Monday, 31 January 2011

Whither Egypt? - Reform, Repression or Revolution?

It began in Tunisia, then spread to Algeria within hours before reaching Yemen in the East and settling in the most important revolt of them all in Egypt. The January 2011 uprising of the Arab masses has been fermenting for a long long time. Millions across the region bravely faced down their hated security services and brutal regimes. The scenes are reminiscent of those beamed around the world 20 years ago from Eastern Europe. The revolt of the Arab peoples has the potential to be just as earth shattering.
We've seen nothing like this before there. Not on this scale. The raw voice of the people with all its confusion and political divisions is nonetheless agreed on one thing, change has come and the dictatorships have to go.
But what changes are being sought and which won? These revolts are economic, social and political in character. The standard of living across the region is falling dramatically as food and other basic necessities cost more and more. The social conditions in Egyptian society for example with 12million people living in Cairo alone have been hellish for many many years. The issue here is not whether or not to fight for change but how.
If the dam burst in Tunis it became a tsunami by the time it reached Cairo. The scent of democracy is in the nostrils of tens of millions in dozens of countries.
President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, fearing the enormity of this unprecedented political revolt, was forced to make unparalleled changes to the Egyptian constitution within minutes. So much then for the oft repeated line of political reactionaries the world over that 'things cannot be changed overnight'. Revolutionary moods seldom stand on ceremony. Mubarak realised this entirely and within hours installed a Prime Minister to listen to the demands of the protesters. This despite the fact Egypt has had no such position before. In turn his manoeuvre was treated with contempt by protesters sensing his weakness. Their boldness was further encouraged when
they learned he had appointed Sulieman his hated head of security services to the post. He also gave new powers to his former Air Force Chief. Mubarak has gambled on the loyalty of the military and at same time challenged his critics to a waiting game. He hopes the protesters run out of steam. The stakes are high on all sides.
Of course the other remarkable feature of this piece of history, watching it from the comfort of a Scottish armchair, is the response of British and American Imperialism. Foreign Secretary William Hague and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton both insist the people have 'legitimate grievances'.
No, really? Could this be the same countries who have done more than any other in the world to bolster Mubarak and assist his brutal military dictatorship. Where does he get his guns and instruments of repression from Mr Hague? Now that Cameron and Obama see the writing on the wall they change horses, flash their 'democratic credentials' and speak about the 'legitimate grievances of the people' before warning Mubarak not to put down the revolt.
The hypocrisy of these people! Mubarak has been a hated dictator for 30 years in Egypt. Yet he simply could not have survived to repress the Egyptian people without US and British complicity. In return for his backing of Israel's maltreatment of the Palestinians for example or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Mubarak was showered with privileges by the US and Britain
such as the latest military hardware with which to suppress his own people. This is well known in Egypt and it is therefore little wonder they express such hatred for his British and American 'handlers'.
What happens next depends on the political balance of forces, the decisions of the leaders of the key parties and the strength of will on both sides. Mubarak will not stand down voluntarily, he will have to be removed. Equally if the protesters lose momentum he will survive. The political struggle is not just between the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and the Wests preferred standard bearer Mohammed El Baradei on the other. There are many other forces out there seeking to direct the political unrest and frustration and seeking to improve the lives, standard of living and political rights of tens of millions.
One thing can be said with certainty the sands have shifted in Egypt now. The radical mass protests of the past 7 days have changed Egypt for ever.

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