Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stephen Walt

Okay, somebody who knows Walt offline really needs to make fun of him at this point. Man actually wrote "Why the Tunisian Revolution Won't Spread" in January. Yep.

Goes to show that you have to be very, very careful about the predictions of International Relations experts, and ESPECIALLY of the Realists. They talk a good game, but the end of the Cold War showed that they can get it majorly, majorly wrong. Considering this is a similar case study, well...

Edit: Also, it shows that you need to be incredibly careful about pundits' track records. They don't exactly admit their mistakes much.

Re-Edit: Don't get me wrong. I like a lot of what Walt has written. I think that, when he gets away from wearing the "Realist" hat, he has a lot of good points to make.

But it's becoming harder and harder to conclude that Realism is anything but a creaky, decrepit doctrine—and that the only reason that it perseveres is because of the paucity of decent alternatives.

Gaddafi May Go On...

...but I cannot possibly see how. Strong leaders don't strafe their own people with gunfire from fighter jets. That's not a sign of strength—that's a sign of weakness.

Anyway, latest AJE liveblog is here. One react to Gaddafi's latest rant:

Anoushka Kurkjian, a Middle East consultant told Al Jazeera the address was "a typical Gaddafi speech". She said "Gaddafi's resiliance is not in doubt" and it can't be ruled out that he will stay in power for as long as he can.

She added: "The structures of the state are disintegrating. There is that shift from Gaddafi towards an alternitive, but that hasn't yet taken shape."

Regarding the Arab League expelling Libya, she said "The Arab League has been muted by saying that it's suspending Libya. If the death toll does mount, reactions will become more thoughtful."
I suspect that part of the problem is that the Arab League has no idea who's next. It's difficult to expel someone for pulling the same sort of repression that you might be contemplating in a few weeks or so.

As for U.S. reactions...Obama's being cautious, as always, but I suspect that Kerry is speaking for him by saying that the attacks were "despicable" and that the regime cannot go on. He did seem to sort of pass the buck to the UN, though, by saying that "United Nations leadership is on the line. Libya's mission to the UN bravely condemned their own government. Now UN action is critical." But that may just be Obama signalling to the rest of the Security Council that this shit will not fly with the Prez.

(Not sure what good it'll do, though. China is going to be loathe to go along with a serious condemnation. Not when they're scared stiff about what might happen to THEM.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Unarmed Libyans Being Attacked by "Foreign Mercenaries"

Gaddafi's making Mubarak look like a reasonable man. According to the AJE Live Blog Gaddafi's son is warning of "civil war"...but as Najla Abdurahman put it on the Live Blog, how on earth could that be worse than what Libyans have had to deal with for the last 40 years?

Meanwhile Robert Fisk is in Bahrain, where he reveals that the people are making it clear that they are in control, repression or no repression. It isn't Libya or Egypt, not yet. This will not necessarily end in revolution. But if change doesn't happen soon, the Khalifas will be lucky if they get away with a simple transition to constitutional monarchy.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bahrain is Getting Bad

Or, perhaps, "getting worse", after the government suppressed peaceful protests with deadly force. In either case, NPR:

Reporting from Bahrain — where, before dawn, riot police armed with clubs and shotguns charged into the protesters' camp in the capital's main square — NPR's Peter Kenyon tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep that Bahrainis' grief is "turning to anger very rapidly."

Four people were reported killed, and dozens more were seriously wounded in the raid in Manama's Pearl Square.

Peter, where are you now and what are you seeing?

Steve, I'm at the Salmaniya hospital, where many of the wounded and dead were brought initially. I have to say, uh, I have just seen one of the more gruesome sites in 10 years of covering the Middle East. I was in the mortuary. I saw a man lying on a gurney. The top of his head was literally blown off.

The injuries have been widespread — clubbing and some shot and rubber-bullet injuries. Paramedics who were trying to get to the scene told me they were pulled from their ambulances and dragged to the ground and beaten.

It's ... it's been a scene, kind of. It's a bit quiet at the moment, I have to say, but just moments ago, this compound in the hospital was filled with screaming people. The grief is turning to anger very rapidly here.

And the situation is changing very rapidly. I recall, Peter, just yesterday you were telling us how the protesters had occupied the square and the police were nowhere to be seen, at least not in the areas where the protesters were. That seems to have changed very, very quickly.

It was a dramatic change and a bit hard to understand at the moment, I have to say. I mean, only Tuesday the king, Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, had said he was sorry for the deaths that had happened earlier, the two people who were killed [during protests Monday], and he had vowed that there would be peaceful responses to peaceful protests.

The crowds had swelled over 36 hours in Pearl Circle there, which is what they had hoped would be their Tahrir Square. Many people had camped out for the night, mostly, I should say, young men but also some families, women and children there in family tents. I would say a percentage of the people go home after midnight to their own homes to sleep. But there is a corps that stays there every night, and they bore the brunt of this attack.

They said it started about 3 a.m. with tear gas being fired from above, where there's a bridge that overlooks the square. And then the police moved in, clubbing people out of their tents, according to witnesses, and then the wounded and the damage ensued.

As best you can determine, who ended up in possession of the square?

The police and the military are in charge of the square. There was a military convoy that moved in. It sealed off the square, and access to that area is now sealed off by police, armed police.

In fact, the man whose body I saw, I spoke with his son and he said they were trying to walk back into the square to help the wounded when the man was killed.

So we do not have the same situation as in Cairo, Egypt, where the protesters took over a central square, a symbolically important square, and managed through everything to stay there for days. The protesters have cleared out. Do you have any sense of what the protesters are going to do next or are attempting to do now?

You're right. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, it was not a call for regime change immediately, except for a few isolated pockets. It was a call for political reform and economic reform.
The regimes in the region are getting more and more scared as the calls for reform and change grow. Egypt may have been relatively peaceful, barring the thuggery of the goons that Mubarak sent out, but I wonder how long that will remain the case. As the repression gets more and more violent, how long until the the protesters respond in kind? And, honestly, could you even blame them for doing so?

Nicholas Kristof brings up an important point, too: Bahrain is a critical American client state. It isn't just an ally that protects Israel's southern flank—it is the home of the Fifth Fleet. But as Kristof says, "If we favor “people power” in Iran, we should favor it in Bahrain as well."

It was so much easier back in '89, wasn't it? When it was the other guy's client states falling like dominoes, instead of your own? Good times, good times. Still, it makes me wonder if this is the final, TRUE end of the Cold War. Both sides ended up losing their clients and tributaries—it just took the one an extra 20 years to have it happen. And, like Eastern Europe, I can't help but wonder if the Middle East will ultimately be better off for it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Discussion of PBS Funding From A Man You ALL Should Listen To

Yes, PBS funding is important. But you don't have to listen to me. Listen to this guy:

Mister Rogers' PBS show was one of the most important formative experiences for a generation of children. If not generations of children. He wasn't alone in it, either; PBS is also the home of Sesame Street, for G--s sake. It is an absolutely vital part of American culture.

(Yes, G-d. Mr. Rogers wouldn't like it if someone swore on his behalf.)

House Republicans are planning to cut the funding of PBS and NPR. Entirely. Republican mouthpieces everywhere are defending it by whining about how NPR/PBS "suck on the public teat". No. What they do is exactly what government is SUPPOSED to do: use the public resources they are granted to provide a service to the public. That's exactly what they do, and they do a VERY good job of it—probably better than any of their conglomerated private-sector counterparts.

In fact, that's probably the reason why the Republicans and conservatives are so desperate to shut them down. They're living proof that the idea of well-provisioned public services at the heart of liberalism is TRUE, that it always HAS been true, and it always will be true where there is the will and honesty to serve your country and your fellow man.

That's what Mr. Rogers did, more than anything else. He served his country. He did a fantastic job of it. He was a parent to millions. He was universally recognized as one of the greatest of Americans. So let me be very clear: if you care at all about his work and his legacy, you will make d--ned sure you do everything you can to ensure that these deceptive, destructive ideologues do not have their way. Tell your Congressman and Senator not to betray his legacy. NOW.

He always believed in you. Start justifying it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Obama Focuses on Deficit, and Guess Whose Fault it is?

What was that Atrios line? "And the millions of unemployed cheered themselves hoarse"? Yeah, that. I especially like the part where he eliminates Pell Grants and screws post-secondary students over on interest charges. Now THAT'S "winning the future", Barry!

Wrong time, wrong target. And as Paul Krugman ably demonstrates, one that's only going to piss people off when the thing you cut is something they like. Obama was voted partially to be a president that sets aside Washington's ridiculous GroupThink on issues like deficits, and focus on what's really bothering Americans. Guess that just doesn't happen.

But, hey, it isn't just his fault. It's also yours. Remember: you voted for this. You voted in a whole lotta Republicans who were wailing about budget deficits. You didn't just toss out those "blue-dog" idiots, either, which would be understandable and excusable; you also threw out Democrats like Howard Feingold and Alan Grayson who were solid on the issues and knew what they were talking about.

You chose a Republican House that will do its best to drag the country into the abyss and told the president that he should follow their lead. You chose to have your government focus on deficits by fucking the poor and jobless. That's what the Republicans were selling, and you bought it.

There were an awful lot of "experts" telling you that it was necessary, of course. The media's owned by the very corps whose execs and owners benefit so handsomely from the total wealth transfer to the richest 1% that's going on in America. It would make sense that they'd bring in the very finest expert opinion money can buy. But you DO still have options, especially in this day and age.

Ah well, you've got two years to suffer, and then maybe you can throw THESE bums out too. Assuming you aren't too distracted by Snooki and The Situation to pay attention. I can only hope.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Algeria: "Running Street Battles"

Algeria's Internet has been shut down, Egyptian-style. But that clearly hasn't stopped them from following the Tunisian and Egyptian lead:

Plastic bullets and tear gas were used to try and disperse large crowds in major cities and towns, with 30,000 riot police taking to the streets in Algiers alone.

There were also reports of journalists being targeted by state-sponsored thugs to stop reports of the disturbances being broadcast to the outside world.
But it was the government attack on the internet which was of particular significance to those calling for an end to President Abdelaziz Boutifleka's repressive regime.

Protesters mobilising through the internet were largely credited with bringing about revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

"Security forces are armed to the teeth out on the street, and they're also doing everything to crush our uprising on the internet. Journalists, and especially those with cameras, are being taken away by the police." President Hosni Mubarak had tried to shut down internet service providers during 18 days of protest before stepping down as Egyptian leader on Friday.

Mostafa Boshashi, head of the Algerian League for Human Rights, said: "Algerians want their voices to be heard too. They want democratic change.

"At the moment people are being prevented from travelling to demonstrations. The entrances to cities like Algeria have been blocked."

At least five people were killed in similar protests in Algeria in January, when the Interior Ministry said 1000 people were arrested.

On Saturday at least 500 had been arrested by early evening in Algiers alone, with hundreds more in Annaba, Constantine and Oran taking part in the so-called February 12 Revolution.

"The police station cells are overflowing," said Sofiane Hamidouche, a demonstrator in Annaba.

"There are running battles taking place all over the city. It's chaos. As night falls the situation will get worse."
These are astonishing times. I don't know if the "running battles" in Algeria will hand the state the excuse for repression that it couldn't find in Egypt. Different countries require different tactics and strategies. But after Tunisia and Egypt, Algeria's Powers-That-Be must be sweating. If there's a way of stopping this tsunami of demands for freedom, nobody has yet found it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Egyptian Army Refused Orders to Fire

Heard it around, confirmed by Robert Fisk:

Last night, a military officer guarding the tens of thousands celebrating in Cairo threw down his rifle and joined the demonstrators, yet another sign of the ordinary Egyptian soldier's growing sympathy for the democracy demonstrators. We had witnessed many similar sentiments from the army over the past two weeks. But the critical moment came on the evening of 30 January when, it is now clear, Mubarak ordered the Egyptian Third Army to crush the demonstrators in Tahrir Square with their tanks after flying F-16 fighter bombers at low level over the protesters.

Many of the senior tank commanders could be seen tearing off their headsets – over which they had received the fatal orders – to use their mobile phones. They were, it now transpires, calling their own military families for advice. Fathers who had spent their lives serving the Egyptian army told their sons to disobey, that they must never kill their own people.
I said it before. I'll say it again. These men were and are heroes. It was their decision to act like human beings, instead of deadly automatons, that prevented another Tiananmen Square from happening. That this is almost certainly common knowledge in Egypt might help explain why the people are rallying around the Army, instead of rallying against it.

Fisk's right about the West's issue, too:

The events of the past 12 hours have not, alas, been a victory for the West. American and European leaders who rejoiced at the fall of communist dictatorships have sat glumly regarding the extraordinary and wildly hopeful events in Cairo – a victory of morality over corruption and cruelty – with the same enthusiasm as many East European dictators watched the fall of their Warsaw Pact nations. Calls for stability and an "orderly" transition of power were, in fact, appeals for Mubarak to stay in power – as he is still trying to do – rather than a ringing endorsement of the demands of the overwhelming pro-democracy movement that should have struck him down.
The people of Egypt will, I suspect, remember quite well who their friends were in this struggle. They'll also never forget who hemmed and hawed due to their preference for tractable, predictable tyrants in the developing world. Nor should they.

Realists, Neo-Conservatives and Egypt

One under-appreciated but useful aspect of Egypt's revolution is that it is a direct repudiation of both the realists AND the neoconservatives. The realists never thought that anything like this could ever happen. Sure, they're preaching "military coup" now, and the military has a big role to play in the short-term, but there's really nothing in realist doctrine and theory that acceptably explains all this, and not a realist in the world that had predicted it.

It's even worse for the neocons, though. Their argument was that only violent, foreign-backed uprisings and takeovers could bring any freedom to the middle east. That was the whole point of the Iraq adventure, of their coddling of Iranian terrorists, of their advocacy of sanctions against states that they didn't like, and of their attitude towards the Middle East in general. They were completely wrong. It was non-violent, it was Arab-led, and it had NOTHING to do with outside pressure. (Far from being a target of sanctions, Egypt was a favored client of the West. )

In fact, if anything, it was more about outside support than about outside pressure; while this wasn't a "twitter revolution" or anything like that, there's no doubt that the people of Egypt drew strength and hope from the outpouring of support that they received around the world. If we as outsiders want people to "throw off their chains", we shouldn't try to force them into it, we should encourage them. Make it positive, not negative.

(The lessons for handling the Israel-Palestinian conflict are left as an exercise for the reader.)

If there's any theory in IR or political science that holds sway here, it's good ol' fashioned liberalism, the kind that realists since Morganthau have always sneered at as "idealism". The Tunisian and Egyptian people wanted to be free of their dictators, and used their passion and determination to do it. That is the finest example of liberal doctrine and liberal tradition as we've ever seen, in countries that were thought to be so thoroughly illiberal as to be unrecognizable.

This isn't just a new day for Egypt. It's a new day for how we understand the world and our place within it.

And So Much for Mubarak

AJE says that he's done. He just resigned.

Next step: Suleiman.

Edit: It happened without violence, too. That was almost certainly key: the military clearly couldn't be coaxed into attacking non-violent protesters. (I'd heard rumors that the order had actually come down, but the soldiers on the ground flatly refused. If true, it's amazing, and those men are heroes.) Mubarak was left powerless; the security forces just didn't have the power to enforce his rule, the army was unwilling, and the chaos strategy that I'd been so concerned about just didn't do the job either. I'd said that the only way the Chaos Strategy could work is if it managed to stop the Egyptian protesters from gathering momentum. It didn't. The thugs were repelled, and really wouldn't have worked again. Once the Wael Ghonim interview came out, it was all over.

That said, I'm very, very concerned about the army taking over, and about the comments being made questioning whether Egyptian democracy will be recognized as legitimate if the Muslim Brotherhood plays a role in the government. (As it almost certainly will.)

This is NOT over. Not by a long shot.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Well, THAT Didn't Go Over Well

Mubarak says "I might transfer power, but I'm going nowhere". Crowd is...displeased...by the news.

The shouts on Al Jazeera are deafening, and the crowd is beyond angry, shouting "he shall leave" in unison. I would be too. He sounded patronizing, out-of-touch, and more than a little delusional about his situation and about his people's attitude towards him. He tried to blame "outside forces", but his own countrymen are screaming for him to leave. He demonstrated exactly why no longer deserves the power he wields...if he ever really did in the first place.

Tomorrow will not be a peaceful Friday.

So Long, Hosni?

Looks like there's going to be an imminent transfer of power away from Mubarak to the Vice President and/or the army. Considering everybody and his dog has been predicting it, no big surprise; what will be surprising is if it's enough.

(Though, on AJE, they're saying that he might transfer it to the leader of Parliament in anticipation of elections in 60 days. He has that power under the Egyptian constitution. Nobody seems to know whether that's likely, though.)

Tea Partiers Buck Republicans to Kill Patriot Act

Er...I don't think anybody was expecting THIS.

A measure to extend key provisions of the Patriot Act counterterrorism surveillance law through December failed the House Tuesday night, with more than two-dozen Republicans bucking their party to oppose the measure.

The House measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and required a two-thirds majority for passage, failed on a 277-to-148 vote. Twenty-six Republicans voted with 122 Democrats to oppose the measure, while 67 Democrats voted with 210 Republicans to back it. Ten members did not vote.

The measure would have extended three key provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire on Monday, Feb. 28, unless Congress moves to reauthorize them. One of the provisions authorizes the FBI to continue using roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; the second allows the government to access "any tangible items," such as library records, in the course of surveillance; and the third is a "lone wolf" provision of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act that allows for the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

The vote came as several tea party-aligned members of the new freshman class had been expressing doubts about the measure.
Not that I have any more respect or admiration for the teabaggers. They're still a blight on the country. But it is interesting to see that they can and do buck some of the Republicans' default positions. Should make the next two years more fun.

Edit: Okay, true, most of the teabaggers voted for it. And it'll be coming up again as a regular vote, so it'll likely pass.

Still, for the Republican party, even a minor rebellion like this is somewhat of a big deal.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Andrew Coyne is What Happens When You Unleash a Republican-Style Troll on Canadians

He spouts unbelievable torrents of absolute liquid BS, but everybody's too nice to call him out on it.

Case in point: The last page of the article where he's advocating toll roads. (He has also advocated privatizing public transit, but never mind that.) He makes a whole load of absolutely unsupported and likely unsupportable conclusions. Let's go down the list:

1)Nobody cares about privacy because people use phones;
2)Poor people don't have cars in the first place;
3)Tax Credits would be a fine solution for people who can't afford to get to work TODAY;
4)Toll roads would make public transit pay for itself;
5)Transit Vehicles "speed up when tolls are imposed" (Subway riders would be amused by this, but Coyne also despises rail and believes all should ride buses);
6)This howler:

If getting more people to use transit is your aim, moreover, subsidies are the last thing you should want. The biggest factor in people’s decision whether to use transit is not the fares, but rather the speed, comfort and convenience relative to other options: that is, the passenger experience. And the surest means of forcing transit operators to pay more attention to the passenger experience is if their livelihoods depend on it. The greater the share of revenues paid for by passengers themselves, the more operators are likely to be lying awake at night thinking up ways to put bums in the seats; subsidies simply insulate them from that concern.
Now, this may be true. It may not be. But we certainly have no REASON to think any of it is true. Even if the transit operator were privatized, most sane people know that relatively few natural monopolists (which is what transit is) "lay awake at night thinking up ways to put bums in seats"; for those that do, why should they stop simply because they receive subsidies? Coyne's industry receives massive subsidies—does that mean that he doesn't give a tinker's damn about the circulation of his little rag?

(Do YOU not give a damn about the cost of mass transit when and if you use it?)

That is, I think, one of the enduring differences between the Canadian and American online media scene. While there is a lot wrong with the American blogosphere, I can be reasonably confident that someone like Coyne would be constantly assailed by people who are carving him up and serving his chunks as object lessons in what you cannot get away with in 2011. But, instead, this guy has a sinecure on Canadian public television, for God's sake, where he does little more than act the token conservative who gets all angry that the government isn't right-wing enough.

Even Kady O'Malley, someone whom I respect quite a bit, gets all chummy with him on Twitter, exhorting people to follow the old hack as if he needs any MORE of an audience. Collegiality should have its limits.

As much as I'm not terribly fond of how the Huffington Post's owners have become fabulously wealthy off of the backs of unpaid labor, at least you could rest assured that somebody at Huffpo would tear this guy up. In the UK, they'd probably tear his heart out and show it to him. But in the True North? Not so much. Unfortunate.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Holy Hell, Al Jazeera Offices in Cairo DESTROYED

ABC News

Al Jazeera's office in Cairo was stormed and burned today, the most dramatic evidence yet that Egyptian authorities are desperate to shut down the network widely praised for revealing the size and reach of the demonstrations.

Over the last week nine of the network's reporters have been detained and satellite providers across the region have shut its signal off.

The assault on Al Jazeera is part of an offensive against the foreign press by those in Cairo upset by the portrayal of the rock and fire bomb battles. More than 100 reporters, including those from ABC News, have menaced, threatened with death and beaten in the streets.

Much of the anger by the supporters of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has been aimed at Al Jazeera.

That authorities have targeted reporters for Al Jazeera English – as well as those for Al Jazeera Arabic -- shows how the younger, more analytical of the two channels has come echo the Arabic channel's ability to get under the skin of autocratic, unpopular regimes.

For almost five years, Al Jazeera English has followed a single motto: "Giving voice to the voiceless." Despite the attempts to silence it, the network's coverage of the revolts seem to be ensuring that its own voice is only getting louder.

Al Jazeera English has its detractors, but its coverage of Egypt has been lauded by most independent critics as aggressive, informative and more extensive than its competitors. Its increasing influence has earned the ire less of the United States -- often called its most obvious target, but which this week defended its right to report freely -- than of the governments of the region. Today at least four governments in the Arab world have banned the channel from operating, none more obviously than the Egyptians in the last two weeks.
Remember how I was talking about "desperation moves"? Yeah. That.

Ban-Ki Ain't Happy

And why would he be? Using hired thugs to attack pro-democracy protesters is terrible and cause for condemnation alone...but using said thugs to intimidate and attack journalists and calling them "Israeli spies" is beyond the pale. Makes sense that he'd condemn it.

Something's Up in Tahrir

Well, besides surprisingly peaceful (even joyous protests) that is.

There's a lot of chatter about how "something" is happening in the Square. People are cheering for some reason.

Edit: Apparently they thought Mubarak had acquiesced and stepped down. Not so much. Still, the protests appear to no longer be battles between pro- and anti-mubarak supporters. Supposedly the army is working to reduce the violence.

Odd, that. The chaos strategy was working. You'd think the military would continue standing by. Might reflect the divisions within the military. (And I've heard there are MANY.)

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Egyptian Gov't Calling Western Journalists "Israeli Spies"

So, uh, Bibi? How's that "hey, at least the Egyptian dictators are pro-Israel" thing working out for you?

In any case, this is disgusting.

The conventional wisdom goes, when it’s too dangerous to film on the streets, you can always do an interview with someone inside a building.

Not in Alexandria you can’t. Not today.

We had arranged to interview a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood in his apartment, but the neighbours – sitting by the door on the street, snarled like guard dogs when we arrived. They didn’t want foreigners inside their building, they said, and saw us off.

We retreated down the street to our car. A group of young men approached, armed with baseball bats, sticks and machetes. They were the neighbourhood Popular Committee.

For the past few days, these groups have been smiling and friendly to us but this lot started shouting and banging on the roof of our car. They demanded to see our passports.

I think I know why. Last night and today, Egyptian state TV had been broadcasting of Israeli spies disguised as western journalists roaming the country.

It’s a wicked rumour to spread because it puts any westerner – or any Egyptian working with westerners – at risk of a beating or worse. It’s cynical to say the least.

This government did a deal with Israel, but it still stirs up anti-Zionist feelings when it suits and that’s one reason so many journalists have been attacked in Cairo today.
I guess rank anti-Semitism is okay after all, just as long as being stirred up by people who suit your state's interests. Good to know.

Nationalist Element of Chaos Strategy

I should have pointed out that part of all this is, as always, to blame "outside influences" for what's going on. That's what Suleiman is up to. Though he can't seem to decide between blaming Americans or terrists or both. That won't help him much.

Targeted Foreign Journalists and the Chaos Strategy

Foreign journalists are being targeted in Egypt, says the Guardian liveblog. It also talks about how a police van drove through pro-democracy protesters at speed, and confirmed that the Mubarak thugs had police IDs.

The game is becoming clear, as I noted earlier. Build up a perception of chaos not only in the Egyptian public, but among foreign journalists. Scare them into leaving or intimidate them into following the party line about how the "transition" will be enough. (It won't.)  Force the protesters into arming themselves in order to protect themselves against the "pro-Mubarak" hired goons, and then use that as an excuse to forcibly evacuate the square and suppress the protests.  Without the visible protests, people will start to assume that everything's over. Soon enough, it will be; Mubarak may leave, but his regime will stand.

This whole thing is built on momentum. The reason why the uprising has been so successful is because the crowds never stopped growing. Send the riot police or don't, it didn't matter: there was going to be more, and more, and more people no matter what you did. And since they were non-violent, they couldn't be effectively repressed without inviting the rage of both the country and the world. The cops couldn't do it, the military wouldn't do it, and it had showed no sign of stopping.

That's why he's "resigning" in order to protect his regime. That's why he had to play Mr. Dress-up with the security goons. That's why he's trying to scare the shit out of foreign journalists. He's using them to try to break up the momentum. He's banking on people saying "well, he IS leaving, and in the meantime we need order in Egypt", forgetting that the important part isn't removing the dictator, it's ending the dictatorship. It's a desperation play, and it is going to ruin any shred of credibility the regime has. But sometimes desperation plays work.

The worst part, though, is that if it DOES work, it could stop this wave of democratization in its tracks. Hell, it could stop democratization, period. Every dictator on the planet will watch this and think "aha, THAT is how you stop a non-violent uprising". They'll learn their lessons, and this "chaos strategy" will become ubiquitous. If the people rise up? Rest assured, the goons will be along shortly. Tunisia's dictators just had the misfortune of not knowing about this trick a month ago.

But if non-violent uprisings are neutered, what's left? We already know that neo-liberal pro-market reforms do two things to promote democracy: Jack and Shit. Just ask the Chinese. We also know that neo-conservative imposed democracies don't work, either; the imperial power seems to inevitably and comically screw it up, as we saw in Iraq.  Al Qaeda's pathetic inability to effect any useful change whatsoever shows that using terrorism doesn't do a damned bit of good, even if it wasn't monstrous.

So is armed insurrection all that's left?  Is that the only way that anybody will be able to remove an autocracy post-Egypt?


But it's going to be a depressing-as-hell world to live in if it's true.

Edit: And, yes, I'm sure they're also rooting the journalists out of Tahrir because they want to give the thugs a freer hand.  But I suspect that scaring the shit out of those journalists is just as important.

Healthcare Repeal Shot Down in Senate

Less important, of course, but it's still something notable, if only to show how the Republican house is willing to waste everybody's time tilting at windmills.

Has "Democracy Lost" in Egypt? Foreign Policy Sez "Yep"...Edit: AJ Sez "Not So Fast"

I'll grant that this analysis from Robert Springbord is superficially convincing. He argues that the democratic forces in Egypt have lost their opportunity, since Mubarak has (supposedly) turned the conflict in Egypt into one between pro- and anti-regime groups, instead of a clear-cut battle between the dictator and the people.   He's banking on people's desire for order to sap the will from the protesters, and notes that military has retained its legitimacy.

Again, superficially convincing. And yet I don't buy it. Why?

Because everybody knows that Mubarak is behind the thugs. It' s not a he said/she said sort of situation. It's not really debatable or questionable. The pro-Mubarak thugs are a mixture of plainclothes security forces, hired goons, and some poor bastards who work for various state enterprises that were forced to join or face termination. They are absolutely and universally recognized as such. So the situation hasn't really changed; it's still a battle between the security forces and the people. The only change is that the security guys took off their riot gear and grabbed machetes and rocks.

Springbord's right about the strengthened hand of the military. But that was never really in doubt. Civilians were never going to seize power from the military. The question was always whether or not the military as a whole were going to back Mubarak et al, and that question is still up in the air. The Egyptians don't seem to be terribly satisfied with the thought of Suleiman taking over, either, so it's not like having Mubarak act as a sacrificial lamb will help much. The military still faces the prospect of having to fire on Egyptians; something they are clearly unwilling to do.

The real problem, though, is that Springbord doesn't seem to really lay out how democracy could have won. Was he expecting a full-on armed revolution? Was he somehow not expecting Mubarak to stir up black-ops chaos, when every dictator under threat does that, including good ol' Saddam? Would he have handled things differently, or is Springbord just saying that popular, non-violent protest is useless? And if so, why has it worked in the past?

He may be right. The thuggery yesterday may herald the end of this popular uprising. But I don't buy it. Not yet. Not when the "experts" never came close to predicting any of this in the first place.

Edit: Oh, but look what was on the AJ liveblog:

The pro-Mubarak crowd suddenly retreated, and the pro-democracy protesters advanced a moveable wall of metal shields to a new front line much further up. A side battle erupted down a street behind the pro-Mubarak lines, with rock throwing and molotov cocktails. An armored personnel carrier opened fire into the air, shooting red tracers up over Cairo, in an apparent effort to disperse/frighten the pro-Mubarak crowd, who contracted again. The pro-democracy protesters are now advancing their line of staggered metal shields farther and farther and seem to have gained decisive momentum.
Looks like at least some of the military guys aren't too thrilled with Mubarak's goons. Though, ominously, it looks like more goons are on the way.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Kristof on Mubarak's Thugs

The pro-democracy protesters are unarmed and have been peaceful at every step. But the pro-Mubarak thugs are arriving in buses and are armed — and they’re using their weapons.

In my area of Tahrir, the thugs were armed with machetes, straight razors, clubs and stones. And they all had the same chants, the same slogans and the same hostility to journalists. They clearly had been organized and briefed. So the idea that this is some spontaneous outpouring of pro-Mubarak supporters, both in Cairo and in Alexandria, who happen to end up clashing with other side — that is preposterous. It’s difficult to know what is happening, and I’m only one observer, but to me these seem to be organized thugs sent in to crack heads, chase out journalists, intimidate the pro-democracy forces and perhaps create a pretext for an even harsher crackdown.

I have no idea whether this tactic will work. But the idea that President Mubarak should make the case that he is necessary for Egypt’s stability by unleashing violence and chaos on his nation’s youth — it’s a sad and shameful end to his career. And I hope that the international community will firmly denounce this kind of brutality apparently organized by the government.
I've differed with Kristof on a lot of things, but not this.

Scary Thought

Watching AJE, I'm getting a sort of Sabra and Shatila feeling from this situation. The military isn't intervening and the police aren't either...well, those that aren't plainclothin' it as the "pro-Mubarak" crowd.

Will the military continue to stand aside if the "pro-Mubarak" people get really murderous?

China Mieville on Egypt

The pig of empire is sometimes enlipsticked, a few decorous phrases thrown in: freedom; concern; restraint; &c. These codes are so well-worn, so universally understood, as to make their decipherment a simple, if bleakly amusing, task.   
Often, however - increasingly - no make-up is applied. Thus, breathtakingly, this.
  • ‘Where it’s best to end up is in free elections at a certain point in time, but in the mean time to get a managed process of change …’ 
  • ‘I totally understand that [that Egyptians want Mubarak gone now], but you asked me what’s the best thing for Egypt and for this region …’
  • ‘I don’t think that Western governments should be the slightest bit embarrassed about saying we’ve worked very closely with president Mubarak …’
  • ‘You have to say, he has been a staunch and often courageous advocate for peace …’
  • ‘The important thing now is that we allow this process to happen in an orderly and not chaotic way …’
There is no embarrassment at opposing democracy in favour of imperial control. No blushes at, even now, encomia to the dictator. Nothing inadvertent nor shameful about the verbs ‘manage’ & ‘allow’ to describe ‘the West”s mission, faced with liberation. Indeed, shame is explicitly abjured.

Here is no great & terrible Oz to deflect attention. No smoke, no mirrors. No bread, no circuses. No dissembling, no lullabies, no kiss on the cheek, no taxi fare home. There is no wriggling. The man in the suit tells the heroines & heroes & martyrs of Egypt quite clearly that their lives, their revolution, their emancipation belong to him & his colleagues, to dole out as, & when, & if, they see fit.
Bolding's mine. What else could I possibly add to this?

Mubarak's Thugs Tuned Up Anderson Cooper

No, really.

CNN's Anderson Cooper said Wednesday that he and his crew were violently attacked by pro-Mubarak forces as they tried to make their way through the streets of Cairo.
"Anderson Cooper punched 10 times in the head as pro-Mubarak mob surrounds him and his crew at Cairo rally," Maan News Agency's George Hale tweeted.

Cooper described his ordeal on CNN's American Morning.

"I just tried to make my way to Liberation Square and got as far as the Egyptian Museum and with my team: Marion Fox, my producer and Neil, my cameraman," he began.

"One man grabbed Neil's camera and started screaming, 'no, no,' trying to take the camera from him. We intervened peacefully, and literally that was the switch that ignited the crowd, and they just set upon us, punching us, kicking us," Cooper continued.

"We had, I mean, literally a mob of people surround us just, you know, I got punched in the head probably a good ten times or so, and we literally ended up being turned around by the crowd, and we had tried to walk because we didn't want to run because if we started to run, the crowd would, you know, sense fear and attack us even more," he said.
 Wonder if this will compel CNN to actually take sides on this?

Conservatives Hate Democracy

Yes, yes they do. Don't try to deny it. Even if the protest movement in Egypt collapses and the Mubarak regime survives, that lesson will remain with us forever. They've been confronted with a broad-scale democratic uprising, and their reaction has been to universally condemn it. Not because of principles, either. No, it's been motivated solely by an unholy mix of realpolitik and good-ol-fashioned Islamophobia.

Remember this whenever these bastards babble about "freedom", or "liberty". Remember that when confronted with a nation crying out for freedom, liberty and democracy... they turned their backs.

Attacks on Protesters by Pro-Mubarak Thugs

Guardian liveblog here.

Desperation play. This is going to seriously, seriously damage any attempts to rehabilitate the regime. It worked in Iran because of the theocratic pseudo-legitimacy of the regime and the patina of democracy that caused otherwise-reasonable people to presume that the (obviously rigged) 2009 election was legit. There's no such source of legitimacy in Egypt.

And, yes, these are obviously paid-off thugs and security forces.