Friday, January 28, 2011
People Choose Freedom, American Diplomacy Chooses Dictators
"'We are not taking sides' regarding the deadly clashes between protesters and government forces in Tunisia, US State Secretary Hillary Clinton said according to an English-language transcript of an interview with Al-Arabiya television, received by AFP on Wednesday." Reported on an Egyptian website (now offline due to state repression) and linked by the Angry Arab, January 12, 2011.
Two days later on January 14, a week of massive demonstrations sent the U.S. backed Tunisian dictator Zine Abedine Ben Ali packing to Saudi Arabia, legendary home of deposed tyrants. And so the U.S. backtracked and announced its support of the Tunisian revolution -- as though there was a choice -- to the point where President Obama even mentioned it in his State of the Union speech this week. But along the way the people of the Middle East noticed something: how easy it was to overthrow a tyrant.
In quick succession two more things happened stirring the political pot in the Arab world. First, the Lebanese national resistance movement Hezbollah, derided in the West as terrorists, but actually something much more complicated, flexed its muscles and caused the Lebanese government to fall. The pro-American prime minister was quickly replaced by one picked out by Hezbollah and its allies. Then, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network released a wikileaks-like trove of documents that have come to be called "The Palestine Papers" documenting years of diplomacy between the Palestinian Authority, Israel, the U.S. and Egypt. The papers are dynamite: they show the PA cravenly giving in to Israel, and then show the Israelis turning away. They show plans for massive population transfers of Palestinian citizens of Israel to the West Bank and plans to give away huge swaths of Palestinian land in return for recognition of a PA microstate. They show massive collusion between Arab governments like Egypt and the Palestinian Authority with Israel during its brutal attack on Hamas-ruled Gaza two years ago. And they detail American betrayal after betrayal from the Bush era clear through to today's Obama administration. And they remind the world that when the Palestinians exercised free and fair elections and voted in a movement that the U.S., Israel and so-called moderate Arab regimes didn't approve of, these forces united against democracy and tried to crush that Palestinian will of the people.
Which brings us to this week.
"O Mubarak. O Mubarak. Saudi Arabia is waiting for you!" -- chanted by demonstrators at the beginning of this week in Egypt. And so it began. Egypt is suddenly rocked by demonstrations, modest at first but soon massive. The Egyptian dictator Mubarak who has ruled Egypt since the assassination of Sadat thirty years ago is being put on notice by a mass pro-democracy movement. The Egyptian government sent out its forces of repression, at first sending the police and military into the streets, and then today shutting down telecommunications and the internet. The photo above shows where the teargas came from: here in the United States of America. (It's fitting to note that last month a middle-aged Palestinian woman was killed by American teargas wielded by Israelis in the town of Bilin.)
Last night Vice President Biden spoke on public television. Did he call for democracy? Hah! As reported by the Christian Science Monitor, reposted on Lenin's Tomb blog: "NewsHour host Jim Lehrer asked Biden if the time has "come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?" Biden answered: "No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that – to be more responsive to some... of the needs of the people out there." Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.”
Moderate Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei who has now joined the protests, reacted late this week to the American response in the New York Times: "He was stunned, he said, by the reaction of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Egyptian protests. In a statement after Tuesday’s clashes, she urged restraint but described the Egyptian government as “stable” and “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” “ ‘Stability’ is a very pernicious word,” he said. “Stability at the expense of 30 years of martial law, rigged elections?” He added, “If they come later and say, as they did in Tunis, ‘We respect the will of the Tunisian people,’ it will be a little late in the day.”
(Photo from today of a confrontation on a bridge over the Nile river from a Twitter feed.)
Today the demonstrations were more massive than ever, and military violence was unleashed. Demonstrators were bloodied and many were arrested; though there were some encouraging reports of demonstrators fraternizing with soldiers. Mubarak got on TV to say he would dismiss his government but would not give up power, and he threatened to unleash the full repressive power of the state. President Obama got on TV to call on Mubarak to respect the human rights of Egyptian citizens. But he also lectured the demonstrators against violence: "Violence and destruction will not lead to the reforms they seek." (Afghanistan, anyone? Anyway....) And he certainly failed to advocate Mubarak surrending to the democratic will of the people.
Meanwhile, demonstrations have been reported in Yemen.
Here's the sad truth, plain for all to see. While it's too soon to know what will ultimately happen, and too soon to know how any new governments in the region might orient to the United States and Israel, the first impulse of the United States has now been plainly and repeatedly shown to be backing dictatorships against mass popular democratic forces. All President Bush's trite claims of bringing democracy to the Arab world and President Obama's claims of new international relationships based on mutual respect are shown to be nothing more than empty tear-gas canisters.
The U.S. and its main ally Israel are shown to be more nervous about the threat of independent uncontrolled regimes than they are hopeful about an end to tyrants. No matter how in the end American diplomats might come to praise any revolutionary progress, their first choice was to defend the dictatorial status quo.
But these potential revolutions give me great hope. In them one might see a glimmer of hope that the collusion between corrupt gangs of thieves that prop up the Israeli apartheid state, that victimize the Palestinian people, that indeed dispossess regular people across the Middle East, might now finally be swept away. And no thank you, America.
(P.S. In addition to the blogs already mentioned check out Mondoweiss for great ongoing coverage of Egypt.)