Yesterday, Joe Biden was asked if the time has “come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?” and he 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…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.”
The Egyptian regime is clamping down hard: they stopped the internet altogether, they stopped SMS, (and Twitter and Facebook obviously shut down). Vodaphone and two other phone companies stopped SMS. Najib Suwayrus, the Egyptian billionaire friend of Jamal Mubarak, is a collaborator in the repression. Even the regime’s mouthpiece, Al-Ahram, has been shut down. Egyptian goons are erasing clips of repression from Youtube. In Suez, the land lines are down. What if this was Iran?? And when there were protests in Iran, Twitter (the company) and Facebook (the company) came out in support of the protesters. The US media were enamored with the protesters back then. Why are those protesters not sexy for you? You can’t say that they are Islamists this time (as if Islamists have no rights to protest–but let us go along with the argument for the sake of it), and yet they are all alone. It will be remembered (when you ask now and later why they hate us), that Mubrak’s repression took place with the full support of both parties in the US and the Obama administration. Do you know now why whenever a US official, any US official, ever utter the word “democracy”, Arabs get a strong urge to throw up? In Iran, the US covertly smuggled those cute camera pens for demonstrators. They were not cute enough for the Egyptian people.
But, of course, it’s not Iran, is it? Egypt is our most important ally in the region, and with friends like these, who needs enemies? We support them with billions a year in military aid; when Egyptian security forces kill protesters, they are using guns we paid for (and which were, most likely, bought from us). Those tear gas canisters say “Made in USA.”
This Washington Post article opens by asserting that “The Obama administration is openly supporting the anti-government demonstrations shaking the Arab Middle East,” and goes on to quote a bunch of administration people pledging everything from lukewarm support for Mubarak (Gibbs) to refusing to say anything substantive at all (Clinton). These people are disgraceful hypocrites.
This is how Ahdaf Soueif — yes, the awesome novelist — described protests yesterday:
…fittingly, it’s the young of the country who are leading us. They’ve had enough of unemployment, deteriorating education, corruption, police brutality and political impotence.
They organised protests from Assiut in the south, to Sheikh Zuwayyid in Sinai, and Alexandria, Suez and other cities the length and breadth of Egypt. For Cairo they chose three locations: Shubra, Matariyya and Arab League Street. These were strategic choices: naturally crowded neighbourhoods, with lots of side streets off the main road. Young activists started their march in nearby areas, collected a following and by the time they reached, for example, Arab League Street, they were 20,000 marching.
The Central Security Forces were in chaos; when they formed cordons the people just broke through them. When they raised their riot shields and batons the young people walked right up to them with their hands up chanting “Silmiyyah! [Peaceable] Silmiyyah!”
In Tahrir Square, in the centre of Cairo, on Tuesday night Egypt refound and celebrated its diversity. The activists formed a minor part of the gathering, what was there was The People. Young people of every background and social class marched and sang together. Older, respected figures went round with food and blankets. Cigarette-smoking women in jeans sat next to their niqab-wearing sisters on the pavement. Old comrades from the student movement of the 1970s met for the first time in decades. Young people went round collecting litter. People who stayed at home phoned nearby restaurants with orders to deliver food to the protesters. Not one religious or sectarian slogan was heard. The solidarity was palpable. And if this sounds romantic, well, it was and is.
Then, at1am, Central Security attacked. Ferociously. Within five minutes more than 40 canisters of teargas were thrown into the crowd. When they did not disperse, the special forces went in with batons, water cannon and finally rubber bullets. People were grabbed and thrown into police trucks. Hundreds were driven off to police stations and detention centres. Private cars chased round after the police trucks to keep track of where they were taking people.
In Alexandria, though, the police have already given up; Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, describes how police were overwhelmed by protesters in Alexandria:
After prayers, the protesters came out of a mosque and started shouting slogans. They were saying “peaceful, peaceful” and raising their hands. They were immediately attacked by police in an armoured car firing teargas. Fierce clashes started then, with exchanges of rock throwing. About 200 police faced about 1,000 protesters. The clashes lasted for nearly two hours. Then a much larger crowd of protesters came from another direction. They were packed in four blocks deep. Police tried to hold them back with teargas and rubber bullets, but they were finally overwhelmed.
Then the police just gave up, at about the time of afternoon prayers. Protesters gave water to police and talked to them. It was was all peaceful. Hundreds of protesters were praying in the street.
Now walking down to downtown Alexandria, the whole road is packed as far as we can see, people shouting slogans against [Hosni] Mubarak and his son Gamal. Asking others to join them. It is a very festive atmosphere. Women in veils, old men, children, I even saw a blind man being led. And there are no police anywhere.
It isn’t a domino effect.1 What happened in Tunisia, isn’t what is happening in Egypt and what is happening inYemen and what is happening in Lebanon and what will happen in Oman. The internet or twitter or facebook is not behind this.2 Neither is al-Jazeera.3 Each of these states have their very particular histories, very particular teleologies which are more decisive – whether politically or symbolically – than anything in the social media netscape bullcrap. Yes, there are striking similarities: the dis-enfrachised populations, the dictators or prime-ministers propped up by Europe or America (those chaste defenders of freedom everywhere), the young and the connected. Yes, no one wants this to happen – America and Europe would rather eat crow than actually admit to a democratic program in Middle East or Africa (teh Mooslims!) and there are powerful and entrenched forces within these states who will not tolerate any challenge to their hegemony.
What we see is life itself. These are the millions who have been denied participation in their own lives. Millions who have suffered the oppressive, fanatic violence of a state propped up by vested interests. They were always visible, they were always trying to tell their story, trying to eek out an existence of dignity and honor. How long can that quiet struggle last? How many have to give up before one stands and says, I will not go silently.
These are the days of anger – and they will be noted. Some, who are far away, can do more than bear witness. We can raise our voices in support.