It will be a long, winding, treacherous and perhaps bloody road before the popular Egyptian revolution even dreams of approaching the post-Suharto Indonesian model (the largest, most plural democracy in a Muslim-majority country) or the current Turkish model (also sanctioned at the ballot box).
As predicted (Rage, rage against the counter-revolution – Asia Times Online, February 1) the counter-revolution is on, and brought by the usual suspects; the Egyptian army; Mubarakismâ€™s comprador elites; and the triad of Washington, Tel Aviv and European capitals.
After more than two weeks of protests on the streets of Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak, this is what the White Houseâ€™s â€œorderly transitionâ€ is all about – with Washington still playing all sides even as the Egyptian street smashed the mirror and defied for good the â€œstabilityâ€/terror imposed on it by the dark side.
The counter-revolution goes way beyond comments by Frank Wisner, a United States Central Intelligence Agency/Wall Street asset who is US President Barack Obamaâ€™s secret agent to Cairo and a personal friend of the Egyptian president, on the desirability of Mubarak stay and supervise the transition.
It comes across almost casually as Robert Springborg, professor of national security affairs at the US Naval Postgraduate School, tells Reuters, â€œThe military will engineer a succession. The West – the US and the EU [European Union] – are working to that end. We are working closely with the military … to ensure a continuation of a dominant role of the military in the society, the polity and the economy.â€ Translation; erase the people to ensure â€œstabilityâ€.
The tent city in Tahrir Square in the capital, Cairo, is very much aware that decades of Egypt as a US client-state plus endless International Monetary Fund/World Bank manipulations created the perfect economic storm that was a key cause of the revolution. Thatâ€™s also a key cause for the street to want – according to one of its top slogans – the whole regime brought down. Connecting the dots, the street also knows that a truly representative, sovereign Egyptian government cripples the entire US-controlled Middle East power arrangement.
Historically, what Washington always really feared is Arab nationalism, not crackpot self-made jihadis. Arab nationalism is intrinsically, viscerally, opposed to the 1979 Camp David peace accords, which have neutralized Egypt and left Israel with a free iron hand to proceed with its slow strangulation of Palestine; for Asâ€™ad Abu Khalil of the Angry Arab website, every Middle East expert who worked on the accords â€œhelped construct a monstrous dictatorship in Egyptâ€.
Former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy, now with the New America Foundation, spells it out further for the New York Times, â€œThe Israelis are saying, apres Mubarak, le deluge … The problem for America is, you can balance being the carrier for the Israeli agenda with Arab autocrats, but with Arab democracies, you canâ€™t do that.â€
Correction; in fact itâ€™s after Mubarak not the deluge but â€œour torturerâ€ – Vice President Omar Suleiman, the head of the Mukhabarat, widely dubbed by protesters â€œSheikh al-Tortureâ€, after his performance tossing at least 30,000 people in jail as suspected jihadis, accepting CIA renditions, and torturing the rendered. Innocents among them include Sheikh Libi, who, under torture, confessed that Iraqi dictator Saddam Husseinâ€™s goons were training al-Qaeda jihadis; former US secretary of state Colin Powell had no qualms using this â€œinformationâ€ at his infamous speech to the United Nations in February 2002 justifying war on Iraq.
Throw the bums into the Nile
Essentially, this is what the Egyptian street wants. Mubarak down immediately. Suleiman starts a national dialogue with an opposition coalition, observed by a neutral UN delegation. Then a constitutional assembly is established to amend articles 77, 78 and 88 of the constitution to enable any Egyptian to be a candidate for the presidency.
The state of emergency (in effect for over 25 years) is lifted. The judicial system establishes monitoring bodies for future elections. A national coalition body is established to monitor the transition during the next six months, and organize elections according to international standards. New guidelines are set for legal political parties not vetted by Mubarakismâ€™s National Democratic Party (NDP) but by an independent neutral body. The country starts over with the rule of law and an independent judiciary.
The youth groups central to the revolution go way beyond. They want; the resignation of the entire NDP, including Suleiman; a broad-based transitional government appointed by a 14-strong committee, made up of senior judges, youth leaders and members of the military; the election of a council of 40 public intellectuals and constitutional experts who will draw up a new constitution under the supervision of the transitional government, then put it to the people in a referendum; fresh local and national elections; the end of emergency law; the dismantling of the whole state security apparatus; and the trial of top regime leaders, including Mubarak.
The street simply does not trust the self-described â€œCouncil of Wise Menâ€ – which includes secretary general of the Arab League Amr Moussa; Nobel prize-winner and Obama adviser Ahmed Zuwail; professor Mohamed Selim al-Awa; president of the Wafd party Said al-Badawi; powerful Cairo businessman Nagib Suez and lawyer Ahmed Kamal Aboul Magd – who are all in favor of Suleiman presiding over the â€œorderly transitionâ€, under the pretext that the opposition leadership is extremely divided and cannot agree on anything. But to believe that Suleiman will agree to dissolve his own party, dissolve parliament, dissolve the police state and change the constitution, they must be all under the spell of an Orientalist opium dream.
For the moment, the new Wafd party (six seats) and Tagammu (five seats) are the largest regime-approved opposition parties in parliament (518 seats). Then thereâ€™s al-Ghad (â€œTomorrowâ€), founded by Ayman Nour (he contested the last presidential election and ended up in jail). The Generation Y in the streets views them all as irrelevant; they congregate around the Kefaya (â€œEnoughâ€) movement, and have just formed a Youth Front for Egypt.
For the moment the only opposition group spelling out key economic demands is the brand new Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions; they want a monthly minimum wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds (about US$204), annual raises matching inflation and guaranteed rights to bonuses and benefits.
Obviously nothing will change in Egypt without a new constitution capable of guaranteeing political rights to Copts, Shiâ€™ites, Bahaâ€™i, Nubians, Bedouins, you name it. At the same time, secular Egyptians, Christians, the brand new Youth Front for Egypt, Nasserists, New Wafd partisans, socialists, all seem to agree there is no specter of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) turning Egypt into sharia law. Superstar scholar Tariq Ramadan, whose grandfather Hasan al-Banna founded the MB in 1928, stresses this is â€œcompletely an ideological projection to protect geopolitical interests.â€
The MB by all local estimates does not represent more than 22% of the Muslim population; so 78% wouldnâ€™t vote for them. Egyptian society already practices what can be considered a very moderate brand of Islam. Islam is the state religion; the hijab and the niqab are common, as well as the galabiya for men.
And for those brandishing the specter of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran (and who obviously cannot tell a Shiâ€™ite from a Sunni) Egyptâ€™s social and religions composition is completely different from Iranâ€™s. Whatâ€™s definitely more revealing is what the Arab world itself considers to be a threat. An August 2010 Brookings poll showed that only 10% of Arabs regard Iran as a threat; instead they consider the US (77%), and even more Israel (88%) as the major threats.
Allow me to spread you with democracy
The street has pyramids of reasons to worry. All evidence points out to these days that shook the world evolving towards a Washington-spun definition of â€œstabilityâ€, with an â€œorderly transitionâ€ conducted by a former torturer and the regime fully in place, buying time, arguing that all crucial constitutional changes need to be discussed – plus the internal Egyptian argument that Mubarak cannot step down now either because itâ€™s unconstitutional or because then it would be chaos.
And as the standoff persists – even with the street still fully mobilized – what passes for dialogue between the regime and a few sectors of the opposition, including the usurpers of the revolution, is bound to split the already divided and essentially leaderless protest movement. Washington is not exactly unhappy. Nor are the EU minions. The EUâ€™s foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton defends Suleiman – with whom she has spoken – as having a â€œplan in placeâ€ to meet some of the protesterâ€™s demands. The crucial operative word here is â€œsomeâ€.
Imagine the result of all this sound and fury, the hundreds dead and thousands wounded by the regime – in addition to the untold thousands eliminated these past three decades – being this aseptic â€œorderly transitionâ€ conducted by â€œSheik al-Tortureâ€, hailed by politicians and corporate media in Washington, European capitals and Tel Aviv as a democratic victory for the street revolution/collective will of the Egyptian people.
Minimalist political/economic reforms are already being dangled as rotten carrots – even as foreign journalists keep being arrested, goons terrorize protest leaders and state media remains in Animal Farm mode. Egyptian public opinion is being slowly, methodically split. The military junta is showing no cracks. Suleiman and Annan are Washington darlings. Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi is Pentagon supremo Robert Gatesâ€™ darling.
The military dictatorship certainly wants America to keep spreading democracy in Egypt – as in aid money paying for Abrams tanks assembled in suburban Cairo, Boeing selling CH-47 Chinook helicopters, Lockheed Martin selling F-16s (a $230 million contract), Sikorsky selling Black Hawks, L-3 Ocean Systems selling equipment for detection of submarine threats, CAE from Tampa, Florida selling C-130H weapons system, plus an influx of 450 brand new Hellfire II missiles, not to mention the very helpful tear gas canisters from Combined Systems Inc (CSI) in Jamestown, Pennsylvania.
And donâ€™t forget those Pentagon contracts showing the US government spent over $110 million to buy and maintain Mubarakâ€™s fleet of nine Gulfstream jets. Those in Tahrir Square would be wondering whether any one of the Gulfstreams could be used to jet him to Guantanamo?
A wily counter-revolution is exactly what the revolution needs right now to remain on maximum alert. When â€œorderly transitionâ€ is finally seen for what it is, thereâ€™s a great probability not only Egypt but the whole Arab world will become a ball of fire.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).