A Crucial Moment

Whose day will it be?

Today is crucial, and could go very badly. The Egyptian gangster regime and its backers have clearly decided to use maximum force to end the popular challenge. At 12.34 this morning, Egypt’s entire internet service was closed down – the largest shutdown in history. Mobile phone services have also been suspended, and al-Jazeera has been taken off the Egyptian air. An al-Jazeera journalist has been beaten up by regime thugs. There are reports that French and British journalists have also been beaten or detained. A CNN crew have had their cameras smashed. Obviously, news is harder to come by today.

Last night senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested (see Jonathan Wright’s reflection on the Brotherhood role). Now it seems Muhammad al-Baradei has been arrested after leading a protest in Giza. Protests have erupted in Cairo, in Sinai’s al-Arish, in Minya and Assiut in upper Egypt, in Ismailiya, in Alexandria. Roads leading to Suez, where regime forces have lost control, have been closed.

In the circumstances, protestors are remarkably well-organised. And a few reports are coming through of soldiers (in Suez and Alexandria) refusing to attack the people. Latest: 20,000 people have taken over Qasr el-Nil bridge in central Cairo. And Ayman Nour of the Ghad Party is in intensive care after being beaten by police.

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Chas Freeman: US no longer qualified to mediate Middle East Peace

Ambassador Chas Freeman at a New America Foundation talk, moderated by Steve Clemons. Amb. Freeman’s current book is America’s Misadventures in the Middle East.

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The U.S. should not enable Israel’s self-destructiveness

“I don’t believe that playing the role of enabler to an alcoholic is an act of kindness and I don’t believe playing the role of enabler to a country that is setting itself for catastrophe is responsible either.  I think we have a very sad situation in this country in which any criticism of whatever it is that the current government of Israel is doing is immediately cited as evidence of anti-Israel bias or as evidence of antisemitism.” (Video: 21:46)

The U.S. is no longer qualified to mediate Mideast peace

“The United States essentially has disqualified itself as a mediator. I say that with great sadness because I believe on many occasions in the past we had opportunities to broker peace. I think there has been the implicit promise of peace on many occasions and we did not do that. We cannot play the role of mediator because of the political hammerlock that the right wing in Israel through its supporters here exercises in our politics. We’re simply biased. We’re not capable. If you doubt that read the so-called Palestine Papers and see what we were doing.”  (Video 22:38)

Solidarity in Action

Novelist and Palfest founder Ahdaf Soueif writes from Cairo for the Guardian. “For some time,” she says, “Egypt has felt as though it is under occupation. Today, downtown Cairo was under siege.”

Patience is a virtue – maybe even the supreme one in Egypt’s popular hierarchy of values, but patience also has its limits and, now, at last, it seems as if we’ve arrived at ours. And fittingly, it’s the young of the country who are leading us. They’ve had enough of unemployment, deteriorating education, corruption, police brutality and political impotence.

As is now well known, they organised Tuesday’s protests over Facebook and in closed virtual and actual meetings. Talk about grassroots! “They” is some 20 groups that have sprung up over the last five years. The question has always been how and when will they coalesce? They did on Tuesday; they fused, and with them multitudes of Egyptians young and old – inspired by what happened in Tunis.

They organised protests from Assiut in the south, to Sheikh Zuwayyid in Sinai, and Alexandria, Suez and other cities the length and breadth of Egypt. For Cairo they chose three locations: Shubra, Matariyya and Arab League Street. These were strategic choices: naturally crowded neighbourhoods, with lots of side streets off the main road. Young activists started their march in nearby areas, collected a following and by the time they reached, for example, Arab League Street, they were 20,000 marching.

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People Power in the Middle East

M. Shahid Alam

From his weekly perch at CNN, Fareed Zakaria, speculated last Sunday (or the Sunday before) whether George Bush could take credit for the events that were unfolding in Tunisia, whether this was the late fruit of the neoconservative project to bring ‘democracy’ to the Middle East.

It is quite extraordinary watching Zakaria – a Muslim born and raised in India, and scion of a leading political family – mimic with such facility the language of America’s ruling classes, and show scarce a trace of empathy for the world’s oppressed, despite his propinquity to them by reason of history and geography. He does have a bias for India, but here too he only shows a concern for India’s strategic interests, not the interests of its subjugated classes, minorities and ethnicities. This I offer only as an aside about how easy it is for members of the upper classes in countries like India, Pakistan or Egypt to slip into an American skin whenever that dissimulation offers greater personal advantages.

As a cover for deepening US control over the Middle East – here is the latest civilizing mission for you – the neoconservatives in the Bush administration argued that the Islamic world produces ‘terrorists’ because it lives under autocracies. To solve the ‘terrorist’ problem, therefore, the US would have to bring democracy to the Middle East. This demagoguery only reveals the bankruptcy of America’s political class. It is a shame when the President of the United States and his neoconservative puppet-masters peddle such absurdities without being greeted by squeals of laughter – and shouted down as hypocritical, as farcical.

Who has been the leading ally and sponsor these past decades of nearly all the despotisms in the Middle East – those of royal pedigree and others seeking to become royalties?

Regardless, the real plan of United States failed miserably. It was dispatched to its grave by a people’s resistance in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Scenes from the Egyptian Intifada

Al-Masry al-Yowm says of Egypt’s stock market crash today, “The crash, which brought year-to-date losses to almost 21 percent, hit at the core of some of the regime’s main accomplishments. The president has built his legacy continuing and expanding the open market policies launched by his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in the 1970s.” Meanwhile ex-UN nuclear inspector Muhammad al-Baradei is returning to Egypt to (perhaps presumpteously) lead the protests. And the Muslim Brotherhood has finally expressed support for the demonstrations. “We are not pushing this movement, but we are moving with it. We don’t wish to lead it but we want to be part of it,” said Mohammed Mursi, a senior Brotherhood leader.

In this interview, Egyptian journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy contextualises Egypt’s intifada  against earlier mass protests on behalf of Palestine and Iraq. “The regional is local here,” he says. Here Asa’ad Abu Khalil provides a list of slogans heard in recent days. And here are three short films which capture some of the unfolding drama. In the first, journalists demanding police release their colleague Yahya Qlash turn to chanting Fall, Fall, Mubarak, and al-intifada mustamura (The Intifada Continues), and Go, Go, We Don’t Want You, and finally hurriya (Freedom). In the second, a crowd facing off the police chants (if I hear correctly) – One, Two, The Egyptian People Are Alive. The third shows chilling scenes as the police cleared Maydan Tahreer on the first night.

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An Eyewitness’ Letter to Macy Gray

Dear Macy,

Border Police officers arresting Ouday Tamimi. Picture credit: Bilal Tamimi from Joseph Dana's blog
Border Police officers arresting Ouday Tamimi. Picture credit: Bilal Tamimi from Joseph Dana's blog

I’ll say it again, I truly appreciate that you took your contemplations public. I can tell by what you write that you’ve been thrown into a world that its intensity is unknown to you. I write to you consistently because your heart is on your sleeve, and even though you seem to have made up your mind, I feel the doubt in every public utterance you make.

I’ll introduce myself; My name is Tali Shapiro. I’m an Israeli citizen and I just came back from the village of Nabi Salleh in the West Bank and read your latest blog post. I’m an activist that joins the weekly demonstrations in the village. There are weekly demonstrations in many villages. Though it’s a part of a movement for Palestinian human rights, each village wakes to dissent for individual reasons. Nabi Sallah has had its land annexed by the near by Halamish settlement and its water spring closed off from them by military force. Ever since then, they’ve been demonstrating.

Demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories come with a heavy price. Whether its the wounded and dead, or the constant harassment. Nabi Saleh has been subject to military closure, houses sprayed with putrid water (another method of “crowd dispersal”), night raids, arrests of activists (regardless of age), and torture which includes threats, beatings and contorted body positioning.

I write to you as I come back from one of these night raids. I live in Tel Aviv by choice. I choose to come to a war zone at night, to witness exactly what is being done in the name of my security:

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Forcing young men into atrocities: Israeli troops told to ‘cleanse’ Gaza

Israeli soldiers tell Channel 4 News (UK) they were ordered to “cleanse” Palestinian neighbourhoods in a documentary by Israeli filmmaker Nurit Kedar. A quibble with the introduction: it suggests that Operation Cast Lead was started because of ineffectual Palestinian rockets, which were merely a pretext.

A 24-year-old tank commander remembers being told that the Israeli soldiers entry into Gaza was intended to be “disproportionate”:

We needed to cleanse the neighbourhoods, the buildings, the area. It sounds really terrible to say “cleanse”, but those were the orders….I don’t want to make a mistake with the words.