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February 01, 2011

Something's Gone Wrong

Why isn't the U.S. backing Mubarak to the hilt, or failing that, being more proactive about creating Mubarakism-without-Mubarak? This is not the U.S. government I know! Clearly something's gone wrong. What is it?

1. The U.S. government and foreign policy elite has had a sudden change of heart after 235 years and all of a sudden genuinely cares about democracy.

I think we can disregard this possibility.

2. The U.S. empire is in serious decline, perhaps more so than we lilliputians understand.

This seems to be a significant part of it. We're so overextended militarily and maxed out economically that the mandarins have judged we couldn't come up with the resources—including just plain propaganda—to make the necessary crackdown work.

If so, this may be one of the few cases where it does matter who's in the Oval Office. Obama is at least intelligent enough not to throw away the American Empire's resources on lost causes. But I think we can be pretty sure that President Huckabee would be giving the order to make the streets of Cairo run red with blood, without realizing that he was thereby hastening the Empire's demise.

3. Satellite TV, the internet and cell phones change the equation significantly.

This also seems to be a big part. It's not the case that twitter=revolutions, but that breaking the information blockade in general does have a big effect on people's consciousness. Sociologist Zeynep Toufecki has thought about this seriously.

4. Lots of pissed off young men.

I assume demographics play a role.

5. Egyptians are very brave.

Let me tell you, I'm not sure I'd be out there protesting a government that does things like this. On the other hand, there are lots of brave people all over the world, including in places where we've engineered massive bloodbaths, so I'm not sure what this proves.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at February 1, 2011 09:23 PM

I think this is just a case of seeing the writing on the wall. It's never really been the case that the US could intervene in a situation like this, where popular outrage toppled a favorite US stooge. The relevant comparison would be Iran thirty years ago - just like today, the US was pretty much powerless then to prevent things from happening, once the revolution really got on its feet.

I have no idea what kinds of things people said when the Shah fell, since I was busy gestating - perhaps grayer heads could comment. Mubarak is an obvious dictator and thug - it's pretty hard to defend him, but Clinton's been doing that as much as possible anyway.

It remains to be seen what will happen once there is a new government in place - seems likely it won't be as friendly to the US as the previous government, although maybe not as hostile as the Iranian government is. Commentary here is already discussing a "Muslim Brotherhood" government, as if that were possible (or as bad as is being implied).

So the difference now boils down to a very weak commitment to a popular uprising, or maybe a very weak commitment to an unpopular and suddenly weak dictator. I'm not sure this teaches us anything other than what has always been true - el pueblo unido jamas sera vincido, at least in situations when they aren't massacred by the army.

Posted by: saurabh at February 1, 2011 10:31 PM

i must be thinking something dumber than usual. i'm surprised you left off "israeli stop-loss poker."

Posted by: hapa at February 1, 2011 10:38 PM

Possibility no.6; I sent the White House a note, yesterday, from THIS website as amatter of fact, and they took the hint.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 1, 2011 10:54 PM

Make that on Jan 31.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 1, 2011 10:58 PM

You cannot be serious about Obama not throwing resources into lost causes, I mean Afghanistan? Pakistan? Afghanistan alone is going to go a long way toward sinking the imperial blimp. I think even someone as dim witted as Obama is with his mediocre brain pan can see Mubarak is a goner. It's nothing to brag about.

Posted by: rob payne at February 2, 2011 12:11 AM

What Rob said. Think of Obama as the man who reads the meter, and the meter says 'darn near empty.'

If McCain was president he'd be reading the same meter, although maybe we'd get treated to the prez contradicting some bellicose tomfoolery from the VP from a day or two before, after Gates told him what to say.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at February 2, 2011 01:14 AM

Heh, sometimes you've just got to recognise the use-by date. I think all that's happening here is that the administration recognises Mubarak is finished and is trying to ensure that the country ends up in the hands of some nice bourgeois neoliberals who'll work to make certain any emerging Egyptian democracy will be the kind of hollow, ritualised farce it is in the West. You don't necessarily need a dictator to keep a country obedient; and if a non-dictatorship isn't optimal for imperial hegemony sometimes you have to take what you can get. I mean, it's not like the post-Marcos Phillipines or post-Suharto Indonesia are America-hating worker's paradises, despite the "people power" that kicked the dictators out. OK, you lost a few bases - those things are only a means to an end, you know.

A cosying up to El Baradei seems on the cards, unless the USD have their eye on some other nice liberal. Oh, sure, he's "suspicious" of the United States now, but that can change. The middle class can always be trusted to bend the knee to power when it's in their interest. That's what "orderly transition" means.

Posted by: weaver at February 2, 2011 01:26 AM

USD=US. Stupid fingers.

Posted by: weaver at February 2, 2011 01:29 AM

What makes you think that the US is not being proactive about creating Mubarakism-without-Mubarak?

Posted by: abb1 at February 2, 2011 04:44 AM

Satellite TV, the internet and cell phones change the equation significantly.

This also seems to be a big part. It's not the case that twitter=revolutions, but that breaking the information blockade in general does have a big effect on people's consciousness.

Much to consider and appreciate about the information networks developing here. Among which is: Al Jazeera English goes big! Today LinkTV picked up the feed -- in a little echo of the very encouraging way that other regional sat networks began showing the AJ-Arabic feed yesterday when it was blocked by the Egyptian govt.

Digression: Does anyone know how old is the mocking association of Mubarak and the 'vache qui rit' cow? I saw it a couple of times in the Angry Arab posts, then came across this picture. Does the joke go back before these January 25 demos? Is it just the MOO-barak idea? Hosni M's physical resemblance to the cow (that wide brow)? Or is there an Arabic play on words involved? Or...?

Posted by: Nell at February 2, 2011 05:15 AM

The internets say it's because Mubarak looks like the logo. It predates the recent demos - Fisky mentioned it in an article from January 2009. The earliest reference I could find is from 2005 (on a discussion board) but I wasn't looking super-hard.

Posted by: weaver at February 2, 2011 06:45 AM

The US gov surely knows that anything that even remotely smells of an US endorsement of Mubarak would be the kiss of death for his regime right now. But I think we can be pretty sure that the US is working furiously behind the scenes to ensure that any future Egyptian government is loyal to the US.

Posted by: Härj at February 2, 2011 10:12 AM

These oil changes are necessary to keep the empire running. Details will be ascertainable in 30 to 70 years. As to technology see doug rushkoffs latest books.

Posted by: n e at February 2, 2011 10:34 AM

This is the best explanation on events in Egypt I've seen:


Posted by: Herbert H. Friar at February 2, 2011 12:01 PM

Obama is at least intelligent enough not to throw away the American Empire's resources on lost causes.

lol wut?

Posted by: Cloud at February 2, 2011 04:03 PM

Regarding Point #3, before you get your hopes up too much, read the transcript of this segment on Democracy Now:

And for further fun, this Wikipedia entry on Narus, and the capabilities of this system:

If you're anything like me (I know, it's sad that I'm so cynical), you might wonder if the original Israeli developers of this might not have written in some backdoors for future (or present) exploitation of these surveillance capabilities by their country's intelligence services. But I'm sure that they have no possible interest in these events or the identification of the instigators and facilitators. I mean, regardless of the potentials inherent for horse-trading with the now-desperate Mubarak or the undoubtedly abiding Egyptian security services, or any future possible utility to the Israeli state apparatus of this sort of detailed information that this is unlikely. Yep, I think that's possible to state with confidence.

Posted by: JerseyJeffersonian at February 2, 2011 06:24 PM

Mondoweiss says Paul Amar @Jadaliyya (Why Mubarak is Out) breaks down the varying security forces operating in Egypt unraveling what binds loyalties (or lack thereof) to the Mubarak regime.

He identifies the moving parts within the military and police institutions of the security state and how clashes within and between these coercive institutions relate to shifting class hierarchies and capital formations essential for understanding how these crucial elements will potentially impact Egypt's future both transitionally and long term.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at February 3, 2011 07:40 PM


David Price, an anthropologist who lived in Egypt 1989-90, writes in an article at Counterpunch:

The farmers and friends I met in Egypt taught me jokes about Mubarak, jokes in which he often had a recurring role as a slow gamoosa, the Egyptian water buffalo, ubiquitous in the countryside.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at February 3, 2011 07:47 PM

Yes, Mubarak's other nickname is "El Baqara el Dahika" which is Arabic for "the laughing cow"/"La vache qui rit" on the French cheese.

Posted by: Anna in PDX at February 4, 2011 02:39 PM