A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Cairo Uprising (Brought to You By Facebook)

Cairo On the Eve of Major One Million Protest
When the last internet plug was pulled on the country of Egypt, the Egyptians were left without a way to communicate. For a revolution that started with "Facebook", this was a major blow. However, Google  announced moments ago (00:15 GMT) that it is making Twitter feeds out of Egypt with a special phone number that will be free for all in Egypt to use for "live tweets" from the frontlines. The face of revolution will never be the same. What would Paul Revere have done if he didn't have to ride through the streets shouting, "The British are coming!"? and instead just pulled out his mobile phone and tweeted all the Minutemen? It's not our forefather's revolution anymore. This is the face of the cyber-armed revolution. The one thing that was clear was that when the internet was shut off in Egypt, it did more to anger the protesters and made them even more determined to be heard.

Mubarak is now fighting for his political life. The United States gives Egypt 1.5 billion dollars a year.It fuels its military and its government. Yet, the average Egyptian lives on $2 US dollars (£1.24 pounds as of this writing). If guns are turned on protestors tomorrow, American dollars probably paid for them. We have been supporting a corrupt and despotic government. But is what is happening in Egypt a fight for freedom? Or just a futile fight being co-opted for another form of enslavement to the hardliners waiting in the wings? Who is really behind this push for revolution?

 Protesters are now filling the streets moving toward  "Liberation Square" with their goal of reaching one million marchers at ten in the morning. That is ten hours from now. People are driving and walking and some even abandoning their cars on the main artery into the city simply to get there.They are coming by the hundreds and thousands. Yet, state television is not carrying any of the activities. Instead it is showing Mubarak swearing in his new ministers as the old ones were asked to leave in a huge shake-up after the initial protests  There are reports that he will attempt to possibly form a coalition government that will have both military and civilian leaders. At the moment, the speaker for the civilians is Mohamed El-Bareidi, Nobel Prize winner and former Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He has pledged to help his country, but he is not considered to have the moxie or fortitude to be the ruler of a country that has been plunged into chaos. He may make a good transitional leader, but there are doubts to his future possibilities in the long-term.

The army has vowed that it will not use violence on the protesters. Sky News showed video of protesters wishing the army well and the army giving protesters a "thumbs-up"  The police officers of Cairo disappeared last Friday and some were killed. Others were spotted taking off their police uniforms and joining the protests. The police returned today (Monday) but they are still very wary and many were absent. So, the people of Cairo have banded together in small militia groups to protect property. The National Museum of Cairo was looted and two ancient mummies were damaged, but major damage was not incurred. Now some of the militia groups are policing the museum to make sure that the ancient antiquities are not purloined. A curfew has been enacted and this nightfall, Cairo looks empty except for the huge crowds gathering at Liberation Square. There is a nervous atmosphere and people are camping out for the night in anticipation of tomorrow's activities.

This is a very momentous time for Egypt. In a country that has been one of the few stable allies to the United States for the last few decades, the White House is attempting to support the protestors while still keeping mum on what Mubarak should do. Stepping down, says the White House is not something they are going to ask Mubarak to do, nor, it stresses,  is it the place of the US government to do so.  I was pleased that Obama came out in support of both Egypt and Tunisia simply because he was so quiet when the people of Iran were also attempting to fight for freedom. But the United States, in fact, is supporting a despot. Is he a benevolent despot? Hardly. He has violated basic human rights on all levels.  He has tortured and executed those who disagreed with him or government policies. But he has been a stauch supporter of the U.S. Frankly, if I were being given 1.5 billion dollars in aid from someone, I'd support them, too. We have paid him (literally) to keep the peace. To his own people he is a criminal. And because the Egyptian government/military is supported by the US, Americans are also considered by many to be oppressors as well.
So, it is with  bated breath that Western diplomats lie in wait to see what happens . While the fight for freedom has been condoned by the US, it still has the memory of that last revolution in the Middle East, the Iranian revolution which led to the rise of  the Ayatollah Khomeini and the fundamental Islamic state which replaced the Shah. It isn't a secret that the peaceful protests in Cairo and Alexandria began to get more vocal as the fundamentalist factions began to get involved. They have seized an opportunity and they are ready to implement their autocratic religious state. Sky News (UK) had a reporter who interviewed one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who was quite open about the fact that they were"talking to the army" about removing Mubarak. This is a signal that the Brotherhood is courting the military. It needs them in order to support their call for power. The Egyptian military supported Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak.  It is very influential in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood is an equally powerful international organization. The MB (now about 83 years old) is very established, and it has had a hand in the politics of the Middle East in one form or another for decades. If the name is not familiar to you, then Hamas (its Palestinian branch) will be. Anwar Sadat was known to have used the Brotherhood during the Yom Kippur War and later, after he stood for peace, was slain by them as well. The MB have produced a well-oiled jihadist machine. To underestimate their power and influence is folly. Some keen observers even say that they think that "youth and social media" really did not start the unrest. That indeed, the protests started in Egypt soon after noon prayers in the mosques across the country and that it has been orchestrated and planned by the MB for a long time as part of a longer protracted plan. Walid Shoebat (former PLO terrorist who became a Christian) contends: "Make no doubt about it, the Muslim Brotherhood is spear-heading this (revolt)." 

We don't know (for sure) who is responsible...just as we never knew for sure who masterminded 9-11 or if we really did or didn't have "weapons of mass destruction" when they so mysteriously "disappeared." We are living in an era of smoke and mirrors. Deceit  has become just as acceptable as honesty. And in Egypt the smoke and mirrors are brighter and denser at this moment in their history.

There has been an idealistic "call for democracy" from international supporters but is that enough? How many times in history has a corrupt regime been replaced  by an even more brutal dictatorship and plunged a country back into the dark ages? Hitler was elected --so was Lenin. So, even if the protests lead to change, what sort of change will come? Whatever happens, if a more representative government is to be put in place, it will need an ironclad infrastructure.I am not sure that is in place at all. Certainly not for something that resembles a true democracy. The most obvious possibility is that the military will simply do what it has done all along, ask Mubarak to step down and replace him with someone of their own choosing. The fear among many is that as soon as Mubarak is toppled, then the fundamentalists will move in to set up an autocratic regime as it did in Iran. As the fundamentalists move in the crowds, creating more chaos, and disrupting what was to be a "peaceful protest" with violence, the atmosphere becomes ripe for fanaticism.

What will happen? It is the great unknown.

Because the United States and Great Britain have great interests in the Middle East, whenever there is a conflagration of any kind in the region, they have become involved. So, there is no doubt in my mind that the countries will be forced to do something, simply because if Egypt falls there will no doubt be a domino effect that will affect the surrounding countries. There are already riots in Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Iran, and Yemen. Billions of dollars of commerce pass through the Suez Canal and if the region becomes destabilized, then this will severely affect the world and its commerce and economy.

Perhaps the answer will come in how the military responds to the crisis. Will it have the power to sustain a coalition government as the one that was formed in Turkey? Will it seize the opportunity to topple Mubarak and place another secular leader in his place? Or will the Brotherhood convince the army to move to the right and join forces with them? Will it be a repeat of the Iranian revolution of 1979? Or will this be (as the Muslim Brotherhood has proclaimed) the beginning of a full reclamation of all the Middle East for Islam and the ousting of every shred of Westernized influence?

At the moment, my prayers are with the people of Egypt...its young people, its mothers and fathers, its children...all the ones who are dreaming of freedom. I see so much optimism and idealism in their faces. May their dreams not be stolen by either a power-mad government or by the equally power-hungry alternative.

Is there is a different world being born? Or is it simply another opportunity for more oppression from another source?  We may well be surprised at what happens in Egypt. And if the Egyptian people are successful, it will have been the first truly Facebook revolution. Whether it was planned by a radical group or two young middle-class Egyptian men in their living room (which has been reported) it has been  the social media that has made it possible.

Either way...welcome to the zeitgeist....this is not your grandparent's revolution.