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We Must All Help Egypt

Excerpts from a speech to the Vancouver, Canada rally to stop the massacres in Egypt, Saturday, August 24, 2013

I am moved to see Egyptian-Canadians, supported by longtime peace activists, mobilizing today against the military dictatorship which has seized power in Cairo.

Calling what has happened by its right name – a coup – is very important because, under American law, designating the generals’ seizure of power by those four letters, c-o-u-p, requires an immediate suspension of $1.3 billion in US military aid. That’s a fact, and has been articulated by a very important US senator, Patrick Leahy, and even acknowledged by Republicans John McCain and Lindsay Graham.

Suspending that aid is the only way for President Obama to gain leverage against the generals in Cairo and to possibly make them back down before even worse disasters are inflicted on the people of Egypt. Once before, President Obama stood up and spoke out against the lobby for Mubarak’s military dictatorship. Obama endorsed the legitimacy of Muhammad Morsi’s election [in June 2012].

But for now, the new dictators and their defenders, from Saudi Arabia to Israel to the US Congress, have tied the president’s tongue. Only resistance in Egypt and public opinion in the Western world can free the president to state the truth and act on it. These rallies can hasten the day.

The United States and Canadian governments cannot maintain any global credibility if they support this dictatorship.

Too many of the apologists for Egypt’s military rulers are liberals who should know better. How on earth could the liberal Secretary of State, John Kerry, have said the military coup would “restore democracy”? How could so many Egyptian liberals and secularists share the same upside-down view? Some of them, like Mohammad el-Baradei, have since regretted their support of the generals and been forced to leave the country. Others, like Tamarod, who started the petition for Morsi’s ouster, have apparently doubled down and, according to this morning’s papers, are hoping to overthrow Hamas in Gaza next.

Why the confusion? What is going on? To clarify the massive confusion, it might be time to revive “teach-in” on our campuses and in our communities as soon as the school year opens.

It seems to me that the defenders are saying that Egypt’s democratic elections that chose Morsi and the Brotherhood would lead to a future dictatorship and so a dictatorship became necessary to restore democracy. That’s a logic of fear that is inconsistent with the idea of democracy itself.

I do not identify myself with the Muslim Brotherhood but with the democratic process. If people have problems with Morsi’s actions in office, it’s hard to argue that Morsi’s regime was growing into a tyranny. The police, the army and the judiciary, all the institutions of the Mubarak era, were against Morsi despite his being elected. So were at least 48 percent of Egypt’s voters. That’s not exactly totalitarianism, but paranoia run amok.

Anyone who says Morsi should be locked up and the Brotherhood wiped out is saying that there is no acceptable democratic or political path forward for Islam. But If Political Islam is rendered illegitimate, then isn’t the only alternative clandestine struggle, violence and sabotage, and isn’t where all this began in the prisons of Egypt decades ago? Do the defenders of the generals prefer to fight al Qaeda on the battlefield than political Islam in democratic elections? The rise of Political Islam is the target of this dictatorship, just as it was in Algeria in the 1990s before the generals of that country inflicted mass slaughter to prevent an Islamic election victory.

It may only be coincidental, but the Egyptian coup comes at a key moment when support for the Global War on Terrorism has been waning. Egypt under Mubarak was a major ally of the United States in the secret rendition and torture of unknown suspects. And Egypt provided special access through the Suez Canal and free airspace for US ships and planes carrying troops and supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan. After Mubarak, and under Morsi or any other elected leader, there would be an inevitable shift in Egypt away from being a lackey of the CIA and Pentagon. Egypt would have played a more constructive role in Gaza, in favor of the Palestinians, instead of automatically supporting the Israelis in exchange for American dollars. And if Egypt shifted towards a more balanced and independent role, other countries might have chosen more independent paths instead of subordinating their foreign policies to that of the Pentagon.

The initial acceptance of Morsi’s election by the United States was part of a thaw in the fundamentalist war-on-terrorism model. Public doubt and dissent have been on the rise. The anti-war movements were able to push back against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. There has been global blowback against the drone wars and revulsion against Guantanamo. The surveillance state is coming under greater criticism in part because of courageous whistleblowers. The trillion dollar costs of the secretive wars has become a burden for countries experiencing high unemployment and declining social services.

Now with the Egyptian coup, the war-on-terrorism model is being re-energized. Drone strikes are up in Yemen. After unexplained alerts, twenty US embassies were suddenly closed. Sarin gas is now discovered in Syria. The gates of Hell are opening across the Middle East. The Fortress Empire is being fortified. Democracy will have to wait, we are told – not only in Egypt but here in the shadow of the new Surveillance State with its secret wars and secret courts.

We must all help Egypt regain the democratic ground it has lost to the tanks and troops. Our own democratic rights, including the fundamental right to know what our governments are doing–where we are fighting and who we are funding–are at stake too.

Tom Hayden is a longtime activist and former California state senator.

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