Arab Spring Yet to Bloom – by Stephen Lendman
Despite months of heroic Middle East/North African uprisings in over a dozen countries from Morocco to Syria to Oman, none so far achieved change, suggesting months, perhaps years, of sustained struggles lie ahead.
Media commentators first used term Arab Spring in March 2005 to suggest a beneficial Iraq war spinoff, what, of course, never happened nor could it, given Washington’s intent to prevent any emerging democracies.
However, it partly succeeded in Lebanon after Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s February 14, 2005 assassination. Afterwards, “Cedar Revolution” anger erupted, ending Syria’s occupation, reducing, but not eliminating the Bashar al-Assad regime’s influence in the country.
In late 2010, the term resurfaced to reflect regional uprisings still ongoing, on and off, across the Middle East/North Africa. In recent days, notably they’ve occurred in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt.
Libya is noticeably different – a Western influenced insurrection now war to replace one despot with another, discussed in numerous previous articles
Throughout most of the region, people want jobs, decent pay, better services, ending corruption and repression, as well as liberating democratic change in a part of the world where poverty, unemployment and despotism reflect daily life for tens of millions.
A previous article headlined, “Hold the Celebration: Egypt’s Struggle Just Began,” saying everything changed but stayed the same, a common bait and switch scheme, notably because a military junta replaced Mubarak, assuring no possibility of democracy and social justice without sustained heroic pressure forcing it, though never easily against powerful pro-Western rulers.
As a result, after initial jubilation, Egyptians know their struggle just began against adversarial military leaders, continuing the same Mubarak era policies.
On April 8, New York Times writers Mona El-Naggar and Michael Slackman headlined, “Hero of Egypt’s Revolution, Military Now Faces Critics,” saying:
“A blogger was jailed recently for ‘insulting the military.’ Human rights advocates say that thousands of people have been arrested and tried before military courts in the last two months.” Political activists were detained for spreading “false information” about military leaders. Others were intimidated, tortured and abused.
Jailed blogger Michael Nabil was secretly tried in a military tribunal and sentenced to three years imprisonment for saying:
“The revolution has so far managed to get rid of the dictator, but the dictatorship still exists.”
One protester called the junta part of the old regime, so they’re “defending it every way they can.”
American University in Cairo Professor Mustapha Kamel el-Sayyid believes they’re “incapable of understanding the extent to which the revolution wants to change things in the country. To them, removing the president was enough.”
In fact, Washington and Egypt’s military ousted him, not public anger wanting democratic change. Egyptians, however, demand it, as well as vital social issues addressed, a common unfulfilled theme throughout the region.
As a result, after weeks of relative calm, public anger again confronts the junta, one protester saying:
Mubarak was ousted but nothing changed. “Strikes and protests are banned by law. The new government is just as subservient to the United States and Israel as the old one. The military is trying to kill the revolution, but (it) will go on,” despite violent crackdowns to suppress it.
On April 8, military forces attacked peaceful Tahrir Square protesters, defying curfew orders and demonstration bans. They were brutally assaulted with batons, tasers, rubber bullets, tear gas, and live fire, causing deaths and injuries.
A New York Times report called it “the most brutal (crackdown) since the overthrow of Mubarak.” One protester said “it was raining bullets. There was an enormous amount of shooting.” People were killed and dozens injured. Others were chased as they fled.
Whole families stayed overnight in Tahrir Square, sleeping in tents. At dawn, parents searched for children, disappeared in the violence. Many were arrested, detained, and face trial in military courts.
On April 9, London Guardian writer Peter Beaumont headlined, “Egyptian soldiers attack Tahrir Square protesters,” saying:
Soldiers overnight attacked protesters with clubs, rifles, and rubber bullets. Egyptian filmmaker Tamer el-Said described what happened, saying:
“There was a huge demonstration that started at about 11 o’clock” Friday night. Some military officers joined it at great personal risk. “At about 11 o’clock, (security forces) surrounded the square, tried to enter it to try and catch these soldiers but the protesters would not let them come in. They were army, police and special forces. At 3 o’clock, they attacked the square. They were firing in the air: at first rubber bullets and then live rounds.”
“They pushed all the demonstrators out of the square. They then started to chase (them) into the surrounding streets and the downtown area using tear gas and bullets. (There was) continuous shooting.”
Protesters were arrested, thrown in trucks, and dragged away, women treated violently like men. A military statement blamed “outlaws,” saying, “The armed forces stress that will not tolerate any acts of rioting or any act that harms the interest of the country and the people.”
In fact, soldiers violently attacked peaceful protesters like Mubarak thugs did months earlier. Since his ouster, strikes were banned, but they continue nonetheless. New ones, in fact, broke out, including Suez canal workers, Shibin el Kom textile ones, others in El Mahalla Kubra, a Nile Delta industrial area, more in Menoufiya province, Cairo Tax Authority employees, Alexandria temporary teachers demanding permanent jobs, and dozens demanding enforcement of court ordered appointments to the Justice Ministry.
Other strikes involve Gharbiya Financial and Industrial Company workers, Monufiya Chipsy Company ones, more at 14 power stations, Beheira Nursing Institute students unable to find jobs, and various others across the country.
Besides corruption, mismanagement, mistreatment, longer term contracts for temporary workers, and other job related issues, workers demand implementation of a court ordered monthly minimum wage increase from 35 Egyptian pounds (about $6.50) to 1,200 (around $208), for public and private sector workers. Some industrial ones earn about half this amount, far below what a family of four needs for food, rent, transport, electricity, fuel, and other essentials.
Egypt’s wages are among the lowest in the MENA region (Middle East/North Africa). Private sector workers earn about $40 a week on average – health, social services, and other low-end ones about $15. Moreover, Egyptian textile employees earn less than half Tunisia’s poverty wages, 36% of Morocco’s, and 32% of their Turkish counterparts.
In addition, unemployment is a major issue, a February 2, 2011 International Labor Organization (ILO) statement saying:
“For many years, the ILO has been pointing to the gravity of the decent work deficit in Egypt and a number of other countries in the region, where unemployment, underemployment and informal work have remained among the highest in the world. The failure to address this situation effectively, with all of its consequences for poverty and unbalanced development, together with limitations on basic freedoms, has triggered” recent popular uprisings for change.
ILO added that Egypt’s “restrictive legislation” permits only the state-controlled Trade Union Federation (TUC), subordinating worker issues to demands of government and private sector enterprises, including their right to bargain collectively in independent unions for better pay, benefits, and working conditions. Establishment of the Egyptian Independent Trade Union Federation (ITUC), in fact, was a Western-backed subterfuge, promising but not improving worker rights. As a result, strikes and street protests continue.
Military forces confronted them, threatening to open fire if protests didn’t disburse. Others came to Tahrir Square, defying orders to leave. Among thousands, they chanted:
“The people want the overthrow of the field marshall (and) regime.”
Anger over recent Israeli Gaza attacks also was voiced, demonstrators marching to Israel’s Giza embassy, demanding an immediate end to all economic and political ties between both countries. Participating soldiers were threatened with arrests and military tribunal trials. Reports said three were killed by live fire and many dozens wounded.
People are angry because ousting Mubarak achieved nothing. Severe repression continues. Unemployment is high. Those with jobs get poverty wages, and promises of democratic change were lies, Egypt’s junta enforcing police state brutality to keep power, profit handsomely, and serve Western interests.
On April 12, another confrontation occurred when soldiers violently dispersed Tahrir Square protesters, arresting dozens. Moreover, Egypt’s counterterrorism Unit 777 raided homes, cafes, and other establishments, hunting down activists and human rights supporters.
On state television, the junta maliciously called protesters hired thugs, trying to denigrate public confidence in military rule, claiming it supports effective change when, in fact, it won’t tolerate it.
Expect little from an April 14 New York Times report, writer Liam Stack headlining, “Egyptian Military to Review Cases of Jailed Protesters,” saying:
On April 14, Egypt’s junta said “it would review court verdicts handed down to hundreds of civilians detained” since Mubarak’s February ouster. The move came to quell public anger over continued human rights abuses and failure to address popular demands.
A short junta statement said:
“(I)t will review the cases of all young people who have been persecuted,” and order a retrial of one youth after his mother appealed in the Wafd Party newspaper.
“Democracy advocates offered cautious praise,” saying the decision’s meaning was “far from clear,” nor does it specify whether military or civilian courts will be in charge.
The Front for the Defense of Egyptian Protesters estimates at least 5,000 individual or group military trials have occurred since Mubarak’s ouster on various charges, including politically related activities.
As long as junta leadership continues, or controls Egypt indirectly after later in the year elections, popular demands for economic, social, and democratic change will go unaddressed without sustained public pressure to force them. Liberating struggles throughout the region just began. Expect no resolution easily or quickly.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.