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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, February 28, 2011

Sacramento Deflated (Part 1) 

Sacramento, it seems, is on the verge of losing its only professional sports franchise, the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association, to Anaheim. Most people here could care less. But, for those who have sought to transform the downtown into an upscale entertainment district, the prospect of losing the Kings has engendered an outbreak of hysteria. Sacramento, you see, is nothing without professional sports and the service economy associated with it. Arco Arena, the home of the Kings, will go dark, and there will no venue capable of hosting concerts by Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Metallica and U2. Upon the departure of the Kings, Sacramento will become, in their words, a cow town, a bleak nowheresville, a place that will be permanently deserving of its recent designation by Forbes as one of the most miserable cities in the US.

Of course, you know the solution. The city of Sacramento and its citizens must, to mix sports metaphors, step up to the plate and publicly subsidize a new arena facility in which the owners of the Kings, predominately, the Maloof family, receive the profits from its operation. Revenue sources that could be used to preserve city services in the face of substantial losses of funding from the state must be diverted to the construction of an entertainment complex operated by the Maloofs, a family of millionaires unwilling to put much of their own capital at risk. Most proponents, aware of the publication of studies that have found that subsidized sports arenas are not financially beneficial to the communities that build them, don't even attempt to justify it on economic grounds. It is, rather, a quality of life issue, and, in the absence of the Maloofs and their basketball team, they pretty much imply that it is going to turn to shit.

As you might have guessed, this is the struggle over neoliberalism fought at the local level, much like the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, and, in this instance, as in Vancouver, we stumble across one of its defining features. For the proponents of both the Games and new Kings arena, the community and the quality of life associated with it are narrowly defined. For them, the community consists of middle to upper middle income people with sufficient disposable income to patronize these events and the bars and restaurants connected to them. Entertainment is no longer a matter of personal preference, but an entitlement, so much so that local governments are obligated to subsidize its availability for them, and transform neighborhoods through redevelopment policies and law enforcement practices so as to render the areas in which these facilities are located reassuring enough for them.

Hence, the construction of $3000-$4000 a month loft apartments on 16th Street a block away from the capital grounds, and an emphasis upon opening money losing restaurants and an IMAX movie theatre nearby on the east end of the K Street Mall that require Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency funds to survive, with Downtown Business Association guides, disparaging known as bumble bees because of their bright yellow outfits, spending much of their day playing cat and mouse with the homeless. Meanwhile, on the west end of the mall, the light rail line runs past empty storefronts, vacated by long established businesses, such as a used record and video store and a clothing store that sold jeans and overalls, in anticipation of glamourous projects that never progressed past the high concept stage. About a quarter mile from there, where the Capital Mall approaches an old bridge that crosses the Sacramento river, there is still an large empty hole where the old Sacramento Union newspaper building was located, empty for three or four years now, because a preposterous high rise condominium project, a project in which the state employee pension plan, CALPERS, invested, quickly revealed itself as an economic absurdity. Dave Jones, a former city councilmember, predicted that the redevelopment of the downtown would fail unless enough people were attracted to to the downtown through the construction of affordable housing, but, predictably, given the lack of investment return associated with it, his warnings went unheeded. Undeterred, the city is proposing the expenditure of millions on the relocation of a light rail station in this area so as to divert the primarily lower middle income and low income population of color that use it away so as to purportedly enhance the appeal of the location for redevelopment.

Another former city councilmember, Robbie Waters, has estimated that the city has spent approximately $500 million dollars over the last couple of decades in its failed pursuit of the gentrification of downtown Sacramento. You would think that such an abject failure would induce caution when it comes to financing an even more extreme redevelopment project in the guise of a new arena for the Kings, but you would be wrong. The appetite of the neoliberal community for entertainment must be fulfilled, even if it is done at the expense of the rest of us excluded from it. But there is a problem, an insurmountable one. There is not enough public subsidy to finance the project, especially as it appears that the real problem for the Maloofs is an urgent need for additional capital investment to enable them to absorb losses from their ownership of the Kings and their casino business. Beyond this, there is the inescapable fact that it is no longer possible to finance such projects off the profits of ancillary residential and commercial development, as was attempted with an arena proposal at the state fair Cal Expo site a couple of years ago. Furthermore, in 2006, city voters rejected measures that would have authorized the use of public funds to facilitate the project. In 2011, in a city with many public sector workers laid off or on furlough, with class sizes increasing in the public schools and recreational programs either eliminated or reduced, the public is likely to perceive any such proposal as incendiary. A city with an reported unemployment rate of over 12% is not going to respond favorably to providing more corporate welfare.

In any event, the Kings are probably already on their way to Anaheim as the Maloofs engage in the pretense of keeping their options open to keep Kings fans coming to games until the end of the season. But the failure of the redevelopment of the K Street Mall and the inability to construct an arena complex for the Kings provide an insight into a failed model of development that was seemingly global in scope. Sacramento is a charming, low density city, with many tree lined streets, that has many blocks and half blocks in which the original structures have been torn down in the last ten years. If you were so inclined, I could drive your around the downtown and adjacent Midtown, and show you numerous such locations within an hour or less. And, then there is the Tapestri zero lot home project in Midtown, where, after three or four years, units have gone up at a snail's pace, with 75% of the project's footprint still empty as the developers await the sale of a unit about once every 3 or 4 months. One might actually think that these empty lots resulted from some terrible, violent conflict, say, a secessionist war thirty or forty years ago. All of these buildings were demolished with the expectation that they would be replaced with new, exciting projects aimed, of course, at the preferred demographic of middle and upper middle income people that planners and developers wanted to attract to the central city. They readily dismissed the notion, as suggested by Dave Jones, that the city could be redeveloped along lines that would enhance the quality of life for people already living within it. Or, to put it in more Marxist terms, it didn't provide an opportunity for sufficient capital accumulation.

If he came to Sacramento, Owen Hatherley, a British author known for his modernist urbanism, would knowingly smile. He has seen something similar in the United Kingdom. In his provocative book, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, Hatherley exposes the failure of New Labour redevelopment, a program based upon the same arrogance that the lower middle class and lower classes must be replaced by the middle and upper middle classes in order to reinvigorate cities characterized as blighted. The dispersed empty blocks and half blocks of Sacramento find their expression in the aggregate in the massive Westfield Hole in Bradford, where a vast hole has been torn in the center of the city in expectation of a shopping mall that has yet to be built. Graffiti on one of the posters for the mall, put on the boarded fence that surrounds the hole, declares it Best Among Ruins. The miniature wasteland of the Tapestri project achieves monumental scale in the partially completed New Islington development in Manchester, where several architectural firms were assigned the task of replacing a 1970s low-rise council development. But in the face of this urban catastrophe, one that is admittedly not as bad as the attainment of the aspirations of the planners and developers intent upon a utopian, antiseptic gentrification, there remain signs of effective resistance, the creation of social alternatives. I'd like to think that Hatherley would appreciate ArtBeast, an art studio for children in a remodeled old, three story craftsman building in Midtown. It's not so much that the building has been remodeled for a community purpose, in this case, the playful use of the arts to assist in child development, although that is certainly admirable, but that the proceeds from the studio support housing and educational programs for homeless women with children. Here, we discover a positive circularity, wherein the redevelopment of a building for one socially beneficial purpose assists in facilitating an even more important one.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Next Stage of the Egyptian Revolution (Part 2) 

UPDATE 3: In this New York Times article from yesterday, we get an insight into the class conflict in Bahrain:

The days of protest and repression have mostly been about the Shiites speaking up and the Sunnis cracking down. But on Monday night, in the wealthy neighborhood of Juffair, tens of thousands of pro-government demonstrators poured into Al Fateh Grand Mosque to express their support for the embattled king.

The pro-government crowd borrowed some of the opposition’s slogans, including no Sunni, no Shia, only Bahraini. But that was where the call for unity started and ended.

This was an affluent crowd, far different from the mostly low-income Shiites who took to the streets to demand a constitutional monarchy, an elected government and a representative Parliament. The air was scented with perfume, and people drove expensive cars. In a visceral demonstration of the distance between Sunni and Shiite, the crowd cheered a police helicopter that swooped low, a symbol of the heavy-handed tactics that have been used to intimidate the Shiites.

We love King Hamad and we hate chaos, said Hannan al-Abdallah, 22, as she joined the pro-government rally. This is our country and we’re looking after it.

Ali al-Yaffi, 29, drove to the pro-government demonstration with friends in his shiny white sport utility vehicle. He was angry and distrustful. The democracy they have been asking for is already here, he said. But the Shias, they have their ayatollahs, and whatever they say, they will run and do it. If they tell them to burn a house, they will. I think they have a clear intention to disrupt this country.

In their hostility towards the poorer Shia, the Bahraini Sunnis remind me of the hatred that the people of the wealthier neighborhoods of Caracas have for the poorer, suburbio supporters of Hugo Chavez.

UPDATE 2: There was a strike of 3,000 construction workers in Saudi Arabia last week:

The police force couldn’t control the workers. When a police officer told the workers that they need to return to their accommodation and their issue will be solved later, the workers replied by throwing stones at him, and they managed to frighten all the police officers around him. The stones missed the police officer, but unfortunately it did not miss his car! It was the first time in my life I saw a police car smashed in Saudi Arabia.

Hat tip to t at Pink Scare.

UPDATE 1: Starting with Pinochet in Chile in the 1970s, neoliberalism has always flourished in countries with dictatorial regimes, as most recently demonstrated in North Africa and the Middle East:

Less than two weeks ago, the International Monetary Fund’s executive board, its highest authority, assessed a North African country’s economy and commended its government for its ambitious reform agenda. The I.M.F. also welcomed its strong macroeconomic performance and the progress on enhancing the role of the private sector, and encouraged the authorities to continue on that promising path.

By unfortunate timing, that country was Libya. The fund’s mission to Tripoli had somehow omitted to check whether the ambitious reform agenda was based on any kind of popular support.

Libya is not an isolated case. And the I.M.F. doesn’t look good after it gave glowing reviews to many of the countries shaken by popular revolts in recent weeks. Tunisia was hailed last September for its wide-ranging structural reforms and prudent macroeconomic management.

Bahrain was credited in December with a favorable near-term outlook after the economy managed the global crisis well. Algeria’s prudent macroeconomic policies helped it to build a sound financial position with a very low level of debt. And in Cairo, the I.M.F. directors last April praised the authorities’ response to the crisis as well as their sound macroeconomic management.

Of course, only reporters with the New York Times, in this instance Pierre Briancon and John Foley, could present this information with the requisite credulity. According to them, the IMF somehow failed to determine if Libya's reform agenda was based on any kind of popular support. They fail to acknowledge the obvious, that IMF policies of privatization and structural adjustment have never been based upon popular support, they have always been proposed by transnational economic elites for their benefit, so why should it be any different in Libya? If there had been popular support for these policies, the IMF might well have considered such support as a negative indication that they were not being implemented with sufficient rigor.

INITIAL POST: An excerpt from an excellent article by Walter Armbrust about the neoliberal structure of Egyptian society that remains in place despite the departure of Mubarak:

Two observations about Egypt’s history as a neoliberal state are in order. First, Mubarak’s Egypt was considered to be at the forefront of instituting neoliberal policies in the Middle East (not un-coincidentally, so was Ben Ali’s Tunisia). Secondly, the reality of Egypt’s political economy during the Mubarak era was very different than the rhetoric, as was the case in every other neoliberal state from Chile to Indonesia. Political scientist Timothy Mitchell published a revealing essay about Egypt’s brand of neoliberalism in Rule of Experts (the chapter titled Dreamland — named after a housing development built by Ahmad Bahgat, one of the Mubarak cronies now discredited by the fall of the regime; a version of this was also published in Merip). The gist of Mitchell’s portrait of Egyptian neoliberalism was that while Egypt was lauded by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund as a beacon of free-market success, the standard tools for measuring economies gave a grossly inadequate picture of the Egyptian economy. In reality the unfettering of markets and agenda of privatization were applied unevenly at best. The only people for whom Egyptian neoliberalism worked by the book were the most vulnerable members of society, and their experience with neoliberalism was not a pretty picture. Organized labor was fiercely suppressed. The public education and the health care systems were gutted by a combination of neglect and privatization. Much of the population suffered stagnant or falling wages relative to inflation. Official unemployment was estimated at approximately 9.4% last year (and much higher for the youth who spearheaded the January 25th Revolution), and about 20% of the population is said to live below a poverty line defined as $2 per day per person.

For the wealthy, the rules were very different. Egypt did not so much shrink its public sector, as neoliberal doctrine would have it, as it reallocated public resources for the benefit of a small and already affluent elite. Privatization provided windfalls for politically well-connected individuals who could purchase state-owned assets for much less than their market value, or monopolize rents from such diverse sources as tourism and foreign aid. Huge proportions of the profits made by companies that supplied basic construction materials like steel and cement came from government contracts, a proportion of which in turn were related to aid from foreign governments. Most importantly, the very limited function for the state recommended by neoliberal doctrine in the abstract was turned on its head in reality. In Mubarak’s Egypt business and government were so tightly intertwined that it was often difficult for an outside observer to tease them apart. Since political connections were the surest route to astronomical profits, businessmen had powerful incentives to buy political office in the phony elections run by the ruling National Democratic Party. Whatever competition there was for seats in the Peoples’ Assembly and Consultative Council took place mainly within the NDP. Non-NDP representation in parliament by opposition parties was strictly a matter of the political calculations made for a given elections: let in a few independent candidates known to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in 2005 (and set off tremors of fear in Washington); dictate total NDP domination in 2010 (and clear the path for an expected new round of distributing public assets to private investors).

No wonder the Egyptian military is threatening to suppress strikes that disrupt the economy.

Hat tip to the Angry Arab.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Libya, the Kleptocracy 

No wonder Richard Perle, Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi considered it important to establish a connection to Muammar Gaddafi:

Libya has proven oil reserves of 44 billion barrels, the largest in Africa, according to the International Energy Agency.

The country has used this burgeoning oil wealth to invest close to $100bn (£61.6bn) around the world since economic sanctions were lifted in 2004.

Libya's overseas investments include a portfolio of UK properties as well as a 3% stake in Pearson Group, which makes it one of the biggest shareholders in the owner of the Financial Times.

The Libyan Investment Authority is the country's main financial vehicle, with an estimated $70bn of assets, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute. In June 2009 it paid £155m for Portman House, a 146,550 square foot shopping complex on Oxford Street which houses retailers including Boots and New Look. Five months later the LIA spent £120m on an office at 14 Cornhill – opposite the Bank of England – and in September 2010 Libya set up a joint venture to develop a hotel and retail complex in Maple Cross, Hertfordshire.

The LIA, set up in 2006, has also made a series of investments in Italy, where prime minister Silvio Berlusconi enjoys a close relationship with Gaddafi. Libya owns about 2% of Fiat, 7.5% of Juventus Football Club and has a 2% stake in – and joint venture with – Italian aerospace and defence group Finmeccanica. It owns 7.5% of UniCredit, one of Italy's largest banks, and is a shareholder in Fortis, the Belgian-Dutch bank.

Libya has also made investments through other state vehicles, such as the Libyan African Investment Portfolio, which was set up in 2006 and is worth an estimated $8bn, according to the Sovereign Wealth Institute. This entity is behind FM Capital Partners, a hedge fund set up last year in Knightsbridge to execute a range of investments.

Another Libyan fund, known as the Long Term Asset Portfolio, was set up in 1982 and has an estimated $10bn, which is mainly invested in property and investment funds operated by other banks.

In addition, Libya's ruling elite – led by Gaddafi – has untold billions of dollars of funds around the world, according to Alistair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura, the Japanese bank. This is a country that is so un-transparent I couldn't even begin to guess just how much money the ruling elite has [but] I would be very surprised if it didn't run into billions, Newton said.

Given that Libya has, by and large, been ignored by both the commercial and alternative media in the US, the scope of the activities of the kleptocracy are truly amazing. It provides us with an insight as to the exponentially greater investment activities of Sunni kingdoms in the Gulf, and the fear that will envelop global financial markests if substantial protests erupt there. Meanwhile, as for Libya, if the populace prevails, then, perhaps, the country's tremendous oil wealth can be used to benefit them.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Survival of a Sociopath 

UPDATE 2: Richard Perle and the many neoconservative friends of Muammar Gaddafi:

Perle traveled to Libya as a paid adviser to the Monitor Group, a prestigious Boston-based consulting firm with close ties to leading professors at the Harvard Business School. The firm named Perle a senior adviser in 2006.

The Monitor Group described Perle’s travel to Libya and the recruitment of several other prominent thinkers and former officials to burnish Libya’s and Qadhafi’s image in a series of documents obtained and released by a Libyan opposition group, the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition, in 2009.

The Monitor Group did not return phone calls left at its Boston offices Monday. But Monitor describes, in a series of documents published by the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition in 2009, an action plan to introduce and bring to Libya a meticulously selected group of independent and objective experts who would be invited to Libya, meet senior officials, hold lectures, attend workshops, and write articles that would more positively portray Libya and its controversial ruler.

A 2007 Monitor memo named among the prominent figures it had recruited to travel to Libya and meet with Qadhafi as part of the Project to Enhance the Profile of Libya and Muammar Qadhafi Perle, historian Francis Fukuyama, Princeton Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, famous Nixon interviewer David Frost, and MIT media lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, the brother of former deputy secretary of state and director of national intelligence John Negroponte.

Hat tip to Louis Proyect

UPDATE 1: Meanwhile, in Bahrain:

More than 100,000 protesters poured into the central Pearl Square here on Tuesday in an unbroken stream stretching back for miles along a central highway in the biggest antigovernment demonstration yet in this tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.

The protesters, mostly members of the Shiite majority, marched along the eastbound side of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Highway in a wide, unbroken column of red and white, the country’s colors. Men of all ages walked with women and children waving flags and calling for an end to the authoritarian government of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

In a nation of only a half a million citizens, the sheer size of the gathering was astonishing. The protest, organized by the Shiite opposition parties, began in the central Bahrain Mall, two miles from the square and seemed to fill the entire length of the highway between the two points.

INITIAL POST:

lenin explains:

Even at this late hour, it would be foolish to underestimate Gadaffi's ability to just hang on, to clench Libya in a rigor mortis grip. As crazed as he manifestly is, he has demonstrated considerable shrewdness in his time. For example, as soon as the Islamist opposition started become a real threat to his regime in the late 1990s, he started to look for ways to be accepted by the US-led caste of 'good guys'. The collapse of the USSR as a supplier of military hardware, trade, and ideological and moral leadership for Third Worldist states, would also have had something to do with this. The transition was made easier after 2001, and completed in 2004 partially at the best of Anglo-American oil. Gadaffi went so far, in his attempts to win over his erstwhile opponents, as to participate in anti-Islamist counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines with international support, lavish intelligence on US agencies and even compensate the victims of Lockerbie for a crime that Libya had not committed. The Bush administration might still have resisted such serenading were it not for the eager rush of European capital into Tripoli. So, Bush and Blair turned it into a story of Gadaffi seeing the light and giving up his non-existent WMD programmes, which charade Gadaffi duly participated in. This whole sequence of events was bizarre and improbable, but it worked: the subsequent oil contracts, amid a global oil price spike produced by Bush's wars, made him and his regime very wealthy. He was also able to hang opponents in public under the pretext of a fight against 'radical Islamists'. Joining the camp of American client dictatorships enabled Gadaffi to survive until this moment.

lenin further asserts that the US and the UK find Gaddafi preferable to the revolutinary alternative. If so, that might explain these live updates today from Al Jazeera:

8.34pm: Al Jazeera's White House correspondent Patty Culhane noted that Barack Obama has himself been silent about Libya for a few days, even though he had made public statements during Egypt's similar unrest.

8.32pm: John Kerry, a US politician, called the Libyan government's use of force beyond dispicable. He called on Barack Obama to reconsider sanctions against Libya, and said he hoped these were Gaddafi's last hours in power. Kerry said the international community must send a message to Gaddafi that his cowardly actions will have consequences.

8:29pm: PJ Crowley, US department of state spokesman, calls on Libya to respect rights of the thousands of US citizens in the country. He said the White House has grave concerns over the Libyan government's response to protests.

Grave concerns. Now, that's a strong condemnation. And, what precisely are these concerns? Concerns over the brutalities inflicted upon the protesters, or concerns about the extent to which the Libyan government's response increases the prospect of a successor regime more independent of the US? Note that, as in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain, the US has failed to call upon leadership of the country to step down, sticking with the political line of reform to be administered by them. Policymakers can't seem to grasp the the notion that Gaddafi, like Mubarak, no longer has the legitimacy to carry out reforms because of his recourse to violence.

There is also the possibility that Libya is perceived by Gulf states like Saudi Arabia as a test as to whether protests in Bahrain and, potentially, even on the peninsula itself, can be effectively suppressed through violence, if necessary. For now, the jury is still out as to whether the alternative strategy of draining the energy of the revolutionaries through negotiation and the implementation of innocuous reforms, as is currently being attempted in Egypt and Bahrain will ultimately succeed. Hence, the importance of the uprising in Libya. In Libya, unlike elsewhere, Gaddafi and his apparatus have nowhere to go, they must stand and fight or die. So, Libya becomes an example of what the ruling families of the Gulf can anticipate if they believe that they can only retain power through the ruthless suppression of the populace. Gaddafi's reliance upon mercernaries is particularly significant in this context. So far, the results from Libya are not encouraging, even if the outcome is far from clear.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Revolution comes to Libya? 

UPDATE: (Feb 21, 7:19 PM Pacific Time) News out of Libya indicates that Qaddafi has deployed the entirety of the state terror at his command. Although the full scale of the horror is most likely far greater than what few reports have gotten out of the country via some of the terrorized, here is a summary of bit of what we know: Photos have been shown of bodies with holes that back up the stories of heavy artillery being used against protesters; numerous reports of military jets and helicopters actually strafing crowds and bombing buildings in multiple cities in the west, including Tripoli; some indications that military planes were also deployed against the east, Benghazi in particular, as that is where the two Libyan air force officers who defected to Malta said they were headed before they refused orders; roaming gangs of armed thugs/mercenaries in motor vehicles armed with machine guns and firing indiscriminately at people have been reported by eyewitnesses in Tripoli; reports have also come in of rapes by mercenary forces.

There remain some signs of military defections, but the extent is entirely unclear and, in any case, Qaddafi and his sons still have mercenaries and essentially private militias at their disposal that are said to be better equipped than the military, although it seems certain to me that a full military mutiny would certainly tip the balance.

The (toothless and corrupt) Arab League is meeting tomorrow as is the (toothful and corrupt) UN Security Council. The outcome of those meetings will likely be influenced by the defection of Libyan diplomatic officials around the world, including some nine Ambassadors. There have been calls for the declaration of a no-fly zone in Libya and even the insertion of troops. I actually have to admit that I'm completely torn about such a prospect, generally viewing the recent history of UN-sanctioned military/police action as a manipulated tool of neo-colonialism, but horrified by the levels of violence that Qaddafi seems willing and able to deploy. I'd be interested to hear your views on the subject, even though our views obviously won't determine the outcomes of the meetings tomorrow. I would enthusiastically support the seizure of all regime assets abroad (I'm looking at you, Mr. Berlusconi, etc.) and banning all military sales to Libya (I'm looking at you, Misters Cameron and Obama, etc.).

UPDATE:
Al Jazeera is reporting that the US State Department has said that is studying Saif Qaddafi's speech for "prospects for reform." If that's accurate, that's possibly one of the dumbest things out of the State Department throughout this whole regional uprising. The most recent official statement I could find is the same old boilerplate about calling on the Libyan government to uphold their "commitment to protecting and safeguarding the right of peaceful protest."

ORIGINAL POST: Events are unfolding in Libya with great rapidity and a large amount of blood.

Hundreds are dead, some 300 in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, alone. Credible reports mount that the Libyan state has brought in mercenaries to attack protesters. Reports of heavy weaponry and sniper teams deployed against protesters are numerous. Other reports are coming in of military defections in Benghazi as well as the decisive defeat of Libyan security forces in that city. The mood is celebratory in Benghazi over having driven out and/or brought over to the protesters' side security forces, according to a doctor talking to Al Jazeera English ("Benghazi no longer belongs to Qaddafi," she says). There are reports of take-overs of military barracks and armories in other towns and cities in the east. Thousands of protesters, the latest reports say, have retaken Green Square in Tripoli after having been driven away a couple days ago and security forces for the moment have melted away. I'm not sure how important the tribes are, but a number of tribal leaders of some of the larger tribes have been giving vocal support to the protesters and there are reports of tribal-based attacks on governmental buildings in the the south of the country. Al Jazeera carried an interview with another tribal leader, this time in the east, I think, threatening to disrupt oil exports unless violence against the protesters stopped. Sketchy reports of protesters in cities just outside Tripoli preparing to descent on the capitol have also come in. Issandr El Amrani is reporting that airports have been sabotaged in order to impede the arrival of mercenaries, that oil companies are preparing evacuations, and that at least one major oil port has been shut down.

In the midst of all that, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, feted here in the NYT in an article of the "pro-western reformer" genre in which that publication specializes, appeared on Libyan state television in a rambling speech in which he blamed the protests on: outside Libyans in Europe and America hoping to spark a civil war so they can come in and rule the country, Islamist forces hoping to set up independent emirates, drugs, conspiracies by outside "Arab brethren" and Africans, and "mistakes on both sides" (namely protesters attacking security forces and security forces unprepared to deal with attacks) which had led to unfortunate deaths (although far fewer, he claims, than the pernicious foreign media is reporting).

He raised the specters of the break-up of the country, civil war, imperialist intervention, the disappearance of the social benefits of oil wealth (I imagine that many Libyans found this particularly risible) and called for a general assembly for national dialogue the General People's Congress to discuss reform tomorrow, which I can't imagine could possibly be anything more than theater that will fail to convince protesters, while promising constitutional reform, democracy, etc. etc., which in any case, he says, the Libyan government had already been in the process of implementing.

Embedded throughout the address were barely veiled threats of greater bloodshed--"We all have guns" he said at one point.

And switching focus to Bahrain for a brief moment: protesters have retaken Pearl Square in Manama and in the current absence of security forces have begun to set up a tent city similar to what we saw in Tahrir, calls for the fall of the monarchy appear to have solidified, and strikes have begun that have affected "some companies and some government facilities," according to Al Jazeera's James Bays, and have led to school closures.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bahrain Crackdown (Part 2) 

UPDATE 1: Martin Chulov of the Guardian files an amazing story about the ongoing protests in Bahrain:

Ali Ismail had helped wash the body of a dead protester for burial and he was already talking of more blood. We will go to them and they will attack us, he said of Bahrain's riot police. Within hours he was proved correct.

Just after 5.30pm on Friday, central Manama again erupted in gunfire and screaming. Up to 200 demonstrators had attempted to march on Pearl Square, the scene of Thursday morning's savage assault that left three dead. Just over a mile from the central Bahrain landmark, soldiers and police opened fire, killing at least one more protester and leaving 50 others wounded.

We don't care if they kill 5,000 of us, a protester screamed inside the forecourt of the Salmaniya hospital, which has become a staging point for Bahrain's raging youth. The regime must fall and we will make sure it does.

According to Chulov, over 50,000 people, between 5% and 10% of the kingdom's population, attended large funeral rallies earlier in the day for the victims of the previous day's violence. After the attack upon the people who attempted to march on Pearl Square, over 7,000 people gathered at the hospital, chanting Down with the King, down with the Khalifas.

INITIAL POST: The government attacks protesters again:

Shots were fired by soldiers around Pearl roundabout in Manama, the Bahraini capital, a day after police forcibly cleared a protest encampment from the traffic circle.

The circumstances of the shooting after nightfall on Friday were not clear. Officials at the main Salmaniya hospital said at least 50 people were injured, some with gunshot wounds.

Some doctors and medics on emergency medical teams were in tears as they tended to the wounded. X-rays showed bullets still lodged inside victims.

This is a war, said Dr. Bassem Deif, an orthopedic surgeon examining people with bullet-shattered bones.

Protesters described a chaotic scene of tear gas clouds, bullets coming from many directions and people slipping in pools of blood as they sought cover.

Bahrain's crown prince, meanwhile, called for calm, saying it was time for dialogue, not fighting.

Someone posted this comment at the Guardian website:

Just got back from salmaniya hospital, carnage and chaos. Lots of wounded and around 30000 people outside the hospital. There was a rumour that they were going to march back down to the pearl roundabout. Lots more arriving at the hospital. Absolutely shocking scenes. People praying in the corridoors it is an absolute disgrace. some of the things i have just seen will stay with me forever. We have gone from a protest to what feels like a civil war. For the first time tonight I was scared. You stop at traffic lights and the police car next to you they are loading their guns. At the big intersections they have huge screen tvs saw flashing lights and crapped myself again.

Meanwhile, President Obama limits his condemnation of the violence to urging restraint. I know next to nothing about this region, but I can't help wondering, are the protests and violence about to cross the strait to Saudi Arabia?

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear program! 

In the midst of debates/countering propaganda about Iran's nuclear program, as I find myself making arguments that should be familiar to readers here (e.g. there is little evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and that it has a right under international law and the non-proliferation regime of which it is a signatory to develop nuclear energy "for peaceful purposes"), I occasionally stop and try to remind myself of the conclusion I come to any time I think in any sustained manner about the possible-to-likely consequences of nuclear power. That conclusion is that no-one should have nuclear power, as it is just too dangerous to trust in the hands of humans. Two major reasons for this include the fact that the very production of nuclear energy helps create the materials necessary for nuclear weapons and the fact that I just don't trust capitalists (or anyone really, but capitalists least of all) to operate nuclear plants in a manner that is consistently safe. And as these stunning and horrifying photos by Robert Knoth, detailing some of the effects of the Chernobyl disaster some 20 years after the melt-down, graphically attest, the consequences of an accident can be severe and long-lasting. The victims shown in these photos, many of them born years after the disaster, will not be the last.

I was reminded of a third reason today while watching the documentary Into Eternity about the Onkalo nuclear waste depository under construction in Finland, which does an excellent job of illustrating the folly and hubris of thinking that we are remotely capable of safely disposing the nuclear waste we are now producing such that it remains isolated for the next 100,000 years. I haven't investigated any of the politics of the selection of the site itself and neither does filmmaker Michael Madsen in Into Eternity, which is not necessarily a failing given the conceit embedded in the film that it is a message to the future, but I find that I can't in theory oppose such projects because we do after all currently have on hand some 250,000 tons of radioactive waste that we need to do something with and, given the time-scale involved, I find any above ground scenario an even greater risk. But it certainly raises the question of why we would be continuing to produce more and more waste and creating the need for 100s and 100s of Onkalos on into the future.

I would recommend viewing this documentary, and if you have an hour-and-a-quarter to spare, here's your opportunity.


Bahrain Crackdown 

UPDATE 3: Nicholas Kristof provides an American exceptionalist perspective about the violence in Bahrain:

As a reporter, you sometimes become numbed to sadness. But it is heartbreaking to be in modern, moderate Bahrain right now and watch as a critical American ally uses tanks, troops, guns and clubs to crush a peaceful democracy movement and then lie about it.

This kind of brutal repression is normally confined to remote and backward nations, but this is Bahrain. An international banking center. The home of an important American naval base, the Fifth Fleet. A wealthy and well-educated nation with a large middle class and cosmopolitan values.

Where to begin? Is he really that ignorant of Jeanne Kirkpatrick and her advocacy on behalf of dictatorial US allies?

UPDATE 2: According to the New York Times, the army has taken control of the streets in Manama except for the area near the main hospital. And, curiously, the Al Jazeeza live blog has scrubbed the 2:10am report that I posted in Update 1.

UPDATE 1: Reports from Bahrain suggest a Tianamen scenario, or perhaps, a Taiwanese 2-28 massacre:

Troops and tanks have locked down the Bahraini capital of Manama on Thursday after riot police swinging clubs and firing tear gas smashed into demonstrators in a pre-dawn assault, killing at least four people.

Hours after the attack on Manama's main Pearl Roundabout, the military announced a ban on gatherings, saying on state TV that it had key parts of the capital under its control.

Khalid Al Khalifa, Bahrain's foreign minister, justified the crackdown as necessary because the demonstrators were polarising the country and pushing it to the brink of the sectarian abyss.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with his Gulf counterparts, he also said the violence was regrettable. Two people had died in police firing on the protesters prior to Thursday's deadly police raid.

An Al Jazeera correspondent, who cannot be named for security reasons, said that clashes were no longer limited to one place...they are now spread out in different parts of the city. He said that the hospitals are full of injured people after last night's police raid on the pro-reform demonstrators.

Some of them are severely injured with gunshots. Patients include doctors and emergency personnel who were overrun by the police while trying to attend to the wounded.

Another Al Jazeera online producer said that booms could be heard from different parts of the city, suggesting that tear-gas is being used to disperse the protesters in several neighbourhoods.

The protesters may be having more success in resisting the crackdown than that this article indicates, after all, the military statement that key parts of Manama are under control could be construed as indicating that much of the city is not. Interestingly, the report on the Al Jazeera live blog has a different emphasis:

2.10am Al Jazeera correspondents report that clashes in the capital are no longer confined to one place, but have spread to multiple locations across the city.

Doesn't sound like the capital has been locked down as described in the first sentence of the article, does it?

INITIAL POST: Ugly scenes in the early morning hours from Manama, the capital of Bahrain, where protesters, predominately from the repressed Shia majority, were brutally attacked:

Without warning, hundreds of heavily armed riot police officers rushed into Pearl Square here early Thursday, firing tear gas and concussion grenades at the thousands of demonstrators who were sleeping there as part of a widening protest against the nation’s absolute monarchy.

Men, women and young children ran screaming, choking and collapsing.

The square was filled with the crack of tear gas canisters and the wail of ambulances rushing people to the hospital. Teams of plainclothes police officers carrying shotguns swarmed through the area, but it was unclear if they used the weapons to subdue the crowd.

There was a fog of war, said Mohammed Ibrahim as he took refuge in a nearby gas station. He was barefoot, had lost his wallet and had marks on his leg where he said he had been beaten. There were children, forgive them.

Live updates from the Guardian reported that armoured vehicles, including tanks, in the streets of Manama and that the security forces are turned away ambulances sent for over a thousand injured victims who remained in the square.

Now, the military is asserting control over the streets:

The Bahrain military, backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, took control of most of this capital on Thursday hours after hundreds of heavily armed riot police officers fired shotguns, tear gas and concussion grenades to break up a pro-democracy camp inspired by the tumult swirling across the Middle East.

Soldiers took up positions on foot, controlled traffic and told demonstrators that any further protests would be banned. The intervention came after police, without warning, rushed into Pearl Square in the early hours of the morning, in a crackdown on demonstrators who were sleeping there as part of a widening protest against the nation’s absolute monarchy.

At least five people died, some of them reportedly killed in their sleep with scores of shotgun pellets to the face and chest, according to a witness and three doctors who received the dead and at least 200 wounded at a hospital here. The witness and the physicians spoke in return for anonymity for fear of official reprisals.

And, the number of deaths is likely to rise:

17:02pm Al Jazeera's correspondent says that three more bodies are being kept in the morgue of Salmaniya hospital. There are also reports of another victim - a young girl. Two more patients are fighting for their lives in the hospital. There are also a lot of missing people. A medical source told our correspondent that the army may have taken away bodies in a refrigerated truck.

By way of background, admittedly courtesy of wikipedia, Bahrain is an archipelago in the Persian Gulf in which a Sunni minority rules over a Shia majority. It has a long rich history as a trading center dating back to ancient times, with the people of the island being among the first to embrace Islam. The Sunni Al-Khalifa family cemented its rule over the archipelago in the 19th Century, with the British playing a prominent role in the country's governance behind the scenes. With the emergence of the oil industry in the 20th Century, the monarchy, with British assistance, suppressed leftist labor movements agitating for political reforms in the 1950s.

More recently, in the 1990s, there was an uprising involving leftists, liberals and Islamicists against the monarchy. It was considered the first such coalition of such groups centered around issues of democratic reform. In Bahrain, they demanded the restoration of the Parliament dissolved in the mid-1970s as well as the restoration of the constitution that was suspended during this same period. With the passage of mild political reforms in 2001, the violence of the uprising abated, but has not fully disappeared, as one can readily find accounts of Shia boycotts of elections as well as riots and protests persisting to the present day. A brief persual of the Amnesty International library of reports reveals numerous episodes of illegal detentions and suppression of political activity.

Indeed, the most striking thing that one discovers about Bahrain is that the country has been experiencing ongoing political turmoil for decades. So, it is not suprising to discover that the implementation of the most recent reforms does not appear to have altered the essential autocratic structure of the society. Prior to the attack on the square, protesters demanded the release of political prisoners, more jobs and housing, the creation of a more representative and empowered parliament, a new constitution written by the people and a new a new cabinet that does not include Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, who has been in office for 40 years. Shias assert that they are discriminated against in terms of access to education, government employment and political participation in the government, but while the current protests have a significant sectarian dimension, they have, as have past protest movements, drown support from many Sunnis as well, which, in their current manifestation, may reflect the extent to which neoliberal policies are impoverishing many Bahranis, regardless of religious background.

And how does a monarchy maintain the illusion of order in such a society? By recruiting foreigners to serve in the security forces and instigating sectarian conflict by actively seeking to diminish the influence of the suppressed majority:

Bahrain's security forces are the backbone of the Al Khalifa regime, now facing unprecedented unrest after overnight shootings. But large numbers of their personnel are recruited from other countries, including Jordan, Pakistan and Yemen.

Tanks and troops from Saudi Arabia were also reported to have been deployed in support of Bahraini forces. Precise numbers are a closely guarded secret, but in recent years the Manama government has made a concerted effort to recruit non-native Sunni Muslims as part of an attempt to swing the demographic balance against the Shia majority – who make up around 65% of the population of 1 million.

Bahrainis often complain that the riot police and special forces do not speak the local dialect, or in the case of Baluchis from Pakistan, do not speak Arabic at all and are reviled as mercenaries. Officers are typically Bahrainis, Syrians or Jordanians. Iraqi Ba'athists who served in Saddam Hussein's security forces were recruited after the US-led invasion in 2003. Only the police employs Bahraini Shias.

The secret police – the Bahrain national security agency, known in Arabic as the Mukhabarat – has undergone a process of Bahrainisationin recent years after being dominated by the British until long after independence in 1971. Ian Henderson, who retired as its director in 1998, is still remembered as the Butcher of Bahrain because of his alleged use of torture. A Jordanian official is currently described as the organisation's master torturer.

Meanwhile, where is the US in all this? Predictably, the New York Times provides the pragmatic perspective:

Though much smaller than Egypt, Bahrain is another pillar of the American security architecture in the Middle East. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, a Sunni Muslim, is a staunch ally of Washington in its showdown with Iran’s Shiite theocracy. In diplomatic cables made public by wikileaks, he urged administration officials to take military action to disable Iran’s nuclear program.Bahrain’s situation is also more complicated than Egypt’s because the uprising there is not purely a case of economically thwarted young people rebelling against a hidebound regime. It has a majority Shiite population that is expressing long-simmering resentments against the Sunni minority that rules with a tight grip.

Bahrain is considered a valued ally in the so-called war on terror as well.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Worker Distress in Egypt 

As mentioned by Hossam el-Hamalawy the other day, the Egyptian working class labors under harsh conditions, as indicated by these two people interviewed by Guardian reporter Chris McGreal the other day:

Striking workers in the state-owned Cairo transport authority took to the streets to demand a pay increase and benefits such as free hospital care.

Among them was Ahmed Said, who has worked as a driver for the company for 18 years. His take-home pay is about £60 a month, of which more than half goes on rent. He feeds a family of five on the rest.

There is just enough money for food. We have meat once a week but not all weeks. Some days we do not eat dinner. If a child goes to the hospital and we have to pay for that, then me and my wife do not have a meal, he said. This is wrong. How can Mubarak be worth so much and we have so little?

He said that after years of staying silent out of fear of the pervasive secret police under Mubarak's rule, he would not now be intimidated. Before, we had to be careful. We would be arrested. But now we can talk. We need food. We have been on strike four days. The army cannot stop us, he said.

Another transport worker, Hatem Saleh, waved a wage slip that showed he earned E£238 (£25) in basic pay last month, with E£225 (£24) in overtime and bonuses. Again, more than half goes on rent.

Saleh entered the flat he shares with his wife and two teenage daughters, and opened the fridge.

We have a big fridge, but look, it is empty. What is there? Some vegetables. Not enough vegetables for more than two days. We have some bread. We have not had meat in two weeks because we had to pay some money for my daughter's school. If we buy clothes, we eat less. How can this be when I have worked for nearly 20 years? he said.

Note that Said and Saleh are probably considered relatively privileged in terms of their employment, as both have held their jobs for many years. If conditions for them are this bad, one can only imagine what life is like for the millions of other Egyptians relegated to the informal sector.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Next Stage of the Egyptian Revolution (Part 1) 

From Reuters:

The Higher Military Council will also ban meetings by labour unions or professional syndicates, effectively forbidding strikes, and tell all Egyptians to get back to work after the unrest that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

From Hossam el-Hamalawy yesterday:

From day 1 of our uprising, the working class has been taking part in the protests. Who do you think were the protesters in Mahalla, Suez and Kafr el-Dawwar for example? However, the workers were taking part as demonstratorsand not necessarily as workers– meaning, they were not moving independently. The govt had brought the economy to halt, not the protesters by its curfew, shutting down of banks and business. It was a capitalist strike, aiming at terrorizing the Egyptian people. Only when the govt tried to bring the country back to normal on Sunday that workers returned to their factories, discussed the current situation, and started to organize en masse, moving as a block.

The strikes waged by the workers this week were both economic and political fused together. In some of the locations the workers did not list the regime’s fall among their demands, but they used the same slogans as those protesting in Tahrir and in many cases, at least those I managed to learn about and I’m sure there are others, the workers put forward a list of political demands in solidarity with the revolution.

These workers are not going home anytime soon. They started strikes because they couldn’t feed their families anymore. They have been emboldened by Mubarak’s overthrowal, and cannot go back to their children and tell them the army has promised to bring them food and their rights in I don’t know how many months. Many of the strikers have already started raising additional demands of establishing free trade unions away from the corrupt, state backed Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions.

Today, I’ve already started receiving news that thousands of Public Transport workers are staging protests in el-Gabal el-Ahmar. The temporary workers at Helwan Steel Mills are also protesting. The Railway technicians continue to bring trains to halt. Thousands of el-Hawamdiya Sugar Factory are protesting and oil workers will start a strike tomorrow over economic demands and also to impeach Minister Sameh Fahmy and halt gas exports to Israel. And more reports are coming from other industrial centers.

Both the Reuters report and the Hossam el-Hamalawy post confirm something that As'ad Abukhalil stated in his guide as to how to anticipate future developments, which I recommend that you read in its entirety:

The role of the middle classes will recede on the streets, and that of peasants and workers will rise.

lenin has an excellent post on this subject as well.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Egypt Erupts (Part 12) 

UPDATE 1: Just got done watching President Obama's brief statement about the departure of Mubarak. His body language was in marked contrast to his words, conveying a sense of fatigue, of defeat, of the realization that he was not able to shape events in Egypt in a way consistent with perceived US interests.

INITIAL POST: For my perspective, accidentally written in advance, please consider reading my initial post from yesterday if you have not already done so. As I said, the removal of Mubarak, and the failure of the US to replace him with Suleiman, is a significant anti-imperialist event comparable to the people of Venezuela coming out into the streets in April 2002 to reverse the US supported coup against President Hugo Chavez. One of the most monstrous dictatorships in the world, one constructed with billions of US dollars to facilitate US hegemony in North Africa and the Middle East, has come to an end. We can only hope that the Egyptian people will soon act to end the economic strangulation of Gaza by opening the Rafah crossings. Perhaps, wikileaks, or some future variant thereof, will reveal the disparity between what the US government said in public and what it did in private in response to the Egyptian revolution.

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Egypt Erupts: Update [Mubarak Falls] 

UPDATE 2: Mubarak steps down, hands power to the military supreme council. Great joy in the streets. It will, of course, remain to be seen the extent to which this is a significant democratic development, but for now, it seems, the best thing to do is to proffer congratulations for the perseverance of the Egyptian people and to recommend that they do not forget the power they have in their hands.

UPDATE 1: Al Jazeera is reporting that they can confirm that Mubarak has left Cairo and arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh. If that is true (based on earlier articles that I can't locate now locating his Sharm el-Sheikh compound at a golf resort), than he is here.

INITIAL POST: Massive crowds in Tahrir Sq., perhaps the largest so far. The state television and radio building has been surrounded by thousands and state television admitted on air that they are unable to move staff or guests in or out of the building. Growing crowds at the presidential palace, with the military apparently moving to accommodate the growing crowds by moving checkpoints to wider and wider areas. Al Jazeera reports that an army major has joined protests in Tahrir and has said that 15 other middle-ranking officers have also gone over and that the "armed forces solidarity movement with the people has begun."

Huge crowds also in Alexandria, they have set off on a march to another presidential palace, the last palace occupied King Farouk before he was ousted in the Free Officers' Coup of 1952 that brought Nasser to power.

Indications of large crowds in many other cities throughout Egypt, as one might expect, but not much first-hand reporting. Al Jazeera's live blog says "thousands" in Mahala, Tanta, Ismailia, and Suez.

The key to this, it appears to me, is whether the lower-ranking officers and rank-and-file of the military can either be split from, or convinced to impose their will on, the top ranks that are fully invested in the regime. Unfortunately, this suggests that the role of the military in Egyptian in political life will, whatever the outcome, remain central, but I don't really see any other way that the protesters can achieve their base demands.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Egypt Erupts (Part 11) 

UPDATE 9: From Al Jazeera:

3:14am Al Jazeera Arabic reports roughly 10,000 protesters are surrounding the state TV building in Cairo. The protesters are planning to spend the night there.

In China, protesters would have already cut off power to the building and attempted to burn it down. Whether that would be a good thing or not in this context, I really can't say.

UPDATE 8: At last, the White House issues a statement. Click on the link, and read it carefully, even though it is a bit verbose. No insistence that Mubarak and Suleiman resign, just a regurgitation of their objections as to how they are managing the process, with an insistence that the state of emergency be lifted. They are sticking with their policy that only Mubarak or Suleiman can administer an orderly transition.

UPDATE 7: From the BBC:

Robert Springborg, from the US Naval Postgraduate School tells Reuters Egypt's leaders are desperate men. He says: The speeches tonight are not intended to bring an end to the crisis in a peaceful way but to inflame the situation so there is justification for the imposition of direct military rule. They are risking not only the coherence of the military, but even indeed - and I use this term with advisement here - civil war.

All with the connivance of the US. There are now reports that Mubarak has delegated all meaningful powers to Suleiman, which is what the US has been urging for quite some time.

UPDATE 6: Oh, by the way, did you notice that President Obama's brief remarks were, as they were last week, entirely consistent with the content of Mubarak's speech? Meanwhile, there is this from Alexandria, according to the New York Times:

Ahmed Mekkawy, a blogger in Alexandria, reported on Twitter in the past 40 minutes:

Rage is extreme in Alexandria. Very large protest moving from Sidi Gaber to the sea. I can feel the hate in the air. Very worried about what will happen.

Protest stopped at the army command center in Sidi Gaber. People are sitting on the ground. The rage is going to the army now, calls to them to remove Hosny.

Chants: people want to execute the president.

North area military command center is getting totally surrounded by protesters.

Events may be proceeding a little faster than Bradley anticipated.

UPDATE 5: Crowds in Cairo and Alexandria are incensed. Suleiman speaks briefly on Egyptian state television, maligns Al Jazeera, insists upon the need to restore order and urges everyone to go home to revive the Egyptian economy. His remarks are a clear provocation, an incitement to violence so as to justify a crackdown and the continuation of the state of emergency. Is this why Secretary of State Clinton is so supportive of him?

John Bradley, the author of a recent book about the potential for revolutionary change witihn Egypt, Inside Egypt, speaks from Al Jazeera's London studio. He says that the revolution starts tomorrow, and, agreeing with Abukhalil, bluntly states: They are saying one thing in Washington and doing another. Indeed. The mendacity of the Obama administration is breathtaking. It will consign Egypt to an indeterminate period of out of control violence if necessary to prevent the success of the movement. Predictably, the US response to the speeches of Mubarak and Suleiman is silence.

UPDATE 4: Wow! Not even a lifting of the state of emergency! I've come around to accepting what As'ad Abukhalil has consistently said. The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia will not let him go. The speech sounded like it was written by Frank Wisner. The empire has dug in for the long haul. It looks like things are going to start getting really violent. As Abukhalil posted a few minutes ago, Mubarak is begging the protesters to storm the Bastille.

UPDATE 3: The celebration began about 5 hours ago after the reading of this statement on Egyptian state television:

Statement Number One, issued by the Higher Council of the Armed Forces,

Stemming from the armed forces' responsibility and committing to the protection of the people, safeguarding their interest and security, and keen on the safety of the homeland, the citizens and the achievements of the great Egyptian people, and asserting the legitimate rights of the people,

The Higher Council of the Armed Forces convened today, Thursday, 10 February 2011, to deliberate on the latest developments of the situation and decided to remain in continuous session to discuss what measures and arrangements could be taken to safeguard the homeland and its achievements, and the aspirations of the great Egyptian people.

Peace, mercy and the blessings of God.

UPDATE 2: From As'ad Abukhalil:

A most reliable source sent me this: D.C is striving to transfer the president's power to omri shlomo [`umar sulayman]. anan & most senior officers are against. only the commanders of the air force & republican guard are [in favor]. tantawi is in the middle. anan will win

Still waiting for the Mubarak speech. Is the US holding it up? Al Jazeera reported that the military council had agreed to conduct meetings in public. Was this the reason for it? To expose those in the Egyptian military unwilling to break with the US?

UPDATE 1: It is expected that Mubarak will give a televised speech within minutes at around noon Pacific time. Meanwhile, the crowds in central Cairo are enormous, filing the entirety of Tahrir Square and the streets that flow into it. Egyptian state television is now providing favorable, live coverage of the protests. Follow events live on Al Jazeera. There are also good live news blogs on the Al Jazeera, Guardian and BBC websites. And don't forget Issandr El-Amrani at The Arabist, Hossam el-Hamalawy at 3arabawy and Zeinobia at Egyptian Chronicles.

INITIAL POST: We are on the verge one of the most significant anti-imperialist international events since the people of Venezuela poured out into the streets in April 2002 to reverse the US supported coup against President Hugo Chavez. President Hosni Mubarak was our Ceaucescu, a man sufficiently merciless that he created one of the harshed, most hermetically sealed dictatorial societies in the world. His country was consistently one of the top 5 recipients of US financial assistance, much of it directed to the military and the security services. Despite knowledge that torture was so pervasive that middle class Egyptians refused to report thefts, the US never pressured the Mubarak regime to stop brutalizing its people. Instead, US officials frequently praised him as one of our most steadfast allies. For the US, as with the Israelis, the suppression of the Egyptian people was an essential requirement for their control over the region. As As'ad Abukhalil has said, the architects of the Camp David accords should be ashamed, as they facilitated the creation of a monstrous dictatorship.

It is unclear how the country will be governed in light of Mubarak's impending departure. Al Jazeera has reported that the army refused to let Mubarak transfer power to Vice President Suleiman. It appears that, for all practical purposes, the military has already seized power, as the Egyptian military council has met without Mubarak and issued a public statement to the effect that it has moved to safeguard the country without his authorization. Faced with strikes spreading throughout the country, and the likelihood that many of their troops would refuse to use force against protests and strikes, the military finally intervened irreversibly on the side of the people. For the State Department and the Pentagon, the refusal of the military to facilitate an orderly transition, despite having received billions of dollars of US assistance, must be a grave disappointment, a geopolitical catastrophe. While, as a leftist of an anti-authoritarian kind, I am ambivalent about the intensity of the nationalist dimensions of the movement, the celebratory waving of Egyptian flags throughout Tahrir Square is, paradoxically, nothing less than the rebirth of pan-Arabism, something that the US and Israel thought had been interred with Nasser.

No doubt, it is, as evildoer has said in a comment to Rojo's post, a bourgeois revolution, but even that degree of political transformation is a disaster for the US and its allies in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. The dictatorial suppression of the populace has been a necessary precondition for not only the so-called war on terror, but US hegemony since the late 1970s, when the US, Israel and Egypt signed the Camp David accords, and Zia was subsequently assassinated in Pakistan in the following decade after crossing Henry Kissinger. It cannot tolerate the slightest expression of political autonomy. Policies like renditions, the economic strangulation of Gaza and drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan require the subjugation of the peoples of these regions. As a consequence, the US accepted the creation of kleptocratic dictatorships from Morocco to Pakistan. In return for maintaining strict social controls on their people, the rulers of these countries were allowed to become obscenely wealthy. The perils associated with such a mendacious foreign policy have finally come home to roost.

Of course, the Egyptian military has become economically powerful because of their relationship to President Mubarak. Accordingly, it has also intervened to preserve its economic privileges. For that reason, we can expect an intensification of class conflict within Egypt in the aftermath of Mubarak's departure. Labor activism laid the groundwork for challenging the dictatorship, and strike actions are likely to persist going forward. With the lifting of the state of emergency (which is now of limited utility, anyway), the way is now open for labor activists and leftists to openly organize within Egyptian society. Perhaps, there will be an effort by the military to stigmatize such activity in an anti-nationalist fashion, but, compared to the repression of Mubarak, such an effort would be less repressive. The most obvious, most immmediate consequence of Mubarak's departure will be an explosion of political activism among Egyptians. Maybe, President Chavez can be invited to Egypt soon to advise the military on how to most effectively manage this challenging political transition.

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Suppressing Democracy in Haiti 

While we're understandably focused on the uprising in Egypt and US ham-handed attempts to aid in its suppression, other events are happening within our hemisphere that further demonstrate US (and French and Canadian) hostility to democracy where it is thought to interfere with foreign policy goals. This piece by Mark Weisbrot does a good job of summarizing some of the more recent developments. It is rather erroneously titled "Haiti's growing momentum towards democracy," but I'm guessing that was the work of a Guardian editor and not Weisbrot himself.

I'm going to leave this post here for now, but plan to spend some more time on Haiti, past and present, in the relatively near future.

Egypt Erupts: Checkmate(?) 

UPDATE 4: Ok, I can't actually sleep. Rumors are rife that Mubarak is stepping down. One protester tells the Guardian's Jack Shenker that if power simply gets handed over to Suleiman, "all that will happen is that everyone in Tahrir will rewrite their signs, and then carrying on demonstrating." More rumors that the personnel of state television and radio are evacuating their building, as well they should. The rumors that Mubarak is leaving have clearly reached Tahrir Sq. and one of the chants that has arisen is for the extension of the revolution. If Mubarak does step down tonight (or morning/afternoon for us in the US), the revolution is not over, I'm sure.

UPDATE 3: A slight bit more from watching Al Jazeera before I head to bed. This transition proposal is being described as involving a year-long transition period after the fall of the regime (I'm presuming that this of course involves the removal of Mubarak/Suleiman and their immediate coterie as well as the removal of the NPD), headed by the below-described presidential council and under a interim constitution, during which a "council of experts" would work to draw up a new constitution and preparations would be made for new parliamentary and presidential elections.

And, just as I wrote the last paragraph, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces made an announcement (with neither Mubarak nor Suleiman anywhere to be seen in the room) on state television, that they are going to "begin" convening regularly to address the "legitimate demands" of the Egyptian people and to "protect the property" of the Egyptian people. The crowds in Tahrir Square responded to the news with chants of "The Army and the People are one hand" and then returned to calls for the fall of the regime. Reuters is being quoted by Al Jazeera as reporting that a senior military leader had told crowds at Tahrir that "your demands will be met."

Make of that what you will, perhaps you will know its ramifications before I do, because I must go to bed at this late hour of eight in the morning. I'm sure any major developments will be ably discussed by Richard.

UPDATE 2: According to Al Jazeera:
We're hearing from our correspondents that the coalition of youth movements will shortly announce a refined list of demands for the transfer of power, including the dissolution of parliament and the adoption of a temporary constitution allowing a three-person presidential council - with a representative each from the military and judiciary - to supervise preparations for full presidential and parliamentary elections.
I can't imagine that the youth coalition actually thinks that this will push the intransigent Suleiman/Mubarak regime off their position, but it does suggest something about their thinking about the role of the military in the wake of revelations that the military has been involved in arresting and torturing protesters and threats from Suleiman and, more recently, the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, threatening martial law. From the start, it seems to me, the organizers of the protests have sought to cultivate the sympathies of the military. Stated in these most general of terms, I personally believe that this was the proper tactic. There was certainly no way that the pro-democracy movement could possibly physically face off against the Egyptian military. It would be the end of the movement, and an extremely bloody end. Whether there was a failure to cultivate the rank-and-file and lower-level officers versus a reliance on trying to appeal to the top leadership, as deeply imbricated in the regime as they are, will likely be a subject of enduring debate, whatever the results.

UPDATE 1: The Guardian's Jack Shenker on the "micro-dramas" of the intervention of the masses (link):
What's been really interesting this morning though is the news filtering in about small-scale strikes and demonstrations breaking out in all manner of nooks and crannies across the country. When corruption and the primacy of wasta (connections or influence) is as institutionalised as it has been in Egypt over the past few decades, it affects everyone at every level – from the presidency down to the local cigarette kiosk at the end of the street. And when the anchors of that system appear to be crumbling at the top, as Ashraf Khalil persuasively argued in a piece for Foreign Policy yesterday, a sense that it is now possible to fight back quickly percolates down as well.

Hence entities that you would never normally associate with political activism are suddenly rising up in protest – from the Supreme Council of Antiquities to the Animal Research Centre, where staff claim their director has been siphoning off money destined for avian influenza programmes to buy personal villas in Alexandria.

Not all of these micro-dramas are explicitly political, and few of them will make headlines on their own. But they all add up to a growing sense that something fundamental is shifting in Egypt: people are no longer willing to accept the status quo power dynamics between themselves and their overlords, be they in the presidential palace or in the boss's office next door.

INITIAL POST:
In answer to the question posed by Richard in the title to the last post, Esam Al-Amin, at least, seems confident of the answer: checkmate.

I recommend his article as an interesting and relatively comprehensive summary of what we've been seeing these past weeks. It also provides an interesting look at the structure of the youth leadership:
On Sunday Feb. 6, the youth groups that spearheaded Egypt’s revolution formed a coalition called the “Unified Leadership of the Youth of the Rage Revolution.” It consisted of five groups with a grassroots base and are considered the backbone of the organized activities of the revolution.

The coalition includes two representatives from each of the April 6 Youth Movement, the Justice and Freedom Group, the Popular Campaign to Support El-Baradei, the Democratic Front Party, and the popular Muslim Brotherhood Movement. In addition four independent members were also added to the leadership for a total of fourteen members. Maher, the coordinator of the April 6 movement, and Ghoneim, an independent, were elected to the leadership. All members are from the youth in their late 20s or early 30s.

The April 6 Youth Movement was formed in response to workers' strikes in 2008 as, originally, a Facebook group. The Muslim Brotherhood's youth wing has been included, likely, in recognition of their role in defending Tahrir Square on the night of the most violent assaults on Tahrir by state thugs, after the organization originally declined to participate in the protests. Al-Amin sheds a bit of light on this as well:

Muhammad Abbas, 26, is another leader of the coalition representing the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood movement (MB). After initial hesitation at the beginning of the uprising, the MB has brought since Jan. 28 tens of thousands of its supporters to join and help organize the efforts in Tahrir Squ are as well as in other demonstrations across the country.

On Feb. 2, government goons were beating up, throwing Molotov cocktails, and shooting at the demonstrators. Some of the female demonstrators under siege called Muslim Brotherhood leaders Mohammad El-Biltagi and Esam El-Erian pleading for help. Both leaders rushed to Tahrir Square after midnight leading over five thousand MB members to break the siege.

Ghoneim, of course, is the Google marketing executive who started the "We Are All Khaled Said" Arabic Facebook page and whose interview on Egyptian television following his release from arrest has been credited with providing a sympathy boost to the protesters at a moment when there was worry about energies flagging.

Al-Amin mentions one more of the independent members:

Dr. Sally Tooma Moore, 32, a Christian Copt and an independent member of the coalition’s leadership, is an Egyptian-British medical doctor. Under gunfire, she helped save hundreds of lives using a makeshift hospital in a Cairo mosque during the violent attacks of the security forces and the outlaws sponsored by the ruling party.
Meanwhile, Ahram Online, which as far as I can determine is associated with the state-owned Al Ahram daily newspaper, fills in a few more details (perhaps this is a sign of the increasingly shaky grasp of the regime over its own propaganda machine? It would certainly fit in with reports of state journalists protesting against their Mubarak-supporting editors over the past day or two. Their front page certainly seems to be far more supportive of the protesters than Mubarak/Suleiman):

According to Ahmed Ezzat, a HASHD [Popular Movement for Change-Rojo] and coalition member, the coalition is still expanding and intends to include other young and diverse political trends that have been part of Egypt's political sphere over the past few past years.

"Although it started with only these groups we hope it expands to include all the other young activists, including young members from the Karama party, Labor party, Kifaya and all others including independent bloggers and Internet activists,” says Ezzat.

Not claiming that they are talking on the uprising's behalf, the coalition was formed with an aim to provide representation for the young who have played a role in political life in Egypt and have contributed to the current revolt. However, the uprising has taken its own path, independent of these groups, and, according to many of their members, the coalition only aims to articulate its demands and keep them at the forefront of public consciousness as Egypt prepares for change.

Ahram Online, elsewhere, also describes some of the relationships between the youth coalition, the so-called "Wise Men," and the regime:

In the course of their meeting with committee, the youth representatives said they had been called by the office of the vice-president and asked to join yesterday’s dialogue with various opposition forces. They declined, and said they decided they would rather have the “dialogue”, or “wise men” committee, negotiate on their behalf. They were very clear however that they were ceding nothing to the committee, but rather asking it to deliver their demands and report back to them on the course of negotiations. This was readily agreed to by the committee; Abul-Magd [a member of the "Wise Men" described earlier in the article as former head of the Human Rights Council-Rojo] and others assured the youth representatives that they made no claims to speak in the name of the protesters in Tahrir sq or anywhere else in the country, but were merely trying to help facilitate the realization of the objectives of the 25 January Revolution, with which they are fully accord.

Representing the committee in the meeting with vice-president Suleiman were law El-Gamal and Sawiris. El-Gamal arrived at the committee’s ad hoc headquarters at the premises of Al-Shorouk daily newspaper, and briefed committee members and the youth representatives on the vice-president’s offers, which had been set down in a statement, later published as the outcome of an agreement between the government and the protesters representatives.

In separate meetings, both groupings wholly rejected the statement, which they described as a manifest attempt to circumvent the revolution and subvert its basic demands. Similar reactions were later declared by the protesters in Tahrir and elsewhere, as well as by the Muslim Brotherhood, which had won a newfound, if still de facto legitimacy by being invited to the dialogue.

According to this article, the "Wise Men" and the youth coalition have agreed on certain non-negotiable demands "if the negotiating process is to go on:"

1) Eliminating the state of emergency, in force for the past 30 years; 2) immediate release of all political prisoners, and prisoners of conscience; 3) immediate arrest and prosecution of NDP Oligarchs, officials and police officers and agents implicated in the “criminal” attacks on protesters (killing over 200 people and thousands of injured), and on public and private property, including the attempts to loot and burn the Egyptian museum. 4) Bring an immediate halt to all forms of incitement against the protesters, by state officials and the state owned media. And, finally 5) fire the minister of information, Anas El-Fiqi, and put Egyptian state TV under the oversight of an independent Board of Trustees.
Given that the Guardian report Richard cites below indicates that those disappeared during the past weeks alone amount to perhaps thousands of people and the fact that among those "NDP Oligarchs, officials, and police officers and agents implicated in the "criminal" attacks on protesters" are most certainly Mubarak, Suleiman, Prime Minister Shafiq, and Defense Minister Tantawy, to name the few most obvious, it's difficult to see how these demands could be met without fully pulling out the entire regime, root and branch.

A couple caveats, the latter of which thankfully mitigates against the first:

First, I have extreme doubts about the commitment of the "Wise Men" to any form of radical change or even to what they may now claim are non-negotiable demands. Contra Ralph Nader, I think its absolutely ridiculous and reactionary to assert that "Only the super-rich [or otherwise powerful] can save us." I suspect the "Wise Men" are wise to the extent that they are elites that have seen the writing on the wall for the Pharaoh earlier than most and have moved to manage the revolution in order to preserve what they can of existing class privileges while seeking a wider bourgeois political realm in which to maneuver, without any essential break in the broader global position of Egypt. In other words, continued subservience to the neoliberal financial and Camp David orders, with perhaps some symbolic changes as sops to the popular mood.

Secondly, and far more hopefully, the Egyptian masses appear to have decisively intervened in history and, as always when the masses consciously join history, all the plans of leaders, no matter how sincere or devious, youthful or decrepit, can turn to no avail.


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