Egypt: A Revolution Co-opted By The Regime It Opposes
"The news is more evidence of the close ties between Israel, the United States and Mr Suleiman, who is tipped to replace Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s president", writes Christopher Hope in a February 09 article in the UK Telegraph, who explains his sourcing as "The close relationship has emerged from American diplomatic cables leaked to the WikiLeaks website and passed to The Daily Telegraph."
Mr Suleiman is Israel’s preferred candidate to replace 82-year-old Mr Mubarak. A secret hotline between Mr Suleiman and the Israelis was said to be “in daily use”, according to US diplomatic cables.
Mr Suleiman worked hard to position himself as the main Egyptian link with Israel. According to the cable, he was blocking attempts by the Israelis to form links with other members of the Cairo government.
This was, according to Mr Diskin, because of Mr Suleiman’s “desire to remain the sole point of contact for foreign intelligence”.
The efforts paid off. In 2008, Mr Suleiman was named as Israel’s preferred successor to Mr Mubarak and the new secret direct hotline was in daily use. By early 2009, Dan Harel, deputy chief of staff at the Israel Defence Staff, was reporting that “on the intelligence side under Suleiman co-operation is good”.
Mr Suleiman has already won the backing of Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to lead the “transition” to democracy after nearly three weeks of demonstrations calling for Mr Mubarak to resign.
As far as I know now, even after the military takover of Egypt this morning by Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the High Military Council that took control of Egypt on Friday, Omar Suleiman remains Egypt's Vice President, presumably having taken over the duties and the powers of the President after Hosni Mubarak resigned this morning. This is an assumption I'm making here - if anyone has differing information about Suleiman's role now, please let me know.
Professor Gilbert Achcar of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, grew up in Lebanon, and is currently Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London. His books include The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder, published in 13 languages, Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy, co-authored with Noam Chomsky, and most recently the critically acclaimed The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives.
In this interview from Feb. 08, 2011 Achcar talks with The Real News Network's Paul Jay about the Egyptian protest movement, about the Egyptian Army, and about the illusions that many harbored and still harbor about the role and intentions of the Egyptian military in the sweeping revolutionary movement that developed over so many years of oppression of ordinary Egyptians and flowered into the mass movement we've all been watching the past couple of weeks:
JAY: This is a military dictatorship at the core of this government. It's essentially a client military, a client state of the United States. It's certainly, at the senior levels of the army, a part of Egyptian crony capitalism, where the top leadership of the army are enriching themselves alongside allies, I guess, Egyptian millionaires and billionaires. Yet when you ask kids in the square what they think of the military, nobody wants to say a critical word. It's they're on our side, they're neutral, they're independent, they want to--they're going to protect us. But we know Mubarak is still the commander-in-chief, so one would think if the military is taking that position, it's because Mubarak has decided it's is in his interest for them to do.
ACHCAR: ...if we are speaking of the soldiers, of the rank-and-file of the Egyptian army, I mean, of course they are part of the toiling masses of the country [inaudible] of the poor people. One very likely reason why the army has not been used by the regime to quell the uprising, at least until now, was--is the fear that the soldiers might be very reluctant to carry out such orders and even this might have led to some forms of mutiny. So the regime was cautious not to use the troops in a direct confrontation with the people.
So in that sense, speaking of the army, addressing the troops makes sense. But where it gets into something rather dangerous politically is when it turns into sowing illusions about the military as an institution, about the army as an institution.
The army as an institution is definitely not on the side of the people and definitely not neutral. It is completely on the side of Mubarak. And Mubarak actually, and the army general staff, were keen on emphasizing this by showing, you know, on the television, on Egyptian television, Mubarak meeting with the general staff and all that.
So the army's behind him. The key people that he put, you know, in at the head of the government that he formed after he dismissed the previous one, or the man he named his vice president, are all people from the army. So it's more than ever, if you want, a military--I mean, a rule by the army of the army men, of the military.
Real News Network - February 8, 2011
Illusions About Egyptian Military Can Damage Movement
Gilbert Achcar: Ordinary soldiers may be with the democratic movement,
but high command is at the core of the regime
...full transcript below...
Real News Network Transcript:
PROF. GILBERT ACHCAR, SCHOOL OF ORIENTAL AND AFRICAN STUDIES: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: So one of the things that struck me, Gilbert, when I watch these events on television is the interviews with kids, young people in the [Tahrir] Square about the military. This is a military dictatorship at the core of this government. It's essentially a client military, a client state of the United States. It's certainly, at the senior levels of the army, a part of Egyptian crony capitalism, where the top leadership of the army are enriching themselves alongside allies, I guess, Egyptian millionaires and billionaires. Yet when you ask kids in the square what they think of the military, nobody wants to say a critical word. It's they're on our side, they're neutral, they're independent, they want to--they're going to protect us. But we know Mubarak is still the commander-in-chief, so one would think if the military is taking that position, it's because Mubarak has decided it's is in his interest for them to do. Help us understand how Egyptians view the military.
ACHCAR: Yeah. Well, I would say there's one dimension of wishful thinking in the movement that by saying, by making such statements they would defuse any animosity of the army towards them and that would contribute to the army actually even shifting over to the side of the demonstrators. There were some hopes that something like that might happen. And, well, as a matter of fact, if we are speaking of the soldiers, of the rank-and-file of the Egyptian army, I mean, of course they are part of the toiling masses of the country [inaudible] of the poor people. One very likely reason why the army has not been used by the regime to quell the uprising, at least until now, was--is the fear that the soldiers might be very reluctant to carry out such orders and even this might have led to some forms of mutiny. So the regime was cautious not to use the troops in a direct confrontation with the people. So in that sense, speaking of the army, addressing the troops makes sense. But where it gets into something rather dangerous politically is when it turns into sowing illusions about the military as an institution, about the army as an institution. The army as an institution is definitely not on the side of the people and definitely not neutral. It is completely on the side of Mubarak. And Mubarak actually, and the army general staff, were keen on emphasizing this by showing, you know, on the television, on Egyptian television, Mubarak meeting with the general staff and all that. So the army's behind him. The key people that he put, you know, in at the head of the government that he formed after he dismissed the previous one, or the man he named his vice president, are all people from the army. So it's more than ever, if you want, a military--I mean, a rule by the army of the army men, of the military.
JAY: I think it's also a very important point that when the thugs came into the square a few days ago and the soldiers were told to back off and let them in, on the whole they did. The soldiers followed their orders and they did back off, and if I understand it correctly, the thugs came in. And even--there's no--yet any indication for sure that if the soldiers were ordered to shoot that they wouldn't. It's still an open question, I guess.
ACHCAR: Yes. But, I mean, very clearly the regime didn't want to take that risk, because that would have been--I mean, had this failed, the regime was, you know, completely threatened in its essential structure. So they wouldn't take that risk. That's why they preferred, you know, to [inaudible] they are trying--they are betting on the exhaustion of the movement. That's exactly what they are doing, betting on the exhaustion of the movement. When the new prime minister, Ahmed Nazif, himself a former head of the aviation--I mean, the military air force, when he says, well, we'll turn Tahrir Square into--or we consider it as some kind of Hyde Park, and let--so let these people go on making speeches there, gathering there as long as they want; if they want to, we can even supply them with food and water--that's what he said. I mean, he's just turning almost ironical about that. So they are betting on the exhaustion of the movement, because they prefer, you know, to let it lose its steam, let out all this frustration, and then gradually take control of the situation. That's the [inaudible]
JAY: I was saying at the beginning of this, it's a bit like Muhammad Ali's rope-a-dope trick, where you lean back into the ropes and let your opponent punch you in the stomach until he gets tired, because as long as the protesters weren't really focused on the military as the opposition, then you can keep throwing some politicians down, you know, under the buses, they say, and give the movement a feeling like they keep winning something. But in the end it looks like Mubarak will be there till September, and one way or the other the military isn't--leadership's not going anywhere.
ACHCAR: This is a general lesson of every kind of successful revolution. For revolutions to be successful they--when they are trying to break a regime, they have to break the backbone of the regime, and the backbone of states, of regimes is usually the repressive forces and--well, in some cases could be the civilian security forces, and others, and many others, it's the army. And in Egypt it's the army. Now, a revolutionary movement with, let's say, some kind of revolutionary-minded leadership would focus on winning over the soldiers and winning over the soldiers, splitting them away from their leaders, that is, winning over the soldiers as allies of the revolution, as allies of the uprising against the general staff, against the high-ranking officers, against the elite. This kind of equivalent of the crony capitalism that you have in the private economy, the equivalent is the high-ranking general staff in the army. So if you had a revolutionary movement, that would have been the strategy, would have been this, this one precisely, and maybe, you know, have talks with the lower-rank officers and all that, trying to win over those segments of the army who might really feel solidarity with the uprising. But the fact is that the dominant political forces in the movement--I'm not speaking of some of the radical forces that exist but which are rather--relatively marginal, but the big, well, liberal parties, liberal forces, or liberal figures, or the Muslim Brotherhood, all of them having [inaudible] this kind of, you know, discourse about how glorious and good is the army. And the Muslim Brotherhood, I should say, in particular are very keen on not antagonizing the army. They are not a party with any program of breaking--they want to--I mean, ultimately they dream of seizing power by conquering positions within the state as it is, not breaking the state. And their kind of best scenario would be a Turkish kind of scenario, whereby the army would let real elections be organized in the country, political elections, keep firmly in control of power, but let some legislative form of power be there, which would be obliged to negotiate every [inaudible]step with the army.
JAY: Now, given there isn't that kind of revolutionary leadership that you're talking about, what do you consider the achievements of this movement so far?
ACHCAR: Well, the movement already achieved, I mean, a lot. It changed completely the atmosphere in Egypt. Now, there is a threat that if the regime succeeds in this strategy of exhaustion, of attrition (one could say this is a kind of war of attrition) of the movement, if that succeeds, you can have a backlash. And already we know that the military security and all that have started in the last couple of days a lot of repressive gestures against foreigners, against Egyptian activists.
JAY: Yeah, a lot of people have been arrested in the last few days, which is a story that's not getting that much out in the international media. There's a lot of attention on foreign journalists, but a lot of Egyptian activists are now being picked up.
ACHCAR: Yes, and a lot of harassment and threats, all kind of threats, and people are feeling the threat. So the regime is getting more and more threatening. It's using the security, military security, which actually were headed by Omar Suleiman. So the present figurehead of the regime after Mubarak just went on the backstage for--at least for a while. And that's the situation in which we are. This is in a sense a dangerous moment. But until now, the movement had--was on the rise in its mass dimension, in its popular dimension. We have seen absolutely gigantic mobilizations all over Egypt. This is completely unprecedented. So this has created something which I think is--will be very, very hard to reverse. So in that sense the balance of forces between the mass movement and the regime is very much altered. But what will be the final outcome of all that it's still early to say. But what is clear is what the army wants to do, that is, this attrition, this exhaustion of the movement--as they say also in Washington, actually, an "orderly transition". An "orderly transition" means a transition with the army firmly in control of the situation and letting political steam out, letting some degree, you know, of political reforms and all that, which have already been promised by Mubarak, but all that with the army in control. And of course this is a far cry from what the most radical sections of the movement are demanding, and which includes the dissolution of all the key institutions of--I mean, the political institutions of the regime (they haven't said anything about the army in that regard) and the election of a constituent assembly. Well, that's a very radical democratic demand, but, I mean, this would take--in order to implement such a demand, you would need a movement on the offensive, not only a movement in Tahrir Square, but a movement able--but with a leadership which is absent for the time being--able really to lead into an incursion in the realm of the real power in the country, and as I said, to be able to break the control of the general staff over the soldiers, over the army. This is the--I mean, one of the key conditions for revolution. In Tunisia, if they were able to get rid of the president, it's--well, one of the key reasons, one of the key factors behind that was that the army abandoned him, the Tunisian army abandoned him. So you had a kind of split between the security forces, the civilian security forces, and the--I mean, not the military, and the military. And this situation became too dangerous for Ben Ali. He had to flee to the Saudi kingdom, as you know.
JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let's talk about the current leadership, [Mohamed] ElBaradei, and the Muslim Brotherhood, and just what kind of leadership is there and might be emerging. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Gilbert Achcar on The Real News Network.
It would appear, in light of all of the preceding, that the Egyptian High Military Council and the Egyptian Army had no choice if they wished to not become as much targets for public anger as Mubarak had become and wished to retain the power and control of Egypt they have held for more than half a century, that they would have to tread very lightly in dealing with the burgeoning protests in Tahrir Square over the past couple of weeks or risk alienating the entire country.
What has the Egyptian "revolution" accomplished? I'm very sure that most of the protesters cheering today in Tahrir Sqaure are ecstatic today that Mubarak is gone, and I'm very happy for them for that. They had dreams and they did everything they could do non-violently to turn those dreams into reality.
And the result has been a military takeover of their country, or as STRATFOR described it this morning, a military coup:
Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivered the following statement Feb. 11: “In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country. May God help everybody.”
Suleiman’s statement is the clearest indication thus far that the military has carried out a coup led by Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. It is not clear whether Suleiman will remain as the civilian head of the army-led government. Egypt is returning to the 1952 model of ruling the state via a council of army officers. The question now is to what extent the military elite will share power with its civilian counterparts.
Reuters describes Tantawi this way:
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Higher Military Council that took control of Egypt on Friday after President Hosni Mubarak was swept from power, has spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates by phone five times since the crisis began, including as late as on Thursday evening.
The ties are long-standing and important to Washington, which provides about $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt each year.
Pentagon officials have been tight-lipped about the talks between Tantawi and Gates but the U.S. defense chief has publicly praised Egypt's military for being a stabilizing force during the unrest. On Tuesday, Gates said Egypt's military had "made a contribution to the evolution of democracy."
Robert Gates, originally appointed as US Defense Secretary by former President George W. Bush and retained in that postion by Barack Obama, has been the point man in charge of delivering "freedom and democracy" to the world on behalf of US corporations for years.
Have the Egyptian people been outflanked, and had the clock turned back half a century on them to the very system that produced a Mubarak in the first place?
Will this be, for Egyptians, as much a "Change you can believe in" as Obama has turned out to be for Americans? Or better?
As far as I can see from all of this, the Egyptian Army's so-called "restraint" the past couple of weeks was self serving purposeful manipulation of the protesters.
They had many, but far from all, of the protesters in Tahrir Square believing the Army were the good guys on their side because it wasn't attacking them. If they hadn't the din of protest would have been unbearable this morning when the Army took over the country.
Whatever happened to "we want the whole regime gone"? Eh?
The "regime" - the military dictatorship - that has run Egypt for the past 60 years has just ridded itself of a 83 year old has been hated by the Egyptian public, framed itself as "the good guys", co-opted the revolution, and now has a firm lock on power in Egypt, and a hotline to its friend Robert Gates in the Pentagon and the White House, and I'm sure there are people in Tel Aviv dancing with joy tonight.
I can only conclude that the poor Egyptian protesters who put their hearts and souls into freeing themselves were coldly manipulated in a power play stretching from Washington to Tel Aviv to Cairo that now leaves them at the mercy of the same "regime" they wanted gone and has them - for the moment - cheering for it.
Perhaps ElBaradei was prescient when he said Thursday that "Egypt Will Explode". As the realization sinks into the Egyptian public of just what has taken place over the past day, Egypt may very well do just that...
Roving journalist Pepe Escobar has also done a fantastic job of keeping up with events in Egypt the past few days:
- Why The US Fears Arab Democracy
- Egypt: Counter-Revolution Brought To You By...
- 'Sheik al-Torture' is now a democrat
- Don't Cry For Me, Suleiman
- Egypt: Bread, Dignity and Lies
- Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death
Anybody believing that Washington's "orderly transition" led by Vice President Omar Suleiman (aka Sheikh al-Torture, according to protesters and human-rights activists) could satisfy Egyptian popular will believes Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin could have gotten away with a facelift.
"Orderly transition" may also be regarded as a ghastly euphemism for sitting on the fence - way distinct from an explicit call for democracy. The White House has morphed into a succession of white pretzels trying to salvage the concept. But the fact is that as much as Pharaoh Mubarak is a slave to US foreign policy, US President Barack Obama is boxed in by geopolitical imperatives and enormous corporate interests he cannot even dream of upsetting.
A crash course on 'stability'
To cut to the chase; it's all about oil and Israel. That's the essence of Washington's foreign policy for the past six decades as far as the Middle East, Arabs and the Muslim world at large are concerned.
So as one of the pillars of the "cold peace" with Israel, Egypt is a paradigm. It's a bipartisan phenomenon, in US terms; Republicans and Democrats see it the same way. There's the Suez Canal, through which flows 1.8 million barrels of crude a day. But "partner with Israel" in the 1979 Camp David accords is what explains all the billions of dollars showered on the Egyptian military and the three decades of unconditional support to the corrupt Mubarak military dictatorship (and make no mistake, the US implication in that vast shop of horrors is all documented in the vaults of the regime). On a parallel track, "stability" also translates as a lousy quality of life for virtually the totality of Egyptians; democratic rights of local populations are always secondary to geostrategic considerations.
The dominant geostrategic status quo in the Middle East, that is that is the Washington/Tel Aviv axis, has hypnotized Western public opinion to accept the myth that Arab democracy = Islamic fundamentalism, disregarding how all attempts of popular rebellion in the Arab world over the past decades have been squashed. The Israeli government goes beyond this equation; for Tel Aviv it's Islamic fundamentalism = terrorism, ergo, Arab democracy = terrorism. Under this framework, Mubarakism is an essential ally more than ever.