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11 February 2011
Egyptian protesters shout in response to Hosni Mubarak's decision not
to step down. (Reuters: Goran Tomasevic )
Cairo calling: give us democracy or give us...
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An Egyptian blogger displayed characteristic humour when news broke
overnight that president Hosni Mubarak would not be stepping down:
Mubarak (n.): a psychotic ex-girlfriend who fails 2 understand
If Mubarak and his new deputy Omar Suleiman thought their speeches
would placate the protesters, they were sorely mistaken. Local
bloggers and activists reacted with anger and determination.
Indeed, one wonders, with recent WikiLeaks revelations about the close
relationship between Israel, America and Suleiman if their
announcements weren't coordinated with Washington.
The Obama administration is seemingly incapable of categorically
siding with the protestors because America's matrix of repression
across the Middle East requires dictatorships to remain in place. Arab
democracy has been a contradiction in terms for the US and Zionism for
Tel Aviv and Washington have long seen Suleiman as a steady pair of
hands, a brute all-too-keen to allegedly keep the Islamist beast at
bay, suppress Hamas, manage the border with Gaza and maintain the
siege and torture "terror" suspects brought from America, Europe or
the Middle East.
Indeed, Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib, who spoke exclusively to me
last night, knows this reality well.
While in Egypt in 2001 he was personally visited by Suleiman,
threatened and physically abused. Habib's book, My Story, goes into
detail about the kinds of psychological and physical pressure applied
to him. The Australian Government recently implicitly acknowledged the
validity of his claims by paying him an undisclosed amount of
Habib told me that he wanted the Australian government to assist
bringing Suleiman to trial in an international court.
The Egyptian people will not go back to the past, something even
acknowledged by president Obama's latest statement. And yet a
democratic façade, with Mubarak and/or Suleiman leading the country,
is no change at all.
Sober analysis therefore brings only one conclusion; the Arab street
is expendable so long as Israel and its Zionist backers are satisfied.
Inside the US itself, there is little diplomatic pressure on
Washington to encourage democratic change in Egypt but there is
massive paranoia from Tel Aviv that freedom would challenges its
"Middle East's Only Democracy" tag.
This comment in last week's New York Times, by former Israeli
negotiator Daniel Levy, is symptomatic of the problem:
The Israelis are saying, après Mubarak, le deluge…It really can be
distilled down to one thing, and that's Israel.
Mubarak may have been inspired by Israeli prime minister Benjamin
Netanyahu's snubbing of America when calling for a settlement freeze
in the West Bank. The tactics were clear. Rally American domestic
support against the move. Claim that relinquishing land would bring
chaos, instability and a rise in Islamist terror. Talk about a belief
in the peace process. Deepen and harden your position. Watch America
never threaten the billions of dollars in annual aid. Remain a trusted
Netanyahu and Mubarak are both playing America very skilfully though
the Obama administration is well aware of the game.
Many in the Western press are suddenly fascinated with the Muslim
Brotherhood, asking simplistic questions about inspiration from the
1979 Islamic Revolution. Tragically, 10 years after September 11,
2001, Islamist politics are routinely misunderstood in the West, often
wilfully so. For many pundits, Islamism means Al Qaeda or Wahabi
fanaticism. In reality, there are millions of Islamists across the
Middle East who don't loathe the West for its values; they often just
want freedom from our meddling.
In fact, as Noam Chomsky correctly states, Western elites aren't
worried about Islamism; independence from the Western axis is the real
A common refrain among pundits is that fear of radical Islam
requires (reluctant) opposition to democracy on pragmatic grounds.
While not without some merit, the formulation is misleading. The
general threat has always been independence. The US and its allies
have regularly supported radical Islamists, sometimes to prevent the
threat of secular nationalism.
Talking about a truly independent Middle East requires an imagination
solely lacking in establishment political circles.
Latin America in the last 10 years is analogous as far as seeing how
the US reacts when countries chose to reject the Washington consensus.
WikiLeaks has shown the tactics by which successive American
administrations tried to tackle Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, a task
ably assisted by many in the US media. Human rights concerns were an
irrelevance; nationalising key resources was the perceived problem.
The protesters being beaten and tortured in Egypt are unlikely to
receive tangible solidarity from Western governments. Instead, anybody
across the world can provide solidarity and backing for the disparate
masses longing for the kind of freedoms that we can take for granted.
Without the huge uprisings in the last weeks across the Arab world,
Canberra, London and Washington would have been very happy to continue
business as usual.
That tells us all we need to know about who are the real democrats in
the 21st century.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and the author of My
Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.