In The Company Of Heroes

16 02 2011

I realize the American fetish for quickly moving on to the Next Big Spectacle has largely washed the events of the last few weeks out of our collective memories, but there are some heroes of the revolution in Egypt who have gone largely unsung (in the US media, at least).

Let us cast our minds back to January 30th. The protests were still ramping up in intensity, and the Egyptian Army had already moved into Cairo and surrounded Tahrir Square. Despite the efforts of Mubarak’s goon squads, the protesters had refrained from erupting into mass violence. During those tense hours when security forces in disguise were attacking the protesters with rocks, molotov cocktails, and occasional sniper fire, Mubarak ordered the Army to open fire on the protesters.

I have mentioned before that the Egyptian Army is largely composed of conscripts, and also that the Army is widely seen as a way out of the poverty which is the normal lot of most Egyptians. Due in part to the close working relationship with the US military, Egypt’s military is considered to be a generally professional force- even by western standards. The Egyptian military is very highly regarded by most of the citizens. When the Army first arrived at the Square, the protesters welcomed them warmly with cheers and patriotic songs, and the soldiers were visibly sympathetic to the protesters.

When the order came, some of the soldiers dropped their rifles and joined the protesters. The others looked to their officers and unit leaders for guidance. The unit leaders and tank commanders- generally the sons and grandsons of former soldiers- pulled out their cell phones and called their ex-military parents and grandparents and asked, “What should I do?” Unknown to most of the world at the time, History held its breath. Would Tahrir Square become another Tiananmen?

From the earlier generations of Egyptian soldiers came the reply. You should not fire upon your fellow Egyptians. Disobey this order. As we now know, the Army listened, and chose to refuse to massacre their countrymen.

There are those who, from the comfort and safety of their homes in the US, claim that the military refused the order out of concern for their extensive commercial interests within Egypt’s economy. Egypt’s military does have wide-ranging commercial enterprises throughout the economy, and this may have been a factor in the larger decision on whether or not to open fire on their own people. This does not take away from the very real and very personal risks those men took by telling their President, “Sir! No sir!” Disobeying such an order took enormous amounts of courage, for President Mubarak would have dealt very harshly with the Army had he retained his position. The Army leadership decided that the President had issued an illegal order, and they would refuse to carry it out. Under similar conditions in China and Iran, the troops turned on their own citizens. To their everlasting credit, the Egyptian military proved that they really are a professional force and refused to emulate the butchers of Tehran and Beijing.

Despite my philosophical distrust of military rule, Egypt’s military has shown that they are the guarantors of liberty for their countrymen. Perhaps the military will come to be a stabilizing force such as the Turkish military, or they may turn into another military government such as Myanmar (Burma). What the future may bring is always in doubt, but there are some unshakable truths which offer some hope that the future may not necessarily be too terrible: The people of Egypt are better off today than they were on January 25th, and the soldiers of Egypt’s Third Army proved to be far, far better men than their recently-deposed President.

Current status: Hopeful

Current music: Such Great Heights by The Postal Service

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Chickens, Home to Roost

3 02 2011

Looks like the Revolution will be televised this time- despite the efforts of Egyptian police and security forces, who are doing their best to muzzle anything resembling a free press both inside and outside of Egypt. Journalists and reporters have been beaten and arrested whenever they are found.

Even in the face of this media crackdown, Al Jazeera has been doing excellent reporting from inside Egypt- especially from the chaos in and around Tahrir Square in Cairo. MSNBC has been carrying excellent video from Cairo and Alexandria, and Reuters and the BBC have been doing yeoman’s work getting the word out to the rest of the world in defiance of Mubarak’s attempts to shut down anything even loosely related to the truth.

For those who have been living in a cave for the past couple of weeks, the people of Egypt, inspired by the so-far-successful revolt in Tunisia, have been protesting against Egypt’s de-facto President-For-Life, Hosni Mubarak. After more than a week of ever-larger protests throughout the country, Mubarak went on Egyptian TV and vowed to not run for re-election in the upcoming September elections, and asked the protesters to stop protesting. The protesters thought about it for about 30 seconds and decided that wasn’t good enough. They want Mubarak out immediately, if not sooner.

Mubarak is now in a tough spot. If he orders the Army to crush the protests, there’s a very real chance they’ll tell him to pound sand. So far, the Army has shown a lot of sympathy for the protesters, and the protesters share the average Egyptian’s reverence for their professional military. Worse still, most of the Egyptian military officers have deep ties to the US military. Many of their officers are graduates from US military academies, for example, and US troops routinely practice desert warfare with Egyptian troops in Egypt. Furthermore, most of Egypt’s military budget is based on the more than one billion dollar military aid provided by the US, and Congress has been not-so-silently warning Mubarak that using equipment purchased with US money against the protesters will cut off the money tap.

What to do? What to do? Mubarak took a lesson from the Green Revolution in Iran and brought in a bunch of thugs to attack the protesters. Mobs of supposedly pro-Mubarak protesters gathered in Cairo and assaulted the anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square. Unfortunately for Mubarak, he didn’t have enough secret police to dress in civilian clothes and send into the streets on his behalf, so he was forced to hire a bunch of regular Egyptians to augment the disguised police. Several hundred “Mubarak supporters” piled into Tahrir Square with whips, clubs, fists, and Molotov cocktails … and found themselves facing several thousand very angry anti-Mubarak protesters.

Oddly enough, when the anti-government protesters captured some of these “Mubarak supporters”, they found Police ID cards on them. Despite the violence, the anti-government protesters refrained from tearing the now-revealed police limb from limb and just turned them over to the Army around the Square. The Army, for its part, did try to keep the two groups separated, but were sort of hampered by their desire to avoid taking sides. The troops around the Square did act forcefully whenever one of the “Mubarak supporters” started using firearms, but not quickly enough to prevent a half-dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries among the anti-government protesters.

The protesters improvised barricades and shields and weapons from what they had on hand, and drove the “Mubarak supporters” out of the Square. Injured protesters were carried to improvised aid stations and clinics set up inside the Square and in some of the buildings nearby. Doctors from the area joined in helping patch up the wounded, and protesters have been amassing medical supplies, food, water, and shelters to keep up the fight.

Mubarak really stepped on his dick with this move. All this little stunt has done was harden the protesters’ attitudes toward the regime. The deaths and violence have demonstrated to the whole world that Mubarak has no intention of giving up his rule, and he’s willing to spill the blood of his own people to stay in power against their will.

I have already stated my dislike for the US government’s habit of cozying up to ruthless murderers and despots in the interests of “stability” or in support of international political interests (however defined). Let me amplify that opinion a bit: The US government should pull its collective head out of its ass and call for Mubarak to resign. Immediately. The US government and military should apply pressure on the Egyptian military to force Mubarak out of the country and hold immediate elections. I submit that allowing the people of Egypt choose their own destinies is better than continuing to support a brutal dictator. If the Egyptians vote in a bunch of radical Islamists to run their country, that is their fucking business, and interfering in their right to choose their own government is absolutely in violation of the principles this country supposedly supports. Half-hearted calls for both sides to play nice aren’t going to cut it. If America really stands for liberty and self-determination, then we need to let Egypt choose its own destiny- whether or not we agree with their choice.

Here are some excellent sources of information and opinion on the situation in Egypt:

Pictures of the clashes in Tahrir Square

An article from the Washington Post

Excellent article from the Guardian UK

Democracy in the Arab World from the Economist

Mubarak holds Egypt hostage from Foreign Policy.com

Remember the Green Revolution in Iran from a while back? I mentioned it above, and said that Mubarak seemed to be trying to copy Iran’s moves in dealing with the crisis. Here is what the protesters have to look forward to if they lose: while the rest of the world has been fixated on Egypt, Iran has been quietly executing scores of people who were arrested during the unrest after the elections. Mubarak has already demonstrated his willingness to shed other peoples’ blood to keep Egypt in his grip. If he succeeds in crushing the protesters, the survivors will likely envy the dead. If for no other reason, that is why Mubarak must not be allowed to remain in power.

So, what can we, the People, do about it? Write and email and call your Congresscritters. Now is not the time for stupid partisan hackery. Now is the time for the US to speak out in favor of the right to self-determination. Tell your Representatives and Senators and the White House to cease their bickering long enough to take care of something really important: the possible birth in blood and fire of a new Egypt.

 

Current status: Hopeful

Current music: Cold Wind to Valhalla by Jethro Tull