by Gary Farber
Exhausted, scared and trapped, protesters put forward plan for future. [...] Sitting on filthy pavements, amid the garbage and broken stones of a week of street fighting, they have drawn up a list of 25 political personalities to negotiate for a new political leadership and a new constitution to replace Mubarak's crumbling regime.
They include Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League – himself a trusted Egyptian; the Nobel prize-winner Ahmed Zuwail, an Egyptian-American who has advised President Barack Obama; Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, a professor and author of Islamic studies who is close to the Muslim Brotherhood; and the president of the Wafd party, Said al-Badawi.
Other nominees for the committee, which was supposed to meet the Egyptian Vice-President, Omar Suleiman, within 24 hours, are Nagib Suez, a prominent Cairo businessman (involved in the very mobile phone systems shut down by Mubarak last week); Nabil al-Arabi, an Egyptian UN delegate; and even the heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub, who now lives in Cairo.
The selection – and the makeshift committee of Tahrir Square demonstrators and Facebook and Twitter "electors" – has not been confirmed, but it marks the first serious attempt to turn the massive street protests of the past seven days into a political machine that provides for a future beyond the overthrow of the much-hated President. The committee's first tasks would be to draw up a new Egyptian constitution and an electoral system that would prevent the president-for-life swindle which Mubarak's fraudulent elections have created. Instead, Egyptian presidents would be limited to two consecutive terms of office, and the presidential term itself would be reduced from six to four years.
But no one involved in this initiative has any doubts of the grim future that awaits them if their brave foray into practical politics fails. There was more sniping into Tahrir Square during the night – an engineer, a lawyer and another young man were killed – and plain-clothes police were again discovered in the square. There were further minor stone-throwing battles during the day, despite the vastly increased military presence, and most of the protesters fear that if they leave the square they will immediately be arrested, along with their families, by Mubarak's cruel state security apparatus.
Already, there are dark reports of demonstrators who dared to return home and disappeared. The Egyptian writer Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who is involved in the committee discussions, is fearful for himself. "We're safe as long as we have the square," he said to me yesterday, urging me to publish his name as a symbol of the freedom he demands. "If we lose the square, Mubarak will arrest all the opposition groups – and there will be police rule as never before. That's why we are fighting for our lives."
The state security police now have long lists of names of protesters who have given television interviews or been quoted in newspapers, Facebook postings and tweets.
The protesters have identified growing divisions between the Egyptian army and the thugs of the interior ministry, whose guards exchanged fire with soldiers three days ago as they continued to occupy the building in which basement torture chambers remain undamaged by the street fighting. These were the same rooms of horror to which America's "renditioned" prisoners were sent for "special" treatment at the hands of Mubarak's more sadistic torturers – another favour which bound the Egyptian regime to the United States as a "trusted" ally.
Another young man involved in the committee selections admitted he didn't trust Omar Suleiman, the former spy boss and Israeli-Palestinian negotiator whom Mubarak appointed this week. Suleiman it is, by the way, who has been trying to shuffle responsibility for the entire crisis on to the foreign press – a vicious as well as dishonest way of exercising his first days of power. Yet he has cleverly outmanoeuvred the demonstrators in Tahrir Square by affording them army protection.
Then, from the middle vehicle emerged the diminutive, bespectacled figure of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the chief of staff of the Egyptian army and a lifelong friend of Mubarak, wearing a soft green military kepi and general's cross-swords insignia on his shoulders.
Here was a visitor to take the breath away, waving briefly to the protesters who crowded the military cordon to witness this extraordinary arrival. The crowd roared. "The Egyptian army is our army," they shouted in unison. "But Mubarak is not ours." It was a message for Tantawi to take back to his friend Mubarak, but his visit was itself a powerful political symbol. However much Mubarak may rave about "foreign hands" behind the demands for his overthrow, and however many lies Suleiman may tell about foreign journalists, Tantawi was showing that the army took its mission to protect the demonstrators seriously. The recent military statement that it would never fire on those who wish to dethrone Mubarak, since their grievances were "legitimate", was authorised by Tantawi. Hence the demonstrators' belief – however naïve and dangerous – in the integrity of the military.
Crucially missing from the list of figures proposed for the committee are Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN arms inspectors and Nobel laureate, and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the "Islamist" spectre which Mubarak and the Israelis always dangled in front of the Americans to persuade them to keep old Mubarak in power. The Brotherhood's insistence in not joining talks until Mubarak's departure – and their support for ElBaradei, whose own faint presidential ambitions (of the "transitional" kind) have not commended themselves to the protesters – effectively excluded them. Suleiman has archly invited the Brotherhood to meet him, knowing that they will not do so until Mubarak has gone.
Cairo’s curfew has been reduced by three hours. People must be off the streets between 7pm and 6am instead of 5pm and 7am.
Al Jazeera offices torched
The Cairo offices of Al Jazeera were stormed and set alight. The broadcaster blamed supporters of President Mubarak for trying to hinder its coverage, adding that its website was also hacked. Last week, authorities closed the office and revoked credentials of its reporters.
Egypt economy slumps
Egypt’s economy has lost at least $3.1bn due to the crisis, investment bank Crédit Agricole said yesterday. The unrest has closed businesses and banks, and thousands of tourists have fled. The bank said the crisis is costing Egypt at least $310m per day, and said the Egyptian pound could depreciate by 20 per cent.
Obama criticises intelligence
President Obama sent a note bemoaning failure of US intelligence to predict crises in Tunisia and Egypt, AP reported.
What happens next?
Protests fizzle out
[...] The preferred solution of the Western powers, in particular the US, which has been leading demands that "an orderly transition must begin now". For Mr Mubarak to agree he would have to be convinced that he would be able to step down in a "dignified" fashion. The most likely catalyst will be the senior echelons of the army, especially now that Mr Mubarak has given the US short shrift. If he were to go, his Vice-President, Omar Suleiman, would take charge of a transitional government, including opposition elements, ahead of new elections.
The leadership of Egypt's ruling party has resigned is what is seen as a major concession to try to appease protesters who have demonstrated against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
State TV reports that members of the Steering Committee of the General Secretariat stepped down and were replaced. Among those who have resigned: the son of President Mubarak, Gamal Mubarak, and the National Democratic Party's secretary-general, Safwat el-Sharif.
The council was the party's highest decision-making body, and el-Sharif and other outgoing members were some of the most powerful (and to many Egyptians, unpopular) political figures in the regime.
El-Sharif was replaced by Hossam Badrawi, member of the liberal wing of the party who had been sidelined within the NDP ranks in recent years because of his sharp criticisms of some policies.
Also gone from the Council are Zakaria Azmi, the Presidential Chief of Staff; Mufid Shehab, the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs; and Information Secretary Ali Eddin Hilal.
Reuters and Al Araibya television have earlier reported that President Mubarak himself had resigned from a leadership position in the NDP as well, but those reports appear to have stemmed from confusion that Mubarak is chairman over the council which resigned.
This comes as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking today at an international security conference in Munich, signaled that U.S. support has swung behind a transition headed by the recently-named vice president, Omar Suleiman.
"There are forces at work in any society, particularly one that is facing these kind of challenges, that will try to derail or overtake the process to pursue their own agenda, which is why I think it's important to follow the transition process announced by the Egyptian government, actually headed by vice-president Omar Suleiman," Clinton said.
But the White House would like to see more progress.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said today Suleiman's meetings with opposition figures so far "are not broad enough, not credible enough."
Crowley said the U.S. wanted Egypt's government to do more, while urging the opposition to participate in dialogue.
He also said there were strong indications that attacks on journalists in Cairo were part of a concerted effort to stifle reporting on the crisis. He did not, however, blame Mubarak or the government.
There were reports earlier this morning that Suleiman and top military leaders were discussing way to limit President Hosni Mubarak's powers, as a way to ease him out of control, Egyptian and American officials told The New York Times. A transitional government headed by Suleiman would then negotiate with the opposition movement on devising and implementing democratic reforms.
Protest leaders have also met with the country's prime minister, but it is unclear what progress may have been made in those meetings.
Al Jazeera reported that Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq was prepared to listen to any and all demands made by the demonstrators, except for Mubarak's early departure.
Shafiq told state TV that Friday's 100,000-strong demonstration, referred to by protesters as a "Day fo Departure," failed to force Mubarak out. "We haven't been affected, and God willing next Friday we won't be affected," he said. "All this leads to stability."
Satyagraha (Sanskrit: सत्याग्रह satyāgraha), loosely translated as "Soul Force," "truth force," or "holding on to truth," is a philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance developed and conceived by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (also known as "Mahatma" Gandhi). Gandhi deployed satyagraha in the Indian independence movement and also during his earlier struggles in South Africa. Satyagraha theory influenced Nelson Mandela's struggle in South Africa under apartheid, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s campaigns during the civil rights movement in the United States, and many other social justice and similar movements
The Mahatma wrote:
"I have drawn the distinction between passive resistance as understood and practised in the West and satyagraha before I had evolved the doctrine of the latter to its full logical and spiritual extent. I often used “passive resistance” and “satyagraha” as synonymous terms: but as the doctrine of satyagraha developed, the expression “passive resistance” ceases even to be synonymous, as passive resistance has admitted of violence as in the case of suffragettes and has been universally acknowledged to be a weapon of the weak. Moreover, passive resistance does not necessarily involve complete adherence to truth under every circumstance. Therefore it is different from satyagraha in three essentials: Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong; it admits of no violence under any circumstance whatsoever; and it ever insists upon truth. I think I have now made the distinction perfectly clear."
In traditional violent and nonviolent conflict, the goal is to defeat the opponent or frustrate the opponent’s objectives, or to meet one’s own objectives despite the efforts of the opponent to obstruct these. In satyagraha, by contrast, these are not the goals. “The Satyagrahi’s object is to convert, not to coerce, the wrong-doer.” Success is defined as cooperating with the opponent to meet a just end that the opponent is unwittingly obstructing. The opponent must be converted, at least as far as to stop obstructing the just end, for this cooperation to take place.
And then came reality:
Massive population exchanges occurred between the two newly-formed states in the months immediately following Partition. Once the lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders to what they hoped was the relative safety of religious majority. Based on 1951 Census of displaced persons, 7,226,000 Muslims went to Pakistan from India while 7,249,000 Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan immediately after partition.
About 11.2 million or 78% of the population transfer took place in the west, with Punjab accounting for most of it; 5.3 million Muslims moved from India to West Punjab in Pakistan, 3.4 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan to East Punjab in India; elsewhere in the west 1.2 million moved in each direction to and from Sind. However, the net flow of Muslims since partition is from Pakistan to India. More Muslims in Pakistan have chosen to come and stay in India than Muslims in India have chosen to move to Pakistan.
The newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with migrations of such staggering magnitude, and massive violence and slaughter occurred on both sides of the border. Estimates of the number of deaths range around roughly 500,000, with low estimates at 200,000 and high estimates at 1,000,000.
Many international media commentators – and some academic and political analysts – are having a hard time understanding the complexity of forces driving and responding to these momentous events. This confusion is driven by the binary “good guys versus bad guys” lenses most use to view this uprising. Such perspectives obscure more than they illuminate. There are three prominent binary models out there and each one carries its own baggage: (1) People versus Dictatorship: This perspective leads to liberal naïveté and confusion about the active role of military and elites in this uprising. (2) Seculars versus Islamists: This model leads to a 1980s-style call for “stability” and Islamophobic fears about the containment of the supposedly extremist “Arab street.” Or, (3) Old Guard versus Frustrated Youth: This lens imposes a 1960s-style romance on the protests but cannot begin to explain the structural and institutional dynamics driving the uprising, nor account for the key roles played by many 70-year-old Nasser-era figures.
To map out a more comprehensive view, it may be helpful to identify the moving parts within the military and police institutions of the security state and how clashes within and between these coercive institutions relate to shifting class hierarchies and capital formations. I will also weigh these factors in relation to the breadth of new non-religious social movements and the internationalist or humanitarian identity of certain figures emerging at the center of the new opposition coalition.
Western commentators, whether liberal, left or conservative, tend to see all forces of coercion in non-democratic states as the hammers of “dictatorship” or as expressions of the will of an authoritarian leader. But each police, military and security institution has its own history, culture, class-allegiances, and, often its own autonomous sources of revenue and support as well. It would take many books to lay this all out in detail; but let me make a brief attempt here. In Egypt the police forces (al-shurta) are run by the Interior Ministry which was very close to Mubarak and the Presidency and had become politically co-dependent on him. But police stations gained relative autonomy during the past decades. In certain police stations this autonomy took the form of the adoption of a militant ideology or moral mission; or some Vice Police stations have taken up drug running; or some ran protection rackets that squeezed local small businesses. The political dependability of the police, from a bottom-up perspective, is not high. Police grew to be quite self-interested and entrepreneurial on a station-by-station level. In the 1980s, the police faced the growth of “gangs,” referred to in Egyptian Arabic as baltagiya. These street organizations had asserted self-rule over Cairo’s many informal settlements and slums. Foreigners and the Egyptian bourgeoisie assumed the baltagiya to be Islamists but they were mostly utterly unideological. In the early 1990s the Interior Ministry decided “if you can’t beat them, hire them.” So the Interior Ministry and the Central Security Services started outsourcing coercion to these baltagiya, paying them well and training them to use sexualized brutality (from groping to rape) in order to punish and deter female protesters and male detainees, alike. During this period the Interior Ministry also turned the State Security Investigations (SSI) (mabahith amn al-dawla) into a monstrous threat, detaining and torturing masses of domestic political dissidents.
Autonomous from the Interior Ministry we have the Central Security Services (Amn al-Markazi). These are the black uniformed, helmeted men that the media refer to as “the police.” Central Security was supposed to act as the private army of Mubarak. These are not revolutionary guards or morality brigades like the basiji who repressed the Green Movement protesters in Iran. By contrast, the Amn al-Markazi are low paid and non-ideological. Moreover, at crucial times, these Central Security brigades have risen up en masse against Mubarak, himself, to demand better wages and working conditions. Perhaps if it weren’t for the sinister assistance of the brutal baltagiya, they would not be a very intimidating force. The look of unenthusiastic resignation in the eyes of Amn al-Markazi soldiers as they were kissed and lovingly disarmed by protesters has become one of the most iconic images, so far, of this revolution. The dispelling of Mubarak’s authority could be marked to precisely that moment when protesters kissed the cheeks of Markazi officers who promptly vanished into puffs of tear gas, never to return.
The Armed Forces of the Arab Republic of Egypt are quite unrelated to the Markazi or police and see themselves as a distinct kind of state altogether. One could say that Egypt is still a “military dictatorship” (if one must use that term) since this is still the same regime that the Free Officers’ Revolution installed in the 1950s. But the military has been marginalized since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with Israel and the United States. Since 1977, the military has not been allowed to fight anyone. Instead, the generals have been given huge aid payoffs by the US. They have been granted concessions to run shopping malls in Egypt, develop gated cities in the desert and beach resorts on the coasts. And they are encouraged to sit around in cheap social clubs.
These buy-offs have shaped them into an incredibly organized interest group of nationalist businessmen. They are attracted to foreign investment; but their loyalties are economically and symbolically embedded in national territory. As we can see when examining any other case in the region (Pakistan, Iraq, the Gulf), US military-aid money does not buy loyalty to America; it just buys resentment. In recent years, the Egyptian military has felt collectively a growing sense of national duty, and has developed a sense of embittered shame for what it considers its “neutered masculinity:” its sense that it was not standing up for the nation’s people. The nationalistic Armed Forces want to restore their honor and they are disgusted by police corruption and baltagiya brutality. And it seems that the military, now as “national capitalists,” have seen themselves as the blood rivals of the neoliberal “crony capitalists” associated with Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal who have privatized anything they can get their hands on and sold the country’s assets off to China, the US, and Persian Gulf capital.
There's more. There's always more.
And the children shall lead them:
And always the dead cry out.
Let us hope:
- Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper.
- Francis Bacon, Apophthegms (1624), No. 36
While there's life there’s hope, and only the dead have none.
Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar;Wait the great teacher, Death, and God adore;What future bliss He gives not thee to know,But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
- Theocritus (3rd century BC), Idyll 4, line 42; tr. A. S. F. Gow, Theocritus ( 1952) vol. 1, p. 37.