Tuesday, February 8, 2011
From Egypt to the Promised Land
I went to Egypt at the end of January to meet up with a group of 18 people organized by CodePink to go to Gaza. The Egyptian revolution caused the Egyptian government to seal the borders with Gaza. So I stayed in Cairo and had an incredible front row seat on the most amazing grassroots uprising you can imagine.
Saturday, January 30
Kit Kittredge and I arrived in Egypt about 5 pm Friday, went thru immigration and customs with no signs of abnormality, got our bags and came out to look for our pick up from the Lotus Hotel. No sign of anyone. We tried to get a cab to take us to downtown Cairo, but rejected the outrageous (it seemed to us at the time) offer of a ride for E 250. It still didn’t dawn on us what was happening. We tried calling the Lotus, but couldn’t get through. Only after noticing that, in the huge crowd of people that was building at the terminal, no one was using a cellphone did we realize that the government had shut down the cellphone networks and the internet as well. The cabdrivers told us it was impossible to get to downtown Cairo. The entire area is cordoned off. We settled for an offer of a cab and a hotel room for the two of us in Heliopolis for $90. It seemed like a bargain given the circumstances.
The road out of the airport was eerie. Almost no cars when normally it would be choked with traffic. The same on the main boulevard thru Heliopolis. As we neared Mubarak’s palace, we were stopped by a roadblock. Our ingenious driver turned around and found a way to our hotel thru the side streets.
It’s a very strange feeling to be cut off from communication with anyone while watching an uprising taking place on television. Athough I imagine Mubarak’s aim is to prevent the organization of demonstrations, the feeling induced is not one of passivity. Rather, I think, it makes you feel like it is worth taking risks. You have to go out and join up to find out what’s going on.
Everyone we talked to at the hotel – the desk manager, the bell boy, the waiter, and the guests who understood what was going on – were quietly or loudly supportive of the demonstrations – albeit with not much political sophistication. “35 years of Mubarak – he has to go” would be representative of the general feeling.
The next morning we talked to Tighe Barry who was already in Cairo and learned that it was possible to get to downtown Cairo. We got a driver, for a fairly exorbitant price, and took off. Again, almost no traffic on the road at all. We arrived on Talaat Harb St., which had been the center of demonstrations and police action the prior day, and went into our hotel. Tahrir Square, just a few blocks away, was already starting to fill with demonstrators. We went out to join the crowd. The army had blocked most of the main streets leading into the square to separate the police from the demonstrators. The police, other than some undercover plainclothesmen, were nowhere in sight. The demonstration was almost like a be-in from the 1960s. People of all ages were out on the street. Old people, young people, parents with small children, men in suits, men in workclothes, and a surprising large number of women – maybe 10%. Contrary to what the US media was saying, this was no Islamist exercise. When the hour of prayer came, you could make the count. No more than 15% percent of the demonstrators were praying. We saw several signs with both the Christian Cross and the Muslim crescent on them. (We learned later that this was the symbol of the Revolution of 1919 against British rule). Some people were sweeping the streets to pick up litter. Some others were bringing drinks to the soldiers.
The overall feeling was one of peace, joy, and excitement. People were jumping up on tanks to shake hands with the soldiers. Many people said to us, “This is the real Egypt.” They lifted their children up onto the tanks.
We were constantly asked where we were from. When we said the US, people welcomed us to Egypt and asked us to spread the word at home that this is a peaceful revolution, and that all the Egyptian people want is the right to choose their government and to live normal lives.
There were at least 100,000 people in Tahrir Square, with more people joining in the demonstration all the time until close to 5 o’clock. There was massive applause and rejoicing when firefighters joined the demonstration and even greater excitement when an army captain came over to the demonstrators.
There were other areas where demonstrators gathered as well. They hoped to take over the state run media and gathered in front of that building which is on the Corniche, along the Nile. The army clearly wasn’t ready or willing for that to happen and had stationed soldiers with machine guns and automatic weapons on the balconies of the building, ready to shoot down into the crowd if necessary. The soldiers were backed up by tanks and APCs. Again, the spirit of the crowd was one of friendly determination and there were no efforts to break into the building.
The only building in Cairo that was burned was the headquarters of the National Democratic Party – Mubarak’s party. That large, high rise building was set on fire yesterday and was still burning today. Firefighters made no attempt to put out the flames, which also incinerated the cars parked in the lot in front of the building.
Just as we were about to return to the hotel, the crowd learned that Mubarak had chosen Omar Suleiman as president (turned out he was appointed vice-president). They were not happy. Immediately the chant began “Out with Mubarak, Out with Suleiman.” It is clear people are looking for a regime change, not just a different face. I think the appointment of Suleiman, rather than seeking a compromise, is a major challenge to the people. Suleiman is the head of intelligence/secret police and has long acted as Mubarak’s right hand man. Darth Vader might be an accurate archetype for him. He is the one responsible for the repression.
We went back out to Tahrir Sq. about 8 pm. The crowd was significantly diminished but there were still thousands of people. We walked up towards the area where the police had made their last stand two days ago, before going into hiding in the Interior Ministry complex. The army was barricading the streets that ran into the Interior Ministry in what looked to us like an effort to protect the police from the demonstrators. However, people were gathering on a side street that lead to the entrance to the Interior Ministry complex and no soldiers were there. We walked on to take a look.
Some students from the American University of Cairo told us the police were shooting into the crowd with live ammunition and that some people had been killed. As we walked a little closer, a fusillade of shots was fired into the crowd we were approaching, followed by tear gas. We ducked down a side street to get out of the way. We continued hearing gunfire for several minutes. Later we heard a report, which we couldn’t confirm, that 10 people had been killed.
Some very interesting things are happening here. Most impressive is the self-organization which has taken place. We saw people cleaning up, directing traffic, and everywhere neighborhood watches were formed – almost on every block – to guard against looting and thievery. All of this is happening with the greatest good humor and respect. The only violent action we saw was when a crowd of about 20 demonstrators caught an undercover policeman, and dragged him into a building – presumably to beat him up.
There is good reason for neighborhood watches. Not only are the police not on the streets, but the police opened the prisons and let criminals out to help them with their attacks on demonstrators. Nada Kassass, one of the organizers of the protests, told us that a group of young people, including her, were chased into the Press Syndicate building by police and criminals, some of whom had not even changed out of their prison uniforms. When they got inside the building, thugs and plainclothes police demanded the security guards open the doors. They refused. The thugs tried to force the doors but weren’t able to. She also told us that some looters entered the Egyptian Museum – the home of priceless treasures and the demonstrators barricaded the building to keep them from escaping with stolen goods. When the Army came to search the building, the thieves they found were two police officers, three soldiers, and some employees of the Museum. In Alexandria, she said, two police officers were caught robbing a bank.
The role of the Army, she says, is a bit ambiguous. They have clearly refused Mubarak’s orders to disperse the demonstrators, but it is not clear what the next step will be. The danger is a military coup. She felt that a military government would only be acceptable to a small portion of the demonstrators. Although the formal political process has been gutted over 35 years by Mubarak, there is an informal political structure which could play a role in forming a new government. The two trusted groups she cited are The Popular Committee for Change, and the Popular Parliament. The Popular Parliament came out of the last fraudulent parliamentary elections, where many candidates were prevented from running at all, and others had their votes stolen. It is 91 people who, had there been an honest election, would have been chosen for Parliament.
However, Egypt is a client state of the US, and certainly the US will try to control the outcome of a regime change. The US government is much more likely to favor a military government than a popular government.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Crowds are just starting to gather in Tahrir Square to continue voicing their demand that the Mubarak regime go. The army remains stationed on the roads leading into the square, preventing cars from gaining access. Everything appears very calm, but we are warned by the demonstration organizers that “something big” could be in the works – good or bad we don’t know.
This can hardly be a surprise. Mubarak threw down the gauntlet by appoint Suleiman as his number two. Omar Suleiman is the head of the hated secret police (Egyptian intelligence), works closely with Israel and the US, and is clearly just another face of the Mubarak regime. The key question here is the relationship between the army and the police. They are reputed to hate each other. On the other hand, Suleiman has held the rank of General in the Army. What kind of deals are being cut among Egypt’s elite and will the rank and file in the Army accept any order they receive? So far their actions have tilted slightly towards the people. That is, they have prevented the police force from deploying against the demonstrators. But they have not definitively taken sides against the police. For example, last night, when demonstrators went to the Interior Ministry to rout out the police hiding in there, the procession was led by Army APCs and possibly a tank. But when the police began firing live ammunition at the demonstrators, the Army did not fire back, despite pleas from demonstrators to do so. Also, demonstrators would like to take over the state run television stations to get their message out. The state media has portrayed the demonstrators as thieves and criminals to the extent they have shown anything at all. But the Army deployed to protect the state television station building from takeover. Their ultimate role in this revolution remains to be determined.
Possible alternative political leadership to Mubarak does exist, but may not be able to surface in the face of American machinations for “stability.” That alternative leadership does not rest in a single person, but rather in the Popular Council for Change and the Popular Parliament I described earlier. Most people seem to feel Egypt needs a little time to develop a real political process.
Later Sunday afternoon – one amazing event after another continues to unfold. When we left the hotel early in the afternoon, we met a human rights activist/reporter that Medea knew who invited us to come to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Justice and the Hisham Mubarak Center Law Center, which he said was a center for the organization of the protests. (This Center was the organizer of the April 9th Movement protests in 2008). We went into an unprepossessing building in a narrow street, climbed up about six flights of stairs and came into a room that was filled with young organizers/activists.
We met with Nada Saddek, a middle aged woman who is a key person at the center. She told us a number of interesting things pointing to the conclusion that Mubarak is trying to save himself by creating chaos. At least four prisons, 3 in the Cairo area and 1 in Alexandria were emptied of their prisoners. Her daughter called her on the way from Alexandria to Cairo to tell her men in prison uniforms were trying to hitch rides along the road. This fits right in with Nada Kassass’ story of the police using criminals in prison uniforms to attack the press syndicate. She also told us that the police had seized ambulances which they were filling with police officers who jumped out with automatic weapons and killed people. We saw some concrete evidence of that at the Interior Ministry. As we walked towards the demonstrators there last night, we saw that the crowd was trying to roll over an ambulance – quite shocking since we had seen nothing like that before. The ambulance was literally thrown up in the air, and emptied of whoever was inside it. The driver then frantically backed it down the street away from the crowd with the back door hanging ajar. Now, it turns out, the ambulance was being used to smuggle police out of the building where they were holed up. Finally, several people told us that the army arrested police officers for several criminal acts – attempting to loot the Egyptian Museum, robbing a bank in Alexandria. Of course, the lack of almost any communication, and my inability to understand what is broadcast on television, makes it impossible to substantiate anything I haven’t actually seen.
We also discussed with Nada the possibility that the almost complete disruption of internet service was an effort to sow chaos. February 1 is payday, and the banks have no way to transfer money to people’s accounts without the internet. Many people who can ill afford it will go with no pay. Nada told us she is conserving her money because of this worry. Her daughter needs surgery for injuries from an auto accident but Nada is postponing it until she knows whether or not money will be available. People are also worried that the government will stop shipments of food into the city.
Other rumors circulating are that the Minister of Interior was arrested by the Army. He had been hiding in the Interior Ministry, which may have been why the police took so many lives shooting live ammunition into the crowd. (The New York Times said the police at the Interior Ministry fired rubber bullets, but live ammunition was clearly used. We interviewed an 11 year old boy who had been shot twice, and produced the bullet that had been extracted from his arm. It was not a rubber bullet.
Another rumor was that the Minister of Defense was arrested. We were told that he had ordered the army to shoot live ammunition at the demonstrators on Friday. A general refused the order, creating the rift that led to the army tilting towards the demonstrators. Later this afternoon, the chief of the army came to Tahrir Square to tell the demonstrators not to worry, things will move forward. Again, I can’t substantiate any of this. But people very much want to trust the army and believe that it is with them. This afternoon, the air force staged continuous flyovers with fighter jets roaring and rolling across the sky. Some people took this as a very positive sign. Others saw it as a show of strength after the arrest (if it took place) of the Minister of Defense.
Regardless, Tahrir Square began to fill up again with people streaming in all afternoon, and the crowd growing particularly after work. It seemed a little smaller than yesterday, but not by much. And many more women and children came out to join in.
People have so much to say. Thirty five years of being muzzled means you have a lot to say. Everyone wanted to talk to America via the video camera.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Another day in the peoples’ revolution. Staying in touch with the rest of the world is life’s biggest daily challenge. Down to the street to look for the guy at the kiosk who sells cellphone cards – closed. Around the corner to the Internet Café, whose owner told us he would open at 9 – closed. Off to Tahrir Square to check in on the revolution and there are alarmingly few people there – maybe a few hundred. Don’t worry we are told, people will come. And they did. By the time we got back by 2:30 or so, the crowd was amazing. Much larger than on Sunday. In any case, we had to have a more optimistic outlook. The internet café had opened (probably the only place in Cairo where the internet is working and we know where it is)! Unfortunately, other people are starting to find it as well so it was a challenge to hold our space while we slowly, ever so slowly uploaded pictures. We had found food. A fast food khoshary place is, I swear, feeding all of Tahrir Square. I would like to take a movie of the guys behind the counter dishing out orders at a dizzying pace. But if I did I would probably be crushed by the enormous crowd trying to elbow its way in to the counter to order.
The contrast between the joyous, collaborative, self-organized environment of Tahrir Square and the elite area nearby is profound. We walked over to the Semiramis Hotel on the Corniche to see if we could snag a mainstream media person who would help us upload video. The place was barricaded like a fortress, with a huge desk across the entrance, guards everywhere, metal detectors. They weren’t buying any of our excuses to get in and appeared to be expecting attack imminently. We had already seen tanks blocking the road two or three blocks from the American Embassy. It all smells of an extremely guilty conscience. And yet we must have been asked 100 or more times by demonstrators “When will Obama support the Egyptian people?”
I saw some news stories in the Arab world that the demonstrations have been organized by “outsiders.” If there is any truth in that, the “outsiders” are not very well organized. The signs are all hand written, and we watch people gather in small groups with cardboard and magic markers to decide what their signs should say.
￼Support is not universal, but it certainly is widespread. We have talked to men, an amazing number of women, children, students, lawyers, salesmen, printers, teachers, professors, engineers, farmers, social workers, policemen, soldiers, activists, Muslims, Coptic Christians, returned émigrés, etc. all with the united opinion that Mubarak has stayed too long, that the entire regime must change, and that the people should have the right to choose. It’s reasonable to assume that the supporters of Mubarak may have made themselves scarce in this environment. But we have talked to some shopkeepers and people dependent on the tourist trade who are not happy about the protests. Their opinions vary. Some support Mubarak as a strong hand that has protected Egypt from Israel, which they believe would like to invade. Others feel that the disorder has ruined the country. Some support the idea of change, but not the way it is being achieved.
Because of the curfew, which was imposed at 3 pm today, we had to go away from Tahrir Sq. to find an open restaurant. We found an excellent one about 10 blocks away, crammed with people. But other than the shops being closed and little traffic, there wasn’t much curfew observance.
￼￼Shopowners and others in the neighborhoods are out on the street all night to protect their area. The police have disappeared from the streets and, before they left, they let the criminals out of jail. At least 3 large prisons were emptied. In some cases, escaping prisoners were killed. (Some activists said these were the political prisoners but we don’t know). Two people told us they personally saw escaped prisoners still wearing their convict uniforms. However, after the first few days of pitched battles with police, in downtown Cairo we have seen no signs of new looting. And most of the neighborhood guards don’t seem to begrudge the revolution for their having to pull the all night shift.
A huge march is planned for tomorrow (Tuesday) – a “million man” march. But in Tahrir Sq. tonight the protesters who planned to spend the night numbered in the several thousands. There is a tent camp, blankets have been widely distributed, food is available, and the atmosphere is festive. Many people believe, especially after the Army’s announcement that it would not fire on peaceful demonstrators, that Tuesday is the day Mubarak goes.
People of all ages, classes, genders are together out in the square to hold the space for tomorrow’s demonstration. One group of young people began putting together a collection of all the varying slogans, reflecting the many differing opinions (El Baradei is okay, he is not okay, there should be Islamic government, there should be civil society government, etc.) united around a single goal – Mubarak and the current regime must go and people will stay protesting until that goal is achieved. Political discussion is constant, passionate, and civil. On our way back to the hotel with our friend Yasser, who kindly translated for us all night, we stopped to ask some neighborhood guards their opinion. They were very much against the protests, saying change was okay but not this way, and some saying “Mubarak is a good man.” But still there was a civil debate with Yasser.
People came together here in many ways.
The picture above is a group of Facebook friends from a number of smaller cities and towns at least 100 miles away from Cairo. These young women were staying by themselves all night in the square. When we left, they were entertaining themselves reading books on their Kindle.
Take a look at the number of women and families.
Take a look at how people organized to make it possible to remain in the square.
Take a look at the individual creativity. The picture on the bottom left is a man whose protest sign says he does not have a job, the money to get married, to get an apartment. On the bottom right, two young men are portraying the plight of the ordinary Egyptian – no job, no money, no healthcare, poor education, lack of public services, no freedom to speak or write, etc.
By Tuesday, the Mubarak forces began to stir themselves a bit. We decided to go down to the state television building on the Corniche to see if the Army was still holding off the pro-democracy protesters who had hoped to take it over. When we arrived, we saw a major shift. The army had created an much wider defensive perimeter, sealing off access from the side streets and closing off much of the area in front of the building along the Corniche. There was a demonstration of a few hundred young people off to the side. When we went over to talk to them, we realized this was a pro-Mubarak demonstration -- the first we had seen. The demonstrators were holding printed signs (much different than the scrawled cardboards of Tahrir Square) and chanting “We love Mubarak” and “Mubarak stay”. I asked one young man why he loved Mubarak. He could only say, “He is our father.” Asked why he was there, he said, “For state television to take pictures of us.”
That was the benign side of the Mubarak forces mobilization. The next morning, Wednesday, we saw the dark side. Early in the morning, Talaat Harb Square -- just four blocks from Tahrir Square -- began to fill with an angry, shouting mob. Initially about 50 men, many of whom looked like undercover police, surrounded by about 10 taxicabs circling the central statue of Talaat Pasha Harb (the founder of the Bank of Egypt). We tried to talk to them, asking why they were there and what they wanted. After a few formulaic replies of “Mubarak is our father” things started to get a bit tense and we walked away. Hours later, this same crowd, armed with stones, knives, and molotov cocktails ran down Talaat Harb St. to attack protesters in Tahrir Square.
I missed most of the buildup because I had taken a taxi out to Orouba, near the airport, to leave the materials I had planned to take to Gaza with a friend. I got back to our hotel a little before two, learned that Medea, Tighe and the others were just returning from a solidarity demonstration they held near the US embassy, and ducked into the neighboring internet cafe, down a little alley. Not ten minutes later, I heard shouting and people running down the street. The internet cafe owner began to pull down his steel shutters. Medea, Kit, Billy, Tim and Jase appeared in the doorway as the shutter was going down and ducked under it to come inside. Tighe had gone into the hotel.
This turned out to be an excellent division of labor. Tighe observed the street battle from the hotel balcony and called a blow by blow description in to us in the internet cafe so that we could post.
Here’s what he told us: Mubarak supporters began a battle by throwing stones at the human chain protecting the square and at people in the square. This seems to be coordinated by two men with walkie talkies. The crowd of thugs throws stones and then retreats back towards Talaat Harb Square. For the first twenty minutes or so, the pro-democracy protesters just formed a double line, with locked arms, to keep the thugs from breaking through. Their only protection from stones was heavy blankets thrown over their heads. Finally, The Mukhabarat (secret police) are on the roof across the street from our hotel, directing the street thugs by cell phone. They are motioning to Tighe to stop filming them. Molotov cocktails are now being thrown into Tahrir Sq. by Mubarak thugs. A tank has pulled up where Talaat Harb St. enters Tahrir Sq. It’s not clear what its purpose is, but both sides are using it as a shield. Finally, the pro-democracy protesters counterattacked with rocks. Tighe watches a dozen thugs beating a young man with a metal pole, then jump on another man who tried to protect him. Theres no question people are being seriously hurt here.
The battle raged up and down Talaat Harb St. and spilled into the little alley where we were holed up in the internet cafe. The owner had left a four inch gap at the bottom of the door and one young guy began shooting video through the tiny crack. Via his video, we see five or six men beating a boy lying on the ground. He tries to crawl under a dumpster for protection, but they drag him out and away. There is a pool of blood on the pavement.
For the moment, Mubarak has succeeded in his effort to sow chaos. He seems willing to set the country on fire to stay in power. Certainly the US gave him the green light for this by not insisting he step down.
By the late afternoon, the Mubarak thugs had been driven away. The street was littered with glass from the windows they smashed as they retreated and rocks.
When things calmed down we left the internet cafe and went around the corner onto Talaat Harb to our hotel. The protesters began building barricades to protect the entrances to Tahrir Square.
All the managers in our hotel were very pro-Mubarak, telling us that a strong hand was needed to keep Egypt from descending into chaos, complaining that the protests had ruined the tourist business, but there was only one -- the assistant night manager -- who was happy about the Mubarak thugs attacks on the protesters. He was thrilled -- a little brown shirt wannabe.
In the evening, we went out into Tahrir Square with two banners “The Whole World Says Its Time to Go Mubarak” and “Solidarity with the Egyptian People”.
Generally, I hadn’t thought I had much role to play in this revolution other than to document the actions and people’s demands. It’s their revolution. But these banners, which we carried around the entire square, made a huge difference. Hundreds of people had been hurt in the rock throwing melee and they clearly felt besieged as well. The banners were a very clear sign that the whole world is watching, and watching with sympathy and admiration for the protests. We were very warmly received and were joined by hundreds of people who began chanting, “Mubarak out”, “Down with Mubarak”, etc. sometimes in English, sometimes in Arabic.
The next morning, Kit and I left for the airport. We arrived quickly, with the interruption of just one checkpoint at the airport. To my surprise, the departure halls were not packed with people. Rather, it just looked like a busy day at the airport. Our plane, which had been specially scheduled by Delta, was almost empty -- a huge airbus with no more than 40 or so people on it. I was so happy that we hadn’t asked the US embassy for help in getting a flight. They were charging everyone they evacuated $400 and dumping them anywhere between Istanbul and London to find there way home. Why didn’t they use the Delta flight we took? Well, why didn’t they support the peaceful, pro-democracy protesters rather than the Mubarak kleptocrats?
The US never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity....
Back in the U.S. after an amazing front row seat in Cairo at the Egyptian revolution, I have had to translate my point of view from the street to the news stream. But I can’t help being informed by what I saw in the streets of Cairo and in Tahrir Square. It’s a parallel world out here, with mainstream media coverage of Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman as the U.S. approved man for the transition to democracy. Clearly an amazingly versatile politician, Suleiman -- Egypt’s chief torturer and leading advocate of autocracy -- has morphed into a bridge builder to the opposition. It must be time and distance that lets the press and the White House seriously propose this with a straight face. It certainly isn’t flying in Tahrir Square where the pro-democracy forces are adamant they will stay until Mubarak leaves. One chant was, “We won’t go until you go.”
The U.S. government never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The fastest and surest course to the “stability” that the U.S. seeks in the Middle East is political reform. But, when the opportunity arises to shuck an aging, repressive, kleptocracy in favor of a popular democracy, the worried looks and frowns come out. The backroom meetings begin. As Hilary Clinton famously said in an interview with Al Arabiya “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” Indeed? Well, Hilary, we know it’s awfully hard to kick a friend of the family out into the cold. Maybe that’s why Mubarak’s own lawyer, Frank Wisner, was chosen as the U.S. envoy to “negotiate” with him.
And so our government has continued to do what it does so well --- deal only with the people it knows best, propping them up when they stumble over their own scheming greed. The people it knows best are the ones who created whatever problem/crisis is currently being faced. This is what brought us Goldman Sachs to manage the bailout of the financial system. It’s what brought us Halliburton to manage the occupation of Iraq. And now it brings us Omar Suleiman to manage the Egyptian governance crisis. It is a sclerotic approach that has attached the US to failed regimes over and over again.
The US blessed “transition” government in Egypt is trying to find ways to transition back to autocratic rule as fast as possible. This means continued arrests of activists, continued deployment of threatening thugs, meaningless stalling negotiations with the opposition, and efforts to isolate the pro-democracy forces of civil society in Tahrir Square. It’s a tactic that might work in the short run for the Mubarak kleptocrats. The disruption caused by the protests is a burden on all -- but least bearable for the middle and working class who live from paycheck to paycheck. Having had no political life for the last 30 years, Egyptians are not particularly politically sophisticated, and the state controlled media is working hard to create divisions.
But where will that leave Egyptian society? Just as in the occupation of Iraq, the US is a pursuing a policy that is likely to result in wiping out secular civil society. The only opposition that is organized to survive an onslaught by the secret police is the Muslim Brotherhood -- the bete noire of Obama and Clinton.
Everything I saw in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Cairo during the days of protest was concentrated in a passionate desire for freedom of expression and a desire for democratic, accountable government. And almost every single person I talked to believed this was what America stood for. “We just want the same rights you have,” was a frequent refrain. Almost no one was interested in a religious government. This may have been the least radical revolution we have witnessed. The protesters are simply asking for their human rights. If it doesn’t succeed, it will carry a lesson for everyone in the Middle East.
The US government’s willingness to back the Mubarak regime and its failure to recognize their legitimate demands has been baffling to the protesters. But the same players and the same foreign policy have kept the US standing shoulder to shoulder with oppressive regimes around the world. Just in the last twelve months -- Iraq, Honduras, Haiti -- every time the US has backed the kleptocrats against the democrats.
It’s way too early to give up on the possibility the protesters will prevail. Their support is so broad-based, their demands so legitimate, and their commitment to a grassroots movement so strong that they may succeed without outside pressure in pushing Mubarak out. The Egyptian revolution may proudly be able to say that it won on its own.
Posted by Felice Gelman at 5:21 PM