This Arab revolt is against Washington unlike the WWI British engineered against Istanbul
"Don't knock your head against it," received wisdom in the Arab world on unarmed people taking on powerful regimes, "You are just fighting a mountain."
In a revolutionary stage, once the fear of authority disappears, like virginity it cannot be undone or repaired –Anon
“In earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people-“ Zbigniew Brzezinski Former U.S. National Security Advisor
"There is no concern at the moment about the stability of the Egyptian government." Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Israel's new intelligence chief to Knesset members the day hundreds of thousands of Egyptians poured into the streets.
“Saddam Hussein”, replied Iranian President Rafsanjani in Tehran in 1990, when Rajiv Gandhi enquired,” Who will replace Saddam Hussein?”
Max Weber-. Power flows from the barrel of a gun but authority is rooted in legitimacy
It is quite clear that Egypt has started a revolutionary process a week ago in the Middle East with almost one million Egyptians out is streets in Cairo (Maidane-Tahrir - freedom square), Alexandria and elsewhere. After the brutality by Egypt’s notorious security police in which over 100 people have died and many hundreds injured , the military , consisting of conscripted soldiers ,which is now out in the streets has allowed peaceful demonstrations .
With a population of over 80 million, centre of gravity, prime mover and leader of Sunni Arabs, Egypt, never had this kind of spontaneous revolt by the people, called Fallahin, down trodden and mostly ruled by foreigners including queens like Cleopatra and Nefertiti.
The author was posted to Cairo in end 1962 to learn Arabic and then took over as Assistant Press Attaché.
Egypt was then the centre of resurgent Arab world under nationalist –socialist President Gamal Abdul Nasser and at the forefront of non-aligned movement along with India and Yugoslavia, in decolonization of nations from Western colonial repressive rule and exploitation. Egypt and India have moved on since then but there still remains close relationship between the peoples of the two countries , with rich cultural traditions .There are many common traits including laziness ( baad bokra ;after tomorrow ,when promised work is not done and Maalish –never mind) and obligatory tipping (baksheesh).
Nasser and his group of young officers who had overthrown the corrupt Albanian origin dynasty in 1952 were full of respect for Nehru , who sometimes alone or with the Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito would explain to them the intricacies of history and international relations and the exploitation of the Asian and African countries by European colonial powers .It was perhaps the best period of Egypt and Nasser’s era World leaders like Chou en Lai , Khrushchev (to open the Aswan dam financed by Moscow ) and others visited Cairo.
The masses were happiest with social justice and equitable economic progress .Since the end of Nasser era under IMF laid down policies, rich have become richer and poor poorer in Egypt .The corruption, lack of transparency and accountability around the world has been accompanied by upsurge in staple food prices on the London, New York and Chicago commodity exchanges. These price hikes are in large part the result of speculative trade by major financial and corporate agribusiness interests. These are leading to riots all around the world .In Egypt in particular and Muslim countries in general, a population increase of 3% has meant stagnant economies and rising unemployment and poverty.
Mubarak has lost legitimacy and support from Turkey and Washington
Violent street protests are not new to Cairo. Egyptians have taken to the streets every decade or so, to protest against cuts to subsidies or poor salaries. The last major demonstration was by the rank and file of the security forces against the extension of military service in 1986.
But this new intifada is different. The riots are the trigger that Egyptian society has long awaited.
There has never been anything like this in Egypt’s history.
Yes there are some similarities with Iran’s Shia revolution n 1979.Like the Shah of Iran, president Hosni Mubarak, ruling like a Pharaoh for 30 years and until the revolt, was planning to place his son Gamal on the throne (Mubarak’s’ family and some other fat cats have reportedly flew out of Cairo) .In 1970s Iran, all were opposed to Shah’s US backed regime with CIA trained hated Savak. Ayatollah Khomeini provided that unflinching moral and spiritual bulwark against the Shah's armed-to-the-teeth military machine and his capacity to deny whatever concessions were demanded, and what was held out in the end was too little too late. So the naming of a vice-president, an air force general like Mubarak, chief of the hated security service and a new prime minister with a new cabinet is not acceptable to the aroused Egyptians. Unlike 1979, Washington has distanced itself away from Mubarak and has been hinting that he quit.
In post 1979 Iran, many Iranians who opposed the hard line clerics and their killjoy agenda were eliminated, forced to flee or went underground. Even in 1980, disenchanted, only one fourth of Iranians went to the parliamentary polls. Expectedly, many clerics, some even senior to Khomeini, like Shariatmadari, favored political parties and more freedoms. But by sheer force, the radical conservatives took over power, sometimes in spite of Khomeini. This is being mentioned in case the Muslim brotherhood finally takes over.
Mohamed El-Baradei ,former head of the International Atomic Agency , who has been leading the opposition to Mubarak regime since he retired two years ago is one of the known faces of those leading the current protests .But then there were many liberal politicians thrown up after the Shah of Iran fled Tehran in 1979.
The political architecture after Mubarak is not easy to predict but democracy as defined and not as practiced say in USA and India might not come about any time soon .The Egyptian armed forces are well entrenched since 1952 and powerful as in Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and China and military-industry complex in USA.
In Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, west aligned mafias have literally taken over .In Romania, after the spontaneous student’s revolt in end 1989, the old dissident Communist group sidelined by Ceausescu took over the ‘revolution’. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square popular opposition and revolt, military backed Communist party remains entrenched in China. But China was at least making economic progress. Egypt’s economy is stagnant.
So it should not be forgotten that the British and then the US encouraged and even financed Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt , Syria and elsewhere with Riyadh providing the Wahabi/Salafi ideology and ample petrodollars ( to Jihadi and terrorist organizations in south west Asia and elsewhere too)
These groups were propped up to counter nationalist and socialist policies of Arab leaders led by Nasser and others, with full support from Saudi Arabia. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the socialist ideology has been as if confined to ghetto, its space has been filled by Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist AKP in Turkey. They begin with helping out the poor in slums and promoting veils and other symbols of orthodox and extremist Muslim ideology and are soon helped financially by Saudi Arabia.
Even before Turkey’s AKP led by Erdogan was elected to power , in spite of a very austere and transparent public display of honesty as the mayor of Istanbul, he was accused by Turkey’s oldest corporate house chief Koc of having many tens of millions of dollars .Wikileaks have reportedly claimed that Erdogan has many fat accounts in Swiss Banks .In any case , Riyadh has extended full financial support to AKP directly and by investing in AKP strongholds ( In any case it is safer than in USA) thus helping out Islamists.
While it is too early to predict the shape of things to emerge in post Mubarak era, the power flowing to Muslim Brotherhood cannot be ruled out. Nor the democratic reform of one and last election as promised by the Islamist National Salvation Front in Algeria in 1992 , when it was feared that it will wins hands down after the first round and was stopped in its tracks .
In any case why not let the Sunni Islamists take over as did the Shias in Iran and learn that 7th century ideology and solutions cannot resolve the problems of 21st century.
In July of 2010, a major international poll regarding public opinion in the Arab world i.e. from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates showed that while Obama was well received upon entering the Presidency, with 51% expressing optimism about U.S. policy in the region in the Spring of 2009, by Summer 2010, 16% were expressing optimism. In 2009, 29% of those polled said a nuclear-armed Iran would be positive for the region; in 2010 that spiked to 57% reflecting a very different stance from that of their governments. In an open question asking which two countries pose the greatest threat to the region, 88% responded with Israel, 77% with America, and 10% with Iran, which the West demonizes as the main threat.
In a macro-analyses of the current history, the US led Western quagmire in Iraq is the millennia game changer event like the Ottoman siege and defeat during 16-17 centuries at the Gates of Vienna by European powers .The Ottomans had many minor successes after that but were finally rolled back to the confines of present day Turkey .After the collapse of USSR and fall of the Berlin Wall .Washington had a run of Eurasia.
But in the last few years it has been rolled back from Ukraine and Uzbekistan , its ally Georgia bashed by Moscow in 2008 and its troops are just about clinging on to Kyrgyzstan air force base . What does future hold in Afghanistan for US led West? It is a lose-lose situation with the loss of obedient puppets in Tunis and Cairo and possibly elsewhere with food riots in Jordan and change of prime minster in Amman .Palestinians make up 60 percent of Jordan's population . PLO militants and Palestinian army officers conspired against King Hussein (King Abdullah, his grandfather, was assassinated by a Palestinian in 1951), who expelled the Arafat-led PLO, to Beirut in the early 1970s. Then there is an Islamist revolt simmering in Algeria since the elections were undone in 1992.
It is as if Washington is losing its own ‘near abroad’ in Middle East and happy hunting and oil milking ground .What about Saudi Arabia, the oil gushing golden goose? Also an Alevi Shia ruling minority in Syria and potential for western mischief making elsewhere .Beijing and Moscow might be much relieved at the unfolding of Washington’s strategic deficit and discomfiture .Israel might be like a cat on a hot tin roof, with peace treaties with Egypt and even Jordan on line.
At the time of US led illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 there was much anger and hand ringing in the Arab and Muslim street around the world .Before 2003 it would have been inconceivable for the Arabs to rise successfully .Mmany such incipient revolts , the ballot box based one in Algeria were quashed . Can Washington now send GIs to intimidate hostile people and regimes .Moscow remains a sympathetic spectator but will become apprehensive if religious tendencies and parties take over the region and pan out.
The Arab Islam Bedouin hordes coming out of the arid deserts of Arabia had easily conquered the lands of Byzantine and Persian empires under which the Arab people and lands fell, because after many centuries of warfare, the two empires had exhausted themselves.
After the Cold War lasting for half a century , the Soviet Union collapsed , because of the unsupportable defense expenditure to counter US led West’s expanding program , which the west has pursued expanding its influence in Russia’s near abroad including Kyrgyzstan adjoining China’s Turkic Uighur province of Xinjiang .
Washington now spends over $ 700 billion on defense as much as the rest of the world and has an adverse trade balance of $400 or so .Its debts amount to 12 trillion not much less than its GDP .This situation in untenable .
The last Arab revolt was masterminded by the perfidious British against Ottoman Sultan Caliph during WWI to detach Arab territories from Istanbul’s control, when Istanbul sided with Germany, Britain, to protect its Indian possession and the Suez Canal lifeline, encouraged Arabs under Hashemite ruler Sharif Hussein of Hijaj to revolt against the caliph in Istanbul (and deputed spy T E Lawrence to help him). The war's end did not bring freedom to the Arabs as promised; at the same time, by secret Sykes-Picot agreement, the British and French arbitrarily divided the sultan's Arab domains and their warring populations of Shiites, Sunnis, Alawite Muslims, Druse, and Christians. The French took most of greater Syria, dividing it into Syria and Christian-dominated Lebanon. The British kept Palestine, Iraq and the rest of Arabia.
This time around the Arabs revolt is against Washington’s domination and exploitation of their energy and other resources.
Perhaps time has come for an epochal change to come about in the world, quickening of transfer of power from the West to East in post Cold war period and West’s hubris laden triumphal celebration of ‘the end of history.
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|Allen L. Jasson|