The astonishing Egyptian uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in two-and-a-half weeks of immense popular struggle has sent shock waves reverberating throughout the Middle East, putting Washington’s imperial clients on notice that their days of impunity are now numbered.
Close to two million flooded into Cairo’s Tahir Square. One million assembled in Martyr’s Square in Alexandria. 750,000 gathered in downtown Mansoura. A quarter of a million came together in Suez.
Who were they? A cross-section of modern Egypt: Muslims and Christians and Wafds, women and men, young and old. They were internet surfing youth, trade union organizers, the unemployed, students, professionals, parents, children, politicians, party leaders, Imams and priests, judges and lawyers, former military officers and veterans, farmers, taxi drivers, garbage collectors, actors, teachers, artists, poets, movie directors, journalists, and authors. In a word, everyone.
What moved them to take to the streets? Well, for starters, poverty is endemic and thirty percent of the workforce is chronically unemployed. Well-educated college youth with no prospects sit at cafes all day smoking hookahs while the price of a tomato goes up 400% in 24 hours. Corruption is all-pervasive and the necessities of life are allocated by ransom. One has to pay to get clean water, a roof that won’t cave in, a crappy car that costs double because of duty taxes, to get one’s mail, to pay a bill, to obtain a document, to buy bread, to start a business.
The popular explosion erupted on January 25, “Police Day.” Over the next two-and-a-half weeks fed-up crowds surged through the streets, defying curfew, setting up self-governing popular committees, fending off bullets, beatings, and tear gas, and taking back control of their cities from one of the most brutal dictatorships in the Middle East.
Totally uninterested in compromise or half-measures, they insisted that Mubarak and his dictatorship go without preconditions. The building housing his National Democratic Party, in power since 1978, was burned. Downtown Suez was seized by protesters, where two police stations were also put to the torch. Security forces shot uselessly into the protesting crowds while tanks and armored vehicles patrolled streets suddenly under the control of popular committees. F-16s and military helicopters roamed overhead, but the people had lost their fear and could no longer be controlled. A long dormant Article 3 of Egypt’s Constitution suddenly sprang to life: “Sovereignty is for the people alone who are the source of authority.”
The political earthquake approached a general strike, and was to a great extent the culmination of prolonged labor organization and hundreds of strikes on the part of an army of unionists who have been active for years. The police disappeared early on, while the Egyptian army stood ready to mutiny if ordered to open fire on vast crowds of their fellow Egyptians demanding the ouster of Mubarak’s corrupt and murderous regime.
Official Washington responded with characteristic cynicism, rhetorically embracing the “legitimate demands” of the protesters while trying to save its police state client, whether Mubarak resigned or remained. The last thing Washington wanted was to see U.S. arms turned on Egyptian democracy protesters before a TV audience of billions.
Father Obama, known in Egypt as the “black Bush,” sallied forth with his customary pile of useless platitudes, saying that Egyptians had a right to protest, and that many were decent middle-class people with legitimate concerns. Unfortunately, vice-president Joe Biden added the absurd claim that Mubarak was not a dictator and should not be made to go, since he was a stalwart ally of Washington and Israel, a supporter of the Middle East “peace process,” as well as the “war on terror.” In other words, everyone should just shake hands and have a pleasant chat about how to tweak Egypt’s basically good government. No mention of Human Rights Watch’s report stating that torture was “incredibly entrenched” in the Mubarak administration, nor any admission that Egyptian elections were rigged, that bribery was everywhere and employment nowhere, that Mubarak had run Egypt like a giant prison for 30 years, that he renewed martial law every five years, that he lent crucial assistance to crushing what Israel openly regards as its niggers in Gaza.
The U.S. media were equally clueless, praising the Mubarak regime as Israel’s “only Arab ally” (on the pretext that what’s good for Israel is good for America) and has abetted “U.S. interests.” According to the talking heads, this left Washington “in a bind” because the democratic principles being invoked by militant Egyptians were America’s very own, but they were being used in an effort to topple a key U.S. ally. U.S. official judgment being by definition infallible, the perplexing riddle was how Washington could continue having its murderous client without tarnishing its democratic credentials. Naturally, the obvious fact that the U.S.’s operative values are anything but democratic, that they are in fact murderously authoritarian throughout the Middle East, in service to corporate profit and Greater Israel, remained unthinkable for American pundits, though not for the rest of the world.
The problem for Washington is that real democracy leads quickly to an anti-neoliberal, anti-Israel agenda, as austerity economics (juxtaposed to record corporate profits) and forced displacement of Palestine’s indigenous Arabs have no moral leg to stand on, and vast populations throughout the world are increasingly aware of it.
From Central Asia to North Africa the winds of change are blowing. In Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, the U.S. is struggling. In Iraq, it has handed power to the allies of Iran. In Lebanon, Hizbollah is forming a new government after toppling U.S. ally Saad Hariri. In Palestine, Washington’s client Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have zero credibility. In Yemen, Jordan, and Algeria, U.S. client governments are barely holding on. In Tunisia, a popular revolt brought down president Zine el-Albidine Ben Ali, America’s ally, while touching off the Egyptian rebellion that has just expelled Mubarak.
The beginning of the political isolation of USrael, the roguest state of them all, is finally underway. Do what you can to non-violently help it.