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Two Down. Twenty To Go.

| February 11, 2011

hosni mubarak

Good riddance to a portrait of tyranny.

This is a great day. It is a great day for Egypt, a great day for the Middle East. It is one of those rare days when history is written in dignity instead of blood: the story of the Egyptian Revolution is a story of non-violence as powerful as that of Gandhi’s India in the 1940s and Martin Luther King’s America in the 1950s, though Gandhi and King never had to contend with irony–the irony of a world’s eyes trained on a region whose people are prejudicially associated with violence. The masses of Tahrir Square have proven, and the Egyptian military confirmed, how wrong the world can be, and how peace-loving Egyptians are. No history of change through non-violence can be written without this new chapter from Tahrir Square. “This,” President Obama said moments ago, “is the way real democracy works.”

For Egypt, it’s the end not just of Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship, but of an era of dictatorships going back to Anwar el Sadat and Gamal abdel Nasser. Egyptians have revolted before, in 1952, overthrowing the repressive monarchy of the day, only to see Nasser impose a one-party state, then a police state, that endures to this day. The military is in charge now. Nothing says that it won’t still be in charge in a year: cosmetic changes overlaying an immovable tyranny have been an Egyptian habit, too, though massive, peaceful demonstrations less so. The surprise, to Egypt’s thuggish state police, is that the demonstrations held to their principles and didn’t buckle under attack. They never compromised their moral high ground, which only sharpened the rot of their opponents’ gutters, Mubarak’s beneath all.

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It’ll be a greater day if it turns out to be what it must be: not just the end of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship, but the beginning of the Middle East’s liberation from a league of dictators holding 450 million people hostage in that crescent of regression from Casablanca to Tehran. Tunisia did it last month. Egypt did it this month. There are still some 20 dictatorships in that dismal crescent. And most of them are American client states: Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the Emirates, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, even Afghanistan and Iraq, where only pretenses of democracy remain despite American soldiers still dying on those soils.

Egypt is the most powerful Arab state culturally and politically. It sets the tone. It set the region’s authoritarian tone for decades. It could–it should–set the tone of liberation in the months and years ahead. If it sustains what it has won these last 18 days. It it sustains that moral high ground. If it regains the support of the United States and the West, a support it never fully had.

That’s the other side of this great day: the disgrace of the United States and the West in general playing catch-up to the victories of the people, of the Obama administration–Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in particular–sitting on fences instead of speaking clearly and in concert with the masses of Tahrir for 18 days. Even yesterday, after Mubarak declined to resign, Obama did not call for his resignation. Only today his words regained a sense of moral power. He finally had found his voice: “This is the power of human dignity, and it can never be denied. Egyptians have inspired us. They have put the lie to the idea that justice is gained by violence,” he said. “For Egypt, it was the moral force of nonviolence, not terrorism, not mindless killing, but nonviolence, moral force, that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.”

But it’s too easy to have a voice after the fact. These are the words he should have been speaking all along, the moment masses took to the streets. He never clearly was on their side until they just as clearly had their victory.

Egyptians are going to want their days of reckoning. They’re going to want their truth commissions, and Mubarak’s enforcers held to account. They’re going to want their money back: Mubarak is reputed to have stashed away billions of dollars–many of the same billions Americans have been contributing for three decades–in his Swiss bank accounts. But no accounting will be complete if it doesn’t include the extent to which successive American administrations since Nixon’s have been propping up Egyptian–and Arab–dictatorship. Egyptians have their reckoning ahead. So do Americans. Egyptians have placed themselves on the right side of history. Americans? Not so much. Not yet.

Below is my weekly commentary for WNZF. I wrote it last night as the crowds of Tahrir Square imagined their hour had come, only to watch Mubarak say he would not step down. It aired this morning, about an hour before Mubarak’s resignation.

It’s been obvious since January 25, when Egyptians first took to the streets against the 30-year-old regime of Hosni Mubarak, that this latest dictator’s days were numbered. But Mubarak is like Saddam Hussein. He wasn’t going to go easily. He ruled over a police state, brutalized and tortured dissidents, imprisoned political opponents, and surrounded himself by yes men. Unlike Saddam Hussein, his police state had the support of the American government and was financed by American taxpayers, as are the dictatorships of most of the Arab world. On Thursday Mubarak pretended to make concessions while reaffirming his dictatorship. Why shouldn’t he? American aid, which should have been cut off the moment American tear gas and ammunition was used against the protesters, continues to flow to him, as does the tacit, tortured support of Barack Obama.

Obama and Hillary Clinton got elected on their own brand of hope and change. They’ve done a 180 on both. Or at least a 90: don’t hope too much, they’ve been telling Egyptians, and let’s not change things too radically. Those two look more worried about how their Egyptian policy would play out in Israel or in South Florida, where the Jewish vote will be crucial to Obama’s small chance of carrying the state’s 29 electoral votes, than in the hearts and minds of 82 million Egyptians. Mubarak, an electoral vote of one, is happy to follow their script, and continue cashing in on your dollars. It’s at times like these that it’s embarrassing to be an American, and more courageous to be like those Arabs filling up Liberation Square.

The square has changed complexion too, since Jan. 25. Barricades that rose to defend against the regime’s skull-breakers were replaced by a sprawl of tents and the organized barracks of revolutionaries. Those who doubt how Egypt could govern itself democratically need only look at the defense and self-governance of Liberation Square in the last two weeks. By last night the flash of Molotov cocktails had been replaced by the flash of cameras in anticipation of what should have been Mubarak’s resignation. It didn’t happen. Nor did Obama stand up and demand to be counted, to count all of America, with the demonstrators of Liberation Square. If Egyptians get their democracy, it’ll be in spite of America, not because of it. The rest of the Middle East is taking note. Freedom’s center of gravity is not in Kansas anymore, Toto. It’s in a square in Cairo.

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22 Responses for “Two Down. Twenty To Go.”

  1. Donna De Poalo says:

    Well done, Pierre, well done. Thank you for providing inspiring, insightful commentary.. More of which we need in our world.

  2. DLF says:

    I keep thinking of Iran and what type of government replaced the U.S.A. supported puppet. is it better or worst today in Iran? I am not sure that most Americans would agree with Pierre that this is a time we should be embarrassed, lets hope we are not more embarrassed when the dust settles and we see who replaces the USA puppet in Egypt. We should be able to switch the money we give Egypt over to Israel and they will once again fall in love with Obama, may be..

  3. rickg says:

    Revolution and no 2nd Amendment! Amazing….

  4. NortonSmitty says:

    After spending over (Cue Dr. Evil) ONE TRILLION DOLLARS in Iraq, more in Afghanistan and with no end in sight to remove evil despots we decided were not fit to rule their own citizens, maybe there is a lesson for us to learn here. The fact that we just witnessed two entrenched dictatorships that had ruled for decades inexplicably fall in hours in Tunisia and weeks in Egypt. Overthrown by the citizens they suppressed for years. Without our military or our help or input in any way? No dollars, no dead American soldiers. How could this happen?

    The catalyst for these miraculous revolutions: The Truth. That’s all. Finally, the citizens were exposed to the corruption, theft and most importantly the lack of respect that the rest of the worlds diplomats had for the tinpot buffoons that claimed the right to lead their homeland for decades. It was all handed to them by the worlds free press. Diplomatic cables from the US to other major countries spelling out in the snarkiest tone what their supreme leader was actually stealing and how the rest of the world was almost laughing at his deeds. Did you see it online Mustapha? Ten G5 jets paid for by the Americans to buy his services to them and the Israeli’s, delivered in his name, not Egypt’s’! We have been fools!

    And the source of this unfiltered information supplied directly to the Tunisian and Egyptian patriots? Who was it that gave them the facts and power to finally unite, rise up and topple their dictators?

    WIKILEAKS!!! JULIAN ASSANGE! That’s right, WIKILEAKS! The traitorous anarchist scum that our government is trying their damnedest to discredit, arrest, assassinate and suppress! By using their trusted media lapdogs to destroy the release of actual words they used to describe the reality we can’t be trusted with. Your elected government is scared to death on the slim chance we manage to tear ourselves away from Jersey Shore long enough to get pissed as an Egyptian and actually take to the streets. Maybe band together as a people to finally rid this country from the grip of our own corrupt, greedy and incompetent poltroons and their thieving corporate owners. I’m not holding my breath.

    I thought they were over-reacting badly to the threat of nothing but information released. Trivial secrets that we ridiculed for their inconsequential content.. But events have proven their power. At least to a society that is so closed to unfiltered information regarding their leaders it is a earthshaking event. So unlike ours where we are bombarded with the trivial and divisive so consistently that we tune out the big picture.

    Simple information has turned out to be quicker and more far reaching than the most powerful and expensive military in the world at the job of overthrowing tyrants. Who knew. I hope to live long enough to see it in person instead of onscreen. But again, I’m not holding my breath.

  5. NortonSmitty says:

    Oh yea. Obama saying “This is the way Democracy works” regarding a people risking their lives to stand up to tanks and plainclothes police thugs beating and killing them in the streets in order to change their leaders is way, way stupider than anything George W. Bush said in over eight fucking years.

    I can’t believe it. I thought W. would be the gold standard of stupid remarks for decades! We are truly becoming a nation of bipartisan brainless buffoons! Sarah has to raise the bar now so as not to be considered mainstream.

  6. PC MAN says:

    I think Obama played it right by not saying anything and letting this be an all Egyptian story. My only concern now is will our government keep such a hands off approach in a country that has American interests, namely oil and gas.

    • Bob Estelle says:

      A thoughtful analysis. But what would you expect from an American politician like Obama or Clinton. Too many American big shots making too much money off the oppression of the Egyptians means Obama and Clinton will look the other way unless or until the dissidents make a difference, Writings like this will keep the pressure on the new regime to transform Egypt into a constitutional republic. Maybe it is the beginning of a better world over there. Let’s see how things develop

  7. NortonSmitty says:

    OK, I’m riled, so one more rant.

    I was so proud of Barack and Hillary and Foot-In-Mouth Delaware Joe broadcasting to the world how they sincerely hoped and prayed that the repressive dictatorship of Mubarak would not infringe on the sacred right of citizens to peacefully protest. As it is enshrined in our Constitution in the Bill of Rights, “The Rights of Citizens to Peacefully protest and Present their Grievances to Their Government Shall NOT be Infringed..” It may not be word for word, but as I remember it. To me and obviously to the Founders we claim to revere, it is probably the most important right of a people to preserve THEIR democracy. When the ordinary citizens get pissed enough to take to the streets, there is something wrong with their leadership that needs fixed. Or else. The Or Else is needed sometimes to show who is working for who to those who forget where their power comes from. We made sure we let the world know that Egypt must do the same.

    Because here is how a truly repressive government handles it’s citizens when they speak directly to power: It is from the G20 summit protests in Pittsburgh in’09. Since there are few places in the world that have been affected by Globalization than my home town. Having all of the top foreign Bankers and Globalists meet there is really an In-Your-Face provocation to me. Being from there, I watched a lot of it on the ‘net as it happened, just like the Egyptians did recently. I was shocked at the brutality which the local police beat and treated the local students and other protesters. Beat and bloodied them like they were invading terrorists even though most of them were doing nothing but watching the show. The link I posted is the best I could find today. Believe it or not, all of the really graphic videos of the police clubbing and brutalizing them I watched live back then seem to have disappeared from the entire internet! Imagine, censoring the internet? That isn’t possible, is it? If you watch it, remember, THIS IS THE SANITIZED VERSION! The really disgusting stuff just disappeared! Look hard and you might find some somewhere. I couldn’t in time.

    But if you watch, you see some black-masked Anarchists lighting a dumpster on fire and pushing it towards the Police lines, so they deserve the beatings, right? But look at the arms on those Anarchists! I don’t think I’ve ever seen College poly-sci guys that spent that much time in the gym. Well this explains it: They were cops or mercenaries to give the State a reason to crack down. The Bolsheviks used to call them Agent Provocateurs. Now in America.

    It has been said that a a people always get the government they deserve. I sincerely hope we come to be a better people. Soon.

  8. NortonSmitty says:

    Last one, I promise.

    The weapons used on the demonstrators in the above video are on the cutting edge of military technology. The LRAd or. Long Range Acoustical Device that emits that loud shrieking sound you hear was first used in Panama to roust Noriega out of the Vatican Councilage. Then they said they used it to play rap tunes until our pineapple-faced ex-ally surrendered. Then as now, the sound you actually hear is a disguise to mask the real weapon. A subsonic wave that you can’t hear, but disrupts your inner ear bad enough to cause something like instantaneous sea-sickness, causing vomiting and disorientation incapacitating everyone it’s aimed at. I’m sure they would only use it in the case of dire National emergencies, like this: OK, I can’t find the link but I guess they let the Pgh. Police keep the weapon and they were bragging about having their LRAD ready to keep the Super Bowl celebrators in line in the Post-Gazette. Green Bay handled their problem for them unfortunately.

    The other mystery weapon, the round one in the video, is a microwave emitter that two years later we see on all of the news outlets. It can be aimed at up to 300 yards at a group or individual and causes an immediate burning sensation, like your skin is melting. The cute way they described it on the news was it would cause you to immediately move out of the waves path. They didn’t say what happened if the operator decided to continue to train it on you as you moved, but they say it’s actually harmless. Anyway, I thought it was interesting that they guinea-pigged it on some Pitt students watching the protests.

    I’m so glad we don’t have to worry about living in a brutal place like Egypt!

  9. Tom Brown says:

    From Day 1, the U.S. has been playing catch-up on getting basic information about what’s going on. Apparently our diplomats and spies didn’t have a clue. The Egyptian military is the pipeline for our scant facts about what’s going on behind closed doors, while the TV cameras remain hypnotized by the street images. If our information is coming from a military filter, and/or Israel’s spies, be on guard for distortions. Eventually WikiLeaks and others will help us get a truer picture of the reality. Right now I’m remembering the temporary euphoria we witnessed in Iran, Cuba, and Iraq when dictators fell, and how it played out. Keeping fingers crossed.

  10. DLF says:

    I love the way these liberal can pass over Obama’s screw ups, blame Bush (who has been out of office for over two years) and try to pull the wool over our eyes to the fact the Obama, Hillary and the the CIA had no way of knowing what was going on in Egypt, believe that, I do! You liberals better wake up and understand that Obama is not a God he will and he has made some mistakes, that’s what you get when you elect a community organizer, sorry.

  11. DLF says:

    PC Man, you may want to check where we get most of our oil and gas from it ,is not Egypt, they do control the Suez Canal which could be a problem, but any excuse to say what a great job the community organizer did. What will be your excuse if Egypt follows the footsteps of Iran, a Carter screw up .

  12. NortonSmitty says:

    DLF your right about Egypt not exporting any oil. I think they supply a little gas to Europe. They do have the Suez, but their main strategic asset is they have a border with Israel. How this is a vital strategic value to our own country is a mystery to me.

    I don’t know where the Obama comment came from, but for the record most of the Liberals I know think BO is a politically incompetent pandering corporate stooge who doesn’t have the courage to fight for his convictions, if he even has any. Sort of like George W. in blackface without the balls. Not God. Once again, if you fascist leaning Good German patriots would get their nose out from between Linbaugh and Uncle Ruperts ass cheeks maybe you could smell what is really going on in this country. It has to be better that what your smelling now.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Until this year Egypt was believed to have reserves of about 4 billion barrels of oil. That estimate was revised to 18 billion last year–compared with 21 billion in the United States, where reserve estimates were actually lowered drastically once the USGS discovered that all the Bush administration’s hoopla over Alaskan oil was, in fact, as much hoopla as its WMD fantasies: the oil ain’t there. Both Egypt and Israel have been discovering huge natural gas reserves lately.

  13. DLF says:

    The Oil and Gas Journal dated 1-11 quotes that Egypt has PROVEN oil reserve of 4.4 billion barrels, could not find any reference to 18 billion, maybe it just is not there, Bush is not the only liar in the world.

  14. Donna De Poalo says:

    I think laying all the blame on Obama and Clinton misses the point. US foreign policy is a problem and has been for a very long time. Remember that the US supported Mubarak for 30 years and I have difficulty believing there was no knowledge of the manner in which he ruled.

  15. DLF says:

    I did ,and looked at other sources and came up with some different information,does not make your information and more correct then my source, just another view point which is part of both sides of the story and not just one that supports a specific view. A open mind is like a parachute, it only works when it is open

  16. NortonSmitty says:

    DLF, You are so right about the validity and importance of evaluating both sides of every issue. Here is a good example you should check out: I warn you, it will rock your world and make you re-think all the so-called “experts” that the mainstream media and conventional wisdom has fed you about Geography, for sure.

  17. PC MAN says:

    DLF I think you may have missed the meaning of my post, I do not believe Obama is God, he’s too far right for me. I believe it was Bill Maher who said ” the democrats have moved to the center and the republicans have moved to the insane asylum”. I just think no matter who was president the best approach would be low key as to not be a propaganda weapon for either side. The way it stands now social media and the youth are being credited for this revolution and not a meddling superpower with a bad track record.
    And DLF you blame Carter for Iran ? You think getting rid of their democratically elected leader and installing a brutal dictator played into that somehow ? If it makes you feel any better I don’t blame W for 9 -11.

  18. Bill Murray says:

    Pierre, Pierre, Pierre… So you did find a rock to hide under. Life after the DBNJ goes on. Same compost.

  19. NortonSmitty says:

    Bill, Loved you in Groundhog day. Time to go back underground.

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