End U.S. support for Egypt’s dictatorship

February 4, 2011

Nicole Colson and Alan Maass report on how Hosni Mubarak has been able to rely on support from the U.S. government to maintain his iron grip on power.

MASSIVE DEMONSTRATIONS--possibly the largest yet--are expected in Egypt Friday as dictator Hosni Mubarak clings to power. But if Mubarak can still call himself "president" as you read this, it is thanks in large part to the U.S. government.

U.S. officials reacted with harsh criticism to two days of violence by Mubarak supporters on Wednesday and Thursday--centrally directed violence by all accounts, with a special focus on journalists and political and human rights activists--and several newspapers were reporting that the Obama administration was now lobbying for Mubarak to step down immediately.

But U.S. action and inaction in the past days and weeks--not to mention the three decades in which Egypt has been the second-biggest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel--speak louder than those words. That support has enabled Mubarak to defy the wishes of Egyptians for many years.

Mubarak's arrogance was on full display in a February 3 interview with ABC News' Christiane Amanpour, where the dictator reportedly stated that he would like to leave office now, but can't--because the country would "sink into chaos."

Barack Obama meets with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak in Cairo
Barack Obama meets with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak in Cairo

Anyone who saw the images from Cairo's Tahrir Square over the past two days--images of secret police and pro-Mubarak thugs unleashing savage violence on democracy protesters, in some cases women and children--will know exactly who is responsible for the "chaos."

But in the "world's greatest democracy," President Barack Obama avoided the opportunity to put the U.S. government on the side of the Egyptian demonstrators fighting for democracy. Appearing at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on February 3, Obama said only that the U.S. was "mindful of the violence" in Egypt, and that he was praying it "will end."

If Obama truly cared about the violence ending, there's something he could do right now--announce that his administration was immediately cutting off the estimated $2 billion in yearly U.S. aid sent to the Mubarak regime.

Nevertheless, pressure is building on Obama and the U.S., not only because of the violence against peaceful Egyptian demonstrators, but the regime's purposeful targeting of journalists and other foreigners.

Mubarak supporters have been whipped up by the claim that the protests are being manipulated by foreign enemies of Egypt--and so reporters from international news organizations are fair game. Several U.S. and European journalists were attacked, but security forces have been especially focused on Al Jazeera, the Arab network that has provided the most systematic coverage of Egypt's ongoing uprising.

The violence of the thugs described for SocialistWorker.org by Ahmed Shawki continued to take a toll on Thursday--attacks on the occupation of Tahrir Square at the heart of Cairo killed as many as a dozen people and injured hundreds more.

But anti-Mubarak demonstrators have responded with a heroic defense. Al Jazeera and other news outlets documented the protesters' efforts to drive the thugs away--in particular, off bridges that gave them a strategic advantage in their assaults. The defense of Tahrir against those bent on violence and brutality is one more inspiring aspect of a revolt that has rocked Egypt to its core.

Now, all eyes are on the streets for the Friday demonstrations. According to Shawki, organizers are hoping for a turnout that may equal last Tuesday's, when an estimated 6 million to 8 million people came out to protest in cities and towns around the country.

SINCE THE Egyptian uprising began, U.S. officials have attempted to walk a fine line: claiming to support those fighting for democracy, while never abandoning Mubarak, who is a longstanding regional ally and guarantor of U.S. interests in the Middle East.

The U.S. has an enormous investment in the Mubarak regime. Last year, it sent an estimated $1.55 billion of aid to the country, down from a high of $2.1 billion in 1998.

The U.S. Agency for International Development proudly states on its Web site that "over three decades, the United States has helped to improve the quality of life of all Egyptians through programs supporting economic development and regional stability. USAID assistance has totaled $28.6 billion since 1975."

But Egyptian protesters know what U.S. funds to support "stability" have really gone for--purchasing the tear gas, tanks and bullets being used against them. Among the most powerful symbols of the uprising are the tear gas canisters fired into crowds by security forces, with "Made in the USA" stamped on them.

And tear gas is just the start. The military contractors that feed at the Pentagon trough count Mubarak as one of their best customers. Number one on the list is Lockheed Martin, which won a $213 million contract to sell Egypt 20 F-16 fighter jets.

Little wonder, then, that the Obama administration was slow to criticize the Mubarak regime. After the first days of demonstrations at the end of January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mainly emphasized the need for an "orderly" and "peaceful" transition--translation: one that would allow the U.S. time to size up potential successors to Mubarak.

On January 30, when CNN's Candy Crowley asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton whether the administration was on the side of Mubarak or the protesters, Clinton claimed she was for a "third choice," the "Egyptian people." As if the millions of Egyptians taking part in pro-democracy protests didn't count as "Egyptians."

Clinton added, "We are on the side, as we have been for more 30 years, of a democratic Egypt that provides both political and economic rights to its people." But Mubarak's Egypt has provided neither--some 40 percent of the population survives on less than $2 a day, and political dissent has been routinely squelched by Mubarak's police state.

As millions of Egyptians demonstrated last Tuesday for Mubarak to get out now, the White House let it leak that Obama had called on Mubarak to not run for reelection in September. Administration officials claim that Obama insisted the transition needs to start immediately, but the Mubarak regime clearly took up the line that this pledge to leave in half a year was good enough, so loyalists should go drive demonstrators off the streets.

As As'ad Abukhalil noted on the Angry Arab News Service blog:

I just read the speech by Obama: it confirmed my suspicion, that basically Mubarak was permitted by the U.S. to do with the Egyptian people as he would like. Every drop of blood that is spilled in Egypt from this day onwards should be blamed on Obama because he has embraced this new strategy of letting Mubarak defy the popular will of the Egyptian people.

Meanwhile, even after all these days of repression and violence, the Pentagon announced on February 3 that it would continue to deliver weapons and other "aid" to Egypt in coming months. "There's a difference between halting the aid and reviewing it," Col. Dave Lapan told Agence France Press.

U.S. support for the Egyptian regime has been a lifeline for decades. Activists in the U.S. who want to show their solidarity with the struggle in Egypt need to raise their voices above all behind the demand: End U.S. support for the Mubarak dictatorship.

WHY HAS the U.S. stuck so long by a dictator who is despised by such a large majority of the Egyptian population?

The Mubarak regime is a critical pillar of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Egypt is the most economically and militarily important country in the Arab world and has played a central part in U.S. imperial strategies--all the more so in recent years when it became more and more a de facto ally of Israel in containing the Palestinian struggle by helping to maintain the siege of Gaza.

Even more frightening to U.S. imperialism is the example set by a successful uprising against Mubarak. Just as the Tunisian revolution against Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was a source of inspiration for the revolt in Egypt, the mass mobilizations in Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities are finding an echo around the Arab world.

In Yemen, to take one example, more than 20,000 people demonstrated Thursday against President Ali Abdullah Saleh--and that's after Saleh promised not to run again in elections scheduled for 2013. The echoes of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt can be heard everywhere--from Saleh's promise that his son wouldn't succeed him as president after more than 30 years in power, to King Abdullah II of Jordan, who this week dismissed his cabinet and appointed a new prime minister, just as Mubarak did a week ago.

The U.S. can't afford a revolution against Mubarak that leads to more revolutions. But it also can't afford to be seen as defending a tyrant if his downfall is inevitable anyway.

That's why Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's loyal intelligence chief and now vice president, is so important for the U.S. The deal that U.S. officials are cooking up would put a "caretaker" government in power under Suleiman and two military officials.

But Suleiman is deeply implicated in the crimes of the Mubarak regime--including the brutal attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators over the past two days, which many activists believe were orchestrated by Suleiman.

On February 3, Suleiman took to Egyptian state television to blame the street protests on a "plot" by unnamed foreign and Egyptian elements. In chilling terms, he warned that further protests would no longer be tolerated, and he ordered opposition groups to accept that Mubarak would remain in control until the next election.

Sounding downright Orwellian, Suleiman stated: "I would say to the youth: We thank you for what you did; you were the spark that ignited reform in this time"--before warning protesters to leave the streets or face reprisals.

Those who have fought the struggles of Egypt's uprising won't be satisfied with someone like Suleiman. Mubarak's downfall, if and when it comes, will be a tremendous victory for the movement, but it will open up a new battle against the regime that takes over for him.

That battle will start at a much higher level, politically and organizationally, because of the struggles of the past 10 days. As Shawki al-Qadi, an opposition lawmaker in Yemen, told the New York Times' Anthony Shadid:

The street is not afraid of governments anymore. It is the opposite. Governments and their security forces are afraid of the people now. The new generation, the generation of the Internet, is fearless. They want their full rights, and they want life, a dignified life.

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