February 5, 2011

Standoff At the Square

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom, Marx — Tags: — Russ @ 3:18 am


Friday was another glorious day in Tahrir Square, as hundreds of thousands gathered to make the same demand of Mubarak and his entire regime: Get Out.
Mubarak is still dug in, and although it’s probable that his fellow oligarchs as well as the US government want him out (for the sake of conserving intact what they can of the regime), it looks like if he’s really stubborn, there’s no easy way for anyone to make him leave.
It looks like a march on the tyrant’s palace isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Although over the course of the day some protestors called for it, there was no real will to leave the Square.
Also, for a few days now the army has had crowd control systems and barriers obstructing at least some of the entry/exit points. I don’t know if they control all the points that way, but that too would make it more difficult for the crowd to march. They’d have to take the risk and time of dismantling the barriers while the rest of the crowd had to mill behind them.
The thugs were more subdued yesterday, although there will reportedly be more pro-government riots today. I don’t know if the reason for the diminished attacks is because the regime is discouraged about what those can accomplish, or whether the thugs were merely regrouping after the army took steps to interpose itself. Although that’s not an unmitigated good for the protestors since it also restrains their freedom of action, it’s still on the whole a pro-demonstrator act.
The thugs and secret police mostly focused on assaulting journalists and whatever identifiable activists they could get their hands on. The democracy seems fully aware that if they let themselves be dispersed by the phony concessions the regime is offering, they’re likely to end up rounded up later, one by one. That pattern’s as old as the oldest peasant rebellion or slave revolt.
At the moment it looks like an impasse. Mubarak is bitterly seeking the dead end, while the protestors are holding strong to their demand that he and his regime must go.
The minimum acceptable demand, for example as articulated here:

• the removal of Hosni Mubarak and the whole apparatus of the Mubarak regime;

• a committee which will appoint a transitional government, the committee to be made up of 6 named senior judges, six representatives from their youth movement and two members of the military

• a council to draw up a new constitution, which would then be put to the people in a referendum

• elections at national and local level in accordance with the constitution.

The full departure of the regime, the formation of a provisional government including heavy representation for the democracy and none for the regime or police, toward a constitutional convention. This isn’t the enshrinement of democracy, but depending on the form of the constitution, it can be a significant step toward it. (As marvelous as the achievements of the protestors have been, it looks like even they aren’t quite anarchists yet and still want representative government, just a better one. So that’s what they have to have. Besides, any solution will have to be acceptable to the army.) 
By contrast, here’s a sham elitist set of alleged “demands”, which may have been suborned by the government. This wants elites to sequester themselves in a conclave to discuss what crumbs of reform they may deign to toss to the people. This reform has to be a compromise between the regime and the self-appointed new elites, of course. It’s even vague about whether Mubarak himself stays on or not.
When we compare these two prescriptions, we see the difference between significant progress toward democracy and the typical sellout. While I haven’t been inclined to apply Marxist analysis to all this, the situation at the moment, and these contrasting possibilities for the next step, remind me of the line Lenin finally settled on during the 1905 revolution. Marxists were uncertain in 1905, because according to their own theory the most progressive result possible of the uprising against the quasi-feudal tsarist regime would be a 1789 style bourgeois revolution. This would then have to take many years to fully rationalize capitalism before the conditions would be ripe for a true proletarian revolution. (They mostly discounted the spontaneous formation of the soviets, the ground-level councils.)
After months of uncertainty, Lenin decided on a perspective: The socialists and workers should assist the reformers in overthrowing the tsar and establishing liberal democracy. But these erstwhile reformers would be inclined by both temperament and greed to instead strike a deal, resulting in a hybrid which would still preserve many of the feudal vestiges. In other words, the “revolution” would end up having been a mere episode in tsarism’s agonizingly slow evolution out of feudalism. Therefore, the task of the proletariat was to do whatever it could to force the reformers to push through a full bourgeois revolution and wipe out tsarism completely.
If we transpose this prescription to the prototype plans described above (which do seem typical of the two likely possible outcomes), we can see how it’s a conflict between one plan which would end the regime and write a new, more democratic constitution, vs. some kind of filthy deal between aspiring new gangsters and the same old ones which would basically conserve the old regime while bringing in some new “partners”, trying to shabbily legitimize it with some sham “reforms”.
So you don’t have to be a Marxist to see that Lenin’s warning applies here. Also, according to this (linked from Lambert’s excellent live blogging at Corrente), Egypt’s existing system is set up so that only the president, i.e. Mubarak himself, can legally engage in constitutional reform. So there’s another good example of why trying to compromise with the regime to merely reform the existing constitution is a fool’s errand. You deliver yourself right back into the hands of Mubarak’s own intentions for the future. No, if you really want to change the constitution, you have to start by purging the regime completely.


  1. It’s looking more and more like only a civil war will bring real change. After all, how much longer can a an Egyptian protest of this magnitude last before the country is all but shut down by one side or the other? I have often wondered if the US would still be under today’s corporatist rule had the South had won the Civil War.

    Comment by black swan — February 5, 2011 @ 7:31 am

    • I don’t know how long it can go on like this. I just read that the army is restoring some normalcy in the vicinity of the Square. If I understood the report correctly, the overpass where so much fighting occured is now open to traffic again.

      I also read that they’ve separated the main group from the (presumably more militant) group manning the makeshift barricade. In the photo I saw, there are several tanks directly facing the barricaded area from close up, with short lines of soldiers standing by.

      The piece speculated that the army will now try to manually remove the barricades itself.

      So it seems the army wants the protestors to declare victory and go home, and is becoming more assertive in pushing them out.

      Comment by Russ — February 5, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

  2. Good morning Russ. Thank you for the Lambert link.

    There’s a parallel here in the way journalists are being hunted down by the Muburak regime and our treatment of them from Washington.

    Such an attempt on the life of Omar Suleiman would mark an alarming turn in the uprising against the government of President Hosni Mubarak, who only recently named Suleiman as vice president in an effort to quell the unrest and possibly line up a successor.

    White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declined to address the assassination reports when asked by Fox News.

    “I’m not going to … get into that question,” Gibbs said. [Why not just say we’ll wait for confirmation from a news-gathering organization? Weak? Or not?]

    The extent to which the press has been disappeared in this country is seldom acknowledged; with many in denial about it (that’s understandable given the tipping point is long past where capital is available to pay anyone for criticism of itself).

    Without killing the free press in tangent, gangster finance corporations could not have achieved their goal to control and dominate.

    While the Egyptian ‘state of emergency,’ well noted elsewhere, has been in effect for 30 years, ours took off in public in earnest just 10 years ago. That can move swiftly now with computers, low standards, and millions left unskilled, unemployed, as we see how an army of Transportation Security Administration goons mushroomed at all airports.

    The parallel with Egypt here (just one example) is that, while they use openly brutal methods for suppressing information that enables them to offer up only government sanctioned information and propaganda, US corporations have accomplished it the soft way: through consolidation of economic activity, income and capital by Wall Street M&A deals and mass firings to the applause of the stock market with increased prices at each event, unrestricted by anti-trust laws into a relatively small number of multi-nationals without borders with off-shore secret banking and a funky guy from from academe typing currency in vast quantities at the FED to support it all.

    Comment by LeeAnne — February 5, 2011 @ 7:57 am

    • Good morning, LeeAnne.

      That account sums it up well. I wonder how much shame/jealousy there is in the US media watching AJ (which isn’t perfect, but is still a real news organization). Or are they just sociopathically unaware that they’re not journalists, but comprise a de facto Goebbels ministry.

      I also wonder how they feel at the NYT and WaPo about their own personnel getting roughed up by their own system’s thugs.

      You know what they say about the company you keep….

      Comment by Russ — February 5, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

      • Just as the physical chains of slavery have been replaced by the self imposed and self controlling psychological chains of credit debt — credit debt that is controlled by the few wealthy elite — so too are the physical controls of dictators being replaced with the self imposed and self controlling psychological controls of ‘democracy’ — fake ‘democracy’ that is also controlled (more easily controlled as there are far more malleable human controlling vectors than in a single individual dictatorship) — by the same few wealthy elite.

        Outside actors have always controlled Mubarak. Outside actors allowed the creation of Israel.

        Knowledge of human nature trumps regional knowledge.

        This is the continuation of the elimination of the American Indians. They are a global elite, note the similarities of exploitation and extraction.

        You are either drinking the Kool aid or selling it.


        “”Dictators” do not dictate, they obey orders. This is true in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria.

        Dictators are invariably political puppets. Dictators do not decide.

        President Hosni Mubarak was a faithful servant of Western economic interests and so was Ben Ali.

        The national government is the object of the protest movement.

        The objective is to unseat the puppet rather than the puppet-master.

        The slogans in Egypt are “Down with Mubarak, Down with the Regime”. No anti-American posters have been reported… The overriding and destructive influence of the USA in Egypt and throughout the Middle East remains unheralded.

        The foreign powers which operate behind the scenes are shielded from the protest movement.

        No significant political change will occur unless the issue of foreign interference is meaningfully addressed by the protest movement.

        The US embassy in Cairo is an important political entity, invariably overshadowing the national government. The Embassy is not a target of the protest movement.”

        More here …


        AJ is a tool of the man.

        Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        Comment by i on the ball patriot — February 5, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

      • They’re fighting to get rid of the regime while inducing the army to come over to their side.

        What would be the utility of anti-US posters?

        There’s plenty of time to purge US influence later on down the line, if they can achieve this first step first.

        Comment by Russ — February 5, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

      • To i ball’s point, at one point on AJ, they interviewed a young Egyptian-American at a protest in LA, who stated that “of course” any legitimately democratic gov’t would have good relations with the US, etc. After that interview, they spoke to an Egyptian-Egyptian protestor who immediately addressed the earlier interviewee and flatly rejected the premise that a democratic Egypt would be a friend of the US- after all, in light of American support for Mubarak, how could it?

        I’m not sure how widespread that sentiment is among Egyptians but I’m fairly certain that, as black swan has previously noted, they’re aware that a significant chunk of the hardware they’re facing down in the streets has Made in USA stamped on it somewhere.

        Comment by paper mac — February 5, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

      • Sure, that’s how they must feel, and they should intend to act on that later. I’m just skeptical of the idea that they should be burning flags in Tahrir Square right now.

        Comment by Russ — February 6, 2011 @ 3:31 am

    • The “free press” never died because there never was a “free press”. Throughout the history of the West, journalism has been conducted mostly as an advocacy operations for wealthy financiers and other organizations. The concept of an “objective” press is relatively novel, and would have been laughed at through much of the first half of the 20th century. The handful of legitimately independent journalists practicing in the West have mostly been guys like IF Stone, whose operation was a rinky-dink self-published newsletter that still managed to rake more muck in its run than the NYT ever has. A friend who reports from Iran and Afghanistan for Harpers does so on maybe 30 grand a year. The problem with journalism isn’t money, it’s journalists, and their paymasters. They’re doing the same things they always have.

      Comment by paper mac — February 5, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

      • Like with everything else, it wasn’t always this bad. It’s the same difference between normal corruption and full-scale kleptocracy.

        Comment by Russ — February 5, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

      • Fair enough. My general attitude is that it’s important not to romanticize journalism’s past too much. There was a bit more tolerance for investigative journalism adversarial to the interests of the elites (exposure of slum landlords and the like) in the 30s-40s but it was largely driven out of the pages of the major dailies by the 60s. A lot of Americans remember the 60s-70s as the heyday of adversarial journalism, with Woodward, Bernstein, Hersh, etc, but it’s worth remembering that Herman & Chomsky’s Propaganda Model was constructed in large part using evidence from that period.

        In any case, my general point is that the model underlying the majority of journalism is simply broken. Good, thoughtful, properly conducted journalism is rarely expensive (or well-compensated), but it is difficult, often treacherous, and to the extent that We the People value it, we’ll need to support it ourselves. I doubt I’m saying anything new to anyone here, just reminding them to drop their favorite freelancer or indie journalism site a couple of bucks any time a stray piece of MSM flotsam makes them angry..

        Comment by paper mac — February 5, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

      • Someone on NC made the point that one of 3 tactics being used by TPTB (whomever they are, they are not entirely invisible) in their drive for dominance (my words); the third was ‘convincing a generation that this lawlessness is the norm.’

        Your remark is in that camp. Only a few weeks ago a 40-year veteran investigative reporter here was fired from the Village Voice and a fellow reporter quit as a result. Maybe the last in New York. The excuse given was his high salary; I don’t have to have any special information to know that the truth is that investigative reporters simply no longer need to be tolerated what with a public that has been programmed successfully to accept the only stuff they’ve been fed from birth on the TV by the corporatocracy.

        You probably never heard of Murray Kempton, and never heard of such a thing as a journalist’s journalist. Which he was, and not so long ago. He died in the 1990s I believe. If you’d ever read his column on the Mafia you would save it for your children’s morality lessons. His description of the punk businesses where these guys actually operate would make you want to throw up. He was beloved by other professionals for his talent and integrity.

        That isn’t to say, oh, how things used to be better. It is to say that the good has been intentionally driven out of our culture and the dire results not yet quite in focus but in play for decades hidden in plain view -with no journalists reporting on it on a daily basis. Had there been reporting, it could not have succeeded.

        People in power positions feared reporters. They had to move a little more cautiously and a little slower. In that scenario, their crimes didn’t become best sellers and movies to be emulated by a generation of college graduates.

        Now they move criminally in the open with no fear of censure.

        Do you think markets were always manipulated? Do you think banker’s were always immune from the law to commit fraud and defy courts? There are no investment markets left for the public. It is totally corrupt. Be an insider in touch with the people who manipulate the laws and enjoy yourself.

        The US didn’t become the biggest market in the world; didn’t become respected and considered a model for aspirations of people all over the world for nothing.

        That’s over -the respect and the credit with it. And people are paying for that, have been paying for it for decades in plain view. There’s just no journalism to tell the stories on a daily basis so that you would be informed.

        Comment by LeeAnne — February 5, 2011 @ 7:42 pm

      • LeeAnne- I was raised by journalists, so the concept of a journalist’s journalist is not new to me, although, not being American myself, Kempton is unfamiliar. I thank you for the suggestion to read his Mafia column- I will try to find them and save them for any future children, as you suggest! I think you’re probably right that there is an attempt to convince us that lawlessness is the norm. I just don’t buy the idea that what’s happening now is anything more than the conclusion of the logic implicit in advertising-supported corporate media.

        Obviously, journalist’s journalists, as you say, have been permitted to operate at the margins of that system for decades. That that particular breed was eliminated so readily from positions where they could reach any significant portion of the public speaks to how tenuous their position always was. That’s basically what I’m driving at- the journos we so respect and admire were standing on such thin ice all this time. I despair, like you, at the condition of the media. Maybe my exposure to the internal politics of some of these organizations has made me overly cynical, but I have come to believe that the majority of them are beyond reform, that they will never again be able to support the kind of reporting that is so essential to democracy. Maybe something like ProPublica and its ilk is the solution, I don’t know. Personally, though, I don’t mourn the death of the old media guard (though my parents would probably be unhappy to hear me say that). They no longer serve their function, they no longer enrich democracy. But I think I misconstrued your point- you were mourning the death of free, independent reporters, not of “free” media corporations. In that I think we are in 100% accord.

        Comment by paper mac — February 6, 2011 @ 12:24 am

      • I just don’t buy the idea that what’s happening now is anything more than the conclusion of the logic implicit in advertising-supported corporate media.

        I agree. As I’ve often written, one of my core ideas is that everything that’s happening now is the conclusion of the logic implicit in 1788, which I contend was the debasement and betrayal of the logic of 1776.

        All I mean when I differentiate normal corruption from terminal kleptocracy in order to deny that it was always like this is to refute the implicit argument that we don’t need to do anything special today, since this is the same as it ever was.

        But Peak Oil and the terminal stagnation of capitalism are new, and they’re the reason the criminals embarked upon the totalitarian end stage of their logic.

        I think we agree on that, paper mac, and I know you’re not one of those saying “do nothing”. I just wanted to take the opportunity (in this case the terminal stage of “journalism”) to restate the general point.

        For more on the relationship of monopoly capitalist stagnation and the rise of advertising, here’s a good piece on what Baran and Sweezy called “the sales effort”, how advertising was part the oligopoly plan to collude on price and compete only for market share.


        Comment by Russ — February 6, 2011 @ 3:52 am

  3. Journalism in general has simply been starved of capital and left to die.

    Comment by LeeAnne — February 5, 2011 @ 8:01 am

  4. Massive explosion hits natural gas terminal in Egypt
    Supplies to Jordan and possibly Israel affected after attack by suspected ‘saboteurs’
    I didn’t see anything on HuffPo or Drudge. Al Jazeera was reporting it earlier.

    Comment by LeeAnne — February 5, 2011 @ 8:22 am

    • I read earlier that it affected the line to Jordan but not Israel, which sounded odd.

      I had already figured that if there were a jihadist cell in place somewhere in Egypt with a planned attack ready to go, now would be the perfect time.

      So it’s possible that’s what this was. But I don’t know why the Jordan line and not the Israeli. Maybe the one was an easier target than the other.

      Then I thought, what if the government performed the sabotage itself, trying to blame it on the protests?

      Then I saw how they’re trying to blame it on the Bedouins, who have their own grievances. I read a few days ago how they had allegedly attacked a few police stations and/or jails.

      Then, unfortunately, I had this thought – let’s say the protestors in Cairo win all their demands and get to write a new constitution. How likely are they to in turn be solicitous toward the greivances of Bedouins and probably other disaffected minorities?

      I don’t want to be cynical, but the record of history in such cases isn’t encouraging.

      Comment by Russ — February 5, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

      • “I had already figured that if there were a jihadist cell in place somewhere in Egypt with a planned attack ready to go, now would be the perfect time.

        So it’s possible that’s what this was. But I don’t know why the Jordan line and not the Israeli. Maybe the one was an easier target than the other.

        Then I thought, what if the government performed the sabotage itself, trying to blame it on the protests?”

        The blast seems to have originated from within a walled compound at the gas terminal itself. If the attack were by the Bedouin, it seems much more likely that they would have chosen a remote location in the desert to sabotage the pipeline, rather than infiltrating the terminal, which would be far more risky. The fact that the terminal itself was sabotaged suggests someone with access to the compound, either a disaffected worker or the government itself.

        Comment by paper mac — February 5, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

      • I just saw somewhere that now they’re saying it was an accident.

        Since offhand I’m not sure how lying about its being an accident would help them, maybe it really was. (Is safety likely to be more lax under these chaotic political circumstances? I mean there must be considerable uncertainty and tension and distraction among government workers.) Unless they don’t want it to get out that insiders are capable of sabotage because that would make the regime’s position look even more tenuous.

        (All that’s assuming they really are claiming it’s an accident; I’ll have to go track that down.)

        When I said maybe the government did it, I assumed they’d do that in order to blame someone. But I can’t imagine why they’d do it inside a secure compound. Who can they blame there?

        Comment by Russ — February 5, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

      • http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/02/20112514224368313.html#

        It says whereas State TV initially called it sabotage, the head of the gas company is saying it was an accident from a leak.

        But local “security officials” are still calling it sabotage.

        There’s also conflicting reports on how big the explosion was.

        So the company guy is contradicting and still being contradicted by the government guys? I didn’t see anyone from the government call it an accident.

        And the Jordanians quoted think the regime did it “to distract attention from the Square”, though I don’t think that makes much sense.

        Comment by Russ — February 5, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

      • Yeah, an accident makes sense, too. If the workers running the terminal aren’t getting paid/fed on a regular basis, or if they’re just distracted with the goings-on, I can see things going wrong, although I was under the impression that NGL lines were pretty thoroughly automated. In any case, I doubt we’re looking at at a genuine terrorist act.

        Comment by paper mac — February 5, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

  5. Mark suggests that one not get one’s hopes up too much!

    In Which markfromireland Throws A Bucket Of Cold Water …
    By: markfromireland Friday February 4, 2011 3:12 am


    Comment by William Wilson — February 5, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

    • Yeah, I saw that. I laughed out loud at the line about the “cold firedoglake water!” In my experience, FDL water is usually pretty tepid, and so it was here.

      The thing’s written by someone evidently disgruntled about the demonstrations and the inspiration they’ve afforded. It attacks unnamed alleged naifs by stating the obvious in obnoxious tones. Typical Internet stuff.

      Comment by Russ — February 5, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

  6. Yeah, Mub, that sly dog, is advocating “reforms” that only he can implement. Nobody could have predicted….

    Comment by lambert strether — February 5, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

    • It seems like the plan put forward by the technocrats is designed to be hamstrung by issues like this.

      But then, it seemed unclear on whether it was even demanding Mubarak’s ouster at all.

      So maybe in their contemplation he’ll still be there to approve the reforms anyway. So, no problem! It’ll all turn out fine.

      Comment by Russ — February 5, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

  7. Get this:


    The competence of the Obama administration continues to sparkle. Frank Wisner, an Obama lackey (“personal envoy”), said on behalf of Obama that Mubarak must stay in office “to guide the process”. Shortly afterward the administration disavowed him and said he was only speaking “for himself as a private citizen.”

    Not exactly FDR and Harry Hopkins, are they?

    Comment by Russ — February 5, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

  8. Money is finding its way out of many countries in this time of global unrest. A friend of ours, who just left our house, is a well connected Russian realtor. She just closed a deal on a shopping center in NC for $11 million dollars. The money came out of Venezuela. I asked her is it was some elite moving his money out of that country so that Hugo couldn’t confiscate it. She said it was quite the opposite situation. The money was being spent on behalf of one of Hugo’s Generals, with Hugo’s blessing. The realtor told me that the man needs to place another $19 million ASAP. Dropping US real estate prices may make the US property market a very good place for corrupt international money to hide. Is Chavez, the self-proclaimed “man of the people”, just one more neobiberal dictator?

    Comment by black swan — February 5, 2011 @ 6:01 pm

    • Who knows. I’m sure they’re all varying levels of crooks.

      But if Chavez is lining his pockets, he’s still doing it the old Huey Long way, not the new totalitarian way.

      Whatever flaws he and his regime have (he’s an authoritarian socialist, and therefore not my preference), Chavez actually has redistributed large amounts of wealth to the people.

      Comment by Russ — February 5, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

  9. Can’t wait for the day Obummer throws Michelle under the bus. Speaking of which: When is she joining the board of AET?

    Comment by tawal — February 5, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

    • But he likes her. She’s one of the Cool Crowd he worships, just like Mubarak himself. (I’m convinced that Obama has no idea what he’s really doing these days, but does know he likes Mubarak personally and wants to protect him.)

      Comment by Russ — February 6, 2011 @ 4:03 am

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