Egypt struggles for democracy, US backs tyranny
There has been a fairly successful attempt over the months since the beginning of the Arab Spring to re-write history putting America and other western powers on the side of the protesters, rather than on the side of their oppressors.
The opposite was the case, and still is.
Up until the very last days America was calling for a “transition” led by either Mubarak himself, or the much-hated Omar Suleiman – a man allegedly responsible for horrific oppression, including personally overseeing the torture of Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib – to lead the transitional government.
This made sense of course, Suleiman was someone the Americans had experience dealing with.
Habib’s alleged torture, like that of many others in Egypt’s nightmarish dungeons, was committed, one can only assume, at America’s behest.
American forces took Habib from Pakistan, and transferred him to Egypt where he says he suffered unspeakable acts of violence and humiliation before being turned back over to American custody and transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
There are many stories like his.
They demonstrate the close co-operation between America’s imperial system and the odious Mubarak regime.
Only after it became resoundingly clear that neither Mubarak nor one of his cronies would placate the Egyptian people did America give up on them.
They then decided to throw their weight behind the next best thing.
They did not have to look far.
When the uprising began, Sami Annan, a senior figure in the Egyptian military and currently the deputy chairman of the Supreme council of Armed Forces – effectively the Number 2 man in the country – was in Washington meeting with high ranking American officers.
This kind of military-to-military contact, including a great deal of joint training and exercises – such as the biannual Operation Bright Star – has been an important and under-reported fact of world politics for decades.
When Sadat signed the Camp David accords, forging a submissive peace with Israel, and bringing Egypt into the American fold, the military still had an almost exclusive grip on power, and it was with them that Washington first developed its relationship.
The cornerstone of this relationship was then, as it is now, massive military aid, which America has poured into Egypt’s secretive military budget ever since.
In 2010 this is estimated to have been around US$1.3 billion, making Egypt the second largest recipient of US military aid, with Israel predictably, coming in at number one.
As the corrupt civilian leadership that had grown up around President Mubarak, and his son Gamal, became clearly unfeasible as US partners, the military and the US administration decided to cut them loose so as to not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
As a result, Mubarak left office – but the civilian transitional government that Mohamed El Baradei and others had offered to form did not eventuate.
Instead, the generals were in charge.
And now as Egypt goes to the polls for the first round of voting (the article was authored before polling) in the first parliamentary elections since Mubarak fell, these same generals cast long and intimidating shadows over the promise of democracy.
In the last week alone, forces under the SCAFs command have killed nearly 40 protesters.
On October 9 they killed more than two dozen, mostly Coptic Christians, on the very doorsteps of the state television building.
Inside a tame reporter was busy spinning a story in which “the Christians” were armed and attacking the soldiers, and calling on “honourable citizens” to come to the streets and defend the army – a direct and deceitful incitement to exactly the kind of sectarian violence that they present themselves as protection from.
Then there are the military trials, which more than 12 000 civilians, including many protesters, have been put before during the 10 months of SCAF-led “transition” (read attempted counter-revolution).
What this adds up to is that however procedurally fair the voting that takes place is (this itself is an open question) the environment in which they are taking place is far from free.
Many of those participating in the most recent anti-SCAF protests have called for them to be boycotted all together, saying a vote for any party boils down to a vote in favour of SCAF as the transitional executive.
Outside the square it is also hard to find much enthusiasm for what should be a historically positive moment.
Much anger is directed at the candidates themselves, for presenting only names, faces and slogans, rather than substantive policies to deal with the myriad of serious issues facing Egyptians.
This is in part, no doubt, a product of the fact that Egypt’s unpracticed political class are perhaps even more vacuous than our own (if that is possible), but also from the weight of SCAF sitting atop the system, not allowing space for any real political debate to occur.
None of the major parties have, for example, taken a clear stance on a controversial new round of IMF loans under discussion.
It seems they feel they would have to get permission from SCAF first.
SCAF have also made it clear that even when this drawn out election process (three rounds of voting over two days each, spread over three months) is complete, they will fight to maintain their grip on the most important levers of power.
This was stated explicitly in the recently released “supra-constitutional principles” which attempted to put the military budget, and the department of defence generally, out of the reach of the new Parliament, and even of the new President when one is elected.
America’s silence over these moves, and their timid statements regarding the voluminous attacks on democratic forces, show what their real concerns are.
The Egyptian military is a corner stone of what the state department boffins would call the regional security architecture.
What this means in practice, of course, is that they will protect American access to oil, and ensure Israel does not face the legitimate wrath of the Arab people for its crimes against the Palestinians and its constant aggression against its neighbours.
The Egyptian military, after all, do as much of the work as the Israelis in enforcing the siege of Gaza – with Tantawi himself playing a leading role.
As fresh uprisings occur in the streets of Cairo and around the country, facing American-made teargas, rubber bullets and armoured personnel carriers demanding the end of the SCAF’s rule, the Washington foreign policy establishment is, without doubt, going into panic mode.
Real democracy was never America’s plan for Egypt.
The SCAF were meant to be their way of ensuring it never happened.
It is clear now that they will not be able to turn back this tide.
The question is, how much damage will they do on the way out?
The answer to that question depends very much on how long it takes for Washington to realize that the ongoing repression and violence is pointless, and only making the revolution stronger and more determined.
The sooner America – and her obedient allies like Australia – wake up to this fact, the sooner Egyptians can stop dying for their freedom and start living in it.
Unfortunately, given the power of the oil, Israel and arms lobby in Washington, it seems there will be much more Egyptian blood on America’s hands before this happens.
Austin G Mackell is an Australian freelance journalist with a special interest in the Middle East and a progressive outlook. He tweets on @austingmackell and blogs on The Moon Under Water.