James Houle: Egypt Tries to Overcome the Army

Redwood Valley

With a rebel force supported by neo-colonialists from France, UK and Italy attacking the Qaddafi regime in Libya,widespread demonstrations and heavy-handed suppression by Bashar al-Assad in Syria, brutal suppression by King Khalifa in Bahrain using Saudi tanks, and weekly mass marches upon the Presidential Palace in Yemen, the calm that is Egypt today is hard to believe – unless you are there.

Your Editor, Jim Houle returned from a visit to Egypt in late April and can tell you that the Egyptians are a most peaceful and accommodating people and that their sense of common identity as Egyptians above all else, goes back at least three thousand years and holds them together.

Yet the Army arrested American University Law Professor Amr Shalakany during a recent altercation and charged him with “insulting the military Supreme Council”. The Army Supreme Council were given sole executive power in Egypt after President Mubarrak resigned 11 February following weeks of mass demonstrations in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Suez and many other cities. The Army will rule by decree until parliamentary elections in the fall. While first seen as supporters of the people in the street, blocking State Security Police and goon squads from roughing up demonstrators, the Army have now drifted back to their more familiar role as defenders of law, order and privilege. They have reacted to further demonstrations and worker protest marches that have erupted sporadically during April and May with beatings, mass arrests for ‘thuggery’, and extended imprisonment without charges. The total extent of these protests has not been high but they have been frequent. However, this was not the case in Qena, upriver near Luxor, where the replacement of a Mubarrak crony as provincial governor by a Coptic Christian resulted in the people blocking the main rail line and highway to Aswan, and disturbing all commerce for weeks. (William Fisher – The Public Record: 5-9-11) In Port Suez, a popular trial was held outdoors to condemn the former governor of the province for corruption. The Army detained the former Energy Minister on charges of having given Israel a sweetheart deal on natural gas, and incarcerated Mubarrak’s cabinet Ministers of the Interior, Finance, Tourism, Housing, Trade and Industry as well as the former Prime Minister. Mubarrak’s sons Gamal and Alaa were also arrested. More than twenty new governors have been sworn in replacing Mubarrak cronies, in most cases with other insiders.

In a recent TV interview, quoted in the Economist, a member of the Supreme Military Council enthused that in the New Egypt, freedom of expression is guaranteed “so long as it is respectful and doesn’t question the armed forces.” The army remain deeply entwined in the economy, running for profit hospitals, motor vehicle manufacturing plants, and many other businesses that bring positions of considerable power and wealth to senior officers. (Joel Brinkley, SF Chronicle – 5/1/11) The United States still provides $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, plus $255 million in economic assistance, and the generals are the major beneficiaries. After all, Egypt has no militant neighbors that pose a serious threat, other than Israel with which it has a peace treaty. Once you are fully equipped with armored personnel carriers, several thousand tanks, and a full compliment of F16 fighter jets, you have to find some other emoluments upon which to spend these annual American gratuities – like Army-run monopoly industries. If the Army is to return to barracks after the fall elections, it will require that the US continue to provide the dollars to sustain the generals’ cushy life style.

The wave of labor disturbances that started during the Tahrir Square Days in January and February continues with strikes recently by 3000 furniture makers in Helwan, 2500 workers at the Jawhara Ceramics Factory in Sadat City, International Airport personnel, the work force at the Torah Starch and Glue Plant, the Doctors Syndicate in Cairo and many more. (WSWS – 5/05/11) These testify to the backing of the working class for the Tahrir uprising, which had first been written off as a “Facebook Revolution” by students and intellectuals. There have been several outbreaks of Coptic–Moslem fighting around Cairo, one of which was apparently triggered by rumors that a Moslem woman, who married a Christian (10% of population) and converted but was now being held against her will. Several churches were burned and 240 wounded. But generally, all is peaceful and the blackened streets and turnabouts near Tahrir Square have been scrubbed clean of graphiti, sod and flowers planted in traffic islands, and the entire area practically air-brushed. There seems a genuine desire not to return to those days of upheaval.

Popular committees to protect the revolution have been formed in Cairo and elsewhere. On March 18th, a referendum was held throughout the country on nine constitutional amendments intended to pave the way for parliamentary elections in September. The amendments included restricting the President to two four-year terms of office, banning holders of foreign passports from office, and assuring the formation of a committee to draft a new constitution. While only 18 million out of a Egypt’s eligible 45 million actually voted, this was far higher than the participation level during Mubarrak’s electoral farces, and 77.2% approved the nine amendments. Since the beginning of this year, food prices have doubled and unemployment hovers around 30% for younger adults. (BBC News, 2/12/11) The Army, never designed to be a governing body, will try to keep the lid on at least until parliamentary elections in September and most probably until a presidential election can be held in 2012. People speak of the revolution as having restored their “dignity” and express their belief that an enlightened democratic Egypt is on the way. Indications are that they will flood angrily back into the streets if things don’t improve soon. The Army is of course wary of any further display of people muscle and tries to placate the public with stories about the travails of Mubarrak’s sons Gamal and Alaa in Turak Farm Prison, plans for prosecution of various cabinet ministers, and now the questioning of Mubarrak’s wife Suzanne on suspicion of misuse of government funds. Last week, former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly was sentenced to 12 years in jail on charges of money-laundering and profiteering. This is serious.

It seems that France and the UK had planned a mock attack upon Libya called “Southern Mistral 2011” for months. (Global Research 5/3/11) It was to take place back on March 21st and the two old Sinai schemers were all set for war games in the Mediterranean involving paratroops, Royal Air Force Tornado GR-4s, French Mirage 2000s, Vickers and Boeing aerial tankers, radar control planes and an array of 30 other aircraft including helicopters. The mock war games were not-so-mysteriously called off on March 19th when the UN Security Council approved Resolution 1973 s supposedly to protect civilians being threatened by Qaddafi ‘s army. The “defensive attack” commenced with the launch of 104 US Tomahawk missiles intended to wipe out the Libyan air force. The similarity of the games to the real thing was not coincidental. However, the Pentagon, acting upon Secretary Gates’ avowed lack of enthusiasm for the venture, has pulled back from active involvement in the war effort and France and the UK, using runways in Italy and Sicily, have mounted a modest air support effort and ferried supplies to the so-called “rebel forces”, centered in Bengazi, in a rather pathetic attempt to topple the Libyan government. We remain puzzled by the lack of justification for a UN sponsored rebellion against Gaddafi, apart from his disconcerting use of bizarre hats. The UN Human Rights Council had just drafted a glowing report on Libya’s human rights achievements as they do once every four years for every UN member. It was quickly buried by guess who. Libya has been behaving itself for some years now, having eliminated all elements of its once-active nuclear weapons activities, and knuckling under to British prosecution of the two presumed Libyan Lockerbie bombers. They have signed new contracts with western oil companies producing Libya’s 1.5 million barrel per day of oil and have invested heavily in Italian industry. Why did the Western powers attack them just now? The war effort seems to be running out of steam with the UK and France unable to effectively coordinate their support and with no one expressing interest in actually placing foreign troops on the ground and taking on Gaddafi’s army. Exactly what President Obama expects from this adventure has not been shared so far. We find our CIA agents in Bengazi working in alliance with the rebel Islamic Fighting Group, the most radical element in the Al Qaeda network. This group sent volunteers to Iraq and Kosovo to fight for radical Islam and some of them may have been our allies way back in the 1980s when we supported Al Qaeda in the Afghanistan war against Russian occupation.


On May 1st, the Editor attempted to enter Syria from Jordan but was blocked at the border. The demonstrations that seemed to have started in southern Syria near Dera’a just north of the Jordanian border, have now spread to the Damascus suburbs, to the port of Banias on the Mediterranean coast, and to the industrial cities of Homs and Hama. Few international reporters are in Syria and most information has been leaked out via Internet servers and You-Tube videos. Various elements within President Bashar al-Asaad’s government have expressed interest in a dialogue with the demonstrators while the Army has shown an iron fist and persists in firing into crowds. Guns are being smuggled into Syria from Lebanon and Israel has taken an interest in keeping this upheaval boiling. Unless a real crack develops within the military, it seems unlikely that the demonstrations will reach sufficient heat to spark the overthrow of Bashar al Asaad. The President is not unpopular and Syrian GDP has been growing steadily as the economy moves away from socialism and foreign investment flows into the country from oil rich states anxious to find investment and unhappy with the low returns in the United States. Unemployment remains high, 20% unofficially, however and average wages are only $290 per month, compared with $200 in Egypt. These protests may actually give Bashar al-Assad justification to loosen up the economy and provide for more freedom of expression and approve a few political parties.

The Middle East is much more varied in terms of politics, national characteristics, and culture than we simple-minded Americans are willing to bother with. Thus, Fox News and our major media networks always reach for bloated generalizations about that common nationalist spark igniting the Arab world, the hidden hand of Al Qaeda propagandists, and the like. Pay no attention to this bunkum, always look for the barely hidden hand of Hilary and her friends at AIPAC and the CIA.