Army vs. People in Egypt

Thousands of protesters in and around Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo clashed for a second day on Sunday with Egyptian security forces, with some 18 arrested in the morning hours. Protests are also being held in a number of Egyptian cities.

On Saturday, one person was killed and hundreds were wounded at Tahrir Square as security forces and protesters clashed when the government attempted to clear the square. Another protester was killed in Alexandria. Some Egyptians are saying that deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak has been revealed still to be in power (i.e. his officer cronies have the same mindset as he did).

Aljazeera English reports:

Al-Masri al-Yawm likened the carnage to the attempted crackdown late in the Mubarak era last February.

Last month US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Cairo and pressured the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to abrogate the state of emergency, which was instituted in 1981 and sets aside constitutional personal liberties, on the grounds that it would detract from the legitimacy of the elections if they were held under such draconian laws.

The current round of protests was sparked by the SCAF’s constitutional guidelines, conveyed by deputy interim prime minister Ali Silmi. These guidelines would keep the military budget secret, allow the military to appoint 4/5s of the members of the constituent assembly that will write the constitution, and would permit the military to veto any articles of the constitution before it went to a national referendum. Leftists were outraged by the prospect of heavy-handed military intervention in governance. Muslim fundamentalists were upset because they suspected that the military will use its veto over articles in the new constitution to keep Egypt a relatively secular state. Protesters are also angered by the trial of civilians in military courts.

Elections are scheduled for November 28, and some wonder whether this turmoil will cause them to be postponed. It is hard to see, however, how postponing the elections that would bring legitimate representatives to power could possibly be a good thing. One of the problems is that the current authorities are all transitional and unrepresentative.

20 Responses

    • You didn’t have a revolution, you had the commander of a military dictatorship removed by his military because his unpopularity became a threat to their financial machine. It was done to prevent a real revolution, while preserving the essential injustice of the system. Now the ball is back in the people’s court, and they are pushing for further concessions, for which they are willing to pay by risking their lives some more.

      Look at the history of the French and Russian revolutions if you want to see how complicated these games can get before there are thousands being killed in the streets.

  1. Does NATO’s support for for Mubarak and his military successors provide a basis to evaluate NATO’s bona fides in Libya?

    • Please supply citations for your allegation. I noted that Panetta has in fact pressed the military to drop the emergency laws.

      The answer to your question, in any case, is “no.” It is a logical non squitur

      • With respect Professor Cole, I understand about non sequiturs, but this is not just about logic, it’s also about track record, as in ‘does a leopard change its spots?’**

        I was using ‘ NATO’ as a metaphor for the Western establishment, which I think you understood because you refer to Panetta, who is not a NATO official.

        If Panetta had really ‘pressed’ the Egyptian military to drop the emergency laws they would have done so, no?

        NATO is the military arm of the 1%, right?

        (** For example, if you find yourself on the same side of an issue as former VP Richard Cheney, you should immediately re-evaluate your position.)

        • Yes, it is an absurd way of reasoning. I’m on the side of Dick Cheney on a lot of issues, including appreciating a thick Wyoming steak.

          I try to treat my readers with respect, but when you say something silly as a critique of my position, I have no choice but to point out that it is silly.

          The 1% were mostly against the intervention in Libya, and some immediately reached out to Qaddafi to protect him and make more money off him. Some of your colleagues on the left also took his money for years, helping to explain their particularly bloodthirsty attitude toward the civilian crowds of Benghazi.

        • Your statement, “I was using ‘ NATO’ as a metaphor for the Western establishment, which I think you understood because you refer to Panetta, who is not a NATO official,” is absurd on the face of it. Leon Panetta is the Secretary of Defense for the most powerful member of NATO. Moreover, your statement that NATO is the military arm of the 1 percent is equally absurd. You obviously lack a historical framework from which to view NATO, its origins, and the part it has played in maintaining security for more than 60 years. And if you really think that if Panetta had “pressed” the Egyptian military to drop the emergency laws they would have done it, you fail totally to understand the changed situation in Egypt.

        • Leopards change their spots all the time in politics. You must believe that, since you think NATO is a villain now, yet it is the alliance that defeated the Soviet bloc and the direct descendant of the alliance that defeated Adolf Hitler. Or do you think that Hitler, Stalin and Gadafi were all good guys, and America was always the bad guy?

          How do we square Eisenhower forcing the UK and France to withdraw from Suez with our subsequent behavior? Or Truman ordering the Dutch out of Indonesia while he backed the French in Vietnam? To the people who wield power, these aren’t simple decisions to put on a superhero suit or a supervillain suit and spend the rest of their lives in it.
          The corruption of power grows everywhere on all sides, but it is not a consistent thing.

  2. Hi, Bill.

    I get that you think I’m a fool.

    I realize that NATO is in the business of ‘security’. What do you think of NATO’s bona fides?

    • I think you have to read the story of the Delian League in Thucydides’ “The Pelopponesian War”, and weep at the slowness of human evolution.

    • No, Watson, I do not think you are a fool. I do think, however, that you have no understanding of the role NATO has played in maintaining security since its inception. You ask what I think of NATO’s bona fides? They are absolutely, 100 percent on the mark valid.

      • In 1948 George Kennan described the project for which NATO has been ‘maintaining security for more than 60 years':

        “[W]e have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 % of its population. … Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming … We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”

  3. I guess it depends on which part of the 1%. While I agree with Prof. Cole that this wasn’t an intervention pushed by the wealthiest 1%, it’s interesting to me how little much of American foreign policy has to do with popular opinion. It’s not quite that it’s captured by the wealthy. It can be hijacked by many small interests, sometimes for evil, sometimes not. I think of the Kosovo intervention. Did you ever try to start a conversation among friends about the Kosovo intervention? Most people didn’t even know it was going on. Or the Iraq no-fly zone — no, not the elder Bush no-fly zone. The Iraq no-fly zone that Bill Clinton was enforcing in the late 90’s. I remember seeing one of those one-graph newspaper notes about an Iraqi plane being shot down or maybe some sort of American sortie against a missile launcher, and thinking, wow, I didn’t even realize we were still engaged there. And I’m pretty sure 99% of my fellow citizens didn’t either – including at least 80% of the economic elite.

    All of which is only tangentially related to the main post (interesting – keep up the good work) or the argument in comments (about which I’d only say that comments here seem a bit more hostile than usual – suddenly everyone else’s argument is ‘absurd on its face.’ Hope that doesn’t keep up.)

  4. Humans need some kind of government, large or small. Humans, many of them, have a fair idea of what’s decent and honest and based on survivable behaviors, none of which are characteristics of what we are ‘protected and defended by’ today, all of which is about what in my mind is the most important word Professor Cole used above:

    Legitimacy.

    It seems there really maybe is some kind of “consent of the governed,” as long as people are willing to “vote” by immolating themselves or standing in front of a column of tanks or when the front man for the sellers of the notion of “unAmericanism” finally faced that last question from a fed up man: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” link to en.wikipedia.org (Hey, Bill, look! Another link to Wikipedia!). And willing to Occupy and use the new tools of marketing and communication to try to figure out a better way to achieve what is so totally, glaringly missing in Our Sacred America, Land of Whatever I Say The Founding Fathers Intended Or Meant: One word, pretty simple to recite, actually, but with such a freight of meaning:

    Legitimacy.

    We are ruled, befuddled, abused, dysdirected (not a typo), have our “demands manufactured” by cynical, careless, conscienceless, insatiable people, a very few people, who have squandered the Holy Legitimacy of the Great Constitutional Experiment, who have resurrected the dead hand of that mythical perfect marketplace to strangle the rest of us in our long, ever-less-comfortable sleep, who have figured out how to pervert the reality of the Ruleoflaw that hides behind all those grad-school civics indoctrinations, to insulate themselves from any negative consequences for their predatory and parasitic behaviors (at the expense of the rest of us and the rest of the planet.

    Good luck establishing a new, healthy, durable Legitimacy. I hope the Occupy people don’t morph into just another round of “Occupay,” like our existing “parties,” and do indeed find a healthy and durable way to use consensus to do what’s right.

  5. Prof. Cole, you write that “Last month US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Cairo and pressured the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to abrogate the state of emergency….”
    That seems like a stunning statement of faith that you actually know what Panetta really was up to in Egypt – do you have some proof that we don’t know about? Given the role of the US in the Middle East it seems much more likely that whatever Pannetta “claimed” to have been doing, the US has been working hard to stiffen the Egyptian military into holding power and wielding it to control the revolution so that it serves US military/corporate interests (and of course those of Israel).

    • Well,Matthew, I’m glad that you can read minds. I can’t, so I rely on speeches and documents. When I have better documents, I revise in their light. But I can’t just make things up.

  6. Among many in the Middle East Egypt is considered “the heart of the Arab world”. What happens now is very important. There is no doubt that the revolution is not over until Egyptians are free to choose their own form of government and determine their national interests. An unfortunate aspect of the “Arab Spring”, especially in Egypt, is foreign intervention. I strongly believe, in general, that Muslims left alone will ultimately come to terms with each other. However, I should caution against making comparisons between past revolutions in the West and the Muslim world today. While America’s influence has waned for obvious reasons, its long standing relationship and financial interests with the military establishment is the biggest impediment to a peaceful transition from the Mubarak era. Finally, while many in the west feel obliged to champion secular “liberal” and “democratic” forces in Egypt it is detrimental in the sense that it unnecessarily prolongs the inevitable, i.e. an Islamic form of government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

  7. Most frightening is the ‘militarization’ of the so-called SWAT and ‘riot’ police in the USA which are being used in suppression of dissent [O.W.S.] only a few steps behind Egypt and Syria [both using US supplied equipment BTW]…

    Elect the Republican candidate and kiss your — [remaining constitutional freedoms] ‘Good by’

    Footnote: I recently completed re-reading John dosPassos ‘USA’… and one sees little has changed in the internal use of repressive power in the USA in 100 years!
    So now I move on to Jack London’s ‘Iron Heel’… ‘Le plus ce change, le plus ca rest la meme’

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