Regime Confusion

Eruption on the Nile/Confusion on the Potomac

by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis Recently by Eric Margolis: The Mideast Burns

"Get out, now!" President Barack Obama ordered Egypt's embattled dictator, Husni Mubarak, reminding us of Henry Kissinger's famous quip that it's often more dangerous being America's ally than its enemy.

But after some confusion and foot-stamping by Israel, a clearly confused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed it would be good to keep Mubarak in power, at least for a while. LaClinton wants Egypt's chief torturer, and America's current favorite Torquemada, Gen. Omar Suleiman, to rule Egypt and defend the status quo.

So who, one asks, was in charge of US Mideast policy? Even the Israelis, who are never slow to tell Washington what to think, were deeply confused.

The US media was no less confounded. The New York Times piously published exposs about corruption and torture under Mubarak, raising the very good question, why didn't it see these crimes for the past 40 years? It used to hail America's two favorite Egyptian dictators, Sadat and Mubarak, "statesmen" and "reformers." But one has yet to see the slightest sign of shame that our media has so long and so falsely reported on the Mideast.

Meanwhile, a small army of instant media "experts" on Egypt have been muddying the waters with their ill-informed opinions, crackpot notions, and not so subtle warnings about "Muslims."

President Barack Obama reportedly scourged CIA for not predicting the revolt on the Nile. Maybe CIA did, but no one in the White House was listening.

An impending explosion in Egypt was obvious to old Mideast hands like myself. Last 26 April, I wrote a column, "Eruption on the Nile," predicting Mubarak's rule would soon end and that the US had already selected intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman as his successor. CIA could save a lot of time, money and error by simply reading each week.

It has been particularly amusing to watch America's rightwing commentators trying to talk their way around Egypt's intifada. All the neocon samurai who demanded President Barack Obama send in the Marines to support Iran's antigovernment protests have fallen silent as they watch Egyptians demand an end to 40-years of US-backed dictatorship, torture and corruption.

The Order of the Nile, First Class with Oak Clusters, for rightwing loopiness goes to the deeply confused Glenn Beck who raved about a Communist-Muslim Brotherhood plot backed by the evil Chinese and American liberals to impose an Islamic Caliphate on Egypt. He must have been drinking green Koolaid from barmy televangelist Rev. John Hagee who warns us that a Muslim lurks under every mattress.

We now await the illumination of Sarah Palin explaining to us the subtler nuances of Egypt's revolution.

America's 1950's red hysteria has been transmuted in 2011 into galloping Islamophobia. Israel's partisans poured oil on the fires by thundering about the supposed dangers of the stodgy, sclerotic Muslim Brotherhood and demanded the US shore up President Husni Mubarak, Israel's most important Mideast ally. Israel never misses a chance to proclaim itself the Mideast's only democracy, yet won't abide the birth of real democracy next door in Egypt.

The explosions in Tunisia and Egypt has led President Barack Obama to suffer his second humiliation in a row from the Mideast. First, he demanded Israel cease building illegal settlements on Arab land. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, backed by the US Congress, sneered in Obama's face and kept on building.

While unsure which way to move for the time being, Washington is hoping that General and now Vice President Suleiman will assume full leadership of Egypt with the backing of yes-man defense minister Mohammed Tantawi, chief of staff Sami Enan, and prime minister Ahmed Shafik, a general. While the US and Israel clearly want this outcome, most Egyptians just as clearly do not.

Gen. Suleiman ran Egypt's notoriously brutal secret police for a decade. He organized the torture of alleged terrorism suspects sent by the US to Egypt and suspected opponents of Mubarak's dictatorship. How ironic it is to see Sudan's leader, Gen. Omar Bashir, charged with crimes against humanity while Egypt's chief torturer is lauded in North America.

Now that the initial shock over Egypt's uprising has subsided, powerful special interests here in the United States are preparing to throw their support behind VP Suleiman, or even the continuation of President Mubarak's rule.

The Israel lobby and neoconservatives are trumpeting exaggerated fears that Egypt is about to turn into a second Iran. Behind these wild claims is the real concern that the phony "peace" engineered by the US between Egypt and Israel will be rejected by Egyptians, who regard it as treason and betrayal of the Palestinian cause. The cynical Egypt-Israel peace deal allowed Israel to first invade Lebanon, then refuse to allow creation of a viable Palestinian state.

In the Arab world, honor still plays a very important role. Most Egyptians favor peace with Israel, but they feel deeply dishonored and humiliated by the one-sided peace deal imposed by the US, and Egypt's betrayal and persecution of the Palestinian people, and the abject servility of their leaders to US demands.

The US military-industrial complex, which sells Egypt $1.5 billion worth of arms each year – money that comes from US aid – worries that a popular, democratic Egyptian government will divert military spending into urgent social needs. America's powerful farm lobby frets that tens of millions of US wheat sales to Egypt, again paid for by US aid, may be jeopardized.

Finally, members of the national security complex in Washington and New York are very worried that its most important Mideast ally may be on the way out. If Egypt's current US-backed and financed regime goes, America's entire security architecture for the Mideast will be in peril. Also throw Pakistan into the equation as most Pakistanis are watching events in Egypt and other Arab autocratic states with avid interest and envy.

Overlooked so far in the reporting over the crisis in Egypt is the fact that no matter how much Egyptians would like to loosen pervasive American influence over their nation, Egypt remains dependent on the US for food, as do many other Arab nations.

For the past forty years, US foreign aid programs have provided at least half or more of Egypt's grain imports. Egypt's limited fertile land cannot feed its growing population of 84 million. So Egypt must import grain to provide its people subsidized bread. The US supplied Egypt, the world's leading grain importer, with some 3 million tons last year.

Since Egypt cannot pay for these imports, it must rely on aid authorized each year by the US Congress. But Congress is under the influence of the Israel lobby. If Cairo angers the US or Israel, it always faces the threat of a cutoff of essential food aid as well as spare parts and munitions for its 500,000-man military.

These considerations will weigh heavily on any new government in Cairo. Everyone remembers Egypt's violent food riots during the 1970's. In a sense, Egypt is linked to America by golden handcuffs – unless it can find a new food benefactor in Russia, the European Union or China.

Back in the late 1960's, Egypt's then leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, wanted to break his nation's growing dependence on the Soviet Union. He was stopped from doing so by anguished pleas from his defense minister, Marshall Amer: "spare parts, Gamal, spare parts! We can't live without Soviet spare parts."

Sixty years later, even though Egyptians are revolting against dictatorship, their basic problems remain the same.

Sixty years later the United States, to its deep shame, is still supporting ugly dictators and keeping foreign nations in thrall. It took the suicide by fire of a Tunisian fruit seller to make us see that our empire has no clothes.