Why the US Fears Arab Democracy


Anybody believing that Washington's "orderly transition" led by Vice President Omar Suleiman (aka Sheikh al-Torture, according to protesters and human-rights activists) could satisfy Egyptian popular will believes Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin could have gotten away with a facelift. 

The young, urban masses in Egypt fighting for bread, freedom, democracy, Internet, jobs and a decent future - as well as their counterparts across the Arab world, two-thirds of the overall population - see right through it. 

Real "change we can believe in" (the Egyptian version) means not only getting rid of the dictator of 30 years but of his torturer-in-chief, who happens to be so far a key interlocutor of Washington, Tel Aviv and European capitals, and a key exponent of a regime rotten to the core, dependent on pitiless exploitation of its own citizens, and receiver of US aid to pursue agendas virtually no one would vote for in the Arab world. 

"Orderly transition" may also be regarded as a ghastly euphemism for sitting on the fence - way distinct from an explicit call for democracy. The White House has morphed into a succession of white pretzels trying to salvage the concept. But the fact is that as much as Pharaoh Mubarak is a slave to US foreign policy, US President Barack Obama is boxed in by geopolitical imperatives and enormous corporate interests he cannot even dream of upsetting. 

A crash course on 'stability' 

To cut to the chase; it's all about oil and Israel. That's the essence of Washington's foreign policy for the past six decades as far as the Middle East, Arabs and the Muslim world at large are concerned. This has implied coddling an array of dictators and assorted autocracies, and sprinkling their countries with military bases. A crucial example - the story on how the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) brought down democracy in Iran in 1953.  Geostrategically, the code word for this state of things is "stability". 

Egypt plays out a very special strategic role. This is how Obama himself spelled out the strategic value of Hosni Mubarak and his regime when he went to Cairo in June 2009 to deliver his freedom message to the Arab world; "He has been a stalwart ally in many respects to the United States. He has sustained peace with Israel which is a very difficult thing to do in that region." 

So as one of the pillars of the "cold peace" with Israel, Egypt is a paradigm. It's a bipartisan phenomenon, in US terms; Republicans and Democrats see it the same way. There's the Suez Canal, through which flows 1.8 million barrels of crude a day. But "partner with Israel" in the 1979 Camp David accords is what explains all the billions of dollars showered on the Egyptian military and the three decades of unconditional support to the corrupt Mubarak military dictatorship (and make no mistake, the US implication in that vast shop of horrors is all documented in the vaults of the regime). On a parallel track, "stability" also translates as a lousy quality of life for virtually the totality of Egyptians; democratic rights of local populations are always secondary to geostrategic considerations. 

The dominant geostrategic status quo in the Middle East, that is the Washington/Tel Aviv axis, has hypnotized Western public opinion to accept the myth that Arab democracy = Islamic fundamentalism, disregarding how all attempts of popular rebellion in the Arab world over the past decades have been squashed. The Israeli government goes beyond this equation; for Tel Aviv it's Islamic fundamentalism = terrorism, ergo, Arab democracy = terrorism. Under this framework, Mubarakism is an essential ally more than ever. 

It's me or chaos 

Yet the fact that former president Anwar Sadat made a deal with Israel in 1979 in exchange of precious gifts from the US - a system perpetuated under Mubarak - does not mean that Egypt and Israel engage in French-kissing. 

Take for example Egyptian state TV insistently spreading the blatant lie of Israeli spies in the streets of Cairo disguised as Western journalists; that led to concerted, terrifying attacks not only on foreign journalists but on Egyptians working with them. And, believe it or not, Mubarakism had the gall to include the Israeli Mossad, along with the US, plus Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas as co-participants in a huge conspiracy to overthrow it. 

This happens while in fact it was the Jihad Amn-Ad-Dawlah ("The Security of the State Apparatus") - the most sinister of the state security agencies, a counter-terrorism unit with extremely close ties with the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mossad - that unleashed its goon squads over the protesters and foreign media alike, funded by the billionaire cronies of Mubarak's son Gamal (who has not fled to London after all). 

To add to the perversity, Mubarak then says he's "fed up" and wants to quit but can't because otherwise there will be chaos - the chaos the regime's own goons provoked; meanwhile his number two, Suleiman, blames the Muslim Brotherhood for the "riots". 

As much as the revolution threatens the political survival of an entire ruling class in Egypt - including the current military junta of Suleiman, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi and Lieutenant General Sami Annan, chief of staff of the army - the new young actors, because they are an expression of local communities, are not manipulated by foreign powers. These are new, more autonomous, more unpredictable, more self-respecting actors. Another factor to scare the US "stability" myth. 

What's most extraordinary is that as these new actors emerging in the Maghreb, Mashrek and Middle East directly collide with the Israeli obsession in keeping the extremely unbalanced status quo (which includes the genocide in slow motion of Palestine), they provoke a major strategic clash between US interests and Israel. 

The Obama administration had understood that the absolutely crucial issue to be solved was the Palestinian tragedy. Now the administration is absolutely helpless to deal with an Israel under the acute paranoia of being encircled by "hostile" forces; Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, an ever more assertive mildly Islamist Turkey, a "nuclear" Iran, an Egypt dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood ... 

Truth will set you free - maybe 

"But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice, government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people, the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas. They are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere." 

This was Obama in Cairo in 2009. Is America really supporting these rights now that Egyptians are willing to die for them? 

As much as Obama went to Cairo to "sell" the case for democracy (and one may say he's succeeded), one may bet that the Washington establishment will do all it can to try to "damage control" really democratic elections in Egypt. The financial markets and Machiavellian politicians (and we're not even considering rabid rightwingers) are almost praying for the Brotherhood to become an alternative reality so they can finally legitimate the concept of an Egyptian military dictatorship forever.

It escapes them that the real actors in Egypt, the urban, middle class masses - the people peacefully protesting in Tahrir square - know very well that fundamentalist Islam is not the solution. 

The two top mass organizations in Egypt are the Brotherhood and the Christian Coptic church - both persecuted by the Mubarak regime. But it's new movements that will be crucial in the future, such as the young labor activists of April 6, associations of white and blue collar workers, as well as the New Wafd Party, a revival of the party that dominated Egypt from the 1920s to the 1950s, when the country had real parliamentary elections and real prime ministers. 

The Brotherhood hardly would get more than 30% of the votes in a free and fair election (and they are firm believers in parliamentary democracy). They are not hegemonic, and definitely not the face of the new Egypt. In fact there's a strong possibility they would evolve to become similar to the AKP (Justice and Development Party) in Turkey. Moreover, according to a recent Pew poll, 59% of Egyptians want parliamentary democracy, and 60% are against religious extremism. 

Egypt essentially makes money out of tourism, tolls in the Suez Canal, manufacture and agricultural exports, and aid (mostly military) such as the annual $1.5 billion from the US. It badly needs to import grain (the reason behind increasing food prices, one of the key reasons for the protests). All of this spells out a dependency on the outside world. The Egyptian souq (the bazaar), with a large Coptic Christian community, totally depends on foreign tourists. 

It's fair to imagine a really representative, democratic government in Egypt would inevitably open the Gaza border and de facto liberate hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. And that those Palestinians, fully supported by their neighbors in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria in the fight for their legitimate rights, would turn the "stability" of the region upside down. 

So it boils down to the same old song. For bipartisan Washington, there are "good" democracies (those that keep serving US strategic interests) and "bad" democracies which vote "wrong" (such as in Gaza, or in a future Egypt, against US interests). 

This is the dirty secret of the "orderly transition" in Egypt - which implies Washington only meekly condemning the bloody Mubarakism wave of repression of protesters and international media. That's considered OK - as long as the military dictatorship remains in place and the glacial status quo is maintained. Moreover, sacrosanct Israel came out swinging praising Mubarak; this also means Tel Aviv will do everything to "veto" Mohamed ElBaradei as an opposition leader. 

You're talking to me? 

Washington after all bought Egypt and its army. Suleiman works for Washington, not Cairo. That's another meaning of "stability". 

Washington never really cared about Egypt's martial law, the crushing of labor demands, the human rights abuses, not to mention the high unemployment among the young, and college graduates barely surviving under a mega-corrupted system. Over the years, "stability" literally killed a Nile of labor activists, young idealists, human rights workers and progressive democrats. 

In a sane world - and if Obama had the will - the White House would back people power unconditionally. One can imagine, in terms of improving the US's image, what a roaring success that would be. 

For starters, it would instantly erase the perception in the Arab street that Mubarak's Frankenstein response - totally ignoring Obama - shows how the dictator believes he can get away with it. One more instance of US irrelevance in the Middle East - the tail wagging the dog. 

Shameless self-aggrandizing Mubarak must have thought; if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can publicly humiliate Obama, why not me? 

The Arab street is very much aware how the Mubarak system was bribed to send natural gas to Israel at ridiculous prices; how it enforces the blockade against civilians in Gaza; and how, bribed by the US, it acts as Israel's bouncer. Netanyahu stealing Palestinian land or starving Gaza to death, and Mubarak using billions in US military aid to crush people power - this is all seen by the Arab street as supported by Washington. And then clueless US rightwingers carp on "why do they hate us". 

Obama saying to Mubarak "now" means "now" - and meaning not only himself but the whole gang in uniform - would alienate the hyper-powerful Zio-con lobby. Not such a bad deal, considering that after all the oil is in Arab lands, which double as the crux of Middle East politics. But that won't happen. "Orderly transition"? Beware of what you wish for.

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