middle east, muslims, obama, politics

Nemesis in Egypt

Published on: The Canadian Charger, February 10th, 2011
[http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=781]

When Hosni Mubarak steps down from power in the near future, as I am sure he will, it will be a day that marks the beginning of a new era—one where no one can ever tell me again that serious political change is not possible. In fact, thanks to the determination of those in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, etc., that era has most likely already begun.

Regardless of all the obvious geopolitical implications, the current revolts in the Middle East lay waste to those in the Western world who believe political change is mostly a pipe dream. Those in Egypt, who understand the power of collective demonstration, put to death the craven belief that real change is only possible through the collaborating and backing of those in power.

The Egyptians get it. They are not afraid to use the language of class warfare. Those who showed up to form the mammoth crowds in Tahrir Square do not fear separating and antagonizing themselves vis a vis those who own the country. The rest of us, sitting at home, tolerating the cowardly presence of the Obamas, Harpers, Sarkozys, and Berlesconis, watch—green with envy—at the monumental fall of one of the Middle East’s most lasting dictators.

What will it take for those in the United States and Canada to leave behind their trepidation for a “Day of Rage?” When will we have realized that the Egyptians, always at the butt of some idiotic comment regarding the Muslim Brotherhood or fundamentalist Islam, just schooled the rest of us in a lesson on democracy? Embarassed, our leaders cannot escape the inevitability of looking stupid when they struggle to “balance” support for an oppressive regime along with lip-service for “democratic aspirations”. The fight is against tyranny, and the emperors have been stripped stark naked.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry reached deep into its sleeves and unleashed waves of paid thugs and prisoners to pose as “pro-Mubarak” demonstrators. Armed with live ammunition, Molotov cocktails, and knives, they killed hundreds of pro-democracy activists while injuring thousands more. The Mubarak establishment, in a last bid to stay in power, has attempted to transform a peaceful movement into a pulsating mob—and Tahrir Square into a war zone. They failed. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians returned the very next day to hold the “Day of Departure,” another major push to dismantle the Mubarak-centered Egyptian regime. The Egyptians remain steadfast to this very day.

The poor of Egypt, living on less than two dollars a day, have showed the rest of the world what it means to channel a radicalized existence into productive action. Their example and their martyrdom will undoubtedly usher in a new Middle East, one not so amiable towards the United States. And if the fruits of their labour eventually ripen into serious elections, those who achieve power may very well carry a substantial amount of Islamic colouring. Those of us in the West need to learn that the Egyptians do not see us the way we see ourselves. In their eyes, we are not harbingers of a proud democratic tradition. We have no legitimacy or authority to “guide” the decisions of those in the Middle East. No matter what regime replaces that of Mubarak’s, it will certainly embody the response to the chaos and suffering the West has brought upon the Middle East in the past decades. The more we ignore this fact, the more painful the backlash will be.

We in the West spoke to the Arab and Muslim world in the language of power and force. Now, they are speaking back. The secular Arab regimes, backed by the United States, have appeared before the people as the grandest of failures—accented especially by the impotence of the Palestinian Authority and their beloved “peace process”. I suspect that the rise of powerful Islamic forces will now take over, a transition that seems as inevitable as rain. True, unlike the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Egyptian revolts are not led by clerical forces. There is no Ayatollah Khomeini as the figurehead. The Muslim Brotherhood, a late comer in the recent revolts, is forced to speak in the language of cosmopolitan and progressive aspirations. However, if free and fair elections do take place as a result of further upheaval in Egypt, it is hard to not see the Muslim Brotherhood claiming a large piece of the political pie. And why shouldn’t they—as the leading oppositional force in Egypt?

The anachronistic language of Pan-Arabism in the Nasserite hue (and the original Baathists) has become a farce. It has been co-opted by the corrupt and authoritarian secular regimes in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, etc. Communism allows little room for religion, and globalized capitalism in the corporate sense has only enriched the elite. Islam is, whether one likes it or not, the remaining element. The fatal courage of Hamas and Hezbollah is attractive not because they are religious, but because they embody serious aspirations for self-determination. People are attracted to them because they vow to fight back. Egyptians and the rest of the Arab/Muslim world are tired of being crushed under a mass of appealing rhetoric and failed policies.

The death of the Mubarak regime will most likely mean the withering away of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and, hopefully, the opening of the Rafah border—a crucial opening into the Gaza Strip currently under a brutal blockade by Israel. The United States, already compromised in the region, will lose further cooperation from the countries that once guaranteed its interests in the Middle East. The intelligence agencies of the region will most likely dampen their current relationship with the CIA. Israel will be left with no allies in the Middle East—and perhaps not in the rest of the world.

The Middle East, if things go the way of the protestors in Egypt (and I’m sure they will), will have achieved dignity and self determination without the help of those of us in the West. They demonstrated with flying colors that they can speak the language that we thought we spoke so well. Their actions render us mute. As we gaze at the sacrifice and determination of those in Egypt, we have to accept the ironic shame that the protestors now reflect at us. Compared to them, we are sheep. While they tirelessly and unabashedly shake the roots of a brutal regime, we settle for piecemeal change within a system headed by an administration that despises its own people.

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

The Fall of Barack Obama?

Published on: “The Canadian Charger”, October 13th, 2010 (http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=628)

As the midterm elections near in the United States, President Obama and Vice-President Biden have announced in unison that democrats have to “stop whining”. In other words, their message rests on a confused statement of confused disappointment “we’ve done so much for you, how can you complain? Look at these Republicans, do you want them ruling over you?” The Obama administration, after two years, must now resort to the “at-least-we’re-not-them” strategy. Why? Because they don’t have much else to show for.

Both domestically and internationally, Obama has failed to deliver on crucial promises. Two fundamentally crucial mis-steps are especially troubling and destructive. When accompanied by the lack of jobs for middle and working America, at least the idea of Obama—whatever is left from those hopeful campaign speeches—has collapsed.

(1) The failure to restore civil liberties for U.S. citizens. Early on, Obama refused to prosecute Bush-era Department of Justice officials because he wanted to “Look forward, not back.” Those who worked with Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, etc. essentially got a free pass for formulating some of the most ridiculous torture laws during the heat of the “War on Terror”. But while looking forward, the Obama administration refused to discontinue the illegal wire-tapping carried out by the state’s intelligence community. In fact, perhaps looking a little too forward, the Obama administration has also tried to expand presidential power in order to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process (ie. vis a vis Anwar al-Awlaki), regardless of where they are on the planet. Finally, just to top it all off, Obama has requested that the internet also be wire-tapped (via “backdoor encryption”) in order to survey e-mail communication of U.S. citizens.

This all seems terribly surreal when considering the fact that Obama ran on somewhat of a “liberty-first” campaign, at least rhetorically shifting away from Bush’s morbid civil rights record. However, a sober examination of Obama’s record on civil liberties reveals that his policies are just as morbid. In fact, compared to Bush Jr, Obama is worse. George Bush never tried to assassinate American citizens with or without due process. Obama’s mini-crusade against the apparently terrorist Imam Anwar al-Awlaki is bizarre to say the least. Claiming at al-Awlaki is in collusion with Yemeni al-Qaeda, Obama has called for the New Mexico-born al-Awlaki to be killed—without a trial or any real evidence regarding the claims made. If Obama gets his way, his administration will usher in a new era of presidential power, one that allows for the murder of American citizens, away from a battlefield (al-Awlaki could be eating dinner for all we know), and without any semblance of due process. In fact, one is prompted to ask for so many of these jump-the-gun “War on Terror” scenarios, a rather obvious question: “If you’re so sure that they’re guilty, why not have them convicted properly in a court of law?”

(2) The failure to decrease the United States’ violent involvement in the Middle East. Since Obama’s presidency began, the U.S. has continually been involved violently in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen (the ones we know). Drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen have killed upwards of a few hundred people. To be fair, Obama never campaigned on an explicitly anti-war platform—but he did run on an implicit one. Instead, the United States’ footprint in the Middle East is larger than ever.

While sticking to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in Iraq and pulling out around 15,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq in August 2010, Obama reneged on his pledge to pull out all combatants by September 1st, 2010. In fact, around 50,000 troops are to remain in Iraq even after the withdrawal, despite these remaining troops being labeled “advisory and assistance brigades.” Obama has effectively rebranded the Iraq occupation. The U.S. embassy is a mammoth establishment the size of Vatican City (consisting of twenty-one buildings on 104 acres of land on the Tigris River). The American diplomats and officials in Iraq are protected by private contractors/mercenaries from corporations like DynCorp and Blackwater Worldwide (now Xe). This upsurge of mercenaries is to off-set the withdrawals mandated by SOFA, which asks for all foreign troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. As The Nation Magazine’s correspondent Timothy Scahill reported just prior to the August withdrawal:

“The State Department is asking Congress to approve funds to more than double the number of private security contractors in Iraq with a State Department official testifying in June at a hearing of the Wartime Contracting Commission that the Department wants ‘between 6,000 and 7,000 security contractors.’ The Department also has asked the Pentagon for twenty-four Blackhawk helicopters, fifty Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles and other military equipment.”

This policy effectively shows that the Obama administration is not committed to letting Iraqis shape their own future.

Not far away, President Obama—very much sticking to his campaign message—increased troops in Afghanistan by at least 30,000 U.S. troops. Like the previous administration, the Obama establishment cannot break out of what Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald calls the “War on Terror logic.” Greenwald writes that

“The very idea that we’re going to spend an entire decade dropping a constant stream of bombs and other munitions on and in multiple Muslim countries and otherwise interfere in their governments — and then expect that nobody will try to attack us back — evinces such a child-like sense of imperial entitlement that it’s hard to put into words.”

The campaign in Afghanistan has yielded a number of gruesome incidents involving innocent Afghan noncombatants. These were detailed in the massive leak released to the whistle-blowing organization Wikileaks, which subsequently released the 90,000 page trove to the New York Times (U.S.), The Guardian (U.K.), and Der Spiegel (Germany). One under-publicized incident involved the murder of five individuals in the Afghan province of Paktia that consisted of two pregnant women and a teenage girl. Having shot to death these innocent civilians, the soldiers tried to hide the crime by prying out the bullets and washing the wounds with alcohol. War, as it turns out, whether headed up by President Bush or President Obama, is always mind-blowingly bloody and dishonorable.

There have been no real signs of success in Obama’s military campaigns to eradicate al-Qaeda. The more blood American troops have on their hands, the more danger will face U.S. citizens in the form of terrorism. It’s a not justification for murder, but an understanding of the causation of such cycles of violence.

The continued perpetuation of occupation and violence abroad is not entirely the fault of Barack Obama, and neither is the proliferation of the so-called “security state” on the U.S. domestic scene. The American way of war is benefited by a large number of establishment-preserving institutions, not least of which are the private contractors, weapons-developers, and divisive politicians. And as Dana Priest and William Arkin showed in their report for the Washington Post, “Top Secret America,” the mammoth apparatus that is the “security state” is so large and uncontrollable, no single individual was responsible for its extensive proliferation, and certainly no individual can single-handedly destroy it.

However, it does go to show that those who put their absolute faith and hope in Barack Obama have only themselves to blame. When running for President, Obama lied—but not as much as one would think. Most of the time, he presented himself as exactly what he was—a slightly liberal centrist. He made almost no promises in terms of concrete policy, and what little he did say were mere slogans. Those who endowed him with institution-toppling powers are disappointed only in-so-far that they trusted in their own political judgment—which, frankly—isn’t very impressive.

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