The uprising in Egypt, although united around the nearly universal desire to rid the country of the military dictator Hosni Mubarak, also presages the inevitable shift within the Arab world away from secular regimes toward an embrace of Islamic rule. Don’t be fooled by the glib sloganeering about democracy or the facile reporting by Western reporters-few of whom speak Arabic or have experience in the region. Egyptians are not Americans. They have their own culture, their own sets of grievances and their own history. And it is not ours. They want, as we do, to have a say in their own governance, but that say will include widespread support-especially among Egypt’s poor, who make up more than half the country and live on about two dollars a day-for the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic parties. Any real opening of the political system in the Arab world’s most populated nation will see an empowering of these Islamic movements. And any attempt to close the system further-say a replacement of Mubarak with another military dictator-will ensure a deeper radicalization in Egypt and the wider Arab world.
The only way opposition to the U.S.-backed regime of Mubarak could be expressed for the past three decades was through Islamic movements, from the Muslim Brotherhood to more radical Islamic groups, some of which embrace violence. And any replacement of Mubarak (which now seems almost certain) while it may initially be dominated by moderate, secular leaders will, once elections are held and popular will is expressed, have an Islamic coloring. A new government, to maintain credibility with the Egyptian population, will have to more actively defy demands from Washington and be more openly antagonistic to Israel. What is happening in Egypt, like what happened in Tunisia, tightens the noose that will-unless Israel and Washington radically change their policies toward the Palestinians and the Muslim world-threaten to strangle the Jewish state as well as dramatically curtail American influence in the Middle East.
The failure of the United States to halt the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israel has consequences. The failure to acknowledge the collective humiliation and anger felt by most Arabs because of the presence of U.S. troops on Muslim soil, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but in the staging bases set up in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, has consequences. The failure to denounce the repression, including the widespread use of torture, censorship and rigged elections, wielded by our allies against their citizens in the Middle East has consequences. We are soaked with the stench of these regimes. Mubarak, who reportedly is suffering from cancer, is seen as our puppet, a man who betrayed his own people and the Palestinians for money and power.
The Muslim world does not see us as we see ourselves. Muslims are aware, while we are not, that we have murdered tens of thousands of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have terrorized families, villages and nations. We enable and defend the Israeli war crimes carried out against Palestinians and the Lebanese-indeed we give the Israelis the weapons and military aid to carry out the slaughter. We dismiss the thousands of dead as “collateral damage.” And when those who are fighting against occupation kill us or Israelis we condemn them, regardless of context, as terrorists. Our hypocrisy is recognized on the Arab street. Most Arabs see bloody and disturbing images every day from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, images that are censored on our television screens. They have grown sick of us. They have grown sick of the Arab regimes that pay lip service to the suffering of Palestinians but do nothing to intervene. They have grown sick of being ruled by tyrants who are funded and supported by Washington. Arabs understand that we, like the Israelis, primarily speak to the Muslim world in the crude language of power and violence. And because of our entrancement with our own power and ability to project force, we are woefully out of touch. Israeli and American intelligence services did not foresee the popular uprising in Tunisia or Egypt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s new intelligence chief, told Knesset members last Tuesday that “there is no concern at the moment about the stability of the Egyptian government.” Tuesday, it turned out, was the day hundreds of thousands of Egyptians poured into the streets to begin their nationwide protests.
What is happening in Egypt will damage and perhaps unravel the fragile peace treaty between Egypt and Jordan with Israel. It is likely to end Washington’s alliance with these Arab intelligence services, including the use of prisons to torture those we have disappeared into our vast network of black sites. The economic ties between Israel and these Arab countries will suffer. The current antagonism between Cairo and the Hamas government in Gaza will be replaced by more overt cooperation. The Egyptian government’s collaboration with Israel, which includes demolishing tunnels into Gaza, the sharing of intelligence and the passage of Israeli warship and submarines through the Suez Canal, will be in serious jeopardy. Any government-even a transition government that is headed by a pro-Western secularist such as Mohamed ElBaradei-will have to make these changes in the relationship with Israel and Washington if it wants to have any credibility and support. We are seeing the rise of a new Middle East, one that will not be as pliable to Washington or as cowed by Israel.
I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.
There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.
“He’s right that the conversation is ahead of the White House. But that’s not because of technology, it’s because the White House has to walk a tightrope between supporting democracy and not looking like it’s engineering the removal of a 30-year ally.”—
“The current popular unrest in the Arab world has a lot of lessons for Washington. Undoubtedly one of the most jarring is this: The leak of a simple series of cables from a U.S. ambassador in an obscure country — officially condemned by Washington — may have done more to inspire democracy in the Arab world than did a bloody, decadelong, trillion-dollar war effort orchestrated by the United States.”—Michael Hirsh for the National Journal: The WikiLeaks Revolt
Let’s be quite clear: If the military opens fire in the streets of Cairo, as militaries sometimes do when dictators feel the wheels coming off - consider Hafez al-Assad killing 20,000 Syrians in Hama, in 1982, or Saddam’s 1988 Halabja massacre, or Mubarak’s own three week siege of Cairo’s Imbaba district, in 1992 - their deaths will have been financed by U.S. tax dollars.
We may not have bought AK-47’s themselves, but the billion and a half dollars we dole out each year — $68 billion since 1948 — has made Egypt’s army the most formidable among Arab states. Cairo is among the most profligate of U.S. aid recipients; it currently ranks alongside Israel, Pakistan and Afghanistan atop the American foreign appropriation rolls.
For fifty years, the U.S. has cut a deal with the devil we know — notably the al-Saud family in Riyadh and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt — at the cost of abandoning our national narrative and values. It was, we decided, the price of stability. It was as unfortunate as it was damming; they are among the most powerful weapons we wield.
Successive American administrations have chosen to support autocrats willing to share intelligence, stamp out the very extremism their stifling rule engenders, and support Israel, either coldly and overtly or quietly, rather than face the unknown - a devil that may share less appetite for rapport with the West.
Exasperation with that hypocrisy — even if lost on the American public — has never faded for Arabs. It is the foundation of al Qaeda’s hatred for the U.S., and the reason its words resonate with millions of Muslims who would never support Sharia law or a return to a caliphate. […]
Today, for the first time in more than half a century, we are a step closer to reconciling the powerful ideas underpinning our nation with the stifling fate we help force upon millions of Arabs. It comes with risks, particular for Israel, but the status quo was untenable, and can no longer fit American interests. […]
Robert Fisk, the Independent’s longtime man in Beirut, wrote last week:
The truth, of course, is that the Arab world is so dysfunctional, sclerotic, corrupt, humiliated and ruthless…and so totally incapable of any social or political progress, that the chances of a series of working democracies emerging from the chaos of the Middle East stand at around zero per cent.
Cairo is a loud and filthy city, impoverished and chaotic before a revolution took hold. We should all hope for the sake of stability, our friends in Israel, and, most importantly, for the kids of Cairo, that old man Frisk is proven a fool.
Omar Suleiman, Hosni Mubarak’s intelligence chief, is the keeper of Egypt’s and the president’s secrets, a behind-the-scenes operator who has been intimately involved in the most sensitive issues of national security and foreign policy for nearly 20 years.
Suleiman’s appointment as vice-president carries two highly significant messages: for the first time since coming to power in 1981 Mubarak has a designated successor – finally quashing speculation that it will be his son Gamal; and that successor has the full confidence of the military. Its role will now be crucial as the Egyptian drama unfolds.
Suleiman, 74, is bald and moustachioed and despite his military bearing has a penchant for discreet dark suits and striped ties. Acquaintances often remark on his exquisite manners. In 1995, two years after taking over Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (known, as in all Arab countries, as the mukhabarat) he saved the president’s life during an assassination attempt in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. He also played a key role in defeating the insurrection mounted by Egyptian armed groups such as Islamic Jihad.
For 30 years before that he served in the army, fighting in Yemen as well as in the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel, rising to be director of military intelligence. Like many Egyptian officers of his generation he was trained in the then Soviet Union.
In recent years one of Suleiman’s biggest preoccupations has been dealing with the volatile Palestinian file, mediating between the western-backed Fatah movement and the Islamists of Hamas – a group with special resonance in Egypt because of its control of the Gaza Strip and their links to the Muslim Brotherhood. He has also been involved in mediation attempts between rebels and the government in Yemen.
Suleiman figures often in US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks. In a meeting with a US military delegation in April 2009 he explained that “his overarching regional goal was combating radicalism, especially in Gaza, Iran, and Sudan.” The US and other western governments will see him as a safe pair of hands. But for how long is impossible to say.
Vice President Biden, issuing the Obama administration’s most definitive statement to date on the turmoil in Egypt, said President Mubarak should not step down and downplayed the protests spreading across the Mideast as generally unconnected.
He described the unrest as an expression of “middle-class folks” looking for “a little more access and a little more opportunity.”
Though the administration says it’s not taking sides, Biden said in an interview aired Thursday that Mubarak has been a U.S. “ally” on “a number of things,” praising him for being “very responsible” in normalizing Egypt’s relationship with Israel and aiding in Middle East peace talks. ”I would not refer to him as a dictator,” Biden said on PBS’ NewsHour.
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory
Like many examples of governmental dysfunction, the way salmon are regulated makes more sense when you look at it closely than when you simplify it for a laugh line. The reason fishing for salmon in freshwater and fishing for salmon in saltwater get regulated by different agencies is that it’s the water, not the salmon, being regulated. Brian Palmer explains:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of the Interior, has jurisdiction over fishermen working in inland bodies of water, while the Commerce Department’s National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration regulates marine fishing within 200 miles of the U.S. coastline. (Fishing beyond that distance is loosely governed by various international bodies and agreements.) There’s nothing crazy about this regulatory divide: Large commercial operations dominate marine fisheries, whereas freshwater fishing is largely the province of sportsmen. Monitoring stocks of ocean fish is also more expensive and complex than keeping track of the population in a river.
From a commercial fisherman’s perspective, this governance structure isn’t nearly as vertiginous as the president implied. Most fish fall neatly within the jurisdiction of one of the two agencies. Salmon are among a handful of fish species, along with shad and eel, that cross the regulatory boundary in the course of their regular migrations, but commercial operators hunt salmon exclusively in the ocean.
Palmer goes on to note that there’s a long-running effort to create a National Oceans Agency that would coordinate oceans-related policy across all the different departments. More on that here.
True, Lockheed Martin doesn’t actually run the U.S. government, but sometimes it seems as if it might as well. After all, it received $36 billion in government contracts in 2008 alone, more than any company in history. It now does work for more than two dozen government agencies from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s involved in surveillance and information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Pentagon, the Census Bureau, and the Postal Service.
Oh, and Lockheed Martin has even helped train those friendly Transportation Security Administration agents who pat you down at the airport. Naturally, the company produces cluster bombs, designs nuclear weapons, and makes the F-35 Lightning (an overpriced, behind-schedule, underperforming combat aircraft that is slated to be bought by customers in more than a dozen countries) — and when it comes to weaponry, that’s just the start of a long list. In recent times, though, it’s moved beyond anything usually associated with a weapons corporation and has been virtually running its own foreign policy, doing everything from hiring interrogators for U.S. overseas prisons (including at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq) to managing a private intelligence network in Pakistan and helping write the Afghan constitution.
“Breaking tradition, Republicans and Democrats are going to sit together, intermingled, at the State of the Union address tomorrow. So if for no other reason, just tune in for the raw sexual tension.”—Conan