James Houle: Is this merely the end of another new beginning?

Redwood Valley

Most revolutions over the past 50 years, whether in Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, or even China have not been very thorough: they have seldom really thrown the bums out. Promising beginnings certainly, but usually ending in a mere reshuffling of the same old deck: replacing obviously corrupt cabinet ministers with a few new faces. The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon (2005) threw out the tattered remnants of the Syria’s Army brigades that had earlier suppressed Lebanon’s civil war (with USA approval), but then left a Sunni/Christian minority in power led by the late Rafik Harriri’s inept son Saad. Algeria’s Marxist government replaced the French colonialists in 1962 but has gradually drifted back to a corrupt oligarchy, severely suppressing popular Islamic parties and the minority Kabylie people. Nasser’s Pan-Arabism was seduced by the almighty dollar under Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak and remains, at least until today, a client garrison state of the United States and the defender of Israel’s southern flank. Libya threw out their aging King Idris in 1969 and installed the autocrat Omar Ghadafi who writes obscure pseudo-religious pamphlets and wanted to live in a tent while in New York for the recent UN conference. He dropped his tiresome anti-West platform after Ronnie Reagan dropped a few bombs on his family tent, and the US/UK insisted he cough up two Libyans that they could pin the Lockerbee disaster upon, despite much evidence to the contrary. Now Ghadafi is merely eccentric Uncle Omar, working hand in glove with western oil companies, keeping his small population quiet, and regretting Ben Ali’s overthrow in Tunisia.

An Aborted Beginning in China
I witnessed first hand the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square back in 1989 when the police and municipal authorities were essentially driven from power by the students. Within days after the massacre on June 4th, the Chinese Communist Party (CCCP) was back in charge and Mao’s paint-smeared portrait thoroughly cleaned. All student demonstrators were identified and thrown in prison. Congo’s “President for Life” Joseph Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 after 35 years by Laurent-Désiré Kabila. An entire plane-load of US State Department and Pentagon worthies immediately descended upon Kinshasa carrying suitcases full of greenbacks and broad smiles so as to assure that this seeming revolution would be friendly to the interests of our mining corporations.

And Now Tunisia and Maybe Lebanon?
Just last week, our Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, dropped into Tunis and spent two days discussing who might be an acceptable replacement for the dearly departed President Ben Ali, who was still fastening his seat-belt for the short flight into exile in Jeddah. “We have heard the voice of the Tunisian people loud and clear” Feltman trumpeted. It is widely reported that the US had already advised the Tunisian military to withdraw their support for Ben Ali, leaving the President no choice but to call good old Saudi King Abdullah for an invite. A cosmetic cabinet shuffle was effected, leaving real power in the hands of the same dog robbers. We do not know whether the crowd on the street will grow tired and accept this fix. Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the banned Nahda Party, and still under a life sentence imposed by Ben Ali, has now returned from a 22-year exile but seems reluctant to lead. If things will just quiet down a bit in downtown Tunis, Feltman and the Quay D’Orsy (French foreign office) can get on with their work.

Our Assistant Secretary Feltman did much the same work, behind the scenes, in Lebanon back in 2009. Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton et al. that patch-up has just fallen apart as a result of open elections that replaced Saad Hariri’s government with a coalition that holds a majority of the seats in Parliament, and includes the Hezbullah, the Druze and even a group of Christians. The US and the French have worked tirelessly behind the scenes, placing scare stories in the American press about how Hezbullah will now attack Israel, something they have never attempted nor even espoused. President Obama, encouraged by AIPAC (American Israeli Political Action Committee) is threatening to cut off all US aid to Lebanon. Pleas to Israel to give UN sappers maps that locate the four million US-manufactured cluster bomblets that they left scattered around the villages of southern Lebanon upon their departure in 2006 have been ignored.

To Control or Merely To Kill?
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Bill Clinton’s grizzly old National Security Adviser, wrings his hands at all these ‘Global Political Awakenings’ and bemoans that: “In earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today it is infinitely easier to kill one million than to control one million.” Good old Zibby, always there with a happy twist./(Global Research 01/27/11)/. Are we really seeing the beginnings of a new ‘global awakening’? Given how many revolutions have been choked with butter and bucks, the upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia could just as well be the end of just another hapless beginning. After all, the United States strategy of democratization in these countries often consists of “creating the outward visible constructs of a democratic state (multi-party elections, an active civil society, ‘independent’ media etc.) and yet maintaining continuity: subservience to the World Bank, the IMF, multinational corporations and the Western Powers.” /(Global Research 01/27/11)/. Joe Biden is so confused by all this he’s not sure whether Mubarak is really a dictator. (/01/27/11 Lehrer News Hour)/.

Mubarak Shuffles the Deck and Digs In
Mubarak has appointed a new prime minister Ahmed Shafik, a long-time deputy of Mubarak with a reputation for toughness. The new interior minister, former internal-security chief Gen. Mahmoud Wagdy, was Egypt’s top jailer. Robert Fisk, writing for /The Guardian (01/30/11)/, describes the new Vice President Omar Suleiman as “an elderly (75) apparatchik.” /Jane Meier in her book “The Dark Side/,” explains that since 1993 Suleiman headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service and was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—under which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and turned them over Egypt for brutal interrogation sessions. Military Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Anan, another who has worked hand in glove with the US, fortunately was in DC when the shit came down in Cairo. Obama’s people undoubtedly advised him of what we considered the military’s appropriate response to the revolt.

The US press is filled with dire warnings about what would happen were the Moslem Brotherhood to seize power. Mohamed ElBaradei and others find this fear of the Brotherhood to be a myth. He explained that the Brotherhood spoke for a small minority in a country which does not have a strong attachment to moslem fundamentalism. Nevertheless, it has served as an effective fear-producer with the American public that has been fed a daily diet of such propaganda about ‘Islamic fascists’ ever since 9/11. Another fear tactic used to justify a serious crackdown upon demonstrators is the threat to private property by looters and armed gangs. Al Jezirah reported that in Tunis, Ben Ali had sent security police in plain clothes to loot and to encourage others to loot in Tunis. The Mubarak regime was reported by Stratfor, MSNBC, and Al Jezirah to have had a hand in the looting in and around Cairo. The security police (SCP), abandoned their task of assuring law and order when the crowds became too large, but are still equipped with guns. /MSNBC’s Richard Engel/ also reported on /Meet The Press (01/30/11)/ that the regime ‘allowed’ thousands of prisoners to escape from prison as a means to show the public what chaos could result were the Mubarak government forced from power. The major US TV networks have reported looting by armed mobs and criminals in the past week without ever mentioning Mubarak’s hand in this.

Clearly caught by surprise at the strength of the protests, the US has seemed a mere spectator. Press Secretary Gibbs has urged that Mubarak conduct “meaningful negotiations with a broad spectrum of the people”, something Mubarak has not done in his 30 years of power. The Obama administration claims to have nurtured contacts with various Egyptian opposition groups although Gibbs admits we have had no contact with the most vocal opposition party, the Moslem Brotherhood, nor with Mohammed El Baradei, former head of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and a possible future President. Now we see Mubarak trying to save his government even if he must resign. Obama and Clinton have not exactly urged his resignation. A means of transition has not been defined and they may very well fear that the public out on the streets will not accept a new government consisting mostly of the old faces Mubarak has announced.

The army was called out when the Central Security Forces (CSF) had obviously lost control to the mob. Now that the army has refused to take sides and instead seems even friendly to the demonstrators, it is reported /(STRATFOR reports 01/30/11) /that Mubarak has redeployed the CSF. This could result in major bloodshed. Many plain-clothed police were filmed and broadcast internationally just last week beating up demonstrators. Baradei has appeared on the street and has offered to head a transition government leading up to the elections scheduled for next fall. The Moslem Brotherhood has been reluctant to take the lead themselves, after a long history of suppression, jailing, and even murder by Mubarak’s people.

The US maneuvers for position so that they may subvert and control whoever next comes to power. Former US Ambassador Frank G. Wisner (1986 to ’91) was dispatched to Cairo “to reinforce the US message to Egypt” according to Gibbs, who was careful not to define that message. After all, someone had to give the bad news to Hosni Mubarak: that the US Magic Carpet is being withdrawn. This back channel visit well illustrates how the US tries to direct the transfer of power within its client states. Real democracy is the usual casualty. Robert Fisk laments /(Guardian 01/30/11)/ “the lines of power and the lines of morality in Washington fail to intersect when US Presidents have to deal with the Middle East.” Mubarak seems unwilling to step aside. This makes it more difficult for the US to continue to prop up the established order in Egypt. Stay tuned.