Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Egypt's Mubarak Clinging to Power ... and American Lifeline

Today besieged Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak returned to the airwaves and said he would step down....after serving out the remainder of his "term" until new elections are held in September. This closely matches a "suggestion" made to Mubarak by a diplomat sent by Secretary Clinton and President Obama.

But what is really happening? I noticed something fascinating about the coverage of this turn of events. Note the New York Times page above, "Mubarak Won't Seek New Term" with the almost after-thought subhead of "Opposition Demands He Leave Sooner." Now compare this to the front page of the Al Jazeera English webpage, the Qatar-based newspaper that helped ignite the wave of unrest sweeping the Middle East:

"Defiant Mubarak vows to finish term." What a difference of emphasis! So who's right? Is the NYT insinuating that diplomacy is successful -- or are they expressing the ambivalence of a historically pro-Israel newspaper which is fearful of an Egypt breaking free into uncharted territory? And Al Jazeera -- sensationalist? Or are they being more truthful, calling Mubarak's maneuver a last-ditch attempt to cling to keep his own ruling clique in power?

President Obama spoke today after Mubarak: "Third, we have spoken out on behalf of the need for change. After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people....Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear -- and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak -- is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now."

As'ad abu Khalil of the Angry Arab News Service is having none of this: "As soon as I saw the defiant tone and substance of Mubarak's speech, I realized that he is not speaking for himself but for the US/Israeli sponsors. Israel erred before the Arab people by exposing her intense panic and fear from the prospect of an Arab democracy next door. Of course, Obama would take note and he consulted with his key adviser on the Middle East, Netanyahu. I just read the speech by Obama: it confirmed my suspicion, that basically Mubarak was permitted by the US to do with the Egyptian people as he would like... The speech by Obama was a not-so-coded language that let Mubarak do what he wish: the talk about transition means that he was basically told to stay in power, because Israel really freaked out at the prospect of Egypt without Mubarak."

So Obama says he abhors violence, and that the upcoming elections should be free and fair. But does this mean anything at all if Mubarak is allowed to remain at the helm for the next seven months? What does it mean that American aid will continue to flow to the military machines of the region: to Egypt, to Israel, to Jordan, to Saudi Arabia, to Yemen. The trail of money and weapons is visible to all: it's certainly visible to the protesters in Egypt. Isn't it hollow of Obama to say he abhors violence if he continued to fuel the threat of violent repression against the region's protesters?

According to AP, Mubarak's "speech was immediately derided by protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Watching on a giant TV, protesters booed and waved their shoes over their heads at his image in a sign of contempt. "Go, go, go! We are not leaving until he leaves," they chanted. So maybe there's the answer.

[By the way I have alluded to the role of Israel in all this. From an article by Reuters about the reaction of the Israeli media to the Egyptian events: "One comment by Aviad Pohoryles in the daily Maariv was entitled "A Bullet in the Back from Uncle Sam." It accused Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of pursuing a naive, smug, and insular diplomacy heedless of the risks. Who is advising them, he asked, "to fuel the mob raging in the streets of Egypt and to demand the head of the person who five minutes ago was the bold ally of the president ... an almost lone voice of sanity in a Middle East?" That's pretty clear!]

It might not be clear who will emerge out of the protests to challenge Mubarak for leadership -- but it's certainly clear that the tightrope being walked by the U.S. is getting thinner and thinner.


  1. Ish, I thought you might find this interesting. A friend of mine forwarded an email to me that she received from her fried in Damascus. Here's an excerpt:

    This is a portion of an email sent on January 29, 2011 from a friend of mine’s friend, who is living in Damascus. The email starts with a gentle hello and how charming the city is. A mention that there are rumors that a demonstration is planned in front of the Syrian Parliament on February 5th…

    Then writes this:

    “I was invited to dinner one evening at the home of friends. At this dinner, the following conversation ensued. After I finished speaking with the gentleman (I've forgotten his name), someone whispered in my ear, "you know, he is one of the most important men in Syria", and then walked away. I guess I should have remembered his name after all.

    Syrian gentleman: So, what are you doing in Syria?

    Me: Studying Arabic.

    Him: Why? (with a very serious expression)

    Me: Well, I'd like to be fluent in the language so that I can work for an NGO here.

    Him: (Shaking his head) This is very suspicious. Are you sure you're not here to work for the US State Department?

    Me: No, really. I want to work for an NGO.

    Him. Suspicious, very suspicious.

    He later told me that he was going to meet the US Ambassador the next day and that he thinks his appointment by the Obama administration is a prelude to war.

    I thought this was an interesting point of view. I'm not sure how widespread this viewpoint is, but given his position of power in Syria, I can't help but think that his opinion is shared by many of the elite.

    The rest of the evening passed very pleasantly. Everyone (including my powerful friend) was very kind to me.”

  2. THanks Annie. Oh goodness. Who was that who said "we live in interesting times"?

  3. It has been, what - over a week now since the first demonstrations? Plenty of time for the opposition to get their forces organized, but not enough time for the U.S. to figure things out. Straddle a fence can be a difficult act.

    Queen Noor spoke on Chris Mathews show today that the US provides a lot of aid to Egypt, but it is mostly in the form of military aid.

    I think a list of what America provides to all foreign countries should published and talked about; County, $ Amount and Type of aid. I am sure we would be shocked.

  4. What started out as a peaceful revolution has now turned ugly. Sadly it is this day that will be remembered.

    I want to cling to the images of peaceful protests against the government, ordinary people joining forces to protect neighbors and museums from thugs... and motherly type sweeping the streets of trash.

    Not chaos and death leaves its ugly image.

  5. A sad and disturbing turn of events, I agree, Annie. I wonder what will happen?

    It seems like the key will be the army. While I would not like to see a military coup, it seems like the army ought to be protecting the millions of people in the street. The opposition could get its act together and convince those in the army sympathetic to the protesters to escort Mr. Mubarak out of the country and put a coalition caretaker government in his place while elections are organized.

  6. i adore comparisons of views of identical news stories. this was a real treat. thanks, ish!