Egypt: Social Movements, the CIA, and Mossad

The Limits of Social Movements

The mass movements which forced the removal of Mubarak reveal both the strength and weaknesses of spontaneous uprisings.   On the one hand, the social movements demonstrated their capacity to mobilize hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in a successful sustained struggle culminating in the overthrow of the dictator in a way that pre-existent opposition parties and personalities were unable or unwilling to do.

On the other hand, lacking any national political leadership, the movements were not able to take political power and realize their demands, allowing the Mubarak military high command to seize power and define the “post-Mubarak” process, ensuring the continuation of Egypt’s subordination to the US, the protection of the illicit wealth of the Mubarak clan ($70 billion), and the military elite’s numerous corporations and the protection of the upper class.  The millions mobilized by the social movements to overthrow the dictatorship were effectively excluded by the new self-styled “revolutionary” military junta in defining the political institutions and policies, let alone the socio-economic reforms needed to address the basic needs of the population (40% live on less than $2 USD a day, youth unemployment runs over 30%).

Egypt, as in the case of the student and popular social movements against the dictatorships of South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, and Indonesia, demonstrates that the lack of a national political organization allows neo-liberal and conservative “opposition” personalities and parties to replace the regime. They proceed to set up an electoral regime which continues to serve imperial interests and to depend on and defend the existing state apparatus. In some cases they replace old crony capitalists with new ones.

It is no accident that the mass media praise the ‘spontaneous’ nature of the struggles (not the socio-economic demands) and put a favorable spin on the role of military (slighting its 30 years as a bulwark of the dictatorship).  The masses are praised for their “heroism”, the youth for their “idealism”, but are never proposed as central political actors in the new regime.  Once the dictatorship fell, the military and the opposition electoralists “celebrated” the success of the revolution and moved swiftly to demobilize and dismantle the spontaneous movement in order to make way for  negotiations between the liberal electoral politicians, Washington and the ruling military elite.

While the White House may tolerate or even promote social movements in ousting (“sacrificing”) dictatorships, they have every intention in preserving the state. In the case of Egypt the main strategic ally of US imperialism was not Mubarak. It is the military, with whom Washington was in constant collaboration before, during and after the ouster of Mubarak, ensuring that the “transition” to democracy (sic) guarantees the continued subordination of Egypt to US and Israeli Middle East policy and interests.

The Revolt of the People:  The Failures of the CIA and Mossad

The Arab revolt demonstrates once again several strategic failures in the much vaunted secret police, special forces and intelligence agencies of the US and Israeli state apparatus none of which anticipated, let along intervened, to preclude successful mobilization  and influence their government’s policy toward the client rulers under attack.

The image which most writers, academics, and journalists project of the invincibility of the Israeli Mossad and of the omnipotent CIA have been severely tested by their admitted failure to recognize the scope, depth and intensity of the multi-million member movement to oust the Mubarak dictatorship. The Mossad, pride and joy of Hollywood producers, presented as a ‘model of efficiency’ by their organized Zionist colleagues, were not able to detect the growth of a mass movement in a country right next door.  The Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was shocked (and dismayed) by the precarious situation of Mubarak and the  collapse of his most prominent Arab client – because of Mossad’s faulty intelligence. Likewise, Washington was totally unprepared by the 27 US intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, with their hundreds of thousands of paid operatives and multi-billion dollar budgets, of the forthcoming massive popular uprisings and emerging movements.

Several theoretical observations are in order.  The notion that highly repressive rulers receiving billions of dollars of US military aid and with close to a million police, military, and paramilitary forces are the best guarantors of imperial hegemony has been demonstrated to be false.  The assumption that large scale, long-term links with such dictatorial rulers, safeguards US imperial interests has been disproven.

Israeli arrogance and presumption of Jewish organizational, strategic, and political superiority over “the Arabs”, has been severely deflated.  The Israeli state, its experts, undercover operatives and Ivy League academics were blind to the unfolding realities, ignorant of the depth of disaffection and impotent to prevent the mass opposition to their most valued client.  Israel’s publicists in the US, who scarcely resist the opportunity to promote the “brilliance” of Israel’s security forces, whether it’s assassinating an Arab leader in Lebanon or Dubai, or bombing a military facility in Syria, were temporarily speechless.

The fall of Mubarak and the possible emergence of an independent and democratic government would mean that Israel could lose its major ‘cop on the beat’.  A democratic public will not cooperate with Israel in maintaining the blockade of Gaza – starving Palestinians to break their will to resist.  Israel will not be able to count on a democratic government to back its violent land seizures in the West Bank and its stooge Palestinian regime.  Nor can the US count on a democratic Egypt to back its intrigues in Lebanon, its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its sanctions against Iran.  Moreover, the Egyptian uprising has served as an example for popular movements against other US client dictatorships in Jordan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. For all these reasons,Washington backed the military takeover in order to shape a political transition according  to its liking and imperial interests.

The weakening of the principle pillar of US imperial and Israeli colonial power in North Africa and the Middle East reveals the essential role of imperial collaborator regimes.  The dictatorial character of these regimes is a direct result of the role they play in upholding imperial interests.   And the major military aid packages which corrupt and enrich the ruling elites are the rewards for being willing collaborators of imperial and colonial states.  Given the strategic importance of the Egyptian dictatorship, how do we explain the failure of the US and Israeli intelligence agencies to anticipate the uprisings?

Both the CIA and the Mossad worked closely with the Egyptian intelligence agencies and relied on them for their information, confiding in their self-serving reports that “everything was under control”:  the opposition parties were weak, decimated by repression and infiltration, their militants languishing in jail, or suffering fatal “heart attacks” because of harsh “interrogation techniques”.  The elections were rigged to elect US and Israeli clients – no democratic surprises in the immediate or medium term horizon.

Egyptian intelligence agencies are trained and financed by Israeli and US operatives and are amenable to pursuing their masters will.  They were so compliant in turning in reports which pleased their mentors that they ignored any accounts of growing popular unrest or of internet agitation.  The CIA and Mossad were so embedded in Mubarak’s vast security apparatus that they were incapable of securing any other information from the grassroots, decentralized, burgeoning movements which were independent of the “controlled” traditional electoral opposition.

When the extra-parliamentary mass movements burst forward, the Mossad and the CIA counted on the Mubarak state apparatus to take control via the typical carrot and stick operation: transient token concessions and calling out the army, police and death squads.  As the movement grew from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, to millions, the Mossad and leading US Congressional backers of Israel urged Mubarak to “hold on”.  The CIA was reduced to presenting the White House with political profiles of reliable military officials and pliable “transitional” political personages, willing to follow in Mubarak’s footsteps.  Once again the CIA and Mossad demonstrated their dependence on the Mubarak apparatus for intelligence of who might be a “viable” (pro-US/Israel) alternative, ignoring the elementary demands of the masses.  The attempt to co-opt the old guard electoralist Muslim Brotherhood via negotiations with Vice-President Suleiman failed, in part because the Brotherhood was not in control of the movement and because Israel and their US backers objected. Moreover, the youth wing of the Brotherhood pressured them to withdraw from the negotiations.

The intelligence failure complicated Washington and Tel Aviv’s efforts to sacrifice the dictatorial regime to save the state:  the CIA and MOSSAD did not develop ties to any of the new emerging leaders.  The Israeli’s could not find any ‘new face’ with a popular following willing to serve as a crass collaborator to colonial oppression.  The CIA had been entirely engaged in using the Egyptian secret police for torturing terror suspects (“exceptional rendition”) and in policing neighboring Arab countries.  As a result both Washington and Israel looked to and promoted the military takeover to preempt further radicalization.

Ultimately the failure of the CIA and MOSSAD to detect and prevent the rise of the popular democratic movement reveals the precarious bases of imperial and colonial power.  Over the long-run it is not arms, billions of dollars, secret police and torture chambers that decide history.  Democratic revolutions occur when the vast majority of a people arise and say “enough”, take the streets, paralyze the economy, dismantle the authoritarian state and demand  freedom and democratic institutions without imperial tutelage and colonial subservience.

James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books). Petras’ most recent book is The Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counterattack. He can be reached at: jpetras@binghamton.edu. Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

21 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on February 16th, 2011 at 9:02am #

    petras sees protest in egypt as i have seen it.
    protesting, marching shld be viewed as a noble effort. however, it cannot be effective as much as forming an econo-politico-governmntal party which wld first of all educate lower classes about their basic human rights and what they shld do to obtain those rights.

    it is a myth that one needs much money to face greatest scourge [supremacism-fascism-sybaritism-addictiveness to privileged life-etc]
    people cld stand on street corners or go door to door and thus enlighten people.

    of course, sybarites and other addicts in u.s., seeing great perils to their privileged status for the first time ever, may try to preempt such efforts by violent means.

    in that case, applying counter violence wld be morally and legally correct.
    any other effort, i expect, wld fail or even be couterproductive! tnx

  2. bozh said on February 16th, 2011 at 9:19am #

    petras:
    “The fall of Mubarak and the possible emergence of an independent and democratic government would mean that Israel could lose its major ‘cop on the beat’. ”

    yes, of course, even a fledgling democracy in egypt or anywhere else wld surely condemn israeli crimes.
    alas, we only have one fledgling democracy– the one in switzerland. ok, ok! maybe a few more– nevertheless, just “maybies”!

    i expect that army generals, if they had been conditioned [expecting they had been, tho] to look dwn on lower classes, wld not ever allow a democracy to rise.
    egyp’n army echelons wld be, i expect, strongly supported by all army echelons in ?all ‘democratic’ lands.
    and there is always money which always buys even killers let alone supremacists. tnx

  3. Ismail Zayid said on February 16th, 2011 at 9:22am #

    The failure of Israel, to foresee the heroic Egyptian revolution, is a direct result of Israeli arrogance and deep-seated inherent assumption of superiority over the Arabs. This arrogance was also displayed in 1973 when Israel’s prime minister refused to believe the information they received that Egypt and Syria were planning to wage war to regain their own occupied territory. Their faith in the dictators, like Mubarak, that they support was overwhelming.

  4. MichaelKenny said on February 16th, 2011 at 9:51am #

    “What’s-his-name, the American stooge” seems to be still the preferred candidate for President of Egypt! This and similar articles could be defended as comment on events that had already occurred but claiming at this stage that “the continuation of Egypt’s subordination to the US” is already ensured or that the fact that “the “transition” to democracy (sic) [sic!] guarantees the continued subordination of Egypt to US and Israeli Middle East policy and interests” is just plain silly. All that may well turn out to be true, but it is far too early to tell. The fact that authors have jumped the gun and that so many authors are frantically repeating the same “failed revolutions of 1848″ mantra shows just how much panic events in Egypt have set off in certain quarters. That, in itself, casts doubt on Mr Pertas’s crystal ball.

  5. bozh said on February 16th, 2011 at 12:04pm #

    i hadn’t noticed petras': “continuation of egypt’s subordination to the u.s.”
    however, i educe, from known facts, the same conclusion. petras, perhaps, shld have posited the above statement as a conclusion.
    however, it does not take all that much acumen to be able to evaluate that a prediction-cojecture-conclusion is not a fact.
    actually, no one, not even a single prophet, can predict what will happen in the future.
    so, let’s not waste time belaboring this fact!
    this way of thinking debunks mohammed, issaiah, hosea, jesus, popes, rabbis, imams, priests! tnx

  6. shabnam said on February 16th, 2011 at 4:17pm #

    Thank you for your article Professor Petras.

    The Zionist stooges in Washington and Israel are trying to shape post Mubarak political environment according to US/Israel interest. The following video, interview with one of the opposition leader, shady el-ghazaly Harb demonstrate that the opposition groups are very WORRIED that soon they will be forced out of the political scene by the ‘wise men’. El-ghazaly Harb said that the party elite wants to change the name of their party and present it as ‘revolutionary’ to fool Egyptian people. He said so far nothing has been CHANGED and the system left intack.

    Only Mobarak has been forced out due to the protest. I am surprised when media shows only favorable statement about military such as: “we trust military”, and no statement against the military which is supported and maintained by American tax $$$ to protect Israel.

    {http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11475}

    In fact Mubarak was forced out by the military, because American regional interest, Israel, needs new faces to keep the system on track. The Egyptian elite, including the army, and US did not want Mubarak’s son to become president in the next election. According to many, it was Susan Mubarak, his wife, who was insisting to see her son become president. Mubarak wanted to stay until September but the Army kicked him out. In fact what has happened in Egypt was a military Coup in favor of American interest in the region, to continue the bankrupted policy, destruction of Iran, for the interest of Israel, bringing new faces into the scene.
    Please watch one of the ‘wise man’,Naguib Sawiris, a Christian billionaire

    {http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11472}

    businessman who is the executive chairman of the telecommunications company Orascom Telecom Holding (OTH), the family business. His conversation with Charlie rose reveals that he was kicked out by the military because American dirty face could not be hidden anymore.

    {http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naguib_Sawiris}

  7. shabnam said on February 16th, 2011 at 4:55pm #

    On the one hand, the Zionist stooges in Washington ignored the protest in Bahrain and Yemen, Obama and Hillary Rotten Clinton, on the other hand, supported the Green stooges street violence against the Iranian government where shouting anti Gaza and Lebanon but pro Tunisia and Egypt slogan.
    When the State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley was asked about this issue he had this to say:

    MR. CROWLEY: Well, that – what has guided us throughout the last three months and guides us in terms of how we focus on Iran is the core principles – the Secretary mentioned them again today – of restraint from violence, respect for universal rights, and political and social reform. There is a – it is hypocrisy that Iran says one thing in the context of Egypt but refuses to put its own words into action in its own country.
    QUESTION: How about other countries – Bahrain, Yemen, or Algeria, or Jordan? Why you are not talking about those countries and you are condemning what is happening in Iran?
    MR. CROWLEY: Well, actually, in the other countries there is greater respect for the rights of the citizens
    The pro Israel stooges in the congress are trying to remove MEK name from state department terrorist list, so MEK can be used openly as “agent of change’ for regime change.

    Sharmine Narwani writes:
    Western Media Toes the US Line Worse yet were the media takes on events in Iran on Monday. With all the tweets and videos pouring in, there is still barely any verifiable information available – not that this has stopped both print and television media from jumping into the fray.
    My favorite piece of disinformation is this MSNBC news segment where an Iran-based correspondent’s audio feed is juxtaposed with video footage of absolutely massive crowds streaming through central Tehran squares and monuments. My eyes popped until I saw the discreet “Friday” date on the video — the footage is from pro-government celebrations just three days earlier on the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution:
    Another bit of disinformation — now quoted widely in the western media — came early on Monday with claims that one protester had already been killed by government forces. A closer look traces this tidbit to the semi-official Fars news agency which attributes the violence to protesters: “One person was shot dead and several were wounded by seditionists (opposition supporters) who staged a rally in Tehran.”

    The zionist administration in Washington was trying to sell a PRO GOVERNEMNT demonstration as green protest against the Iranian government to American people. Shame on liars.

    {http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sharmine-narwani/post_1586_b_823534.html}

  8. hayate said on February 16th, 2011 at 8:57pm #

    Interesting piece from Petras. My own suspicion is the israeloamericans backed the military take over because none of their puppets among the opposition yet has enough support to provide the replacement for mubarak the israeloamericans need. Only the quisling military can do that, mostly because of their brute military strength, not support among Egyptian people.

    The question now is will Egyptians allow the military to thwart their demands for complete change, or will they continue on against the military as they did against mubarak. The israeloamericans are obviously hoping that with mubarak gone, thing will quiet down and then they can continue with business as usual.

  9. mary said on February 17th, 2011 at 6:19am #

    In Bahrain, the interests of the West and the safety of the US 5th fleet MUST be preserved at all costs. Three of the peaceful protesters were killed and many injured, some critically. Tear gas, live rounds and rubber bullets were used in the dead of night (3am local time).

    17 February 2011 Last updated at 12:55
    Bahrain protests banned as military tightens grip

    Hundreds of people were injured in the clashes

    Continue reading the main story
    Mid-East Protests
    In pictures: Pearl Square stormed
    Bahrain: Global concerns
    Bahrain unrest: Your stories

    Protests have been banned in Bahrain and the military has been ordered to tighten its grip after the violent removal of anti-government demonstrators, state TV reports.

    The army would take every measure necessary to preserve security, the interior ministry said.

    Three people died and hundreds were hurt overnight as riot police broke up a protest camp in the capital Manama.

    The unrest comes amid a wave of protest in the Middle East and North Africa.

    Bahrain’s demonstrators want wide-ranging political reforms and had been camped out since Tuesday.

    /…..

    {http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12495733}

    Similar protests are taking place in Libya and Yemen.

  10. Rehmat said on February 17th, 2011 at 7:34am #

    Pity, Dr. James Petras underestimated the long evil hands of Jewish Lobby in the US&A.

    Not many people, including the protesters, know the evil people behind the Youth Movements which have spearheaded the street protests against the locally hated regimes. The Alliance of Youth Movement (AYM) was given birth by the US State Department in 2008 an inaugural summit meeting in New York city in 2008.

    The Movement.org’s “team” includes co-Founder Jared Cohen (an Islamophobe Zionist Jew), a CFR member, Director of Google Ideas, and a former State Department planning staff member under both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. Jared’s other team members are; Jason Leibman, Roman Sunder, Zionist Christian David Nasser from Iran and Obama’s chief blogger, Sam Graham-Felsen.

    http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/anti-government-protests-and-israeli-connection/

  11. bozh said on February 17th, 2011 at 8:55am #

    rehmat,
    am i correct in saying that u say protests in egypt r also guided by some americans of the jewish cult? tnx

  12. AaronG said on February 18th, 2011 at 4:44am #

    Petras and Shabnam make good points above.

    I’m still dumbfounded as to why the media has collectively hailed this event as a success for the people, democracy, people power, blah blah blah……..

    In simple terms it’s a military coup. Period.

    Last month the military was in charge of Egypt, with an old guy as the stooge figurehead……………. Same this month. No change, which is good for business.

    Oh, I forgot to mention, the unwashed masses have been cleaned off the streets. Ruling System 1 – People 0.

  13. mary said on February 18th, 2011 at 10:12am #

    4.44am #I’m still dumbfounded as to why the media has collectively hailed this event as a success for the people, democracy, people power, blah blah blah…….. In simple terms it’s a military coup. Period#.

    You sound as if you will be pleased if your prediction comes true but I think you will be proved wrong, very wrong indeed.

    If any Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, Bahrainis, Jordanians and Tunisians are reading this, you will ALL rise up above your oppressive and merciless rulers and dictators and we stand with you in solidarity. The Palestinians are under the boot of a cruel Occupier at the moment but they too will prevail.

  14. mary said on February 18th, 2011 at 10:15am #

    Add the people of Morroco to that list.

    {http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/18/morocco-demonstrations-test-regime}

  15. AaronG said on February 18th, 2011 at 8:02pm #

    Mary

    I didn’t make a prediction. I made a statement of fact about what has ACTUALLY taken place in Egypt.

    At this point in time, the pro-US military is in charge of Egypt.

    All I want is an explanation as to why this is a good thing. I’m hearing and reading a lot of people getting all warm and fuzzy about what the people COULD have achieved, about the kind of government Egypt COULD have. The reality is that a military machine is calling the shots. They don’t have to wait for the orders to come down from old Hosni anymore.

    I prefer not to be swept up with emotional cheering with the mob and view from the sidelines until something is ACTUALLY achieved.

  16. Deadbeat said on February 19th, 2011 at 1:06am #

    Aaron G writes …

    I prefer not to be swept up with emotional cheering with the mob and view from the sidelines until something is ACTUALLY achieved.

    I think Arron’s response misses the larger developments. Getting rid of Mubarak is only the first step. This revolution is far from being over. There’s a good series on Counterpunch by Esam Al-Amin [http://www.counterpunch.org/amin02182011.html] that provides an in-depth and broader view than the narrowness that the military is in “control” now that Mubarak has been forced out. IMO Aaron is failing to analyze the effect that the revolution is having upon the people and is merely looking at the changing deck chairs in Egypt from a top down manner.

  17. bozh said on February 19th, 2011 at 10:58am #

    getting rid of mubarak may have been a first [or very tiny] step for restoring-maintaining supremacistic rule everywhere. tnx

  18. AaronG said on February 21st, 2011 at 10:51pm #

    Deadbeat

    I agree with you that this may only be the first step, a courageous step at that. My comment was in regards to the mainstream media (and some others) who seem to be “celebrating” as if the game has finished and the objectives have been met, a bit like Bush’s MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. It may only be quarter time in the game – no reason to get carried away. It’s not over til the fat lady………………….

    By the way, top-down change is the only long-lasting effective change.

  19. Deadbeat said on February 22nd, 2011 at 12:49am #

    Aaron G writes …

    By the way, top-down change is the only long-lasting effective change.

    If that’s the case, we’re doomed!

  20. Deadbeat said on February 22nd, 2011 at 12:51am #

    bozh writes …

    getting rid of mubarak may have been a first [or very tiny] step for restoring-maintaining supremacistic rule everywhere. tnx

    Please expound on that comment. By what basis to you draw that conclusion especially since Mubarak was an effective quisling for Zionist and Western Imperialism.

  21. bozh said on February 22nd, 2011 at 8:15am #

    DB,
    removal of mubarak, in my thinking, represents a human sacrifice to the ‘glory’ of fascism. johnson, nixon were also sacrificed for the same goals. tnx