Monday, 7 February 2011

'Containing' the Egyptian Revolution - The Makings of a Time Bomb!

Hosni Mubarak's regime has refused to vacate the state, and an insidious but predictable strategy has emerged to ensure the survival of existing political and state structures in defiance of the demands of the millions of Egyptian protestors that have filled the streets of major cities over the past two weeks. The strategy is one of containment ... to contain the protests, the protestors, and their voices alike. The first element of this strategy involved cutting of cellular telephone communications and the internet, specifically targetting sites like facebook and twitter.  The second element of this containment strategy has been to physically contain the protestors, especially those in Tahrir square in Cairo.

Barack Obama, the US President, has confidently stated in a Fox TV interview that one thing's for sure, "Egypt will not go back to what it was!"  The Egyptian government, who have been asked to step down, have responded by voicing their 'gratefulness' for the widespread protests and the desire for reform that the protestors have expressed. However, despite making positive sounds, it is clear that nothing is about to change in Egypt as long as the erstwhile puppeteers of the Mubarak regime are given the reigns over the much vaunted 'about to happen' transition. It is a lesson in how to suck the wind out of peaceful revolution, how to scupper and harangue it out of existence, how to cruelly wait out a bloody and difficult revolution in luxury in the peacefulness and safety of Sharm El Sheik amongst the tourists - while the battered and bloodied protestors lay their sleep deprived and hungry bodies down onto the cold concrete of Tahrir square each night. 

In retrospect, had the protestors stormed the presidential palace during the first few days of the revolution they would most likely have been in a better position. In ensuring peaceful and non-violent, democratic protest the demonstrators have ironically given up the advantage of numbers that they held early on in the 'revolution'. In the coldest of logic, the waiting game is on the side of those who have the money and resources to wait it out. For the average Egyptian, if they don't work during the day, they don't eat at night - so it is a starving and broken populace who have risen up against their leaders, and who may not have the physical means to make it through the long standoff.  

And the regime is busy remobilising its resources.  Should the protests end without achieving their key goal - removing Mubarak and the regime - one thing is sure; the regime will go about systematically breaking down the opposition through disinformation, intimidation, imprisonment and murder. The regime will, like a grand patriarch, chide the people in view of the global public, but will mercilessly beat them in private. Despite the assurances made by the army that they would not attack the people, it is clear that this assurance is given to satisfy the demands of the international community, and in practise, the role of the Egyptian army has been to contain the protests until they fizzle out. There have already been reports of the military firing upon people, and there is no doubt that the state security machinery have already engaged in intimidation, assault, kidnapping and murder. 

As we have observed with the Tunisian revolution however, the people decide when a revolution is over. The danger of the regimes containment strategy is that by refusing to acknowledge the legitimate demands of its people, and by clamping down in response to peaceful protest, the protests will have no choice but to turn to violence.  And then, all stereotypes will be satisfied and the regimes claims that there are external forces behind the protests will seem to be true, and will justify a heavy-handed response in which either the protests will be crushed and driven underground forever, or the regime will fall at the hands of its people, who will pit themselves in bloody battle with the military in the streets.

The clamp down on journalists is a clear indication of what the state is really up to in Egypt right now. Western governments are foolish to avoid taking a position on what is going on, as their distrust of the emergence of Arab democracy is a clear indication of their prejudice against what they perceive to be a rabidly islamist region, with populaces that need to be controlled by dictators that they fund and appoint. They are now contributing to the direct oppression of a people who have expressed a clear desire for democratic, secular freedom.  The inability of the West to act with clear leadership, and clear support for democracy reveals their 'some pigs are more equal than others' attitude towards the Middle East. In short, it serves the West's agenda to sit on the fence, citing fears over the Muslim Brotherhood (who, according to Time magazine, won only 3% of the Egyptian vote in 2005), who the western press are referring to as the 'largest' opposition party in Egypt, despite the fact that the protests have been secular in nature since the outset of the protests, representing a broad cross-section of Egyptian society. 

The containment strategy might work in the short term, but the long term effects of standing on the sidelines and hoping the problem will go away may in turn lead to deeper radicalisation on the ground in Egypt. When people feel betrayed by the pursuit of peaceful, civilised means of protest, and are violently thwarted and intimidated by illegitimate states in response, they are more likely to pick up arms. Indeed, it is the reason the ANC took up the armed struggle in South Africa - when all peaceful means of resistance proved futile, no other option was available.

It is irresponsible to go along with Mubaraks containment strategy, precisely because it will emphasize the idea that the West distrusts Arab countries and their predominantly muslim citizens. It will rob these countries of the opportunity for real change.  In South Africa, the transition was enabled by widespread international support, sanctions and global moral outrage at the oppressive policies and actions of the Apartheid state. Standing by the Egyptian people right now, in this moment, is all that will count in the future. It took seven years for the international community to intervene in Bosnia. It left muslims the world over with the feeling that they were somehow less human than others, that their lives mean't less in the broader scheme of things, and indeed, as one famous author observed at the time, the West should not be surprised when in ten years time, those children who suffered without help from the international community will themselves become radicalised. 

The situation in Egypt is clear and simple. The Mubarak regime has clearly devised a strategy to contain the protests, and marginalise them from the Egyptian people and the international community alike. This strategy is about downplaying and deflating the protests, for example, by manufacturing low statistics of protest related deaths. The Egyptian government claims that 13 people have died in the protests while the UN claims that the figure is closer to 300 people. Playing along with this farce, some Western diplomats have now expressed a desire to see Mubarak manage the transition because, 'he is surrounded by corruption on all sides and he is the only one that can be trusted to manage the transition successfully'. What absolute nonsense!? How can an oppressor lead you to freedom? 

The moral authority of the international community is fast being eroded by their inability to embrace the changes happening in the middle east and to stand firmly by their belief in the global spread of democratic freedoms and ideals - to support democratic change for all people, wherever they may desire it. This moral deficiency of the West towards middle eastern and muslim countries will eventually come full circle, and it is not this generation of leaders who will pay the price but their children and grandchildren who will pick up the debt. Putting a lid on this pot now is just a temporary measure to guarantee a tenous stability - it will surely boil over even more violently and radically in response!

The bombings have already started in Tunisia and it is concievable that this will also constitute the next phase of the Egyptian revolution. Cosmetic change will only fuel dissent, and containing the protests for now, will only ensure that more forceful protests develop in the future. 
The time to act as an international community is now, but only the Secretary General of the UN -Banki Moon, David Cameron and Angela Merkel have taken a clear stand. The South African government, now reclining in its freedom, seems loathe to move itself off its large rear to provide support to the Egyptian people and other uprising nations in the middle east. The US government is tired of being viewed as the international 'bully boy', dictating the movements of internal affairs of sovereign nations. China has cut off it's people from media and internet coverage of the Egyptian revolution. For the most part, the international diplomatic community seems to be turning a blind eye to events, and hoping that dissent will dissipate and die down, so that others in the region don't get any funny ideas, and the price of oil (which has been rising steadily since the early 2000s) stabilises in its never-ending ascent. Ultimately, the price for not standing by the Egyptian people in what has been a momentous shift towards democracy, will ultimately prove to be the deepening of radicalisation of the middle east.  

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