In 1886, Tolstoy wrote:
Slavery has long been abolished. It was abolished in Rome, and in America, and in Russia, but what was abolished was the word and not the thing in itself. 1
In 2011, “the thing in itself” is alive and well in Egypt. What an extraordinary spectacle it is – a dictatorship behaving as though an entire people were its personal property. Henchmen aside, the people have spoken, almost as one, and their demands are very clear. The blunt government response, in effect: We react as we want. If we don’t want to, we don’t have to. Why? Because we have a monopoly of violence.
A government thus stands exposed for what it is, a parasite feeding off the people it claims to represent.
And what of the West? Obama – Washington’s bargain basement bodhisattva – said:
We pray that the violence in Egypt will end and that the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realised and that a better day will dawn over Egypt and throughout the world.
Tolstoy, again, had the perfect retort:
I came to the simple and natural conclusion that if I pity a tired horse on which I am riding, the first thing I must do if I am really sorry for it, is to get off and walk on my own feet. 2
But this the US elites pulling Obama’s strings will never do of their own volition – they have been riding the tired horse far too long. Thus, Hillary Clinton said of the Egyptian dictator on March 10, 2009:
I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States.
Thus, Middle East Envoy, Tony Blair, said of Mubarak on February 1, 2011:
Well, where you stand on him depends on whether you’ve worked with him from the outside or on the inside. And for those of us who worked with him over the – particularly now I worked with him on the Middle East peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, so this is somebody I’m constantly in contact with and working with. And on that issue, I have to say, he’s been immensely courageous and a force for good.
As ever, Blair knows: he is ‘on the inside’ and has ‘worked with him’. As ever, Blair is sincere: ‘I have to say’ – truth compels him. As ever, Blair’s ‘force for good’ is enforcing somebody’s hell.
On January 30, 2011, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report, ‘“Work on Him Until He Confesses” – Impunity for Torture in Egypt.’
The report observes:
According to Egyptian lawyers and domestic and international human rights groups… law enforcement officials have used torture and ill-treatment on a widespread, deliberate, and systematic basis over the past two decades to glean confessions and information, or to punish detainees. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has confirmed the systematic nature of torture in Egypt.
Abuses include ‘beatings, electric shocks, suspension in painful positions, forced standing for long periods, waterboarding, as well as rape and threatening to rape victims and their family’.
The horrors constitute ‘an epidemic of habitual, widespread, and deliberate torture perpetrated on a regular basis by security forces against political dissidents, Islamists allegedly engaged in terrorist activity, and ordinary citizens suspected of links to criminal activity or who simply look suspicious’.
Our search of the LexisNexis database found that HRW’s report has so far received three mentions in the national UK press.
Military ‘Aid’ – Corporate Welfare At A Price
Western journalists, then, are confronted by three salient facts in Egypt:
1) Mubarak’s regime is a brutal military dictatorship responsible for widespread torture.
2) The Egyptian people are clearly intent on removing this dictator.
3) A major reason why the Egyptian people are currently unable to achieve this aim is that the United States supports the tyranny with around $1.3 billion in military ‘aid’ every year.
According to LexisNexis, over the last month, the word ‘Mubarak’ has appeared in 1,652 UK press articles. The words ‘Mubarak’ and ‘military aid’ have appeared in 11 national UK articles.
With rare exceptions, these mentions are mere crumbs, one-liners in passing. In The Times, Bill Emmott observes that ‘the Mubarak regime is still receiving $1.3 billion of military aid each year from America, making it the second biggest recipient of American aid after Israel’. 3
The Guardian has published one in-depth online article by investigative journalist Pratap Chatterjee, who wrote:
So, when protesters in Cairo last week were struck by tear gas canisters fired by Egyptian security officials, it was not surprising that pictures taken by ABC TV would show that the canisters were manufactured in the US. Nor does it seem that surprising that a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald would find 12-gauge shotgun shells with “MADE IN USA” stamped on their brass heads when he visited the wounded in a makeshift casualty ward in a tiny mosque behind Tahrir (Liberation) Square.
By contrast, when we turn away from the establishment media, we find ample discussion of the missing facts. On Democracy Now!, the superb Amy Goodman comments:
According to lists of arms sales notifications compiled by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Assistance Agency, in the last decade alone, the Department of Defense has brokered over $11 billion in U.S. arms offers to the Egyptian regime on behalf of weapons manufacturers Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, Raytheon and General Electric.
Goodman interviewed William Hartung, author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. Hartung said:
Mubarak has been getting $1.3 billion per year, like clockwork, since the beginning of his regime. So that’s about $40 billion…
He also explained that this was an example of socialism-for-the-rich:
It’s a form of corporate welfare for companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, because it goes to Egypt, then it comes back for F-16 aircraft, for M1 tanks, for aircraft engines, for all kinds of missiles, for guns, for tear gas canisters, as was discussed, a company called Combined Systems International, which actually has its name on the side of the canisters that have been found on the streets there. 4
In an article for Huffington Post, Hartung added more detail:
Aside from some leftover Soviet equipment from the pre-Camp David era (before 1979), the Egyptian military is virtually made in the USA. Fighter planes (Lockheed Martin F-16s), tanks (General Dynamics’s M-1A1s), missiles (Harpoon, TOW, Hellfire, and Stinger, made by Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin), howitzers (United Defense), aircraft engines (General Electric) have all been purchased for the Egyptian armed forces with U.S. taxpayer dollars. The biggest winners have been Lockheed Martin ($3.8 billion); General Dynamics ($2.5 billion); Boeing ($1.7 billion); Raytheon ($750 million); and GE ($750 million).
According to Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Britain sold £16.4m worth of arms to Egypt in 2009 – 81 export licences were approved for a wide range of weapons systems components.
Alas, the US is not eager to cut its supply of weapons to Mubarak. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chair of the US joint chiefs of staff, said the US should wait before suspending aid:
There is a lot of uncertainty out there and I would just caution against doing anything until we really understand what’s going on. I recognise that [$1.3bn] certainly is a significant investment, but it’s an investment that has paid off for a long, long time.
Paid off for whom? Leading Arab scholar-activist, Gilbert Achcar, explains:
‘the truth is that the army as an institution is not “neutral” at all. If it has not been used yet to repress the movement, it is only because Mubarak and the general staff did not see it appropriate to resort to such a move, probably because they fear that the soldiers would be reluctant to carry out a repression’.
Stability Through Repression
What mainstream media consumers will find almost nowhere (perhaps literally nowhere) is a detailed analysis of how US-UK support for Mubarak fits with a pattern of US-UK support for dictators across the world over many decades, indeed centuries. A US Department of State memorandum of March 15, 1946, commented:
The position of the rulers of the Persian Gulf might be thought of as that of independence, regulated, supervised and defined’ by the British government. 5
Five years later, a State Department memo gave an idea of how the British defined ‘independence’ in the region:
North Africa enjoys stability, even though stability is obtained largely through repression. 6
In January 1956, the Foreign Office noted that Egyptian nationalist leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was ‘avowedly anti-communist’ but was ‘unfortunately… strongly neutralist’. 7
Winston Churchill regarded it as outrageous that, thanks to Nasser, Britain could no longer dictate terms. Churchill urged prime minister Anthony Eden to tell the Egyptians ‘that if we had any more of their cheek we will set the Jews on them and drive them into the gutter from which they should never have emerged’. 8
Anthony Nutting, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, recommended a restrained response to Nasser. In reply, Eden made his feelings clear:
I want him destroyed, can’t you understand? I want him murdered, and if you and the Foreign Office don’t agree, then you’d better come to the cabinet and explain why.
When Nutting pointed out that they had no alternative government to replace Nasser, Eden replied:
I don’t give a damn if there’s anarchy and chaos in Egypt. 9
And there is, of course, next to no mention in the media of how this long history of support for repression is rooted in the needs of Western realpolitik, itself rooted in the need of Western corporations for control of human and natural resources. The trend is so striking, so obvious even from released government documents, and makes complete logical sense. But on some level, mostly beneath conscious awareness, journalists understand that this is not a fit topic for discussion within the corporate media. Some of our society’s interior décor can be challenged, but the fundamental design and foundations of the building are presumably just fine. To say otherwise would be honest but ‘biased’ journalism, and ‘neutrality’ comes first (in fact, that’s a big reason why ‘neutrality’ comes first).
And so the real story goes unreported: if Egypt’s freedom fighters succeed in ousting Mubarak, far deadlier predators will be lying in wait for them. Us!
- Tolstoy, What Then Must We Do?, Green Classics, 1991, p.104 [↩]
- Tolstoy, op. cit., p.111 [↩]
- Emmott, ‘Obama’s riddle: withdraw or keep military aid?,’ The Times, January 31, 2011 Monday [↩]
- Hartung, ibid [↩]
- Quoted, Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p.22 [↩]
- Curtis, ibid., p.31 [↩]
- Curtis, ibid., p.96 [↩]
- Quoted, John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried, Bookmarks, 2006, p.172 [↩]
- Newsinger, ibid., pp. 173-174 [↩]