Dateline: Tahrir Square
by Eric Margolis: Turkey
as Confused as We Are by Syria
CAIRO – Standing
at Tahrir Square, ground zero of Egypt’s revolution, is exciting
and intimidating. The explosive anger, pent-up frustrations, and
yearning for revenge of tens of thousands of demonstrators and onlookers
breaks like waves across this vast, unsightly plaza.
This is the
raw material of all revolutions. The whiff of near-toxic riot gas
supplied by the US to Egypt’s security forces still lingers in places.
Off on side
streets, wait large numbers of special black-uniformed security
forces, ready to have another go at the thousands of young demonstrators
thronging the world’s most currently famous square.
So far, at
least 45 demonstrators have been killed and thousands injured by
rubber-coated bullets, riot gas, clubbing or being crushed by security
vehicles. Tens of thousands more have been arrested by the police
who are not known for their gentleness.
But even stronger
than the fear hanging over Tahrir Square is the pulsating thrill
of raw revolution, and the hope it might somehow rid Egypt of decades
of oppression and misrule.
first honest elections were just held. They are supposed to be the
initial step in electing a bicameral parliament that will write
a new constitution. The military leadership, the real power in this
nation of 81 million, now promises to hold presidential elections
military, armed and financed by billions in overt and covert American
annual aid, is as confused as the public about what to do next.
Its old guard,
closely aligned with the US Pentagon and Saudi Arabia, wants to
retain its power and privileges. But most of its officers, and certainly
its rank and file, have no desire to fight the public which esteems
the armed forces for their heroic role in the 1973 War against Israel.
forces, NATO’s second largest, also long ruled from behind a veneer
of politicians. Turkey did not achieve true democracy, rule of law
or an economic boom until its bullying generals were forced back
to its barracks – a process that took a decade of political warfare.
A similar tug of war may occur in Egypt.
The way ahead
is certainly murky. If a parliament is elected, will the military
and its foreign allies allow it any power, or accept its mandates?
Will a president, if elected, exercise true power or be just another
figurehead? Egyptians have to sort out these thorny questions without,
hopefully, resorting to violence.
winner of the current vote was the Freedom and Justice Party, the
political arm of Egypt’s venerable Muslim Brotherhood. Contrary
to misleading views promoted in the West, the Brotherhood is a very
conservative, even timid, movement that advocates Islamic social
justice, not violent revolution. Young Egyptians dismiss it as "your
Runner up in
the vote was the al-Nour party, a hard-line Salafist group advocating
a state under Islamic law. But it is strongly opposed by liberals,
moderates, Christian Copts (10% of the population) and many urban
Brotherhood noR al-Nour is inherently anti-Western. But both, and
most Egyptians, demand their new government cease kow-towing to
Israel because of US pressure, and champion the Palestinian cause.
may not enjoy such independence. The revolution that overthrew Pharaoh
Mubarak has battered Egypt’s economy. Political unrest caused tourism,
which employs 10% of the work force, to drop over 50%, though Egypt
is a much safer place than the US or Britain.
is a vast desert with one river. Almost 97% of Egypt’s 81 million
live on only 4% of its land. As a result, Egypt cannot feed itself.
Half of Egypt’s food comes from the US in the form of wheat aid.
The US Congress, a close ally of Israel, controls the programs funding
Egypt’s food imports. So in this sense, Egypt’s food security, as
well as arms, munitions and spare parts, are heavily influenced
by the US and Israel.
Egypt may not be able to cut the apron strings to its American patrons.
For its part, Washington appears set on so far retaining Egypt’s
current military power structure in spite of lauding Egypt’s struggle
if the US had really wanted true democracy in Egypt, it could have
brought it about thirty years ago.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2011 Eric Margolis
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