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Views from an Egyptian (slashdot.org)
197 points by rkwz on Jan 28, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments



This is where I become ashamed of my government:

"“Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.” - Joe Biden

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Backchannels/2011/0127/Joe-Bi...

"The Egyptian government has an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and pursue political, economic and social reforms that can improve their lives and help Egypt prosper." - Hillary Clinton

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Backchannels/2011/0126/The-US...

Wow, that's a really proportionate criticism.

Fun fact: Egypt is our #3 recipient of foreign aid.

http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2011/tables/11s1298.p...

It would be great if Biden, instead of saying Mubarak is not a dictator, said something like this:

"Dear Egyptian Police and Military. The US government gives Egypt $1.5 Billion every year. That's what is paying your salary. If you want to get paid, just get out of the way."


Yeah, it's called Realpolitik and, for better or worse (usually worse), it's generally the basis of American foreign policy.

That said, "idealism" is also often a terrible basis for foreign policy as well.


Eh.. realpolitik is short term and almost always misses the big picture. When things change, you wind up on the wrong side, like us with Mubarak right now. Or all that Taliban and Saddam funding once upon a time.

There's a balance of course.. but in a case like this, I'd elevate America the idea over America the set of short term interests, and I'm embarrassed by Biden's comments too.


Indeed. People will make you think that Realpolitik is some hard-thinking, tough-decisions geopolitical chess game. But it's not, it's just international checkers, making the least bad decision at the last minute because you haven't planned ahead. It's a shame that it has infected American foreign policy for so long.

Naive idealism is no better, but pragmatic idealism is far far better, but also far more difficult.


Yeah, if there's one thing I can't stand, it's hearing condescending "adult opinions" on things that have been colossally mismanaged for decades.


For perhaps the first time ever, I wholeheartedly agree with jbooth for two posts in a row.


Realpolitik got you Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bin Laden, 9/11, Noriega and a whole slew of other problems.

Makes you wonder if it is really worth it.


The Iraq debacle (2003-) was something different: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality-based_community


That was a bit later, before then we had this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_support_for_Iraq_...


hence the "(2003-)", although arguably it'd be more correct to say "(2003-2009)"


Ok. With Iraq in the list above I specifically meant the period when Saddam was being propped up by the US as an example of realpolitik, not the situation later on.


> Fun fact: Egypt is our #3 recipient of foreign aid...The US government gives Egypt $1.5 Billion every year.

The US government gives Egypt foreign aid because that is part of the agreement of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty[1], when Egypt became the first Arab country to officially recognize Israel.

I don't know enough about the overall situation to have an opinion, but it does seem at least plausible to me that buying peace with foreign aid might be a good thing (albeit a distasteful moral-hazard-prone good thing).

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egypt%E2%80%93Israel_Peace_Trea...


Egypt is #4 recipient of US foreign aid after Afghan, Iraq, and Israel according to that pdf..


My mistake, my eyes glossed over Afghanistan.


FWIW, we were in opposition to Libya and Cuba for how long, and it didn't get us anywhere.

We need a real poli-sci explanation for why certain leaders are sticky, and why certain regions seem to have more than their fair share of despots.


We need a real poli-sci explanation for why certain leaders are sticky

Some people are just better at being despots than others, just as some people are better at being actors, CEOs, basketball players or programmers.

Give me unquestioned power over some tin-pot little country and I'd probably be chased out of my palace within two weeks. But a really good (in the sense of efficacy, not morality) despot knows just how to crush dissent among the masses using just the right amount of force while keeping all his generals (and anyone else with the power to depose him directly) dependent on a drip-feed of favours and constantly afraid of a knife in the back. It's a delicate balancing act, I'm sure, and some folks are just really good at it.


>Dear Egyptian Police and Military. The US government gives Egypt $1.5 Billion every year. That's what is paying your salary. If you want to get paid, just get out of the way.

And replace him with who ?

We had a nice pet leader in Iran once, he used to buy weapons and nuclear reactors from us. He did torture people and his secret police weren't terribly nice. Then he got overthrown and for some reason the people that replaced him didn't like us very much ( although we did still sell them weapons ).


And replace him with who ?

That's really up to the Egyptian people, no?


Come on. Even in the U.S., the people get to pick between a couple of none-too-attractive choices. It wouldn't be shocking for 51% of Egyptians to pick a theocracy given a bunch of poor choices, but that doesn't mean that's what most people want.


I don't agree. It's not the whole population that will make the true revolution. They'll help, but are not the main stream of the revolution.

Read my comment here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2151468

Western Media has made false rumors that this is the Facebook revolution of young people. Yeah, Facebook played a major role, but wasn't the key.

There is torture in these countries. To break police torture, you MUST torture them. To torture them, you must have free people. People that don't have jobs, families, are not related to a school or university, have absolutely nothing that they can go to the streets and clash with the police.

There must be clashes with the police and blood. It's expensive to get your freedom. 30 Million protesters will not change Mubarak mind. He is a dictator. You need to get him out by force.

Will Egypt succeed? Too early to answer. The protests need to spread. I must mention that the protests in Tunisia spread to 100% of the country. Every meter square has protests of any kind. That thing drives police crazy and they give up.

Can Mubarak win? Absolutely. If the protests doesn't spread, a few thousands will be caught and tortured and the revolution will die. Fear will get back stronger to citizen. That's exactly what happened in Algeria.


> To break police torture, you MUST torture them.

I hope you meant that in a figurative sense and not in a literal one, if you meant that literally then I'm sorry, but that's absolutely not the case.

You break a bad regime by doing better, not by becoming like them.

I sincerely hope that El Baradei will get his way and will be allowed to lead a transition government he seems like a decent fellow and has done a lot of good by upholding a high standard of ethics at the IAEA (even when under considerable pressure to do otherwise) and I can not for one second imagine that he would condone torturing his former opponents.

Some blood may flow but less is better, not worse. It's possible for a revolution to happen almost without bloodshed, typically mass strikes and walk-outs as opposed to violent clashes with representatives of the government.

Gandhi: "Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong"

edited: tx tsycho.


>> Gandhi: "Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong"

Gandhi has a romantic allure to people in the west, but the reality is he won because the alternative was much worse.

It was the end of the WW. The British were tired. And there were 100s of 1000s of Indian soldiers, just returned from years of fighting, who were ripe to be recruited by the radical elements in India. This was enough for the Brits to throw in the towel.

>> You break a bad regime by doing better, not by becoming like them.

You must get out and experience the real world. I like how you think, and in an ideal world, this would be the way to go. But the reality is, dictators don't got away quietly; they are driven out by violence and threats of violence.


> You must get out and experience the real world.

I'll bet you that I've seen more of 'the real world' than you have, from communist Poland before the wall fell to Colombia, and plenty of other places both in times of relative quiet and in times of unrest, living there, not holidaying.

If I count the countries that I've visited I come to 22 countries on 3 continents, I've probably spent more time outside of the country that I was born in than in it.

Unrestrained calls for violence and torture are simply stupid and will actually decrease the chances of success, violence is best applied with restraint by a steady hand and a clear mind pursuing concrete goals.

Gandhi played his cars very smart making the British look like murderers of innocents while at the same time showing a way out with their hide intact.

Speak softly and carry a big stick.


>> I'll bet you that I've seen more of 'the real world' than you have,...

No need to get into a pissing match. I've spent more than half of my life abroad too.

Do you really think people can just walk up to Gadhafi and say, "we protest peacefully, so please give us power"? Do you think Saddam could have been deposed peacefully by his people?

Since we geeks love to categorize and form patterns, I'll put this forward: the difference between the erstwhile empires (like the British, French, etc.) and these despots is that those empires weren't cults of personality; there wasn't 1 person brutalizing the public, like you have here (Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gadhafi (who's shitting bricks right now)). So when the push comes to shove, the employees of the "empire" can walk away and allow for peaceful transition of power; but the servants of these despots are too closely tied to their masters (sometimes it is tribal loyalty), and don't go away quietly.

And finally: even though one may say that Gandhi's "revolution" was peaceful, don't forget the million people killed in the subsequent blood-letting known as the "Partition", where India and Pakistan were split from one.


> No need to get into a pissing match.

Agreed, so don't start them :)

> Do you really think people can just walk up to Gadhafi and say, "we protest peacefully, so please give us power"?

No, but I do think that if they cripple the country for an extended period that he'll find himself without a police force and an army to do his bidding. (see for instance Poland)

> Do you think Saddam could have been deposed peacefully by his people?

Saddam Himself would not have survived any turn but he did not have much foreign support, Mubarak on the other hand still has a lot of foreign support.

> Since we geeks love to categorize and form patterns, I'll put this forward: the difference between the erstwhile empires (like the British, French, etc.) and these despots is that those empires weren't cults of personality; there wasn't 1 person brutalizing the public, like you have here (Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gadhafi (who's shitting bricks right now)). So when the push comes to shove, the employees of the "empire" can walk away and allow for peaceful transition of power; but the servants of these despots are too closely tied to their masters (sometimes it is tribal loyalty), and don't go away quietly.

I'm with you there, and I think that some blood will flow. But it had better be the right blood, to incite unarmed protesters to take on heavily armed riot police and military is a great way to get a lot of people killed and to go back to the status quo afterwards. Plenty of times this recipe has been tried and has failed plenty of times as well (it did occasionally succeed, but those were unfortunately the exceptions rather than the rule).

> And finally: even though one may say that Gandhi's "revolution" was peaceful, don't forget the million people killed in the subsequent blood-letting known as the "Partition", where India and Pakistan were split from one.

Yes, that was very ugly, and effectively it has not even stopped today, and I don't think it will stop in the foreseeable future.


First of all, this is binary thinking. There are infinite gradations between turning the other cheek completely (as curiously, most of the world's religions suggest we confront our enemies), and the kind of violence you and the OP seem to be advocating, which include using the same unconscionable tactics used by the oppressor.

And you are simply wrong about nonviolent revolutions in the face of dictatorship not working. There is a long list of successes - there would no doubt be more if nonviolence as a response to violence were simply tried more often. Certainly violence as a response to violence has had more than its share of horrors.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_revolution


You must also realize that while Gandhi did not use direct violence he did use the threat of violence as a bargaining tool. The British realized the choice was to either work with him or end up confronting more radical fringe groups that weren't opposed to terrorism.

The antithesis to this was the battle of Algeria. The french ratcheted up the level of suppression to protests to such a degree that they won the battle and lost the country, violently.


Gandhi was dealing with the British, who were relatively benevolent at the time. Egyptians (and other Arab peoples) are dealing with local despots, who are desperate.


Precisely. Nonviolence as a strategy only works when you're dealing with someone who has ethical qualms about, y'know, just killing you.

It has worked maybe two or three times in history.


Threats are most effective when you don't actually execute them but you show that you have the ability and the will to execute them.


No. I think you didn't understand. You may want to visit the Arabic countries. People here can't rise their voices. They risk getting fired, getting sued... Also you can't get all people to agree to go on strike.

Get to the street, you'll find police waiting you. Fight, you don't have another choice.

There is another point too: These strikes are led mainly by jobless people that have nothing in life. (Desperate people). So they are always in strike, they need to get their voice to the street.

And if you have followed the Tunisian revolution, as it advances it gets more organised, that's because people began to gain power. And once they gain power, they consider that everything the state owns as their property too. In the past, they considered it as a property of the ancient regime.


Peaceful revolutions are possible, and I hope you will succeed with as little bloodshed as possible. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peaceful_revolution_(German)


It's Gandhi, not Ghandi. Sorry for nitpicking, but I hate to see the name mangled of someone I respect a lot.


Apologies, and it's not like I didn't know that, very sloppy of me.

edited.


No need to apologize since it was an honest mistake :)

I have seen the wrong spelling used at many other places as well....not sure if they are always typos, or if some people are genuinely mistaken about the name.


> You break a bad regime by doing better, not by becoming like them.

In theory, you're of course correct. In practice, think about the regicide of Charles I or about the French "Reign of Terror" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reign_of_Terror), they were both meant to break bad regimes. How well they've succeeded in doing that it's debatable, the undecidable question is if terror/violence was really necessary.


Violence against the head of state versus violence against police is a totally different story. Of course the one will hide behind the other and it may be hard or impossible to get the 'job' done without violence I'd still advice restraint and to use it as a means of last resort rather than the first choice as though there are no other options.

Romania and Albania are fairly recent examples of successful revolutions that had a relatively small amount of violence (compared to what could have been, and being in the middle of it certainly wasn't a pick-nick), Poland is an example of an even more successful one with almost no violence (not that they authorities didn't try to change that, but that didn't work out so well for them.).

The middle east has a long history of having violent revolutions only to return to a 'new boss, same as the old boss' situation, it's high time for some real improvement there and this is one very big opportunity to show how it is done. Make sure that you give your opponent something to lose, if they know they're going to die anyway then they have nothing to lose and will hold on to their power in the most irrational ways. Give them a way out with their hide in tact and who knows what might happen.


It is entirely possible that should the Egyptian police escalate (as it appears they have done), actual physical violence against them, even to the point of killing some of them, may be necessary.

Dictators only lose when their underlings no longer do the dirty work for them.


It may be unavoidable, but to start off from the premise that that's how it should be done is simply wrong.

The more people that are fighting the bigger the chance that instead of changing the regime you end up with civil war.

The best bet in situations like this is on the regime having lost control over enough of their armed forces that they lay down their weapons, if it comes to violent confrontations between protesters and police/army then the loss of life on the civilian side will be considerable and it will actually increase the chance of further escalations. Don't forget that the 'regular' police and military have family too, that's the trump card of organized resistance anywhere.

That's also the reason that in countries like China and the former USSR (and others besides) the military is heavily rotated away from their place of birth.


The more people that are fighting the bigger the chance that instead of changing the regime you end up with civil war.

Perhaps, but even if that occurs, it's probably a good thing.

A civil war is rapid, violent and photogenic - we see it on TV and we think "how horrible". Slow stagnation under dictatorship is quiet, the violence occurs behind closed doors and is spread out over many years, and we just don't see it on TV. But it's often far worse than a violent revolution would be.


Agreed.

If it has to be then let it be like Romania or Albania.

The best we can hope for is for the police and the military to be either restrained or to desert, if they continue to support Mubarak it could get extremely messy.


Other interesting quote is "poverty is the worst form of violence."


Gandhi: "Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong"

I sure don't blame the Egyptian people if they aren't feeling very strong right about now.


I do not agree that torture is the solution to torture. Resistance to imprisonment need not take the form of imprisonment, and there's little value in torture.


The OP mentions Muslim Brotherhood as the worthy opposition, but they don't appear as anything democratic:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_Brotherhood

"The Brotherhood's stated goal is to instill the Qur'an and Sunnah as the "sole reference point for ... ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community ... and state""


I don't know about the Muslim Brotherhood, but very often Islamic opposition parties are favored because they are perceived as less corrupt than the existing regime. I know at least one non-Muslim who has voted for Islamic parties on the grounds that "at least they don't get rich by sucking our blood."


Much the same sentiment powers the Islamic hardliners in Turkey.


I'm not sure the poster labels them as "worthy", just that they've been systematically excluded, used as puppets in sham elections, and are popular with the lower-classes.


The problem is if they can be considered to have party goals that are compatible with democratic society. If the goal of the opposition is to destruct the mechanisms by which they are to come to the power, should they be allowed to participate.


I am growing a little more encouraged that the Tunisian and Egyptian 'revolutions' are true revolutions, and not just western media events (Tehran's "Twitter Revolution"). Here's hoping that with the revolution comes actual governmental change, too, instead of just new faces on the same structure. That doesn't happen as often as people would hope.


I'm very ambivalent on this uprising. Murbarak is a brutal, evil person but the Muslim Brotherhood will be no better for the people of Egypt than he is.

The Shah was a horrible person, but do you think the Ayatollah have brought peace, prosperity, and democracy to Iran?

One thing a radical Egypt will do is further destabilize the region. Particularly the situation with Israel will grow very tense. I am no flag-waver for Israel, but I can't see how a new enemy will do anything but further harden the worst impulses of all participants.


The Muslim Brotherhood is very much not in the driver's seat here. They're old and irrelevant, this is a moment for the young.


Egypt: A spokesman for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood announced that the group is making five urgent demands which the Egyptian government should comply with in order to avert several crises, according to a 19 January posting on the Muslim Brotherhood website.

Muhammad Mursi said the group wants Cairo to revoke the state of emergency, dissolve the People’s Assembly and hold free and fair elections, amend the constitutional articles that led to vote rigging in Egypt’s last elections, hold presidential elections according to those amendments, and fire the current government and form a national unity government responsive to the Egyptian people’s demands.

http://www.phibetaiota.net/2011/01/nightwatch-extract-egypt-...


This isn't really evidence one way or the other; its the sort of statement they could make in any event.


the Iranian revolution was also powered by 'the young', and the Mullahs were not in the drivers seat there either.

Though the return of Khomeini was definitely very much the catalyst.


The Iranian left also had no blueprint for moving forward. They were able to destabilize and oust the Shah, but they didn't know how to fill the power vacuum. The mosques did. They were not a marginalized fringe political wing, they were a cultural and religious force that quickly leveraged their position to move into the political sphere.

Thirty years later, the situation in Egypt is different. The secular centrists and left-wing have a clear model of how to fill the vacuum. Even if they didn't before, Tunisia has provided one for them. There is little opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to step in as strongmen willing to make order out of chaos.

1979 Iran and 2011 Egypt are simply materially incomparable situations. There is a possibility that the MB will cause headaches for an emergent democracy, but their ability to seize control and establish a theocratic dictatorship is minuscule, at best.


> their ability to seize control and establish a theocratic dictatorship is minuscule, at best.

Ok, that's a good thing then.

Is Iran financing them? Or do they have local support?

What are the relative proportions supporting these factions in the population?


I'd speculate that Iran isn't financing them, because I've never heard an allegation, they're Sunni, and they don't have a record of blowing up Israelis or Americans.

Not sure on the popularity thing. I'd say plurality support, off the cuff, based on recent history, but a big portion of that support is "anyone but Mubarak" moreso than "sharia law rules". All gut feelings on my part though.


Ok, thanks.

I've been researching them a bit further and it definitely seems they would command a majority of the votes at the moment so I really have no idea why people are so quick to write them off.

Agreed on the 'anyone but Mubarak', if this thing does not blow over Mubarak will be a very lucky man if he manages to even reside in Egypt, if he is forced out and does not flee abroad in time he's as good as dead.


They were young then.. then they became old and just as corrupt as those they replaced. The Muslim Brotherhood is the same generation, but now they're 30 years older.


Worth checking out: First Interactive Graphic Novel for iPad is about CIA’s involvement in Iran (1979) http://cognitocomics.com/operation-ajax/



I don't think words about democracy would have any bearing on protests in Egypt and elsewhere. Young people there are fed up with unemployment, corruption, and abuse of power. It may be obvious to us that the fix to those things is democracy, but not everybody agrees. It is not clear what the protesters want, even if those who speak for them speak of democracy. Do the protesters want a different form of government, or do they want to be ruled undemocratically by a decent, benevolent regime? Once again, it seems obvious to us that it is foolish to hope for such a thing, but people across the world have placed their faith in that hope for thousands of years, and even in the United States, more people are concerned with the need to elect "good" politicians who can be trusted than in pushing for transparency and accountability.

Edit: Actually I am completely baffled that the author of that article refers to these protests as "democracy movements." It seems like a very narcissistic assumption for Americans to make. These protests may be revolts against corrupt and repressive governments, but so was the revolution in Iran in 1979.


Reminds me of a Raymond Smullyan quip about a friend on road-trips with his girlfriend and her young daughter. When it came down to deciding where the three of them would eat, there was often a difference of opinion -- the daughter always wanted McDonald's while the adults wanted to sample the local cuisine. One time, he proposed to decide by voting. The daughter decried: "That's not fair! I'd lose!"

I suspect the US government is afraid of the results of fair elections in Egypt.


I don't think it shows hypocrisy. To my mind, the US foreign policy is more predictable assuming that the US is self-interested and relatively unprincipled. If the opposition in any foreign dispute shows more likelihood of being friendly to US interests than the incumbent, then the US will support them - perhaps even use "democracy" as an excuse; but if the opposition may not be as friendly, then the US will oppose it, publicly (e.g. Venezuela) or more obliquely (Egyptian military aid).


What was Al Jazeera's take on potential American encouragement of the protests in Iran? Where they demanding that Obama use his bully pulpit to make a strong case for the protesters?


Been watching live reports from the best source I can find: http://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/ for about 30 minutes now.


This revolution as I understand it (barely) is a really tricky thing, here's why:

If only chaos is created and the people don't take complete control soon, there are a few opposing parties in Egypt, who could easily be classified as terrorists, who could take advantage of this and take control.

But they aren't at that point yet so these fears aren't discussed (yet). Government has not been dissolved. So if/when you hear that, everyone best be paying attention.


Stratfor: Egyptian Unrest Continues http://youtu.be/tPX1qe8bH1s (2:58)


Consider the lessons of France, Russia 1917, and the former British Colonies. Also, the Athenian democracy.

One lesson is: wisdom must be found to bring a country out of a dictatorship into a just land. Another lesson is: untrammeled democracy is but mob rule and leads nowhere.


My opinion: the crucial distinction between the revolution in Tunisia and the non-revolution in Egypt is that the Tunisian revolution was kicked off by a self-immolation. Burning yourself alive is perhaps the most powerful human form of expression against repression.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-immolation




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