Demonizing the rebellion

February 10, 2011

IMPERIALISM ALWAYS relies on the demonization of the oppressed to justify the use of force and repression.

In the unfolding Egyptian revolution and the revolt sweeping Northern Africa and the rest of the Arab world, the imperial West demonizes the struggle itself as "chaos" and raises the "threat" of Islamist regimes taking power where old autocrats fall as a greater evil than the dictatorships themselves.

Of course, all of this hand-wringing has less to do with concern over democracy, theocracy or dictatorship. The biggest concern for the U.S. government is maintaining a "stability" that guarantees its and Israel's military and economic hegemony in the region.

But the heroic Egyptian uprising has destroyed the political status quo while unleashing social forces across the region that put in peril all sense of predictability in the Middle East politics for years to come.

From Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and beyond, the secular demands of the Arab revolt are for jobs, democracy, freedom of political expression and association, freedom of speech, voting rights, an end to crippling poverty and an end to tyrannical autocracies. This confounds Western, and particularly American, attempts to paint this Arab rebellion as anything but courageous and heroic--try as they may.

Caught between their ideological posturing about "American democracy and freedom," the reality of America's historic support for nasty dictators and autocratic regimes in the region, and U.S. aims to dominate the Middle East because of oil, the Arab uprising has created a quandary for American imperialism which creates cracks in its ideological apparatus.

THE LUKEWARM response of both Democrats and Republicans to the heroic and inspiring outpouring of human desire for freedom and justice has been revealing. Despite Barack Obama's delayed, but flowery language expressing support for the "Egyptian people," the U.S. continues to financially support the military and police machinery being used to suppress the revolution.

The administration's dominant attitude is condescension--when it explains to the world why Egypt, the most populous state in the Middle East, needs a "transition" to democracy.

We are warned of the "chaos" of a rapid turn to democratic rule. This, of course, is code for the fear that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood would fill the political vacuum. Most Americans, including those who publish newspapers and populate the U.S. Congress, know nothing about the politics, perspectives, history or composition of the Muslim Brotherhood--but the word "Muslim" alone is enough to be suspicious of the group's motivations.

In the racist and Islamaphobic world view of the U.S. and other Western governments, the potential rise of Islamist politics is a disastrous alternative, apparently, to the poverty and repression that the 30 years of Hosni Mubarak's rule has meant to the mass of Egyptians.

The West's obsession with Islam in Egypt allows it to avoid the real demands of the movement, which of course are a response to the failures of neoliberal, crony capitalism that has left tens of millions unemployed and living in abject poverty. How else to explain how several former high-ranking Egyptian ministers of various departments are billionaires?

But aside from that, self-determination for the Egyptian people means that the masses have the right to elect whomever they wish as their political representatives and leadership, including Islamists.

Apparently, religion and politics are only supposed to not mix in the Middle East. The question has to be asked why both Democrats and Republicans alike can fret about the ascendancy of religion in Egyptian politics, while Christian fanatics and extremists are seen as a legitimate faction of American politics? In fact, President Obama himself gave a speech recently in which he said:

When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord. I ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and our people...And when I go to bed at night, I wait on the Lord, and I ask him to forgive me my sins and to look after my family and to make me an instrument of the Lord.

One could and should ask why it's legitimate for an American head of state to talk about himself as an "instrument of the Lord" while a Muslim head of state making the same comments would be viewed as a dangerous zealot.

Since the 1980s, Christian extremists have been a key political base and organizing force within the Republican Party, beginning with Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and then the Christian Right, and now factions of the right-wing and fanatical Tea Party Movement.

All of these political factions have used their influence and money to shape a social policy that has increasingly encroached on both women's rights by restricting access to abortion and LGBT rights by campaigning against same-sex marriage. Apparently, when this happens outside the Middle East, it's called lobbying.

BEYOND THE hypocritical questions about religion, we must also ask, why does the U.S. get to set the terms of the debate about what a new Egypt should look like?

There is something bizarre about the U.S. decrying violence in Egypt while it is at war with Afghanistan, occupies Iraq after a long war, and uses unmanned drones in Pakistan to terrorize the population there with regular bombings.

Of course, the U.S. could have used its strong financial influence with the Egyptian state to demand that the criminal Mubarak regime immediately stop its attacks against the unarmed protesters in Tahrir Square. Instead, it settled for "stern" admonishments while passively waiting to see the outcome.

We should also ask why the U.S. is seen as a credible voice in the debates about the future of Egypt. Life within the United States is not exactly the model of a just and democratic society.

Similar to Egypt, the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. is the widest it has been in 80 years. Millions of Americans are unemployed and descending into poverty. The number of Americans living in poverty is higher than it has been since 1994--44 million. Millions more would be in poverty except for meager unemployment benefits that keep them slightly above the national poverty line. Twenty-two percent of American children live in poverty. Millions of people don't have health insurance, and millions more are losing their homes because of the rise in foreclosures and evictions sweeping the nation.

Hillary Clinton keeps insisting that minority rights are protected in a new Egypt, but who is the United States to preach to anyone about the rights of minorities? One quarter of Blacks and Latinos live in poverty in this country, while more than a third of children of color live in poverty. Just steps from the White House, more than 40 percent of Black children in the nation's capital live in poverty.

Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and are imprisoned because of racism and rampant corruption in the American in-justice system. Finally, the recent FBI raids on and repression of Palestine and Colombia solidarity activists should make everyone skeptical of this government giving advice on respecting free speech and free political association.

The reality is that the U.S. government is no more interested in the freedom aspirations of the Egyptian people than it is in freedom and justice for the mass of Americans--and that's why the cheerleaders of American capital have met the goals and pursuits of the Arab revolution with suspicion or outright hostility.

There was Vice President Joe Biden claiming that Mubarak wasn't a dictator after the revolution was already underway--as well as questioning the legitimacy of the anti-Mubarak demonstrators. Former Vice President Dick Cheney emerged from his crypt to call Mubarak "an old friend." Sarah Palin's revealed her contempt for ordinary people in Egypt when she questioned the legitimacy of the revolution. Palin said:

Remember, President Reagan lived that mantra "trust but verify." We want to be able to trust those who are screaming for democracy there in Egypt, that it is a true sincere desire for freedoms...[But the challenge that we have though is how do we verify what it is that we are being told, what it is that the American public are being fed via media, via the protesters, via the government there in Egypt--in order for us to really have some sound information to make wise decisions on what our position is.

Republican Sen. John McCain went even further when he compared the uprisings to a virus. Asked about whether or not Israel should be nervous, McCain pointed out that both Jordan and Yemen were undergoing political changes:

This virus is spreading throughout the Middle East...This, I would argue, is probably the most dangerous period of history of our entire involvement in the Middle East, at least in modern times. Israel is in danger of being surrounded by countries that are against the very existence of Israel and that are governed by radical organizations.

Egypt changes everything. The Egyptian Revolution is upending a decades-long "stable" relationship with the U.S. that enriched American allies while forcing the mass of Egyptian society to live on $2 a day or less. The revolution has sent the dangerous message to workers and poor of the region--and, indeed, to the workers of the world--that another world is possible when we come together to fight for our own interests.

That's the destabilizing and chaotic message that the U.S. and other imperial apologists are worried about "spreading like a virus."

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