February 13, 2011

EDITOR: Now comes the real struggle, and the real dangers

One feels like apologising for including here so much material on Egypt, instead of Palestine, but this is an incorrect and limited viewing of the context of the Palestine context. Egypt always was, and will continue to be a crucial regional context of the Palestine conflict. This is why Israel is now somewhat worried about its ability to continue the stranglehold over Gaza – without Mubarak’s willing cooperaion and his own blockade, this will be impractical. The wider context of the Arab world, and its willing coopration, until now, with the colonial project of Israel is also going to be affected by the changes now under way in Egypt. This means that one must carefully monitor those developments, also for their effects on the Palestine situation. One sign is the unexpected, almost panicky calling of PA elections by Abbas – a move that would be impossible without the Egyptian developments – Abbas is as frightened of the future as all the other potentates around him.

The tyrant has fallen after 18 days of herculean struggle by the people of Egypt, but his system of control and oppression stands intact, its leaders part of the Mubarak regime, direct beneficiaries of its illegal and immoral excesses. They did not just protect him during this long struggle, but their own illicit interests, and for those they will be prepared to continue oppressing the people. The coming period will be of a very dangerous and fractious nature, without any doubt.

Below are some articles which examine this theme, both in terms of news and analysis. Not only the people of Egypt, or the whole Arab world, but also the rest of us elsewhere, will be watching the situation as it develops for signs of the old regime protecting its privileges and fighting against the modernising and democratising of the country. The enemies are a legion – apart from the whole raft of inner beneficiaries of the corrupt regime, there are the other tyrants in the Arab world, Israel, the US and its many lackeys in the west, the large companies and conglomerates which flourished under Mubarak for 30 years – the list goes on, and we are speaking here of the strongest forces in the region and the world. To defeat those, as opposed to just defeating its figurehead, will take enormous courage and vision, and will be much more complex.

Despite this grave difficulty, the struggle is not hopeless. The people of Egypt have seen the fate of revolution elsewhere which were co-opted and corrupted by the ancien regimes which have preceded them. The East European current regimes, all a corruption of the anti-Stalinist uprisings, are a great warning sign for the Egyptians and the Arab world elsewhere. Difficult as it was to defeat Mubarak, it was still the easy part, involved limited violence and was all done in the light of the world media and enormous surging of support. The next stage will be fought in the dark corners of the social structures, will lack the clarity and courage of a whole people fighting for freedom, and will require the hawk-eye of continuous and tenacious protection of what was achieved. We should all watch out for the inevitable betrayal, and hope and work for the continued struggle to defeat the system of oppression, now that its symbolic snake-head was cut of. It will not be easy or straight forward. A revolution is either a continuous and organic process, fed and developed, or it dies and deteriorates and dies.

Egypt in transition – Sunday 13 February: The Guardian

After the euphoria of Hosni Mubarak’s exit Egypt is beginning a new era but already there are reports of skirmishes between protesters and the army

Egyptian protesters stage a sit-in in Tahrir Square, rejecting army's appeal to leave. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

11.53am: Police officers, some in uniform, are marching through Tahrir Square chanting that the people and the police are one.
It was the police, of course, who were used to crackdown on the protesters in the first week of the demonstrations.

11.45am: The UK government is under pressure to freeze any assets of Mubarak held in the UK, the Press Association reports.

The former president is reported to have amassed a family fortune worth billions of dollars held in British and Swiss banks and tied up in property in London, New York and Los Angeles. The Swiss authorities have already announced that they are freezing his assets held in their country, and former foreign office minister Lord Malloch-Brown urged the UK to follow suit.
“I think it would be a very prudent thing to do to freeze suspicious accounts here because it will take a new government quite a while to mount some kind of legal claim on them,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show. “It would be a real pity if when they did the money had gone. I think it would be great for the reputation for the City of London if those accounts were frozen now.”
Business secretary Vince Cable suggested that there was a need for an international approach, rather than the UK acting alone. “I wasn’t aware that he had enormous assets here but there clearly needs to be concerted international action on this,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.
“There is no point in one government acting in isolation but certainly we need to look at it. It depends also whether his funds were illegally obtained or improperly obtained.”
He said that the government would take action against any British bank which was found to have acted improperly helping Mubarak to move funds during his final days in office in order to shield them from any claim by the new administration.
“I would be concerned if the banks had been engaged in anything improper,” he said.
“One of the things we have done since this government got in is actually stopping the banks engaging in large-scale tax avoidance on behalf of their corporate and private customers. So the logic of that is the we would be concerned and would act if there was anything improper that had occurred.”
The director of the Serious Fraud Office, Richard Alderman, indicated that they were already tracking the assets of Mubarak and the deposed Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
“The public would expect us to be looking for some of this money if we became aware of it, and to try to repatriate it for the benefit of the people of those countries,” he told The Sunday Times.

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The tyrant has gone. Now the real struggle begins for Egypt: The Guardian

The protesters have stripped Mubarak and his foreign backers of their authority. But the roots of despotism run deep

Before the fall … anti-Mubarak protesters wave Egyptian flags at Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 10 February 2011. Photograph: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images
For the last two weeks I have, like innumerable others, careened from the television news to internet updates and back, longing for the moment that came last night, when the tyrant finally yielded to a brave and spirited people. History has been made; celebrations are in order. But it is not too early to ask: what next?

The so-called Higher Military Council inspires no confidence. Does another military strongman lurk in the regime’s entrails? I wonder if western leaders, shamed into moral bluster after being caught in flagrante with Mubarak, will, when we relax our vigils, tip the balance towards “stability” and against real change.

I grow a bit apprehensive too, recalling the words of an extraordinarily perceptive observer of Egypt’s struggles in the past: “The edifice of despotic government totters to its fall. Strive so far as you can to destroy the foundations of this despotism, not to pluck up and cast out its individual agents.”

This was the deathbed exhortation-cum-warning of the itinerant Muslim Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-97) who pursued a long career in political activism and trenchant journalism. Travelling through Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt and Turkey in the last half of the 19th century, al-Afghani saw at first hand how unshakeable the “foundations of despotism” in Muslim countries had become.

That they were reinforced in the next century, even though many of the “individual agents” of despotism were plucked up and cast out, would not have surprised him.

He spent eight years in Egypt at a crucial time (1871-79), when the country, though nominally sovereign, was stumbling into a long and abject relationship with western powers. Invaded by Napoleon in 1798, Egypt had become the first non-western country to try to catch up with western economic and military power. Building a modern army and bureaucracy required capital, and Egypt’s rulers began large-scale plantations of a cash crop highly valued in Europe: cotton.

This led, in the short term, to great private fortunes. But, having bound its formerly self-sufficient economy to a single crop and the vagaries of the international capitalist system, Egypt was badly in debt to European bankers by the late 1870s. Unable to generate sufficient capital on its own, Egypt became heavily dependent on huge high-interest loans from European banks.

For British and French bankers, the state’s treasury was, as the economic historian David S Landes wrote, “simply a grab-bag”. Egypt’s nascent manufacturing industry stood no chance in an international economic regime whose rules were rigged in favour of free-trading Britain. At the same time, early modernisation in Egypt had also unleashed new classes with social and political aspirations that could not be fulfilled by a despotic regime beholden to foreigners.

In the late 1870s and early 80s, Egyptian resentment finally erupted in what were the first nationalist upsurges against colonial rule anywhere in Asia and Africa. Predictably, the British invaded and occupied Egypt in 1882 in order to protect their interests, most important of which was the sea route to India through the Suez canal.

In Ottoman Turkey, al-Afghani observed a similar advance of western economic and strategic interests backed by gunboats. In his native Persia, he participated in mass protests against the then shah’s sale of national land and resources to European businessmen.

Al-Afghani came to realise that the threat posed to the traditionally agrarian countries of the east by Europe’s modern and industrialised nation-states was much more insidious than territorial expansion. Imposing, for instance, the urgencies of internal modernisation and the conditionalities of “free trade” on Asian societies, European businessmen and diplomats got native elites to do their bidding. In turn, local rulers were only too happy to use western techniques to modernise their armies, set up efficient police and spy networks and reinforce their own autocratic power.

This was why, al-Afghani explained presciently in the 1890s, Muslims moved from despising despots coddled and propped up by the west to despising the west itself. Al-Afghani saw, too, the proliferation of the now-ubiquitous binaries (western liberalism versus religious fanaticism, stability versus Islamism), which ideologically justified to Europeans at home their complicity with brutal tyranny abroad. In 1891 he attacked the British press for presenting Iranian protesters against the Shah as Islamic fanatics when, in fact, they articulated a profound longing for reform.

Al-Afghani wouldn’t have been surprised to see that even national sovereignty and electoral democracy were no defence against such materially and intellectually resourceful western power. The secular nationalist Wafd party won Egypt’s first elections in 1924; and they kept up their winning streak over the next decade. But, acting in concert with the Egyptian monarch, the British made it impossible for the Wafd party to exercise any real sovereignty. (This was when, feeding on widespread frustration with conventional democratic politics, Egyptian Islamists first came to the fore – the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928.)

As the Indian anti-imperialist leader Jawaharlal Nehru, who followed the slow strangling of Egyptian democracy from a British prison, caustically commented in 1935, “democracy for an Eastern country seems to mean only one thing: to carry out the behests of the imperialist ruling power”.

This dismal truth was to be more widely felt among Arabs as the United States replaced Britain and France as the paramount power in the Middle East; and securing Israel and the supply of oil joined the expanding list of western strategic interests in the region.

The rest of this story would have been as familiar to al-Afghani as it is to us. Gamal Abdel Nasser presided over a relatively brief and ecstatic interlude of Egyptian freedom. But his socialistic reforms did not rescue Egypt from the perennially losing side in the international economy; and Nasser’s successors, all military strongmen, worked on reinforcing the foundations of their despotism: they struck military alliances with western governments, opened the national economy to foreign investors, creating a small but powerful local elite committed to the status quo, while a fully modernised police state bullied the steadily pauperised majority into passivity.

The edifice of this despotism was always bound to totter in the age of instant communications. Cursing the Muslim despots of his time, al-Afghani lamented on his deathbed: “Would that I had sown all the seed of my ideas in the receptive ground of the people’s thoughts.” Al-Jazeera and the internet have now helped accomplish what al-Afghani only dreamed of doing: rousing and emboldening the politicised masses, shattering the cosy consensus of transnational elites.

The protests grow bigger every day, swelled by new social classes, beneficiaries as well as victims of the ancien regime. Even the stalwart propagandists on state TV have found their inner voices. Assisted by YouTube, the demonstrators praying unflinchingly on Kasr al-Nil as they are assaulted by water cannons have swiftly accumulated even more moral-spiritual power than the resolute satyagrahis of Mahatma Gandhi did in their own media-deprived time. Amazingly, in less than two weeks, the protesters in Midan Tahrir have stripped the local despot and his foreign enablers of their moral authority and intellectual certainties.

The essential revolution in the mind has already been accomplished. A radical transformation of political and economic structures would be an even more extraordinary event. But achieving it won’t be easy, as Tunisia’s example already reveals; and Egypt’s own history warns us that the foundations of despotism are deep and wide. It is now clear that our virtual vigils will have to continue long after the western media’s very recent fascination with Egypt trails off, and assorted neocons and “liberal” hawks emerge from the woodwork to relaunch their bogey of “Islamism”. We may also have to steel ourselves, as victory appears in sight, for some more bitter setbacks in the long Egyptian battle for self-determination.

Palestine Supports Egypt: Palestine Monitor

12 February 2011
After the announcement that Hosni Mubarak would be stepping down, Dr. Moustafa Barghouti, the Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative congratulated the Egyptian people for achieving a political victory that will be remembered in history as a testament to the power of popular resistance.
Over the past few weeks, Dr. Barghouthi has emphasized the historic connection between the Palestinian and Egyptian people, noting the unparalleled support Egyptians have given to Palestinians in pursuit of their own independence. Dr. Barghouti hopes Egypt’s next phase will see a strengthening of their relationship and commitment to democratic ideals.

Egypt’s January 25th and Tunisia’s Jasmine revolutions have inspired the entire world. The hundreds of thousands of people who swarmed all over Egypt and in Tahrir Square proved the power of concerted action even when facing violent and repressive authoritarianism. After eighteen days of popular resistance, the Egyptian people did what many thought was unimaginable and ended the thirty-year reign of Hosni Mubarak.

The Palestinian people are proud of their Egyptian neighbors, wishing them the best in the formative rebuilding of their country, and know we will continue to work together for democracy, equality and freedom.

Egypt army tries to clear Tahrir: Al Jazeera online

Scuffles break out when soldiers try to remove protesters from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, days after Mubarak is ousted.

Scuffles have broken out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as soldiers tried to remove activists from the epicentre of Egypt’s uprising which resulted in the president stepping down.

Hundreds of protesters remained in the square on Sunday and organisers said they would not leave until more of their demands are met.

Meanwhile, normality was slowly returning to the rest of Egypt, at the start of the first working day since Hosni Mubarak was toppled during the weekend.

Soldiers shoved pro-democracy protesters aside to force a path for traffic to start flowing through Tahrir Square for the first time in more than two weeks.

The tents, where protesters camped out during the 18 days of protests, were removed.

Protester Ashraf Ahmed said the military could tear down his tent, but that he was not going to leave “because so much still needs to be done. They haven’t implemented anything yet.”

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Cairo, said the confrontations between troops and protesters was something of a “flashpoint”.

“I think it reflects a bigger problem, that the military believes that now Mubarak is out, it’s time for stability. But some of the protesters think not enough has been done yet. They don’t want to clear that square until the army has handed over to a civilian government.”

Protest organisers have threatened more rallies if the ruling Supreme Military Council fails to accept their agenda for reform.

“If the army does not fulfil our demands, our uprising and its measures will return stronger,” Safwat Hegazi, a protest leader, said.

Organisers want the dissolution of parliament and the lifting of a 30-year-old state of emergency.

Cabinet to stay

The spokesman for the cabinet, appointed when Mubarak was still in office, said on Sunday that it will not undergo a major reshuffle and will stay to oversee a political transformation in the coming months.

“The shape of the government will stay until the process of transformation is done in a few months, then a new government will be appointed based on the democratic principles in place,” the spokesman told Reuters, adding that it was possible some portfolios could change hands in that period.

The Supreme Military Council vowed on Saturday to hand power to an elected, civilian government.

The military will “guarantee the peaceful transition of power in the framework of a free, democratic system which allows an elected, civilian power to govern the country to build a democratic, free state”, a senior army officer announced on state television.

The council also pledged to honour its international treaties – in an apparent nod to the country’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

“The Arab Republic of Egypt is committed to all regional and international obligations and treaties,” the military statement read.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, welcomed the assurance, saying the “longstanding peace treaty between Israel and Egypt … is the cornerstone for peace and stability in the entire Middle East”.

Later on Saturday, Egyptian state television reported that prosecutors had begun an investigation into three former ministers from Mubarak’s government.

Travel bans

Travel bans were imposed on former prime minister Ahmed Nazif and former interior minister Habib al-Adli, who were both sacked by Mubarak before he stepped down from the presidency on Friday.

A travel ban was also imposed on Anas el-Fekky, the information minister, who had been reappointed in a cabinet that had been swiftly sworn in as a concession to protesters. Shortly afterwards, Egypt’s current prime minister Ahmed Shafiq told a private Egyptian television station that el-Fekky had resigned and that his resignation had been accepted.

Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said the bans were likely to be welcomed by pro-democracy activists, some of whom vowed to remain in the capital’s Tahrir Square until their agenda for democratic reform is fully accepted.

“People out on the streets at the beginning were very much calling for the end of the regime, they were saying they don’t want any of these people to remain in Egypt,” she said.

“After the step down of President Hosni Mubarak they will be looking for accountability and that is what Egyptian authorities are now providing.”

Our producer reports scattered fighting as army removes barricades
Our correspondent said questions now remain over how the military’s transition to civilian rule will take place.

“I’m worried about the future,” one Egyptian told Al Jazeera. “Nobody knows what’s coming. We need to rebuild our country and economy because we are venturing into the unknown.”

Despite the uncertainty, celebrations continued in Cairo and other parts of the country a day after Mubarak stepped down, handing power to the military.

Al Jazeera’s online producer, Evan Hill, reported some instances of fighting between the army and protesters in Cairo as the military worked to dismantle barricades that protesters promptly put back in place in their effort to remain in the square.

For the most part, however, the day proceeded without any major incidents, following 18 days of rallies in Tahrir Square that culminated in a mass celebration on Friday at the news that Mubarak had stepped down.

The highest-ranking figure in Egypt is now Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the country’s defence minister and head of the military supreme council.

Battle over Tahrir square continues: Ahram online

Hundreds head to Tahrir square following news of its evacuation
Salma Shukrallah , Sunday 13 Feb 2011

In an attempt to empty Tahrir square, military police entered early Sunday morning urging protestors to leave. The attempt resulted in minor skirmishes between demonstrators and the military that eventually calmed down.

Traffic can now pass through Tahrir square again but with some congestion as demonstrators still refuse to leave and are circled at the peripheries of the square by military police. Several thousands are still gathered and more are seen coming in through Kasr El-Nil bridge and other roads leading to the square. The flow of people seemed to increase after news of the military evacuation spread.
Despite Mubarak’s resignation, some of the protestors who have been sleeping in the square the past three weeks, pledged to continue their sit-in until all the revolution’s demands are met. However, others decided to leave after the first demand, that Mubarak steps down, has been met.
The demands stated include ending emergency law, the dissolution of parliament and Shoura council, the release of all political prisinors and the formation of a civil presidential council.
The grassy traffic island in the center of the square still houses hundreds of protestors and a couple of tents. The sidewalks are still packed with demonstrators but the roads have been cleared to allow cars to drive through. Many have also marched to the square to continue the celebrations that started on 11 February when Mubarak stepped down.

Egyptian minds are opened: Al Jazeera online

Upheaval has opened the door to political and economic reform, but its most lasting effect may be psychological.
Evan Hill in Cairo, 13 Feb 2011
What is being suggested in Cairo now is nothing short of a mental house-clearing [Evan Hill]
When Egypt awoke on Saturday morning after an all-night, nationwide party, it was for many citizens the first day in living memory without Hosni Mubarak as president.

In 18 days, revolution uprooted a regime that had ruled the country with ruthless tenacity for 30 years.

While the upheaval has opened the door to political and economic reform, its most lasting effect may be the opening of the Egyptian mind.

With the army on the streets and the old order in flames, the wall of cynical humour and pessimism erected by Egyptians as psychic protection against the crushing weight of their corrupt government seemed to split apart and crumble.

Suddenly, anything was possible.

Later in the evening, a fight erupted between protesters and army officers attempting to restore traffic near Tahrir Square, the heart of the revolution. Old fears returned.

But for a time on Saturday, the Tahrir Square reality – the universe where Egyptians banded together, separated their rubbish into organic and non-organic bins, and outlasted the “pharaoh” – became the new normal.

‘We have no excuse now’

As dawn broke, all-volunteer teams of street sweepers wearing rubber gloves and cotton masks struck out along Cairo’s decrepit boulevards, sweeping dust and debris into trash bags.

Where once it was commonplace to see Cairenes chuck wrappers and used food cartons with abandon, it was now impossible to drop a cigarette butt without a stern reprimand.

In and around Tahrir Square, civilians painted over and scrubbed away anti-government graffiti that peppered every surface, from the walls of the old campus of the American University in Cairo to the armour of parked tanks.

In Abdel Moneim Riad Square, near the Egyptian museum, where pro- and anti-government crowds had hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at each other in deadly combat on February 2, men and women now formed human chains to prevent passersby from smudging the curbs they had just painted in thick black-and-white stripes.

But the effort goes beyond rubbish pick-ups and street sweeping.

What is being suggested in Cairo now is nothing short of a mental house-clearing – a complete overhaul in the way the average Egyptian has learned to do business in a society that has been smothered beneath nepotism and emergency law for decades.

One flyer being distributed on Saturday put it this way:

“Today this country is your country. Do not litter. Don’t drive through traffic lights. Don’t bribe. Don’t forge paperwork. Don’t drive the wrong way. Don’t drive quickly to be cool while putting lives at risk. Don’t enter through the exit door at the metro. Don’t harass women. Don’t say, ‘It’s not my problem.’ Consider God in your work. We have no excuse anymore.”

Young Egyptians who had been visiting Tahrir Square for days – or living in it – now left to buy cleaning supplies and paint thinner and set off to tidy the streets between the square and the nearby parliament building, where protesters had been camping for two days.

The sense of newfound pride was contagious.

The barricades make an appearance

At the southwest corner of Tahrir Square, facing the approach from the parliament building on Kasr al-Aini Street, the feel-good mood came to a crashing halt after the sun set.

The army had been working all day to remove barricades along side streets, and suddenly traffic began flowing toward the square.

Drivers honked their horns in celebration, but the protesters reacted quickly and angrily.

Filling the air with the grind of metal on concrete, they threw up the barricades that they had taken down just a day earlier.

Barriers pilfered from traffic police, sheet-metal walls ripped out of a nearby construction site, and tipped-over phone booths all rolled back into place.

Angry men stared out from behind their defence as crowds encircled soldiers in the nearby intersection.

One officer argued with the protesters. “The government has granted all your demands,” he said.

His tone was that anyone left in the square must have ulterior motives, and anyone who doesn’t want this country to get back on its feet is a traitor.

Division set in among the protesters. Some argued in favour of the army, some argued that the occupation of Tahrir Square should continue.

The latter group pointed out that the 30-year-old emergency national security laws in place since the assassination of Anwar Sadat, Mubarak’s predecessor, were still effective.

Alaa el-Din, a resident of Giza from the outskirts of Cairo, wearing a white galabeya, prayer cap and headwrap, said he loved the army but wanted democracy and freedom.

“Our demands have been 90 per cent met, but 10 per cent remain,” he said. “We reject the new government.”

El-Din was referring to the Egyptian cabinet and parliament, both of which have, in Egypt’s short post-Mubarak life, largely remained unchanged, and which the army has signaled may remain until new elections can be held.

In addition to the dissolution of the government and the end of emergency law, many protesters also continue to demand the release of all political prisoners.

The fate of hundreds of demonstrators arrested since the revolution began on January 25 remains unclear.

Sayed, a man who was arguing with el-Din, argued that such demands could not be met “all at once”.

He worried that division in Egyptian society would expose it to the risk of US invasion, and mentioned Iraq and Afghanistan.

Elsewhere, tension rose between the protesters and army.

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Good morning revolution: A to do list: Ahram online

The revolution has triumphed, but even as we celebrate, we need to begin at once with the most amazing job history has thrown our way, the building of an Egyptian democracy
Hani Shukrallah , Saturday 12 Feb 2011

Before trying to take all of it, or even just bits of it, in, and keeping, for the moment, a tight control over the need to express the sheer joy of it all, I believe we should urgently debate the most immediate tasks ahead. Here are some suggestions:

1. Don’t fight ghosts: The army is not about to seize political power, nor is there a threat of military rule. I understand the concern, but do not sympathize with the phobia. We should stop letting the ghosts of our past interfere with how we conceive of our present, and determine our future. Popular revolutions, I have written more than once over the past couple of weeks, do not result in military rule, coup d’états and counter-revolutions do. So let’s by all means not waste precious energy on fighting windmills. It’s civil, not military government that lies ahead; the point is to ensure that it will be one that is situated within a fully democratic political system.

2. End state of emergency: By the time this is posted, the state of emergency might have been lifted already. In any case, this is a top demand of the revolution, as well as a pledge of the military. There is absolutely no excuse for keeping the state of emergency a single minute longer. “Until the current circumstances are over”, does not hold water. Egypt’s revolution will go down in history as the most peaceful, non-violent and self-disciplined revolution the world has ever known. The violence is now clearly exposed as the product of the defunct regime. The state of emergency must be lifted TODAY.

3. Release political prisoners: The immediate release of all political prisoners, including all prisoners held without detention or trial under the provisions of the infamous emergency law. The argument that this will involve the release of possibly hundreds of militant Islamists, some of whom may have been involved in terrorist acts is groundless. We have every right to expect the Egyptian revolution to give an example to the world, including to Obama’s America itself. If they’re not held in strict accordance with due process, they should be released. A genuine democracy knows no exceptional circumstances, and a genuinely democratic society is able to deal with the consequences.

4. Prosecute police and NDP crimes and overhaul domestic security apparatus: Over the past two weeks we have seen what the internal security apparatus – allied to NDP top officials and oligarchs, and jointly running a huge network of criminal gangs – is capable of. Over the past 30 years, under the protection of a continuing state of emergency and the pretext of fighting terrorism, the domestic security apparatus has been brutalized and corrupted to such an extent, it is effectively a giant lawless militia, handing out torture, murder at will. We must not forget that the revolution was, in large part, triggered by the behavior of this apparatus, and has from the very start identified it as among its top targets, next only to the removal of the man who was responsible for its creation and operation. Moreover, during the past two weeks, this apparatus went rogue. We need not go back over the evidence, it is widely known, and I’ve expounded on it in previous articles, suffice it to say that the blood of over 300 martyrs continues to cry out for retribution. Nor is a democracy of any kind even remotely possible in the presence of such a security apparatus. The so-called fact finding committee formed by former vice president Omar Suleiman to investigate the matter is a patently ridiculous attempt at a cover up. All those responsible for the scorched earth strategy of murder and mayhem (whether in the police apparatus or among NDP officials and oligarchs), launched by the defunct regime over the past week must be arrested immediately, and a thorough investigation and prosecution process initiated, by civil prosecution authorities, under army protection and guarantees. The whole domestic security apparatus should be put under combined military/civilian oversight (including representatives of the human rights movement) in order to begin a full overhaul.

5. A provisional government: A provisional, national unity government of technocrats and widely respected public and political figures will need to be established as soon as possible to take charge of running the country, and laying the groundwork for the transition to a full democracy. There is a near consensus on what this government should look like, and even on several of the names that should be included in it. This process, however, needs to be closely monitored, and intervened in, by the various bodies set up by the revolution, particularly the youth movements. Radical changes of government open up a great many appetites, and as wondrous as our revolution has been, it has not transformed us into a nation of angels. We must expect a lot of grabbing and grappling on all levels of the state in the coming weeks and months, and we need to both take it in our stride, as well as try to create as many guarantees as possible that the process will be as clean, transparent and accountable as possible. Needless to say, the provisional government should be all-inclusive, a rainbow coalition not only of the various ideological and political trends in the pro-democracy movement, but also of the nation’s various sectors, most notably women and Copts.

6. A provisional constitution and bill of rights: One of the most urgent tasks of the revolution will be to enact a provisional constitution, and I suggest as well, a bill of rights. Needless to say the measures adopted by the defunct regime to amend the constitution have been rendered null and void. The army, respected legal, political and public figures and representatives of the revolution need to agree on a provisional constituent assembly, fairly small in number as to be effective, and large enough to be all-inclusive, that will enact what should be a concise provisional constitution, and – I might add – a bill of rights setting down the democratic and human rights principles that have been at the very core of the Egyptian revolution.

7. Clean up legislation: At the same time, the Herculean process of cleaning up the Augean Stables of authoritarianism needs to be started as soon as possible. Again bodies set up in accordance with the criteria mentioned above should begin operating as soon as possible to oversee such things as the clearing up of the legal code of the massive array of authoritarian, anti-democratic legislation, and drawing up new provisional legislation that would reflect the aims of the revolution, and those set out in the provisional constitution and bill of rights. This will include, to name the most notable examples, new electoral legislation, new legislation governing local government on all levels, clearing the penal code of anti-democratic legislation (some of which goes back to British colonial rule) and providing for the free exercise of political rights and freedom of expression, including the right to organize politically, the right to establish trade unions and NGOs, etc.

8. A National Salvation Front: There have been a great many ideas and initiatives aimed at setting up representative bodies and organizational structures for the revolution. It is my conviction that the coming months will witness a tremendous political revival that will change and transform the whole political map of the country in ways we cannot even begin to predict now. As I wrote before, extant political forces will be transformed, new ones will come on the stage, and not a few will simply fall into oblivion. No crystal ball is needed, however, in the case of the NDP, it’s dead already (I just hope the Muslim Brotherhood will resist the temptation of allowing the expected hordes of repentant NDP bosses into their ranks). However, ideas such as the Front of National Salvation floated by the youth movements might be the very thing to create new organizational structures able to reflect the unique features of the revolution as well as provide much needed instruments of oversight, to render the above processes as transparent, ad accountable as possible.

9. A youth party: One of the most interesting aspects of the youth revolution has been the crystallizing of a novel ideological and political discourse, which seems to have evolved on its own, away from the traditionally warring ideological and political factions of the country. This is a wholly new entrant on the nation’s political stage, most likely evolved in cyber space, and I fully admit; it has taken old-guys such as myself completely by surprise. It is an Egyptian nationalist discourse, almost intrinsically liberal, showing a deep commitment to fundamental human right, but spreading out to include secular, religious, leftist and Islamist leanings, all in happy coexistence, and continuous dialogue. I see no reason why this new discourse should not find organizational expression. The idea of creating a new political party, the 25 January Revolution has been floated during the past couple of days. I fully support this initiative, and can only hope that the revolution’s youth will not allow the old geezers to sabotage, or usurp a refreshing new entrant on the Egyptian political stage that is most uniquely theirs.

10. Independent Trade Union: Finally, the Egyptian labor movement is yet another crucial entrant on the nation’s political stage. Over the past couple of days, it helped tip the balance in favor of the revolution; a call has been made already to create a new Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, as a long overdue alternative to the government-owned and run, Soviet-style dinosaur of the same name, which has been no more than a headstone set up on the grave of basic trade union freedoms and rights, crushed by police force. The post-revolutionary stage in Egyptian history promises to bring back Egyptian labor onto the political stage, it was pushed off some 60 years ago. A new actor, crucial in guaranteeing that the fruits of economic development will be distributed as equitably as possible, and  giving a social dimension to the political system, making it the truly vibrant and representative democracy we have long aspired for, and which during the past 18 days we proved to ourselves and to the whole world, that we truly deserve.

A final note: we need to guard against the urge to rush into elections. The urgent tasks noted above, and many more, are absolutely crucial to guarantee that truly democratic elections can be conducted. A new order is being born, but the old order is still rattling its chains. Let’s first exorcise the ghosts from our national home, only then can we furnish it at our leisure.

Wealthy Egyptians fear change: Al Jazeera online

In a country with deep class divisions, the rich fear they have a lot to lose in the revolution.
13 Feb 2011

While millions of Egyptians have welcomed the revolution that has removed Hosni Mubarak after 30 years as president, others – particularly the wealthy members of the society – fear that they have a lot to lose.

Andrew Simmons reports from Cairo.

A new era has dawned in the Middle East: Haaretz Editorial

A political revolt like this, in which unarmed citizens overthrow a ruler they hate, had never taken place in a an Arab country.

After 18 days of mass demonstrations in Egypt’s cities, President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down and his 30 years of rule have come to an end. Control has been handed over to the army, which promises that it will respect the protesters’ demands and prepare the country for elections.

Egypt’s popular revolution and the revolution that preceded it in Tunisia herald a new era in Middle East history. It’s an era in which the people demand to be heard and be allowed to help shape their fate, instead of being subjects of dictatorial regimes that impose their authority through emergency legislation and powerful security services. A political revolt like this, in which unarmed citizens overthrow a ruler they hate, had never taken place in a an Arab country. It took the experts, leaders and intelligence services by surprise.

The demonstrators’ victory celebrations that received the embrace of U.S. President Barack Obama find the largest Arab country in a state of uncertainty. It’s too early to assess the nature of the regime that will be set up in Egypt, who will head it, and how power centers – first and foremost the army and the Muslim Brotherhood – will fit in. Likewise, it’s too early to assess whether the revolution will spread elsewhere in the region or whether the rulers in those countries will survive.

Until the final moments of his rule, Mubarak championed “security and stability,” and Israel saw his regime as a vital strategic pillar. His adherence to the peace treaty gave Israel prosperity, a quiet border, energy supplies, and the basis for joining the region as a welcome neighbor. Now Israel has to get used to Egypt’s new rulers.

The dramatic change over the border naturally gives rise to fears, but Israel must not interfere in its southern neighbor’s affairs. Egypt has no conflict with Israel and must not be presented as an enemy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must demonstrate restraint and self-control. His warnings that Egypt could turn into a new Iran, and the talk about increasing the defense budget, merely create destructive tension and put Israel on the side of the ousted regime. The revolution in Egypt did not stem from the ties with Israel, and Netanyahu would do well to keep quiet and give this neighboring country a chance to establish a democracy.

When will Obama start talking to Hamas and Hezbollah?: Haaretz

It is often said that in the Middle East, anything is possible; judging by America’s behavior toward Egypt, one can say the same thing about U.S. policy.
By Zvi Bar’el
Under other circumstances, that is, were our prime minister known for his foresight and for his planning and analytical capabilities, one might even suspect him of being behind the “provocation” in Cairo, which, of course, serves the “Zionist interest.”

How pleasant to see the United States digging itself a deeper hole every day with its declarations and suggestions to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: Yes to resigning now; no to resigning now; lift the state of emergency; dissolve parliament, perhaps; talk to the Muslim Brotherhood; don’t talk to them. And what about the ping-pong between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama? Is anything more entertaining than watching the U.S. president, who just a few weeks earlier admitted the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, attempting to create another democratic state in the region?

Netanyahu may be permitted to enjoy this spectacle for a moment, but only for a moment, because these are revolutionary times. Times that not only turn aspects of Egypt’s system of government on their head but also create a new political vocabulary, one that Israel would do well to study.

For example, how is it that the Muslim Brotherhood – forerunner of Hamas, suspected of encouraging terror and of seeking to establish a sharia state – became a legitimate representative of the Egyptian public, to the extent that Omar Suleiman, who for years led the crackdown against the organization, is now willing to sit down with its representatives and to meet some of their demands.

Has anyone heard a peep out of Washington about it being verboten to sit down with the Muslim Brotherhood? Just the opposite; Clinton took heart from the Brotherhood being part of the dialogue in Egypt, and even took credit for initiating it. That is a significant switch: The Muslim Brotherhood has already been given legitimacy by both Cairo and Washington.

At first glance, the fact that Washington is speaking with fundamentalist groups should not raise too many eyebrows. After all, the Americans talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan, maintain in close contact with Shi’ite fundamentalist organizations in Iraq and in the 1980s collaborated with Bin Laden and his associates against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The next question is when will Washington open a dialogue with Hamas and perhaps with Hezbollah? Both are defined as terror organizations, but after failing to obtain peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and Syria, will do whatever is necessary to at least take control of managing the conflicts in order to prevent a decline into violent confrontation.

In Palestine and Lebanon, as in Afghanistan, organizations dictate state policy; as in Afghanistan, if the United States wants to maintain a proper relationship with Syria – and it does – it must recognize Lebanon’s new government, which is dependent on Hezbollah’s partnership. It also will be unable to provide a convincing argument for being willing to accept an Egyptian democracy that includes the Muslim Brotherhood while opposing the participation of the democratically elected Hamas in the Palestinian leadership of a state that has already been recognized by quite a few countries. It is often said that in the Middle East, anything is possible; judging by America’s behavior toward Egypt, one can say the same thing about U.S. policy.

Netanyahu can continue to rely on luck and to hope for another revolution in the Middle East to divert attention away from Israel. Indeed, Israel will presumably cease to interest the Obama administration, since new clients are coming forward in the region. In order to reassure them, Washington will have to review its relationship toward them and work to deepen ties, mainly in order to maintain its status in the region. Being too close to Israel, Obama has learned, is no guarantee of this status.

The revolution continues after Mubarak’s fall: The Electronic Intifada,

Ali Abunimah, 12 February 2011
Yesterday evening, after it was announced that Hosni Mubarak had met the first demand of the revolution and left office, I headed toward the Egyptian embassy in Amman. The joy on the streets was something I had never experienced before.

From all directions people came, pouring out of cars stuck in gridlocked traffic on Zahran Street and into the side street where the embassy sits. They were young and old and families with children. Egyptian laborers — the unacknowledged back bone of much of the Jordanian economy — sang, carried each other on their shoulders and played drums. Egyptian flags waved and signs were held high.

The chants were as varied and lively as the crowd which grew to thousands: “Long Live Egypt!,” “The people overthrew the regime!,” “Who’s next?,” “Tomorrow Abbas!” Some people showered the crowd with sweets, as fireworks burst overhead. Everyone took pictures, recording a moment of victory they felt was made by the Egyptian people on behalf of all of us.

After Tunisia, a second great pillar of oppression has been knocked down, at such great cost to hundreds who gave their lives, and many millions who saw their lives destroyed for so many years. It was a night for joy, and the celebrations continue today.

After the celebrations are over, the revolution too must go on, because it will not be complete until the Egyptian people rebuild their country as they wish it to be.

But standing in the streets of Amman there was no mistaking that the Egyptian revolution will have a profound impact on the whole region. Arab people everywhere now imagine themselves as Tunisians or Egyptians. And every Arab ruler imagines himself as Ben Ali or Mubarak.

The revolution has reawakened a sense of a common destiny for the Arab world many thought had been lost, that seemed naive when our mothers and fathers told us about it from their youth, and that Arab leaders had certainly tried to kill. The Arab dictators, who are as dead inside as Mubarak showed himself to be in his awful televised speeches, thought their peoples’ spirits were dead too. The revolutions have restored a sense of limitless possibility and a desire that change should spread from country to country.

Whatever happens next, the Egyptian revolution will also have a profound effect on the regional balance of power. Undoubtedly the United States, Israel and their allies are already weaker as a result. First they lost Tunisia, and then suffered a severe setback with the collapse of the US-backed Lebanese government of Rafiq Hariri, and now Mubarak and Omar Suleiman, the closest and most enthusiastic collaborators with Israel except perhaps for Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies in Ramallah.

On many minds — especially Israeli and American ones — has been the question of whether a new democratic Egyptian government will tear up the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. That of course, is up to the Egyptian people, although the transitional military government confirmed in its fourth statement Egypt’s adherence to “all international and regional treaties.”

But the treaty is not really the issue. Even if democratic Egypt maintains the treaty, the treaty never required Egypt to join Israeli and American conspiracies against other Arabs. It never required Egypt to become the keystone in an American-led alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia against an allegedly expansionist Iran. It never required Egypt to adopt and disseminate the vile “Sunni vs. Shia” sectarian rhetoric that was deliberately used to try to shore up this narrative of confrontation. It never required Egypt to participate in Israel’s cruel siege of Gaza or collaborate closely with its intelligence services against Palestinians. It never required Egypt to become a world center of torture for the United States in its so-called “War on Terror.” The treaty did not require Egypt to shoot dead migrants crossing Sinai from other parts of Africa just to spare Israelis from seeing black people in Tel Aviv. No treaty required or requires Egypt to carry on with these and so many more shameful policies that earned Hosni Mubarak and his regime the hatred of millions of Arabs and others far beyond Egypt’s borders.

There is no doubt that the United States will not give up its hegemony in Egypt easily, and will do all it can to frustrate any Egyptian move toward an independent regional policy, using as leverage its deep ties and enormous aid to the Egyptian military that now rules the country. The regional ambitions of the United States remain the main external threat to the success of Egypt’s revolution.

Whatever break or continuity there is with Egypt’s past policies, the calculations have changed for remaining members of the so-called “alliance of moderates,” particularly Saudi Arabia — which allegedly offered to prop Mubarak up financially if the US withdrew its aid — Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

For many years, these regimes, like Egypt, bet their security and survival on a virtually unconditional alliance with the United States: they abandoned all dignified, independent and principled positions and adopted America’s hegemonic aspirations as their own, in exchange for assistance, and what they hoped was a guarantee that the US would come to their rescue if they got in trouble.

What the revolutions demonstrate to all Arab regimes is that the United States cannot rescue you in the end. No amount of “security assistance” (training, tear gas, weapons), financial aid, or intelligence cooperation from the United States or France can withstand a population that has decided it has had enough. These regimes’ room for maneuver has shrunk even if the sorts of uprisings seen in Egypt and Tunisia are not imminent elsewhere.

After the revolutions, people’s expectations have been raised and their tolerance for the old ways diminished. Whether things go on as they have for a few weeks, a few months, or even a few more years in this or that country, the pressures and demands for change will be irresistible. The remaining Arab regimes must now ask not if change will happen but how.

Will regimes that relied for so long on repression, fear and the docility of their people wait for revolution, or will they give up unearned power and undertake real democratization willingly, speedily and honestly? This will require not just a dramatic change of internal policies which regimes may or may not be capable of making voluntarily, but also a deep reexamination of external alliances and commitments that have primarily served Israel, the United States and the regimes at the expense of their people.

Jordan is now a prime case where such a reexamination is urgently due. Regardless of whether or not (and I think almost certainly not) the newly-appointed cabinet will be able to meet public expectations for democratization, fighting corruption, and ending the worst neo-liberal policies that have put so many of the country’s resources and companies in unaccountable private hands, the country’s foreign policy must undergo a full review.

This includes the overly dependent relationship on the United States, relations with Israel, participation in the sham “peace process,” the training of the security forces used by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank against other Palestinians, and the deeply unpopular involvement in the NATO war and occupation in Afghanistan. Up until now, these matters have all been decided without any regard to public opinion.

And in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas is in a more precarious situation than ever. Its loss of legitimacy is so thorough — especially after the revelations in the Palestine Papers — that it exists only thanks to the protection of the Israeli occupation, US and EU training of its repressive security forces, and massive EU funding to pay the salaries of its bloated bureaucracy.

The PA’s leaders are as dead to the just cause and aspirations for liberation of the Palestinian people for which so much has been sacrificed, as Mubarak was to the Egyptian people’s rights and hopes. No wonder the PA relies more and more on the thuggery and police state tactics so reminiscent of Mubarak and Ben Ali.

The revolutions in the Arab have lifted our horizons. More people can now see that the liberation of Palestine from Zionist colonialism and US- and EU-funded oppression, to make it a safe, humane place for all who live in it to exist in equality, is not just a utopian slogan but is in our hands if we struggle for it and stick to our principles. Like the people power, against which the Egyptian and Tunisian police states were powerless in the end, Palestinians and their allies (particularly those supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement) have the power to transform reality within the next few years.

In whatever form the revolution continues, the people are saying to their rulers: our countries, our futures, don’t belong to you any more. They belong to us.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and is a contributor to The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict (Nation Books).

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