Believe what you want and shut the hell up
Believe what you want and shut the hell up
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak remains the lifeblood of the demonstrators, who still number in the tens of thousands in downtown Cairo and in other major cities, albeit on a lesser scale. After being overwhelmed in the Jan. 28 Day of Rage protests, Egypt’s internal security forces — with the anti-riot paramilitaries of the Central Security Forces (CSF) at the forefront — were glaringly absent from the streets Jan. 29. They were replaced with rows of tanks and armored personnel carriers carrying regular army soldiers. Unlike their CSF counterparts, the demonstrators demanding Mubarak’s exit from the political scene largely welcomed the soldiers. Despite Mubarak’s refusal to step down Jan. 28, the public’s positive perception of the military, seen as the only real gateway to a post-Mubarak Egypt, remained. It is unclear how long this perception will hold, especially as Egyptians are growing frustrated with the rising level of insecurity in the country and the army’s limits in patrolling the streets.
There is more to these demonstrations than meets the eye. The media will focus on the concept of reformers staging a revolution in the name of democracy and human rights. These may well have brought numerous demonstrators into the streets, but revolutions, including this one, are made up of many more actors than the liberal voices on Facebook and Twitter.
After three decades of Mubarak rule, a window of opportunity has opened for various political forces — from the moderate to the extreme — that preferred to keep the spotlight on the liberal face of the demonstrations while they maneuver from behind. As the Iranian Revolution of 1979 taught, the ideology and composition of protesters can wind up having very little to do with the political forces that end up in power. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) understands well the concerns the United States, Israel and others share over a political vacuum in Cairo being filled by Islamists. The MB so far is proceeding cautiously, taking care to help sustain the demonstrations by relying on the MB’s well-established social services to provide food and aid to the protesters. It simultaneously is calling for elections that would politically enable the MB. With Egypt in a state of crisis and the armed forces stepping in to manage that crisis, however, elections are nowhere near assured. What is now in question is what groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and others are considering should they fear that their historic opportunity could be slipping.
One thing that has become clear in the past several hours is a trend that STRATFOR has been following for some time in Egypt, namely, the military’s growing clout in the political affairs of the state. Former air force chief and outgoing civil aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq, who worked under Mubarak’s command in the air force (the most privileged military branch in Egypt), has been appointed prime minister and tasked with forming the new government. Outgoing Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, who has long stood by Mubarak, is now vice president, a spot that has been vacant for the past 30 years. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi (who oversees the Republican Guard) and Egypt’s chief of staff of the armed forces, Lt. Gen. Sami Annan — who returned to Cairo Jan. 29 after a week of intense discussions with senior U.S. officials — are likely managing the political process behind the scenes. More political shuffles are expected, and the military appears willing for now to give Mubarak the time to arrange his political exit. Until Mubarak finally does leave, the unrest in the streets is unlikely to subside, raising the question of just how much more delay from Mubarak the armed forces will tolerate.
The important thing to remember is that the Egyptian military, since the founding of the modern republic in 1952, has been the guarantor of regime stability. Over the past several decades, the military has allowed former military commanders to form civilian institutions to take the lead in matters of political governance but never has relinquished its rights to the state.
Now that the political structure of the state is crumbling, the army must directly shoulder the responsibility of security and contain the unrest on the streets. This will not be easy, especially given the historical animosity between the military and the police in Egypt. For now, the demonstrators view the military as an ally, and therefore (whether consciously or not) are facilitating a de facto military takeover of the state. But one misfire in the demonstrations, and a bloodbath in the streets could quickly foil the military’s plans and give way to a scenario that groups like the MB quickly could exploit. Here again, we question the military’s tolerance for Mubarak as long as he is the source fueling the demonstrations.
Considerable strain is building on the only force within the country that stands between order and chaos as radical forces rise. The standing theory is that the military, as the guarantor of the state, will manage the current crisis. But the military is not a monolithic entity. It cannot shake its history, and thus cannot dismiss the threat of a colonel’s coup in this shaky transition.
The current regime is a continuation of the political order, which was established when midranking officers and commanders under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser, a mere colonel in the armed forces, overthrew the British-backed monarchy in 1952. Islamist sympathizers in the junior ranks of the military assassinated his successor, Anwar Sadat, in 1981, an event that led to Mubarak’s presidency.
The history of the modern Egyptian republic haunts Egypt’s generals today. Though long suppressed, an Islamist strand exists amongst the junior ranks of Egypt’s modern military. The Egyptian military is, after all, a subset of the wider society, where there is a significant cross- section that is religiously conservative and/or Islamist. These elements are not politically active, otherwise those at the top would have purged them.
But there remains a deep-seated fear among the military elite that the historic opening could well include a cabal of colonels looking to address a long-subdued grievance against the state, particularly its foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States and Israel. The midranking officers have the benefit of having the most direct interaction — and thus the strongest links — with their military subordinates, unlike the generals who command and observe from a politically dangerous distance. With enough support behind them, midranking officers could see their superiors as one and the same as Mubarak and his regime, and could use the current state of turmoil to steer Egypt’s future.
Signs of such a coup scenario have not yet surfaced. The army is still a disciplined institution with chain of command, and many likely fear the utter chaos that would ensue should the military establishment rupture. Still, those trying to manage the crisis from the top cannot forget that they are presiding over a country with a strong precedent of junior officers leading successful coups. That precedent becomes all the more worrying when the regime itself is in a state of collapse following three decades of iron-fisted rule.
The United States, Israel and others will thus be doing what they can behind the scenes to shape the new order in Cairo, but they face limitations in trying to preserve a regional stability that has existed since 1978. The fate of Egypt lies in the ability of the military to not only manage the streets and the politicians, but also itself.
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By Finian Cunningham
Global Research, January 28, 2011
As thousands more Egyptian citizens take to the streets in anti-government protests, the country is in danger of witnessing a bloodbath – at the behest of Washington.
Defying a ban on public demonstrations by the government of President Hosni Mubarak, tens of thousands of Egyptians have for the fourth consecutive day rallied on the streets of the capital Cairo and other major cities calling for his abdication. Inspired by the mass uprising in neigbouring Tunisia earlier this month, which forced its president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile, the protesters in Egypt are likewise demanding Mubarak and his government to quit.
Mubarak’s military apparatus has so far shown brutal determination to suppress the uprising. As many as seven civilians have been killed by heavily armed riot police, hundreds are reported injured and more than 1,000 arrests have been made by secret security agents who were videoed bundling protesters into unmarked vehicles. Now the country’s formidable military forces are reported to have taken up positions in public places in Cairo and elsewhere.
But it is Washington’s latest intervention that could trigger an escalation of Egyptian state violence against its people. Speaking to media, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs described the Mubarak government as an “important ally” and that the US “expects” the 30-year-old regime to remain intact. Forget the hollow and cynical plea by Gibbs to the Egyptian government and protesters to refrain from violence, the key message is continuing US support for the regime. In other words, the US is assuring Mubarak that it stands full-square behind his bid to stay in power. Given that the already-lethal response of the Egyptian state did not draw a word of condemnation from the White House nor that the population’s demands for democracy and social justice were unequivocally endorsed can only send the following code to Mubarak: do whatever you must to get these people off the streets.
Meanwhile, an Israeli cabinet minister probably voiced the unvarnished essence of the US position when he was quoted in Israeli media as urging the Mubarak to use lethal force to quell the protests. “They will have to use force, power in the streets…” the unnamed minister said.
Make no mistake. The Mubarak government – which can only be described as a repressive military dictatorship – is well-placed and willing to do its worse, no matter the cost to civilian life. The country’s army and police forces are geared to the teeth thanks to more than $1 billion in military aid a year from Washington. The North African country and the Arab region’s most populous is the second highest recipient of US military equipment after Israel. It has also one of the worst human rights records, routinely detaining and torturing thousands of its citizens, earning itself the reputation as a “torture chamber”. When the US officially describes Egypt as “an important ally” it is inadvertently referring to Mubarak’s role as a garrison outpost for US military operations and dirty war tactics in the Middle East and beyond. There is clear evidence from international human rights groups that countless “suspects” rendered by US forces in their various territories of (criminal) operations are secretly dumped in Egypt for “deep interrogation”. The country serves as a giant “Guantanamo” of the Middle East, conveniently obscured from US public interest and relieved of legal niceties over human rights.
In collaboration with Israel, and openly described as an “ally” by Tel Aviv, Egypt has shown itself to be the anvil to Israel’s hammer against the Palestinian people. In keeping the Raffah Crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip closed, thus denying badly needed humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the aftermath of Israel’s murderous 2009 assault, Mubarak has shown unspeakable callousness and willingness to collaborate with the criminal US/Israeli policy of “collective punishment” of this civilian population.
The importance of Mubarak’s Egypt to the US government can be illustrated in another way. Imagine the repercussions for Washington if the Egyptian people were to succeed in overthrowing this military state and establishing genuine democracy, one where the abundant resources of that country are used to lift the mass of the population out of grinding poverty instead of serving to enrich a corrupt elite and its masters in Washington. Imagine a country that refuses to continue to be a US garrison and staging post for criminal wars in the region. Imagine the catalytic effect for democracy across the region and likewise the demise of other US puppet regimes.
When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, this is the “vital interest” of the US executive – as opposed to the US public interest. Indeed, the stance by Washington over events in Egypt and elsewhere across North Africa and the Middle East should serve as a salutary insight for the US public of where their own pressing interests really lie and how they are best served. Their government is for dictatorship and repression and steadfastly against democracy, economic justice and human rights – at any human cost. All of which is beginning to sound uncomfortably familiar – and closer to home.
Finian Cunningham is a journalist and musician: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.myspace.com/finiancunninghammusic
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Volume XVI No. 4: January 28, 2011
Considering all the talk about freezes around town, you would think we were having a record cold snap in D.C. Instead it’s a flurry of discussion about freezing the budget one way or another in order to try to rein in the deficit. But in reality there are no budget balancing silver bullets. And while the freeze proposals are sound bite ready and make for succinct legislation, they can create an avalanche of budget problems.
The most recent freeze proposal came during the President’s State of the Union address – maintain current spending levels for 5-years. This week the House adopted a proposal to cut the current year’s budget to fiscal year 2008 levels. And the House Republican Study Committee proposes to cut funding to fiscal year 2006 levels and eliminate a wide range of discretionary spending programs. There is a litany of other freeze and across-the-board budget cut proposals that have been introduced in the first days of the 112th Congress.
Let’s be clear, we appreciate all the attention the budget and deficit have been getting lately. We wish this had been occurring over the last decade as well, then perhaps we wouldn’t be in this jam. But like most get-rich-quick schemes, the quick budget fix is illusion and may actually get in the way of truly resolving the issues.
Look at the budget numbers for fiscal year 2010. First off, by only targeting non-security discretionary spending, most of the proposals affect only $447 billion or roughly 15 percent of the total federal budget (minus interest on the debt). Security spending at $855 billion (including war funding) is ignored. So too are major areas of future spending growth in the non-discretionary budget like Social Security ($715 billion) and Medicare ($451 billion). In addition, revenue problems arising from the hodge-podge tax code aren’t recognized. The same problems are true of across-the-board cut proposals to prune budgets by 5 or 10 or 15 percent.
One of the worst things about blunt budget cutting instruments like setting a spending level or across the board cuts is that they treat everything in the budget the same. This defies common sense. The Census Bureau doesn’t need the same level of funding in 2011 as it had in 2008 when it was gearing up for the decennial census. And with across the board cuts, all programs are equally penalized while some should probably receive increased or at least steady funding; some should be consolidated, cut, or eliminated.
Congress has to roll up its sleeves and gets its budgetary hands dirty. Programs and projects have to be evaluated to see if they are performing or necessary. They have to tackle entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and farm subsidies. The whole discretionary budget from Energy to Defense must be on the table. And we have to tackle the complicated, loophole ridden personal and corporate tax codes to eliminate wasteful or unnecessary tax expenditures and simplify the code.
Just like the late night infomercial selling the miracle weight loss gimmick, seductive quick and easy “solutions” are just going to cost us more money and accomplish little. A better model is the nonagenearian fitness guru Jack LaLanne who passed away this week. He preached that only hard work at exercise and eating less would shed the fat. We packed on trillions of dollars of debt in the last several years. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and effort and budgetary dieting to get our country fiscally fit. No pain, no gain.
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“And I’m very put off when people just say let’s go back and freeze to the level two years ago. Don’t tell me you’re going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you’re going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem.” – Colin Powell, former Secretary of State & Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff . Daily News
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Robert Parry, Consortium News
Intro: "The time element of ’30 years’ keeps slipping into American official reports and news stories about the origins of crises – the latest in ‘The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report’ – but rarely is the relevance of the three-decade span explained, and there is a reason."