Mubarak has gone – whither the revolution in Egypt?
A short selection of articles on Egypt and the wider region:
Issandr El Amrani, Why Tunis, Why Cairo?, LRB 4 February
Adam Shatz, After Mubarak, LRB 4 February
Uri Avnery, Tsunami in Egypt, 12 February 2011
Middle East Monitor, Egypt opens a new chapter for Palestine, 12 February
Middle East Monitor, In their own words – the position of the Muslim Brotherhood, 10 February
Ali Abunimah, The revolution continues after Mubarak’s fall, 12 February
See also last weeks posting The Egyptian upheaval and its wider ramifications
Jews for Justice for Palestinians congratulates the Egyptian people on their courage, their non-violence, their organisation, their patience and above all on their steadfastness in the face of overwhelming odds The action of the Egyptian people in ending the regime of Hosni Mubarak has been an inspiration to the whole world.
We remain hopeful that this peaceful revolution will usher in true liberation for the Egyptian people, the end of the state of emergency and the advance of democracy, human rights, and justice
It is our fervent wish that Israel heeds the momentous events in Egypt and recognises that it isn’t possible to continue to deny self-determination to the Palestinian people. Dominion over a subject people denies Israel the legitimacy it craves – a nation that oppresses another can never truly be free.
Issandr El Amrani, LRB, Vol. 33 No. 4 · 17 February 2011, pp.3-6
The author is a journalist based in Cairo. He runs www.arabist.net, a blog on Arab politics and culture.
‘Egypt is not Tunisia,’ the pundits repeatedly said on television after Zine Abedine Ben-Ali fled Tunis for Saudi Arabia. They pointed to the differences between the two countries: one small, well-educated, largely middle-class; the other the largest in terms of population in the Arab world, with a high rate of illiteracy and ever widening inequality. Tunisia was a repressive police state in which information was tightly controlled and most people never dared to criticise the leadership out loud. Egypt was a military dictatorship that allowed a fair amount of freedom of expression, as long as it had no political consequences: you could criticise the president, but not launch a campaign to unseat him. In Tunisia, a rapacious first family indulged in widespread racketeering, alienating every social class. In Egypt, most of the elite benefited from the stability the regime maintained, and while corruption was endemic, it was not generally identified with a single clan.
But there were also important similarities. In recent years, the legitimacy of both regimes had begun to wane; in each case the ruler had been in place so long that half the population had no memory of his predecessor – more than 23 years in the case of Ben-Ali, nearly 30 in the case of Hosni Mubarak. People were uncertain about the future. Both regimes had effectively emptied formal politics of meaning by banning any party that had real popular appeal and restricting others to the status of a loyal opposition, thus depriving itself of intermediaries between the state and its citizens who could have negotiated an end to the crisis. Both countries’ supposed stability was dependent on a strategic relationship with the West. Tunisia enjoyed a warm and privileged relationship with Paris: it was reassuring for the French, angst-ridden about the growing visibility of their Muslim minority, to be able to look approvingly on a Muslim country that peddled its own commitment to laïcité as a signal that although it might be a dictatorship, it was an enlightened and progressive one. As for Egypt, Anthony Eden may have described Nasser as ‘that Hitler on the Nile’, but after the 1978 Camp David Accords the country became a pillar of American interests in the Middle East and – by its withdrawal from the Arab-Israeli conflict – an unwitting enabler of the expansionism of the Zionist state.
Above all, Tunisia and Egypt were the last places in which most people – whether experts or ordinary citizens – would have expected to see uprisings anything like those of recent weeks. On the evening of 27 January, I sat in a hotel room in Tunis, eyes glued to Twitter for news of what was happening in Egypt. I had come the previous week to report on the Tunisian revolution, which on 14 January had forced Ben-Ali to flee. The mood in Tunis was exhilarating, the situation seemed pregnant with possibility. I didn’t recognise the country I knew: a people I had thought cowed by years of subtle psychological terror as practised by one of the Arab world’s most sophisticated police regimes, had changed overnight. On my last visit to Tunis, in 2003, people had seemed to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and in some way – cruel though it may be to say this – complicit in their own predicament. Now Tunisians were high on the freedom not only to express themselves, but to imagine the future shape their country might take.
Just before midnight, I began to receive calls from Cairo that the internet there was no longer working. A few days later I would find out that State Security had been monitoring and controlling the flow of voice and data communication since the first day of the protest, during which they had either shut off or lowered the capacity of mobile phone relay towers in areas where the protesters were congregating. It was the first sign of regime panic. As one friend said, ‘It was as if I had gone to bed in Egypt and woken up the next day in North Korea.’
I have lived in Egypt for 11 years. The internet has almost never been censored. A privately owned press had blossomed there, providing the critical news coverage previously absent from the state-controlled media. There was limited freedom of association; the regime occasionally cracked down on protests, particularly if Islamists were involved, but otherwise it was usually willing to tolerate protests. It had, however unconvincingly, appropriated the reform discourse of the opposition and shifted to a subtler, neo-authoritarian mode. Egypt is a largely globalised country, reliant on foreign investment and money from tourism, whose PR stresses its ‘moderate’ nature and the openness of its people. But there will be no return to the status quo after recent events: the shutdown of the internet, violent clashes between riot control police and protesters, and a dying regime’s cynical manipulation of the security situation has made that much certain.
The significance of Tunisia’s revolution was to demonstrate that change is possible in the Arab world; it was a spark that found ready kindling in Egypt and elsewhere. The import of the events in Egypt is different: the legitimacy of military-backed Arab republican regimes in place since the 1950s and 1960s has evaporated, but they too are learning from the Tunisian example and will stop at nothing to maintain their position. The question now is no longer whether Mubarak will survive as Egypt’s president, but whether the regime he represented – his generation of military officers were the immediate successors of the men who had participated in the coup that overthrew the monarchy – will be able to continue.
Mubarak’s appointment of his long-time confidant and chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, as vice-president (and in effect as heir apparent) on 29 January and the speech he delivered on 2 February announcing that he will step down in September, when presidential elections are scheduled, testified to this former air force pilot’s loyalty to the institution that shaped his life, the military. As normal life has shut down across the country, and the police and security forces have largely disappeared in many cities, the army has remained the only institution to preserve any legitimacy in the eyes of the protesters, who initially welcomed the soldiers with flowers. But, as I learned in Tunisia, the public mood can swing rapidly, and after the sad spectacle of soldiers looking on as a pro-Mubarak mob attacked the protesters in Tahrir Square with swords, metal bars and Molotov cocktails, hope for a gradual, negotiated transition to democracy is now almost nil. Either the military will continue to stand by and let a mob raised by the regime end the protest or it will turn against itself, with younger officers taking on the likes of Mubarak and Suleiman and the ageing generation who are Egypt’s ‘deep’ state. This latter outcome, unfortunately, does not appear likely.
That the military should find itself in this position represents a colossal failure, primarily of the elaborate police state it had established over the last few decades precisely in order to distance itself, as an institution, from the day-to-day repression that kept the regime in place and ensured that no viable opposition leadership could emerge. Since the Camp David Accords of 1978, the military has been profiting from its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Egypt’s standing army of more than 460,000 men, with its 4000 tanks and hundreds of fighter jets, with its three-year conscription (used to a large extent to provide free labour to army-owned farms and factories turning out dairy produce, poultry, bottled water and countless other goods), its lavish medical facilities and officers’ clubs, has never had to justify its existence or the drain it represents on the state budget.
At the same time, a security establishment estimated to employ, including informants, up to two million people, formed a parallel government, defusing dissent at a local level. It was security personnel, and not cabinet ministers, who negotiated with striking workers and contained the demonstrations by the anti-Mubarak movements that sprang up after 2005 in reaction to the president’s apparent desire to hold on to the post for life and ensure that his son Gamal would succeed him. Egyptians with any public standing – politicians, businessmen, journalists – had a security handler, a relationship that served to intimidate, reward and guide. The result was a political ecosystem with much more flexibility than existed in Tunisia under Ben-Ali, but this flexibility had its limits, and the system proved surprisingly unable to adapt when faced with a leaderless protest movement. It turned out that the biggest weakness of the Egyptian opposition – its inability to produce a charismatic leader with wide public appeal – was also its strength.
The man at the centre of this failure is Habib al-Adly, Mubarak’s minister of the interior since November 1997. Despite scandals over widespread torture, a decline in the quality of police work (Egyptian prosecutors often find themselves having to drop cases because defence lawyers can plausibly, and usually truthfully, claim that their client’s confession was extracted by torture), three major terrorist attacks in Sinai and several smaller incidents in Cairo, and increasing resentment of the security services’ intrusion in people’s daily lives, al-Adly emerged as one of the strongmen of the late Mubarak era.
He was the first of a new generation of security officers to become interior minister. In the 1990s, he received FBI training and brought in some of its methods, especially after the Iraq War increased the size and reach of the anti-Mubarak movement. He controlled State Security, a body that has long been used to stem internal dissent (at one time it focused on Communists, later on Islamists) and has in the last decade handled opposition politicians, tried to reduce labour unrest, and acted as an electoral broker. It was perceived as the Mubarak family’s first line of defence as it attempted to impose Gamal as Mubarak’s successor.
The demise of al-Adly after the events of 28 January – he had disappeared from public view by the following day, when the army took over the building housing the Ministry of the Interior – is central to a proper understanding of what’s been happening in Egypt. The protest movement’s apparent victory over the riot police on Friday 28 January forced the regime to do what it had only done twice since the 1973 war: deploy the military. When Sadat did the same in response to the bread riots of 1977, the army leadership agreed only on condition that the price of bread would be lowered. In 1986, riot police – mostly made up of rural and illiterate conscripts – rioted against the extension of their conscription period: helicopter gunships shot them down as they emerged from their barracks near the Pyramids and headed towards downtown Cairo. Since then, Mubarak had kept the army out of public life: the identity of senior officers – household names during the wars with Israel – is unknown to most Egyptians.
According to reports circulating in the Egyptian press, al-Adly was warned by Mubarak himself at 5 p.m. on 28 January that the army was about to arrive in central Cairo. The same reports suggest that a frustrated al-Adly decided to withdraw all police from the centre of Cairo and let loose the baltagiya – thugs hired by the police to beat up protesters – with orders to loot and cause mayhem (a Ministry of Interior document that appears to confirm this has surfaced on the internet). Later the same evening, prisoners were allowed to escape from several of Egypt’s most important prisons and (in still unconfirmed reports) political prisoners were executed. At sites known to be used by the security forces, holes were being dug in which to burn and bury documents, tapes and CD recordings. Gangs of looters, some of them later found to be carrying IDs from the security services, looted supermarkets on the outskirts of the city.
The next day looting and violence were widespread. Neighbourhood watch groups were set up and manned checkpoints with almost comical seriousness, checking the ID of the most innocuous passers-by. Tanks block major intersections, particularly close to the centre, and helicopters fly continuously overhead. The entire military deployment feels staged, intended to cause alarm: most people have never experienced anything like this – Cairo has turned in the space of a few days from being one of the safest capitals in the world into a Sarajevo or Baghdad.
There was a reason the protesters launched their movement on 25 January: it was the day on which in 1952 British troops massacred police officers in Ismailiya, a town midway along the Suez Canal. In the Mubarak era, it was known as Police Day and celebrated by marches and demonstrations on the part of the Ministry of Interior’s finest: its highlight in Cairo was a speedboat procession on the Nile. State television generally marked the occasion with a primetime interview with the minister of the interior, during which the interviewer (in recent years a notorious regime toady best known for his panting deference and startling combover of nicotine-stained hair) would marvel at the minister’s feats of vigilance. All this pageantry has increased considerably over the past decade, a sign of Mubarak’s increasing reliance on repression. In 2009, he announced that Police Day would now be a national holiday – which meant (providentially) that the 25 January protesters had the day off. The size of the protest – in Cairo alone an estimated twenty thousand people took part: although al-Jazeera and others exaggerated, claiming more than a hundred thousand – caught even the participants by surprise. What happened afterwards, culminating in a ‘million-man march’ on 1 February, was unprecedented. Most astonishing was the absence of fear among the protesters, most of whom were attending a political event for the first time.
By the afternoon and evening of 28 January, it had become clear to everyone that a major confrontation was coming. (Egypt’s football association had the previous day announced the suspension of a game between Egypt’s most popular club, al-Ahly, the National, and el-Shorta, the Police.) By midday, protesters across the country had taken on riot control forces armed with rubber bullets, rubber pellet shotguns, tear gas and armoured vehicles. They fought with great bravery, jumping on top of armoured vehicles, surrounding water cannon trucks and shaking them until they overturned. Teenagers ran towards tear gas canisters as they landed, picked them up and threw them back towards the troops. At times, protesters who had come equipped with medical masks and vinegar-soaked towels to neutralise the gas even attended to injured troops.
The protesters’ finest moment was what has become known as the Battle of Qasr al-Nil Bridge, during which they pushed back riot-control troops across a bridge linking Tahrir Square to the exclusive district of Zamalek. Security vehicles chased protesters, running several of them over, before themselves being immobilised and set on fire. A few protesters tried – unsuccessfully – to lift a police truck over the bridge’s railing and into the Nile. Such news as trickled in from other cities, notably Suez and Ismailiya, suggested that even fiercer skirmishes were taking place there.
Later in the evening, an increasingly angry crowd of as many as a hundred thousand gathered again in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – youths moved about in an adrenaline daze, shirtless in the January cold, their chests and backs bloody where they’d been struck by rubber bullets and pellets. Some stopped passing cars and began to siphon off petrol to make Motolov cocktails; others set fire to the security vehicles they had captured. The petrol was also used to torch the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party, just off the square: the blaze took three days to die out and came perilously close to spreading to the adjacent Egyptian Museum, which houses the Tutankhamun collection. Amid the chaos, some of the protesters mounted guard at the museum entrance, protecting it from looters. Some looters got in but they mostly ransacked the gift shop, though a few statuettes lay shattered on the floor the next day, left behind by looters disappointed that they were not solid gold.
The protesters don’t represent any particular political party, civil society group, ideological tendency or social class. Some come from deep in Upper Egypt – which has generally seen less upheaval – and others from Alexandria. One man I met who had slept on the street for days told me he wouldn’t leave until Mubarak does, or he dies himself. A middle-class, middle-aged couple giddy with excitement at taking part in their first political action since their university days in the 1970s carried a sheet of paper that simply said: ‘Leave and let’s live.’ There may be a core of activists who have been preparing for this day, but they are outnumbered by people who are there just because they have had enough.
A new political reality has taken shape in Egypt, one that goes beyond the legal opposition parties long complicit with the regime: the Muslim Brotherhood, which joined the protest movement late and reluctantly; and civil society groups and figures – Mohammed ElBaradei, for example – who have tried, unconvincingly, to claim leadership of the movement. Eventually, it will need a leader, but the events of recent days suggest that the regime – which has already split the formal opposition over the issue of Mubarak’s immediate resignation, the protesters’ one non-negotiable demand – is not serious about negotiating.
A pro-Mubarak movement has been drummed up, but many suspect that its members are plainclothes security officers and the usual hired thugs. Sadly, it’s likely that it also includes low-level cadres from the ruling party and ordinary Egyptians manipulated by the propaganda broadcast all day long by the regime on all ten channels of state television (the ones most Egyptians watch), as well as on some of the privately owned satellite channels. I have heard it claimed that my former employer, the International Crisis Group, conspired against Egypt; the commentator held up as evidence the fact that the Crisis Group had issued a statement on the situation in Egypt and that its previously published reports on Sudan and Kosovo had led to unrest in those countries. George Soros, one of the group’s main funders, was said to be the mastermind behind this plot (countless other Egyptian Glenn Becks would repeat the charge of muamara – ‘conspiracy’ – against the nation orchestrated by ‘foreign hands’). Pro-Mubarak youths were interviewed and allowed to claim that the anti-Mubarak protesters were all foreigners and Jews. A woman whose appearance and voice were changed to hide her identity claimed she had been an anti-Mubarak activist and had received subversion training from Israelis and Americans.
The regime is exploiting the fears of a largely poor and uneducated population, which only a few days earlier had shown itself capable of great solidarity, and blaming the insecurity it created itself on the protest movement. The concessions thus far – Mubarak’s announced departure, a willingness to negotiate constitutional and other reforms – were intended to achieve only two things. First, to counter foreign, and particularly American, pressure on the regime. Second, to make the public believe that a protest movement which continued to insist on Mubarak’s immediate departure was not being reasonable. That argument has convinced many people who are desperate for things to return to normal.
When Ben-Ali fled from Tunis, he created a vacuum at the top of the state that was imperfectly but quickly filled. The initial interim government did not please many, but a sense of civic duty appears for now to have stabilised the situation without a resort to authoritarianism. Mubarak, on the other hand, created a security vacuum in order to spread panic. In agreeing to step down, he tried to ensure that the regime would survive. Egypt is not Tunisia, at least not yet.
Adam Shatz, 4 February 2011
Popular uprisings are clarifying events, and so it is with the revolt in Egypt. The Mubarak regime – or some post-Mubarak continuation of it – may survive this challenge, but the illusions that have held it in place have crumbled. The protests in Tahrir Square are a message not only to Mubarak and the military regime that has ruled Egypt since the Free Officers coup of 1952; they are a message to all the region’s autocrats, particularly those supported by the West, and to Washington and Tel Aviv, which, after spending years lamenting the lack of democracy in the Muslim world, have responded with a mixture of trepidation, fear and hostility to the emergence of a pro-democracy movement in the Arab world’s largest country. If these are the ‘birth pangs of a new Middle East’, they are very different from those Condoleezza Rice claimed to discern during Israel’s war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006.
The first illusion to crumble was the myth of Egyptian passivity, a myth that had exerted a powerful hold over Egyptians. ‘We’re all just waiting for someone to do the job for us,’ an Egyptian journalist said to me when I reported from Cairo last year (LRB, 27 May 2010); despite the proliferation of social movements since the 1970s, the notion of a mass revolt against the regime was inconceivable to her. When Galal Amin, a popular Egyptian sociologist, remarked that ‘Egyptians are not a revolutionary nation’ in a recent al-Jazeera documentary, few would have disagreed. And until the Day of Rage on 25 January many Egyptians – including a number of liberal reformers – would have resigned themselves to a caretaker regime led by the intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, if only to save themselves from the president’s son Gamal Mubarak. The first to be surprised by the uprising were the Egyptians themselves, who – in the lyrical early days of the revolt, culminating in the ‘million-man march’ on Tahrir Square on 1 February – discovered that they were capable of taking matters into their own hands, of overcoming their fear of the police and collectively organising against the regime. And as they acquired a thrilling sense of their own power, they would settle only for the regime’s removal.
The Mubarak regime was not the only Arab government to be shaken by the protests: the reverberations were soon felt in Yemen and Jordan, and in the West Bank, where Mahmoud Abbas’s police cracked down on a march called in solidarity with Egypt’s pro-democracy forces. What we’re seeing in Cairo is both new and old: not an Islamist revolt but a broad-based social movement bridging the secular-religious divide, a 21st-century version of the Arab nationalism that had for many years seemed a spent force. And though the Egyptian protests have found a provisional figurehead in Mohammed ElBaradei, the movement is largely leaderless, in striking contrast to the heroic age of Arab nationalism, dominated by charismatic, authoritarian figures like Nasser and Boumedienne.
The revolt that began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt is a struggle against what Algerians call hogra, ‘contempt’, a struggle fed by anger over authoritarian rule, torture, corruption, unemployment and inequality, and – a lightning rod everywhere in the Arab world – deference to the US strategic agenda. Not surprisingly, US officials are nervous that revolts could break out in other friendly states. Asked whether he expected similar unrest in Jordan, John Kerry, who was admirably forthright in calling for Mubarak to stand down, dismissed the idea: ‘King Abdullah of Jordan is extraordinarily intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive, in touch with his people. The monarchy there is very well respected, even revered.’
For years, Arab rulers told their Western patrons not to worry about their subjects, as though they were obedient, if sometimes unruly children, and these patrons were only too happy to follow this advice. There was nothing to fear from the Egyptians, accustomed as they were to despotism since the Pharaonic age. Mubarak might be hated by them, but he was our man in Cairo: ‘family’, as Hillary Clinton put it. (The Clinton and Mubarak families have been close for years.) So long as he opened the economy to multinationals, achieved high growth rates and honoured his foreign policy commitments – allowing swift passage for US warships through the Suez Canal, interrogating radical Islamists kidnapped by the CIA as part of the extraordinary rendition programme, maintaining the peace with Israel, tightening the siege of Gaza, opposing the ‘resistance’ front led by Iran – American military aid would continue to flow, at a rate of $1.3 billion a year.
A façade of euphemism had to be erected to disguise the nature of Mubarak’s regime, and press accounts seemed to bolster it. Reading Western – particularly American – newspapers before the recent crackdown, one would hardly have known the degree of discontent in Egypt. Mubarak was typically described as an ‘authoritarian’ but ‘moderate’ and ‘responsible’ leader, almost never as a dictator. Popular anger over torture – and over the regime’s cosy relations with Israel – was rarely discussed. But when the police attacked peaceful protesters throughout Egypt, and especially after Mubarak’s thugs – armed with grenades, knives and petrol bombs, some wearing pro-Mubarak T-shirts that seemed to have been designed for the occasion – charged through Tahrir Square on 2 February on horses and camels, the regime’s face was revealed: coarse, brutal, an unwitting parody of Orientalist clichés. Newspapers not known for their candour about Egypt began to describe it with a new, hard clarity.
The crisis in Egypt has also been a crisis for the Obama administration. Unlike the ‘colour’ revolutions in Eastern Europe, the Lebanese protests against Syrian troops or the Green Movement in Iran, the uprising in Egypt targeted an old and trusted ally, not an enemy. Coming out in support of the Tunisian protesters made the Obama administration feel good, but it required no sacrifice. Egypt, a pillar of US strategy in the greater Middle East, particularly in the ‘peace process’, was a harder case. Until late January, the US did not hesitate to call Mubarak a friend, or to extend all courtesies to visiting members of the Egyptian military. But when Egyptians went into open revolt, the US was suddenly very tight-lipped about its old friend in Cairo. A new discourse was rapidly invented. Some Western officials failed to catch on to the shift: Joe Biden was widely ridiculed for saying that Mubarak couldn’t be a dictator because he was friendly with Israel; Tony Blair praised him as ‘immensely courageous and a force for good’ – yesterday’s message. But when Blair said that Egypt’s transition had to be ‘managed’ – presumably by the West – so as not to jeopardise the ‘peace process’, he was only saying openly what Washington believed.
Obama couldn’t very well come out against the protesters; they embodied the values which, in his Cairo speech, he claimed the United States would always support. But the administration clearly didn’t want Mubarak to be chased out of office, as Zine Abedine Ben-Ali of Tunisia had been. Instead, he had to be eased out so that a popular revolution could be averted, and a regime friendly to the US and Israel preserved: otherwise Egypt would be ‘lost’. And so, even as Obama increased the pressure on Mubarak to stand down, he refused to side with the demonstrators, reserved his highest praise for the military, and insisted that Washington would not interfere in the question of who rules Egypt. But in the eyes of the demonstrators, the US could hardly pretend to be neutral: the tear gas canisters fired at them were labelled ‘Made in America’, as were the F-16s monitoring them from the sky. In calling for something more than a ‘managed’ transition under military rule, the demonstrators in Egypt were defying not just Mubarak but the US. The Mubarak regime was infuriated by Obama’s statement on 1 February that the transition ‘must begin now’, but the emphasis on an ‘orderly transition’ was a hint that the US preferred continuity, or perhaps a soft coup by defectors in the army: there were, after all, shared interests at stake which no expression of ‘people power’ could be permitted to sabotage. The man who was sent to Cairo to deliver Washington’s message to Mubarak was an old friend: Frank G. Wisner, the former ambassador to Egypt and a lobbyist in DC for the Egyptian military.
Mubarak, when he stands down, is not likely to be missed by many people in Egypt, where he has pledged to spend his last days, but he will be missed in Washington and, above all, in Tel Aviv. Mubarak and Omar Suleiman, now the interim vice president, worked closely with Israel on everything from the Gaza blockade to intelligence-gathering; they allowed Israeli warships into the Suez Canal to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza from Sudan, and did their best to stir up tensions between Fatah and Hamas. The Egyptian public is well aware of this intimate collaboration, and ashamed of it: democratisation could spell its end. A democratic government isn’t likely to abolish the peace treaty with Israel – even some of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have said they would respect it. But Egyptian foreign policy would be set in Cairo rather than in Washington and Tel Aviv, and the cold peace would grow colder. A democratic government in Cairo would have to take public opinion into account, much as Erdogan’s government does in Turkey: another former US client state but one that, in marked contrast to Egypt, has escaped American tutelage, made the transition to democracy under an Islamist government, and pursued an independent foreign policy that is widely admired in the Muslim world. If Egypt became a democracy, it might work to achieve Palestinian unity, open up the crossing from Gaza and improve relations with Iran and Hizbullah: shifts which would be anathema to Israel.
Almost from the moment the demonstrations began, while much of the world rejoiced at the scenes in Tahrir Square, Binyamin Netanyahu and other high-ranking Israeli officials were urging Western politicians to stop criticising Mubarak, and raising fears of an Iranian-style revolution. For years, Israel had said it could hardly be expected to make concessions in such a dangerously undemocratic region. But as calls for Mubarak’s exit grew, Israeli officials and commentators began to talk about Arab democracy as if it constituted another existential threat to the Jewish state. ‘If, the day after elections [in Egypt], we have an extremist religious dictatorship, what good are democratic elections?’ Shimon Peres asked, while Moshe Arens, the former defence minister, wondered in Haaretz whether Israel could make peace only with dictators like Mubarak. As one Israeli commentator wrote in Yediot Ahronot, Israel has been ‘overtaken by fear: the fear of democracy. Not here, in neighbouring countries.’
Israel’s fears of Egyptian democracy were instantly echoed by its supporters in the US. David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy worried that ‘what starts as a Berlin revolution of 1989 morphs into a Tehran revolution of 1979.’ Israel would then find itself with a Hizbullah-led government to the north, Hamas to the west and the Muslim Brothers to the south. To stave off such a scenario, he said, Egypt would be better off under a military regime led by Omar Suleiman during a transition that ‘brings in constructive forces of Egyptian civil society’. These ‘constructive forces’, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, would not include ElBaradei, whom he attacked as a ‘stooge of Iran’. (ElBaradei earned the enmity of the Israel lobby for denouncing the Gaza blockade as a ‘brand of shame on the forehead of every Arab, every Egyptian and every human being’, and for opposing military confrontation with Iraq and Iran.) ‘Things are about to go from bad to worse in the Middle East,’ Richard Cohen, a columnist for the Washington Post, warned:
The dream of a democratic Egypt is sure to produce a nightmare … The next Egyptian government – or the one after – might well be composed of Islamists. In that case, the peace with Israel will be abrogated and the mob currently in the streets will roar its approval … I care about democratic values, but they are worse than useless in societies that have no tradition or respect for minority rights. What we want for Egypt is what we have ourselves. This, though, is an identity crisis. We are not them.
As I write, Cohen has little to fear. A different kind of nightmare appears to be unfolding in Egypt: the brutal repression of a mass movement for democracy by a regime bent on staying in power, and confident that its backers will give it time to do the job. Seldom has the hidden complicity between Western governments and Arab authoritarianism been so starkly revealed. Protesters are being savagely beaten by the baltagiya – paid thugs – and opposition figures and foreign journalists have been arrested. I have just learned that Ahmed Seif, a human rights lawyer I interviewed last year in Cairo, has been jailed along with several other colleagues, accused of spying for Iran.
By 3 February, Thursday evening, Omar Suleiman seemed to be in charge. A hard, smooth-talking man, he cast himself as a national saviour in an interview on state television, defending Egypt from the ‘chaos’ the regime has done its best to encourage, and from a sinister conspiracy to destabilise the country on the part of ‘Iranian and Hamas agents’, with help from al-Jazeera. Wednesday’s mob violence in Tahrir Square would be investigated, he said (he denied any government responsibility), and the ‘reform’ process would go forward, but first demonstrators must go home – or face the consequences. With this grimly calibrated mix of promises and threats, Suleiman became the man of the hour: later that evening it was reported that the Obama administration was drafting plans for Mubarak’s immediate removal and a transitional government under his long-serving intelligence chief.
Mubarak, however, gracelessly refused to co-operate with the patrons who now find him such an embarrassment. He wanted to retire, he told Christiane Amanpour, he was ‘fed up’, but feared that his rapid departure would lead to ‘chaos’. The longer he remains in office, the more violence we’re likely to see. But even if Suleiman replaces him, it won’t be an ‘orderly transition’ – or a peaceful one – because Egypt’s pro-democracy forces want something better than Mubarakism without Mubarak; they have not sacrificed hundreds of lives in order to be ruled by the head of intelligence.
From the Obama administration we can expect criticisms of the crackdown, prayers for peace, and more calls for ‘restraint’ on ‘both sides’ – as if there were symmetry between unarmed protesters and the military regime – but Suleiman will be given the benefit of the doubt. Unlike ElBaradei, he’s a man Washington knows it can deal with. The men and women congregating in Tahrir Square have the misfortune to live in a country that shares a border with Israel, and to be fighting a regime that for the last three decades has provided indispensable services to the US. They are well aware of this. They know that if the West allows the Egyptian movement to be crushed, it will be, in part, because of the conviction that ‘we are not them,’ and that we can’t allow them to have what we have. Despite the enormous odds, they continue to fight.
Uri Avnery, 12 February 2011
It was hopeless. Even the mighty United States was impotent when faced with this tsunami of popular outrage.
In the end it settled for second best: a pro-Western military dictatorship. But will this really be the outcome?
WHEN CONFRONTED with a new situation, Obama’s first response is generally admirable. Then, it seems, second thoughts set in. And third. And fourth. The end result is a 180 degree turn. When the masses started to gather in Tahrir Square, he reacted exactly like most decent people in the US and, indeed, throughout the world. There was unbounded admiration for those brave young men and women who faced the dreaded Mukhabarat secret police, demanding democracy and human rights. How could one not admire them? They were non-violent, their demands were reasonable, their actions were spontaneous, they obviously expressed the feelings of the vast majority of the people. Without any organization to speak of, without leadership, they said and did all the right things. Such a sight is rare in history. No sansculottes screaming for blood, no cold-minded Bolsheviks lurking in the shadows, no Ayatollahs dictating their actions in the name of God. So Obama loved it. He did not hide his feelings. He practically called on the dictator to give up and go away. If Obama had stayed this course, the result would have been historic. From being the most hated power in the Arab world, the US would have electrified the Arab masses, the Muslim region, indeed much of the Third World. It could have been the beginning of a completely new era. I believe that Obama sensed this. His first instincts are always right. In such a situation, a real leader – that rarest of all animals – stands out.
BUT THEN came the second thoughts. Small people started to work on him. Politicians, generals, “security experts”, diplomats, pundits, lobbyists, business leaders, all the “experienced” people – experienced in routine affairs – started to weigh in. And, of course, the hugely powerful Israel lobby. “Are you crazy?” – they admonished him. To forsake a dictator who happens to be our son-of-a-bitch? To tell all our client dictators around the world that we shall forsake them in their hour of need? How naïve can you get? Democracy in an Arab country? Don’t make us laugh! We know the Arabs! You show them democracy on a platter and they would not know it from baked beans! They always need a dictator to keep them in shape! Especially these Egyptians! Ask the British! The whole thing is really a conspiracy of the Muslim Brotherhood. Look them up on Google! They are the only alternative. It’s either Mubarak or them. They are the Egyptian Taliban, worse, the Egyptian al-Qaeda. Help the well-meaning democrats to overthrow the regime, and before you know it you will have a second Iran, with an Egyptian Ahmadinejad on Israel’s Southern border, hooking up with Hezbollah and Hamas. The dominos will begin to fall, starting with Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Faced with all these experts, Obama caved in. Again.
OF COURSE, every single one of these arguments can easily be refuted.
Let’s start with Iran. The naïve Americans, so the story goes, forsook the Shah and his dreaded Israeli-trained secret police in order to promote democracy, but the revolution was taken over by the Ayatollahs. A cruel dictatorship was replaced by an even crueler one. This is what Binyamin Netanyahu said this week, warning that the same is inevitably bound to happen in Egypt. But the true Iranian story is quite different.
In 1951, a patriotic politician named Mohammad Mossadegh was elected in democratic elections – the first of their kind in Iran. Mossadegh, neither a communist nor even a socialist, instituted sweeping social reforms, freed the peasants and worked mightily to turn backward Iran into a modern, democratic, secular state. In order to make this possible, he nationalized the oil industry, which was owned by a rapacious British company which paid Iran miniscule royalties. Huge demonstrations in Tehran supported Mossadegh. The British reaction was swift and decisive. Winston Churchill convinced President Dwight Eisenhower that Mossadegh’s course would lead to Communism. In 1953 the CIA engineered a coup, Mossadegh was arrested and kept in isolation until his death 14 years later, the British got the oil back. The Shah, who had fled, was put back on his throne again. His reign of terror lasted until the Khomeini revolution, 26 years later. Without this American intervention, Iran would probably have developed into a secular, liberal democracy. No Khomeini. No Ahmadinejad. No talk about nuclear bombs.
NETANYAHU’S WARNINGS of the inevitable takeover of Egypt by the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood, if democratic elections were held, sound logical, but they are similarly based on willful ignorance. Would the Muslim Brothers take over? Are they Taliban-like fanatics?
The Brotherhood was founded 80 years ago, long before Obama and Netanyahu were born. They have settled down and matured, with a strong moderate wing, much like the moderate, democratic Islamic party that is governing Turkey so well, and which they are trying to emulate. In a democratic Egypt, they would constitute a legitimate party playing its part in the democratic process. (This, by the way, would have happened in Palestine, too, when Hamas was elected – if the Americans, under Israeli guidance, had not toppled the unity government and set Hamas on a different course.) The majority of Egyptians are religious, but their Islam is far removed from the radical kind. There are no indications that the bulk of the people, represented by the youngsters in Tahrir Square, would tolerate a radical regime. The Islamic bogeyman is just that – a bogeyman.
SO WHAT did Obama do? His moves were pathetic, to say the least. After turning against Mubarak, he suddenly opined that he must stay in power, in order to carry out democratic reforms. As his representative he sent to Egypt a retired diplomat whose current employer is a law firm that represents the Mubarak family (much as Bill Clinton used to send committed Jewish Zionists to “mediate” between Israel and the Palestinians.) So the detested dictator was supposed to institute democracy, enact a new liberal constitution, work together with the very people he had thrown into prison and systematically tortured. Mubarak’s pathetic speech on Thursday was the straw that broke the back of the Egyptian camel. It showed that he had lost contact with reality or, worse, is mentally deranged. But even an unbalanced dictator would not have made such an atrocious speech had he not believed that America was still on his side. The howls of outrage in the square while Mubarak’s recorded speech was still being aired was Egypt’s answer. That needed no interpreters.
BUT AMERICA had already moved. Its main instrument in Egypt is the army. It is the army that holds the key to the immediate future. When the “Supreme Military Council” convened on Thursday, just before that scandalous speech, and issued a “Communique No. 1”, hope was mingled with foreboding. “Communique No. 1” is a term well known in history. It generally means that a military junta has assumed power, promising democracy, early elections, prosperity and heaven on earth. In very rare instances, the officers indeed fulfill these promises. Generally, what ensues is a military dictatorship of the worst kind. This time, the communique said nothing at all. It just showed on live TV that they were there – all the leading generals, minus Mubarak and his stooge, Omar Suleiman. Now they have assumed power. Quietly, without bloodshed. For the second time within 60 years.
IT IS worthwhile recalling the first time. After a period of turmoil against the British occupiers, a group of young officers, veterans of the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, hiding behind an elderly general, carried out a coup. The despised ruler, King Farouk, was literally sent packing. He put to sea on his yacht from Alexandria. Not a drop of blood was shed. The people were jubilant. They loved the army and the coup. But it was a revolution from above. No crowds in Tahrir Square. The army tried first to govern through civilian politicians. They soon lost patience with that. A charismatic young lieutenant-colonel, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, emerged as the leader, instituted wide-ranging reforms, restored the honor of Egypt and the entire Arab world – and founded the dictatorship which expired yesterday. Will the army follow this example, or will it do what the Turkish army has done several times: assume power and turn it over to an elected civilian government? Much will depend on Obama. Will he support the move to democracy, as his inclination will undoubtedly suggest, or will he listen to the “experts”, Israelis included, who will urge him to rely on a military dictatorship, as American presidents have done for so long? But the chance of the United States of America, and of Barack Obama personally, leading the world by shining statesmanship at a historic moment 19 days ago has been wasted. The beautiful words have evaporated. For Israel there is another lesson. When the Free Officers made their revolution in 1952, in the whole of Israel only one single voice was raised (that of Haolam Hazeh, the news magazine I was editing) calling upon the Israeli government to come out in support. The government did the opposite, and a historic chance to show solidarity with the Egyptian people was lost. Now, I am afraid, this mistake will be repeated. The tsunami is being viewed in Israel as a terrifying natural catastrophe, not as the wonderful opportunity it is.
Egypt opens a new chapter for Palestine
Memo Commentary, 12 February 2011
The Egyptian people could not have chosen a better date than 11 February to bring down the Mubarak dictatorship. It was on 11 February 1250 that the Egyptian army led by the Ayyubid Sultan Turanshah defeated the Seventh Crusade led by King Louis IX of France. Not only this, it was on 11 February 1949 that Shaikh Hasan Al Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was assassinated in Cairo. More recently, the great South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela walked free on 11 February 1990. With the ousting of the Mubarak regime, the Egyptians are about to write a new chapter in their history and, indeed, that of the entire Middle East.
Throughout the past three decades Egypt has been the epicentre of US-Israel coordination in the region. It was from Cairo and Sharm el-Sheikh that a new breed of Arab-Zionists operated. Egypt’s pivotal role in this enterprise turned the country into a western outpost, largely dependent on American “aid” in return for protection and support for the Zionist entity on the other side of the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian people did not benefit in the least. On the contrary, they were subjected to a state of emergency for thirty years, losing their fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly and organization in the process.
The political, social and economic conditions in Egypt were replicated in many other places in the Middle East; hence the success of the popular revolution has been welcomed well beyond Egypt’s borders, with scenes of jubilation echoing Tahrir Square in every Arab capital. From Doha to Algiers, where the military intervened to prevent celebrations, people poured on to the streets to welcome the new dawn.
Undoubtedly, the aftershock from Egypt’s political earthquake has been most felt in neighbouring Palestine. Under Mubarak, Egypt was instrumental in maintaining three outrages: the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the division of the Palestinian national movement, and security collaboration between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli occupation authority in the West Bank.
With the removal of the lynchpin, Egypt’s despot Mubarak, there is now frantic behind the scenes diplomatic activity to “restart peace talks” between Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu. These efforts should be seen for what they are and not be misconstrued as a serious attempt to resolve the main issues. They are nothing but an attempt to take pre-emptive security measures which will try to ensure that the tremors of popular revolt don’t destabilise the status quo. As it has always been the case, “stability” of regimes will take precedence over democracy and human rights.
Two significant changes have occurred since the protests in Egypt began. First, the wall of fear which was constructed by the old regime has been broken beyond repair. Second, the regional intelligence network coordinated from Cairo and Tel Aviv has been damaged, perhaps fatally. Only by aborting the nascent democracy in Egypt will we see a return to the past oppression and brutality. Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s internal intelligence agency, Shabak, said the rules of the game have changed. Accordingly, it is expected that there will be an urgent review of the situation in the West Bank to pre-empt any change there. Despite their unreserved and absolute collaboration with the Israeli occupation, the Palestinian Authority security forces will be faced with more demands, which, ultimately, may prove counterproductive.
Many of the objectionable conditions which existed in Egypt are present in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem. While the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, will remain the main target of repression, other sections of Palestinian civil society are unlikely to be spared. Students and academics can expect increased police harassment; there are currently 70 students from the Najah National University in Nablus held in detention in PA jails for political reasons. If Diskin’s remarks are to be taken seriously, there will be greater censorship and control over internet and cyber facilities. Workers are still being dismissed because of their alleged political affiliations and teachers in Hebron are locked in a dispute with the Fayyad government over cuts to their wages. Lawyers are withholding services because of intimidation and attacks by the security forces. Meanwhile, civilians are still being tried before military courts, as in Egypt under Mubarak. With this combustible mix it will take a miracle to prevent the near-inevitable people’s revolt.
The coming storm will not bypass Jerusalem, where sixty percent of Palestinians live below the poverty line. Abandoned by the Palestinian Authority they now fend for themselves in the face of a vicious Israeli occupation that has made ethnic cleansing the cornerstone of its policies in the city.
The first reaction of the Israeli government to the events in Egypt was to adopt a bunker mentality. Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered construction of the wall on the border with Egypt to be speeded up, and there have been calls for the reoccupation of the Philadelphia corridor along Egypt’s border with Gaza and the Zionist state. All of this suggests a security solution. Of course, the Israelis don’t appear to have learnt from the failed Egyptian model, where even the notorious security apparatus could not stop the people’s protest once it started.
The demise of the Mubarak regime offers a new opportunity for the Palestinian people. They must ensure that they obtain a truly representative leadership capable of protecting their national interests before any other. Never in their history have they been in such dire need of a leadership that is capable of ending the disgraceful divisions imposed from the outside on the Palestinian people. If restarted before this is achieved, negotiations with the Zionist entity will result in more losses and greater oppression of the people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no such thing as part freedom”. The Palestinian Authority can never claim to be truly free until and unless they speak and act on behalf of all Palestinians. Ignoring the results of the revolution in Egypt and scurrying back to the negotiation table with the Israelis will demonstrate to everyone that the Authority of Mahmoud Abbas represents its own interests, not the interests and rights of the Palestinian people.
Middle East Monitor, 10 February 2011
The Middle East Monitor has followed every step of the Egyptian revolution ever since it erupted on 25 January 2011. Our staff have scrutinised very closely the media coverage of the events in Tahrir Square in Cairo and in other towns and cities across the country. Hardly a commentary or analysis has been written without reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Its past, present and future roles in Egyptian politics have been subjected to serious examination, although many of the commentaries are littered with speculation and unfounded claims.
MEMO has thus compiled and translated in this special file the most recent statements by the Muslim Brotherhood’s leading spokesmen on the movement’s positions on political participation, government, elections, foreign relations and relations with the army.
The revolution continues after Mubarak’s fall
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 12 February 2011
Yesterday evening, after it was announced that Hosni Mubarak had met the first demand of the revolution and left office, I headed toward the Egyptian embassy in Amman. The joy on the streets was something I had never experienced before.
From all directions people came, pouring out of cars stuck in gridlocked traffic on Zahran Street and into the side street where the embassy sits. They were young and old and families with children. Egyptian laborers — the unacknowledged back bone of much of the Jordanian economy — sang, carried each other on their shoulders and played drums. Egyptian flags waved and signs were held high.
The chants were as varied and lively as the crowd which grew to thousands: “Long Live Egypt!,” “The people overthrew the regime!,” “Who’s next?,” “Tomorrow Abbas!” Some people showered the crowd with sweets, as fireworks burst overhead. Everyone took pictures, recording a moment of victory they felt was made by the Egyptian people on behalf of all of us.
After Tunisia, a second great pillar of oppression has been knocked down, at such great cost to hundreds who gave their lives, and many millions who saw their lives destroyed for so many years. It was a night for joy, and the celebrations continue today.
After the celebrations are over, the revolution too must go on, because it will not be complete until the Egyptian people rebuild their country as they wish it to be.
But standing in the streets of Amman there was no mistaking that the Egyptian revolution will have a profound impact on the whole region. Arab people everywhere now imagine themselves as Tunisians or Egyptians. And every Arab ruler imagines himself as Ben Ali or Mubarak.
The revolution has reawakened a sense of a common destiny for the Arab world many thought had been lost, that seemed naive when our mothers and fathers told us about it from their youth, and that Arab leaders had certainly tried to kill. The Arab dictators, who are as dead inside as Mubarak showed himself to be in his awful televised speeches, thought their peoples’ spirits were dead too. The revolutions have restored a sense of limitless possibility and a desire that change should spread from country to country.
Whatever happens next, the Egyptian revolution will also have a profound effect on the regional balance of power. Undoubtedly the United States, Israel and their allies are already weaker as a result. First they lost Tunisia, and then suffered a severe setback with the collapse of the US-backed Lebanese government of Rafiq Hariri, and now Mubarak and Omar Suleiman, the closest and most enthusiastic collaborators with Israel except perhaps for Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies in Ramallah.
On many minds — especially Israeli and American ones — has been the question of whether a new democratic Egyptian government will tear up the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. That of course, is up to the Egyptian people, although the transitional military government confirmed in its fourth statement Egypt’s adherence to “all international and regional treaties.”
But the treaty is not really the issue. Even if democratic Egypt maintains the treaty, the treaty never required Egypt to join Israeli and American conspiracies against other Arabs. It never required Egypt to become the keystone in an American-led alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia against an allegedly expansionist Iran. It never required Egypt to adopt and disseminate the vile “Sunni vs. Shia” sectarian rhetoric that was deliberately used to try to shore up this narrative of confrontation. It never required Egypt to participate in Israel’s cruel siege of Gaza or collaborate closely with its intelligence services against Palestinians. It never required Egypt to become a world center of torture for the United States in its so-called “War on Terror.” The treaty did not require Egypt to shoot dead migrants crossing Sinai from other parts of Africa just to spare Israelis from seeing black people in Tel Aviv. No treaty required or requires Egypt to carry on with these and so many more
shameful policies that earned Hosni Mubarak and has regime the hatred of millions of Arabs and others far beyond Egypt’s borders.
There is no doubt that the United States will not give up its hegemony in Egypt easily, and will do all it can to frustrate any Egyptian move toward an independent regional policy, using as leverage its deep ties and enormous aid to the Egyptian military that now rules the country. The regional ambitions of the United States remain the main external threat to the success of Egypt’s revolution.
Whatever break or continuity there is with Egypt’s past policies, the calculations have changed for remaining members of the so-called “alliance of moderates,” particularly Saudi Arabia — which allegedly offered to prop Mubarak up financially if the US withdrew its aid — Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
For many years, these regimes, like Egypt, bet their security and survival on a virtually unconditional alliance with the United States: they abandoned all dignified, independent and principled positions and adopted America’s hegemonic aspirations as their own, in exchange for assistance, and what they hoped was a guarantee that the US would come to their rescue if they got in trouble.
What the revolutions demonstrate to all Arab regimes is that the United States cannot rescue you in the end. No amount of “security assistance” (training, tear gas, weapons), financial aid, or intelligence cooperation from the United States or France can withstand a population that has decided it has had enough. These regimes’ room for maneuver has shrunk even if the sorts of uprisings seen in Egypt and Tunisia are not imminent elsewhere.
After the revolutions, people’s expectations have been raised and their tolerance for the old ways diminished. Whether things go on as they have for a few weeks, a few months, or even a few more years in this or that country, the pressures and demands for change will be irresistible. The remaining Arab regimes must now ask not if change will happen but how.
Will regimes that relied for so long on repression, fear and the docility of their people wait for revolution, or will they give up unearned power and undertake real democratization willingly, speedily and honestly? This will require not just a dramatic change of internal policies which regimes may or may not be capable of making voluntarily, but also a deep reexamination of external alliances and commitments that have primarily served Israel, the United States and the regimes at the expense of their people.
Jordan is now a prime case where such a reexamination is urgently due. Regardless of whether or not (and I think almost certainly not) the newly-appointed cabinet will be able to meet public expectations for democratization, fighting corruption, and ending the worst neo-liberal policies that have put so many of the country’s resources and companies in unaccountable private hands, the country’s foreign policy must undergo a full review.
This includes the overly dependent relationship on the United States, relations with Israel, participation in the sham “peace process,” the training of the security forces used by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank against other Palestinians, and the deeply unpopular involvement in the NATO war and occupation in Afghanistan. Up until now, these matters have all been decided without any regard to public opinion.
And in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas is in a more precarious situation than ever. Its loss of legitimacy is so thorough — especially after the revelations in the Palestine Papers — that it exists only thanks to the protection of the Israeli occupation, US and EU training of its repressive security forces, and massive EU funding to pay the salaries of its bloated bureaucracy.
The PA’s leaders are as dead to the just cause and aspirations for liberation of the Palestinian people for which so much has been sacrificed, as Mubarak was to the Egyptian people’s rights and hopes. No wonder the PA relies more and more on the thuggery and police state tactics so reminiscent of Mubarak and Ben Ali.
The revolutions in the Arab have lifted our horizons. More people can now see that the liberation of Palestine from Zionist colonialism and US- and EU-funded oppression, to make it a safe, humane place for all who live in it to exist in equality, is not just a utopian slogan but is in our hands if we struggle for it and stick to our principles. Like the people power, against which the Egyptian and Tunisian police states were powerless in the end, Palestinians and their allies (particularly those supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement) have the power to transform reality within the next few years.
In whatever form the revolution continues, the people are saying to their rulers: our countries, our futures, don’t belong to you any more. They belong to us.