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    Middle East
     Feb 1, 2011

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 among many.

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.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

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