Volatility

January 28, 2011

In To Egypt

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Corporatism, Freedom, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 3:46 am

 

Three momentous days of courageous protest. Escalating brutality and provocations by the police. Ever more confused and embarrassed lies and platitudes from neoliberal governments, with the US junta leading the way. And today (Friday) promises to reach a new level of decision. (Meanwhile the protests are spreading to Yemen.)
 
Tuesday was the proclaimed Day of Rage or Day of Wrath, according to various translations. In an unprecedented show of spontaneous democratic force, over 50,000 protestors challenged the 30 year dictatorship of US stooge Hosni Mubarak. The protests continued over the next two days, defying increasing police aggression, growing rumors of a military crackdown (but so far no accounts of military action have been confirmed), and the regime’s bans and curfews.
 
The protestors have called for national demonstrations on Friday. Since this is the day of prayer, the mosques will be natural rallying points. Meanwhile the appropriately named riot police are planning to use provocateurs and hired thugs to launch their own riot, which is intended to smear the protest as violent and provide the pretext for a murderous assault on the crowds. There are reports that the security police have vacated the streets while paramilitary “anti-terrorist” units take up positions. They may be planning a bloodbath.
 
The US continues its days of confusion over what to say about democracy. (We could infer what they think, and can only speculate about what they’re covertly doing.) First Hillary Ribbentrop reprised her pro-regime “not taking sides” principle from Tunisia. Then some flunkeys uttered some platitudes about how the regime needs to respect freedom of speech and assembly (the NYT was similarly gracious), while others said Egypt isn’t ready for democracy. Joe Biden didn’t really clear up this rhetorical confusion, but he did provide confirmation of the Washington mindset:
 
1. If someone’s “an ally” of the US elites and works with Israel, then by definition he’s not a dictator.
 
2. The demands of the people may not be “legitimate”.
 
We can add how Israeli elites are referring to the Mubarak regime’s need to defend itself against an “existential threat”.
 
That sums up the class war perspective. From their point of view, the power elites are the only real human beings. Within that microscopic perspective, they may even view their neoliberal cabal as a “democracy”. So a compliant member of the club can’t be a dictator, while any claim from outside this cabal must be looked upon as illegitimate. By definition the non-elite people cannot embody democracy. Only someone asserting such an outside claim could be acting “dictatorially”.
 
So we have the spectacle of a handful of gangsters claiming to be the only true citizens, while the people are vilified as an alien dictatorial mob. And any level of violence the state uses to repress this mob is legitimate self-defense against an illegitimate “existential threat”. This is exactly how the neoliberal elite, organized for class war, views the world. They’ve long implied they want to turn democracy and sovereignty upside down so that these would reside with the criminal gangs and not with the people. This is also their principle. We’ve seen Obama’s experiment in using the Gulf Oil Eruption as a pretext to abdicate sovereignty over a vast geographical area to an anti-sovereign corporation. (The fact that is wasn’t even a nominally “US” corporation must have been an added ideological attraction.) That’s just one example of the all-out assault to gut all democracy, constitutional government, and civil society itself. This is the secession of the elites from all these things, even as they still intend to monopolize the physical ground and everything that’s on it.
 
From this point of view, the people, although still needed as slaves, must otherwise cease to exist. Politically, legally, as the repository of sovereignty – in all these ways the people must cease to exist and become unpersons. Only the rich and corporate persons are to be “citizens” of this “democracy”. (How the impoverished unpersons are supposed to continue to be “consumers” is a mystery, though. But then, that’s the fundamental contradiction of capitalism.)
 
This basic idea isn’t new. The notion of the indelible rich as constituting one (superior) kind of citizen and the productive people being something alien, debased, a secondary kind of citizen at best, goes back to the so-called “federalist” hijackers of the American Revolution in 1788. In Federalist numbers Ten and Fifty-One, Madison gave a refreshingly frank explanation of the mindset and how the system was to use divide-and-conquer to atomize the democratic (from his view undemocratic) mob. Although even he didn’t figure out how to justify the existence of parasitic elites in the first place. He was more “innocent” and took that on faith. Only later did ideologues of parasitism, from Ayn Rand to her proclaimed nemesis John Rawls, come up with the trickle-down scam.  
 
I think if you look anywhere, you’ll see that this is the trend. We’ve long been able to infer this as the intentional systematic campaign. And now it’s becoming more and more explicit.
 
This is the most vile and subhuman ideology of all times. Everything they call “democratic” is anti-democratic, they are anti-citizens, they and the corporations embody an anti-constitution and anti-sovereignty, and every aspect of their being, thought, and action is anti-human. They have turned every single thing, with total consistency, exactly upside down, and therefore depict a precise counter-indication. If Biden says Mubarak’s not a dictator, that means he is a dictator. Biden’s own metric – being the ally of US elites – proves it. In every thing we think, plan, and do, we must simply seek to turn this right side up. Democracy, legitimacy, sovereignty – these self-evidently lie only with the people, while elite gangs are self-evidently never anything but appendages, whose very existence is rightfully at the people’s pleasure. This is our entire heritage of political thought and action. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution open with such hails of recognition. However much today’s kleptocrats try to overthrow this absolute truth, it remains self-evident. But since they insist, we shall have to take action to turn the current practice right side up, to restore the rightful balance.
 
That’s what the people of Egypt are attempting, just as their brethren in Tunisia have taken a big step toward it.
 
Just as in Tunisia, the people’s protest has been spontaneous yet sustained and systematic. Yesterday some pre-existing leadership offered itself. Mubarak’s political challenger Mohammed Elbaradei returned to Egypt and offered his leadership to the movement, while the Muslim Brotherhood issued an ambivalent statement of support: “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.”
 
It’s up to them, but if this really is a democratic and workers’ movement, the people should be suspicious of both Islamism and of “reformers” within neoliberalism. Elbaradei certainly doesn’t plan any changes beyond some political cosmetics.
 
The people don’t need this kind of “leadership”, although having a famous speaker here and there may help rally morale at critical moments. All we really need is the will to act, a sound, basic plan, and the resolve to see it through to the end. At the moment the end should be to drive out the existing criminals, followed by a new, far more economically democratic constitution. It’s probably too early to go immediately to full direct council democracy, which could dispense with written constitutions completely. But if a movement decided to do so, that could in itself force the ripening of the moment.
 
Whatever’s going to happen, today seems destined to be one of the pivotal days.

18 Comments

  1. As of 7AM EST (Egypt is many hours later, I didn’t see how many), there have been fierce protests in Cairo and other cities. The goons have been attacking with water cannons and tear gas. The police have assaulted mosques. The government has tried to kill the country’s Internet and jam cell phones, to bollix coordination among the protestors.

    http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/01/28/world/middleeast/AP-ML-Egypt-Protest.html?ref=world

    Comment by Russ — January 28, 2011 @ 7:21 am

  2. “…the power elites are the only real human beings. Within that microscopic perspective, they may even view their neoliberal cabal as a “democracy”. So a compliant member of the club can’t be a dictator, while any claim from outside this cabal must be looked upon as illegitimate. By definition the non-elite people cannot embody democracy. Only someone asserting such an outside claim could be acting “dictatorially”.

    This blatantly Orwellian view is applied to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, always referred to here as a dictator despite being elected in overwhelming landslides certified by Carter and UN commissions. Although undeniably, legitimately elected with a massive majority, his socialist reforms justify our support of a violent coup. Ditto for Honduras, Ecuador, and Hamas in Gaza, which the Palestine Papers revealed clearly is the only legitimate, deomcratic authority for the Palestinians.

    Comment by Doug Terpstra — January 28, 2011 @ 10:04 am

    • Hi Doug,

      Perhaps today we’re seeing that wave start to roll back.

      I don’t mean overnight, of course. But in more and more places, with ever greater verve, people are fighting back.

      Comment by Russ — January 28, 2011 @ 10:38 am

      • Let’s hope so, at long last. This is a potentially promising development for Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison/concentration camp. But Egyptian protesters face greater danger than the Tunisians. Egypt is the lynchpin of our Middle East military occupation and has received nearly $50 billion in direct military aid since the Camp David accords and more in training, expressly for internal repression. So they are far better equipped for assault and riot control and also have the anxious support of Israel that does not want to release the prisoners of Gaza.

        But if the dam breaks here, it may release a tide similar to the fall of the Berlin wall. Even the larger apartheid wall in Palestine could fall. It’s funny how you think the PTB are invincible and immovable until suddenly, overnight, they’re gone in one ‘swell foop’ (like Sauron or Saruman of Middle Earth).

        Comment by Doug Terpstra — January 28, 2011 @ 11:01 am

      • Yes, it can happen very fast, once it starts happening.

        Here’s a surprisingly good discussion from the NYT.

        http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/01/27/whats-behind-the-demonstrations-in-egypt?ref=opinion

        Comment by Russ — January 28, 2011 @ 11:50 am

  3. It looks like U.S. Central Command (ATA for Egypt) is on the job.

    ” … Uniformed security forces at least temporarily disappeared from the streets of central Cairo mid-morning Friday, but truckloads of riot police and armored cars started moving back about an hour later. …

    By late morning, thousands of black-clad riot police armed with batons and shields were deployed across the city, with the largest concentrations at Tahrir, or Liberation, Square at the heart of the city, where 10,000 protesters gathered for their first demonstration on Tuesday.” (the Christian Science Monitor)

    Its discouraging to note how quickly Clinton reversed herself on Tunisia, showing the true face of US power; the face with no conscience – unprincipled, brutal, unashamed and unafraid to show it.

    How much awareness is there that in the name of fighting terrorism and prior to that in the name of fighting the War on Drugs, all decision makers in power positions all over the world, are targeted for US corruption with arms, police training, and fraudulent securities deals against their own people.

    And, when the strong men are caught taking the graft or the people fed up with their impoverishment and oppression, the US will call for elections, identify leaders, deal with them, and then confuse observers into believing they are supporting representative democratic government.

    Thus, the word ‘elections’ is corrupted as well as the US Supreme Court and its corporate bosses.

    If we can do nothing about it here at home in the US, how can smaller countries possibly defeat their US supported oppressors?

    And, if they can’t, are there enough computer hackers in the world to shut down commerce and break the back of fraudulent finance?

    Comment by LeeAnne — January 28, 2011 @ 11:09 am

    • We can do something here, and I think we will eventually. For now others are showing us the way.

      Comment by Russ — January 28, 2011 @ 11:48 am

  4. That’s encouraging Russ.

    ZeroHedge provided this link to live reporting by Al Jaazera. I heard someone being interviewed a couple of minutes ago, speaking for the coalition, that ‘they will demand the property turned over to private owners be returned …’ or words to that effect.

    Comment by LeeAnne — January 28, 2011 @ 11:52 am

    • Thanks, LeeAnne. According to everything I’m reading the day went well. The protestors were on the offensive in most ways.

      In places they drove back the police, even seizing and parading riot gear.

      As of now they’re defying the curfew and responding to Mubarak’s dispatch of the military by swarming onto the vehicles, fraternizing with the soldiers.

      I received a Stratfor e-mail with a list of headlines, the latest saying there were reports of soldiers clashing with police. But the headlines were evidently examples of what’s available to paying subscribers (which I’m not), since they didn’t link to anything, and I haven’t seen anything else about such strife.

      But that would be a great sign, if true.

      Comment by Russ — January 28, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

  5. link to Al Jazeera

    Comment by LeeAnne — January 28, 2011 @ 11:56 am

  6. Hmmm…

    Could today be a day that changes our future? That is each and every person’s responsibility to hold themselves to a high standard and not be afraid to speak out against the injustice slowly bleeding our nations dry.

    An increasingly aware populous is crucial to implementing any real reform. While I agree we need a change, I am not sure exactly what would be implemented after overthrowing current institutions. I think we could benefit from discussing a manifesto, or structural theory of what a better society might look like.

    One of the main concerns I have when I think about limiting the power of vested interests in society is that certain institutions benefit from economies of scale or at other times, network effects, which seem to justify their size.

    For instance, when we look at the transportation industry and distributions systems in general, there is a very clear trade off between efficiency of the entire system and the sovereignty of any individual region.

    I’d like to see more discussions about what the shape of industries would be in a system that seeks to limit both corporate and political power.

    Comment by Transcent — January 28, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

    • This could be a day that changes the future. We won’t know till later.

      The banks and other big corporations (and big government as well) have proven that size brings only inefficiency and tyranny. Even if at some stage in its development it seemed to be achieving some real gain, this was a false economy. Today they’re rolling back every alleged benefit size ever brought, leaving behind only the malignities.

      Comment by Russ — January 28, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

  7. I’m leery about warnings against a potential “Islamist” (a term notably favoured by orientalist ideologues of various stripes, and best avoided IMO) government or movement arising out of these protests. Islam is integral to the self-identity of most people in the Muslim world, particularly the poor. We should expect to see its tenets and practices reflected in any legitimate people’s movement. We should equally expect to see any glimmer of this reflection denounced in the West as a sure indicator that the protests have gone “Islamist”, and therefore “extremist”, and by thence a legitimate target of Western subversion.

    If this is truly a broad-based popular movement, we’re unlikely to see the domination of extreme “Qutbist” thought. We should be prepared to see its influence, however, and I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing- Qutb’s teachings emphasize direct action and a de-instutionalized, non-hierarchical approach to Islam, which has value in insulating any genuine democratic movement from external clerical influence.

    Comment by paper mac — January 28, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

    • Yes, I agree with that. I just mentioned it in passing, but thought I was warning more against trusting Elbaradei too much.

      According to what I read he put himself out there today, and probably gave the fight a shot in the arm. So I don’t want it to sound like I’m disparaging the participation of celebrities as such. I just hope they don’t end up blithely acclaiming him as the new Leader if they do drive out Mubarak. I doubt that would end up having been much of a change.

      I did read something to the effect that nobody was inviting him to give orders or anything. They just welcomed him as a fellow protestor.

      As for the Muslim Brotherhood, they too can be a valuable asset in the fight. And you’re probably right about the term “Islamist” unless there’s a good reason to use it.

      Comment by Russ — January 28, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

  8. This article from salon.com, contrasting the Egypt coverage between US cable networks and Al Jazeera, should come as no surprise to anyone.

    Al Jazeera’s Egypt coverage embarrasses U.S. cable news channels:

    http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/01/28/cable_news_egypt/

    Or if you don’t have time to click on the link, here’s a summary: “If you’re watching Al Jazeera, you’re seeing uninterrupted live video of the demonstrations”….in the meantime… “Fox was covering anchor babies… MSNBC was reporting from Davos, and “CNN reported that a ruling party building was on fire, while Al Jazeera showed the fire live.”

    Comment by Frank Lavarre — January 28, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

    • Thanks, Frank. The Al Jazeera coverage is fantastic.

      Comment by Russ — January 28, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

  9. Mubarak spoke about 30 mins ago. Speech was thoroughly unconvincing. Basically said he wasn’t going anywhere, fine line between freedom of expression and chaos, he doesn’t intend to be tolerant, but in recognition of the failure of the gov’t to provide for the poor, he would dismiss his current cabinet and appoint a new one tomorrow. Muslim Brotherhood apparently made a public statement after the speech calling for Mubarak to step down and the military to intervene. Looks like things will come to a head sooner rather than later.

    Comment by paper mac — January 28, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

    • I read excerpts from that. I don’t think that’s going to fly.

      We’ll see what the army leadership decides to do once the chief of staff gets back (I think he’s en route flying back from the US right now, unless he already arrived).

      But everything I saw was saying that in most places the rank and file troops were friendly with the protestors. If so, the generals might decide it’s too dangerous to try to order a crackdown, and instead tell Mubarak he has to go.

      That’s what happened to the tsar and the kaiser, and probably to Ben Ali.

      We’ll see shortly.

      Comment by Russ — January 28, 2011 @ 6:55 pm


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