predictable that Colonel Gaddafi quickly condemned the Jasmine Revolution.

In Tunisia the military and armed members of the secret police fought it out until Ben Ali was driven from power. In Egypt the military has refused to open fire on civilians and there are calls for the military to remove Mubarak. Under Ben Ali the Tunisian military received 1.4% of GDP, whereas Gaddafi spends 1.2% on the military in Libya. A strong military is imperative for maintaining a dictatorship and keeping the population under control. Now that the revolution has spread to Egypt, where 3.12% of GDP is poured into the military, it looks as though Algeria and Morocco may also be vulnerable. The US being the primary "donor" of military aid to Egypt and Tunisia, along with a lot of other countries in the region. Of course there is concern for the "stability" of the region as the tacit alliance between Israel and Arab leaders across the Middle East may be shaken to the core. The revolutionary convulsion threatening to puke the Mubarak regime out and all over Uncle Sam's carpet has the potential to undermine American-Israeli interests, thus the concern for "stability".

After a week of massive demonstrations in Egypt the price of oil has risen to $100 and the stock market has also been affected negatively. Faced with this the American Right are running with the line that the instability has been orchestrated by Communists and Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood, whilst calling for the Obama administration to give Mubarak total support to violently suppress the demonstrations. Glenn Beck has compared Mubarak to the Archduke Ferdinand with the implication that the end of the Mubarak regime will bring about World War III. Egypt has been one of the "cops on the beat" in the Middle East for over 30 years and the Right is arguing that Mubarak is a bulwark against the creation of an Islamist state. Even though the Muslim Brotherhood has only recently come out in support of the mass-demonstrations as the movement against Mubarak is a threat to the authoritarian model which the Brotherhood advocates. According to the cynical likes of Glenn Beck "This is the story of everyone who has ever plotted to, or wanted to, fundamentally change or destroy the Western way of life. This isn't about Egypt."

Meanwhile American and British officials have essentially been calling for a "revolution without a revolution", asking for restraint for both sides and calling for "reform" to recognise the grievances of the masses. No one wants to own up to supporting the North African regimes that have been condemned for a widely documented record of torture, abuse of power and corruption. The French government has supported the police state in Tunisia for years, as has the UK and the US. Similarly Egypt has received a great deal of Western support since the 1970s when Sadat brokered a peace deal with the Israelis. Since 1975 the US has poured $30 billion in aid into Egypt as a way of maintaining the tacit alliance with Israel. Just as the UK has maintained "close relations" with the former colony, British investments in Egypt add up to £10 billion in a wide range of sectors including fossil fuels, financial services and tourism.

As this gives Israel a military advantage over its neighbours, in case the tacit alliances break down, whilst improvements in military hardware can easily be made in the US and Israel because of the "tests" that can be carried out against the Palestinians. The Palestinians have no human rights partly because they serve no use to the US in economic or strategic terms, two areas of which Israel is a most valuable ally. Egypt is also important in strategic and economic terms as well, over 2 million barrels of oil pass through the Suez canal every day and the alliance with Israel has enabled the Israeli government to pursue greater expansion - for greater strategic and economic benefits, at the expense of its own security - since the 1970s. The noises made in the West about "stability" are really concerns that the "virus" could spread across the Middle East if Mubarak falls. If the pacified elites are overthrown the likelihood of serious political opposition to Israel are increased exponentially.

The importance of political relations between Israel and Egypt should not be underestimated. As it was the informal alliance, brokered in the form of a peace deal, between Egypt and Israel that led to the assassination of Sadat in 1981, which in turn created the emergency state that enabled Mubarak to rule for 30 years. The inspiration came from the work of an Islamist thinker Sayyid Qutb, who became radicalised after being tortured by the Nasser regime and argued that the likes of Sadat were not true Muslims and should be killed for the sake of creating an Islamic state. It was only after being covered in animal fat and locked in a room full of rabid mutts that Qutb began to advocate violence against the Nationalist regime, itself established in 1952 through revolution. The writing of Sayyid Qutb would go on to inspire Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, who were not only behind 9/11 but were involved in the assassination of Sadat which elevated Hosni Mubarak to President.

The rise of Islamism in the Middle East has in part been a product of the failures and abuses of Arab nationalism. The threat of terrorism functioned to increase the power of the state over civilian life, in Algeria the state covertly encouraged terrorists to increase it's own power. In the case of Egypt it gave the Nationalist regime a justification for the emergency state. For anyone who knows anything about politics in the Maghreb and the Middle East, the events of recent weeks are not a random expression of rage. Revolutionary change has been bubbling just below the surface of these societies for decades. The recent debacle of rigged elections, torture, endemic corruption and complicity in the slaughter of Palestinians. These are the reasons that 1 million people have gathered in Tahrir Square - Liberation Square in English - to demand the end of the emergency state along with a Presidency that has gone on for three decades and has been sustained through violence.

An old friend of Hosni Mubarak, as well as a fellow murderer and unscrupulous politician Tony Blair has come out claiming that Egypt might take a backward step "into a very reactionary form of religious autocracy". The Blairite defence of secular authoritarianism, as opposed to a hypothetical religious autocracy, might be more believable if he had not taken vacations to Egypt and Mubarak covered the expenses. Despite the line common in the press that if Mubarak falls the state will be seized by the Muslim Brotherhood. The movement is not only grass-roots and democratic, it is secular and calling for social justice as well as freedom. The Muslim Brotherhood have vowed to respect the wishes of the majority of Egyptians in the event that the regime collapses. The argument for Mubarak and some "reform", which we might as well think of as cosmetic surgery for the old regime, that free elections will lead to an Islamist state is not only false but obscene and insulting.


Anonymous said...

The Americans are terrified because American foreign policy in ME revolves around making damn sure there is no democracy there. And it's been like that for decades. American pols love ot promote the idea that Arabs are not capable of self government.

Obama will do what ever he thinks is politically expedient for Obama. He's a prostitute. But no matter who does what, the Genie is out of the bottle in the middle east. And the American Empire is weakening. I'm an American and I cheer that!

J.T. White said...

I'm glad to hear that you're rejoicing at this, as I am too along with so many others in the world right now. The attitude you pin-pointed among American politicians is not just Orientalism, but outright racism, and I'm not surprised by it as it is a common outlook of imperialists. The British had a similar despicable attitude to Africans and Indians.

Alexander Cockburn once used the metaphor of the Roman empire nearing it's collapse and the Pagan barbarians massing on the border waiting for just the right moment to strike. The "barbarians" (e.g. activists) are the only hope for the collapse of the empire. It's a good metaphor, although it could be misinterpreted...

In Egypt we can see a perfect instance of the so-called "barbarians" striking at a major offshoot of the American empire - specifically Mubarak. Thanks to the bravery of the Egyptian people, there is a genuine possibility of change. We know for sure that the Saudi Royals have been rattled by the events in Egypt and Tunisia, let's hope the contagion is coming their way soon enough.

Thanks for reading.