Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nir Rosen on Arab revolution, Israel & Iran

Nir Rosen

February 25, 2011

What this means for Israel and Iran

So all this revolution business is not good for Iran for two reasons. The obvious one is that Iran may also be caught up in the wave of popular revolutions sweeping the region.

Regardless of what happens inside Iran, it seems quite likely that Iran will lose much of its influence if Egypt regains any of its natural role in the Arab world. Iran had influence in part because nobody else was carrying the flag of Palestine or anti imperialism but if Egypt returns to an Arab nationalist foreign policy and is no longer collaborating with Israel or under the American or Saudi sway then Iran is a big loser. This will also somewhat reduce Hizballah’s regional popularity, they are limited by being a religious Shiite movement (even if everybody loves Seyid Hassan’s speeches and loves the resistance for defeating Israel). The rise of a more independent Turkish foreign policy was already chipping away at Iranian influence (because in the end Iran is Shiite and unfortunately that matters, at least Turkey is Sunni even if too is non-Arab), but now Egypt is unshackled from Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States (it seems clear from today that the Egyptian demonstrators will not settle for cosmetic changes) and the demonstrators have made their hostility to Israel very clear in their slogans and in their response to Qaradawi’s sermon, so with Arab nationalism reborn Iranian influence will wain. There will be new political and military elites rising up and they will not necessarily be the ones with long standing ties to the Israelis, the Americans, the Saudis. And if you have a more independent and Arab nationalist Egypt it will limit the Saudi ability to meddle in the region. This is good because Saudi money thwarts progress, democracy, development. A nationalist Egypt (as opposed to one that collaborates with Israel and America) means that other Arab countries will have to follow or at least be less collaborationist. It will mean that Jordan will not necessarily accomodate Israel or the Palestinian Authority as much (the Jordanians and senior Fatah leadership dont trust each other much anyway). So Israel is losing its regional partners. And do not think for a second that the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, and throughout the region are purely economic. They are also deeply political. No new regime that is based on popular will is going to be friendly to Israel. Everybody hates Israel. Just look at whats been happening to Turkey since it became more of a genuine democracy. And listen to what Egyptian demonstrators were chanting about Israel (hint- they want to liberate Palestine).

Of course the Israeli elites dont know this. There is nobody in Israel who understands whats happening. When it comes to studying the contemporary Arab world, Israelis do so only through a security prism, not genuine curiosity or a desire to understand Arab countries and Arab culture as they are, only as they affect Israeli security. Those who study the Arab world in Israeli universities, the media and the military are the same people. They served in Israeli military intelligence in Lebanon, the West Bank or Gaza, they study Arabic in Israeli universities with professors who could never actually conduct field work in the Arab world so they only see shadows and reflections of the Arab world, and they dont view Arabs as people, only as enemies who want to kill them so they need to be controlled, and then they move on to the media as so called experts on Arab affairs, and they get their expertise by watching various Arab news networks or talking to sources in Israeli intelligence, its an echo chamber of security obsessed people.

And now Israeli combat units and the Israeli military in general are gradually falling into the hands of Jewish Taliban. There was a time when it was the secular elites from the kibutz who dominated the combat units and senior levels of the military, but as Israel has changed from a socialist apartheid state to an extreme capitalist apartheid state the only people left willing to fight and die for Zionism will soon be extreme religious Jews. And Israeli society is getting more and more open in its racism against its native Palestinian population (Israeli Jews like to call them Israeli Arabs and pretend that they are not Palestinian too). So now you have an Israeli Jewish society that is increasingly extreme and overt in its hostility to the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Even the Druze of Israel, who were the most collaborationist, are gradually realizing that they will never be Jewish. So its great when they’re in the military and everybody’s a brother but once they try to rent an apartment in a Jewish area and they’re treated like a dirty Arab by Jews who are worried that their daughters will be contaminated by them then even the Druze must realize that they have no place in ZIonism.

It is Israel itself that is hastening its demise. Israeli society is going in one inevitable direction. They will try to expel (transfer is their preferred nomenclature) the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Its integral to the logic of Zionism. You have a state created by ethnic cleansing and maintained by ethnic cleansing (so that they can call themselves a Jewish democracy- cant have too many non-Jews). But now in historic Palestine you have about fifty percent Jews ruling the other fifty percent of non Jews who have different categories (citizens, occupied) but are all inferior in their status and basically without any guaranteed rights. But the non Jews are increasing. What do you do? You have to get rid of some of them. But what will the international community do? You cant just put the Arabs on trains and take them out, can you? Well the international community (which means powerful Western countries) didnt do anything when you flattened half of Lebanon and targeted civilians. They didnt do anything when you flattened half of Gaza and targeted civilians. They didnt do anything when you attacked unarmed and peaceful aid workers trying to help the people of Gaza and you executed them, so they wont do anything when you try to expel your non Jewish citizens except complain that it is unhelpful and not nice. And Israelis know they have to do it soon. They’re losing their friendly dictators one by one. They’re even losing the support of liberal Americans (slowly), including Jews, thanks to Netanyahu and Lieberman. And soon there will be too many non Jews in Israel for them to pretend they are a Jewish democracy. And this is happening when Palestinian citizens of Israel are increasingly angry and awakened. They are not their parents, they want equality, they feel connected to the rest of the Arab world, they love the speeches of Seyid Hassan Nasrallah, they are united with their brothers via al Jazeera. Make no mistake, the third intifada is coming and it will start in northern Palestine (inside what is now called Israel), it may start in Um al Fahm, or Baqa al Gharbiya, some other town, but its coming, sooner than ever thanks to the revolutionary people’s uprisings sweeping the old Middle East and it is Israel that will soon feel the birth pang’s of the new Middle East.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Egypt: A revolution against neoliberalism?

If rebellion results in a retrenchment of neoliberalism, millions will feel cheated.
'Abu Atris' Last Modified: 24 Feb 2011 17:04 GMT
An Al Jazeera opinion piece

On February 16th I read a comment was posted on the wall of the Kullina Khalid Saed ("We are all Khaled Said") Facebook page administered by the now very famous Wael Ghonim. By that time it had been there for about 21 hours. The comment referred to a news item reporting that European governments were under pressure to freeze bank accounts of recently deposed members of the Mubarak regime. The comment said: "Excellent news … we do not want to take revenge on anyone … it is the right of all of us to hold to account any person who has wronged this nation. By law we want the nation’s money that has been stolen … because this is the money of Egyptians, 40% of whom live below the poverty line."

By the time I unpacked this thread of conversation, 5,999 people had clicked the "like" button, and about 5,500 had left comments. I have not attempted the herculean task of reading all five thousand odd comments (and no doubt more are being added as I write), but a fairly lengthy survey left no doubt that most of the comments were made by people who clicked the "like" icon on the Facebook page. There were also a few by regime supporters, and others by people who dislike the personality cult that has emerged around Mr. Ghoneim.

This Facebook thread is symptomatic of the moment. Now that the Mubarak regime has fallen, an urge to account for its crimes and to identify its accomplices has come to the fore. The chants, songs, and poetry performed in Midan al-Tahrir always contained an element of anger against haramiyya (thieves) who benefited from regime corruption. Now lists of regime supporters are circulating in the press and blogosphere. Mubarak and his closest relatives (sons Gamal and 'Ala’) are always at the head of these lists. Articles on their personal wealth give figures as low as $3 billion to as high as $70 billion (the higher number was repeated on many protesters’ signs). Ahmad Ezz, the General Secretary of the deposed National Democratic Party and the largest steel magnate in the Middle East, is supposed to be worth $18 billion; Zohayr Garana, former Minister of Tourism, $13 billion; Ahmad al-Maghrabi, former Minister of Housing, $11 billion; former Minister of Interior Habib Adli, much hated for his supervision of an incredibly abusive police state, also managed to amass $8 billion — not bad for a lifetime civil servant.

Such figures may prove to be inaccurate. They may be too low, or maybe too high, and we may never know precisely because much of the money is outside of Egypt, and foreign governments will only investigate the financial dealings of Mubarak regime members if the Egyptian government makes a formal request for them to do so. Whatever the true numbers, the corruption of the Mubarak regime is not in doubt. The lowest figure quoted for Mubarak’s personal wealth, of "only" $3 billion, is damning enough for a man who entered the air force in 1950 at the age of twenty two, embarking on a sixty-year career in "public service."

A systemic problem

The hunt for regime cronies’ billions may be a natural inclination of the post-Mubarak era, but it could also lead astray efforts to reconstitute the political system. The generals who now rule Egypt are obviously happy to let the politicians take the heat. Their names were not included in the lists of the most egregiously corrupt individuals of the Mubarak era, though in fact the upper echelons of the military have long been beneficiaries of a system similar to (and sometimes overlapping with) the one that that enriched civilian figures much more prominent in the public eye such as Ahmad Ezz and Habib al-Adly.
Despite macroeconomic gains, tens of millions of Egyptians still live in poverty [EPA]

To describe blatant exploitation of the political system for personal gain as corruption misses the forest for the trees. Such exploitation is surely an outrage against Egyptian citizens, but calling it corruption suggests that the problem is aberrations from a system that would otherwise function smoothly. If this were the case then the crimes of the Mubarak regime could be attributed simply to bad character: change the people and the problems go away. But the real problem with the regime was not necessarily that high-ranking members of the government were thieves in an ordinary sense. They did not necessarily steal directly from the treasury. Rather they were enriched through a conflation of politics and business under the guise of privatization. This was less a violation of the system than business as usual. Mubarak’s Egypt, in a nutshell, was a quintessential neoliberal state.

What is neoliberalism? In his Brief History of Neoliberalism, the eminent social geographer David Harvey outlined "a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade." Neoliberal states guarantee, by force if necessary, the "proper functioning" of markets; where markets do not exist (for example, in the use of land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution), then the state should create them.

Guaranteeing the sanctity of markets is supposed to be the limit of legitimate state functions, and state interventions should always be subordinate to markets. All human behavior, and not just the production of goods and services, can be reduced to market transactions.

And the application of utopian neoliberalism in the real world leads to deformed societies as surely as the application of utopian communism did.

Rhetoric vs. reality

Two observations about Egypt’s history as a neoliberal state are in order. First, Mubarak’s Egypt was considered to be at the forefront of instituting neoliberal policies in the Middle East (not un-coincidentally, so was Ben Ali’s Tunisia). Secondly, the reality of Egypt’s political economy during the Mubarak era was very different than the rhetoric, as was the case in every other neoliberal state from Chile to Indonesia. Political scientist Timothy Mitchell published a revealing essay about Egypt’s brand of neoliberalism in his book Rule of Experts (the chapter titled "Dreamland" — named after a housing development built by Ahmad Bahgat, one of the Mubarak cronies now discredited by the fall of the regime). The gist of Mitchell’s portrait of Egyptian neoliberalism was that while Egypt was lauded by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund as a beacon of free-market success, the standard tools for measuring economies gave a grossly inadequate picture of the Egyptian economy. In reality the unfettering of markets and agenda of privatization were applied unevenly at best.

The only people for whom Egyptian neoliberalism worked "by the book" were the most vulnerable members of society, and their experience with neoliberalism was not a pretty picture. Organised labor was fiercely suppressed. The public education and the health care systems were gutted by a combination of neglect and privatization. Much of the population suffered stagnant or falling wages relative to inflation. Official unemployment was estimated at approximately 9.4% last year (and much higher for the youth who spearheaded the January 25th Revolution), and about 20% of the population is said to live below a poverty line defined as $2 per day per person.

For the wealthy, the rules were very different. Egypt did not so much shrink its public sector, as neoliberal doctrine would have it, as it reallocated public resources for the benefit of a small and already affluent elite. Privatization provided windfalls for politically well-connected individuals who could purchase state-owned assets for much less than their market value, or monopolise rents from such diverse sources as tourism and foreign aid. Huge proportions of the profits made by companies that supplied basic construction materials like steel and cement came from government contracts, a proportion of which in turn were related to aid from foreign governments.

Most importantly, the very limited function for the state recommended by neoliberal doctrine in the abstract was turned on its head in reality. In Mubarak’s Egypt business and government were so tightly intertwined that it was often difficult for an outside observer to tease them apart. Since political connections were the surest route to astronomical profits, businessmen had powerful incentives to buy political office in the phony elections run by the ruling National Democratic Party. Whatever competition there was for seats in the Peoples’ Assembly and Consultative Council took place mainly within the NDP. Non-NDP representation in parliament by opposition parties was strictly a matter of the political calculations made for a given elections: let in a few independent candidates known to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in 2005 (and set off tremors of fear in Washington); dictate total NDP domination in 2010 (and clear the path for an expected new round of distributing public assets to "private" investors).

Parallels with America

The political economy of the Mubarak regime was shaped by many currents in Egypt’s own history, but its broad outlines were by no means unique. Similar stories can be told throughout the rest of the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa. Everywhere neoliberalism has been tried, the results are similar: living up to the utopian ideal is impossible; formal measures of economic activity mask huge disparities in the fortunes of the rich and poor; elites become "masters of the universe," using force to defend their prerogatives, and manipulating the economy to their advantage, but never living in anything resembling the heavily marketised worlds that are imposed on the poor.
Unemployment was a major grievance for millions of Egyptian protesters [EPA]

The story should sound familiar to Americans as well. For example, the vast fortunes of Bush era cabinet members Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, through their involvement with companies like Halliburton and Gilead Sciences, are the product of a political system that allows them — more or less legally — to have one foot planted in "business" and another in "government" to the point that the distinction between them becomes blurred. Politicians move from the office to the boardroom to the lobbying organization and back again.

As neoliberal dogma disallows any legitimate role for government other than guarding the sanctity of free markets, recent American history has been marked by the steady privatization of services and resources formerly supplied or controlled by the government. But it is inevitably those with closest access to the government who are best positioned to profit from government campaigns to sell off the functions it formerly performed. It is not just Republicans who are implicated in this systemic corruption. Clinton-era Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin’s involvement with Citigroup does not bear close scrutiny. Lawrence Summers gave crucial support for the deregulation of financial derivatives contracts while Secretary of Treasury under Clinton, and profited handsomely from companies involved in the same practices while working for Obama (and of course deregulated derivatives were a key element in the financial crisis that led to a massive Federal bailout of the entire banking industry).

So in Egyptian terms, when General Secretary of the NDP Ahmad Ezz cornered the market on steel and was given contracts to build public-private construction projects, or when former Minister of Parliament Talaat Mustafa purchased vast tracts of land for the upscale Madinaty housing development without having to engage in a competitive bidding process (but with the benefit of state-provided road and utility infrastructure), they may have been practicing corruption logically and morally. But what they were doing was also as American as apple pie, at least within the scope of the past two decades.

However, in the current climate the most important thing is not the depredations of deposed Mubarak regime cronies. It is rather the role of the military in the political system. It is the army that now rules the country, albeit as a transitional power, or so most Egyptians hope. No representatives of the upper echelons of the Egyptian military appear on the various lists of old-regime allies who need to be called to account. For example, the headline of the February 17th edition of Ahrar, the press organ of the Liberal party, was emblazoned with the headline "Financial Reserves of the Corrupt Total 700 Billion Pounds [about $118 billion] in 18 Countries."

A vast economic powerhouse

But the article did not say a single word about the place of the military in this epic theft. The military were nonetheless part of the crony capitalism of the Mubarak era. After relatively short careers in the military high-ranking officers are rewarded with such perks as highly remunerative positions on the management boards of housing projects and shopping malls. Some of these are essentially public-sector companies transferred to the military sector when IMF-mandated structural adjustment programs required reductions in the civilian public sector.

But the generals also receive plums from the private sector. Military spending itself was also lucrative because it included both a state budget and contracts with American companies that provided hardware and technical expertise. The United States provided much of the financing for this spending under rules that required a great deal of the money to be recycled to American corporations, but all such deals required middlemen. Who better to act as an intermediary for American foreign aid contracts than men from the very same military designated as the recipient of the services paid for by this aid? In this respect the Egyptian military-industrial complex was again stealing a page from the American playbook; indeed, to the extent that the Egyptian military benefited from American foreign aid, Egypt was part of the American military-industrial complex, which is famous for its revolving-door system of recycling retired military men as lobbyists and employees of defense contractors.

Consequently it is almost unthinkable that the generals of the Supreme Military Council will willingly allow more than cosmetic changes in the political economy of Egypt. But they could be compelled to do so unwillingly. The army is a blunt force, not well suited for controlling crowds of demonstrators. The latest statement of the Supreme Military Council reiterated both the legitimacy of the pro-democracy movements demands, and the requirement that demonstrations cease so that the country can get back to work. If demonstrations continue to the point that the Supreme Military Council feels it can no longer tolerate them, then the soldiers who will be ordered to put them down (indeed, in some accounts were already ordered to put them down early in the revolution and refused to do so) with deadly force, are not the generals who were part of the Mubarak-era corruption, but conscripts.

Pro-democracy demonstrators and their sympathisers often repeated the slogans "the army and the people are one hand," and "the army is from us." They had the conscripts in mind, and many were unaware of how stark differences were between the interests of the soldiers and the generals. Between the conscripts and the generals is a middle-level professional officer corps whose loyalties have been the subject of much speculation. The generals, for their part, want to maintain their privileges, but not to rule directly. Protracted direct rule leaves the officers of the Supreme Military Council vulnerable to challenges from other officers who were left on the outside. Also, direct rule would make it impossible to hide that the elite officers are not in fact part of the "single hand" composed of the people and the (conscript) army. They are instead logically in the same camp as Ahmad Ezz, Safwat al-Sharif, Gamal Mubarak, and Habib al-Adly — precisely the names on those lists making the rounds of regime members and cronies who should face judgment.

Ultimately the intense speculation about how much money the Mubarak regime stole, and how much the people can expect to pump back into the nation, is a red herring. If the figure turns out to be $50 billion or $500 billion, it will not matter, if Egypt remains a neoliberal state dedicated (nominally) to free-market fundamentalism for the poor, while creating new privatised assets that can be recycled to political insiders for the rich. If one seeks clues to how deeply the January 25th Revolution will restructure Egypt, it would be better to look at such issues as what sort of advice the interim government of generals solicits in fulfilling its mandate to re-make Egyptian government. The period of military government probably will be as short as advertised, followed, one hopes, by an interim civilian government for some specified period (at least two years) during which political parties are allowed to organise on the ground in preparation for free elections. But interim governments have a way of becoming permanent.

Technocrats or ideologues?

One sometimes hears calls to set up a government of "technocrats" that would assume the practical matters of governance. "Technocrat" sounds neutral — a technical expert who would make decisions on "scientific" principle. The term was often applied to Yusuf Butros Ghali, for example, the former Minister of the Treasury, who was one of the Gamal Mubarak boys brought into the cabinet in 2006 ostensibly to smooth the way for the President’s son to assume power. Ghali is now accused of having appropriated LE 450 million for the use of Ahmad Ezz.

I once sat next to Ghali at a dinner during one of his trips abroad, and had the opportunity to ask him when the Egyptian government would be ready to have free elections. His response was to trot out the now discredited regime line that elections were impossible because actual democracy would result in the Muslim Brotherhood taking power. Conceivably Ghali will beat the charge of specifically funneling the state’s money to Ahmad Ezz. But as a key architect of Egypt’s privatization programs he cannot possibly have been unaware that he was facilitating a system that enabled the Ezz steel empire while simultaneously destroying Egypt’s educational and health care systems.
The Egyptian army controls a range of businesses, ranging from factories to hotels [EPA]

The last time I encountered the word "technocrat" was in Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine — a searing indictment of neoliberalism which argues that the free-market fundamentalism promoted by economist Milton Friedman (and immensely influential in the United States) is predicated on restructuring economies in the wake of catastrophic disruptions because normally functioning societies and political systems would never vote for it. Disruptions can be natural or man-made, such as … revolutions.

The chapters in The Shock Doctrine on Poland, Russia, and South Africa make interesting reading in the context of Egypt’s revolution. In each case when governments (communist or apartheid) collapsed, "technocrats" were brought in to help run countries that were suddenly without functional governments, and create the institutional infrastructure for their successors. The technocrats always seemed to have dispensed a form of what Klein calls "shock therapy" — the imposition of sweeping privatization programs before dazed populations could consider their options and potentially vote for less ideologically pure options that are in their own interests.

The last great wave of revolutions occurred in 1989. The governments that were collapsing then were communist, and the replacement in that "shock moment" of one extreme economic system with its opposite seemed predictable and to many even natural.

One of the things that make the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions potentially important on a global scale is that they took place in states that were already neoliberalised. The complete failure of neoliberalsm to deliver "human well-being" to a large majority of Egyptians was one of the prime causes of the revolution, at least in the sense of helping to prime millions of people who were not connected to social media to enter the streets on the side of the pro-democracy activists.

But the January 25th Revolution is still a "shock moment." We hear calls to bring in the technocrats in order to revive a dazed economy; and we are told every day that the situation is fluid, and that there is a power vacuum in the wake of not just the disgraced NDP, but also the largely discredited legal opposition parties, which played no role whatsoever in the January 25th Revolution. In this context the generals are probably happy with all the talk about reclaiming the money stolen by the regime, because the flip side of that coin is a related current of worry about the state of the economy. The notion that the economy is in ruins — tourists staying away, investor confidence shattered, employment in the construction sector at a standstill, many industries and businesses operating at far less than full capacity — could well be the single most dangerous rationale for imposing cosmetic reforms that leave the incestuous relation between governance and business intact.

Or worse, if the pro-democracy movement lets itself be stampeded by the "economic ruin" narrative, structures could be put in place by "technocrats" under the aegis of the military transitional government that would tie the eventual civilian government into actually quickening the pace of privatization. Ideologues, including those of the neoliberal stripe, are prone to a witchcraft mode of thinking: if the spell does not work, it is not the fault of the magic, but rather the fault of the shaman who performed the spell. In other words, the logic could be that it was not neoliberalism that ruined Mubarak’s Egypt, but the faulty application of neoliberalism.

Trial balloons for this witchcraft narrative are already being floated outside of Egypt. The New York Times ran an article on February 17th casting the military as a regressive force opposed to privatization and seeking a return to Nasserist statism. The article pits the ostensibly "good side" of the Mubarak regime (privatization programs) against bad old Arab socialism, completely ignoring the fact that while the system of military privilege may preserve some public-sector resources transferred from the civilian economy under pressure of IMF structural adjustment programs, the empire of the generals is hardly limited to a ring-fenced quasi-underground public sector.

Officers were also rewarded with private-sector perks; civilian political/business empires mixed public and private roles to the point that what was government and what was private were indistinguishable; both the military and civilians raked in rents from foreign aid. The generals may well prefer a new round of neoliberal witchcraft. More privatization will simply free up assets and rents that only the politically connected (including the generals) can acquire. Fixing a failed neoliberal state by more stringent applications of neoliberalism could be the surest way for them to preserve their privileges.

A neoliberal fix would, however, be a tragedy for the pro-democracy movement. The demands of the protesters were clear and largely political: remove the regime; end the emergency law; stop state torture; hold free and fair elections. But implicit in these demands from the beginning (and decisive by the end) was an expectation of greater social and economic justice. Social media may have helped organise the kernel of a movement that eventually overthrew Mubarak, but a large element of what got enough people into the streets to finally overwhelm the state security forces was economic grievances that are intrinsic to neoliberalism. These grievances cannot be reduced to grinding poverty, for revolutions are never carried out by the poorest of the poor. It was rather the erosion of a sense that some human spheres should be outside the logic of markets. Mubarak’s Egypt degraded schools and hospitals, and guaranteed grossly inadequate wages, particularly in the ever-expanding private sector. This was what turned hundreds of dedicated activists into millions of determined protestors.

If the January 25th revolution results in no more than a retrenchment of neoliberalism, or even its intensification, those millions will have been cheated. The rest of the world could be cheated as well. Egypt and Tunisia are the first nations to carry out successful revolutions against neoliberal regimes. Americans could learn from Egypt. Indeed, there are signs that they already are doing so. Wisconsin teachers protesting against their governor’s attempts to remove the right to collective bargaining have carried signs equating Mubarak with their governor. Egyptians might well say to America 'uqbalak (may you be the next).

'Abu Atris' is the pseudonym for a writer working in Egypt. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Top Five Myths about the Middle East Protests

From Juan Cole's Blog
Posted on 02/20/2011 by Juan Cole

5. Dear right wing blogosphere and also Bill Maher: You can’t generalize about women’s position in Muslim countries based on a reprehensible mob attack on CBS reporter Lara Logan. Generalizing about a whole group of people based on a single incident is called “bigotry.” It is also a logical fallacy (for wingnuts challenged by six syllables in a row, that means, ‘when your brain doesn’t work right’) known as the ‘Hasty Generalization.’ Nobody seems to note that allegedly helpless Egyptian women were the ones who saved Logan, or that Anderson Cooper was also attacked.

Some other examples of reporters or celebrities being assaulted by crowds are here and here. Wingnuts, and also Bill Maher, who do not immediately make generalizations on these bases about large groups of Westerners are wusses.

Note to Muslim-hater Bill Maher, who should know better: It is not true that women cannot vote in 20 Muslim countries, and please stop generalizing about 1.5 billion Muslims based on the 22 million people in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, the only place where women cannot drive and where men can vote (in municipal elections) but women cannot. It would be like generalizing from the Amish in Pennsylvania to all people of Christian heritage and wondering what is with Christianity and its fascination with horses and buggies.

4. That the unrest in Bahrain is significantly caused by Iran is false. It is an indigenous protest of Arab Shiites who are treated like second class citizens in their own country. On Saturday night,
the protesting crowds camped out in Pearl Square downtown, as their leaders consulted in preparation for talks with the government. Wikileaks cables show that the US government consistently discounted fear-mongering about Iran by the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain.

3. Yusuf Qaradawi, the 84-year-old preacher whose roots are in the old Muslim Brotherhood before the latter turned to parliamentary politics, is nevertheless no Ayatollah Khomeini. Qaradawi addressed thousands in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday. Qaradawi called for Muslims to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda alongside US troops in 2001. On Friday he praised the Coptic Christian role in the Egyptian revolution and said that the age of sectarianism is dead. Qaradawi is a reactionary on many issues, but he is not a radical and there is no reason to think that either the Youth or Workers’ Movements that chased Hosni Mubarak out of the country is interested in having Qaradawi tell them what to do.

2. Looking to the Tunisian and Egyptian futures, it is not true, as dreary anti-Muslim Israeli propagandist Barry Rubin alleged, that Muslim fundamentalist parties always win free and fair elections in Muslim-majority countries. This frankly stupid allegation is disproved by the Pakistan elections of 2008, the Albanian elections of 2009, the Kurdistan elections in post-2003 Iraq, and all of the Indonesian elections.

1. Despite the importance of Facebook and Twitter as communication and networking tools, Labor unions and factory workers have been more important in the Arab uprisings than social media. In Libya, the regime’s attack on internet service did not forestall a major uprising on Saturday in Benghazi, which the regime met with deadly force.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Egypt-Israel peace treaty or war treaty?

Egypt-Israel "peace treaty" brought more war than peace
Richard Irvine, The Electronic Intifada, 21 February 2011

Without its ally Hosni Mubarak in power in Egypt, Israel will have to think twice before it wages attacks in the region. (Pete Souza/White House Photo)

As the Egyptian revolution approached its climax the first priority of Israel and the West was that the so-called cornerstone of Middle East peace and security remain in place -- the much-fabled 1979 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated the almost sacred truth that the "longstanding peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has greatly contributed to both countries and is the cornerstone for peace and stability in the entire Middle East." Going further, military expert Amos Harel warned that any break in the treaty could have dire consequences for Israel and so consequently the Egyptian revolution represented "a nightmare to Israeli intelligence leaders and planners" ("Cairo Tremors Will Be Felt Here, Haaretz, 30 January 2011).

This certainly would be understandable if an Egyptian abrogation of the treaty would be likely to lead to war, or if Israel had implemented the peace accords in good faith. The truth however is that Israel absolutely ignored its obligations under Part 1 of the treaty -- to allow representative self-government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip leading to independence -- while using the sure knowledge of Egypt's neutrality to launch a series of devastating wars. Indeed, when one looks at the historical record there can surely be few treaties that have brought so little peace and so much war.

That Israel always viewed the Camp David Accords as a blank check is evident both in its behavior and in Western and Israeli commentators' fears that the abrogation of the treaty might mean Israel will have to curtail its military interventions.

Writing in Israel's Haaretz on 14 February, Aluf Benn declared, "Israel will find it difficult to take action far to the east when it cannot rely on the tacit agreement to its actions on its western border. Without Mubarak there is no Israeli attack on Iran." Thus Benn concludes that Mubarak's departure has actually prevented a new Israeli war.

Certainly Israel has used the absence of any significant Arab counterweight to pursue policies that have either repeatedly brought war, or in the case of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, presented "serious obstruction[s] to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East" as UN Security Council resolutions 446 and 478 put it.

What is evident from the record is that Israel wasted no time putting the treaty to the test. In 1980 it illegally annexed East Jerusalem, and the following year the Syrian Golan Heights. In 1981 it launched an illegal attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor.

More significantly Israel also used the accords as a means to continue the destruction and dispossession of Palestinian society. Under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who won the Nobel Peace Prize with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Israel developed a twin track approach with regard to the Palestinians of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip: a collaborationist "village league" form of governance was established, although due to Palestinian resistance it failed to take root, while simultaneously the number of illegal colonists in the West Bank and Gaza more than quadrupled (according to data published by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, and collated by Peace Now, the number of settlers in the West Bank grew from 5,000 in the early 1970s to more than 20,000 in 1983).

This was a negation of the accords that led Israeli cabinet minister Ezer Weizman to resign after declaring that no one in the cabinet was interested in peace. Begin however was undeterred, which was not at all surprising as after the 1978 establishment of the illegal colony of Elon Moreh outside Nablus he had boasted that there would be "many more Elon Morehs to come" -- a prophecy that has become only too true, as today there are over half a million Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

However Begin's primary use of the accords was as a means to wage war. In the first instance this meant the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the war against the Palestine Liberation Organization -- a war launched without provocation and in the midst of what Noam Chomsky has described as a PLO "peace offensive." During the course of this war Israel not only devastated the Palestinian and Lebanese populations of Lebanon but also systematically trashed the country and trounced the Syrian army when it sought to defend itself. At its end the International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that 17,825 civilians had been killed. Would this have been possible without Israel knowing that Egypt was permanently out of the conflict?

The same of course holds true for subsequent Israeli military actions, whether it was the brutal crushing of unarmed resistance during the first Intifada from 1987 to 1993, or the 1996 and 2006 reinvasions of Lebanon, or the mass casualties of the second intifada and the 2008-09 invasion of Gaza. In every case knowledge that Egypt would either stand idly by or indeed approve has made Israel confident that it could act with impunity.

Yet this was not always the case. For many years leading up to the Camp David Accords the Arab League had insisted that a final peace agreement must be a comprehensive one involving all parties to the conflict. Tragically Egypt under Sadat chose to break that consensus and by putting its own interests first effectively undermined the negotiating positions of all other Arab parties whilst giving Israel a free hand to militarily enforce its vision on the Middle East. If then the Camp David Accords do breakdown this should not be read as a sign that peace is further away than ever, but rather that perhaps at long last an all-embracing peace amongst equals may be possible.

Speaking at the time of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty signing, the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat commented, "Let them sign what they like. False peace will not last." For Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese and indeed Israelis, he has been proven only too correct.

Richard Irvine teaches a course at Queen's University Belfast entitled "The Battle for Palestine" which explores the entire history of the conflict. Irvine has also worked voluntarily in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and taken part in olive planting and harvesting in the West Bank.

Seder, Schmeder, there's nothing politically progressive about this made-for-Zionism fairytale

--R. Congress

"Next Year In Jerusalem" is a reactionary Zionist phrase

I know I should be more tolerant, but I'm generally appalled by leftist Jews who celebrate Passover. Most of them say it's a cultural thing, they don't really believe in god, but the Passover narrative is a nice story, or some how about freedom from bondage. And "besides we're secular Jews."

I understand the idea of being a secular Jew, but it doesn't ring true to me. Being secular is good. But being secular means transcending any narrow religious, cultural or tribal viewpoint and becoming a universalist. To paraphrase Isaac Deutscher in his essay "The Non-Jewish Jew," you have to transcend the sectarian confines of a particular religion or culture (Jewish, in this instance) in order to progress and embrace the cause of all humanity. I'm for an identification with humanity as a whole, with no group superior to others. That's why I'm against celebrating Passover (to name just one holiday).

But I'm especially anti-Seder, because the Passover narrative, besides being factually false, is a made to order advertisement for Zionism, and it's key phrase "Next Year in Jerusalem," has become a Zionist watch word along with "Never Again." The Exodus myth, that after being enslaved in Egypt the Jewish people were led by Moses to Caanan which god had promised to them (after doing a bit of house cleaning by killing off the Caananites...with god's permission, of course) has been utilized by the Zionist movement to sanctify the colonization of Palestine and the driving out of its inhabitants.

Putting aside the ridiculous, such as a plague of frogs and the Red Sea parting for the fleeing Israelites, the Exodus never happened. During the time frame that Biblical literalists like to cite as accurately dating the “historical events” of the Exodus, Egypt ruled not just Egypt but Caanan! So Moses led his people from Egypt to Egypt (to cite a point in a blog post by Juan Cole).

Serious scientists have searched for evidence of large numbers of Jews being in Egypt during the relevant time periods (there would have to have been dwellings, graveyards, household items—pottery shards?) and come up empty. Pharaonic era records were kept by government officials and no mention of Jewish slaves or a mass flight across the Sinai, or the Red Sea parting for the Jews and then swallowing up the Pharaoh and his army.

“Modern archaeological techniques are able to detect evidence of not only permanent settlements, but also of habitations of hunter-gatherers and pastoral nomads all over the world as far back as the third millennium B.C. However, there are no finds of a unique religious community living in a distinct area of the eastern delta of the Nile River (“Land of Goshen”) as described in Genesis.”--David Voron, The events of the Passover story never happened.

But Passover is not just some innocuous religious celebration. It has been politicized and enlisted in the Zionist cause. When “Next year in Jerusalem” is recited at the end of the Seder, its contemporary meaning is “Jerusalem for Jews, not anyone else.”

from Haaretz, that old time religion

Published 05:14 11.02.11

What do the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-Orthodox religious-right have in common?
Israelis complain about the Muslim Brotherhood, but fail to take on rabbis whose rhetoric is no less incendiary.

By Anshel Pfeffer

A few months from now, Egypt may come under the rule of a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose supreme spiritual leader said just a few years ago that God would "destroy the seed of the Jews and extirpate them from the world. These Jews are accursed scoundrels, crying crocodile tears while they murder people; it is forbidden to have any mercy on them. We have to destroy them with great missiles."

And if you think this is populist scare-mongering, and that this represents only one benighted faction of the popular Egyptian movement, here is what the leader of a rival faction of the Brotherhood said about Israeli civilians: "There is nothing in Islamic law about consideration for innocents in time of war." And lest there be any mistake, his secretary explained that "there is no problem with killing Jewish civilians, because the entire population supports Israeli terror."

It's quite a nightmarish scenario just over the Negev border - except that it isn't happening in the land of the Nile, but right here in Zion. Substitute "Arab" for the words "Jewish" and "Israeli" and you have a representative sample of the teachings of rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Dov Lior, two men who hold sway over a significant number of Knesset members and cabinet ministers.

I know, juxtaposing words and taking whole sentences out of context is an old and dirty trick we journalists use. So how about this authentic quote regarding the majority of Israelis? "The Nazi hatred is enrooted in an entire generation of young people ... If they were not busy fighting the Arabs, they would kill our children like Pharaoh and Hitler."

No need to play games with words here: These are actual utterances by Rabbi Israel Eichler, sworn in this week as a member of Knesset and immediately appointed chairman of the United Torah Judaism faction - which, if you have not forgotten, is a coalition member and controls the Health Ministry.

How can one compare the ideological parent of Hamas with Israeli Orthodox Jewish political parties? Indeed how? We have no way of knowing how the Muslim Brotherhood will perform if and when it is part of a ruling coalition in Egypt in the future. At least with Shas, UTJ and the various parliamentary offshoots of the religious ultra-right wing, we have an established track record to examine.

When did any of these parties come up with a new law that did not limit Israel's fragile liberal democracy? What legislation did they propose that did not involve coercion and curtailment of our freedom of choice? How have their leaders tried to turn back the growing tide of racism and intolerance in Israeli society? You know the answers to these questions.

Of course there is a world of difference between the Islamist and the Israeli ultra-Orthodox religious-right establishments, but they have one trait in common, and that is fundamentalism. They share a firm and unshakable belief that in every instance, their religious code is supreme over all man-made legal systems, especially democracy. In other words, sharia or halakha trumps every other consideration.

Actually, that's not entirely fair to the Muslim Brotherhood, which in recent days has made it clear that while it still believes "Islam is the solution," it is perfectly willing to abide by the democratic decisions of the Egyptian electorate in a fair and open election. Indeed, the Brotherhood was very wary at first even of challenging the Mubarak regime, which ruthlessly repressed it in the past.

Compare that with this week's conduct by the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba, Dov Lior, who after six months of refusing to come in and be questioned by the police on the rabbinical endorsement he wrote for the book "Torat Hamelech," which permits the killing of enemy civilians in time of war, was finally issued with an arrest warrant. But he still did not relent, declaring, "it is impossible that in the State of Israel, a petty official in the Justice Ministry should tell rabbis what to say."

Religious fundamentalists are certainly in the ascendancy here in Israel, and if demographic trends are anything to go by, they will become yet more powerful in the future. But as inflammatory as their statements are, a police investigation is not the way to counter their influence. It will only confer martyr status on them and do nothing to encourage their followers to adopt a more democratic stance.

These rabbis are the enemies of democracy, and we shouldn't hand them the achievement of an erosion of a basic democratic right. The laws against incitement should be used as sparingly as possible, only in cases when there is a clear and direct call for violence.

If the state should be using its power in any way, then it should be firing rabbis like Lior from official positions. They, of course, should be free to say whatever they like, but the scandal of rabbis spouting off the most obnoxious views at the taxpayer's expense has been going on for much too long.

Not all rabbis are of the same view, and a small minority is even willing to speak out. This week, I saw Rabbi Yuval Cherlow say bravely that in the interests of national unity, when a democratically elected government's policies clash with the values of Judaism, there is no choice but to bow down before the will of the commonwealth. But the other rabbis, those who refuse to respect democracy and the rule of law, must be confronted first of all in the ideological arena, using all the many tools that a free and open society allows us.

Make no mistake, the Muslim Brotherhood's aims are abhorrent and dangerous. But it is the duty of Egyptian democracy supporters to fight them. Our job is to deal with our own religious fundamentalists and their despicable views.

A message of solidarity with USA workers from an Egyptian blogger

From Tahrir to Wisconsin
Posted: February 19, 2011 by Politirature in Uncategorized

Dear activists, protesters & workers from Wisconsin, Ohio and other states,

I was truly touched by your hundreds of thoughts and comments on my photos from Tahrir holding that sign. I thank each and everyone of you, even those who thought the photos were shopped, but I have few things to say.

I’m an Egyptian ordinary young man, activist and Engineering student. I turned 21 years old last December, I love to read and write using both Arabic and English (although my English is kind of weak). and like other thousands, or even millions of Egyptians, I was very busy since Jan25 with our revolution in Tahrir square and all Egypt. we spent very hard days in that square waiting for death to come anytime from air or ground. anyway, what happened in Tahrir is not our subject now, everyone knows what happened there. the point is that I was too busy to know full details of what’s going on in other parts of the world. I knew that people protested in Wisconsin for their rights but didn’t know more details till Thursday, the 17th of February and it was by luck through a wall post of an American friend on Facebook, then I immediately began to search it and read more, then I decided to show support! decided to make the sign and take it with me to Tahrir next morning (Friday).

Many people thought it’s something extraordinary or something that stands out. but I really want to say that me, and many other people, were raised this way. were taught that all human beings are brothers and sisters, were taught that we live in ONE world and under the same sky, so I don’t see what I did as something “abnormal” or “super cool”.

again, as I told many of you, we are all human beings. we shouldn’t let borders and differences separate us, we were made different to complete each other, to integrate and live together. If a human being doesn’t feel the pain of his fellow human beings then everything man created and established since the very beginning of his existence is in great danger.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Gideon Levy from Haaretz: OBAMA JOINS LIKUD'S RIGHT WING

Published 01:18 20.02.11

With settlement resolution veto, Obama has joined Likud
An America that understands that the settlements are the obstacle should have joined in condemning them.

By Gideon Levy

This weekend, a new member enrolled in Likud - and not just in the ruling party, but in its most hawkish wing. Located somewhere between Tzipi Hotovely and Danny Danon, U.S. President Barack Obama bypassed Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan on the right and weakened their position.

The first veto cast by the United States during Obama's term, a veto he promised in vain not to use as his predecessors did, was a veto against the chance and promise of change, a veto against hope. This is a veto that is not friendly to Israel; it supports the settlers and the Israeli right, and them alone.

The excuses of the American ambassador to the UN won't help, and neither will the words of thanks from the Prime Minister's Office: This is a step that is nothing less than hostile to Israel. America, which Israel depends on more than ever, said yes to settlements. That is the one and only meaning of its decision, and in so doing, it supported the enterprise most damaging to Israel.

Moreover, it did so at a time when winds of change are blowing in the Middle East. A promise of change was heard from America, but instead, it continued with its automatic responses and its blind support of Israel's settlement building. This is not an America that will be able to change its standing among the peoples of the region. And Israel, an international pariah, once again found itself supported only by America.

This should have disturbed every Israeli. Is that what we are? Alone and condemned? And all for the continuation of that worthless enterprise? Is it really worth the price? To hell with the UN and the whole world is against us?

We can't wrap ourselves in this hollow iron dome forever. We must open our eyes and understand that if no country, aside from weakening America, supports this caprice of ours, then something fundamental is wrong here.

Israel, which is condemned by the entire world but continues merrily on its way, is a country that is losing its connection to reality. It is also a country that will ultimately find itself left entirely to its fate. That is why America's decision harmed Israel's interests: It continued to blind and stupefy Israel into thinking it can go on this way forever.

A friendly U.S., concerned for Israel's fate, should have said no. An America that understands that the settlements are the obstacle should have joined in condemning them. A superpower that wants to make peace, at a time when Arab peoples are rising up against their regimes and against the U.S. and Israel, should have understood that it must change the old, bad rules of the game of blanket support for the ally addicted to its settlements.

A friendly America should have mobilized to wean Israel of its addiction Only it can do so, and it should have started, belatedly, at the Security Council on Friday.

But promises of change and of real concern for Israel are one thing, and diplomatic behavior is another: another automatic veto, as if nothing has changed. Obama or George W. Bush, there's no difference. When Ambassador Susan Rice said that the draft resolution risked hardening the positions of both sides and could encourage the parties to refrain from negotiations, she misled. She knows that what prevents negotiations and hardens positions is continued building in the settlements.

And when the Israeli Foreign Ministry said it is "peculiar that the Security Council should choose to consider one single aspect" of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations "while ignoring the wider scope of events in our region," it, too, misled. Do the Foreign Ministry's spokesmen really believe there is a serious party that would agree to Israel creating irreversible facts on the ground without let or hindrance?

And to call this "one single aspect?" Perhaps it is only one, but it is certainly the most destructive. And thus it is the one the world sought to condemn - and rightly so.

Moreover, this veto was not cast during ordinary days. These are days of boiling lava in the region. If there were a responsible government in Israel, it would have stopped settlement building long ago - not only to deflect fire from Israel, but to promote an agreement that has never been more vital for it.

If the U.S. had been a responsible superpower, it would have voted for the resolution on Friday to rouse Israel from its dangerous sleep. Instead, we got a hostile veto from Washington, shouts of joy from Jerusalem and a party that will end very badly for both.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Organized Labor is an Important Part of the Egyptian Revolutionary Process

Egypt labor not resting after Mubarak's ouster
Emad Mekay, The Electronic Intifada, 15 February 2011

CAIRO (IPS) - Before his ouster on Friday, toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had made one of the biggest mistakes of his reign: not learning from the lessons of hundreds of small labor and professional strikes that littered the country since 2005. These were the actual precursors to the 25 January Revolution that end his thirty-year autocratic rule.

"We were lucky that the regime failed in its arrogance and aloofness to draw lessons from the many strikes and protests over the past five years," said Mohammed Fathy, 46, a labor activist in Mahala, whose bid for office in the government-sponsored General Labor Union was stifled because of his anti-regime views.

"We were even luckier that they didn't understand that there were genuine economic, professional and labor grievances, especially here in Mahala on 6 April 2008."

It was on 6 April 2008 that Egypt saw the first example in decades of labor action spilling over into a popular uprising -- a mini revolution on the streets of this industrial city that attracted men, women and children.

It was here that labor activists organized two days of massive protests that saw local residents leaving their homes, and pulling down Mubarak's pictures and posters for the first time since he came to office in 1981.

That signaled the birth of the anti-Mubarak Internet activist group, the April 6 Movement which took its name from that historic day.

Two years later, the group helped organize the events of 25 January 2011. This time, they succeeded in pulling down not only Mubarak's pictures but Mubarak himself.

Had Mubarak taken note of the labor protests, he may have learned some ways to pre-empt or foil the 25 January Revolution, labor leaders here say.

"The reaction of the Mubarak supporters was that we are just a bunch of kids who can be easily crushed by the police. Their only response was more and more security -- nothing political and nothing economic. They didn't realize how upset the country's labor force is," Fathy said.

The country's labor force is upset indeed -- even today, days after Mubarak's ouster. Years of police harassment, anti-worker policies and poor economic conditions have left a deep scar on the country's workers who until today feel left out of a rightful place.

Little wonder then that labor protests continue here unabated, prompting the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces that is running the country to issue its fifth communique specifically calling on labor leaders to tone down their protests.

The interim government of Ahmed Shafiq had complained to the Supreme Council that continuing strikes are not helping bring life back to normal in this nation of 85 million.

Almost every sector of the economy -- from chemicals production to schools and telecommunications -- is being affected.

The Central Bank of Egypt had to give the banking sector an unplanned holiday on Monday, to go with a religious holiday on Tuesday, in a bid to foil growing strikes among bank workers demanding investigation into high payment for top executives.

Even the police are blaming poor pay for corruption within the force, and are protesting for better job benefits.

This wave of post-Mubarak strikes is highlighting a split among labor leaders -- between those who want immediate benefits for workers in the heat of the moment and those who want to give the new caretaker government some time to catch its breath, and time to meet labor demands.

"We should give the new rule some time, but fight for rights still," said Mohamed Mourad, a railway worker and labor activist in Mahala.

Mourad said Mubarak's fall is meanwhile good news for the country's disgruntled workforce as it means an end to some of the anti-workers policies.

"With Mubarak gone, his policies that impoverished workers and pulverized independent labor unions will be gone too," said Mourad as he sipped black tea in his railway office surrounded by several co-workers nodding in support.

Mourad specifically mentioned policies of privatizing state-run companies, tampering with labor union elections and police interference as impediments that will sink with Mubarak.

While this may be true, it still doesn't offer immediate relief for impatient workers, suppressed and suffering for years.

Here in Mahala the average base salary for textile workers at Egypt for Weaving and Spinning, the largest textile factory in the Middle East with 25,000 workers, is only 600 Egyptian pounds (US $102). Most workers end up working one or more extra jobs.

For that to be corrected, they suggest that the new government work to confiscate billions in dollars in wealth of corrupt members of the former regime and invest that for the benefits of workers.

Mubarak spent heavily on security and that could be trimmed too to re-channel funds for the impoverished workers, according to Hamdi Hussein, a leading labor activist.

Labor leaders say that most strikes and labor protests have three goals: ending corruption at the top management at some companies, increasing the minimum base wage to at least 1,500 Egyptian pounds (255 dollars) and holding free elections for labor unions.

"If those three demands are not meet soon," said Hussein, who works for the Coordinating Committee for Labor Freedoms and Rights, "workers will continue to act until the revolution means real change for them."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Egypt's revolution and Israel: "Bad for the Jews" Ilan Pappe, The Electronic Intifada, 14 February 2011

The view from Israel is that if they indeed succeed, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are bad, very bad. Educated Arabs -- not all of them dressed as "Islamists," quite a few of them speaking perfect English whose wish for democracy is articulated without resorting to "anti-Western" rhetoric -- are bad for Israel.

Arab armies that do not shoot at these demonstrators are as bad as are many other images that moved and enthused so many people around the world, even in the West. This world reaction is also bad, very bad. It makes the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and its apartheid policies inside the state look like the acts of a typical "Arab" regime.

For a while you could not tell what official Israel thought. In his first ever commonsensical message to his colleagues, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked his ministers, generals and politicians not to comment in public on the events in Egypt. For a brief moment one thought that Israel turned from the neighborhood's thug to what it always was: a visitor or permanent resident.

It seems Netanyahu was particularly embarrassed by the unfortunate remarks on the situation uttered publicly by General Aviv Kochavi, the head of Israeli military intelligence. This top Israeli expert on Arab affairs stated confidently two weeks ago in the Knesset that the Mubarak regime is as solid and resilient as ever. But Netanyahu could not keep his mouth shut for that long. And when the boss talked all the others followed. And when they all responded, their commentary made Fox News' commentators look like a bunch of peaceniks and free-loving hippies from the 1960s.

The gist of the Israeli narrative is simple: this is an Iranian-like revolution helped by Al Jazeera and stupidly allowed by US President Barack Obama, who is a new Jimmy Carter, and a stupefied world. Spearheading the Israeli interpretation are the former Israeli ambassadors to Egypt. All their frustration from being locked in an apartment in a Cairean high-rise is now erupting like an unstoppable volcano. Their tirade can be summarized in the words of one of them, Zvi Mazael who told Israeli television's Channel One on 28 January, "this is bad for the Jews; very bad."

In Israel of course when you say "bad for the Jews," you mean the Israelis -- but you also mean that whatever is bad for Israel is bad for the Jews all around the world (despite the evidence to the contrary since the foundation of the state).

But what is really bad for Israel is the comparison. Regardless of how all this would end, it exposes the fallacies and pretense of Israel like never before. Egypt is experiencing a peaceful Intifada with the deadly violence coming from the side of the regime. The army did not shoot at the demonstrators; and even before the departure of Mubarak, already seven days into the protests, the minister of interior who directed his thugs to violently crash the demonstrations had been sacked and will probably be brought to justice.

Yes, this was done in order to win time and try to persuade the demonstrators to go home. But even this scene, by now forgotten, can never happen in Israel. Israel is a place where all the generals who ordered the shootings of Palestinian and Jewish anti-occupation demonstrators now compete for the highest post of Chief of the General Staff.

One of them is Yair Naveh, who gave orders in 2008 to kill Palestinian suspects even if they could be peacefully arrested. He is not going to jail; but the young woman, Anat Kamm, who exposed these orders is now facing nine years in jail for leaking them to Israeli daily Haaretz. Not one Israeli general or politician has or is going to spend one day in jail for ordering the troops to shoot at unarmed demonstrators, innocent civilians, women, old men and children. The light radiating from Egypt and Tunisia is so strong that it also illuminates the darker spaces of the "only democracy in the Middle East."

Nonviolent, democratic (be they religious or not) Arabs are bad for Israel. But maybe these Arabs were there all along, not only in Egypt, but also in Palestine. The insistence of Israeli commentators that the most important issue at stake -- the Israeli peace treaty with Egypt -- is a diversion, and has very little relevance to the powerful impulse that is shaking the Arab world as a whole.

The peace treaties with Israel are the symptoms of moral corruption not the disease itself -- this is why Syrian President Bashar Asad, undoubtedly an anti-Israeli leader, is not immune from this wave of change. No, what is at stake here is the pretense that Israel is a stable, civilized, western island in a rough sea of Islamic barbarism and Arab fanaticism. The "danger" for Israel is that the cartography would be the same but the geography would change. It would still be an island but of barbarism and fanaticism in a sea of newly formed egalitarian and democratic states.

In the eyes of large sections of Western civil society the democratic image of Israel has long ago vanished; but it may now be dimmed and tarnished in the eyes of others who are in power and politics. How important is the old, positive image of Israel for maintaining its special relationship with the United States? Only time will tell.

But one way or another the cry rising from Cairo's Tahrir Square is a warning that fake mythologies of the "only democracy in the Middle East," hardcore Christian fundamentalism (far more sinister and corrupt than that of the Muslim Brotherhood), cynical military-industrial corporate profiteering, neo-conservatism and brutal lobbying will not guarantee the sustainability of the special relationship between Israel and the United States forever.

And even if the special relationship perseveres for a while, it is now based on even shakier foundations. The diametrically-opposed case studies of the so far resilient anti-American regional powers of Iran and Syria, and to some extent Turkey, on the one hand, and the fallen ultimate pro-American tyrants, on the other are indicative: even if it is sustained, American support may not be enough in future to maintain an ethnic and racist "Jewish state" in the heart of a changing Arab world.

This could be good news for the Jews, even for the Jews in Israel in the long run. To be surrounded by peoples who cherish freedom, social justice and spirituality and navigating sometimes safely and sometimes roughly between tradition and modernity, nationalism and humanity, aggressive capitalist globalization and daily survival, is not going to be easy.

Yet it has a horizon, and it carries hope of triggering similar changes in Palestine. It can bring a closure to more than a century of Zionist colonization and dispossession, to be replaced by more equitable reconciliation between the Palestinian victims of these criminal policies wherever they are and the Jewish community. This reconciliation would be built on the basis of the Palestinian right of return and on all the other rights the people of Egypt so bravely fought for in the last twenty days.

But trust the Israelis not to miss an opportunity to miss peace. They would cry wolf. They would demand, and receive, more funds from the American taxpayer due to the new "developments." They would interfere clandestinely and destructively to undermine any transition to democracy (remember what force and viciousness characterized their reaction to democratization in Palestinian society?), and they would elevate the Islamophobic campaign to new and unprecedented heights.

But who knows, maybe the American taxpayer would not budge this time. And maybe the European politicians would follow the general sentiment of their public and allow not only Egypt to be dramatically transformed, but also welcome a similar change in Israel and Palestine. In such a scenario the Jews of Israel have a chance to become part of the real Middle East and not an alien and aggressive member of a Middle East which was the figment of the hallucinatory Zionist imagination.

Ilan Pappe is Professor of History and Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter. His most recent book is Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel (Pluto Press, 2010).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

2/9/11: Al Jazeera reports democracy movement spreading, workers join in with strikes

Egypt protesters gain ground
Labour unions stage country-wide strikes and pro-democracy supporters extend demonstrations to the parliament buildings.

Last Modified: 09 Feb 2011 11:49

Jacky Rowland reports from Tahrir Square on the newcomers swelling the ranks of Egypt's pro-democracy movement

The Egyptian cabinet building in Cairo has been evacuated and officials relocated after pro-democracy protesters gathered outside, sources tell Al Jazeera.

Pro-democracy demonstrations are gaining momentum in the Egyptian capital, with some protesters moving from Tahrir [Liberation] Square to camp out in the area outside the parliament buildings.

Protesters are demanding the assembly's immediate dissolution. Wednesday's developments came as public rallies calling for Hosni Mubarak to hand over power immediately entered their sixteenth day.

The president's message has thus far been that he will not leave until his term expires in September.

As a gesture of goodwill, 34 political prisoners, including members of the banned opposition group, Muslim Brotherhood, were reportedly released over the last two days.

The government seems to be scrambling under pressure from major powers and pro-democracy supporters, Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker reported from Cairo.

She said, however, that there are still an unknown number of people missing, including activists thought to be detained during the recent unrest.

Human Rights Watch reported that the death toll during the uprising has amounted to 302 since January 28, the bulk of fatalities coming from Cairo.

Egypt's health ministry denied the figures, however, saying that official statistics would be released shortly.

Union support

Outside parliament, protesters gathered on Wednesday with blankets and had no plan to move, our correspondent reported. The demonstrators have a sign put up that says: "Closed until the fall of the regime".

Meanwhile, labour unions across Egypt, mobilised by the pro-democracy momentum, were staging strikes demanding higher wages and better treatment from their employers.

Strikes were taking place nationwide, including in Mahalla and Suez. Numbers are said to have reached around 10,000 workers at various factories in different cities over the past 24 hours, Al Jazeera correspondents reported.

"It is a significant gain for the pro-democracy supporters" if the unions get involved in demonstrations, Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid reported from Cairo.

Tahrir Square resembled a tented city on Wednesday, as protests - attended by many first-timers - reached some of their highest numbers on Tuesday.

Many feel this showed that the movement, now in its third week, still has momentum.

Protesters are "more emboldened by the day and more determined by the day", Ahmad Salah, an Egyptian activist, told Al Jazeera from Cairo on Wednesday. "This is a growing movement, it's not shrinking."

"People feel very strongly here," Al Jazeera's Dekker said.

She said people in Tahrir Square were angered by a visit from Tamer Hosni, a famous Arab pop star, on Wednesday morning.

Hosni previously made statements telling the demonstrators to leave the square, saying that Mubarak had offered them concessions. "His comments really did not go down very well," our correspondent said. The crowd reacted angrily and the military had to intervene to keep them away from him.

Another Al Jazeera correspondent, reporting from Cairo, said there was also renewed international element to the demonstrations, with Egyptians from abroad returning to join the pro-democracy camp.

There is even an internet campaign aimed at mobilising thousands of expatriates to return and support the uprising, our correspondent said.

Newcomers joining

Many newcomers who joined Cairo's protesters said they had been inspired in part by the release of Wael Ghonim, the Google executive, previously held by state security authorities.

Ghonim was the person behind a page called "We are all Khaled Said" on the social networking site Facebook, which is being credited for helping spark the uprising in Egypt.

Amr Fatouh, a surgeon, said he had joined the protests for the first time.

"I hope people will continue and more people will come. At first, people did not believe the regime would fall but that is changing," he said.
Suleiman Speech
Main points of offer
Mubarak will form a committee to review constitutional amendments.
Mubarak will form another committee to follow up govt measures to solve the crisis, including talks with opposition.
A third committee will investigate violent acts and attacks on protesters.

Mubarak has promised not to arrest or charge any one of those who took part in the protests.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, said on Tuesday that genuine dialogue was needed to end the current crisis, and that a peaceful transition was crucial.

"The Egyptian people are clearly frustrated, and are calling for bold reforms. It is incumbent on the Egyptian leadership - and that of any other country in the world - to listen attentively to the legitimate concerns and aspirations of their people," he said.

US vice president Joe Biden, in a telephone conversation with his Egyptian counterpart Omar Suleiman, on Tuesday called for increased dialogue between opposing sides.

Biden suggested several steps, including an immediate abolition of the country's emergency laws, that give sweeping powers to the security forces. He also suggested halting the arrest of journalists and activists, and involving more opposition members in negotiations.

Suleiman warned on Tuesday that his government "can't put up with continued protests" for a long time, saying the crisis must be ended as soon as possible.

Suleiman said there will be "no ending of the regime" and no immediate departure for Mubarak, the state news agency MENA reported from a meeting between the vice-president and independent newspapers.

Suleiman reportedly told the editors of the newspapers that the regime wants dialogue and doesn't "want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools."

At one point in the roundtable meeting, Suleiman warned that the alternative to dialogue "is that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps, including lots of irrationalities. We don't want to reach that point, to protect Egypt."

'Very dangerous'

Pressed by the editors to explain the comment, he said he did not mean a military coup but that "a force that is unprepared for rule" could overturn state institutions, Amr Khafagi, editor-in-chief of the privately owned Shorouk daily, who attended the briefing, said.

Suleiman warned that calls by some protesters for a campaign of civil disobedience are "very dangerous for society and we can't put up with this at all."

This comes after he announced a slew of constitutional and legislative reforms, to be undertaken by yet to be formed committees.

Earlier on Tuesday, Suleiman said a plan was in place for the peaceful transfer of power.

He said demonstrators will not be prosecuted and an independent fact-finding committee would be established to probe the violence on February 2.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Feb 12: DC National March for Egypt! + Save the Date: Remembering Furkan Dogan, Feb. 23

Al-Awda NY encourages all to attend the national rally in Washington, DC Feb. 12 in support of the Egyptian revolution, being called by Egyptian organizations in the U.S. Please also take note of the upcoming event February 23, Remembering Furkan Dogan, Fighting for Justice, which will feature a presentation by Prof. Ahmet Dogan, the father of Furkan Dogan, the U.S. citizen killed by the Israeli military in their raid on the international humanitarian Freedom Flotilla to break the siege of Gaza. Another important event will take place Feb. 19 - a regional conference against FBI repression against Palestine solidarity and other social justice activists. Read below for details!
February 12: Egyptian Solidarity Rally and March – Washington, DC

Egyptian Solidarity Rally & March

Organized by Egyptian Organizations in the U.S.

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

The White House, Lafayette Park, Washington DC

1:00 – 4:00 PM

Support the Egyptian Revolution

End US Support to Mubarak and his Regime

Also, Join protesters as they sleep over night in front of the White House (We have permit for the sleep over)

Facebook Event:

Come March in Solidarity with millions of Egyptian People in their struggle for democracy and human rights as they demand the immediate DEPARTURE of the repressive U.S. backed Mubarak regime.

For Bus Tickets in NY area: Call 212-633-6646
NY Buses leave at 7:30 AM from The International Action Center at 55 W. 17 St., Suite 5C New York, NY 10011
NY Buses return by 9:00 PM
Feb. 23: Remembering Furkan Doğan, Fighting for Justice
Save the date!
Wednesday, February 23
6:30 PM
The Commons Brooklyn
388 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

Join us for an evening with Prof. Ahmet Doğan of Erciyes University in Kayseri, Turkey, the father of Furkan Doğan, the 19-year-old American citizen killed on the Mavi Marmara, part of the Freedom Flotilla breaking the siege of Gaza.

He will speak alongside Al-Awda NY co-chair Dima Abi Saab and attorney Katherine Gallagher, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

Sponsored by Al-Awda New York: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild-NYC, Siege Busters Working Group, United National Antiwar Committee (UNAC)-NYC, Labor for Palestine, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Black Agenda Report, International Action Center, BAYAN USA and New York City Labor Against the War (list in formation).

Click here to Download Flyer (PDF)

Feb. 19: Stop FBI and Grand Jury Repression Regional Conference

The Committee to Stop FBI Repression is organizing a series of regional conferences across the country on Feb. 12 and Feb. 19 to bring people together for discussion, action, and mobilization to combat repression. Al-Awda NY is a participant in this coalition.

Stop FBI/Grand Jury Repression
East Coast regional conference
Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South, NY, NY 10012
Saturday, February 19, from 1 to 5 PM.

We have reserved the Main Hall that seats hundreds of people. The church on Washington Square park and at NYU is easy to get to by all public transportation. Speakers include Hatem Abudayyeh from Chicago and Mick Kelly and Sarah Martin from Minneapolis who were raided and/or subpoenaed by the FBI and ordered to appear at U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s Grand Jury.



For more information, please contact or call 718-228-8636.
Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition - NY

Support our work! Visit to make a donation.

Rap for revolution until victory

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Revolution or Upheaval?

‘Revolutions don’t happen out of the blue’: Egyptian protests grounded in decades of struggle

by Max Ajl on February 4, 2011

Egypt is throbbing with resistance. Cairo is cloven between the forces of revolution and those of counterrevolution. Hundreds of thousands of people - on Tuesday, February 1, well over a million - have been streaming each day into Tahrir Square, the largest plaza in the Arab world, located in the heart of downtown Cairo. Army tanks line the streets, helicopters and F16s buzz overhead, and pro-Mubarak demonstrators, many of them hired thugs, bloodied thousands of protesters yesterday in Tahrir and elsewhere. Yet the people keep pushing for Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak's unconditional ouster, and not just in Cairo. Alexandria has been convulsed, while Suez, a small city abutting the Suez Canal, has been riven with some of the fiercest street battles between the police and protesters, while workers there have gone on strike, demanding that Mubarak step down from his palace in Heliopolis.

In response to rising rage, Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people on Tuesday, February 1, and promised to step down in September, stating that his "first responsibility now is to restore the security and stability of the homeland, to achieve a peaceful transition of power," assuring the crowds that he "was not intent on standing for the next elections" anyway.

Barack Obama, in reply to Mubarak's promise to slowly relinquish his grip on power, said that after his address he had spoken "directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place ... an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful and it must begin now." Clearly, Mubarak and Obama are coordinating their communications, as well as their strategies. They should be: Egypt receives $1.3 billion of military aid each year to make sure it follows American orders.

Cutting that aid went unmentioned, so the nature of the "change" to which Obama was referring was unclear - but it is quite unlikely to be the change the people massing in Tahrir Square demand. When they burn Mubarak in effigy, they show their disdain not just for the man but for the system for which he stands.

Mubarak and Obama are well aware of this, which is why, on Wednesday, February 2, Mubarak sent paid goons, demurely referred to in the Western press as "pro-Mubarak demonstrators," into Tahrir Square and other major centers of resistance to provoke chaos. With the streets racked by violence, state managers reason, Mubarak will have justification to set in motion an orderly, top-down transition to a new figurehead at the head of the same governmental system.

Early indications are that he will try to put in place his new vice president, Omar Suleiman. Perhaps Suleiman won't work out so well, and Mubarak will revert to another high-level officer from his inner circle. Notwithstanding the particulars, the general framework of Egyptian and American policy is clear: maintain the system. To that end, "pro-Mubarak demonstrators" swore on Wednesday to "liberate Tahrir Square with blood." "Liberation" has yet to be accomplished; there's been plenty of blood. The counterrevolution has begun.

Part of the work of preparing for this counterrevolution is in dismissing the protests as "spontaneous," a momentary outburst of rage that will be quieted by a bit of change at the top. In the Momentary Convulsion School of History, people briefly spasm in the streets in response to outside provocation but go home as soon as their masters throw them a few dry bones of change. Grievances are not deeply felt injustices rooted in economic and political structures, but more like itches to be briefly scratched.

In more advanced versions of this fantasy, the Egyptian protests are just ripples from the revolt in Tunisia, and, like any ripple, they will pass through Egypt, rock it lightly, and then it will be still again. History tells a different story. As Egyptian journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy comments, "Revolutions don't happen out of the blue. It's not because of Tunisia yesterday that we have one in Egypt mechanically the next day." These are ripples, but they are big ones, set in motion long ago, and they originated in socioeconomic tremors that predate the Tunisian uprising by decades.

The January 25 protests that began the current stage of social revolt were organized by several groups, including the April 6 movement, a wide-based group with overwhelmingly young leadership that emerged to mobilize support for the April 2008 strikes at Mahalla al-Kubra, a textile manufacturing center in the Nile Delta. In Mahalla, 25,000 workers went on strike amidst deteriorating standards of living as the prices of basic foodstuffs careened upwards. The workers won their demands - their strike was the crest of a massive wave of labor unrest that has hit Egypt hard since 1998. Between 1998 and 2008, two million Egyptian workers participated in over 2,600 factory occupations. In the first five months of 2009, over 200 industrial actions took place, a trend that continued through 2010. Stanford historian Joel Beinin calls it the "largest and most sustained social movement in Egypt since the campaign to oust the British occupiers following the end of World War II."

The success of this campaign catalyzed other independent labor activity, spurring the formation of Egypt's first independent union in over a half century - the Independent General Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Workers. Beinin adds that the labor movements, alongside those organizing opposition to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, "inculcated a culture of protest in Egypt. This has contributed to the formation of a consciousness of citizenship and rights in a far more profound manner than anything that has happened in the arenas of party politics or nongovernmental organization work."

Labor revolt emerged as a countermovement to the Mubarak regime's neoliberal economic reforms. Those reforms shattered the authoritarian populist model, put in place by former president Gamal Abdel Nasser, which protected basic living standards, often by controlling the prices of basic staples. Amidst rocketing inflation, stagnant wages - many in Egypt live on 400 Egyptian pounds a month, equal to around $70, or close to two dollars a day - and structural unemployment concentrated amongst the youth, this social compact broke down. The population is extremely polarized, split on the model of most societies in the global South: a sparse middle class, with a small wealthy sector living in Zamalek or Maadi, or in outlying suburbs like Heliopolis, suspended above their society, while masses of poor inhabit the slums of Cairo and struggle - literally - for their daily bread.

One cannot easily separate polarization of wealth from dictatorship. Wealth and proximity to political power are tightly intertwined in Egypt. Columbia historian Timothy Mitchell notes that the neoliberal reforms of the 1990's put public funds into fewer and fewer hands, diverting resources away from labor-intensive industrial and agricultural development. The state now "subsidizes financiers instead of factories, speculators instead of schools. Although the IMF [International Monetary Fund] has shown no interest in raising the question, it is not hard to determine who benefits from the new financial subsidies. The revitalized public-private commercial banks lend big loans (tax-free) to large operators. The minimum loan size is typically over $300,000 and requires large collateral and good connections." In a telling indicator of the sharply unequal nature of income distribution, Mitchell notes that perhaps three percent of the population accounts for 50 percent of consumer spending.

Unrest has not merely been a response to destitution, but also a reaction to the systemic foreshortening of the social horizon, a phenomenon that cuts across social classes. Seventy-five percent of the unemployed are below the age of 30, while those with the lowest levels of education have the lowest levels of unemployment. University graduates, on the other hand, have a 30 percent unemployment rate. The protests have cut across a wide cross-class segment of Egyptian society: workers, teachers, Islamists, women and youth, including some of the underemployed children of the middle and upper classes. Some of the upper-class anger at Mubarak is fury at a dictatorship fused with corruption that has crowded out magnates running businesses with poor connections to state elites. The common thread is an intolerance of anymore living under an authoritarian police state.

Predictably, Western media is misreporting the role of both labor and the Muslim Brotherhood, understating the role of the former and overstating the role of the latter. The agenda is to obscure socioeconomic grievances and promote the narrative that the choice is between an authoritarian but secular government, or a democracy that will bring Islamists - code for the Taliban - to state power. The corollary is that people are not in the streets struggling for social revolution but to put in place a variant of Islamofascism. Thus, people shrug, the revolt must be drowned in blood. This narrative is indefensible.

For one thing, the ideological makeup of the Muslim Brotherhood is different from that of the more regressive Islamist anti-imperial forces. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood refrained from endorsing the initial call for January 25 to be a National Day of Rage. Scarcely any Islamist slogans have been voiced at the demonstrations. Most of the rhetoric has been secular and nationalist: "The crescent and the cross against murder and torture," for example, referring to unity amongst the Muslim majority and the Christian minority.

It's true that the Brotherhood would play a strong role in any remotely democratic post-Mubarak regime, as it is the largest organized political force in Egypt. But that is not something anyone should fear. The Muslim Brotherhood has eschewed violence over recent decades. Thousands of its activists languish in Mubarak's prisons, victims of state repression. Comparisons that evoke al-Qaeda are simply slander. If anything, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood has been marked by its accommodationist and nonconfrontational stance vis-a-vis the regime in recent years, rather than the reverse, and to widespread consternation among dissidents.

Another underreported facet of the social mobilizations is that, on January 30, envoys from independent unions along with workers from the metal, chemical, automotive, textile, pharmaceutical, iron and steel industries announced that they were creating a new Federation of Independent Egyptian Unions. That same day, they endorsed an indefinite general strike until Mubarak steps down. Attention is centered on Cairo's momentous Tahrir uprising, but proportionally, smaller cities and towns like Mahalla and Suez are denser with protest. They are also centers for the Egyptian working class.

Before discussing how to proceed, Obama consulted with the US's key regional partners: Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and King Abdullah II of Jordan. They urged Obama to support Mubarak, while Netanyahu has urged Israel's Western allies to tone down criticism of Mubarak. They don't necessarily care about Mubarak, but about what he represents: continuity of policy. They are aware of what the future holds if there is a sharp and radical rupture: the quiet, swift click of falling dominoes as the regional system collapses, autocracy by autocracy.

The New York Times reported that, "Israeli officials expressed concern that Mr. Mubarak's abrupt exit could jeopardize the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel." Translated from bureaucratese into English, their concern is neither with Mubarak nor his exit, but rather with managing the transition. For Israel, a hostile Egypt on its borders will provoke confrontation, and eventually, open conflict - conflict that will end in either regional conflagration, the cease of the occupation, or both.

Israel's main ally, America, is aware of this possibility, and, due to the influence of the Israel lobby in the US, will seek to prevent it. But the lobby is influential in promoting a bellicose foreign policy in part because Israel's foreign policy objectives - an Arab world peppered with dictatorships and destabilized states - line up with those of the arms manufacturers, who profit from regional arms races, and with those of the oil majors, who profit from the high prices associated with regional instability. A neutered, pacific Israel would no longer work as a regional juggernaut for promoting those sectors' interests. With Israel no longer protecting Western corporate interests, uprisings in the Arab sheikhdoms that stand astride a frothing river of petrodollars would be next. Too much is at stake: the profits of every Western oil company depend vitally on Middle Eastern fossil fuels and the financial system relies on recirculating and reinvesting the profits extracted from elevated oil prices, while the arms exporters count on regional conflict and the portion of the petro-profits that remain in regional hands to eventually flow into their coffers.

Simultaneously, Israel administers the region, creating free trade zones in Jordan, the Occupied Territories and Egypt that are highly profitable for American corporations. Egypt's domestic economy relies on normalization, or regular trade, with Israel - which it would cut if there were real political change - as well as incestuous deals cut between the state and "private" enterprise.

Revealingly, the Egyptian stock exchange and world markets alike have been sliding downwards in response to the threat the revolt represents to both domestic accumulation in Egypt and the interests of capital worldwide. In older parlance, the term would have been class war.

Within Egypt, the keystone of this system is the military and its control over the population, and, thus, its safeguarding of the social system from the threat of radical change. For that reason, Obama's spokesperson, Robert Gibbs, has promised that the American stream of military aid to Egypt will flow unhindered, an unmistakable signal to the generals: maintain the regional matrix, even if Mubarak eventually must go. Many have misinterpreted the Egyptian army's statement, which was released on Monday, stating: "The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people.... Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirm that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody."

The army hardly needed to resort to force. Instead, it merely needed to stand by on Wednesday as hired thugs threw Molotov cocktails at peaceful protesters in Tahrir Square, and as men on camels and horses rode into the crowd with batons, injuring people and hoping to sow chaos and, thereby, to ensure that people think that the Mubarak government must stay in place to endure an "orderly transition." Eyewitness reports from Al Jazeera correspondents show that many of the captured thugs have police IDs. Meanwhile, government propaganda asserts that it has been Muslim Brotherhood militants throwing firebombs on the people. The army "is calling on protesters to go and stay home for Egypt's security."

It is still unclear how this situation will play out. The US government would have preferred that Mubarak had stayed in power in perpetuity. A backup plan is a hand-picked successor to Mubarak who would maintain Egyptian collaboration with Israel, the quid pro quo for the $1.3 billion worth of aid the US remits yearly to Egypt, overwhelmingly to the military in the form of weapons and planes, ensuring that the money cycles back to the American military-industrial complex. The Egyptian people are unlikely to settle for such sops. As Nasser Abdel Hamid, a member of the National Association for Change, told Al-Masry Al-Youm, "We might have negotiated a diplomatic solution with the regime, but after today's developments, the fight will continue; what happened will not weaken it." The other option is to turn the revolt into mass slaughter: the Pinochet option. But to do so will probably require more repression than just street thugs can muster. The regime would require the services of the army.

Yet, as a Middle East Report editorial notes, "The army likely cannot fire upon the demonstrating crowds if the regime judges that necessary. The top brass has sworn not to; the Pentagon has echoed the White House in urging adherence to that policy; and, most importantly, the first bullet will shatter the shows of solidarity between the soldiers and the pro-democracy movement, as well as the army's honored place in Egyptian political culture." More likely is the palace coup option, as in the wake of the somewhat embarrassing - because unsuccessful - violence on Wednesday, Western officials called for acceleration transition within Egypt. The backup plan is in action. Should the protesters overcome the government's maneuvering for a palace coup, it is possible that the US has a final card in its back pocket: Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a name frequently bandied about by foreign media and analysts as a possible successor to Mubarak.

But in Egypt, ElBaradei is hardly talked about. As Egyptian journalist Philip Rizk told me, "He is not the people's choice. He is the choice of the international community," adding, before Wednesday's repression, that he was "pessimistic."

"It's going to get violent," said Rizk, "and I think ElBaradei will get in no matter what. Too much is at stake for the international community, for the US, for the IMF." ElBaradei would likely keep in place the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, but would very likely open up Egypt's Rafah crossing into Gaza for large flows of goods and people, allowing for economic development and better lives for the Palestinians living there. Rizk added that, for Egyptians who have been living under the jackboot of dictatorship for decades, ElBaradei would be an improvement over the octogenarian Mubarak, who has outlasted four American presidents.

But there are those looking at more distant horizons, too, and who are less pessimistic about the possibility of Egyptian society reaching them. As el-Hamalawy comments, "The revolution for me is about radical redistribution of wealth and a government that will represent the will of the Egyptian people when it comes to civil liberties, in addition to a pro-resistance stand vis-a-vis the US hegemony on the region and Israel."

"ElBaradei," he adds, "is not the man for that."

This article originally appeared at Truthout.