by Jacob G. Hornberger
The opening sentence of my blog post of last April 23, which was entitled “Americans Should Watch Egypt,” was: “Egypt is developing into a fascinating situation, one that involves the United States. It’s worth paying attention to in the coming months.”
In light of developments since then, including the election of Mohammad Morsi to the presidency and the recent angry anti-American protests, the situation in Egypt has become even more fascinating to watch.
For decades, the U.S. government has maintained an extremely close alliance and partnership with the Egyptian military, which has control over the country. Prior to Morsi’s election, the military made it clear to the Egyptian people that it would not tolerate any effort to reduce or eliminate its dictatorial control over the country. Prior to Morsi’s assumption of the presidency, the military flexed its muscle by even dissolving the legislative branch of government
As part of its dictatorial control, the military has extraordinary “emergency” powers that stretch back decades to the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, including the power of the military to take people into custody, jail them indefinitely, torture them, and even execute them.
In fact, during the massive demonstrations against Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak, one of the principal demands made by the protestors was the lifting of those emergency powers, something that neither Mubarak nor the military was willing to do. Those powers still exist today.
Mubarak, of course, was a close personal friend of many U.S. officials. With him in charge, and with the close relationship that has existed between the Pentagon and the CIA and the Egyptian military and intelligence forces, Egypt has long been considered a partner, a friend, an ally, and a loyal member of the U.S. Empire.
Once the tide of public opinion turned against Mubarak and once it became clear that it was time for him to go, U.S. officials jumped on the bandwagon and urged him to leave office. At that point, U.S. officials claimed to be on the side of the people — on the side of democracy — on the side of freedom.
U.S. officials naturally figured that the problem was Mubarak himself. Once he was ousted and replaced, U.S. officials figured that everything would return to normal.
What they failed to realize, however, is that the problem was never Mubarak. Instead, it was the military dictatorship that has held Egypt in its grip for decades. The military plays a dominant role in Egyptian society and in the Egyptian economy. No one knows how extensive its role is because the military keeps its finances secret. But everyone knows that the military owns extensive properties and businesses across the country.
Thus, like other government operations, the vast military establishment serves as a gigantic drain on the economy, sucking untold amounts of money out of the pockets of the private sector to fund its operations and suppressing genuine competition against government enterprises.
Moreover, the military wields those emergency powers in which they can easily take people who protest against the dictatorship into custody and do whatever it wants to them. That’s obviously not a healthy environment for savinsg and investment.
For its part, the U.S. government loves the Egyptian military and its dictatorial system of omnipotent control over Egypt. In fact, one of the principal reasons the military is so powerful is because of the billions of dollars in cash and armaments that the U.S. government has provided the Egyptian military for decades.
Bullets, tanks, tear gas, planes, guns, and payroll for Egyptian soldiers and intelligence agents. It’s been provided by the U.S. taxpayer in the form of foreign aid to a friend, partner, and loyal member of the U.S. Empire.
What are all those armaments good for? They’re good for suppressing resistance to Egypt’s military dictatorship. For decades, whenever Egyptians have objected to the exercise of those emergency powers, they have faced the threat of having such powers applied against them. And, of course, if there was ever a violent revolution, the revolutionaries would be facing the prospect of being killed by all that U.S. weaponry.
For its part, the Egyptian military has been adept at inculcating within the Egyptian people the same reverence and respect for the military that exists here in the United States. The idea has been that if the Egyptian people revere and respect the military, they will be less likely to want to overthrow their military dictatorship.
The problem, however, is that more and more Egyptians are finally realizing that the root of their problems was not Mubarak but rather Egypt’s military dictatorship itself. The anger and frustration of not being able to do anything about it, especially given the tremendous power of the Egyptian military, is increasingly bubbling beneath the surface.
The situation is comparable to what was happening in Iran in 1979. The U.S. government had a strong partnership with the Shah of Iran, the dictator that the CIA had installed into power in 1953 after ousting Iran’s democratically elected prime minister in a CIA-instigated coup. From the standpoint of the U.S. Empire, everything was fine with Iran, given the Iranian military and intelligence forces’ brutal control of the Iranian people, similar to the control that the Egyptian military has over the Egyptian people today.
What U.S. officials didn’t realize was the depth of anger and rage that existed among the Iranian people against their U.S.-supported dictatorship. When it finally bubbled to the surface in the 1979 revolution that ousted the Shah from power, U.S. officials were shocked and outraged over the anger, rage, and hatred that was directed not only against the Shah’s regime but also toward the U.S. government.
Another fascinating dynamic to the mix has been the election of Morsi to the presidency. Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is president only because the military permitted him to assume the office. And even though Morsi recently replaced some of the old generals with younger ones, the military system itself has remained intact, especially given the military’s refusal to permit itself to fall under civilian control.
Morsi clearly is no Mubarak. He is making decisions that are independent of the U.S. Empire, such as traveling to Iran, which U.S. officials consider to be an arch-enemy of the Empire, to attend an international conference. He has also traveled to China, which U.S. officials consider to be an “economic rival” and entered into economic contracts with that country. He waited 24 hours before condemning the recent killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, to the chagrin of U.S. officials, who felt he should have done it immediately.
Morsi’s actions recently led President Obama to conclude that Egypt is no longer an “ally” but is still not yet to be considered an “enemy.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to shower the Egyptian military with a billion dollars a year in cash and weaponry. While some U.S. officials are calling for a suspension of the aid owing to Morsi’s independent actions, that is not likely to happen because keeping close ties to the military ensures the possibility of a U.S.-instigated coup that ousts Morsi from power and restores a military general to the presidency, much like what the U.S. did in Chile when Pinochet’s military dictatorship took control over the country.
The fascinating question, of course, is what will happen if the Egyptian people decide to violently overthrow their military dictatorship. Clearly, the military wouldn’t go peacefully into the night, which means that they will be employing the weaponry that the U.S. government has provided them to kill any revolutionaries.
It goes without saying that the military considers Egyptian citizens who try to violently overthrow the military as “terrorists.” That’s the position that any government, including the ones in Syria and Libya, takes toward consider citizens who are trying to violently overthrow the government.
What’s fascinating, however, is that the U.S. government also considers Egyptians who try to violently overthrow Egypt’s dictatorship to be terrorists.
In fact, the current state of U.S. law is that if any American exhorts the Egyptian people to violently overthrow their tyrannical regime, he is considered to be a supporter of terrorism and the hammer will come slamming down on him with a federal criminal prosecution.
That’s in fact what happened to American lawyer Lynne Stewart. She was representing the so-called blind sheik, Omar Abdel-Rahman, who asked her to read a note at a press conference. She did so and U.S. officials interpreted the note as exhorting Egyptian citizens to violently overthrow the Egyptian government. U.S. officials indicted and convicted Stewart of aiding terrorism and she’s now serving a long jail term.
That’s not to say, however, that it’s illegal for Americans to exhort people to violently overthrow tyrannical regimes that are not part of the U.S. Empire. In fact, that what’s President Obama and the members of Congress are doing with respect to the revolution in Syria and what they did with respect to the revolution that took place in Libya.
Presumably it’s still okay for Americans to real aloud the Declaration of Independence, including the part that says that people everywhere have the right to forcibly overthrow tyrannical regimes under which they are suffering.
But heaven help the American who exhorts people to exercise that right in countries like Bahrain, another loyal ally that even permits the U.S. military to have a huge military base there, and Egypt, whose military dictatorship has long been a loyal partner and ally of the U.S. government, even to the point of agreeing to serve as one of the U.S. Empire’s rendition-torture partners.
Where will all this end? Who knows? But it’s fascinating situation to watch, especially since it has all the makings of another U.S. foreign-policy disaster story.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
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