Posts Tagged Egypt
Reading the news, I think about how those of us working toward a more just world need to understand the complex factors shaping the world as it actually is. The “Arab spring” brought so many millions to political life, bringing hope and the sense of new possibilities.
At the same time, I’m reading about how the future of the Yemeni people is being decided by the United States government, after they aided Saleh in these months of brutal repression, and as they negotiate a successor to Saleh who will meet their requirements. I read of the demands of women and youth in Egypt, pushed aside as the Muslim Brotherhood moves to solidify its power through strengthening Islam in Egyptian law, thereby undermining the great ambitions of those who rose up in Egypt. I read, infuriated, that Barack Obama ordered the use of unmanned drones by the U.S. in Libya, to attack Qaddafi forces “burrowed into urban areas” with “less threat of collateral damage.” Oh, like in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
This is a world crying out for fundamental change! To get a deeper understanding of the reality we confront in working for that change, World Can’t Wait and The Platypus Affiliated Society are sponsoring An Urgent Exchange: U.S. Empire, Islamic Fundamentalism Both Deadly – Is There Another Way? this Wednesday, April 27 at 6:30pm at Tishman Auditorium at The New School in New York City. We are bringing together New York University professor and poet Sinan Antoon, Iraqi visual artist Wafaa Bilal, Laura Lee Schmidt of Platypus, Revolution writer Sunsara Taylor, and Gregory Wilpert from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation to engage in this very timely question:
“If you are troubled about the state and direction of the world…if you are repelled by both the arrogant assertion of empire by the government and leaders of the U.S. and the fanatical backwardness of Islamic fundamentalism, what should you be doing?”
I am very much looking forward to this exchange, as a beginning, and opening, of this very crucial question,which we fun into all the time. This is a real question and problem in our work to stop U.S. support for the illegitimate, unjust, immoral occupations which most of the anti-war movement avoids, or does not even recognize. As I invited the speakers, I told them:
We sense there’s a lid on response to these crimes from people within the U.S. who don’t want the U.S. endangering the world, but who see the growth of oppressive Islamic fundamentalism, and fear strengthening it.
World Can’t Wait has a mission of stopping the crimes of our own government, to be sure, the greatest of which is its brutal destruction of whole countries where a majority practice Islam, and the targeting, imprisonment and political repression of Muslims here in the US. However, in the U.S. there are many people who don’t like what their government is doing around the world but are at least partially swayed, silenced and paralyzed by the argument that if the US is not in [Iraq] [Afghanistan] [Libya] [Yemen] [and the list grows] the people, especially the women, will have it somehow “worse” than under U.S. occupation.
Fundamentalist Islam is not the only challenge to U.S. empire, but political Islam is currently the main organizational and ideological challenge to U.S. empire and military domination. I talked with Malalai Joya recently, who says the Afghan people have 3 enemies oppressing them: 1) U.S. occupation; 2) Taliban; 3) fundamentalist warlords. She refers to the United States as the “godfather of Islamic fundamentalism in the region” and argues that the occupiers should “get lost” so that the Afghan people can deal with domestic oppressors, while pointing out that Afghan women are in a worse situation since the U.S. occupation began.
Our intention in organizing such an exchange is to hear from people who DO think there is a “good solution” for those caught between brutal foreign occupation and Islamic government. Our approach is not to throw up our hands, saying “there is no good solution,” but rather to seek solutions that would be in the interests of humanity. Hearing those ideas will in turn stimulate people to see beyond a simple polarity of U.S. empire or Islamic government, both of which currently reinforce each other.
A World Can’t Wait supporter wrote me with the concern that:
“The nature of the topic is extremely dangerous to discourse in this country. Wait until Fox News gets ahold of this! I can see it now ‘pick between a US occupation or Alqaeda.’ THAT’S what this meeting implies to the public!”
The point of this exchange is that people should not have to make that choice. If we are serious about providing space for people in the world to find alternatives, if we want to send the strongest possible message to the rest of the world that there are people in the U.S. who don’t support U.S. occupations, and want to see people find another way to set up society than a theocratic regimes, then keeping discussion at the pitifully low level it is at is much more dangerous than not having it.
We will be filming and audio taping the exchange. I believe it will strengthen our determination to oppose U.S. empire, and give us ways to talk to people, many of whom think that the U.S. is a force for good in the world through its military.
The political terrain is changing hourly in the Middle East, with governments responding to the peoples’ uprising in different ways. But we’re seeing one constant: the U.S. at every point pushes its own interests, regardless of the status of the peoples’ rights.
World Can’t Wait exists to “stop the crimes of our government.” So we should be vigilant. We’ve pointed out Washington’s deep and long support for repressive regimes across the region, including Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia & Bahrain, and also the huge amount of military and political support given to Israel by successive U.S. administrations. In Bahrain, where the U.S. has a strategic base, Hillary Clinton weakly, and hypocritically, defended the protesters’ rights (only days after witnessing prominent anti-war veteran Ray McGovern brutalized during a speech of hers in the US). As if she and the government she has long represented was unaware of what these regimes do to their people!
In Egypt, protesters showed the lethal tear gas canisters used against them by the government – labeled “Made in the USA.” These were just a small fraction of the overall budget of military aid given to Egypt by the US.
In Libya hundreds of people are being slaughtered in the streets by mercenaries. Though Qaddafi’s government has appeared more oppositional to the U.S., the U.S. reestablished full diplomatic relations with Libya, under pressure from U.S. oil companies. Military aid followed. But in the wake of the absolutely righteous upsurge of the people against Qaddafi’s repression, will the U.S. take the opportunity to install a more compliant government to its own interests? U.S. military intervention will do no more good in Libya than it’s done elsewhere… which is to say: it will be a disaster for the people, but good for U.S. interests in holding onto strategic oil and territory.
In Pakistan, there’s news of the first drone strike in a month, this one killing civilians: US Drone Strikes Kill 15 in Pakistan.
The Washington Post reported yesterday on the last years of U.S. drone bombings:
Despite a major escalation in the number of unmanned Predator strikes being carried out under the Obama administration, data from government and independent sources indicate that the number of high-ranking militants being killed as a result has either slipped or barely increased. Even more generous counts – which indicate that the CIA killed as many as 13 “high-value targets” – suggest that the drone program is hitting senior operatives only a fraction of the time.
While the CIA contends they’ve killed just 2 civilians, the article goes on to say:
The New America Foundation estimates that at least 607 people were killed in 2010, which would mean that a single year has accounted for nearly half of the number of deaths since 2004, when the program began. Overall, the foundation estimates that 32 of those killed could be considered “militant leaders” of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or about 2 percent.
Glenn Greenwald looks at the CIA’s role in Pakistan. In This week in winning hearts and minds, he describes Raymond Davis, the ex-Special Forces, current CIA operative held in Pakistan for personally killing 4 Pakistanis in an incident on the street, and:
The State Department first said he worked for the consulate, not the embassy, which would make him subject to weaker immunity rights than diplomats enjoy (State now says that its original claim was a “mistake” and that Davis worked for the embassy). President Obama then publicly demanded the release of what he absurdly called ”our diplomat in Pakistan”; when he was arrested, Davis ”was carrying a 9mm gun and 75 bullets, bolt cutters, a GPS unit, an infrared light, telescope, a digital camera, an air ticket, two mobile phones and a blank cheque.”
There’s a major diplomatic crisis over Davis between Pakistan, and competing forces within its government, and the U.S. government. Greenwald describes the complexity for the U.S.:
There’s the gross hypocrisy of the U.S. State Department invoking lofty “rule-of-law” and diplomacy principles under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations — the very same State Department that just got caught systematically violating that convention when WikiLeaks cables revealed that U.S. “diplomats” were ordered to spy on U.N. officials and officials in other countries. Then there’s the delusional notion — heard mostly from progressives with romanticized images of the State Department — that WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables was terrible because it’s wrong to undermine “diplomacy” with leaks, since the State Department (unlike the Big, Bad Pentagon) is devoted to Good, Humane causes of facilitating peace. As this episode illustrates, there’s no separation among the various arms of the U.S. Government; they all are devoted to the same end and simply use different means to accomplish it (when the U.S. Government is devoted to war, “diplomatic” functions are used to bolster the war, as Colin Powell can tell you).
These crises can help sort out the interests of the governments from the interests of the people. In supporting the courageous people across the Middle East who are fighting repression, we are challenged to look at our own government. I come back to the Not in Our Name Pledge of Resistance:
…Not in our name
will you wage endless war
there can be no more deaths
no more transfusions
of blood for oil…
Last week, I posted this photo of masses of Egyptians in Tahrir Square in late January 2011 with the question, “Now do you know what we were talking about?”
I sent the message to tens of thousands of supporters of World Can’t Wait, established in 2005 as The World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime. The photo and one line got a lot of response.
Almost half the response amounted to “yes — we knew what you meant then, and we’re with you!” Some people didn’t recognize the photo, or guessed that I was calling for a new movement to “drive out” the current president. One, who signed the Call to Drive out the Bush Regime online in 2007, announced she is Republican, and wanted no more mail from me.
So, for you all to whom the message was not clear, here’s what that photo is about:
Early 2005 was a time when people in this country who cared about basic justice and rights of the people were thinking of leaving because George W. had been selected as president, again. Why should 4 more long years have to pass with him as president, when that was so clearly against the interests of people in this country, not to mention the rest of the world?
About 40,000 people signed the Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime online. Clearly, the idea was appealing. But people asked, what does “drive out” mean? Some asserted that World Can’t Wait really, covertly, meant there had to be an all-out revolution to force Bush from office; that being impossible, they argued, we weren’t going to succeed. Others could only conceptualize a movement utilizing the mechanism of impeachment, gaining critical mass in the Congress by winning over Democrats to lead it.
Here’s what we said in the Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime:
There is a way. We are talking about something on a scale that can really make a huge change in this country and in the world. We need more than fighting Bush’s outrages one at a time, constantly losing ground to the whole onslaught. We must, and can, aim to create a political situation where the Bush regime’s program is repudiated, where Bush himself is driven from office, and where the whole direction he has been taking society is reversed. We, in our millions, must and can take responsibility to change the course of history.
Driving out Bush & Cheney would not have been easy. Clearly, it ended up being beyond the capacity of a great many honest, determined people who had right on our side. But the idea of a mass movement of people independent of the Republican & Democratic parties, would have begun with people taking to the streets, and staying there for a prolonged period, with growing momentum.
World Can’t Wait and many anti-war leaders, including Cindy Sheehan, organized for several of the Bush years to get that sort of thing started. We tried to find all those people who had been in the street, especially on February 15, 2003, when 15 million around the world — including probably one million in New York City — massed against the coming invasion of Iraq. We knew that one day of protest was not enough, and also that what can happen once, could happen again.
Last week, as mass protests moved to Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya and now Wisconsin, I think a great many people are thinking more deeply about what good street protest does. It’s really the only thing that’s ever made a government take notice, back off, re-think its actions. It’s the only thing that brings out the true nature of a government. And of course, yes, as in the case of Libya right now, unleash desperate brutality toward the people.
But that visible protest is a necessary factor for change.
Chris Floyd has been thinking about this. Worldcantwait.net often posts his thoughtful blog pieces from Empire Burlesque. This one, Kairos in Cairo: Seizing the Moment of Moral Courage goes back to February 15, 2003, and considers what might have kept the U.S./U.K. alliance from being able to attack Iraq. It’s worth reading as a whole. To whet your appetite:
What if we, like the Egyptians, had gotten in the way of business as usual, and brought more and more pressure to bear on the system, forcing the issue of aggressive war on the public consciousness, unavoidably, day after day — and by this, as in Egypt, forcing officials of the system to declare where they stood?
So, where do we stand now?
Watching the delirious celebrations in Egypt, and spreading to cities across the region, and the world, you’ve got to feel the joy. A hated dictator, who until a month or so ago held unchallengeable power, is gone, relatively quickly, through the action of people in the streets. Standing up to the police state, the open on-the-street killing of protesters, the jailing and torture of 10,000 political prisoners as S.O.P., Egyptian youth have opened something up which is doubtless making other repressive governments nervous.
Where this all will go we can’t know. But never tell me, again, that protest “doesn’t do any good.” People used to ask, when we began World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime, “what does that mean? drive out?” The last 3 weeks provide a stunning example. Received via Twitter: “ya’ll know we could have done this w/ Pres Bush right?? it’s not too late to end the war & torture. world can’t wait.”
Our responsibility to stop the crimes of our own government is really acute now. The Egyptian military is now in charge. Exactly the problem! As World Can’t Wait posted today:
The Mubarak regime was “Made in the U.S.A.” Since 1979, the U.S. has given the regime $35 billion, $1.3 billion per year in military support. Because of this, Egypt has a large military, and the world’s 4th largest fleet of F-16 fighter planes. Egyptian police who have held 10,000 political prisoners receive training from the U.S. military. Even the tear gas fired on demonstrators is “Made in the U.S.A.”
Despite decades of torture, disappearing political opponents, and the most open brutality against its own citizens, neither Republican or Democrat leaders plan to reduce military aid to Egypt (LA Times 2/9/11).
The Army was under the control of and trained under the Mubarak regime, and successive U.S. administrations which showered it with money, while the country was a police-state dictatorship for decades. Wolf Blitzer on CNN just now:
“I’m sure the U.S. leaders are relieved that the Egyptian military is in charge, because they have a strong relationship with them.”
Will the U.S. stop its “rendition” relationship with state torture in Egypt? Mubarak’s man, Omar Suleiman, who seems to be out along with Mubarak, was also the CIA’s man. According to Stephen Soldz of Psychologists for Social Responsibility:
Each rendition was authorized at the very top levels of both governments….The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top Agency officials. [Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way” (pp. 113).
Stephen Hendricks, in his fascinating 2010 book, “A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial “ traces the CIA – Egypt relationship back 60 years:
One of the earliest recipients of the CIA’s training was Egypt. The trainers were former Nazi commanders from Germany who were recruited by the CIA not long after the Second World War, probably because the agency was then inexperienced in brutality and wanted men of expertise.”
Hendricks goes on to describe, in gruesome detail, the torture of Abu Omar (Osama Mustafa Hassan Masri), a suspected member of the Muslim Brotherhood who fled Egypt. He was kidnapped by a CIA team in Milan, and “rendered” back to Egypt, where he was tortured for over a year, and released for 23 days, long enough to tell his story. When the Egyptian State Security Service notified him to return and pick up his identification papers, without which he could not move about, he returned to the prison, only to disappear completely, never to be heard from in the last 7 years.
That’s the legacy of the Egyptian torture state, paid for and used by the United States.
That’s the legacy we have to learn about, resist, and stop.
Many World Can’t Wait friends and supporters are on the Gaza Freedom March. An offer by parts of the Egyptian government to let only 100 of the 1300 marchers into Gaza was ultimately rejected earlier today, so the March is still in Cairo. For days the riot police have not allowed them to gather, meet, and get organized. A hunger strike started Tuesday by some of the marchers began to break through into mainstream US media, including the NY Times today.
Revolution writer Alan Goodman is blogging from the revolutionary communist perspective, bringing us inside a tense gathering of the Egyptian Journalist Syndicate, a kind of protest rally as press conference, and introducing us to the police-state conditions the opposition faces there. Alan made NYC news a year ago when, during the Israeli attack “Cast Lead” on Gaza, he went in front of the Holocaust Museum here with a banner saying “”After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel.”
Veterans for Peace members Bill Perry (posting photos) and Mike Hearington (posting updates) are there, my longtime friend Sarah Roche-Mahdi of Cambridge; Laurie Arbeiter, Sarah Wellington and Tarak Kauff brought banners and the “We Will Not be Silent” shirts in Arabic. And friend Ann Wright is one of the principal organizers of the Gaza Freedom March.
Sami Abdul-Shafi writes in the Guardian (UK) yesterday, This is not humane. We need dignity, about the conditions facing the people of Gaza under siege.
We had wood-fired coffee next to the rubble of my friend’s family’s former homes – all levelled during Israel’s three-week war on Gaza that started one year ago. His only source of income, a taxi, was crushed by Israeli tanks during the assault. He agonises about how his children no longer respect him as their father. He is unable to provide them with the security of a house and an independent family life; they lost everything.
The US “war on terror” is modeled on the Israeli war on the Palestinians. The whole of it is illegitimate, immoral, unjust.
Salute to the Gaza Freedom Marchers!