Under the (Egyptian) volcano


The party – and what a party – is over. Now it’s hangover time – and what a hangover.

Meet the new boss, or the Pharaoh rebuilt as Shiva; the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. If this was Southeast Asia, people would say “same same – but different”.

Instead of a police state, it’s communique time (talk about a throwback to the 1970s). President and vice president dissolved. Parliament dissolved (but with Pharaoh-appointed Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq insisting the current kangaroo cabinet will be in place for that “orderly transition”.) Constitution suspended. The army trying to impose the notion it will run Egypt for the next six months. Vaguely sinister expected curbs on strikes and “chaos and disorder”.

What can a Democrat, Nobel Peace Prize President of the United States do, except to support a military coup? (Yet another throwback to the 1960s and 1970s). Recap: the White House and the State Department wanted Hosni Mubarak gone.

But Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) badly wanted him to stay. While Mubarak – like a trashy dyed-hair version of Louis XVI – fought for his own survival, Vice President Omar “Sheikh al-Torture” Suleiman, endorsed by Washington and Brussels, fought for the survival of the regime (as in “orderly transition”), and Washington fought for the survival of one of the crucial pillars of “stability” in the Middle East. The street was fighting for their lives.

It’s easy to explain why the CIA never saw it coming. The agency may have excelled in doing extraordinary rendition business with Sheikh al-Torture, but overall it has been imprisoned by a major ideological strait jacket since the Ronald Reagan years. The CIA simply does not talk to anybody who’s not a vassal – from Iran to Hamas to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

Thus they cannot gather quality, on the ground, actionable intelligence. Egypt was bubbling underneath since at least 2005. The US Embassy in Cairo did not even have a liaison officer with the MB. And now their asset, Suleiman, is a non-entity (picture Langley submerged by a deluge of tears).

In the end, the Egyptian street did it. Miserably paid conscripts ready to raise hell if ordered to fire on ordinary citizens did it. Discreet union organizers active for years did it. Judges demonstrating on the streets did it. And youth groups did it. The January 25 young revolutionaries soon woke up to reality.

Now they clearly see Washington finally decided to cut its losses and give the green light for the onanism-plagued concept of a military coup against a military dictatorship. OK, as bright outlooks go, at least there is one hopeful precedent, the 1974 revolution in Portugal that ended up, within one year, in a solid, socialist-leaning democracy.

My communique is bigger than yours

What’s with these communique junkies of the Supreme Council? The street knows they are all Mubarak cronies, mostly in their 70s – starting with coup leader, Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, 75 – very close to the Pentagon’s Robert Gates (crucial; Tantawi got to the top after being the commander of Mubarak’s private army, the Republican Guards).

They are all US-enabled stakeholders (via billions of dollars of “aid” year after year) of a vast military-owned business dynasty controlling entire sectors of the Egyptian economy. There’s no way a new Egypt may be born without overthrowing this whole system. Ergo, the street has to take on the army.

Expect major fireworks ahead. For the moment, the potential adversaries are studying each other. Exit “orderly transition”; enter – according to General Mohsen el-Fangari – “a peaceful transition of power” to allow “an elected civilian government to rule and build a free democratic state”. It all sounds like Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix. Forget about the army swiftly handing over power to a civilian-led interim government.

In the battle of communiques, at least the January 25 leadership knows how to turn heads. Among its top demands – call it the road map of the street’s political desires – we find the immediate end to the state of emergency; immediate release of all political prisoners; creation of a transitional, collective governing council; formation of an interim government comprising independent nationalist trends to oversee free and fair elections; formation of a working group to draft a new democratic constitution to be voted in a referendum; removal of any restriction on the free formation of political parties; freedom of the press; freedom to form unions and non-governmental organizations without government permission; and the abolition of all military courts.

Anyone who believes the Supreme Council generals will hand this all over to the people on a plate must be living in the Tibetan plateau.

Bomb me to democracy, babe

This has been not only a youth-driven revolution, but is now also a mass working class-driven movement. In the next stage, the working class – and the peasantry – will be increasingly crucial. As blogger Hossam El-Hamalawy has put it, “We have to take Tahrir to the factories now.” The regime’s final crackdown happened when strikes spread like wildfire. There’s increased conceptualization of direct democracy from below leading to a state of permanent revolution. The “West” is quaking in its Ferragamos.

At the same time, the January 25 leadership is aware that Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh – plus Mubarakism’s comprador classes – will do absolutely anything to derail Egyptian democracy. Everything will apply – from a Walhalla of bribes to shady manipulation of laws and the electoral process. Expect at least one general to run for president; certainly not the incredibly vanishing CIA asset “Sheikh al-Torture” Suleiman, but most probably army chief of staff Sami Anan, 63, who has also spent a lot of time in the US and is closer to many in the Pentagon than Tantawi.

Very soon, expect everyone and his neighbor to court the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) like there’s no tomorrow; Turkey (to advance its role as a beacon of moderation in the Middle East); Iran (even though they’re Shi’ite, to remind the MB of their struggle for Palestine); the US (so they can believe to control a jihadist streak the MB does not have anyway); and Saudi Arabia (with tons of cash, to jam US machinations).

The New York Times has quaintly described how “the White House and the State Department were already discussing setting aside new funds to bolster the rise of secular political parties” – as in trying to corral every nook and cranny of the opposition to an US agenda.

Apart from the fact the Egyptian revolution – still in its infancy – is the most earth-shattering strategic shift in the Middle East for the past three decades (since Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982), what stands out is the abject fallacy of everything from Islamophobia to the reductionist “clash of civilizations” theory to the neo-con chimera of a Greater Middle East. The Egyptian street opened a highway to democracy in only two-and-a-half weeks. Compare it to the Pentagon democratizing Afghanistan in nine years and Iraq in seven.

At this stage, no one knows whether Mubarakism will survive with a minimal facelift; whether Mubarakism will co-opt the next elections while the army stays in the shade; or whether a real social and political revolution will radically, eventually reorganize all the structure of wealth and power in Egypt.

Way beyond the inevitable clash in Egypt of demographic explosion and economic crisis, what is literally freaking out the West is that its elites know what the vast majority of Egyptians don’t want. A truly democratic, sovereign Egyptian government cannot possibly remain a slave of US foreign policy.

Things may start at a minimum with lifting the siege of Gaza and re-examining the export of natural gas to Israel at subsidized rates; then they will move to reconsidering the safe passage of the US Navy in the Suez Canal and finally rediscuss the holy of holies – the 1979 Camp David accords with Israel.

From now on, any increasing degree of freedom enjoyed by Egypt will be directly proportional to the increasing degree of fear felt by Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh.

It’s fair to say that at this stage the Egyptian street keeps close to its heart those that supported it – from al-Jazeera and assorted Arab nationalists to Hezbollah in Lebanon. And knows very well those that despised it – from the House of Saud and assorted Wahhabi extremists to Israel. No one will forget that Saudi King Abdullah accused the street of “meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt”.

The key slogan of the revolution has been “The people want the downfall of the regime”. It has already generated a spin-off; “The people want the liberation of Palestine”. Stay glued to the weather reports; the real volcano has not even erupted.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

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