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Now Defense Minister Mohamed Tantawi Rules

4:53 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

Defense Minister Mohamed Husein Tantawi now rules Egypt, “sitting at the helm of a provisional government made up almost entirely of senior Egyptian generals.” How will he rule? Consider that the military has a great deal of wealth and power that it wants to defend, owning/controlling 10-15% of Egypt’s $210 billion economy, according to one expert (see Egypt’s Military-Industrial Complex). General Tantawi, 75, defense minister since 1991, has been in the thick of that. On the military’s role in the economy, Time Magazine notes that

… military-run firms hold strong positions in a wide range of key industries, including food (olive oil, milk, bread and water); cement and gasoline; vehicle production (joint ventures with Jeep to produce Cherokees and Wranglers); and construction, in which it benefits being able to deploy conscripts during their last six months of service. Another source of the military’s untold wealth is its hold on one of this densely populated country’s most precious commodities: public land, which is increasingly being converted into gated communities and resorts. The military has other advantages: it does not pay taxes and does not have to deal with the bureaucratic red tape that strangles the private sector.

The money and status is enormous, as is the lifestyle that comes along with it, Time continues:

The revenue streams from its various holdings help the military maintain the lifestyle its officers have grown accustomed to, including an extensive network of luxurious social clubs as well as comfortable retirements — all of which helps ensure officer loyalty.

What you’ll also read about Tantawi is from a 2008 U.S. embassy cable (brought to you by our nation’s best journalistic source, Wikileaks), in which a U.S. embassy officer wrote that mid-level Egyptian military officers were upset with Tantawi for his seemingly slavish loyalty to Mubarak. Some had nicknamed him “Mubarak’s poodle.” Maybe the opposite has in fact been the case?

More interesting in that cable was the following, about the cleavage between the military elite’s economic interests and the interests of non-military economic elites, for whom Gamal Mubarak was a leading edge:

Most analysts agreed that the military views the GOE’s privatization efforts as a threat to its economic position, and therefore generally opposes economic reforms. –––– –––– speculated that privatization has forced military-owned companies to improve the quality of their work, specifically in the hotel industry, to compete with private firms and attract critical foreign investment. –––– –––– predicted that the growing power of the economic elite at the military’s expense is inevitable as economic necessity drives the government to maintain its economic reform policies in order to attract foreign direct investment (FDI).

Time magazine adds that military

… economic power and patronage came under threat from the attempts of Gamal Mubarak, the President’s son and heir presumptive, to reform Egypt along lines that skirted the generals. The military was particularly incensed that a key ally of Gamal’s, Ahmed Ezz, was able to snap up state-owned steel assets, strengthening his commanding position in the industry. Not only was the military interested in the same firms, but as a major buyer of steel it would be vulnerable to Ezz’s ability to impose near monopoly pricing.

That Ahmed Ezz (Egypt’s Ire Turns to Confidant of Mubarak’s Son).

The Egyptian people have a dauntingly hard job ahead of them, if they want to wrest a new democracy away from both the Gamal Mubaraks and Ahmed Ezzs _and_ the military elite. Perhaps, like most of us, they will have to be satisfied (for now?) with being free of only some of their oppressors.

“Rule No. 1 of Arab-Muslim Political Life Today”

10:09 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Let’s start with Iron Rule No. 1 of Arab-Muslim political life today: You cannot go from Saddam to Jefferson without going through Khomeini — without going through a phase of mosque-led politics.

Thomas Friedman, Feb. 1, 2006

Friedman has never revised or revisited his stupid rules, no matter how wrong, time after time, they’ve proven to be. But, after all, he’s just the New York Times Middle East expert, so why worry about being right? Bob Somerby sub-titled a 2006 Daily Howler column that focuses in part on Friedman, “FROM THE ONGOING ANNALS OF RULE BY THE WRONG.” That was after the punditocracy heavies at WaPost and NYTimes got Iraq wrong and so helped get lots of Americans and Iraqis killed for nothing. Nothing changed, nothing changes. But, in celebration of Egypt, the latest ‘Arab-Muslim’ country to prove him wrong, shooting fish in a barrel, and tired old geezers who we should see no more, more on Thomas Friedman, your New York Times man on the scene in Cairo:

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It’s not for nothing that Thomas Friedman is called “the most important columnist in America today.” That it’s Friedman’s own colleague at the New York Times (Walter Russell Mead) calling him this, on the back of Friedman’s own book, is immaterial. Friedman is an important American. He is the perfect symbol of our culture of emboldened stupidity. Like George Bush, he’s in the reality-making business. In the new flat world, argument is no longer a two-way street for people like the president and the country’s most important columnist. You no longer have to worry about actually convincing anyone; the process ends when you make the case.

Things are true because you say they are. The only thing that matters is how sure you sound when you say it.

Matt Taibbi, April 21, 2005

The following is from that column I noted earlier, Daily Howler, December 18, 2006:

But Freidman’s low moment came near the end, when his clowning led him to mock two Big Major Dems. Good God! There was Friedman the over-caffeinated, repressed nightclub comic, holding his nose to make his voice sound funny, mocking a major Democrat who was right on Iraq from the start! This was a stupid, low moment, even coming from insufferable Friedman:

FRIEDMAN: I want to pick up on David’s point, because I think Obama is such a powerful candidate for—for a couple of reasons. David and I were talking about them earlier. One is that I believe Democrats voted in the last two elections like this, Tim: (holds nose—makes squeaky voice—pretends to pull lever) “Al Gore.” (Holds nose—makes squeaky voice—pretends to pull lever) “John Kerry.” They voted with their nose plugged, basically. Democrats are starved, just as David said, to vote for someone they’re excited about.

Really, it’s astounding to watch these inane, bloated fellows, among the most foolish our race has produced. By now, even Friedman has probably heard that Gore was right about the war in Iraq. Before that, he was right about global warming—for decades—and he was “right” about the first Gulf War too. Meanwhile, as has long been clear on the web, many Democrats would be “excited” about voting for Gore, because of his many correct judgments. But even now, in the face of his own endless errors, Friedman feels free to come on TV and mock a man who was right on Iraq. But so it goes in our bizarre pundit culture, where those who were wrong mock those who were right.

Post-Ideology in Egypt or “What Happened to the General Strike?”

12:53 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

Abdelrahman Amr Zaki, 15, rejected what he said were claims the protests are just about economic conditions.

“They are not. My father drives a BMW and I have a very good home. There is no democracy, no freedom. We just want Mubarak to go.”

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The U.S. media and some progressives and a substantial number of demonstrators will apparently be satisfied with an Egyptian revolution that devolves into just ‘Mubarak out’. As we see in the quote at the top and the blockquotes below:

But a coalition of activists … said they would not talk with [Prime Minister] Shafiq.

Amr Salah, a coalition representative, told AFP that those who had launched the call to protest last week “will not accept any dialogue with the regime until our principal demand is met, and that is for President Hosni Mubarak to step down.”

“Our principal demand”? The subtitle and then a couple paragraphs from Code Pink Medea Benjamin‘s article on alternet:

Despite violence and intimidation, thousands of people are still camped out in the square — absolutely determined to stay there until Mubarak goes

Despite the danger on the streets, we went to the square carrying with two big banners. One said “World Says Time To Go, Mubarak!” and the other said “Solidarity With Egyptian People” in both English and Arabic. When the people in the square saw us and discovered we were Americans, they erupted into cheers. …

I couldn’t believe that after today’s attacks, there were still women in the square who planned to spend the night. A group of young women ran up to us and started hugging and kissing us. “You don’t know what your presence means to us,” one of the students said. ” Please tell Obama that we need him to do more to push Mubarak to go NOW, before more of us get killed.”

This attitude is not good, in fact it’s suspiciously post-ideological. In other words, if Egypt’s revolution goes the way of the “color-coded” revolutions sponsored by Western governments and foundations, it will be just as unsuccessful as those revolutions in transferring political power and economic wealth to the bottom 80% of Egypt’s population. Which is why the West sponsors these post-ideological revolutions.

So, no, I’m sorry otherwise honorable but congenitally too optimistic David North, the following does not seem to be happening:

The Egyptian revolution is dealing a devastating blow to the pro-capitalist triumphalism that followed the Soviet bureaucracy’s liquidation of the USSR in 1991. The class struggle, socialism and Marxism were declared irrelevant in the modern world. “History”—as in “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels)—had ended. Henceforth, the only revolutions conceivable to the media were those that were “color-coded” in advance, politically scripted by the US State Department, and then implemented by the affluent pro-capitalist sections of society.

This complacent and reactionary scenario has been exploded in Tunisia and Egypt. History has returned with a vengeance. What is presently unfolding in Cairo and throughout Egypt is revolution, the real thing.

Wish it were, but no. The best clue I have to the non-class nature of the revolution is summed up in the following question “What happened to the General Strike?” We read here and here on Monday that it was supposed to have begun on Tuesday. At myfiredoglake, Jeff Kaye wrote:

Egyptian Workers Hold Key to Uprising, New Union Association Issues Call for General Strike

… Barely reported in the West, among the crowds at Tahrir Square last Sunday, a new trade union confederation was announced, the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (FETU), which immediately issued a call for a general-strike. The call has been widely taken up, and many reports now link the uprising to unity with the workers, particularly in Suez, where the battle has been fought most intensely with state police.

But we’ve heard nothing about it, from any source, since then. Do a google search and see for yourself. Now, I realize the mainstream media is always reluctant to focus attention on expressions of worker power, but a successful general strike would _force_ attention on itself. That just has not happened, so I have to assume the general strike has not, uh, become ‘general’. And, since the effective way to demonstrate the working class is playing a primary role in a revolution is through it carrying out an effective general strike, my conclusion is the Egyptian working class and lower-middle-class are not going all out participating in this revolution, at least not yet.

Another worrying sign is the apparent fact that less than 300,000 protestors participated in Tuesday’s “million-man march.” Again, the regime attempted to discourage participation, but such attempts would’ve been overwhelmed by an entire working class enthusiastically participating in this revolution. So, I wonder.

If there is only a peripheral class aspect to this revolution and in fact its commanding center is post-ideological, that makes it understandable that workers would be reluctant to put their lives on the line for it. What would be the point? To get a “new boss, same as the old boss”? I wrote “It’s the U.S. vs. the Egyptian people (Mubarak’s just our dictator)” optimistically last week, but if this revolution is simply about replacing Mubarak with a friendlier face of what is essentially U.S.-sponsored military rule, what’s the point of dying for that?

Anyway, I hope I’m wrong, and that this is not just another of those manipulated “naive young people” revolutions that U.S. ‘pro-democracy’ foundations specialize in. However, it concerns me how long the U.S. has been planning for the post-Mubarak era, and, frankly, that Mohammed ElBaradei is a board member of George Soros’s International Crisis Group. (I wonder if that’s a secret, because Soros didn’t mention it in his op-ed boosting ElBaradei, published today in the Washington Post.)

Why is the revolution’s command-and-control post-ideological, if that is the case? Michael Barker writes well on capitalism’s foundations, how they fund progressive change but also place firm limits on it:

… if “we are serious about collectively working to building workable alternatives to capitalism then we must learn to subject our most influential theorists to ruthless criticism.” As I pointed out, a fundamental aspect of such endeavours required “critiquing the very organizations that have sustained (and constrained) much progressive activism, liberal foundations.” Unfortunately, in the year 2009, bar a few noteworthy exceptions, progressive writers have failed to respond to this challenge. On the contrary, many activist commentators have rallied to undermine support for a political agenda that raises legitimate debate about the multitude of problems associated with capitalist funding for progressive activism.

Another Michael Barker quote:

Counter to popular misunderstandings of their work, rather than promoting progressive and more participatory forms of democracy, liberal philanthropy actually serves the opposite purpose by helping preserve gross inequalities, thereby legitimising the status quo. It should not be surprising that Robert Arnove and Nadine Pinede note that although the Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford foundations’ “claim to attack the root causes of the ills of humanity, they essentially engage in ameliorative practices to maintain social and economic systems that generate the very inequalities and injustices they wish to correct.”

Finally, Ideology 1A might begin with an understanding of imperialism and the necessity for its success of co-opted host country capitalists. Juan Cole writes:

It should be remembered that Egypt’s elite of multi-millionaires has benefited enormously from its set of corrupt bargains with the US and Israel and from the maintenance of a martial law regime that deflects labor demands and pesky human rights critiques. It is no wonder that to defend his billions and those of his cronies, Hosni Mubarak was perfectly willing to order thousands of his security thugs into the Tahrir Square to beat up and expel the demonstrators, leaving 7 dead and over 800 wounded, 200 of them just on Thursday morning. …

More recently the cover story has been the supposed threat of radical Islam, which is a tiny fringe phenomenon in most of the Middle East that in some large part was sowed by US support for the extremists in the Cold War as a foil to the phantom of International Communism. And then there is the set of myths around Israel, that it is necessary for the well-being of the world’s Jews, that it is an asset to US security, that it is a great ethical enterprise– all of which are patently false.On such altars are the labor activists, youthful idealists, human rights workers, and democracy proponents in Egypt being sacrificed with the silver dagger of filthy lucre. …

For removing all pressure on Israel by the biggest Arab nation with the best Arab military, Egypt has been rewarded with roughly $2 billion in US aid every year, not to mention favorable terms for importation of sophisticated weaponry and other perquisites. This move allowed the Israelis to invade and occupy part of Lebanon in 1982-2000, and then to launch massively destructive wars on virtually defenseless Lebanese and Gaza Palestinians more recently. Cairo under Mubarak is as opposed to Shiite Hizbullah in Lebanon and fundamentalist Hamas in Gaza as is Tel Aviv. The regime of Hosni Mubarak appears to have taken some sort of bribe to send substantial natural gas supplies to Israel at a deep discount. It has joined in the blockade against the civilians of Gaza. It acts as Israel’s handmaid in oppressing the Palestinians, and is bribed to do so by the US.

P.S. Two things I wrote at pffugeecamp that inspired this post:

The sad failure of post-ideological revolts

Soros Foundation prudently sponsors this deadheaded stupidity. And dumbed-down college-educated kids swallow it.

I very very much wish that instead this were true:

Egyptian Workers Hold Key to Uprising, New Union Association Issues Call for General Strike

But unfortunately Jeff Kaye is likely wrong, and the backed by millions of dollars ‘post-ideology’ will win again. Like it has done in various colored revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East in recent years. All of those revolutions spectacular failures in relation to their peoples’ actual hopes. Like Obama has been for his 2008 youngish, naive ‘post-ideological’ hopesters.

No, folks, there’s no easy way, ya can’t win with the learning you get from MTV and video games. Ya’ gotta crack the fuckin’ real books and learn something, get some ideology in ya. Leftism, Marxism, social democracy, modified by a lot of history reading and common sense.

Again, though, I assume the next U.S.-sponsored and military-dominated government will throw the people some bones in the form of subsidized bread prices and such. So, good on the Egyptian people.

by: fairleft @ Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 15:54:59 PM EST

Or, as I wrote briefly Wednesday, on the incoherence of ‘post-ideology’:

Anti-ideology is just for people too lazy and/or economically comfortable to stress working out a coherent ideology for themselves. And of course the rich who aren’t sociopaths don’t want to know what their real-life ideology is.

‘Anonymous’ Takes Down Egypt’s Government Websites

10:41 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Monsters and Critics reports that hackers have taken down Egyptian government websites. This came after reports that social media websites Twitter and Facebook had been blocked in Egypt, and the “Anonymous” Facebook page “Operation Egypt” issued the following warning:

To the Egyptian Govt : Anonymous challenges all those who are involved in censorship. Anonymous wants you to offer free access to uncensored media in your entire country. When you ignore this message, not only will we attack your govt websites, we will also make sure that the international media see the horrid reality you impose on your people!

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After Blocking Twitter, Egypt Reportedly Starts Restricting Access To Facebook
Robin Wauters 4 hours ago

According to a number of tips we’ve received in the past few minutes, the chatter on Twitter and several local reports (mostly in Arabic), it appears Egyptian authorities have moved to block Facebook. …

Similar to the protests in Tunisia, the Egyptian demonstrations were partly organized on Facebook and Twitter. And yesterday, Twitter was blocked in Egypt.

If Facebook has in fact been blocked, this isn’t particularly surprising. Facebook itself has also been actively used to organize the demonstrations in Egypt. For instance, one Facebook Group called We Are All Khaled Said, features up-to-the-minute updates on the protests and photos from the scene. Khaled Said was “a young man brutally tortured and killed by police in Alexandria,” explains Blake Hounshell on the Foreign Policy blog, and his death has become a rallying point for the demonstrations which fall on “Police Day,” a national holiday in Egypt.

Messages from Facebook’s Operation Egypt page:

“We would like to remind our friends in Egypt that you can still access twitter via Seesmic – Seesmic Web – you can log in using your twitter account, but please remember to use proxies!!”

“For unblocking the censorship in Egypt: Expat Shield.”

“Website Blocked? No Problem (Specially For Egyptians after all of this u dont need to do anything. brose like as same as before… check it): BAG: Website Blocked? No Problem.