No ‘Berlin Moment’ in Egypt

on 67 Comments

It’s been thrilling to watch Egyptian mass demonstrations roll back the ossified Mubarak regime, especially as events in Tunisia suggest a knock-on effect that has rattled the Arab world. But this drama can’t be read as the Arab world’s “Berlin moment,” as some have enthused. Yes, serious reforms are in the offing, especially regarding more genuine elections. But limited prospects for reforms are just as clearly indicated.

Reading anodyne language from the US and Europe warning the power elite in Egypt not to use too much force against demonstrators while not mentioning Mubarak at all, we must assume that ousting Mubarak is “viewed with favour” by the West. This should be signal. The US, UK and the rest of Europe are not so much steering events as surfing a wave of popular mobilisation, which they have encouraged for some time, as the only way finally to dislodge Mubarak and his crony core. The happy (naive) interpretation is a confluence of Western and Egyptian interests and values regarding democracy and good governance, coupled with disgust in old dictators clinging to kleptocratic power. But since when has US foreign policy encouraged democracy for the benefit of ordinary people? In fact, this Western imprimatur signals some hard realist western interests—and some ominous undercurrents.

Western motives in ousting Mubarak are obvious. The old man has outworn his usefulness to the US in being unable to contain burning social dissatisfaction in Egypt, raising risks that Egypt might escape the grip of US foreign policy through the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood. The US and Israel don’t want Egypt—in older days the leader of the Arab world and now a vital Israeli ally—going the way of Lebanon, where genuine democracy has allowed Hizbullah to control a parliamentary majority. It would be a disaster for Israeli if two of its borders fell into political hands less sanguine about starving the population of Gaza, ensuring the continuing division of Palestinian politics, training the security forces of the Palestinian Authority to repress Hamas, confining the ‘peace process’ to empty formulas, and demonising Iran.

Hard if fragmented evidence of Western involvement is obvious, too. Many close observers are recalling a Wikileaks record that the US Embassy has been in contact with Egyptian activists for some years about getting rid of Mubarak, granting one key activist top-level access with US government authorities, technical advice regarding mass communication and other encouragement, and helping protect his anonymity. We can also recall Hillary Clinton’s recent tour of the Arab world, in which she made a series of speeches bizarrely endorsing the dramatic reform of US-allied Arab governments. Clinton sees the entire Middle East through an Israeli lens: if she calls for change, her concern is that Egypt and other Arab states be enabled to do their bit to sustain Israel’s ‘security’ more effectively. So US diplomatic graffiti is clear: the US wants to secure its withering power base in the Middle East against rising political dissent and therefore wants rotten old stick Mubarak out of the way to restore Egypt’s old leadership role. The same US graffiti is designed to be read by other wobbling Arab allies, like Yemen: toe the line or face the same.

It takes little imagination to fill in the rest. In coming years, we’ll likely get a Wikileaks glimpse into the backroom conversation, held in the second or third day of the Egyptian insurrection, in which European, US and Israeli allies read Mubarak a literal riot act (pointing out the window) instructing him against all his druthers to appoint securocrat Omar Suleiman as deputy president. Suleiman is the ideal successor for US interests and has clearly been hand-picked now to take the reins. He’s immaculately polite (recall the Western appeal of Karzai) and ‘comfortable in the halls of power’, as al-Jazeera has noted. He’s a core high operator in Israeli/US foreign policy, including the ‘war on terror’ (supervising US-requested renditions, etc.), and a good personal buddy of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, with whom he once male-bonded in surviving a shared assassination attempt. He’s a proven ally in the deceitful manipulation of the Palestinian Authority: e.g., leading the phoney “unity” talks while supervising Egyptian assistance to the US in training PA armed forces to repress Hamas in the West Bank and ensuring the brutal sealing of Gaza.

Best of all, Suleiman is an intelligence chief, welded firmly within the US-Israeli intelligence nexus that props up the Fatah-led PA, assists with the mess in Afghanistan, tortures or assassinates the more dangerous opponents to US and Israeli interests, and orchestrates the subversion of Syria and Iran. Such a figure, Washington must hope, can recreate an effective US-Israeli-Egyptian power bloc in a Middle East now drifting away from US moorings as Turkey, Lebanon and even Iraq progressively defect from Western-preferred policies.

So, yes, the old fossil Mubarak has been cut loose and a ‘new Egypt’ (as presidential candidate Mohamed el-Baradei calls it) will soon be announced. The orange or purple or green or lavender or puce revolution will be applauded, the people will rejoice and more meaningful elections will be held. But Suleiman and his technocratic allies are already pre-positioned to ensure that the new Egypt precludes any access to real political influence by factions that, in the US view, are ominously closer to Hizbullah in their regional outlook. The whole point of the current drama is indeed to defuse the legitimate mass popular discontent that feeds the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood—just as Hamas appealed to the disenchanted Palestinian electorate and Hizbullah has appealed to the disenchanted Lebanese electorate, the majority of whom otherwise don’t favour Islamic parties but were driven to support them through terminal political frustration.

This new Egypt will definitely improve some conditions for some Egyptians over coming years: especially by creating jobs for the masses of educated unemployed men, who are now driving the street demonstrations. But reforms in Egypt will focus on technocratic economic solutions: emphasizing standard liberal capitalist measures regarding government and financial transparency, reduced corruption to encourage business growth, an end to routine police torture practices, etc., etc. The security state will otherwise stay in place—and the conditions for a highly unequal society will not fundamentally change. Egypt will stay firmly in the fold of US/Israeli security interests and global economic norms. It will just play that role more adeptly than before.

Alas, the truly mass democratic character of this revolution actually favours this outcome. The demonstrators are calling, in principled fashion, not for any specific leadership but for genuine elections. It’s not impossible that more robust democracy will ultimately escape US control, as they did in Lebanon. But the hundreds of thousands now demonstrating in Egyptian cities lack the top-level access to prevent Suleiman’s security/technocrat network, with its foreign imprimatur, from ensuring that the ‘democratic’ transition generates simply a more efficient and stable version of the client-state role that Egypt has been playing for decades. Such a state cannot really alter the conditions that now impoverish and marginalise whole segments of Egyptian society. Some of the street activists recognise this, of course. Whether they can meaningfully alter the grand Western design for which their principled passion is now being co-opted is entirely unclear.

Virginia Tilley is a professor of political science living in Cape Town, South Africa, hailing from [email protected].


67 Responses

  1. bijou
    January 30, 2011, 10:34 am

    Great piece and very insightful. You may be right on the money, although it’s rather depressing to contemplate. Suleiman is then the Fayyad of Egypt… The question though is whether the sweeping populist rage will even allow these obviously hand-picked cronies (we can know at least that they were hand-picked by Mubarak) to remain in power at all. It’s hard to conclude that all of this upheaval won’t lead to some significant change.

    We can also recall Hillary Clinton’s recent tour of the Arab world, in which she made (in the nostril-flaring style she reserves for fatuous US denunciations of disapproved behaviour in Arab and Muslim regions) …

    Loved this sentence.

    • DICKERSON3870
      January 30, 2011, 1:30 pm

      RE: “whether the sweeping populist rage will even allow these obviously hand-picked cronies to remain in power” – bijou
      FROM FIRE DOG LAKE: Sign our petition to Congress to immediately vote to cut off any American military aid to the Egyptian government – link to

  2. Siegfried al-Haq
    January 30, 2011, 11:05 am

    The tempered tone is appreciated, but the overall analysis is too totalizing, too “Chomskyist” in discounting the possibility that the US and its agents may well have lost the imperative in choosing the direction of events from here. Revolutions sometimes degenerate into counter-revolutions, but not always, and so far the Sulaymanists have not shown their hand: the key moments may come tonight, will the army be moved in, will they follow orders to use violence against the crowds not only in Tahrir Sq but also across the city? What will happen if parts of the military use violence, will they be challenged by other units? It’s clear the military is divided, and this is why the Sulayman wing has not been able to take the reigns so far. As for US machinations in the opposition; the US has indeed toyed with supporting the opposition in Egypt for some time, but the relationship there — with the exception, perhaps of the Saad el-Din Ibrahim case — has been fraught and hardly comfortable. The Egyptian opposition and civil society has regarded US support very warily. In any case, there is no conspiracy behind US interest in developing links with the opposition, and the links do nothing to prove subservience to the US among the opposition.

    The problem with this analysis (and I am a great admirer of Virginia Tilley’s work) is that it’s stuck in the past. US power in the region is on the wane, the US is running to catch up to events, rather than having the ability to machinate in the manner Tilley seems to believe. The story we need to absorb is: the US no longer is able to project a “grand Western design” for the region… the balance has tilted. We need to remain open to what will come.

    • seafoid
      January 30, 2011, 11:27 am

      I agree. That Iraq is FUBR has made an incredible impression across the Arab world. It was supposed to be about Total Spectrum Dominance as well. The US has zero credibility. Bolton and Hillary and whoever else you wish to name are all chancers. If the people have any say the siege of Gaza is going to have to go. That would be a crushing blow to Israel.

      Egypt might no longer sell its oil and gas to Israel. Power is based on oil. Who else will sell it to Israel?

      • Sumud
        January 30, 2011, 11:59 am

        The US will sell or give it to Israel just like they did for the Gaza Massacre.

    • seafoid
      January 30, 2011, 11:51 am

      It was a default on its bonds which marked the end for Apartheid SA.

      link to

    • pineywoodslim
      January 30, 2011, 12:51 pm

      Excellent and thoughtful response to the diary.

      • Virginia Tilley
        February 1, 2011, 3:42 am

        Sorry, clicked on the wrong reply button so “below” implied exclusion of Jeremy’s apt analysis. Have read all comments with interest, am open to dialogue here.

    • Jeffrey Blankfort
      January 30, 2011, 1:20 pm

      I agree with Siegfried. While also an admirer of Virginia Tilley, one gets the feeling from her analysis that what is happening in Egypt, that the removal of Mubarak, is in synch with US regional and global interests. It is too early to say with any assurance what the revolution in Egypt will produce but what has happening there this week is surely more a nightmare than a blessing for Washington which has taken one blow after another in the past two weeks (Hezbollah’s triumph in Lebanon and the release of the Palestine Papers, not to mention Tunisia) leaving it exposed as a helpless giant.

      That the US was supporting “pro-democracy” groups in Egypt should not be seen as evidence that the US was trying to get rid of Mubarak, but as a familiar sign that it wants to control what opposition exists and that assistance could not have provided without Mubarak’s approval.

      This is clearly a moment of crisis for America foreign policy. If Washington abandons Mubarak, what message will that send to the other autocrats it supports who will likely face similar uprisings? And it it doesn’t put pressure on Mubarak to leave, what message will that send? That the appointment of Sulieman, the intelligence chief as vice-president, whether “ordered” by Washington or not, will in any way diffuse the current situation is illusory and too much should not be made of it.

      What it will mean for the Israel-Palestine conflict we can only speculate. While there is virtually no likelihood of any new Egyptian government abrogating the Camp David agreement, one can foresee that it will no longer act as Israel’s enforcer of the Gaza border and Washington’s puppet.

      A new day has dawned in the “Middle East” and it should be welcomed without reservations.

      • Virginia Tilley
        February 1, 2011, 4:12 am

        One can alwasy welcome greater democracy without reservations. But I don’t see any solid reason to assume Egypt will no longer “act as Israel’s enforcer of the Gaza border and Washington’s puppet”. The ‘new Egypt’ will face a mess: a domestic economic crisis, politically riven, huge inequalities coupled with high expectations of rapid change, etc. It’s going to need US, UK and EU help to rebuild. And the Egyptian military certainly can’t foresake its ties to the US military and the Pentagon — its operations and materiel (spare & replacement parts, training and officer ties, intelligence cooperation, high-tech surveillance and communications, etc., etc.) all depend on them. And Israel can make Egypt’s national life miserable in many ways. The Rafah border may well loosen up. But Egyptian dependency on US largesse won’t disappear in a fortnight and it will be a good long while before its foreign policy, regarding Gaza or anything else, has the options as you envision. Barring a tectonic shift in Palestinian politics, of course — which is the next place our eyes should be glued: read Jonathan Cook’s latest on Palestinian one-state talk: link to

      • Shingo
        February 1, 2011, 4:32 am

        It’s going to need US, UK and EU help to rebuild. And the Egyptian military certainly can’t foresake its ties to the US military and the Pentagon — its operations and materiel (spare & replacement parts, training and officer ties, intelligence cooperation, high-tech surveillance and communications, etc., etc.) all depend on them.

        There’s one problem with that theory Virginia – the US, UK and EU don’t have any more left to throw around. Similarly, the Egyptian military must have already been preparing itself for Washington money spigot to run dry.

      • Virginia Tilley
        February 1, 2011, 10:04 am

        The US has leverage other than its own treasury. Predictably, we saw the IMF pop up today, offering to prepare the economic reconstruction plan for Egypt. The IMF follows US instructions, mostly, because the US holds the most power on its board. So does the World Bank. So do most of the big European funding arms. This is the kind of power the US wields – vast by Egyptian standards, by anyone’s standards.

        Not to mention Egypt’s need for global forces that even the US doesn’t control, like international finance.

        And a major national military can’t just “prepare for the spigot to run dry”. Modern militaries are, by nature, infinite money pits. Most of the US’s $1.3 million in aid to Egypt goes to the military and this is unlikely to change now when sustaining that dependency is even more vital to US foreign policy.

      • Shingo
        February 1, 2011, 4:00 pm

        The IMF and Wotld Banks have money to throw around if the US and member states gives it to them.

        In any case, the IMF has become the kiss of death to many emerging states, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Egypt passes on the offer. After all, after selling out it’s own agricultural industry to US interests, I doubt the Egyptians are open to more of the same.

        As for sustaining US interests re the military, you’re employing a circular argument. Isn’t that entirely dependent on which party takes over the power in Cairo. I doubt we’ll see aid continue if the MB win power.

        In fact, given that the GOO want to slash foreign aid, it was probably already in the cards.

    • David Samel
      January 30, 2011, 1:35 pm

      I too agree with Siegfried. Virginia Tilley is certainly right that the US/UK are trying to get some degree of control over the events, but surely they would have been content to stick with Mubarak et fils had there been no popular uprising. They have no idea how this will play out and must be very uncomfortable with the uncertainty. But regardless of how well Tilley is predicting the future, her hope that Egyptians will not allow their revolt to be co-opted is surely one that is shared by us all.

    • Virginia Tilley
      February 1, 2011, 3:33 am

      Thanks for your interesting comment, Siegfried. This and other comments below suggest a quick clarification.

      I’m not suggesting the US is behind this mass insurrection. Goodness no. It clearly isn’t — no foreign power could “machinate” something like this. Pointing out that US foreign policy favours a new government in Egypt doesn’t equate with casting the entire mass movement as a product or dupe of US manipulation and “grand design”. But it’s equally important not to assume the US is adrift, lost, floundering, etc., as many analysts are simplistically reading US responses to the uprising. Parsing the White House’s diplomatic rhetoric and tone (and Israel’s notably tamped down rhetoric), I’m suggesting the signals are pretty obvious: their approach is much less shaken or inconsistent than some are saying. And recognising why is important to grasping the big picture here.

      Some have noted the vagueness of language around Mubarak’s stepping down, for example. This is no mystery. Mubarak is an old ally, privy to US secrets, and personally hosted Obama just last year: the US (UK, Europe, et al) won’t denounce him directly, it’s bad form and could plant seeds of doubt in other dictators the US wants to keep on side. But the old fogey was losing control of Egypt and the US/Israeli greatest growing fear has been that the country would slip into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s precisely because the Middle East is “slipping away” from US hands and that US power is “on the wane” that installing a new securocrat government in Egypt is vital to US interests in the Middle East.

      There’s also a back story here, found in various working papers of high and mighty think tanks: EU and US “nation-building” has shifted to the assumption that what people really want is good services from their governments and that an efficient state is the way to do this. They haven’t absorbed that foreign policy is part of the ideological cohesion that makes a true nation and the magic bullet that creates really solid bonds between a nation of people and their state. So technocracies are the name of the international conflict resolution game at present. Add to that the other vital ingredient, from the US POV: protecting Israel and sustaining the war-on-terror style global security regime (which, of course, tends to undercut the very nation-building agenda they are attempting, but they can’t see that).

      Given the density of corrupt connections around Mubarak, and his old-style approach to clumsy coercion of dissent, a domestic Egyptian reform movement is the only way to get political cover for such a shift in Egypt. My point in the article was simply to point out that we now know the US has been quietly encouraging this for some time. The democratic imprimatur of a mass movement, albeit unexpected and risky, is an unexpected blessing in the goal of sweeping out the entire old crony network of Egyptian governance (or most of it) and get the new technocrat/securocrat government the West has in mind. It’s like someone who tried to light a firecracker finding it has exploded into a big fireworks display: startling and even alarming but still very welcome — as long as it doesn’t burn down the barn.

      But again, kindly note, all this doesn’t mean the present movement should be seen as a US creation, “subservient” or whatever. It’s standing back a little and checking the larger picture for what’s up and whiffing the interests at play. This gives us a better guess at the backroom conversations that are certainly already happening at high levels about who will do what, who’s in and who’s out, what political deals are being made to sideline some figures and bring in others. And it highlights the likely direction of Egyptian politics as those hurculean global forces we know all too well (and which no country today can escape) move in to steer the direction of all this, re the stock market, the currency, foreign investment, etc., etc. Any view that the Egyptian securocrat network will easily grab all the reins is naive on the US’s part. But that doesn’t mean that Egypt is soaring away from US interests — at least, not yet.

      Certainly I’m “open to what will come”. But I hope it’s not impossible even in the midst of giddy emotion about people power (which I certainly share to some extent) to bring some sober analysis to the dynamics here. And on this, one more thing: as an aging political scientist with more than one thrilling and ultimately disappointing revolutionary moment under my (rather expanding) belt, I’m finding the composition of this insurrection sobering in the same way it’s inspiring: its very broad, inclusive, cross-cutting appeal to all Egyptians. That high-minded inclusivity leaves, I’m afraid, a vaporous political incoherence around the vital question of next steps, as there is no ideological glue to this phenomenon except getting rid of an awful dictator and his awful government and holding free and fair elections. I’m sure the US and Israel, and their securocrat Egyptian allies, are finding this narrow base of unity quite sensitive and risky but also fertile ground for generating the transition government they have in mind, allied with the army, that will ensure that any new government pursue the mutual goal of a stronger Egypt that is not Islamic. It’s never unwise to check just who has jumped on your political train, and who is confabbing behind closed curtains in that mysterious first-class cabin. Better now than later, when one looks up and finds oneself stuck on a different track that feels all too much like the old one.

      • Jeffrey Blankfort
        February 1, 2011, 12:59 pm

        There has long been a tendency on what may generally be called the Left to see Washington and/or its allies in Israel within an aura approaching omniscience and I see that in your analysis. The notion that the collapse of the Mubarak regime is something that the US welcomes at this or was trying to bring about I put in the same category as those who believe that the routine humiliations of US presidents by their Israeli counterparts is all according to a script of a larger plan to which none of us has access.

        Standing back at looking at the blows that US foreign policy has experienced in just the past two weeks should dispel any illusions that Washington has everything or anything under control.

        The ascent to power in Lebanon of the Hezbollah led alliance which includes Michael Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, the largest Christian party, plus Walid Jumblatt’s, Druze Progressive Socialist Party, was a tremendous defeat for the US-Tel Aviv axis.

        At almost the same time we had the release of the Palestine Papers which stripped bare the roles of Israel, the PA and the US for all the world to see which was another blow to their regional game plan.

        That happened almost simultaneously with the uprising in Tunis which led not only to the historic events in Egypt but to similar protests in Yemen and Jordan, in which the king has felt forced to create a new government, none of which were anticipated by either Washington or Tel Aviv.

        Netanyahu’s very public support of Mubarak and its thinly veiled threats against a new Egypt will not make Washington’s position any easier nor will its need to act on the resolution in the UN Security Council condemning all of Israel’s settlements as illegal which Israel and its US agents expect Obama to veto.

        Yes, the Egyptian military has close ties with its US counterparts and has had for years but I don’t believe for a minute that they are any less patriotic and devoted to their country than are members of the US military and I have a hunch that most of them take great pride in what they see happening in the streets of Egypt. I am not being romantic. What we are seeing is unprecedented spontaneous people power and the US will probably have as much luck riding it as riding a tiger.

        No, Egypt will not break its treaty with Israel but nor will it continue to act as an Israel/US puppet enforcing the Gaza siege. Whether it will continue to provide natural gas to Israel will most likely depend on Israel’s behavior. The Israelis are plainly worried and should be. And believe me, maintaining the $1.5 billion military aid from the US will not be the deciding factor. Meanwhile, let’s join the celebrations!

  3. annie
    January 30, 2011, 11:11 am

    Many close observers are recalling a Wikileaks record that the US Embassy has been in contact with Egyptian activists for some years about getting rid of Mubarak

    not sure i agree w/this virginia. i have been a close observer of wikileaks yet i never saw that leak until it was published by the telegraph on 10:30PM GMT 28 Jan 2011. i would like to see a copy of it on a list of wikileaks published earlier otherwise it could be a manufactured leak designed to make us think the US was on the crest of this wave last month.

    surely if this was published on the internet last month there would be a record of it on one of the blogs or newswires.

    don’t be fooled.

    • Ellen
      January 30, 2011, 11:40 am

      Agreed. And US Embassy employees/workers/representatives everywhere live in a bubble. May be wrong, but I simply cannot imagine that scenario.

      They would never venture outside the neighborhood and a group of select restaurants in Cairo, and then be shipped off somewhere else before they become too close to the natives. That is how it works everywhere.

      • Lydda Four Eight
        January 30, 2011, 8:15 pm

        haha, a lot of them do live in a bubble. my husband and i had a very diverse group of friends in Cairo, including American FSO and USAID, our favorite quote from someone at a party was, “You mean, you live off the land?!” When this person found out we shop only locally, within the Egyptian economy, don’t buy imported items and do not have commissary privileges. It’s still funny to think about. Another FSO wife I invited over to my home for lunch brought her own commissary food items to eat because she was afraid to eat locally. I was so disheartened, she refused to eat my food in my own home. People were nuts. You know how offensive that is to Arab hospitality? I wasn’t offended though, I thought it was sad and kind of pathetic. Oh yea, and they had their own cable network so they only watched USA approved television. *sigh*

    • Virginia Tilley
      February 1, 2011, 4:17 am

      You may be right, annie. But Wikileaks never claimed to be releasing everything at once. Also, the general picture provided in the document is consistent with Washington practices min zamaan: cultivating young “leaders” of “democracy” around the world in order to create US-friendly cohorts who can be tapped for info and cooperation in their various countries. Personally, I found the tone, info and attitudes in the document entirely credible.

      • annie
        February 1, 2011, 4:33 am

        hi virginia, it’s so late here i don’t feel i’m competent responding coherently at this time. but i’ve written phil (i cc’d you) and sent your other recent comment on the thread, it’s worthy of a whole new post. i’m concerned perhaps since this article is a few days old and dropped so far down the front page others might miss the dialogue.

        anyway, very interesting article, thank you. i look forward to reading you more here.

  4. NorthOfFortyNine
    January 30, 2011, 11:12 am

    Great insight. I agree the aim seems to be to try to manage the transition so as to secure their (US/Israel, etc.) interests.

    But who knows how this will end. Didn’t Rumsfeld say that “democracy is messy”?

    Forget Lebanon. Look at Turkey.

    • annie
      January 30, 2011, 11:44 am

      thanks tho i wouldn’t call it great, just logical. remember the internet is a battleground. creating retroactive scenarios is the kind of disinfowarfare some specialize in. anyway, this is the perfect time for hillary to call for mabarak to step down. has she done that yet?

    • seafoid
      January 30, 2011, 11:57 am

      The US may come to the same conclusion that it did in Vietnam. Israel just isn’t worth it. What does Israel bring the US anyway ? It has no oil. Couldn’t all its geniuses work somewhere else?

      • Potsherd2
        January 30, 2011, 12:04 pm

        Vietnam didn’t have the Lobby.

      • pineywoodslim
        January 30, 2011, 12:53 pm

        Vietnam had the entrenched red scare lobby which worked for decades.

      • Citizen
        January 30, 2011, 2:23 pm

        True, but Vietnam also had the Draft.

      • annie
        January 30, 2011, 5:49 pm

        seafoid, i really don’t see the government coming to that conclusion anytime in the near future, the people..much sooner.

        i just don’t think the wool can be pulled over the american’s eyes forever. the cat’s out of the bag. israel either has to put out or share the consequences of not doing so. it is not going to be a one way street forever, that’s completely unsustainable. hasbarists narrative aside it’s just kinda hard to grasp the upside of this relationship for the US. it’s looking very down hill from here on out to me unless there is a drastic change of course.

  5. VR
    January 30, 2011, 11:18 am

    “When I told the demonstrators on the tank around me the news of Suleiman’s appointment, they burst into laughter.”

    I think this view (article) is a bit condescending in regard to the Egyptian populace. There seems to be a bit of confusion as to who is in the mix of this uprising, but it serves as a warning of not allowing the “reforms” rhetoric to take root – what is necessary is world-class revolution. Apparently the current administration (US) thinks they are playing with wayward ignorant children – they are in for a rude awakening.

    To put the above quote into context –

    “In the pantomime world of Mubarak himself – and of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Washington – the man who still claims to be president of Egypt swore in the most preposterous choice of vice-president in an attempt to soften the fury of the protesters – Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s chief negotiator with Israel and his senior intelligence officer, a 75-year-old with years of visits to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and four heart attacks to his credit. How this elderly apparatchik might be expected to deal with the anger and joy of liberation of 80 million Egyptians is beyond imagination. When I told the demonstrators on the tank around me the news of Suleiman’s appointment, they burst into laughter.”

    Robert Fisk: Egypt: Death throes of a dictatorship

    Some insist in talking about the end when things are just beginning, speculation has a place – but it should have a heavy dose of reality.

  6. bijou
    January 30, 2011, 11:25 am

    They may have deliberately started the fire, but underestimated how strongly and rapidly it would catch and burn…

  7. annie
    January 30, 2011, 11:28 am

    these are being twittered but i have not found a transcript of this interview on cnn. i wonder if the american audience is ready to hear the MB is not the devil incarnate. if anyone can find this interview please post link! thanks

    El Baradei on CNN “The Muslim Brotherhood is a minority in Egypt, they are not a majority”

    “The myth about the Muslim Brotherhood has been perpetuated by the regime”
    “The Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with the Iranian model. They have a lot of credibility in Egypt”
    “(The Muslim Brotherhood) is in favour of a constitution where every Egyptian has the same rights & obligations”

    • Ellen
      January 30, 2011, 11:46 am

      There is too much interest in keeping bogey men alive and the public fearful. The US audience really has no idea what the MB even is. So professional Hasbarist and paid propagandist like Bolton and Marc Ginsberg are allowed to dominate the disinformation on Fox News. There is a method and purpose in this.

      • annie
        January 30, 2011, 11:54 am

        yes i agree ellen.

      • Citizen
        January 30, 2011, 2:27 pm

        Yes, Ellen, absolutely a method and a purpose–looking at FOX news, you’d think nobody has a handle on what’s happening in Egypt other than Bolton, an original PNACer and defender of yellow cake, as well as a major figure in defeating the Zionism = Racism UN resolution. This is their kind of go-to guy to inform the American public!

      • straightline
        January 30, 2011, 4:43 pm

        I’m afraid the Australian (where I am at the moment) media are little better than the US media in this respect. This morning on the Australian public radio – the ABC – there was a piece on the Egyptian situation in which they broadcast Hillary Clinton’s statement and followed it by an interview with Martin Indyk – Director Foreign Policy at the Saban Center – and that’s all. No-one from the Arab World – after all what would they know about what’s going on in Egypt? Indyk was asked about MB and he said something like (I paraphrase): “Some of my colleagues think they’re a responsible organization but I’m not too sure.”

  8. Dan Crowther
    January 30, 2011, 11:42 am

    Great Read. Thanks for the insight

  9. Potsherd2
    January 30, 2011, 11:53 am

    The installation of Suleiman isn’t the end of the story, even assuming he steps into Mubarak’s seat and the military supports him there. The real question is: will the elections be held, and will they be real elections?

    The US has put itself into a position where it couldn’t accept the cancellation or postponement of the vote, but there is still the possibility that elections would be Mubarak-style. Would Suleiman allow the Muslim Brotherhood to freely campaign? Would the US (with the equation MB=Hamas burning in their minds) encourage suppression?

    And supposing free elections are actually held, will Suleiman accept the outcome, which is not likely to be favorable to him?

    • annie
      January 30, 2011, 12:00 pm

      the ptb would just extend the ‘interim period’ due to ’emergency status’ or something similar, like extending abbas rule. it’s a hoax to get people to accept suleiman if only temporarily. if there is going to be an interim leader let it be el barabei. i don’t think egyptians are stupid enough to accept suleiman is anything other than complicit w/the same rule they have been subject to in the past.

    • Jim Haygood
      January 30, 2011, 12:38 pm

      Historical analogue? Prague, 1989:

      November 24

      Miloš Jakeš was replaced by puppet politician Karel Urbánek as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.

      November 25

      The new Communist leadership held a press conference. It immediately lost credibility by keeping Miroslav Štěpán, leaving Ladislav Adamec out and not addressing any of the demands. Later that day, Štěpán resigned from his position as the Prague Secretary. The number of participants in the regular anti-government demonstration in Prague reached an estimated 800,000 people.

      December 10

      President Gustáv Husák appointed the first largely non-communist government in Czechoslovakia since 1948, and resigned.

      December 28

      Alexander Dubček was elected speaker of the federal parliament.

      December 29

      Václav Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia.

      link to


      Does the US have more influence over Egypt than the Soviet Union had over Czechoslovakia via the Warsaw Pact? I don’t think so.

      Like Eastern Europe, Egypt is exhibiting the ‘beach ball effect’ — what happens when you hold a big beach ball underwater and then release it.

      Hold people down for enough decades, then when they see a glimmer of change, they will grab that bit between their teeth with ferocious determination and refuse to let go, even when threatened with life and limb.

      An Al Jazeera correspondent reported this morning that throngs of women and children are emerging into the streets in Alexandria, some of the women shedding the hijab. It sounds like a social metamorphosis is underway; a leap of decades in the space of a week. You hear it in the omnipresent remark, ‘There is no turning back.’ It’s not an opinion; it’s a newly-formed social consensus.

      Egypt 2011 feels like Czechoslovakia 1989 — people know this is the one chance of their lifetime to escape from tyranny, and they don’t intend to blow it.

      • annie
        January 30, 2011, 12:47 pm

        people know this is the one chance of their lifetime to escape from tyranny, and they don’t intend to blow it.

        god i love this, i love it love it love it.

      • Sumud
        January 30, 2011, 1:18 pm

        You hear it in the omnipresent remark, ‘There is no turning back.’ It’s not an opinion; it’s a newly-formed social consensus.

        …and at root that consensus is “kill or be killed”. How terrifying.

        The can of worms was opened on January 25 and after that there was no turning back. Tunisia took a month, Egypt will be less because 80 million people know if they keep pushing Mubarak will have NO CHOICE but to flee. Actually, Egyptians appear to already be celebrating and Mubarak even hasn’t fallen yet. They are so sure they’ll be victorious, when the fighter jets made maybe 10 runs over Tahrir Square the crowd and chants got even louder!

  10. lareineblanche
    January 30, 2011, 1:31 pm

    Exactly. Mubarak is gone already, we know that. The only acceptable solution, and way forward, is to kick Suleiman out as well. The Egyptians on the ground have already been calling for this, but if Suleiman is Washington’s new “Our Man In Egypt”, there is a large battle ahead.

    Curious that that State Dept. spokesperson PJ Crowley has been ostensibly warning against Egypt simply “reshuffling the cards” and keeping the same power structure in place, while at the same time, we all know, supporting exactly that.

  11. bijou
    January 30, 2011, 1:48 pm

    The people aren’t buying it:

    Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with top military commanders as tens of thousands of protesters defied a curfew and gathered in central Cairo, chanting slogans against his new prime minister and vice president.

    “No Shafik, no Suleiman, we want you gone, you cowards!” the crowd chanted, in reference to yesterday’s appointments of former air force commander Ahmed Shafik as prime minister and Omar Suleiman, the country’s intelligence chief, as vice president. Fighter aircraft flew over the crowd and almost two dozen tanks could be seen in central Cairo.

    The demonstrations followed a night of looting and gunfire as soldiers tried to regain control of streets lined with charred stores. The unrest was a sign that Mubarak’s appointment of the first vice president since his rise to power in 1981 and his naming of a new premier may not placate protesters as they put former military officers in the top three jobs.

    “I don’t think that appointing Suleiman as vice president or Shafik as prime minister is going to do it,” Amr Hamzawy research director and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said by telephone from Cairo. “It’s too late.”

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Mubarak hasn’t met demands for democratic reforms and that the U.S. expects “free and fair elections.”….

  12. bijou
    January 30, 2011, 3:08 pm

    Ethan Bronner in the NYT The View from Israel

    As the government evacuated the families of envoys from Egypt over the weekend, public affairs broadcasts and newspapers in Israel focused heavily on the unfolding events there. Most of the predictions were dire. Two of three newspapers with the largest circulations, Yediot Aharonot and Maariv, had identical front page headlines: “A New Middle East.”

    It was an ironic reference to the phrase used frequently in the 1990s by President Shimon Peres and other advocates of coexistence who argued that if Israel made peace with its neighbors, a more prosperous and enlightened region would bloom. Events of the past five years — the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran’s influence in Iraq and the shift by Turkey toward Iran and Syria — have turned many Israelis rightward, fearing that the more time passes the more the region is against them.

    Israelis worry that Jordan is in a precarious state and a successful overthrow in Egypt could spread there. And if the Muslim Brotherhood were to gain power in Egypt that would likely mean not only a stronger Islamist force in Gaza but also in the West Bank, currently run by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, as well as in Jordan, meaning Israel would feel surrounded in a way it has not in decades.

    If Egypt also turned unfriendly that would likely stop in its tracks any further Israeli talk of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, officials and analysts said. A peace treaty with the West Bank would involve yielding territory and military control to a relatively weak Palestinian Authority. Trading land for peace with autocrats like Mr. Mubarak, some analysts say, is not a sound basis for enduring treaties.

    There has long been concern that popular sentiment in Egypt is anti-Israel. Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo wrote in Yediot Aharonot newspaper, “The only people in Egypt who are committed to peace are the people in Mubarak’s inner circle and if the next president is not one of them, we are going to be in trouble.”

    Notice that this analysis, like all Israeli analyses, fail to take into consideration that Egypt might have rational national interests that would argue in favor of preserving a peaceful relationship with Israel — it’s presumed that just beyond the “inner circle” all is seething hatred. I can’t say whether that is accurate or not; I just find it noteworthy that this is a constant in Israeli outlook – they don’t ever see the “other” as a “rational” party with intrinsic interests; only as a rabid volcano that will inevitably erupt…

    • seafoid
      January 30, 2011, 3:22 pm

      “If Egypt also turned unfriendly that would likely stop in its tracks any further Israeli talk of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, officials and analysts said. A peace treaty with the West Bank would involve yielding territory and military control to a relatively weak Palestinian Authority. Trading land for peace with autocrats like Mr. Mubarak, some analysts say, is not a sound basis for enduring treaties.”

      Israel doesn’t have the time for pussyfooting around with temporary deals. If the whole of the Middle East order breaks down Israel is going to be very isolated. The IDF has been practising for wars with Hezbollah and Hamas, not Egypt.

      And in the final analysis it is
      Jews=1 state Arabs = 22
      Jews = 5.5 million, Arabs 200 million

      Palestine was such a stupid choice for the Jewish state. East Prussia would have made much more sense.

      • Potsherd2
        January 30, 2011, 3:34 pm

        And as I’ve said before, attacking Iran is now quite off the table.

      • bijou
        January 30, 2011, 3:42 pm

        I believe you’ve got that one right.

      • yonira
        January 30, 2011, 3:36 pm

        The British didn’t give them East Prussia, they gave them Palestine.

        They are there now and they aren’t leaving anytime soon. I think it is time for you all to realize that.

      • annie
        January 30, 2011, 3:45 pm

        it wasn’t theirs to give.

        I think it is time for you all to realize that.

        it might behoove you to realize a few things yourself.

      • yonira
        January 30, 2011, 3:49 pm

        This isn’t elementary school Annie, we can’t go back through history and right all the wrongs. The reality is what it is, two wrongs aren’t going to make a right here. Especially since the Israelis won’t leave without a fight.

      • straightline
        January 30, 2011, 7:05 pm

        Why is it that the Zionists “go back through history” when it suits them and complain when it doesn’t suit? So you accept, yonira, that the choice of Palestine as the home for the Zionists was wrong? Interesting!

      • annie
        January 30, 2011, 7:12 pm

        i didn’t say anything about going back thru history yonira. i was referencing future trends when i mentioned it might behoove you to realize a few things yourself. i agree they are not leaving anytime soon. all better now.

      • annie
        January 30, 2011, 7:17 pm

        Why is it that the Zionists “go back through history” when it suits them and complain when it doesn’t suit?

        you mean justifying the zionist dream plopped down in palestine by claiming the jewish homeland is 3000 years old even tho the vast majority of that time most jews were making their homeland in other places? ho hum. because they argue like hypocrites most of the time, that’s why straighline.

        The reality is what it is, two wrongs aren’t going to make a right here.

        really appreciate yonira admitting zionist sovereignty is and was a wrong move.

      • Potsherd2
        January 30, 2011, 11:38 pm

        yonira, Israelis are fleeing the sinking ship all the time now. Every year, the net migration rate falls closer to 0.

        BYahoo doesn’t want to bomb Iran because he thinks Iran is an actual threat to Israel, but because he fears that Israelis will fear Iran might get the bomb, so they’ll leave the country.

      • yonira
        January 31, 2011, 12:06 am

        Chaos, in all reality, that isn’t true. look it up man.

      • bijou
        January 30, 2011, 3:41 pm

        Jews = 5.5 million, Muslims = 2.2 billion by 2030

    • annie
      January 30, 2011, 3:37 pm

      If Egypt also turned unfriendly that would likely stop in its tracks any further Israeli talk of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, officials and analysts said.

      any excuse works and every glitch leads to reasons why israel can’t end the occupation. endless excuses for decades.

  13. yourstruly
    January 30, 2011, 3:32 pm

    to all who struggle for the arab nation

    blessed be your martyrs

    your heroic people

    such that now

    having retaken the dawn

    hold on

    hold on

    and never let go

    • Virginia Tilley
      February 1, 2011, 4:22 am

      Again, I didn’t say the insurrection is “of Western origin”. It’s just not inconsistent with Western goals … yet. As for spin-offs to the Gulf States, it’s not so clear they are so vulnerable. They aren’t democracies, for one thing, so expectations aren’t there. And they have bought off their own citizenries with goodies (free education, health care, subsidies) funded by oil revenues, so the most discontent and excluded in their territories are not even citizens.

  14. MHughes976
    January 30, 2011, 4:45 pm

    The situation in Tunisia seems to have been contained with one of the dictator’s minions promising freedom and all that, with Western voices proclaiming (I’m thinking of a former British Ambassador in T, writing in the FT about ten days ago) that this particular minion was quite unlike the rest of the ‘gang’, which we never liked, you know.
    But none of this makes it plausible that these uprisings are of Western origin, as Virginia suggests. We aren’t that fiendishly clever. We may have tried to keep contacts with marginal members of the regimes and we may have tried to groom acceptable figures just in case, but we cannot have planned or even wished for, not even for one moment, the upheavals that have happened and that may happen. So far the trouble has been in the tourist countries, which is itself a limiting factor when it comes to revolutions. What if it spreads to the oil countries?

  15. wondering jew
    January 30, 2011, 11:24 pm

    Virginia Tilley’s piece includes the line- “Lebanon, where genuine democracy has allowed Hizbullah to control a parliamentary majority.”

    Hizbullah did not control a parliamentary majority two months ago when an anti Hizbullah majority controlled the parliament. Then Hariri grew a pair and said, we will cooperate with the UN commission that is investigating the murder of my father. The realignment that has occurred since that moment has been based upon fear of a UN commission investigating a violent act and Jumblatt’s acceding to the Syrian influence in Lebanon.

    There are probably other countries that are labeled democracies where military pressures from neighboring countries and murders of former presidents are ignored when doing that labeling. Still I found this statement “where genuine democracy has allowed Hizbullah to control a parliamentary majority” to be utterly cynical.

    • Chaos4700
      January 30, 2011, 11:57 pm

      Yes, yes, we remember how Iran Syria Hezbollah has been the prime suspect in the assassination all along. Never mind that the nature of the supposed electronic evidence vis-a-vis the revelation of Israeli espionage activity in Lebanese telecoms.

      You know what’s utterly cynical? Running out all other ethnic groups with guns, razing their homes, and then declaring a so-called democracy.

      • yonira
        January 31, 2011, 12:05 am

        Chaos, if your father was assassinated, would you want to know who did it?

      • Chaos4700
        January 31, 2011, 1:41 am

        The problem is the Tribunal is not motivated by solving the murder. If it were, it wouldn’t be a game of hot potato between different people you’d like to bomb, yonira.

  16. Jeffrey Blankfort
    January 31, 2011, 12:18 pm

    In the 2009 elections, the alliance of Hezbollah and the Maronite Free Patriotic Movement of former president Michel Aoun and some smaller Christian parties received 55% of the popular vote and only because of the antiquated election laws instituted by the French in the last century did they not assume power. This fact was not reported in the US press which reported the election as a loss for Hezbollah.

    In the same way, it has not reported how special this “special tribunal” is. It is totally without precedent in UN history and its intrusion into the Lebanese justice system was not approved by the Lebanese government.

    It is nothing more than another effort by the US, its policies dictated by Israel and its agents in the White House to bring down Hezbollah, something Israel has been unable to do on the battlefield.

    Hezbollah has presented on Lebanese TV what it says is photographic evidence of Israeli involvement including the presence of an Israeli drone i the area. This has been reported in the European press but censored in the US for the usual reasons. The “tribunal” has expressed no interest in reviewing Hezbollah’s evidence.

    Why, it should be asked, is there a UN tribunal to investigate the murder of a former, not sitting, Lebanese minister when it has never bothered to call a tribunal to investigate the assassinations of sitting heads of states in which the US has been involved, from Lumumba and Mosadeq to Allende, and why no war crimes tribunal for Israel for its wars on Lebanon in 1982 and 2006? We all know the answer.

  17. wondering jew
    January 31, 2011, 10:03 pm

    Jeffrey Blankfort- Regarding the tribunal, the article in Wikipedia states

    “The court was established by an agreement between the United Nations and the Lebanese Republic pursuant to Security Council resolution 1664 (2006) of 29 March 2006. The United Nations Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, endorsed the agreement on 30 May 2007 (Security Council Resolution 1757 (2007)).

    Do you mean that no vote was taken by the government and the decision of Siniora to ask for the tribunal was without proper authorization?

    • Jeffrey Blankfort
      February 1, 2011, 4:20 pm

      Yes, and it not get the required number of votes by members of the Lebanese cabinet. Siniora was an American (and Israeli) stooge and it was his attempt to cut Hezbollah’s private fibre optic communications network which was key in their resistance to Israel and fire the head of the airport security who was not connected to Hezbollah but supported it, that led to the fighting in the streets of Beirut in 2008 which was portrayed in the Zionized US press as a “takeover” of Beirut.

      This was so unpopular with the people of Lebanon that in the election the following, Hezbollah and its Christian allies only received 55% of the vote. Obviously that hadn’t read the NY-Tel Aviv Times of the Washington-Jerusalem Post.

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