On Sunday, a multi-party coalition of oppositionists had formed a 10-man committee to head their movement. The leader of the committee, in turn, is Mohamed Elbaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Elbaradei came down to Tahrir Square in the city center and addressed the thousands assembled there, to rapturous applause.
The Muslim Brotherhood is among the parties in the coalition backing Elbaradei. Their leadership may feel that having a secular person as the face of the movement will cut down on the fears of budding theocracy and threats of Western intervention.
Also among the proposed steering committee is long-time Mubarak opponent Ayman Nour. He had run against Mubarak in 2005, and was promptly jailed when the official statistics showed he had only garnered about 8 percent of the vote. Nour, head of the Tomorrow (al-Ghad) Party, had earlier proposed that the major opposition parties form an alternative parliament, which could then oversee the transition to full democracy. Elbaradei now seems to be endorsing this idea.
Meanwhile, further statements from Hosni Mubarak and his regime give a sense of his current strategy. He implicitly blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the sabotage and arson that has been committed against government institutions, including police stations. He contrasted the hooliganism of the Brotherhood with the peaceful aspirations of most Egyptians, and pledged to work for economic and social reform (while giving the pledge no content). Mubarak is attempting to split the movement against him by sowing seeds of doubt among its constituents. These include Coptic Christians, educated middle and upper middle class Muslims, and non-ideological youth, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. By suggesting that the MB is taking advantage of the protests to conduct a campaign of sabotage behind the scenes, with the goal of establishing a theocratic dictatorship, Mubarak hopes to terrify the other groups into breaking with the Muslim fundamentalists. Since middle class movements such as Kefaya (Enough!) are small and not very well organized, Mubarak may believe that he can easily later crush them if he can detach them from the more formidable Brotherhood.
It is a desperate ploy and unlikely to work. Mainstream Muslim Egyptians and Copts do have some fear of the Muslim Brotherhood as a sectarian and fundamentalist tendency, but their dislike of the Mubarak government for the moment seems to overcome their anxieties about a theocracy.
Andrew Kolin writes in a guest column for Informed Comment
To understand how the U.S. government became a police state, look no further than how it freed itself from colonial rule. For the American Revolution was, by and large, the result of a mobilization of the masses by the elites to liberate the colonized from a colonizer. It was the starting point of the myth of how the post- Revolutionary government would embody democracy.
The truth was that after the American Revolution, the thinking among economic and political elites was that America had become too democratic, especially as mass democracy expressed itself on the state level. The appearance and growth of democratic practices was perceived by elites as a threat to the expansion of state power. The government responded primarily through the use of force and violence, seeking to extend control over people and territory within North America through genocidal and ethnocidal measures against American Indians. Slavery was increasing in importance to the economy, in service of the expansion of state power. It is no coincidence that American Indians and slaves were the earliest groups defined by the government as political outsiders. Groups depicted as enemies of the state throughout U.S. history and described as “others” served as a convenient justification to enlarge state power at the expense of democracy.
Organized labor, especially its more radical elements, also challenged elite rule in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and political repression was turned loose against them. In surveying U.S. history, it becomes clear that the actions of the government in the end were intended to disrupt and eliminate progressive, mass- based political movements. The state viewed labor organizations as political outsiders, seen as seeking to subvert the government by forming an alliance with external enemies of the United States. Whether applied to organized labor, Socialists, Communists or terrorists, state ideology remained the same in perceiving the threat as coming from political outsiders, hence the need to employ emergency measures.
As police states are, by their nature, hostile to rule of law, political repression is accomplished through the use of essentially illegal measures, such as the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Espionage Act. This outlawing of political thought and alternative viewpoints persists as an ongoing theme. From the 1920s onward, in order to combat political outsiders, many state governments formed a partnership with local police officials with the goal of stamping out grassroots democracy. These Red Squads, a political police force, engage in surveillance, disruption, and, in many instances, the destruction of political organizations active in nonviolent political expression. The Red Squads acted in similar ways to the FBI, as agents of the state seeking to instill in American society social and political conformity.
The development of other essentially political police agencies within the federal government, to supplement the work of the FBI, such as the CIA, NSA, and a host of other intelligence gatherers on the federal and state levels, were an ominous sign. State repression was accelerating during the Truman administration with the passage of the National Security Act, and the growth of the CIA. Inside the federal government, there was an increasing subordination of the legislative branch to the executive branch., concentrating power in the context of a permanent emergency——and causing the government to become more determined to eliminate mass democracy. For instance, during World War II and in the name of a national emergency, Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese American citizens. This targeting of outsiders identified as an internal and external threat, continues to the present day; the alleged menace, was first Communism, and later, terrorism.
While mass democracy was being crushed in the United States, foreign policy in the postwar period remained consistent, extending control over more people and more territory, resulting in alliances with dictatorships so as to crush democracy overseas as well. After World War II, the military industrial complex became another key component in the twisted road to police state practices, based on the premise of permanent war making, with a cold war arms race, the sending of troops, and the establishment of military bases across the globe. This is another defining feature of a police state: a nation placed in an ongoing state of mobilization to prepare and fight wars throughout the globe. Police states, incorporate war-making into normalized state functions. Permanent war making translates into the global subversion of democracy. Supplementing the military in undermining democracy overseas, the CIA was one of many federal agencies during the second half of the twentieth century that was carrying out an essentially antidemocratic mission in the name of national security.
In assessing the successes and failures of progressive movements in the United States, in many ways, their limitations can be attributed to the intensive scale and scope of political repression, such as the FBI’s Cointelpro Program, which clearly diminished their effectiveness and in most cases, fundamentally undermined them. In many ways, Cointelpro was significant in paving the way for a police state, for progressive movements that developed after Cointelpro were much smaller and less effective in advancing mass democracy.
The ending of procedural democracy was yet another step toward the establishment of a permanent police state. The Constitution is supposed to place legal limits on the concentration of power within parts of government. Instead, with political repression of mass-based movements justified by declarations of national emergency, the government consistently stepped outside Constitutional legal boundaries. As a result, by the early 1970s, large- scale political movements were on the wane, in particular, as the events of Watergate unfolded, in many ways, a dress rehearsal for a police state. Watergate represented a political assault, not just on the supposed external threats to the Nixon administration, but political repression was extended to the government’s internal enemies. That meant taking action against the Democratic Party by seeking to rig an election, one of the most blatant attempts to destroy procedural democracy.
The concentration of power within one branch of government had been manifesting itself increasingly as an imperial presidency. Postwar presidential administrations define their power largely in relation to foreign policy initiatives. The foreign policies of post- Nixon administrations were outwardly anti- Communist and antiterrorist but in reality were driven by the maintenance and extension of a global American empire. Post-Watergate administrations were largely successful in finding various ways around the so- called Watergate reforms, seeking to enlarge the powers of presidents at home and overseas.
By the time we reach the presidency of George W. Bush, the executive branch had become a branch that saw itself as above the law while making law. The state came to embody the will of. Bush and his inner circle. The spark that ignited the transition toward the final form of an American police state was the attacks on the World Trade Towers in 1993 and 2001. In response, the government acted outside the Constitution by passing the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, and other measures, producing a direct assault on civil liberties.
The clearest indication of American police state practices is the use of preventive detention. In one example—extraordinary rendition—all the government has to do is accuse anyone of anything related to terrorism, sufficient reason to seize and ship individuals elsewhere to be tortured.
The twisted and extensive use of signing statements also indicates that an administration is functioning outside the law. In a distorted extension of the theory of a unitary executive, President Bush’s excessive use of signing statements resulted in dictatorial powers.
What is the future of the American police state? If history tells us anything about police states, it is that they all eventually crumble, in large part, because over time, they become dysfunctional. The same can be said of the police state of the Bush administration. During the second term, there were indications of a breakdown in how this police state functioned. Some of the clearest symptoms of this dysfunction were the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib, the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, and the large number of prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay. In addition, opposition mounted to the reauthorization of the Patriot Act and the Supreme Court ruling in the Boumediene case, which called into question the use of the Military Commissions Act. In the early days of the Obama administration, the trend seemed to point toward an American police state that will be modified, but not eliminated.
On Sunday morning there was some sign of the Egyptian military taking on some security duties. Soldiers started arresting suspected looters, rounding up 450 of them. The disappearance of the police from the streets had led to a threat of widespread looting is now being redressed by the regular military. Other control methods were on display. The government definitively closed the Aljazeera offices in Cairo and withdrew the journalists’ license to report from there, according to tweets. The channel stopped being broadcast on Egypt’s Nilesat. (Aljazeera had not been able to broadcast directly from Cairo even before this move.) The channel, bases in Qatar, is viewed by President Hosni Mubarak as an attempt to undermine him.
Why has the Egyptian state lost its legitimacy? Max Weber distinguished between power and authority. Power flows from the barrel of a gun, and the Egyptian state still has plenty of those. But Weber defines authority as the likelihood that a command will be obeyed. Leaders who have authority do not have to shoot people. The Mubarak regime has had to shoot over 100 people in the past few days, and wound more. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have ignored Mubarak’s command that they observe night time curfews. He has lost his authority.
Authority is rooted in legitimacy. Leaders are acknowledged because the people agree that there is some legitimate basis for their authority and power. In democratic countries, that legitimacy comes from the ballot box. In Egypt, it derived 1952-1970 from the leading role of the Egyptian military and security forces in freeing Egypt from Western hegemony. That struggle included grappling with Britain to gain control over the Suez Canal (originally built by the Egyptian government and opened in 1869, but bought for a song by the British in 1875 when sharp Western banking practices brought the indebted Egyptian government to the brink of bankruptcy). It also involved fending off aggressive Israeli attempts to occupy the Sinai Peninsula and to assert Israeli interests in the Suez Canal. Revolutionary Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser (d. 1970) conducted extensive land reform, breaking up the huge Central America-style haciendas and creating a rural middle class. Leonard Binder argued in the late 1960s that that rural middle class was the backbone of the regime. Abdul Nasser’s state-led industrialization also created a new class of urban contractors who benefited from the building works commissioned by the government.
From 1970, Anwar El Sadat took Egyptian in a new direction, opening up the economy and openly siding with the new multi-millionaire contracting class. It in turn was eager for European and American investment. Tired of the fruitless Arab-Israeli wars, the Egyptian public was largely supportive of Sadat’s 1978 peace deal with Israel, which ended the cycle of wars with that country and opened the way for the building up of the Egyptian tourist industy and Western investment in it, as well as American and European aid. Egypt was moving to the Right.
But whereas Abdel Nasser’s socialist policies had led to a doubling of the average real wage in Egypt 1960-1970, from 1970 to 2000 there was no real development in the country. Part of the problem was demographic. If the population grows 3 percent a year and the economy grows 3 percent a year, the per capita increase is zero. Since about 1850, Egypt and most other Middle Eastern countries have been having a (mysterious) population boom. The ever-increasing population also increasingly crowded into the cities, which typically offer high wages than rural work does, even in the marginal economy (e.g. selling matches). Nearly half the country now lives in cities, and even many villages have become ‘suburbs’ of vast metropolises.
So the rural middle class, while still important, is no longer such a weighty support for the regime. A successful government would need to have the ever-increasing numbers of city people on its side. But there, the Neoliberal policies pressed on Hosni Mubarak by the US since 1981 were unhelpful. Egyptian cities suffer from high unemployment and relatively high inflation. The urban sector has thrown up a few multi-millionaires, but many laborers fell left behind. The enormous number of high school and college graduates produced by the system can seldom find employment suited to their skills, and many cannot get jobs at all. Urban Egypt has rich and poor but only a small “middle class.” The state carefully tries to control labor unions, who could seldom act independently.
The state was thus increasingly seen to be a state for the few. Its old base in the rural middle classes was rapidly declining as young people moved to the cities. It was doing little for the urban working and middle classes. An ostentatious state business class emerged, deeply dependent on government contracts and state good will, and meeting in the fancy tourist hotels. But the masses of high school and college graduates reduced to driving taxis or selling rugs (if they could even get those gigs) were not benefiting from the on-paper growth rates of the past decade.
The military regime in Egypt initially gained popular legitimacy in part by its pluck in facing down France, Britain and Israel in 1956-57 (with Ike Eisenhower’s help). After the Camp David accords, in contrast, Egypt largely sat out the big struggles in the Mideast, and made what has widely been called a separate peace. Egypt’s cooperation in the Israeli blockade of Gaza and its general quiet alliance with the US and Israel angered most young people politically, even as they racked up economic frustrations. Cairo’s behind the scenes help to the US, with Iraq and with torturing suspected al-Qaeda operatives, were well known. Very little is more distasteful to Egyptians than the Iraq War and torture. The Egyptian state went from being broadly based in the 1950s and 1960s to having been captured by a small elite. It went from being a symbol of the striving for dignity and independence after decades of British dominance to being seen as a lap dog of the West.
The failure of the regime to connect with the rapidly growing new urban working and middle classes, and its inability to provide jobs to the masses of college graduates it was creating, set the stage for last week’s events. Educated, white collar people need a rule of law as the framework for their economic activities, and Mubarak’s arbitrary rule is seen as a drag here. While the economy has been growing 5 and 6 percent in the past decade, what government impetus there was to this development remained relatively hidden– unlike its role in the land reform of the 1950s and 1960s. Moreover, the income gained from increased trade largely went to a small class of investors. For instance, from 1991 the government sold 150 of 314 state factories it put on the block, but the benefit of the sales went to a narrow sliver of people.
The Nasserist state, for all its flaws, gained legitimacy because it was seen as a state for the mass of Egyptians, whether abroad or domestically. The present regime is widely seen in Egypt as a state for the others– for the US, Israel, France and the UK– and as a state for the few– the Neoliberal nouveau riche. Islam plays no role in this analysis because it is not an independent variable. Muslim movements have served to protest the withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities, and to provide services. But they are a symptom, not the cause. All this is why Mubarak’s appointment of military men as vice president and prime minister cannot in and of itself tamp down the crisis. They, as men of the System, do not have more legitimacy than does the president– and perhaps less.
Nobelist in chemistry, Dr. Ahmed Zewail of the California Institute of Technology, is an Egyptian-American who has sometimes been mentioned as a candidate for president of Egypt. He has served as a science envoy to the Arab world of President Obama.
In an interview on Aljazeera Arabic, Zewail called for fundamental change in Egypt, not just cosmetic alterations. He gave as the causes for the current uprising:
1. Power games among the elite, competition over the succession to President Hosni Mubarak, lack of transparency and phony elections.
2. The economic situation: the masses of the poor have been left behind, the situation of the middle class has actually gone backward, while a small elite at the top benefits from what economic progress there is– because of a marriage of power and capital.
3. Corruption and constant demands for bribes by officials.
4. Education: The deterioration of the education system, which is central to every Egyptian household’s hopes of progress, to a state that does not in any way reflect Egypt’s standing in the world.
(Zewail is right about that. You have poorly paid professors with 2000 students in the class, and what learning gets done is often rote, then there are not enough jobs for the graduates; the state spends its money on something else, and the best Egyptian minds have been attracted by the much better salaries and working conditions in the Oil Gulf or the West.)
Being a chemist, Zewail seems to like sets of four. So he also put forward four resolutions of the crisis:
1. The Constitution: A constitutional assembly of wise men should be assembled to draft a new constitution, based on liberty, human rights, and the orderly transfer of power
2. the independence of the courts must be guaranteed
3. Free and fair elections must be conducted for the upper and lower houses of parliament and for the presidency, overseen by the independent judiciary.
4. Government: A new transitional government of national unity must be appointed. The military must intervene to keep order and to protect the nation in this transitional period.
Zewail’s suggestions for a transition to an Egypt with a rule of law and regular, transparent elections show where the educated middle class would like things to go. But he needs to specify the precise mechanisms whereby you get the constitutional assembly and the government of national unity. In Tunisia, it was the former speaker of the house become president who took the lead in fostering a transition, and everyone on the cabinet resigned from the former ruling party. In Egypt, it would now be Omar Sulaiman, of military intelligence, who became president were Mubarak to step down, and he seems a poor candidate for playing the role of midwife to Zewail’s new institutions. And, the existing parliament is dominated by the National Democratic Party of Mubarak, so is likewise unlikely to take these steps.
Moreover, it is not clear that these procedural, legal changes would actually have the slightest impact on poverty or class stratification. In fact, the US, among the world’s most vibrant democracies, has been spiralling down into epic inequality, with masses of unemployed and poverty-stricken while the tiny class of super-rich at the top has seen its wealth quadruple.
He appoints the Air Force Chief of Staff (Ahmad Shafiq) as prime minister.
Can you spell TONE DEAF?
Meanwhile, crowds in the streets in Cairo, Suez, Mansoura, Alexandria into the night, defying curfew. Police fired on demonstrators in Alexandria & around the Ministry of Interior building in Cairo, some reports say 100 have died in the past few days. Army mostly not intervening in either demonstrations or looting, decline of security. Police absent altogether. Neighborhood militias being thrown up to guard against thieves, burglars, rapists invading. Light looting of Egyptian museum halted by patriotic crowd joining hands, then army came in there. Some say Mubarak ordered police to stay home and give middle classes a taste of what life is like without the law and order he provides. Don’t know if it is true. If so, would indicate attempt to play on class anxieties and to cast the uprising as a mob of greedy slum dwellers.
After a dramatic day in which hundreds of thousands of Egyptians came out in all the major towns and cities of the country to challenge the police and the ruling party, President Hosni Mubarak finally appeared on Egyptian television Friday evening to read a speech in which he announced that he would dismiss his cabinet. He will appoint a new one on Saturday.
He appears to have interpreted the protests against his regime as primarily about jobs, and he pledged to create more of them. The dismissal of the Interior Minister, Habib Adli, was indeed one of the demands of the radicals, and perhaps Mubarak meant to give in on it without admitting he was doing so, by firing all the ministers, including prime minister Ahmad Nazif. Nazif had widely been credited for economic reforms that produced on the average, about 5 percent per annum growth, in contrast to the largely stagnant economic situation 1970-2000. As for Adli, as minister of the Interior he was responsible for domestic surveillance.
At the same time, Mubarak sent the police home for the most part, and called out the army. He established a curfew, largely ignored in the big cities. By early morning Saturday, the military had taken up positions in the capital and elsewhere. Rumors swirled as to why he made this switch. Some said that too many of the police had sympathized with the protesters. Others that the crowds just overwhelmed the police. Certainly, reports were posted to twitter of police stations set ablaze in traditional Sitt Zaynab and in tony Maadi. The HQ of the ruling National Democratic Party was set ablaze and looted. The military moved Saturday morning to secure the museum area and to prevent a looting of the priceless artifacts.
Among the central demands of the protesters is that Mubarak himself step down, and it remains to be seen if they will really be satisfied with the fall of a prime minister and his government. Aljazeera is now broadcasting scenes from Saturday morning in Cairo and the crowds seem much thinner army establishes itself as the chief security force. Aljazeera is reporting a few hundred protesters in the center of the city called for Mubarak to step down altogether.
Mubarak is making a last stand. He is testing to see whether the army will back him. The military, some 460,000 strong and the world’s tenth largest, has the resources to commit to the struggle if it decides to get involved. The army chief of staff had been in Washington but is now flying back to Cairo.
Despite President Barack Obama’s call for greater personal liberties and restoration of internet access in Egypt, it is clear that Washington would just as soon Mubarak presided over a transition to his successor. With that tacit backing of the superpower, and support from the army, he may believe that he can survive yet one more crisis in this way.
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