What You Need To Know About the Protests in Egypt

Some of you may have some questions about what is going on in Egypt these days. Or perhaps you have friends who do. Either way, below is some of the basic information you need to make sense of current events.

What are the protests about?

The focus of the media coverage and the public calls has been on the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and this is certainly the central demand of the protests. Less talked about are more fundamental demands, like the rescinding of the emergency laws that have been in force continuously since 1981 and for much of the period before that year since the law was passed in 1958. These laws allow for extreme restrictions on basic freedoms.

The crowd in Tahrir Square in Cairo

Protesters also want Parliament disbanded and elections held for the 454-seat body as well as the presidency. The western media (and much of the Middle Eastern as well) has focused on Mubarak, understandably, since he has also been so prominent in the protests. But while the protesters are certainly insisting that Mubarak resign immediately, the point is much broader than merely replacing the president. It is a call for a broad reform, even restructuring, of the Egyptian government. Continue reading

Stability As Code For Keeping Dictators In Power

Israel has apparently begun working to press Europe and the United States to try to save the embattled regime of Hosni Mubarak. Ha’aretz reports that Netanyahu asked other countries to tone down criticism of Mubarak. However, while the headline says this came from Netanyahu, the article only mentions the foreign ministry, and, as we have seen many times, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman writes his own foreign policy and sometimes acts without necessarily coordinating with the Prime Minister’s office.

Mohammed ElBaradei, possible next president of Egypt

In either case, Israel is once again showing itself to be horribly out of touch with the realities of the world they live in. There is only one, very slim, possibility for Mubarak’s survival and that is massive violence. This would probably fail as well, and if it succeeded, it probably would not succeed for long. And in the aftermath, Israel, the US and Europe would be facing a much angrier country that would be far less concerned about maintaining good relations outside the Arab world.

In any case, it doesn’t seem that anyone in Europe, nor the Obama administration, is interested in interfering with Egypt directly, though one suspects they’d all prefer to see Mubarak remain long enough to pass the mantle off to someone who would maintain Egypt’s current stances in foreign policy. The fact that they all were happy to work with Mubarak for thirty years despite his awful human rights record and refusal to democratize the country indicates that these are not the concerns of the foreigners.

Israel’s urging for other countries to prioritize Egyptian “stability” is simply code for maintaining the status quo, at least as far as Egypt’s real positions and actions in regard to the Palestinians, to Israel, to Iran and the Middle East in general. They seem to have completely missed the fact that the status quo has already crumbled in Egypt. Things are changing, and Israel’s desperation for holding the status quo is not only foolhardy, it reflects an inability to deal with changes that are already happening (increasing public pressure in Turkey, Europe, the US and elsewhere to free the Palestinians from occupation)  and an even greater inability to deal with even more changes that are coming.  Continue reading

Thoughts for the Day II: American Reactions

A lot of things will grow out of the Egyptian protests that we cannot predict, but at this point, very few have begun yet. What has begun is what one colleague called the “Blameobamathon.” Aluf Benn, writing in Ha’aretz, says that Obama will be remembered as the President who “lost Egypt.” This is obvious nonsense, of course. What’s happened in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as what is simmering in Jordan and Yemen, is connected to the US only insofar as the dictators in those countries are “our guys.” That is a policy that has endured for a long time with most of these regimes since the early days of the Reagan Administration or even the days of Jimmy Carter. And the policy has stayed the same, with only minor changes, no matter who is in the White House. It’s just Obama’s fortune that it bubbled over now. What this view shows, more than anything else, is the arrogance of America, shared by Israel, that everything that happens in the world can and should be controlled, prevented or created by the USA. Egypt and Tunisia are demonstrations that this is simply untrue…

An Egyptian government led by Mohammed ElBaradei is probably the best case scenario for US concerns in the region, but it would still be a big shift away from Mubarak. ElBaradei is a seasoned veteran of the international arena, having once headed the International Atomic Energy Agency, spent many years in the Egyptian foreign ministry and worked in the UN. He also was a professor at Yale for a number of years, so he knows the United States very well. He is about as moderate a leader as one could ever imagine coming out of this turmoil, in both the real sense of that word as well as the American meaning, which is that he will cooperate with our program. But that latter sense will only go so far, as ElBaradei will have to work within a very new Egyptian framework where the Muslim Brotherhood will be a very influential force and where the Egyptian populace’s views will be much more of a concern. That will mean a general encouragement of getting along with the US, but not when it conflicts with the popular sentiment in Egypt. This means, among other things, an end to helping Israel sustain its blockade of Gaza and an end in general to cooperating with the occupation. But I doubt that will necessarily lead to open hostility to Israel, unless the Israeli and American response to the new Egypt is particularly provocative or insulting….


Thoughts for the Day I: Are You Kidding With Suleiman? and Waiting for the Islamophobic Ravings

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s end is now inevitable, and his appointment of Omar Suleiman as Egypt’s “first vice president” shows his desperate flailing and lack of realistic options. Suleiman is very close to Mubarak and has always supported his policies, domestically and internationally. He has been heading Egypt’s intelligence services for almost two decades. But he has also been Mubarak’s most prominent emissary in dealing with the Israelis and in strategic discussions with the United States. One can only interpret this as an attempt to pander to the US, in the hope that they can and will do something to rescue Mubarak, or at least try to sustain the current government’s policies with his successor. It won’t happen….

So far, it seems the Western anti-Muslim hysteria has not been able to latch onto anything to promote irrational fear of “radical Islam” taking over in Egypt, despite the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in these protests. The MB, which, contrary to its frequent portrayal in the US, is actually a moderate Muslim group these days who, in Egypt and elsewhere, have forgone violence and embraced popular activism and political agitation, has been used as a frightening specter in the West in the past. But both the fact that this is clearly a struggle for freedom and the fact that the protests were not sparked by the MB (indeed, they were probably a little late in joining in support) and have featured an astonishing cross-section of Egyptian society have prevented this. But the fact is that whatever emerges in Egypt is likely to be more independent-minded than  Mubarak and certainly less willing to be complicit in Israel’s policies vis a vis the Palestinians. When that becomes apparent, the demonization is sure to begin…