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Dorothy Online Newsletter

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Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem

Chair of West Midland PSC

 

Dear Friends,

With so much happening in Egypt, it is tempting not to focus on anything else.  I have seldom in the past spent as much time watching TV news updates as now.  The other times that I have, have also been emergency situations: Israel’s war on Lebanon, Israel’s attack on Gaza, not misnamed ‘Cast Lead,’ though it also could have been called ‘Cast phosphorus.’  So today’s post is a bit top-heavy with Egypt.  But is not entirely devoted to the subject.

Tonight’s 6 items are of two categories: boycott actions, and, Egypt.  Of the latter (items 3-6), all are opinion pieces.  The first three of these discuss the present situation in Egypt with reference to Israel—not, that is, about whether the present uprising in Egypt is good or bad for Israel, but are critical of Israel, and one at least, of the West in general.  As Zvi Bar’el’s final comment states, “we need a revolution in the way the West views the region.”  The final item, 6, is from the Washington Post.  In it Anne Applebaum praises the Egyptians on the streets and argues that uprisings as the one in Egypt are a good thing.

As for items 1 and 2, both are letters.  Item 1 is a response to a letter by Ian McEwan (published in the Guardian) justifying his coming to Israel to accept the Israel award.   The signatories of this letter explain why they do not accept his reasons.  In item 2, Tali Shapiro attempts to show Macy Gray why she should not perform in Israel, and in the process gives a clear picture of what Israel does to Palestinians in one village.  The letter is beautifully written, and if after reading it Macy Gray still insists on performing here in Israel, then nothing will change her mind.  Her willingness to sing in Israel will then be pure stubbornness and irrationality.

Let’s hope that in the end she listens to reason and joins others who have heeded the call to boycott Israel.

Nite,

Dorothy

===========================

1.The Guardian,

29 January 2011

Ian McEwan Can’t Escape the Politics

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/29/ian-mcewan-cant-escape-the-politics

We thank Ian McEwan for responding to our letter (Letters, 24 January), but we, the undersigned, must continue to express our profound disagreement with his decision to accept the Jerusalem prize. Courtesy does not oblige us to respect a decision that fails the Palestinian people by rejecting their call for an international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the Israeli state. BDS was launched by over 170 civil society organisations in 2005: after Susan Sontag and Arthur Miller received the prize.

In reply to Ian McEwan’s claim that literature transcends political considerations, we put three questions to him. First, as the prize is awarded by the Jerusalem municipality, isn’t accepting it a fundamentally political action? Second, would he have accepted a prize funded by apartheid South Africa? And finally, isn’t it now abundantly clear that the long slow process of “dialogue and engagement” with intransigent Israeli governments has only enabled them to tighten their stranglehold on Gaza and the West Bank?

Art, we believe, may change the hearts and minds of individuals; in the callous hands of politicians it is but a tin trophy. Boycott, however, worked in South Africa, and now our Israeli friends tell us BDS is forcing senior Israeli journalists and politicians to anxiously recognise the shift in world opinion against their country’s decades of human rights abuses. Ian McEwan opposes the illegal settlements that may soon make an independent Palestinian state nothing but a ruined dream. Please, we ask him, do not co-author another disgraceful chapter in the west’s ugly elegy to Palestine. Stay home and help to build a just Jerusalem at last!

Rowyda Amin

John Berger

Prof Mona Baker

Naomi Foyle

Fred Johnston

Judith Kazantzis

Eleanor Kilroy

Wendy Klein

Diane Langford

Dr Nur Masalha

China Miéville

Dr Khadiga Safwat

Seni Seneviratne

Tom Vowler

Irving Weinman

Robin Yassin-Kassab

=================================

2,  January 27, 2011

http://pulsemedia.org/2011/01/27/an-eyewitness-letter-to-macy-

Dear Macy,

Border Police officers arresting Ouday Tamimi. Picture credit: Bilal Tamimi from Joseph Dana’s blog

I’ll say it again, I truly appreciate that you took your contemplations public. I can tell by what you write that you’ve been thrown into a world that its intensity is unknown to you. I write to you consistently because your heart is on your sleeve, and even though you seem to have made up your mind, I feel the doubt in every public utterance you make.

I’ll introduce myself; My name is Tali Shapiro. I’m an Israeli citizen and I just came back from the village of Nabi Salleh in the West Bank and read your latest blog post. I’m an activist that joins the weekly demonstrations in the village. There are weekly demonstrations in many villages. Though it’s a part of a movement for Palestinian human rights, each village wakes to dissent for individual reasons. Nabi Sallah has had its land annexed by the near by Halamish settlement and its water spring closed off from them by military force. Ever since then, they’ve been demonstrating.

Demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories come with a heavy price. Whether its the wounded and dead, or the constant harassment. Nabi Saleh has been subject to military closure, houses sprayed with putrid water (another method of “crowd dispersal”), night raids, arrests of activists (regardless of age), and torture which includes threats, beatings and contorted body positioning.

I write to you as I come back from one of these night raids. I live in Tel Aviv by choice. I choose to come to a war zone at night, to witness exactly what is being done in the name of my security:

At 3:30 the army invaded the village. We all jumped from our sleeping positions, put on our shoes and rushed to the scene. Incidentally, the “scene” was taking place at the neighbors’. The neighbors are all family, because Nabi Saleh is a small village. By the time we got there, Omar Tamimi, a young man of 20, was already in hand cuffs. His mother, father and sister, running around frantically, yelling in Hebrew and Arabic, trying to understand why their son and brother is being arrested?

As we got there, the soldiers, ranking between Private to Brigadier, their faces painted with camouflage paints, yelled at us to get lost, and when we made it clear that we won’t, they threatened to arrest us. One of the officers called two of his men to have their rifles aimed at us at all times:

“Point your rifles at them all the time. One wrong move, stick a bullet in them.”

I guess now that they have their man they could just leave. But for some reason they entered another neighbor’s house. Some of us followed them inside and I’m still not clear on what they wanted to do there in the first place. Just for the sake of harassment, a military police officer was brought to speak with me, when the soldiers realized I was Israeli. I was officially detained for several minutes, because they arbitrarily decided that it’s illegal for me to be where I was. Fortunately, I’m hardly what they were coming after, so a threat sufficed as they were leaving with Omar Tamimi cuffed and blind-folded in the back seat of a jeep:

“Tali, we’ll come visit you, don’t worry.”

The 3 jeeps didn’t even leave yet and we got the message that another house, on the other side of the village is being raided. As we crossed the fields to get to the house, yells came from the dark field:

“Wakef!”

“Stop!” Then a gun was cocked and I could see that little red light, we all know from the movies, trail over my body and face. I raised my hands and yelled that we’re not armed. It took them a while, but then one yelled: “It’s women!” I wonder what would have happened if we weren’t.

We got to the house after the raid was over. The person they were looking for wasn’t in there. Again, it took them another 20 minutes to disperse. At around 4:00 it was all over.

The story of this night raid isn’t complete without the context of the village demonstrations. In the past 2 weeks the army has been raiding Nabi Saleh every night. Waking up the villagers to take their photos. This week, every night raid ended with an arrest. An 11 year old, a 14 year old, and two 15 year olds have already been yanked out of their bed in the middle of the night and interrogated. The 14 year old Islam Tamimi and one of the 15 year olds are still in Ofer military prison. There are about 8,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails at any given time. Over 300 are children.

Yesterday, the village committee coordinator, Bassem Tamimi, was arrested at a checkpoint (a common form of civil repression by the Israeli army) at Ramallah city. He was taken back to the watchtower, at the outskirts of his village, where he was beaten for 2 hours and told that they know he’s the one responsible for the demonstrations, and every time there’s a demonstration they’ll take him back to the tower and beat him.

To us activists this isn’t new. It’s all a replay of last year, when the village of Bil’in suffered nightly raids and an arrest of their children. The Bil’in children were also intimidated and beaten throughout interrogation, their forced confessions put together, made an “incitement” case against Abdallah Abu Rahma, one of the Bil’in committee coordinators.  Abdallah was arrested on December 10th, International Human Rights Day, in front of his wife and small children. He was about to finish his sentence  in Ofer military prison for 16 months, when the military court decided to extend his imprisonment for another 3 months. Many of us are asking, is Bassem next?

Macy, you’re probably asking yourself, what will not playing in Tel Aviv do to change this? What all this has to do with you? I’d like to answer these and other questions you’ve asked in your latest blog post.

To the question of why you’re being asked to boycott now and were never asked before:

Asking the international community to boycott a state is a serious action, which entails widespread organization. It’s also a last resort tactic. So incredibly enough, it took Palestinians 60 years to unite around this one. How many were killed, wounded, tortured, or had their homes and lands stolen from them, in the process, is a question that’s answer is almost impossible to grasp. 2005 will be remembered in the history books as the year Palestinian civil society said “enough is enough”, and that’s why this request hasn’t been extended to you before. Now that it has, many people are expecting you to take it seriously.

Why it’s not OK to play in Tel Aviv and visit the occupied West Bank:

On the face of it, it’s like a win-win situation: You get to entertain your Israeli fans, while educating yourself on the subject of Palestinian life under Israeli military rule. But here’s the kicker, Macy: The majority of your audience in Reading, Tel Aviv will be ex-soldiers and reservists. Who knows, maybe one of the young men holding a gun to my head yesterday will be there to sing along to “I Try”. You see Macy, you entertaining Israelis in civilian clothing will always amount to you entertaining the troops, because 75% of the youth in Israel are constricted at the age of 18. And this is what they do with their time- “manage” population.

Many American citizens have decided to visit the occupied territories and see it for themselves. They have no business opportunity in Israel and they don’t come for a whiff of touristic Tel Aviv. They take 2 weeks-4 months out of their lives to participate in life at the end of the barrel of a gun.

About your comment of all of us living under a government we don’t agree with:

This is true for you, me and the rest of the Israeli population, but for Palestinians in the occupied territories, this is not the case. Palestinians in the occupied territories live under military rule. Their lives are regulated by 18 year olds, carrying weapons. This is why it’s called occupation. They don’t get to vote who’s the next Israeli Prime Minister, who’ll continue choking them under his military boot.

You say we have a choice; “We can act on our opinions forcibly, passively or not at all.” You forget “actively.” The occupation won’t end on its own. Some of us choose to act on our opinions actively and not forcibly, even non-violently. To our dismay, we are reacted to in violent means by the state, and passively by members of the international community. This is why you’re so important, Macy. In a twisted world like our’s a hit single attains you a world-wide stage. Unfortunately, those who attain it, often use it for the benefit of themselves and only themselves. Don’t misunderstand me, Macy, I respect that you, as a woman of color in the United States, have worked exceedingly hard to attain what you have. You can view this as an unlucky incident in which you were put on the spot for something you have absolutely nothing to do with; Or you can understand this to be an opportunity to learn about the world around you and to connect with other human beings. An opportunity to do the right thing in a certain moment in time.

Music as building bridges:

Cliches are often rooted in truth and this statement has truth in it. I’m a huge fan of World Music. I love gypsy music, South American music, Arabic music and other categories deemed exotic enough to get into this category of music. I love it because it’s beautiful and unfamiliar and it makes me want to see these places and meet these people and submerge in a culture that is richer than today’s capitalist, cosmopolitan culture- the one I grew up in. I also believe political music builds bridges, usually because it gives voice to the voiceless, so I can see their world for a slight second.

All this is well and good, but how does this apply in our case, Macy? We are not alone in this world, experiencing solely from within ourselves. Your unique music will be played for soldiers of one of the most highly armed states in the world, that when they are masquerading as individual civilians, they’re seemingly individual privilege to listen to music is simultaneously taking collective freedoms away from a population of a few millions. The night you are bridging to the Israeli population, another child will be kidnapped from their bed in Nabi Saleh, about a 45 minute drive away.

Unfortunately, music will not be an agent of change for Palestinians. Yours is but one performance in a plethora of performances that creates a feeling for Israelis and an image to the international community that everything is alright. It is all the white noise that whitewashes the crushing of lives. Believe it or not, if an artist of your caliber says “I won’t do business as usual with Israel until it checks itself”, it will have a tremendous effect on the realities here. Yours will be one small step for a woman and one giant leap for human kind… how about that?

People who visit the occupied territories often ask me how I can stay so positive, I always reply the same: Revolutions don’t happen over night, but with the consistent work of many people over a long period of time. Or in your own words:

With great faith in you,

Tali

================================

3.  Haaretz,

January 30, 2011

The Egyptian masses won’t play ally to Israel

As long as the masses in Egypt and in the entire Arab world continue seeing the images of tyranny and violence from the occupied territories, Israel will not be able to be accepted, even it is acceptable to a few regimes.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/the-egyptian-masses-won-t-play-ally-to-israel-1.340080

By Gideon Levy

Three or four days ago, Egypt was still in our hands. The army of pundits, including our top expert on Egypt, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, said that “everything is under control,” that Cairo is not Tunis and that Mubarak is strong. Ben-Eliezer said that he had spoken on the phone with a senior Egyptian official, and he assured him that there’s nothing to worry about. You can count on Fuad and Hosni, both about to become has-beens.

On Friday night everything changed. It turned out that the Israeli intelligence estimates, which were recited ad nauseum by the court analysts, were again, shall we say, not the epitome of accuracy. The people of Egypt had their say, and had the nerve not to fall in line with Israeli wishes. A moment before Mubarak’s fate is sealed, the time has come for drawing the Israeli conclusions.

Not a plague of darkness in Egypt but the light of the Nile: the end of a regime propped up by bayonets is foretold. It can go on for years, and the downfall sometimes comes at the least expected time, but in the end it will happen. Not only Damascus and Amman, Tripoli and Rabat, Tehran and Pyongyang: Ramallah and Gaza are also destined to be shaken.

The hypocritical and sanctimonious division of countries by the U.S. and the West between the “axis of evil” on the one hand, and the “moderates” on the other, has collapsed. If there is an axis of evil, then it includes all the non-democratic regimes, including the “moderates” and the “stable” and the “pro-Western.” Today Egypt, tomorrow Palestine. Yesterday Tunis, tomorrow Gaza.

Not only is the Fatah regime in Ramallah and the Hamas regime in Gaza destined to fall, but perhaps also, one day, the Israeli occupation, which certainly meets all the criteria of criminal tyranny and an evil regime. It too relies only on guns. It too is hated by all levels of the ruled people, even if they stands helpless, unorganized and unequipped, facing a big army. The first conclusion: Better to end it well, with agreements based on justice and not on power, a moment before the masses have their say and succeed in banishing the darkness.

A second, no less important conclusion: Alliances with unpopular regimes can be torn up overnight. As long as the masses in Egypt and in the entire Arab world continue seeing the images of tyranny and violence from the occupied territories, Israel will not be able to be accepted, even it is acceptable to a few regimes.

The Egyptian regime became an ally of the Israeli occupation. The joint siege of Gaza is irrefutable proof of that. The Egyptian people didn’t like it. They never liked the peace agreement with Israel, in which Israel committed itself to “respect the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” but never kept its word. Instead, the people of Egypt got the scenes of Operation Cast Lead.

It is not enough to have a handful of embassies in order to be accepted in the region. There also have to be embassies of goodwill, a just image and a state that is not an occupier. Israel has to make its way into the hearts of the Arab peoples, who will never agree to the continued repression of their brothers, even if their intelligence ministers will continue to cooperate with Israel.

If there’s one thing shared by all factions of the Egyptian opposition, it is their seething hatred of Israel. Now their representatives will rise to power, and Israel will find itself in a difficult situation. Neither will anything remain of the virtual achievement that Netanyahu often paraded – the alliance with the “moderate” Arab regimes against Iran. A real alliance with Egypt and its sister-states can only be based on the end of the occupation, as desired by the Egyptian people, and not on a common enemy, as an interest of its regime.

The masses of the Egyptian people – please note: on all levels – took their fate in their hands. There is something impressive and cheering in that. No power, not even that of Mubarak, who Ben-Eliezer likes so much, can overcome them. In Washington the gravity of the moment has already been understood, and they were quick to dissociate from Mubarak and tried to find favor in the eyes of his people. That should happen at some point in Jerusalem.

=========================

4.  Haaretz,

January 30, 2011

An Arab revolution fueled by methods of the West

The Arab street suddenly uses ‘our’ methods: Facebook and Twitter – the tools of democracy we have invented – to present us with a situation of disorder.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/an-arab-revolution-fueled-by-methods-of-the-west-1.340079

By Zvi Bar’el

So what has happened so far? A corrupt president in Tunisia flees, to cheers from around the world. Protests erupt in Egypt, and gloom descends. Protests are held in Iran, and the world cheers. A prime minister is deposed in Lebanon, to fear and dread. An Iraqi president is overthrown in a military offensive, and it’s called democracy. Raucous demonstrations take place in Yemen, and they’re called interesting but not terribly important.

Why the different reactions? This is supposedly the new Middle East the West always wanted, but something still isn’t working out. This isn’t the Middle East they dreamed of in the Bush administration, and not what nourished Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wildest dreams. A new, unexpected player has appeared: the public.

Up to now, the world has been divided into two camps: “complicated” countries where the government represents the public and every decision is subject to public oversight, and “easy” countries where business is conducted at the top and the public is just window dressing. The dividing line between the two has always been starkly clear. Everything north of the Mediterranean belonged to the first group and everything to the south and east to the second.

The north had political parties and trade unions, a left wing and a right wing, important intellectuals, celebrities who shaped public opinion, and of course, there was public opinion itself. In the south the division was simple. It was the distinction between moderates and extremists, meaning pro-Westerners and anti-Westerners.

If you’re a Saudi king who buys billions of dollars of American weapons, you’re pro-Western and therefore entitled to continue to rule a country without a parliament, one where thieves’ hands are amputated and women aren’t allowed to drive. If you’re an Egyptian president who supports the peace process, you’re pro-Western and have permission to continue to impose emergency rule in your country, jail journalists and opposition members, and fix elections.

And what if you’re the ruler of Qatar? There’s a problem classifying you. On the one hand, Qatar hosts the largest American military base in the Middle East. But it has close relations with Iran and Syria. On the one hand, its ruler promotes democratic values and its foreign minister occasionally meets with top Israeli officials. But it nurtures Al Jazeera.

Of course, we love Al Jazeera when it shows us exclusive pictures of mass demonstrations, discloses secret documents, and is open to interviewing Israeli and Jewish spokespeople. But we hate it because it covers Hamas and Hezbollah’s successes. The huge challenge of categorizing Qatar shows that the terms pro-Western and moderate have no connection to the universal values the West seeks to export. They only represent the degree of the fear and the threat posed by the values the anti-Westerners send to the West.

And all of a sudden, into the whirlwind, into the era of certainty and the lexicon in which the region’s countries are neatly packaged, the Arab “street” erupts, a sophisticated street. It uses “our” methods: Facebook and Twitter – the tools of democracy we have invented – to present us with a situation of disorder. How do you defend yourself against this? This Arab street has already used these tools to depose Tunisian President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, and its ideas have gone viral. What if it manages to establish democracy in Egypt? In Yemen? Look what happened to the Shah of Iran, albeit using now-outmoded cassettes.

And when Al Jazeera’s cameras come close to the demonstrators, it also becomes clear that these are not religious radicals. Lawyers, journalists, university students, women with their heads uncovered, high school students, the secular and the religious are taking to the streets. They’re not shouting “God is great,” but “corruption out,” “dictator out” and “we want jobs.” Such nice slogans make you identify with them. In the words of “The Internationale”: “arise ye workers from your slumber.” It makes us want to join them until we remember that, as U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt described Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, he “may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” It’s disrupting the order of things.

We don’t have to wait for other regimes to fall to understand that the revolution is happening before our very eyes. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will not fall due to demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and Yemen’s ruler will also continue to rule by force. But it’s a revolution of awareness and of the fundamental notions of what the Middle East is. Most importantly, we need a revolution in the way the West views the region.

=========================

5.  Haaretz,

January 29, 2011

Without Egypt, Israel will be left with no friends in Mideast

Without Egypt’s Mubarak and with relations with Turkey in shambles, Israel will be forced to court new potential allies.

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/without-egypt-israel-will-be-left-with-no-friends-in-mideast-1.339926

By Aluf Benn

The fading power of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government leaves Israel in a state of strategic distress. Without Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in the Middle East; last year, Israel saw its alliance with Turkey collapse.

From now on, it will be hard for Israel to trust an Egyptian government torn apart by internal strife. Israel’s increasing isolation in the region, coupled with a weakening United States, will force the government to court new potential allies.

Israel’s foreign policy has depended on regional alliances which have provided the country with strategic depth since the 1950s. The country’s first partner was France, which at the time ruled over northern Africa and provided Israel with advanced weaponry and nuclear capabilities.

After Israel’s war against Egypt in 1956, David Ben-Gurion attempted to establish alliances with non-Arab countries in the region, including Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia. The Shah of Iran became a significant ally of Israel, supplying the country with oil and money from weapons purchases. The countries’ militaries and intelligence agencies worked on joint operations against Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule, which was seen as the main threat against Israel and pro-Western Arab governments.

Israel’s next alliances were forged with Jordan’s King Hussein and Morocco’s King Hassan. These ties were operated in secret, as well as ties with leaders in Lebanon’s Christian community. The late 1970s saw the fall of the Shah of Iran, with an anti-Israel Islamic republic created in his stead.

Around the same time, Egypt and Israel broke their cycle of conflict by signing a peace agreement. Egypt positioned itself on the side of Saudi Arabia, as head of the pro-American camp.

Mubarak inherited the peace agreement after President Anwar Sadat’s assassination. Mubarak was cold in his public relations with Israel, refusing to visit the country except for Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral, which decelerated normalization between the countries.

Relations between the Israel Defense Forces and the Egyptian army were conducted on a low level, with no joint exercises. Egyptian public opinion was openly hostile towards Israel and anti-Semitic terminology was common. Civil relations between the countries were carried out by a handful of government workers and businessmen.

Despite all of this, the “cold peace” with Egypt was the most important strategic alliance Israel had in the Middle East. The security provided by the alliance gave Israel the chance to concentrate its forces on the northern front and around the settlements. Starting in 1985, peace with Egypt allowed for Israel to cut its defense budget, which greatly benefited the economy.

Mubarak became president while Israel was governed by Menachim Begin, and has worked with eight different Israeli leaders since then. He had close relations with Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu. In the last two years, despite a stagnation in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and worsening relations between Netanyahu and the Arab world, Mubarak has hosted the prime minister both in Cairo and in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The friendship between Mubarak and Netanyahu is based on a mutual fear over Iran’s strengthening and the rising power of Islamists, as well as over the weakening and distancing of the U.S. government with Barack Obama at its head.

Now, with Mubarak struggling over the survival of his government, Israel is left with two strategic allies in the region: Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. These two allies promise to strengthen Israel’s Eastern battlefront and are also working to stop terror attacks and slow down Hamas.

But Israel’s relationship with these two allies is complicated. Joint security exercises are modest and the relationship between the leaders is poor. Jordan’s King Abdullah refuses to meet Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is waging a diplomatic struggle against Israel’s right-wing government. It’s hard to tell how Jordan and the PA could fill the role that Egypt has played for Israel.

In this situation, Israel will be forced to seek out new allies. The natural candidates include Syria, which is striving to exploit Egypt’s weakness to claim a place among the key nations in the region.

The images from Cairo and Tunisia surely send chills down the backs of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his cronies, despite the achievement they achieved with the new Hezbollah-backed Lebanon government. As long as the Arab world is flooded with waves of angry anti-government protests, Assad and Netanyahu will be left to safeguard the old order of the Middle East.

=============================================

6.  Washington Post,

January 31, 2011;

Egypt’s uprising should be encouraged

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/30/AR2011013001794.html?hpid=topnews

By Anne Applebaum

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND

As fate would have it, I am in Davos, at the World Economic Forum, and not in Cairo. All around me is gloom. The markets are down. Oil is up. A thorny bundle of uncertainties has just been thrown at the fragile economic recovery – just as it was all going so well! Last night, I heard a famous economic pundit admit that someone had asked him only a few days earlier whether events in Tunisia had any significance for the world economy. No, he had said. None whatsoever. But now he was busily eating his words: If Egypt blows, anything could happen.

I don’t know what people were saying in Davos or its equivalent in November 1989, because I was in Berlin. But I bet it was more or less the same thing. In 1991, when Ukraine was about to declare its independence from the Soviet Union, President George H.W. Bush made a declaration (this was the infamous “chicken Kiev” speech) in praise of the Soviet Union. For years, he and his advisers ran around Eastern Europe and the Balkans doing duct-tape diplomacy, trying to piece together again a fracturing world.

Politicians like stability. Bankers like stability. But the “stability” we have so long embraced in the Arab world wasn’t really stability. It was repression. The benign dictators we have supported, or anyway tolerated – the Zine el-Abidine Ben Alis, the Hosni Mubaraks, the various kings and princes – have stayed in power by preventing economic development, silencing free speech, keeping tight control of education and above all by stamping down hard on anything resembling civil society. More books are translated every year into Greek – a language spoken by more than 10 million people – than into Arabic, a language spoken by more than 220 million. Independent organizations of all kinds, from political parties and private businesses to women’s groups and academic societies, have been watched, harassed or banned altogether.

The result: Egypt, like many Arab societies, has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in politics, whose business activities have been limited by corruption and nepotism, and whose access to the outside world has been hampered by stupid laws and suspicious bureaucrats. Note that the Egyptian government’s decision to shut down the country’s Internet access over the weekend – something it can do because Internet access is still so limited – had almost no impact on the demonstrators. For all the guff being spoken about Twitter and social media, the uprising in Cairo appears to be a very old-fashioned, almost 19th-century revolution: People see other people going out on the streets and decide to join them.

We are surprised, and no wonder. For the past decade, successive American administrations have sometimes paid lip service to democracy and freedom of speech in the Arab world. Some American organizations, official and unofficial – the National Endowment for Democracy comes to mind – have supported independent human rights activists in Egypt and elsewhere. Some American journalists, such as my Post colleague Jackson Diehl, have cultivated Egyptian democrats, interviewed them, written about them. But to American presidents and secretaries of state of both political parties, other issues – oil, Israel and then the war on terrorism – always seemed more important. Our aid subsidized the Egyptian army and police, and the Egyptians know it. In Cairo, police were firing tear gas labeled “Made in the USA” at protesters.

Hence the gloom. If there are potential leaders in Egypt, other than the stuffy and somehow unlikely Mohamed ElBaradei, then we don’t really know them. If there is an alternative elite, we haven’t worked with it, as we had worked with the alternative elites in Central Europe in the 1980s. George W. Bush’s administration spoke a good deal about “democracy promotion,” but then allowed the idea to become confused with the invasion of Iraq. Real democracy promotion – support for journalists, judges and educators; financing of independent media and radio; encouragement of open discussion and debate – has never been a priority in the Arab world.

Our options are now limited. But there are a few, and we should exercise them immediately. We should speak directly to the Egyptian public, not only to its leaders. We should congratulate Egyptians for having the courage to take to the streets. We should smile and embrace instability. And we should rejoice – because change, in repressive societies, is good.

applebaumletters@washpost.com

 

One Response to “Dorothy Online Newsletter”

  1. bookmarked, great post.

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