- I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
I could hardly believe my eyes on Friday — the fabulously symmetrical date of 11/02/2011 in European and Egyptian terms — when I woke up to the astounding news that Mubarak was gone.
Mubarak, a man who came to power when 8-tracks were still the rage and Jimmy Carter held the most powerful office on earth, a pillar of American and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East for three long decades, a cruel torturer and corrupt and despised dictator who seemed as solid and immovable as the Pyramids themselves, was eighty-sixed in eighteen short days. Without violence. And without anyone else’s help.
It’s hard to overstate what a staggering turn of events this is, though I hardly need to state it. You can just look at Yemen, at Bahrain, at Jordan, even at the Palestinian Authority (which recently sacked its cabinet and promised new elections in September), to see that this week is very different from last week. No longer can Arabs, driven under the heel of imperialist shenanigans for so long, be counted on to quietly tolerate whatever’s dished out to them because of misinformation and fear. Equally, not for much longer can they place the blame for their situation on external actors. They’re taking matters into their own hands. They’re preparing to take up both the blessings and the burdens of freedom.
Before anyone gets carried away and says something silly like, “See, George W. Bush was right!”, er, well, first of all, as Jon Stewart pointed out, George W. Bush didn’t invent freedom. He turned Iraq into a graveyard and a basket case, wasting lives and tax dollars with equal recklessness, all based on what’s now come to light to be indisputably a lie when Bush’s primary source admitted he made the whole thing up about WMDs. If Iraq climbs its way out of this miasma, it will be despite the US government’s meddling, not because of it.
This picture tells you everything you need to know about fake revolutions stage managed by foreign powers vs. real revolutions surging through the streets of life, riding on the pulse of public sentiment.
The Egyptian people have been longing for freedom since long before the neocons started playing checkers on the chessboard of the Middle East. And now — despite Mubarak’s secret police armed and trained and given impunity by the United States — they have risen up to claim it, all on their own. They vanquished not only Mubarak but the vile stereotype of Arabs as fundamentally less inclined to freedom, democracy, non-violence, and rationality than us white folks. As people who “crave” a strongman dictator because they’ll never be able to manage their lives themselves. This kind of rhetoric is the most transparent throwback to 19th century colonialism, yet it’s allowed to foam forth unchecked from our mainstream airwaves.
No more. Despite Mubarak’s best efforts, all the world’s media were there, watching the events unfold in real time, and the reality of it simply couldn’t be denied. I was frankly surprised they didn’t try harder to hide the reality. But with Al Jazeera English’s ratings surging, and with them reporting live and able to call any bullshit in real time, I guess CNN felt like it had better catch up or fade into irrelevance. It probably didn’t help Mubarak’s cause when some of his henchmen punched Anderson Cooper in the head.
(Check out the shockingly, brutally honest report from Anderson Cooper posted here.)
I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a Twitter Revolution. But the easy organizing and information dissemination of Facebook and Twitter and blogs have certainly helped enormously. The internet and Al Jazeera are creating a worldwide Glasnost. Lying dinosaurs beware!
Perhaps the single most hopeful statement to come out of the whole 18-day drama was this: “Despite the $1.5 or more billion in military aid Washington has provided Egypt every year since 1979, Mubarak’s government has been unable to use the military against the popular revolt.” Because the military refused to fire on their own people.
It’s funny how quickly billions of dollars worth of military hardware become absolutely worthless once your army refuses to use them.
So Mubarak tried something else. After his secret police were overwhelmed and driven off the streets, hundreds of armed thugs mysteriously appeared to beat and pummel and whip and shoot non-violent protesters and try to intimidate them into giving up and going home. Mubarak tried to act like the protesters were causing the violence, and told the country he was the only one who could bring stability back. But no one was fooled, including Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times:
“Today President Mubarak seems to have decided to crack down on the democracy movement, using not police or army troops but rather mobs of hoodlums and thugs… it is absurd to think of this as simply ‘clashes’ between two rival groups. The pro-democracy protesters are unarmed and have been peaceful at every step. But the pro-Mubarak thugs are arriving in buses and are armed — and they’re using their weapons.”
Of course, this only tripled everyone’s resolve. “I’ll stay here until Mubarak leaves,” one 59-year-old surgeon said. “I’m not afraid. We’ve broken with the fear we’ve lived with for 30 years.”
After fierce clashes, with the protesters armed with nothing but stones and blankets on their heads for helmets, several of the thugs were captured (many with their secret police IDs still on them!) and the rest were driven back. And the protests swelled.
It came, unfortunately, at an enormous loss: over 360 lives at the last count. But the people on the square, Christian and Muslim, religious and secular, young and old, professional and working class, were willing to die for freedom. The words “Give me liberty or give me death” haven’t been so immediately meaningful in a long time.
And it struck a nerve with Western journalists. It couldn’t help but do so. The truth has been hidden from so many for so long that you could literally watch as the scales fell from the eyes of many a mainstream journalist. I don’t know how long it will last, but even one breakthrough can have lifelong consequences. Historic consequences.
Roger Cohen of the New York Times said, “To accept the Mubarak-or-chaos argument is a form of disrespect to the civility and capacity of Tahrir Square [and of Egyptians in general]. It is an expression of Western failure before the exploding Arab thirst for dignity and representative government.”
Naturally the other thug dictators in the region are quaking in their jackboots at this brazen display of people power, and the fact that the King of the Nile for so many decades could be shown so quickly and thoroughly to be a paper tiger. Hilariously, they tried to blame “foreign infiltrators.”
But one inherent weakness of cruel tyrants is that the people know that once they start trying to overthrow him, they damn well better finish. Otherwise, once the protests are over the the press have left, every protester knows he may soon after get a 2am knock on his door from the friendly neighborhood torture squads. It was all or nothing. This was part of what gave it such power.
Another significant event that breathed life into the prolonged protest was the release of Wael Ghonim, a Google executive living in the United Arab Emirates who came home to Egypt to participate in the historic protests. He had earlier built a Facebook page to protest the beating to death of a man named Khalid Said in Egyptian police custody. Wael was quickly arrested by the Egyptian police and held incommunicado for eleven days. The night he was released, on February 7, he appeared on a privately-owned Egyptian television channel and gave a heart-rending interview. When the hostess showed him photographs of some of the young people who had been killed by Mubarak’s thugs, he broke down in tears.
Then he said, “I swear to God, this is not our mistake. It is the mistake of the people who want to hold onto power no matter what.”
Until this point, it can be argued that the protests were starting to sputter out. Millions of Egyptians, who had no access to information other than state-owned news and television, were starting to resent the disruption of their lives and believe the lies that the protesters were foreign agitators with nefarious intentions. But seeing Wael on television, eloquently and emotionally describing what was really happening, and looking like he could be any of their sons or brothers, charged the entire nation with the will to press forward.
Four days later, the mighty had fallen. The people of Egypt rejoiced deliriously.
But it wasn’t just about Egypt. I wrote on February 11, “Here’s what’s truly exciting about this day: The demonstrators didn’t get their way by the force of the gun or the bomb but by the force of their moral stance. This is the lesson that Gandhi and Martin Luther King taught us, and we just saw it in action on our TV screens in what we’d been led to believe was one of the unlikeliest spots on earth!”
As Howard Zinn said, “There is a basic weakness in governments — however massive their armies, however wealthy their treasuries, however they control the information given to the public — because their power depends on the obedience of citizens, of soldiers, of civil servants, of journalists, and writers, and teachers, and artists. When these people suspect they have been deceived, and when they withdraw their support, the government loses its legitimacy, and its power.”
Suddenly these words were no longer theoretical. We all watched it happen. And if it could happen there…
Now for some analysis — the best I’ve read in the past couple of weeks.
“Mubarak Defies a Humiliated America, Emulating Netanyahu” by Juan Cole, Informed Comment
“No, the Egyptian uprising won’t hurt the peace process” by Noam Sheizaf, Mondoweiss
Israel’s answer for everything: “We can’t let anyone or anything pressure Israel in even the slightest, tiniest little way, because it will hurt the peace process!” LOL, what peace process?
“Betting on Egypt democracy is Israel’s only choice” by Carlo Strenger, Haaretz
A nice, brief history lesson about how the US and Israel have been destroying democracy in the Middle East for decades (leading to the creation of, among other things, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolution). All this blowback is entirely predictable, and we’d better change course quick or things will get much worse down the line.
“America is about to begin a love affair with the Arab world” by Phil Weiss, Mondoweiss
I certainly hope so (and was honored to be mentioned in the article)
“US doubling down on Mideast horses” by Fadi Elsalameen, Al Jazeera English
This is an important article. The US can’t just keep backing dictators, ignoring entire civilian populations’ needs and desires, and assuming everything will somehow turn out OK. It’s time we stop building castles on (bloody) sand. We’ll do much better with partners who respect us (because we respect them) than subjects who despise us. 9/11 would never have happened if not for our policies in Egypt and Saudi (and Afghanistan in the eighties).
“The Egyptian Mirror” by Glenn Greenwald, Salon
“Moral proclamations notwithstanding, we’re not doing anything different with Egypt now [this was February 7]. We’re doing what we’ve always done: subjected the people of that region to hard-core oppression in order to advance what we perceive to be our interests (though, as 9/11 proved, that perception about self-interest is dubious in the extreme).”
“Egypt’s lost living treasures during the uprising against Mubarak” at If Americans Knew
Some of the beautiful faces and stories of the people who died for freedom in Egypt. We need more of these stories — bringing it down to the personal had the biggest emotional impact on me so far, and it makes the Obama Administration’s hemming and hawing while these people were killed all the more viscerally odious.
“A Private Estate called Egypt” by Salwa Ismail, The Guardian
Don’t forget the business interests. And check out the comments — some of the outrages outlined here are not so different from what’s happening with our elites in the US and Britain…
“The Palestinian Parallels” by Phil Weiss, Mondoweiss
Brilliant piece about the hypocrisy in the coverage of Egypt vs. the Palestinians. It shall not stand. Illusions are crumbling.
“Arabs seize the ‘permission to narrate’” by Dan Sisken, Mondoweiss
It’s not over by a long shot. True revolutions don’t happen in a day or a week or eighteen days. They take years of imperfect human beings doing their best and sometimes doing not so well. But at least the Egyptian people can finally breathe. A fresh air is blowing through Cairo, and they can take a lungful, look around, and figure out where to go from here. Because at last, it is up to them.