Ahmed Shawki, The struggle surges ahead, 04 February 2011
Jack Shenker, Cairo’s biggest protest yet demands Mubarak’s immediate departure, 05 February 2011
Jeremiah Haber, Liberating the Egyptians and Softening Our Hardened Hearts, 04 February 2011
Uri Avnery: Egypt will change our live, 05 February 2011
Sayed Kashua, When it comes to Arabs, Israel knows only what it wants to, 04 February 2011
Antony Lerman, Egypt: a fuller picture, 03 February 2011
Egypt on the brink… 02 February 2011, containing a brief statement of solidarity from JfJfP, Into Egypt’s Uncharted Territory by Middle East Report Online; and Ahdaf Soueif’s moving Comment-is-Free piece, The Egyptian regime has turned its thugs loose again …
JNews, Israel and Palestine in a new Middle East?, 01 Februry 2011,
Israeli responses to the Egyptian upheaval, 31 January 2011, which includes Eyal Clyne, Why Israelis aren’t thrilled by the prospect of a democratic Egypt; Zvi Bar-el, An Arab revolution fueled by methods of the West, Haaretz 30 January; Barak Ravid, Israel urges world to curb criticism of Egypt’s Mubarak, Haaretz 31 January; and Gideon Levy, The Egyptian masses won’t play ally to Israel Haaretz 30 January
Middle East Report Online, Now it’s Egypt’s turn, 29 January 2011
Tony Karon, 31 January 2011
[Tony Karm blogs occasionally at Rootless Cosmopolitan]
“The birth pangs of a new Middle East” was then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s description of the bombs falling on Beirut in 2006 as Israel and Hizballah traded blows in an inconclusive war, but her words more aptly describe the convulsions currently shaking Egypt. Rice’s vision of an alliance of Israeli and Arab autocrats crushing Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizballah proved to be a chimera, but Mubarak’s ouster could change the regional order in ways quite at odds with that vision. (See how Egyptians view President Obama during their time of turmoil.)
The situation in Egypt remains dangerously fluid, its outcome still difficult to predict. But even if the duration and terms of the inevitable transition are unknown, five days of dramatic street demonstrations have effectively called time on the strongman’s 30-year rule. Even the Obama Administration appears to be distancing itself from a leader that Washington has long hailed as a pillar of regional stability. The White House has stopped short of demanding that Mubarak resign, but it has called for “an orderly transition” to “a democratic participatory government,” and for Egypt’s U.S.-funded security forces to refrain from violence against protesters. Heeding those calls would effectively consign Mubarak to political oblivion. And even if he tried to fight his way out of the crisis, the autocrat’s ability to serve as a bastion of stability would be fatally compromised. In the space of less than a week, a central pillar of U.S. regional strategy has become an untenable ruler.
The man most likely to replace Mubarak if the political process is thrown open looks to be Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize–winning former nuclear inspector who has been endorsed as a presidential candidate by the country’s smaller secular parties and, importantly, by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition party. ElBaradei is a moderate and a democrat, but he doesn’t share Washington’s allergy to Islamist parties and has publicly questioned the Obama Administration’s strategy on Iran’s nuclear program.
Curiously enough, years before the current turmoil, Washington was warned that it could expect a difficult transition after Mubarak, even if his succession were handled within the regime. “Whoever Egypt’s next president is, he will inevitably be politically weaker than Mubarak,” reads a remarkably prescient May 2007 cable from the U.S. embassy in Cairo that was released late last year by WikiLeaks. “Among his first priorities will be to cement his position and build popular support. We can thus anticipate that the new president may sound an initial anti-American tone in his public rhetoric in an effort to prove his nationalist bona fides to the Egyptian street.” (See TIME’s video “Tahrir Square: The Epicenter of Cairo’s Protests.)
The cable also warns that any new President will have to bolster his support by reconciling with the banned Muslim Brotherhood. If all of this was true for what was then anticipated to be an in-house transition, it may be even more so now that the citizenry has demanded a say in the matter. It’s not that the rebellion is being fueled by anti-Americanism or radical Islamist sentiments; it’s a protest driven by the Egyptians’ economic and political needs. The U.S. is viewed with hostility among the demonstrators first and foremost because of its longtime support for a tyrannical regime.
The Muslim Brotherhood may be in the “radical” column of Rice’s schema, but Egypt’s democracy movement doesn’t see the party that way. “The Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with the Iranian movement, has nothing to do with extremism as we have seen it in Afghanistan and other places,” ElBaradei said over the weekend. He called the Brotherhood a conservative group that favors secular democracy and human rights and said that as an integral part of Egyptian society, it would have a place in any inclusive political process. (See “Is There an ElBaradei Solution?”)
Israel has looked on aghast as its most important friend in the region tumbles — with the U.S. doing little to save him. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly reached out to Washington and European capitals to urge them to ease off on criticism of the Egyptian leader, whose ouster would bring instability to the wider region. It’s highly unlikely that any new Egyptian government would go to war with Israel, but an administration more responsive to its own citizenry than Mubarak would almost certainly cool relations. Mubarak’s role as the go-to guy when the U.S. and Israel want to pressure the Palestinians into new talks, for example, is unlikely to be reprised by a successor. Nor can Israel count on Egypt’s continued cooperation in imposing an economic siege on Gaza, which is aimed at unseating the territory’s Hamas rulers.
If Israel is alarmed, so is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who on Saturday phoned Mubarak to express his solidarity and whose security forces blocked demonstrations in support of the Egyptian protests. Mubarak has been an important source of political cover for Abbas in his dealings with Israel and the U.S., and has kept the pressure on Hamas in Gaza. And the Palestinian leader, who presides over a less-than-democratic administration, can’t be thrilled by the Egyptians’ example to Palestinians of the power of mass protest.
None of the region’s moderate autocrats can be particularly reassured by the Obama Administration’s perceived willingness to wave goodbye to an Egyptian autocrat whose 30 years of service to U.S. regional agendas had the likes of Vice President Joe Biden just last week reiterating how important Mubarak’s contribution had been. (Comment on this story.)
Syria and Iran, of course, are celebrating the travails of one of their fiercest Arab antagonists — even if the type of popular rebellion that has rocked Mubarak could at some point come to the streets of Damascus and Tehran. Indeed, the Egyptian rebellion may stand as the ultimate negation of the Bush Administration’s “moderates vs. radicals” approach to the region: Mubarak’s ouster might be a loss for the moderate camp, but it won’t necessarily translate into a gain for the radicals. Instead, it marks a new assertiveness by an Arab public looking to take charge of its own affairs, rather than have them determined by international power struggles. Even that, however, suggests turbulent times ahead for American Middle East policies that have little support on Egypt’s streets.
Ahmed Shawki, 4 February 2011
ANTI-MUBARAK demonstrators gathered in the hundreds of thousands on Friday, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, in Alexandria and in cities and towns across the country for a new day of mass protest against the regime.
In my estimation, the Tahrir Square demonstration was even bigger today than it was last Tuesday, when across Egypt, between 6 million and 8 million people protested, according to estimates. As the hour for curfew came and went tonight, thousands of people were still arriving to demonstrate. In Alexandria, an estimated 1 million people also turned out.
Everywhere, people were united around the slogan that Mubarak must go now. In Tahrir Square, there was an echo of the old civil rights slogan in the U.S. “We shall not be moved”–hundreds of thousands of people were chanting, “He should go! We will not move.” Then there was my favorite slogan of the day: “Ya Mubarak, sahi el noum, inaharda akher youm!” It sounds better in Arabic because it rhymes, but it translates roughly into English as: “Wakey, wakey, Mubarak, today is the last day!”
To understand the importance of today’s massive turnout, you only have to remember what happened on Wednesday and Thursday, which can only be described as the unleashing of the hounds of hell–thugs of the regime sent out in a coordinated assault on the demonstrators at Tahrir Square and the whole of the pro-democracy movement.
The scale of violence was seen by millions of people around the world. They threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, and they wielded knives and all kinds of other weapons in an attempt to intimidate, injure and drive out the demonstrators from Tahrir Square.
They also made a particular point to beat up journalists and drive them out of the square, and they raided hotels where news organizations like Al Jazeera and CNN were headquartered, trashing their operations. They also attempted to incite fear against foreigners–anything that would drive a wedge among the demonstrators and that would intimidate people from coming out on Friday.
The violence was so bad that Omar Suleiman–the newly appointed vice president, whose previous position was head of the army intelligence services, someone who must have overseen the arrest and torture of thousands in that post–came on television last night to deny any involvement on the part of the National Democratic Party, Mubarak’s ruling party.
Suleiman claimed that no one had any idea who organized the onslaught–despite the fact that several of the thugs were captured, and their police or government employment IDs were shown in the media. So the hollowness of his claims weren’t lost on the Egyptian people.
There was even a moment of bizarre other-worldliness when Suleiman–this organizer of repression and torture–appealed for prisoners, who according to many reports had been released from jail by the regime’s thugs to help in the violence, to show up at the prisons again and turn themselves in.
That’s the context of today’s demonstrations–after two days of systematic violence against the anti-Mubarak protestors, people turned out in the hundreds of thousands today, and it turned the balance back again in the favor of the demonstrators.
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AS IN every revolutionary situation, there has been a dramatic ebb and flow to the events in Egypt.
The demonstrations began on January 25–ironically, on “Police Day,” which was previously a celebration of the regime’s strength. On that first day, the movement broke through a kind of psychological barrier by moving into the streets in huge numbers, something that didn’t happen under the Egyptian police state.
The demonstrations continued through last Friday, when there were huge battles with the police that pushed the security forces off the streets. The government’s response was to deploy the army, which is seen as “above politics”–but to allow Cairo to descend into a kind of chaos, with gangs of thugs roaming through neighborhoods, many of them organized by the regime. The mass of Egyptians responded to this by organizing neighborhood defense committees to protect the people.
Last Tuesday, the demonstrations were the biggest yet. Mubarak spoke on television that night, declaring that he wouldn’t run for reelection, but had no intention of stepping down. The thugs were unleashed the next day to show what Mubarak had in mind as a transition.
But Friday represents a new stage following the two days of violence that came before it. In the preceding two days, not only was the anti-Mubarak demonstration in Tahrir maintained–that is, the heart of the uprising and its best-known expression was defended from forces determined to drive the protesters out–but the manner of its defense produced a response in support of it that could be seen throughout the day today.
Early on Friday morning, there were literally thousands of people lined up to go into the square. The army had taken up positions after the two days of sustained violence, not wanting to appear helpless, but what was phenomenal was that it wasn’t the army guarding the entrances, but lines and lines of stewards from the demonstration. They searched people as they came in, making sure no one had the kind of weapons that the pro-government gangs had used against them. I’ve never been frisked so often, and with as many apologies for being frisked.
The army is continuing to maintain its role as a force supposedly above politics. Unlike the last two days of uncontrolled violence against the protesters, which the army didn’t intervene decisively to stop, today, it helped create a buffer zone around Tahrir Square. So once the attack on Tahrir Square failed, there was barbed wire and tanks in all the pivotal positions around Cairo.
I got to Tahrir in the morning, before the end of prayers, when even larger numbers came to the demonstration. But already, the crowd numbered half a million, if not more, by my estimate.
Once inside Tahrir, you could see a level of organization and solidarity unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The first thing that struck me was the makeshift clinics set up all over the place, with dozens and dozens of nurses and doctors–many of whom said they were unemployed–stitching up people’s legs or arms or faces. These injuries were the result of the pro-government thugs–there were dozens of people walking around who had been patched up.
In addition to that, people had brought medical supplies with them. Others were circulating through the square with bags of bread, with water, with candy.
One of the aims of the pro-Mubarak forces had been to drive out all journalists–they focused in particular on foreign journalists to try to raise anger at a supposed foreign plot against Egypt. So it was good to see that journalists were operating freely and quite welcome in the crowd.
Probably the most significant sign of the health of the protest was the continued political discussion and debate within the square. I also saw dozens and dozens of people who were calling friends and relatives, and encouraging them to come to the square–trying to convince them of the fallacy of the government’s claims about chaos and violence.
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ACCORDING TO press reports, the U.S. government is lobbying hard to get officials around Mubarak to pressure him to step down.
The U.S. maneuvers around this question must, as always, be taken with a grain of salt. No one will say it in the mainstream media, but Obama could have held a press conference in which he simply declared that aid to Egypt is cut off, that this kind of violence will not be tolerated, and that the U.S. now stands squarely with the protesters.
But of course, he won’t say that because that’s not how diplomacy works. And the reason it doesn’t work that way is you can’t send that signal about a dictator the U.S. has been supporting for 30 years. Not because Mubarak isn’t finished, but because of how his downfall on those terms would affect other relationships and the whole Middle East.
So the U.S. is scrambling to find an alternative, and there are plenty of options. Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, showed up to the demonstration today to be among the protesters. He’s clearly thrown his hat in the ring to be the next president. There’s also Mohamed ElBaradai. There’s the Muslim Brotherhood. Even the current defense minister, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, made the rounds through Tahrir Square today, under protection of soldiers, without much opposition to him.
But there are still plenty of difficulties and contradictions for the U.S. and for the rulers in Egypt, because there are significant problems from trying to gently step back from a military dictatorship.
Egypt is still that, in many respects. I should add that a couple offices of human rights and labor organizations were raided yesterday and closed down. It’s still very gingerly that people produce any public literature that’s against the regime. So it was quite an exercise, for example, to get leaflets into Tahrir Square today.
One problem for the U.S. is that Omar Suleiman figures prominently in their plans for a post-Mubarak transition. Many of the demonstrators were dismayed by Suleiman’s speech last night. But of course, most know the history of the man–that he was involved integrally in the repression that took place under Mubarak’s regime.
In general, most demonstrators still agree that their central demand is for the removal of Mubarak. That’s not to say that the rest of the regime should get off scot-free. But Mubarak’s downfall is what the movement has focused on so far, and when that’s accomplished, that significant victory will then open the process.
My own view is that it’s virtually impossible to imagine the departure of Mubarak without the cabinet and the government he’s put into place then becoming the central question for the movement. That’s the underlying dynamic.
Mubarak is the lightning rod that has brought all the forces together. Those forces don’t necessarily agree on the same outcome, but they’re at least agreed on the central necessity of seeing him go, and that will become the practical measure of what’s been accomplished.
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ONE OF the most interesting conversations I heard was one man trying to explain on the phone to someone the profoundly democratic thrust of the protests.
He said to the person he was talking to that people see demonstrators chanting “Allah Akbar,” and they conclude these protests must be organized by the Muslim Brotherhood. Then they see many famous actors and musicians showing up to Tahrir Square today, and they think it’s just a middle-class protest of the intelligentsia.
But it’s not the Muslim Brotherhood behind all this. It’s not the middle class. It’s not, as this man went on to say, only socialists and Marxists talking about workers’ rights, and it’s not people talking about just women’s rights. This is really a protest of all Egypt united in a profound movement for democracy.
I think that’s the first thing that has to be grasped about the uprising–that this is a movement that seeks fundamental democratic rights. As a friend of mine put it a few days ago, it’s the 1789 of Egypt–similar to the opening of the French Revolution in that way.
I think the second aspect that became certain today is that this is no longer the Egypt that existed prior to January 25–and there’s no turning back, however much violence the regime tries to organize. A tipping point has been reached in terms of the willingness of masses of people to put themselves on the line and defy the existing order, and that’s a genie that will be very difficult to put back in the bottle.
The third aspect apparent today was, as I described earlier, the enormous self-organization of the movement in the face of horrendous violence and repression–most especially, the attacks that took place over the past few days.
The fourth point is broader–about what happens next. You now have a movement that has emerged in a most explosive fashion and is present in every Egyptian town and city, which is the product of many, many years of injustice, including around economic questions of unemployment and dispossession. But it’s also an expression of the rise of a number of social struggles in Egypt, including the strikes of the last few years and the riots over rising food prices.
Right now, the movement is united around the political aim of getting rid of Hosni Mubarak. But hopefully, once Mubarak is unseated, the political questions will then mesh with social questions that still remain unresolved.
If that happens, there will be a really explosive mix of political and social issues that represents the possibility of political and social revolution.
I think that’s the key to understanding why Mubarak hasn’t left yet. It’s not just a question of his own stubbornness, but how the regime can continue and the status quo can be maintained, not just for the Egyptian elite, but for Israel, the U.S., its European allies and so on.
Their interest is in preventing this process from triggering an even greater change. That’s what these demonstrations are heralding, and we hope it’s a process that will continue.
One last story from today: When Mubarak spoke on television on Tuesday night and said that he wouldn’t run for reelection, he vowed that he was going to die on Egypt’s soil. One Socialist Worker reporter quipped at the time, “We should tell him that the soil is ready for him.” I translated that today at Tahrir Square, and I can report that it was greeted with wild applause and cheers–it’s another part of the ongoing Egyptian revolution.
Tahrir delegates’ demands preclude any governing role for the existing elite, including vice-president Omar Suleiman.
Jack Shenker, 5 February 2011
The immediate removal of President Mubarak from office will not be enough to stop the huge anti-government rallies that have engulfed Egypt in recent days, according to a list of demands drawn up by a key coalition of protesters which has been seen by the Guardian.
Following 11 days of widespread demonstrations against Mubarak’s rule that have brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets and provoked violent clashes with militant defenders of the government, those rallying against the current regime have come together in a remarkable surge of grassroots decision-making to forge a common consensus on their aims.
These include the resignation of not just Mubarak but also the entire ruling party establishment – including Omar Suleiman, the vice-president whom the Obama administration believes is best placed to take the helm during the post-Mubarak transition period. Protesters are calling instead for a broad-based transitional government appointed by a 14-strong committee which would be made up of senior judges, youth leaders and members of the military.
In Tahrir, the square that has become the focal point for the nationwide struggle against Mubarak’s three-decade dictatorship, groups of protesters have been debating what their precise goals should be in the face of their president’s continuing refusal to stand down.
The Guardian has learned that delegates from these mini-gatherings then come together to discuss the prevailing mood, before potential demands are read out over the square’s makeshift speaker system. The adoption of each proposal is based on the proportion of cheers or boos it receives from the crowd at large.
Delegates have arrived in Tahrir from other parts of the country that have declared themselves liberated from Mubarak’s rule, including the major cities of Alexandria and Suez, and are also providing input into the decisions.
“When the government shut down the web, politics moved on to the street, and that’s where it has stayed,” said one youth involved in the process. “It’s impossible to construct a perfect decision-making mechanism in such a fast-moving environment, but this is as democratic as we can possibly be.”
“Genuine opposition politics in this country has always relied on people taking the initiative, and that’s what we’re seeing here – on a truly astounding level,” said Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian author who has been closely monitoring the spontaneous political activity on the ground. “There is more transparency and equality here in Tahrir than anything we’ve ever seen under the Mubarak regime; anyone and everyone can have their say, and that makes the demands that come out of the process even more powerful.”
The document that has emerged from Tahrir details calls for the election of a founding council of 40 public intellectuals and constitutional experts, who will draw up a new constitution over the coming months under the supervision of the transitional government, then put it to the Egyptian people in a referendum. Following the passage of the new constitution, fresh elections would be held at a local and national level.
Such a scenario would go far further than the piecemeal constitutional reform offered by the present government, and would preclude any delay in Mubarak’s departure or any transitional governing role for existing members of country’s ruling elite.
The demands, which have been endorsed by the so-called “300” – the loose coalition of online activists who were behind last month’s call for the “day of rage” on 25 January, the event that sparked the current uprising – are also more radical than those put forward earlier this week by a group of senior judges, diplomats and businessmen in the Egyptian daily newspaper Al Shorouk. The latter group’s statement endorsed the idea of Suleiman as a transitional president, an outcome firmly rejected by the majority of those camped out in Tahrir.
Other demands to have come out the square include the end of the country’s Emergency Law, the dismantling of the state security apparatus, and the trial of key regime leaders, including Mubarak.
“The regime is trying to demonise protesters as agents of foreign powers, fomenters of chaos, and so on,” says Hossam el-Hamalawy, a journalist and blogger. “But go down to Tahrir, sit on a corner, and within a few minutes you’ll be in the middle of a spontaneous political discussion – the energy of people’s ideas is inspiring. It’s down there that the legitimate voice of the protesters and our revolution can be heard.”
Jeremiah Haber, 04 February 2011
From a moral perspective, however – and, fortunately, that’s the dominant perspective among the e-crowd, Jewish and non-Jewish, with whom I associate – supporting the Egyptian revolution is a no-brainer. On the one hand we have a regime that has only become more authoritarian in recent years, and, on the other, non-violent protesters from all walks of life who are struggling to be free. How can any decent human being not be thrilled by the prospect of this liberation? And how can Jews, who themselves came into being as nation in the furnace of Egyptian bondage, not identify with the Egyptian struggle for freedom?
In fact, I would argue that the ambivalence that some Jews are feeling can itself be turned into an argument against a Jewish state. For if the price to pay for a Jewish state is acquiescing in tyranny and injustice for reasons of realpolitik – as Israel did with apartheid South Africa – then arguably that price is too high, especially if you feel, as I do, that there are alternatives to a Jewish state for the survival and thriving of the Jewish people and its heritage.
Of course, I understand the counterargument – that the world is full of messy compromises and strange bedfellows, and that one’s national security is paramount. I understand the necessity of the United States’ alliance with Stalin during World War II. And it would be foolish not to support Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt. But, to quote Avishai Margalit, there are compromises, and there are rotten compromises. An alliance in which Israel supplies nuclear knowledge and armaments to a rogue state that oppresses its people like South Africa is a rotten compromise. Not to support the Egyptian revolution for fear that it may turn out bad for Israel (and what that means is subject to debate) is shortsighted politically and unjustifiable morally. And both are cardinal sins for Jews.
Some Jews and Israelis who support the Egyptian revolution are still apprehensive. After all, there is that perennial bogeyman, Islamism, which may rear its head. Isn’t it preferable for Israelis to have as neighbor an authoritarian regime that supports, or at least does not actively oppose its interests, then a regime where Islamic movements like Hizbollah and Hamas are represented? With monarchs and tyrants one can come to terms. But what if the Arab public is opposed to the existence of Israel? Why should Israelis support democratization of their enemies?
To which I reply: the Jews should have thought of that before they established the state of Israel. If they could not establish a state that would be able to live in peace with its Arab neighbors, but decided to press on with an “Iron Wall” mentality, then they are reaping what they sowed. But the premise itself is flawed. Were Israel to make peace with the Palestinian – within the framework of one state, two states, or a federation, in which the Palestinians had freedom and self-determination along with the Israelis, and the refugees would be given the choice to return or not, the vast majority of Arabs would be willing to accept that – not perhaps, as the most desirable outcome, but as something that could be tolerated for the foreseeable future. Just as I would not ban religious Jewish political parties in Israel from participating democratically, although they are territorial maximalists, so neither would I exclude religious Muslim parties, even though, as an orthodox Jew, I am personally unhappy with religious political parties and have never voted for one. (For insight into the intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood, see Helena Cobban’s 2007 interview in Foreign Policy here.)
The revolution in Egypt is already a victory for that growing force in society, “civil society.” The protesters have been called the generation of Facebook and Twitter. But let’s not forget that they are primarily the generation of human rights discourse. Yizhak Laor is dead wrong when he writes that the Left in Egypt “has drowned in European subsidies to tens of separate NGOS for human rights, whose siginficance has not been one of change but rather of a disciplined preservation of the status quo.” This may be the view of a Tel-Aviv armchair revolutionary, but someone who knows Egypt a lot better than Laor and me has told me that “the indigenous Egyptian human rights NGOs and the international HR NGO’s have all made in invaluable contribution;” In particular, the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights and the Cairo-based Arab Organization of Human Rights, have defended political prisoners and helped create a discourse of human rights that is at the center of the Egyptian revolution. Of course, that revolution is greater than any particular organization.
Indeed, Civil Society, rather than the Muslim Brotherhood or the opposition parties, is the motivating force behind the Egyptian revolution, at least for now. And that bodes ill for repressive governments, including the governments of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. After all, Hamas and the PA tried to suppress protests in favor of the revolutionaries; Israel continues to harass human rights NGOs. It is the civil society movement that is shaking the ground on which authoritarian governments stand.