A little taste of what kind of democracy Egypt deserves

My following analysis appears on ABC Unleashed/The Drum today:

An Egyptian blogger displayed characteristic humour when news broke overnight that president Hosni Mubarak would not be stepping down:

Mubarak (n.): a psychotic ex-girlfriend who fails 2 understand it’s over.

If Mubarak and his new deputy Omar Suleiman thought their speeches would placate the protesters, they were sorely mistaken. Local bloggers and activists reacted with anger and determination.

Indeed, one wonders, with recent WikiLeaks revelations about the close relationship between Israel, America and Suleiman if their announcements weren’t coordinated with Washington.

The Obama administration is seemingly incapable of categorically siding with the protestors because America’s matrix of repression across the Middle East requires dictatorships to remain in place. Arab democracy has been a contradiction in terms for the US and Zionism for decades.

Tel Aviv and Washington have long seen Suleiman as a steady pair of hands, a brute all-too-keen to allegedly keep the Islamist beast at bay, suppress Hamas, manage the border with Gaza and maintain the siege and torture “terror” suspects brought from America, Europe or the Middle East.

Indeed, Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib, who spoke exclusively to me last night, knows this reality well.

While in Egypt in 2001 he was personally visited by Suleiman, threatened and physically abused. Habib’s book, My Story, goes into detail about the kinds of psychological and physical pressure applied to him. The Australian Government recently implicitly acknowledged the validity of his claims by paying him an undisclosed amount of compensation.

Habib told me that he wanted the Australian government to assist bringing Suleiman to trial in an international court.

The Egyptian people will not go back to the past, something even acknowledged by president Obama’s latest statement. And yet a democratic façade, with Mubarak and/or Suleiman leading the country, is no change at all.

Sober analysis therefore brings only one conclusion; the Arab street is expendable so long as Israel and its Zionist backers are satisfied. Inside the US itself, there is little diplomatic pressure on Washington to encourage democratic change in Egypt but there is massive paranoia from Tel Aviv that freedom would challenges its “Middle East’s Only Democracy” tag.

This comment in last week’s New York Times, by former Israeli negotiator Daniel Levy, is symptomatic of the problem:

The Israelis are saying, après Mubarak, le deluge”¦It really can be distilled down to one thing, and that’s Israel.

Mubarak may have been inspired by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s snubbing of America when calling for a settlement freeze in the West Bank. The tactics were clear. Rally American domestic support against the move. Claim that relinquishing land would bring chaos, instability and a rise in Islamist terror. Talk about a belief in the peace process. Deepen and harden your position. Watch America never threaten the billions of dollars in annual aid. Remain a trusted client state.

Netanyahu and Mubarak are both playing America very skilfully though the Obama administration is well aware of the game.

Many in the Western press are suddenly fascinated with the Muslim Brotherhood, asking simplistic questions about inspiration from the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Tragically, 10 years after September 11, 2001, Islamist politics are routinely misunderstood in the West, often wilfully so. For many pundits, Islamism means Al Qaeda or Wahabi fanaticism. In reality, there are millions of Islamists across the Middle East who don’t loathe the West for its values; they often just want freedom from our meddling.

In fact, as Noam Chomsky correctly states, Western elites aren’t worried about Islamism; independence from the Western axis is the real threat:

A common refrain among pundits is that fear of radical Islam requires (reluctant) opposition to democracy on pragmatic grounds. While not without some merit, the formulation is misleading. The general threat has always been independence. The US and its allies have regularly supported radical Islamists, sometimes to prevent the threat of secular nationalism.

Talking about a truly independent Middle East requires an imagination solely lacking in establishment political circles.

Latin America in the last 10 years is analogous as far as seeing how the US reacts when countries chose to reject the Washington consensus. WikiLeaks has shown the tactics by which successive American administrations tried to tackle Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, a task ably assisted by many in the US media. Human rights concerns were an irrelevance; nationalising key resources was the perceived problem.

The protesters being beaten and tortured in Egypt are unlikely to receive tangible solidarity from Western governments. Instead, anybody across the world can provide solidarity and backing for the disparate masses longing for the kind of freedoms that we can take for granted. Without the huge uprisings in the last weeks across the Arab world, Canberra, London and Washington would have been very happy to continue business as usual.

That tells us all we need to know about who are the real democrats in the 21st century.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and the author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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