There are banner-wavers, speakers, and youngsters milling about. But the by now world-famous square has a forlorn, leftover look, with more street people than revolutionaries. Violence crackles like static electricity.
Heavily armed riot and security police and their armored vehicles are massed nearby. In the ancient Khan al-Khalili Bazaar, I saw vanloads of government thugs waiting to attack demonstrators. I was almost arrested when I started taking photos.
Demonstrators at Tahrir showed me cans of expended tear gas that caused some deaths and many casualties. Whether they were the usual anti-riot CS gas, or the six times stronger, carcinogenic CR that can kill or blind, I could not tell. But the canisters were marked, “Made in the USA” and everyone knew it.
While Hillary Clinton was gushing about democracy in Egypt, shipments of U.S. made anti-riot gear, including truncheons, gas, and rubber bullets, are being airlifted in from the United States. Clinton’s U.S. State Department appears to be timidly backing Egypt’s revolution, but the real power in American foreign policy, the Pentagon, is standing firmly behind Egypt’s 500,000-man armed forces.
I just observed Egypt go to the polls in a series of complex parliamentary elections. The vote was remarkably clean and fair, a triumph for all Egyptians.
Two more regional polls are yet to be held, but the outcome is clear. The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamic ally, Wasat, won over 40% of the vote. The Salafist al-Nur Party, which seeks a state run under Islamic law, won 24%. The secular Egyptian Bloc won only 13.4%.
All the preppy, upscale, youth armed with cell phones and Blackberries first seen in Tahrir that became the darlings of the western media vanished. Revolutions are made by political and economic issues, not social media.
Egyptians clearly want democracy and parliamentary government, as do people across the Arab world. But Egypt’s mighty military-security establishment and its western backers do not: they are fighting a bitter action to slow down real democracy and to safeguard their privileges and power.
Egypt’s military gets nearly $3 billion in U.S. funds and arms each year, plus millions more in “black” money from CIA and the Pentagon—in addition to millions in economic aid. The U.S. supplies all of the military’s key weapons systems and retains control of the spare parts keeping them operating. The most important U.S. intelligence and security agencies maintain large stations in Cairo to protect the regime. Half of Egypt’s food imports are financed by the United States.
Many of Egypt’s key generals “trained” at U.S.military colleges and defense courses where they were vetted by CIA and DIA. As with Turkey’s large armed forces—at least until nine years ago—Egypt’s military was joined at the hip to the U.S. defense establishment and arms industry. In exchange, Egypt agreed to become a tacit ally of Israel.
Given Egypt’s role as a virtual U.S. protectorate, the flood of hypocrisy now issuing from Washington, London, Paris and Ottawa over their alleged support of Egyptian democracy is striking. For the past thirty years, these powers have ardently backed Egypt’s notably ruthless, brutal dictatorship whose security forces used torture, rape, and murder to terrorize its citizens.
While Egyptians want democracy, the military wants political figureheads and the right to intervene in politics to protect its interests aka “national security”—the same demands used for decades by the rightwing Turkish military to block democracy. Egypt’s generals insist there be no investigations of human rights abuses. Washington is trying to sustain the Egypt-Israel alliance that all Egyptians detest.
The military, its U.S. backers, Israel, and some misinformed western media warn the Muslim Brotherhood will turn Egypt into another Iran. This is nonsense. The Brotherhood is conservatives, timid and focused on social issues. In Egypt’s political context, it is a moderate party.
Egyptians want jobs, housing, food, education and a rescue for the deeply ailing economy, not worldwide jihad.
If western powers fail to seize this historic opportunity and work with the Brotherhood’s moderates, they will end up with the scimitar-wavers.
The west can begin by apologizing for so long supporting Mubarak’s brutal dictatorship.
Copyright 2011 Eric S. Margolis