The Egyptian Revolution

by GARY LEUPP

January 28, 2011, Day of Rage.

I’m watching live coverage of the Egyptian revolution on Al-Jazeera TV.  Cairo is swarming with hundreds of thousands, defying the curfew, hurling stones at the police. The images recall the Palestinian youth waging their Intifadas. The National Democratic Party headquarters is in flames. Downtown Suez has been taken over by the people, two police stations torched. The security forces are out in strength and shooting into crowds. But the people have lost their fear.

Reporters and commentators on Al-Jazeera and other channels have no choice but to note that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is widely hated, and that those in the street are seeking freedom from a dictatorship. But they also keep saying “The situation is getting worse.”

Worse?

I think of Mao Zedong’s response to critics of peasant rebellion in China in 1927. He noted that “even progressive people” saw uprisings as “terrible.” “But it’s not terrible,” he declared. “It is anything but ‘terrible.’ It’s fine!”

Watching the live coverage, I see the people of Egypt, fed up with their oppression, and inspired by the revolution in Tunisia, doing something very, very fine. It is inspiring. It is profoundly hopeful.

The Obama administration line (as summarized by Joe Biden, interviewed by Jim Lehrer on PBS), can be summarized as follows: Egyptians have the right to protest. Many are middle class folks, with legitimate concerns. But we should not refer to Mubarak as a dictator. It’s not time for him to go. He has been a key ally of the U.S. and Israel, in the “Middle East peace process” and the War on Terror. Egypt is dissimilar to Tunisia, and it would be “a stretch” to suggest that a trend is underway. The U.S. should encourage those protesting and Mubarak to talk. Everyone should avoid violence.

The mainstream infotainment media spin can be summarized like this: The “unrest” in Egypt puts the U.S. in a difficult position. On the one hand Mubarak has abetted U.S. “national interests” and been Israel’s only Arab ally. (These two are always assumed to be closely linked; the notion that an Arab leader is a friend of the U.S. to the extend that he kisses Israel’s ass is never questioned.) On the other hand, U.S. officials have been saying for years that the Middle East needs “democratic reform.”

This puts in the U.S. in bind, we are told. The U.S. confronts a “dilemma.” The talking heads depict the U.S. as somehow a victim in this situation. (Isn’t it terrible, they’re implying, that the Egyptian people by their militancy in favor of supposed U.S. ideals are trying to topple the USA’s best friend in the Arab world? What a headache to have to deal with!)

Seems to me however that this is another of those instances of chickens coming home to roost.

The U.S. has supported Mubarak primarily in appreciation for his stance towards Israel. (The mainstream media is referring to him as an “ally” of Israel.) It’s not really because he’s been a “partner in the peace process”—because there is no real peace process. Relentless Israeli settlement activity on Palestinian land supported by the Lobby in the U.S. has insured that.

Wikileaks documents indicate that Mubarak has been content for the “process” to lag indefinitely so that he could represent himself as the vital Arab middleman while enjoying two billion in U.S. military aid per year.  But Palestinians hate him for cooperating with the demonization of democratically elected Hamas and the embargo imposed on Gaza. And Egyptians hate him for, among many other things, betraying their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

Rather, the U.S. has supported Mubarak because he’s provided an Arab fig leaf for the unequivocal support for Israel that the U.S. has provided for decades. U.S. diplomats have, as Wikileaks reveal, at times expressed concern that the dictator might be causing some problems by his “heavy-handed” treatment of dissidents. But this is not a matter of moral indignation, or concern about the lives of Egyptians. It’s nothing more than an expression of concern that his fascistic rule might jeopardize his ability to help U.S.-Israeli policy in the region and keep the Suez Canal open.

And now that brutal rule has caused an explosion. The reaction from U.S. officials and political commentators is, “We never expected this.”

Well surprise, surprise! (These folks were dumbfounded by the Iranian Revolution of 1979 as well. Don’t they understand that people eventually fight back?)

I think of that old Langston Hughes poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Egypt is exploding. The deferred dreams of the Arab world are exploding. And even the corporate media acknowledges that the people are jubilant (while warning that none of this might be in “our interest”). But for people with some basic morals, concerned about the happiness of humanity in general, is this not totally fine?

Al-Jazeera shows viewers how U.S. officials are changing the tone of their comments, backing off more and more each day from support of Mubarak. They’re reiterating with increasing emphasis that the demonstrators indeed have legitimacy. (Did these people they just figure this out?) What sheer opportunism!

Obama, always the centrist opportunist wanting to be everybody’s friend, wants to be the Egyptian people’s friend. He showed that in Cairo in 2009. In his celebrated speech to the Muslim world he on the one hand spouted platitudes about U.S. acceptance of Islam and on the other insulted everyone’s intelligence by calling the invasion of Afghanistan a “war of necessity.” He (accurately) described the vicious assault on Iraq as a “war of choice,” but said anything about how those responsible for such a crime ought to be punished. He does not support any investigation that would show how neocon Zionists in his predecessor’s administration faked a case for war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Arabs.

His  real message is:  the U.S. can lie and kill, and then posture as the moral exemplar (maybe even apologizing slightly when crimes are embarrassingly exposed). Even so, the people of the world are supposed to understand that alignment with the U.S. is the best hope of their best hope.

And now Obama wants the best of both worlds: an ongoing engagement with Mubarak (if he survives), and a hand outstretched to the people of Egypt, tainted by so many other handshakes with so many dictators so far.

Demonstrators in Cairo note that tear gas canisters on the street are marked “Made in USA.” What should they to make of that? Who’s really encouraging their dreams? Who’s caused them to defer them, decade upon decade? It’s the same foe that has caused the deferment of dreams here in this country and around the world.

I learned to say shukran in Cairo. To my friends there now, engaged in this fine, fine battle, I say that now.

Shukran, shukran  for inspiring the world, showing that another world might be possible.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades. He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington