THE ROVING EYE Rage, rage against counter-revolution
By Pepe Escobar
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
- Dylan Thomas
Islamophobes of the world, shut up and listen to the sound of people power.
Your artificial Middle East dichotomy - it's either "our" dictators or jihadism
- was never more than a cheap trick. Political repression, mass unemployment
and rising food prices are more lethal than an army of suicide bombers. This is
the actual way history is written; a country of 80 million - two-thirds of
which born after their dictator came to power in 1981, and no less
than the heart of the Arab world - finally shatters the Wall of Fear and
crosses to the side of self-respect.
Egypt's neo-Pharaoh Hosni Mubarak threw a curfew; people never left the
streets. The police dissolved; citizens themselves organized for security. The
tanks rolled in; people kept singing "hand in hand, the army and people are
together". This is no think-tank-engineered color revolution, this is not
regimented Islamists; this is average Egyptians bearing the national flag,
"together, as individuals, in a great co-operative effort to reclaim our
country", in the words of Egyptian Nobel prize-winning novelist Ahdaf Soueif.
But then, inevitable as death, counter-revolution reared its weaponized head.
Made in USA fighter jets and military helicopters "bravely" flying low over the
crowds at Tahrir Square (picture the Mubarak regime as the occupation army in
Egypt; and imagine the West's outrage if this was happening in Tehran).
Military commanders cozying up on state TV. A threat that made-in-USA tanks in
the streets - manned by elite combat troops - would soon mean business
(although soldiers told al-Jazeera reporters they would not fire a single
bullet). To top it off, "subversive" al-Jazeera abruptly taken off the air.
Say hello to my suave torturer
The Egyptian intifada - among its multiple meanings - smashed to pieces the
Western-concocted propaganda drive of "Arabs as terrorists". Now, minds finally
decolonized, Arabs are inspiring the whole world, teaching the West how to go
about democratic change. And guess what: one does not need "shock and awe",
renditions, torture and trillions of Pentagon dollars to make it work! No
wonder Washington, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, London or Paris never saw it coming.
We are all Egyptians now. The Latin American virus - bye-bye dictatorships plus
arrogant, myopic neo-liberalism - has contaminated the Middle East. First
Tunisia. Now Egypt. Next Yemen and possibly Jordan. Soon the House of Saud (no
wonder they blamed the Egyptian people for the "riots"). But the Northern
African political earthquake of Tunisia 2011 also got its spark from the 2010
mass strikes in Europe - Greece, Italy, France, the United Kingdom. Rage, rage,
against political repression, dictatorship, police brutality, out of control
food prices, inflation, miserable wages, mass unemployment.
Pharaoh 2011 does look like a remix of Shah of Iran 1979. Sure, there's no
ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to lead the Egyptian masses, and former
International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Egyptian Mohamed ElBaradei, is being
accused by quite a few in the streets of "stealing our revolution". But it's
hard not to remember that the Shah of Iran is buried in Cairo because Iranians
wouldn't allow his body to rejoin the motherland.
The Pharaoh reacted to the Intifada by swiftly appointing his "suave"
intelligence czar, Omar Suleiman, as vice president (the first since the
Pharaoh took power in 1981), and virtual successor. Suleiman is a sinisterly
suave Central Intelligence Agency-trusted "rendition" expert who has supervised
countless torture sessions of alleged "terrorists" in Egyptian soil; the
English-speaking lord of an Arabic Guantanamo. The Washington establishment is
not exactly displeased.
Yet imperialists should take note: the last time the Egyptian street gelled
this way was during the 1919 revolution against the British. Now, for Muslims
and Christians, the working class, the middle class, the unemployed masses,
lawyers, judges, scholars from al-Azhar University, students, peasants,
theologians, independent journalists and bloggers, Muslim Brotherhood
activists, the National Association for Change, the April 6th movement, for all
them the days of Mubarak's Animal Farm are numbered.
Five opposition movements - including the Muslim Brotherhood - have mandated
ElBaradei to negotiate the formation of a transitional "national salvation
government". The odds that the Pharaoh will negotiate anything are next to
zero. To add to the complexity the bulk of the urban young activist generation
trusts "popular committees" rather than ElBaradei.
True, as far as next September's elections are concerned, Mubarak, 82, is dead.
And so is son Gamal, 47. Unconfirmed reports swirl that in typical
son-of-dictator mode he may have fled to London, using his British passport,
with a lot of luggage, and is now in hiding in his townhouse in Knightsbridge.
The crucial, immediate future hangs on which way the Egyptian army will lean
to. As it stands, even a Tiananmen option - hardcore repression - is not
totally ruled out. Anyway, the regime's power play is clear; the Pharaoh might
even board that plane - echoing the chants in the streets - but the regime, a
military dictatorship, has got to stay.
General Hussein Tantawi, the army's commander in chief and minister of defense,
who was being wined and dined by the Pentagon - from whom he gets US$1.3
billion a year in "aid" - flew back to Cairo. On a parallel track, the Pharaoh,
desperately playing to the heart of the West's fears about "stability", tried
to typecast the whole Intifada as an unruly mob of greedy slum dwellers bent on
chaos and destruction. An array of Egyptian bloggers is adamant - the strategy
is to scare people back into their homes begging for "security".
Issander El Amrani, on The Arabist blog, stresses his "hard time believing that
Mubarak is still in charge, and that the hardcore of the regime is using
extreme means to salvage its position". At street level, there's overwhelming
suspicion of a Washington-orchestrated coup at the very top of the regime - the
US/Israel betting on the formula "maybe no Mubarak/but definitely no regime
change", even as Saudi, Israeli and official Egyptian media are pulling all
stops to discredit the revolution. Just to put it into perspective; on the US
one had Ronald Reagan (two terms), George H W Bush, Bill Clinton (two terms),
George W Bush (two terms) and Barack Obama. In Cairo, one always had Mubarak.
The impoverished but proud, educated Egyptian middle class as well as the
working class would love nothing better than a country following the rule of
law and holding transparent elections. So how could they possibly trust
Suleiman, a CIA-connected torturer, to conduct the transition? Not to mention a
parliament totally controlled by the unbelievably corrupt Mubarak's National
Democratic Party, whose headquarters was set on fire by the protesters.
Walk like a (dissident) Egyptian
I spent two months in Cairo and Alexandria in early 2003 waiting for the Bush
invasion of Iraq - and hanging out mostly with the ocean of rejects of the
Mubarak system, from college graduates to Sudanese immigrants, including
dejected representatives of the 40% of the population that lives on less than
$2 a day. Needless to say, all of them viewed Mubarak as a repulsive Washington
poodle - and were in shock at the fate of Iraq, historically revered in Egypt
as the eastern flank of the Arab nation. Their outlook of the regime was of the
"throw the bums into the Nile" kind.
It was all very enlightening - and very painful - to experience on the ground
the consequences of the Mubarak regime being a dutiful pupil of US-enforced
neo-liberalism. Inevitable consequences were high inflation and widespread
unemployment. The urban middle class had practically disappeared. The working
class was subdued via ironclad control of unions. And the rural middle class -
the regime's former base - also dwindled as more young people had to go urban
to find a job (they didn't). What survived was a small, corrupt state-connected
business class (most of whom are now scurrying off to Dubai on private jets).
So it's not puzzling that this is not an Islamic revolution, like Iran in 1979.
It's the economy, stupid. Islam in Egypt today is essentially split between two
currents; non-politicized Salafism and the Muslim Brotherhood - decimated by
decades of repression and torture, and ultimately also without an explicit
political program apart from providing social services neglected by the state.
The fact that the Brotherhood has been in the revolutionary backstage so far
has to do with two factors. If it exposed itself too much, Mubarak would have
had the perfect excuse to label the revolution as concocted by "terrorists".
Additionally, the Brotherhood evaluated that this time it is only one actor
This is a spontaneous popular movement following on the heels of Kefaya ("Enough!")
- a "yellow" popular movement (its color of choice) by intellectuals and
political activists whose slogan already in 2004 was La lil-tamdid, La
lil-tawrith ("No to another mandate, no to a hereditary republic").
Kefaya, although an elite, leaderless, non-ideological movement, was the
spark that launched a thousand movements, such as "Journalists for Change",
Workers for Change", Doctors for Change" or "Youngsters for Change" that led to
the current wave of urban, middle and lower middle class, web-savvy citizens
organizing countless online forums.
Another crucial development has been the 2008 strike by textile workers in the
Nile Delta town of Mahalla al-Kubra when three people were killed by Mubarak's
security apparatus on April 16 - inspiring the homonymous online movement.
The Holy Grail was always to fully mobilize the masses. Last week, they finally
crossed over. The Kefaya-influenced young still prefer popular
committees over politicians to guide this revolution on the go. The pulse of
the streets seems to point to many Egyptians not wanting any political or
religious ideology to monopolize what is essentially a liquid, pluralistic,
multiform movement bent on radically reforming the country and propelling it as
a new model for the whole Arab world. It's all so seductively romantic,
perhaps. But the yearning for a catharsis is inevitable after three decades of
living in an Animal Farm.
I rebel, therefore I am
London School of Economics professor Fawaz Gerges has pointed out all this
"goes beyond Mubarak. The barrier of fear has been removed. It is really the
beginning of the end of the status quo in the region." It is in fact bigger;
it's a graphic example of grassroots, organic political activism.
Or, in the elite speak of US foreign policy guru Dr Zbigniew Brzezinski, this
is his dreaded "global political awakening" in action - the Generation Y across
the developing world, angry, restless, outraged, emotionally shattered, mostly
unemployed, stripped of their dignity, acting out their revolutionary potential
and turning the status quo upside down (even with the Pharaoh promoting the
biggest Internet blackout in history).
As much as Kefaya was the spark, this was also a Facebook revolution -
now renamed in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez as Sawrabook ("the
book of the revolution"). The RASD ("monitoring", in Arabic) network was
launched at the very first day of the protests, last Tuesday, configured as a
sort of "observatory of the revolution".
It's crucial to note that at the time - less than a long week ago - al-Jazeera
was not even on the scene and Egyptian state TV was showing, as usual, faded
black and white movies. In only three days, RASD networked 400,000 people in
Egypt and abroad. When the Pharaoh regime woke up it was already too late -
Internet shutdown and all.
It's this spirit of solidarity in action that has spilled over to the streets
in the form of young activists operating landline phones, documenting injuries
or setting up impromptu clinics. Or in the form of average Cairo residents
boarding up their homes and setting up neighborhood watches to protect
themselves from looters and thugs - widely reported by bloggers to be carrying
security services IDs and Mubarak regime-issued weapons.
As alarmed as the rarified global elites may be by now - one just has to follow
the labyrinth of ambiguities oozing from Washington and European capitals - at
least Brzezinski has been wired enough to catch the drift, as in "major world
powers, new and old ... face a novel reality: while the lethality of their
military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the
politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low."
The new order is dying, but the new has not yet been born. The Age of Rage in
the arc from Northern Africa to the Middle East may be on - but still no one
knows what the next geopolitical configuration will be. Will people have a say
- or will it all be corralled and controlled by the powers that be?
Egypt won't become a working democracy because of lack of political
infrastructure. But it has to restart from scratch, with most of the opposition
almost as reviled as the regime. The younger generation - empowered by the
feeling of being on the right side of history - will be crucial.
They won't accept an optical illusion of regime change that ensures continuous
"stability". They won't accept being hijacked by the US and Europe and
presented with a new puppet. What they want is the shock of the new; a truly
sovereign government, no more neo-liberalism, and a new Middle East political
order. Expect the counter-revolution to be fierce. And extending way beyond a
few bunkers in Cairo.