Rage for Change in Egypt – by Stephen Lendman
Last February, Egyptians celebrated Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. He became an obstacle to Washington’s Middle East agenda and had to go.
For years, State Department and Pentagon officials wanted him out for opposing key US policies, including Iran’s nuclear program and Bush’s 2003 Iraq war.
A military junta replaced him, headed by Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. He’s a powerful old regime stalwart with close ties to Washington. However, US diplomats call him “aged and change-resistant.” Notably, he opposes economic and political reform that conflicts with military rule.
On November 25, hundreds of thousands rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square against Washington’s backed military junta. Chants included:
“The people demand the removal of the field marshall (aka dictator).” “We will not go, he should go,” and “Down, down with military rule.”
Hundreds of thousands more protested in other Egyptian cities. For over a week, demonstrations rallied against Egypt’s ruling junta. November 25 and the previous Friday were called the “Friday of One Demand.”
Deaths and injuries resolved people to press on. Unconfirmed reports suggest lethal US-made tear gas was used, containing a banned chemical agent. As a result, dozens died. Perhaps two thousand or more suffered ill effects. Official numbers have been suppressed.
According to the International Business Times, “dangerous levels of CR gas” were used against protesters. Canisters were marked “Made in the USA.”
CR causes epileptic-type convulsions, vomiting, miscarriages, temporary blindness, intense skin pain, asphyxiation, and other toxic effects.
According to Dr. Uwe Heinrich, “there is a distinct possibility that….CS exposure can significantly contribute to or even cause lethal effects.”
Former IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei’s Twitter message said Egyptian forces used “tear gas with (a) nerve agent.” Cairo University Hospital’s Dr. Mohamed Aden called it “some kind of neuro-toxic nerve gas.”
On November 24, Tantawi appointed Kamal Ganzouri prime minister to select cabinet members for a new government. From 1996 – 1996, he held the same post under Mubarak, and also served as his Minister of Planning and International Cooperation.
Protesters reacted angrily to his appointment. Calling him old guard, they chanted “Illegitimate, illegitimate!” For months, they’ve expressed intermittent visceral anger against ruling junta generals they want replaced by a civilian government.
Obama initially called “for restraint on all sides.” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed support for the ruling junta and its plan to elect a civilian government.
It provides a veneer of legitimacy, a pseudo-democratic facade, no matter how, in fact, it’s manipulated. Egyptians understand and want the initial November 28 round cancelled.
First they want the junta out, followed by legitimate elections they don’t control. Getting them is another matter in a nation with no democratic tradition. Elections under Mubarak were farcical. Improving them will be daunting, and the specter of US military power haunts nations choosing anti-Western governments.
For decades, Washington’s given Egypt’s military billions of dollars in aid, mostly weapons and munitions. Cairo’s been the linchpin of US Middle East policy. Its generals are rewarded to serve it.
Tantawi’s government collaborated in NATO’s Libya war. On March 17, the Wall Street Journal said “Egypt’s military has begun shipping arms over the border to Libyan rebels….” Egyptian commandos also participated.
Washington wants a valued ally retained. Whether or not they’ll tolerate Tantawi isn’t clear. He’s aging, set in his ways, and Egyptians despise him. A November 25 White House Press Secretary statement suggests change, but not what Egyptians have in mind, saying:
“(W)e believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner….as soon as possible.”
On November 23, a New York Times editorial headlined, “Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution,” saying:
Egyptians didn’t “risk their lives….last winter just to see another military-backed tyranny. (They’re) rightly fed up, and they are back in Tahrir Square demanding real democracy.”
Trouble is they won’t get what Washington and Egyptian rulers won’t tolerate. Tantawi and those around him may go. However, everything in Egypt will change but stay the same. Parliamentary democracy won’t happen. Electoral rules assure it.
Whoever they are, military officials will have final say over whoever’s elected. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) declared itself the guardian of “constitutional legitimacy.”
SCAF will retain power to propose and veto legislation, convene and adjourn parliament, appoint and replace the prime minister and cabinet members, and have final say on how Egypt’s governed. “Elected” officials will serve them.
Those allowed to run or have a chance to win also matter. Revolutionary Egyptians will be shut out. So are women, minorities and anyone challenging entrenched rule.
When completed, 498 parliamentarians will be chosen. Most in some way will be tied to decades of corrupt military rule. Secular dominance will continue with likely significant Muslim Brotherhood (MB) representation. It ignited popular anger by cutting a deal with the military. It’s now staying more low key.
Profile of the Muslim Brotherhood
MB leaders aren’t liberal and don’t threaten Washington, Israel or Western interests. Western intelligence agencies, including CIA, have had longstanding MB ties, Britain since the 1940s.
In his book “Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude,” former CIA case officer/Middle East specialist Robert Baer, described Washington’s “dirty little secret,” since the 1950s, saying:
“The CIA funnel(led) support to the Muslim Brotherhood because of (its) commendable capacity to overthrow Nasser….The White House looked on the Brothers as a silent ally, a secret weapon against – what else? – communism.”
“The covert action started in the 1950s with the Dulles brothers – Allen at the CIA and John Foster at the State Department. As far as Washington was concerned, Nasser was a communist.”
In fact, he combined Pan-Arabism, nationalism, anti-colonialism and anti-Zionism. In his book, “Nasser’s Egypt, Arab Nationalism, and the United Arab Republic,” James Jankowski said he promoted unity, arguing that he did so to prevent Syria from going communist.
Referring to the “logic of the Cold War,” Baer said America was willing to support radical Islamists as long as “Allah agreed to fight on our side….If Allah (wanted) political assassination(s), that was fine too, as long as no one talked about it in polite company.”
In the 1920s, Britain established the MB’s precursor, the Society of Propaganda and Guidance. They used it to back colonial rule. Its journal, The Lighthouse, attacked Egyptian nationalists wanting self-determination.
They called them “atheists and infidels.” Its Institute of Propaganda and Guidance taught regional Islamists political agitation methods to contest anti-colonialism back home. Hassan al-Banna, one its graduates, founded the MB in 1928.
In his book “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam,” Robert Dreyfuss called MB an “unabashed British intelligence front,” operating in Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.
In 1952, Gamal Abdel Nasser helped overthrow the Egyptian and Sudanese monarchies. After he became president in 1956, MB was used as a weapon against him. Saudi leaders provided funding and sanctuary after his crackdown. At the same time, America offered support as a bulwark against secular nationalism and communism.
“In 1974, the Muslim Brotherhood formally issued a declaration commanding its members to support Sadat’s pro-IMF infitah (economic opening). Such an action was true to form for political Islam.”
Throughout its history, MB members have been militantly pro-capitalist and against class-struggle on principle. Rarely did they support the poor, disenfranchised, or downtrodden. In Egypt, they didn’t side with aggrieved workers or farmers who lost out under Sadat.
Instead they opposed unions and leftists besides engaging in strikebreaking. In turn, they were supported by wealthy financial and business interests, often secretly, including the Saudis. They also created their own businesses and banks, including the Faisal Islamic Bank of Egypt in 1976. It became a cornerstone of Islamic banks run by Saudi Prince Mohammed al-Faisal, son of King Faisal.
Moreover, Uthman Ahmed Uthman, a wealthy industrialist called “the Egyptian Rockefeller” actively bankrolled the MB in the 1970s. Its ideology and Islamic banking catapulted right-wing Islam to worldwide power.
For nearly 90 years, Washington, Britain and other Western governments supported Islamists strategically against nationalist or democratic movements. The 1920s relationship continues today.
A Final Comment
Though Egypt’s Constitution prohibits religious political parties, MB members won small numbers of legislative seats as independents, representing the largest opposition block. In upcoming 2011/2012 elections, expect them to gain even greater representation. Washington won’t object.
Egyptians should plenty about a manipulative process to leave wealth and power entrenched at the expense of ignored popular interests.
As a result, Egypt’s liberating struggle continues to replace military rule with democracy. Getting it’s another matter.
Washington orchestrated Middle East events since last winter to solidify regional control. Change depends on challenging it successfully.
Grassroots revolutionary upheaval is needed. Confronting entrenched power successfully is daunting. It remains to be seen if Egyptians will pay the price long-term.
Will others across the region join them? Will Europeans and Americans? Their choice is fight back or endure poverty, human misery and tyranny.
They’re spreading unless popular struggles stop what no one should tolerate. The time is now. The name of the game is resist!
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.