Saturday, February 26, 2011

Egypt and Democracy: First Draft of Amendments for Constitution

Commission announces proposed changes to Egyptian Constitution

An army-appointed legal commission announced Saturday a package of proposed constitutional amendments that eased restrictions on eligibility conditions for presidential elections, limited the number of presidential terms to two four-year periods and ensured full judicial monitoring of elections.

To satisfy political forces calling for the promulgation of a new constitution, the commission made it compulsory for the next parliament to draft one.

There are still issues with this from my perspective:

Meanwhile, article 76 was modified to ease draconian restrictions on presidential nominations. The commission set three methods for candidacy: a presidential hopeful should either be endorsed by 30 members from one of the parliament’s two chambers or both, garner 30,000 signatures from Egyptians living in 15 provinces or belong to a party that has at least one seat in the People’s Assembly or the Shura Council.

The problem, to me, is that they still have to get any "endorsement" from 30 members of one of Parliament's two chambers. On one hand, there may be the need to ensure that any president can be somewhat beholden to or work with parties in parliament, but the current parliament is officially disbanded (I believe) and, even if those seats remain, are stock full of NDP associates. Whether it is 250 endorsements or 30 endorsements, it makes for trouble. Why can't a potential candidate simply declare, raise the signatures and money and be endorsed from their political party as the candidate?

One way or the other, it seems like an attempt to limit participation.

The other amendments include term limits for the president, rules requiring the president to be married to an Egyptian (born of two Egyptian parents), limit on the ability to declare Emergency Law to require parliamentary approval and, if more than six months, must be approved by public referendum (ugghh! democracy gone mad, but I understand where it comes from), independent judiciary oversight of the entire electoral process (as opposed to presidential appointed judiciary committee) and among the other items, sets in motion a total review of the constitution by the next parliament.

I definitely do not like the "Shura Council" as any sort of deciding body in parliament and neither should any liberal leaning folks. Shura is, ostensibly, a body of religious scholars or lawyers who would insure that all laws meet Islamic religious law (Sharia). They are either elected (?) or appointed by the president. Under the Iranian example and Bahrain, they act as a vetoing body, instead of consultative. Egypt law has it as "consultative".

In either event, it allows religion to do more than be a faith to base principles on to an actual political power. One that can create its own political power and threaten the legitimacy of any democratic government.

Otherwise, the other aspects of the amendments pretty much fall in line with the protesters' demands.

Bahrian Protests: Unravelling Sectarian Politics

Bahrain protests: Unravelling the sectarian politics

Manama--Bahrain’s protests are causing an integral shift in its political landscape, as happened in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Its shift, however, is built along sectarian lines. The two groups that emerged during the protests that erupted on 14 February are divided by a thin line.

While addressing generic human and civil rights, Bahrain’s protests brought attention to the gigantic elephant in the room, the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia in the country.

According to AlMahmoud there is distrust between certain Sunni groups and “the other party,” because of Sunni preconception that Shias are loyal to their Imam before their country. “This is why the government restricts their participation the military,” he said.

Egypt and Democracy: al Gheit on Witch Hunts, Iran and Foreign Aid

An interview with Al Gheit, current Foreign Minister for Egypt.

It is subtitled, but extremely interesting in his views about Egypt, Iran, Israel (the treaty), future of US relations, Egypt's need for economic improvement, etc.

Once you get passed the first five minutes of him strenuously objecting over a question apparently asked by the interviewer about Foreign Ministry cables saying the revolution would not spread, burning important foreign ministry documents and some rumor that the Foreign Ministry ordered the army to fire on protesters (he says they do not have the power and it is ridiculous on its face, etc). Some of his objections sound like a man who is a) scared he's next in line for the "witch hunt" and b) hopes like hell he will be able to participate in the next government.

Egyptian Army Is Now Single

According to reports, protesters went into Tahrir Square on Friday to demand the removal of PM Al Shafiq. The "Revolutionary Youth" are seriously adverse to his continuation as they see him as nothing more than an extension of the Mubarek Regime. They aren't very fond of several others that retain their positions including the advancement of the last Interior Minister's underling. The Interior Ministry being the director of the CS (Central Security) responsible for many "disappearances" of anyone that the regime considered an "enemy".

Unfortunately, the army (or some parts of it), were not very patient with the continuing protests and tried to disburse them after curfew set in. The military police apparently used cattle prods and batons to drive the protesters away (say hello to the new guy, same as the old guy).

Sarah Carr from Inanities, blogs about her experience.

She also goes on to report a short conversation with an Egyptian soldier and suggest this is an "insight" into the Army's view of the situation:

he thinks that sleeping on Egypt’s streets and directing traffic is beneath the Egyptian army. He wants to go back to his barracks, rather than sleep on the pavement. He regards Mubarak as the leader of the armed forces rather than president and was therefore sad when he went. He was nonetheless extremely happy to see the Egyptian people “so joyful” on February 11th.

The Egyptian people’s demands were legitimate on February 11th because they were backed by a million Tahrir protestors, he said. A few hundred protestors calling for Shafiq’s resignation is not the same. He doesn’t understand why people cannot have faith that remaining demands will be met, nor the opposition to Shafiq. Several time he suggested that “elements” want to use the opportunity of the “turbulence” in the country to “destroy” it. He also thought that it was extremely disrespectful that teenagers are demanding that senior citizens like Shafiq leave.

The Army's apology suggests there is some form of communication break down from the top to bottom about handling people's new found right for self expression and demands for self-determination. Then again, the Egyptian military has a culture all to its own. A form of nationalism that is extremely paranoid about its own citizen's intent.

Sarah goes on to suggest that the Army's new found use of Facebook and it's strange apology sounds like the angst of a teenager over a lover's spat:

Entitled “apology” it then said that the “encounters” between the military police and the great Egyptian people were “unintentional” (“OMG I didn’t mean to hurt you babe!!!! Luv u 4ever xoxoxoxo)

Facebook relationship status: single

Friday, February 25, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: Obama Administration Response "Morally Neutered"

Is Obama Secretly Swiss?

The Obama administration also behaves as if the weight of the United States in world affairs is approximately the same as that of Switzerland. We await developments. We urge caution, even restraint. We hope for the formation of an international consensus. And, just as there is something despicable about the way in which Swiss bankers change horses, so there is something contemptible about the way in which Washington has been affecting—and perhaps helping to bring about—American impotence.

This isn't even within the realm of "speak quietly, but carry a big stick". This is more like "close my eyes and hide in the corner and maybe the big, scary monster won't notice me".

Evidently a little sensitive to the related charges of being a) taken yet again completely by surprise, b) apparently without a policy of its own, and c) morally neuter, the Obama administration contrived to come up with an argument that maximized every form of feebleness

The United States, with or without allies, has unchallengeable power in the air and on the adjacent waters. It can produce great air lifts and sea lifts of humanitarian and medical aid, which will soon be needed anyway along the Egyptian and Tunisian borders, and which would purchase undreamed-of goodwill.

I said this same thing over at Blackfive yesterday. If all we support is people's "self-determination" (instead of freedom and democracy), then at least let us support it with whatever we've got. We might not need carriers as we have all sorts of other assets in the area (Incirlik). If we are going to have the "Peace Corps" leading our country, maybe they could at least do some of the things that the Peace Corps does on a regular basis.

As I said there, in agreement with Mr. Hitchens, it's time to hold the hand out.

Update: Don't bomb Egypt (we have no idea who we'd be helping)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

American Foreign Policy and Jacksonian America: Common Sense

The Tea Party and American Foreign Policy

This is actually an excellent read if you can get past the "blah-blah-blah" about the good and bad of "populist" "Jacksonian America's" common sense over the last two centuries, that might have some paranoid delusion about people with credentials (elitists) acting like they know better than the common man. All the while he writes as if he is talking about some "other" or examining a bug under a microscope. I'm sure it's not intended.

In response and agreement with some aspects: Part I Common Sense

If I had been allowed to interject into the (seven page) discourse I might have said something of the nature that people who can write the word "Jacksonianism" (and know what it means), but lack the "common sense" to "come in out of the rain" (or at least put a rain coat on) are more dangerous than a pig farmer with a sixth grade education that knows when the tree branches are blowing around, it's time to climb into the root cellar. There's a little Jacksonian common sense homily for ya'.

On a more serious note (admittedly busting on Msr Mead a little more), the idea that "Jacksonians" are "unsophisticated" in their view of the Revolution, its causes or the effect of populist ideas, is rather unsophisticated. We Jacksonians are "simple folk" so we basically distill things down to their simple concepts. Democracy good, despots bad. "No taxation without representation". That does not mean we aren't familiar with the economic issues, or the reasons the founding fathers contemplated the revolution beyond those two concepts. It just means we don't require a seven page tour de force to get across our ideas, but, if Mr. Mead insists....

One of the things that is troublesome is that Mr. Mead goes on for almost two pages about how Jacksonian "populism" gets as many things wrong as it does right. As if even the most intellectual thinker of each of those periods or the least educated relying on his "common sense" would have or should have come by some great "wisdom" preventing each of these "missteps" (only obviously viewable from an historical perspective), like Zeus being struck on the head with a hammer and having Athena (wisdom) born full grown.

No, Jacksonian America realizes that "common sense" is come by through "lessons learned". Usually through making mistakes and having to correct them, sometimes at a horrendous price. It makes a crooked path, but we at least get there eventually through that great market place of ideas called democracy (representative republic for the sticklers). Unlike various other misbegotten social, economic and political systems that have come and gone or still exist in the muck of their own making.

That, as stated in the Declaration, men are created equal, with a spark of divinity in each, but are not gods nor infallible. We have seen what the so-called "anointed" can do. These are the "lessons learned" at a horrendous price. We understand implicitly that allowing a man to claim to be anointed by some higher power (whether it is the Creator, Karl Marx or the Dean of Harvard) with a divine mission, is a foot on the threshold of despotism and tyranny. Despotism and tyranny that has an ugly way of spreading its bloody hand around.

It is why the existence and pernicious demagoguery of such men as Ahmedinijad, Chavez and Ghadaffi stepping foot on our soil to pound self-righteously on the podium of the United Nations irks us so much. We would prefer to invite them to depart the hard way (boot in ass, out the door and down the steps) as we would any reprehensible, drunken guest who had soiled our grandmother's lace doilies and threw our grandfather's ashes into the trash so he could puke in the urn. However, "common sense" and a good dose of manners these jack legs never learned, or believe is not required by their self-anointed divinity, prevents us from doing so.

At this time.

Instead, we open the door and wave them on their way, but they keep coming back and our patience is growing thin.

That brings us to the point of Mr. Mead's long discourse, written mainly to those politicians and think tankers floating around in the rarefied environs of Washington DC. Pay attention to Jacksonian America when planning foreign policy (if you plan to get elected or re-elected as is the case with the current administration). We aren't going away. We never have and we never will. We only get tired of leading the way once in awhile and allow some isolationist and realpolitik tendencies to take point. That never lasts long.

Largely because some other jack leg always comes long and sticks a finger in our eye. We have a tendency to demand a response. Throwing the glove down when somebody crosses the line. Much like Mr. Jackson when his political opponents moved from attacking him to attacking his wife.

After much historical review (interesting in developing the idea of Jacksonian politics), Mr. Mead finally arrives at his point:


After the Soviet Union disobligingly collapsed in 1991, the United States endeavored to maintain and extend its efforts to build a liberal world order. On the one hand, these projects no longer faced the opposition of a single determined enemy; on the other hand, American leaders had to find domestic support for complex, risky, and expensive foreign initiatives without invoking the Soviet threat.

There is some history of our back and forth in the 90's over military intervention, liberal, Wilsonian agenda, etc, our isolationist leanings coming to the fore, before reality smacks us in the face:

September 11, 2001, changed this. The high level of perceived threat after the attacks put U.S. foreign policy back to the position it had enjoyed in 1947-48: convinced that an external threat was immediate and real, the public was ready to support enormous expenditures of treasure and blood to counter it. Jacksonians cared about foreign policy again, and the George W. Bush administration had an opportunity to repeat the accomplishment of the Truman administration by using public concern about a genuine security threat to energize public support for a far-reaching program of building a liberal world order. many out here in the Jacksonian ether world had wondered for nearly seven years:

Historians will be discussing for years to come why the Bush administration missed this opportunity.

Yes. He failed to mobilize the masses, to organize a clear message, method and institutions that would bring the best of America forward and allow all sectors to participate. He did respond to our Jacksonian demand for immediate response. Mr. Mead suggests that this might have been another failure in good foreign policy making because it did not allow us to work with our "key partners" at home (I assume he means the congressional opposition to whoever is in the presidency, State Dept., CIA, various NGOs and businesses with international connections) and abroad (EU, various crackpot regimes) and go the long, slow road, completely forgetting the entire point of his paper which is that Jacksonian Americans have that "red line" we don't like to have crossed.

Come at us face to face and fist to fist, we want to kick the enemy's behind. Come at us side ways and we want to stomp a new mud hole (sand pit) in your ass. Further, we don't like to stop until we win. That's what irritated Jacksonian America about Vietnam. We weren't in it to win. When Jacksonians realized that, they let the Kumbaya crowd take control and drag us out. Not that we were happy about it, but screw pouring blood and treasure down the rice paddy for a "draw".

Those men and women in uniforms aren't high priced mercenaries from some other country doing our bidding for filthy lucre. They are the sons and daughters of "Jacksonian America" and we will damn your political ass to hell if you sell their lives cheap.

It isn't about the "winning", like the Super Bowl where we all celebrate in the end zone. It is about the most precious treasure we possess: the blood of our sons and daughters. Once that "spark of the divine" is spilled in a conflict, on some foreign soil, the value of that "win" increases exponentially by one hundred for every milliliter. If you are a politician and you do not place the same value on it that we do, well, see above comment about damning your ass to hell.

In any case, by January 2009, the United States was engaged in two wars and a variety of counterterrorism activities around the world but lacked anything like a domestic consensus on even the broadest outlines of foreign policy.

Now comes the next key point:

The Obama administration came into office believing that the Bush administration had been too Jacksonian and that its resulting policy choices were chaotic, incoherent, and self-defeating. Uncritically pro-Israel, unilateralist, indifferent to the requirements of international law, (blah-blah-blah redacted) ...the Bush administration was, the incoming Democrats believed, a textbook case of Jacksonianism run wild. Recognizing the enduring power of Jacksonians in U.S. politics but convinced that their ideas were wrong-headed and outdated, the Obama administration decided that it would make what it believed were the minimum necessary concessions to Jacksonian sentiments while committing itself to a set of policies intended to build a world order on a largely Wilsonian basis. Rather than embracing the "global war on terror" as an overarching strategic umbrella under which it could position a range of aid, trade, and institution-building initiatives, it has repositioned the terrorism threat as one among many threats the United States faces and has separated its world-order-building activities from its vigorous work to combat terrorism.

Sorry I excerpted so much, but it is really an infinitesimal amount considering the paper is seven pages long. What is important here is that Obama was elected because, after the long bloody effort in Iraq that we insisted we "win", after nearly five thousand dead and tens of thousands wounded, the Jacksonian center rightly asked if this was all we had in the repertoire. It isn't, but neither is tying our wagons to hopes and dreams without a good plan to point the engine of Jacksonian America in the right direction. Leadership that came to power through the same sort of populism Mr. Mead goes on and on about (yet, fails to mention in this regard).

The war is no longer called a war. It isn't even on the top three agenda items. It is shoved into the back with nary a mention of its causes or dangers to our national security. Even as tens of thousands of our men and women toil amongst the dirt and rocks, destroying nodes of the "enemy" that are not even referred to as "the enemy". Shedding their blood in a war that the administration is now signaling as "un-winnable" and soon to be abandoned. Here we repeat: precious treasure, sold cheap, damn you to hell.

the development of foreign policy strategies that can satisfy Jacksonian requirements at home while also working effectively in the international arena is likely to be the greatest single challenge facing U.S. administrations for some time to come.
Actually, it isn't that hard. First, we're not that fond of Wilsonian tendencies. There are plenty of Jacksonians out here who passed eighth grade history (that might be eleventh grade in today's educational morass) and know what happened to the League of Nations and why. We are fairly convinced that is the fate of the United Nations (see above re: Ghaddafi, Chavez and Ahmedinijad, add to it giving murderous, scumbags like Ghaddafi the UN Chair on Human Rights who is right now massacring the people of Libya so he can continue his FORTY YEAR RULE!). Jacksonians are content to let the rancid bag of bureaucratic bilge swilling go on as long as it is in a secondary (even tertiary) role. A part of the whole plan, not the primary arena for developing and guiding the foreign policy of the United States. A part of the plan that is expendable if necessary.

Why? Because, as stated twice already, it is half full of despots and half-baked bloody tyrants. The other half seems to be made up of people with "rational actor bias" that some how assumes that somewhere in the insanity of these regimes is a rational person that can be brought to a reasonable agreement of some sort. Over time. Lots of time. Because we all possess that "spark of divinity".

That goes against every ounce of common sense Jacksonian America possesses. Being given a mind to reason with does not a reasonable man make.

You cannot reason a man out of a position he has not been reasoned into. - George Orwell

Second, we need leadership with a clear vision and a set of unswerving principles from which important decisions and policy are made. We are not speaking of faith and the belief of good and evil alone nor rationality for the sake of reasoning that goes on and on without actually making a rational decision. We are speaking of the basic principles on which this nation was founded: freedom.

It is not Communism, Socialism or Islamism that lifts a slave out of the dust and puts him on the path to self-realization and prosperity. It is freedom. It is not some ubiquitous "self-determination". Self-determination without basic principles of equality and freedom for all, the protection of the minority against the majority or any basic concept of human rights leads to those "horrendous costs" Jacksonian America is all too familiar with.

This leader cannot dismiss Jacksonian America nor succumb to it's populist blandishments completely. Instead, he needs a plan to harness the drive, point it in the right direction based on the guiding principle, the must cornerstone of our foreign policy and let off the reins. Lead or get out of the way. Not use it to get to power then dismiss it out of hand. Ratings will plummet uncontrollably.

Find people who will understand these principles and help establish the mechanisms to push them forward and align our institutions to this basic policy from NSA, CIA, State Department and, yes, even the military along with revitalizing some form of "Peace Corps" who can act as informal ambassadors among the many potential GOs and NGOs to foreign nations. A leader who understands that the great engine of democracy, a thriving economy and the businesses that drive it, are not the enemy, but a positive force in the development of liberalizing economies, spreading freedom and securing the long term safety of our nation.

Liberalized economies build wealth and create a growing middle class. A growing middle class that eventually demands it's political voice to be heard, to choose it's government and be represented in the circle of once "anointed" elites. An impetuous to break their chains and gain greatest gift given to man: freedom.

Above all, we need a leading principle, the cornerstone of our Foreign Policy: the Defense of Liberty. Freedom Forward. Call it what you will, but get the principle right.

This is not militant Jacksonian America demanding we march to the sands of Tripoli with pitch forks at the ready or take a jack hammer to the Black Stone in Mecca (though we've thought about it). We do know that war is not the answer to everything. Remember how we feel about our most precious asset, the blood of our sons and daughters. Forty years against the giant and ravenous Bear that has yet to go into everlasting hibernation. We are ready, willing and able to expend great amounts of sweat and energy for a good fight.

There is nothing so stirring as the fight for liberty.

An idea that both we and Mr. Mead can agree on. Why, it is Common Sense.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Revolution in Cairo

Revolution in Cairo via Arab Media

Egypt and Democracy: The Ways of Revolution, Social Media and the "Youth" of the Middle Class

There is an old adage that revolutions do not begin in the slums, but begin in the middle classes. Revolutions throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th century have born this out. As incomes rises creating a larger middle class, so do the aspirations for political involvement. Psychologically, the ability to create wealth and manage their personal lives satisfactorily begins to create the idea that they could and should be able to manage their political affairs to their own satisfaction as well.

The American Revolution did not begin on the tiny farms of men barely eking out an existence on small patches of dirt, but the bourgeois merchants and large farmers who were angry that their voices were not heard by the British Parliament. "No taxation without representation." The various revolutions that began in 1848 and spread across Europe and on into the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 were fomented by the children of comfortable middle class families, sitting in the tea houses after classes in the University. Classes that only a generation or two before were unattainable by the masses. It was there that they determined to tap into the demands of the workers, many employed by their own families, to confront the Czar and his unresponsive, unrepresentative Dumas.

Then came the Iranian revolution, the fall of the Communist Block in Eastern Europe and then the USSR itself. All of it brought on by the rise of the middle class and their demand for a political voice. Now comes the Middle East. Egypt is the prime example of how the young middle class, having risen so far, sees no place else to go without removing the very obstacles that hold them down. Usually, whatever government is in place, stacked with entrenched partisans who have been getting their own from insuring the continuation and strength of a ruling party or class. As Eltaway calls them "old men".

Interview with Mona Eltahawy:

And then much more recently, we saw last year in Alexandria, a city on the Mediterranean coast, the police beat to death a young man called Khaled Said. Now, Egyptian police have been known to beat to death people for, sadly, too long, but what happened with Khaled Said was that they beat to death this kind of young, tech-savvy businessman who looked like a lot of the Egyptians who are on Facebook.


Especially Facebook. This [is] Generation Facebook. Kind of upper-middle-class, middle-class generation of Egyptians that have made Egypt the number one Arab user of Facebook. And when he was beaten to death and pictures came out of his corpse and his shattered face, it spread like wildfire. ... But here was this young man who looked like them. And if it could happen to him, it could happen to them. This was a moment for Generation Facebook to understand what it means to live under emergency law and the Mubarak regime.

As in the way of all revolutions, the middle class, not that far removed from the working class, is always able to tap into the issues and concerns of the working poor. The working lower and poor classes had organized into unions and had been striking occasionally, but would subside after some minimum of their demands were met coupled with the fear of serious repression. It was only after the middle class and the working class banded together that the power of revolution began.

One of the continuing discussions amongst many is whether social media such as Facebook and Twitter are the cause of revolutions or just a tool. Malcolm Gladwell, author of Tipping Point, suggests that the power of these tools is over rated. That forms of "high risk" social activism requires more than reading notes on an internet page and pressing "like". It requires personal connections. The idea that to risk life and limb needs a closer bond and that it is the bonds of close friendship, one person with another then another, that gives people the courage to stand up and take a potentially life threatening risk. That people may "meet" in cyberspace, but it is only when they are face to face, forming closer bonds, that this "high-risk" activism can come forward.

He gives an example of the sit ins and other activism undertaken by the anti-segregation, civil rights movement in the south (activism that inspired the Egyptian youth reading Martin Luther King, Jr and other books on the subject, per Eltahawy). There, the first roots of unrest appeared as small groups going to luncheonettes and sitting at the counters, risking violence and death. The movement grew as those involved convinced friends to join them who then convinced other friends to join them, but that those "friends" were not some passing acquaintance on campus. Instead, they had close, personal relationships with people involved that allowed them to make that move and that the underlying organizations had to be in place for this event and others to occur. That, in the end, Egypt did not need Facebook or Twitter to have a revolution.

Some reports of how the revolution began seem to bear this out. Many of the originators were not unknown to each other. They had been meeting and planning for months, even years. They worked with the MB, socialists, unions and human rights groups, but, in the end, they had never been able to pull off the size, unity and plurality of the group necessary to reach their goals.

Mona Eltahawy suggests in her interview that Gladwell and others' take is a complete misunderstanding of social media. First, it provided a space to meet. Not just for those already known to each other, but to find like minded individuals to share ideas with, to motivate and coordinate. The internet was a vast space with possibly billions of users logging on and off every day. They could move from space to space to talk and hide in the virtual world (a tool, by the way, that organizations like al Qaeda have been using for years).

Secondly, and this has been the problem with many in the older generations as she points out, those who do not use the internet as anything more than a "tool" completely misses how actual friendships can grow in the virtual world, building into trusting relationships, over time. It is not the physical reality of seeing someone that creates friendships, even over huge distances, capable of taking great risks. These friendships are built on sharing ideas and events, communicating on a daily, if not hourly occurrence, allowing one, two or even larger groups of people to share in the very personal day to day conversations and activities of otherwise unknown individuals. These friendships can become as strong as any in the physical world.

This lack of comprehension has severely limited the ability of organizations to counter problems such as "self selected" radicalization and internet related terrorist activities. In these cases, young men do not require the actual physical, face to face meeting of a "recruiter" to inspire, instruct or organize an attack. It only requires the user to log on and become "connected", even to people thousands of miles away. There are multiple cases of these events within the United States including the recent case of Maj. Hassan who opened fire on Ft. Hood.

Third, and it is surprising that the author of Tipping Points misses this, eventually, an idea takes on a power of its own, reaching critical mass or, in his words, "the tipping point". As Gladwell notes, it begins with "mavens" or respected people putting out an idea. Whether that is that pink tennis shoes are fashionable or that crime in a neighborhood will not be tolerated (as in New York's program to reduce crime). Then come the "salespeople" who take up this idea and start spreading it to people that they know. Finally, enough people catch on that it spreads like wildfire without the need for these ubiquitous middleman "salespeople".

How does the idea that pink tennis shoes are fashionable spread from New York to LA to London and Tokyo? In the past, it was through other media such as photographs, news papers, magazines, etc. Still, these media paths were often inter-related. As we know, a corporation can own multiple media organizations across the country and even globally, passing information among themselves, often at the insistence and assistance of "editors" who, in a way, acted as the continuing "salesman" for these ideas. The same can be said for ideas born in think tanks that are inter-related or political organizations, etc, through the meeting of people in real spaces, exchanging ideas. Baring out Gladwell's theory that it is in the physical, real time meeting of people that works to move ideas and, in the case of "high risk" activism, like revolution, move it out into the open.

What the new paths of "social media" allow people and ideas to do is leapfrog over these conventional paths of inter-connectivity. All it requires is a search engine and a keyboard. Someone can virtually search for something of interest, find it and latch on without ever having first shared those ideas with anyone else in the physical world. Allowing these ideas to take on a power of their own.

Eventually, these groups or ideas become so large that they "meet" in cyberspace as one anonymous person leaves a link here or a link there, driving people to these sites and bringing them together. Where, in the virtual world, they develop these close friendships and the strength and courage to act upon it in the real world. Hundreds and thousands who never personally met.

In the case of Egypt, that is how the protesters were first able to pull in enough people to begin the movement. What was first the leapfrog of ideas to groups, became the impetuous for numbers to come out, on their association in the virtual world alone. In some cases, their actions mirror Gladwell's concept that personal association, face to face, helped motivate people. Certainly, friends in the real world connected via Facebook and Twitter, shared these links and then spoke among themselves in the virtual world and real world to convince themselves of the necessity to act. On the other hand, there were many individuals who, out of fear of ridicule or reprisal from friends, family and the authorities, spoke not a word in the real world, but were motivated to act by their cyber-connection alone.

As Gladwell suggested in Tipping Points, eventually an idea takes on a power of its own, the shear numbers driving people to join and be part of this "something" that was going on. It happened both in the virtual world as well as in the real world. In the real world, those who had cooperated in the virtual were eventually forced to come to the streets, but it was their virtual connections that provided the numbers. As most observers have seen, the number of participants becomes a power of its own: strength in numbers, building courage to act by the shear momentum of "the mob". It was these numbers that then called down the masses of working poor to join them, people they did not know, but seemed to share their own concerns.

Finally, the thing that is missed by observers such as Gladwell and others that Eltahawy says dismissed them as "Facebook generation" pressing the "like" button. Aside from the fact that this little button, if pushed enough times, can drag an idea to the top of the list of a search engine for any anonymous, unconnected persons to find, it was the speed of the connections, both in the speed of the internet as well as the speed at which people can connect, that gave rise to this revolution.

Gladwell is correct to say that Egypt's revolution did not need social media to have a revolution. Eventually. It would have found any number of paths to connect as was the case in the American Revolution through pamphlets, newspapers and groups of people. Or, the case of the Bolshevik Revolution that came together in the tea houses, read books, published newspapers and pamphlets, etc, etc, etc. Even the Polish Solidarity movement that found its path through meetings and sermons in the Catholic Church. The difference is in the speed at which the Egypt revolution grew and reached "the tipping point".

Eighteen days.

It took years, some reading history would say "decades", for the American revolutionaries to talk, connect and share ideas until they were able to reach a point of "revolution". Likewise, the Bolsheviks languished in their basements and tea houses, slowly gathering adherents and building organizations to take on the establishment, building numbers of ever growing dissenters, making marches and spreading their revolution.

In Egypt, the problems and base groups lingered in the background, disorganized and incapable of growing because they lacked the ability to get their message out and meet in real time with other like minded people. People who no longer reached for paper pamphlets and newspapers, but read and spoke on the "net". Social media allowed them to leap frog over their predecessors in revolution. It did not take decades nor even years to grow their numbers once they were able to connect. It took two years, if we look at Elataway's narrative. Starting in 2008 with the April 6 Youth Movement to build some numbers to begin the real discussion of ideas.

Then came June 2010 with the death of Khalid Said. It took only six months from that moment to create a network of tens of thousands. Leapfrogging their historical counterparts. Then came the call for the Jan25 protests that drew in nearly a hundred thousand "friends" on the site, not including the thousands of others who connected through the "friend" of a "friend" of a "friend" on the internet. A march, the size and plurality of which would have taken previous "protesters" months to plan, organize and act, took only a few days. The speed of that organization the establishment of "old men" could not match.

The regime fell eighteen days later. Yes, even after it had cut the internet because the "real world" connections that Gladwell suggests is necessary had been built, but not before the virtual connections had paved the way.

Could Egypt have had a revolution of the "youth" without social media? History tells us that, yes, they could have. Eventually. A youthful middle class searching for the path to improve themselves past their parents' station and into the environs of the ruling class who hold their power through restrictions, laws and regulations, will eventually find its way. However, Egypt would not have had a revolution now, in 2011, without it.

That is the power of the internet and Social Media. As some have suggested, dictators should fear it because what they do not allow in the open space of the real world, can move at lightening speed in cyberspace.

As in the way of Egypt when they cut the internet, there is always the cell phone.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Egypt and Democracy: The Fog of Revolution

An interesting read:

The Fog of Revolution

All one can say with absolute certainty is that the struggle for power has started and that the fog of revolution has descended on the battlefield. It will take certainly weeks, probably months, and possibly years before the true face of the new Egypt emerges.

He says that none of the parties are really strong enough in the face of the others to actually take over and control the government. Instead, we are likely to see rounds and rounds of triangulation, coalitions that form and break before the "new Egypt" emerges. However, it is the third group, the ephemeral "youth" that we should be focused on:

About the third group, we know the least and fantasize the most. They seem to be young, connected, educated, and Anglophone, those that we have seen and heard, that is. In fact, they probably represent a tiny minority. A large part of the young generation will not be anything like them. This does not necessarily condemn them to obscurity. The number of students protesting in Prague on November 17, 1989 did not exceed 20,000; the number of dissidents involved in opposition activities on a longer-term basis was about half that number. The key element was their power to inspire, and some of the people from Tahrir Square I saw on the screen looked mighty inspiring to me. The key number, though, comes from demographics. More than half of all Egyptians, a majority, are aged 24 years or fewer. Do they believe in the rule of Islam, or the rule of the Internet? Or both?

It is likely that the military and the Islamists will try hard to communicate and proselytize the youth to support either of their causes and it is the youth that we should be focused on.

To succeed in this competition, we would have to forget, for once, about political and economic expediency and political correctness, and draw, for once, on the underlying values of our civilization that make freedom and democracy possible.

In other words, we should stop trying to "stabilize" the situation and go straight for giving the youthful revolutionaries the support, moral and material, necessary to achieve their dreams. That, it is in the youth of Egypt achieving their dreams that all of our hopes can be met.

This blog concurs.

Egypt and Democracy: The Problem with Military Rule

A Tunisian Solution for Egypt’s Military: Why Egypt's Military Will Not Be Able To Govern

On Tunisia's Military:

This was a hedge against the French, who retained some influence over the police after Tunisian independence. They supplied and trained the security and intelligence forces, and even helped the government suppress an uprising in 1955. U.S. involvement with the military, Ben Ali supposed, would prevent the French from having a monopoly of influence over his country’s means of coercion. At the same time, it meant that the army, which already had little loyalty to Ben Ali and no economic interest in maintaining his regime, became the one well-trained and highly professional force in the country.

The military was poorly paid, under staffed, underfunded and given little attention by the Ben Ali regime that did not include the general officers and commanders in the patronage of the regime. However, in the end, it was the interaction and training with US forces that had the most influence, that kept the Tunisian military from firing on the people, but, instead turned their guns on the police and intelligence forces.

By contrast, the Egyptian military, while viewed in some form of "mythic heroics" by the people on the square, are literally part of the military regime that has been governing Egypt all along. As noted previously, they have had training and interaction with US forces and were viewed as performing fairly well in the '91 Gulf War. However, later interaction reported by some were that the officers were somewhat lazy and desultory towards their commands, that it was the NCOs that seemed much more professional.

Egypt's military, per this report, has a bloated officers' corp and has been feeding off of patronage from Mubarek's regime. The military powers that be in Egypt had even restricted important communication equipment normally used for coordination on tanks, APCs and military air craft in order to prevent inter-officer coordination as well as communication with other nations' military.

From an historical stand point, the military obviously doesn't trust either it's junior officer corp or the rank and file and we know why. Every coup in the country has been a military coup. From 1952 to the assassination of Sadat that came out of the Military Technical College, the Egyptian military has been the root of all violent overthrows.

What the military will do to remain in power:

For its part, the military will likely try to maintain power and justify crackdowns by appealing to the need for order; steer a fellow traveler into the presidency, such as Amr Moussa, an Egyptian diplomat and the current secretary-general of the Arab League, or the current prime minister and a former general, Ahmad Shafiq; limit constitutional changes aimed at achieving a more democratic balance of power between the executive and legislative branches; and orchestrate economic show trials.

The trials and the "reshuffling of ministers" we are already seeing. The trials seem to be a response to popular sentiment that is probably correct to assume that some people have been gorging themselves at the public trough. The problem may be how wide and how just these prosecutions may actually be. As with all revolutions, the innocent (or mostly innocent) often go down with the guilty. I this case, as in Russia that had a significant flight of foreign investment capital as Putin tried to eliminate his opposition by putting them on trial for fraud and other alleged abuses, so foreign investors are already reconsidering investment in Egypt.

However, the military's own internal issues may actually determine its inability to rule, even for six months:

The military high command may try to counter the lack of investment by calling for renewed economic nationalism, but that will condemn Egypt to economic stagnation, similar to that which it experienced in the mid-1960s.
In other words, in the interest of protecting their interests, the military is likely to condemn Egypt to the misery of a centrally controlled economy or something very close to it. In a world with growing food and fuel prices, it is tantamount to self-destruction.

Egypt and Democracy: Triangulations, More Triangulations and Libya

Yesterday was reported the new ministry appointments. Most of which seemed like old regime appointees reshuffled with some relatively powerless posts going to the opposition.

The opposition, still aware of the existence of the regime through these machinations, called for another march today (Tuesday). Per reports, several million are in the streets.

Apparently acknowledging the potential mis-step of these appointments, the Supreme Military Council now says "oops - that was just a proposal, not the final list". It may have been helped along by Britain's Prime Minister Cameron's visit on Monday. Some reports suggested that Cameron came along with some defense contractors. Was he putting pressure on the Egyptian military again? Or was that a bribe.

In the meantime, whether to secure the border and control the flow of refugees or in response to public demands, the Egyptian Army announced that it has set up refugee camps and hospitals at Salum.

In the meantime, the Egyptian interim government is increasing public workers' salaries and, as the world investment concerns worry that Egypt's economy is likely to be less liberal, stuck between its socialist, centralized economy and the "top down" liberalization that stopped at the top, leaving the rest of the Egypt to struggle. Even as the ETF announces gains as hopeful investors imagine their chance to make inroads into the new reality that is "free" Egypt.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Egypt and Democracy: The Remains of the Regime and New Triangulations

On speaking with Rashid and reading the news from Egypt, two major concerns are overshadowing all, even as some have become infatuated with the idea that the public voice has the ability to change the world.

These two major concerns are that the Regime remains in place and that the unity that made Egyptians one with the power to overthrow a government will disintegrate into political rivalries before they have achieved the final goal: Egypt ruled by the people through a democratic representative government.

In the midst of this is the Egyptian Military, ran by entrenched old men who have gained not only political power, but financial power at the head of a truly Military Industrial Complex. They are not likely to give up that power easily and are maneuvering to maintain it.

The first indication that these maneuvers take place is the appointing of new ministers from among the NDP opposition. Taking a page from the failed Bahrain government appeasement program, these appointments amount to powerless positions. Many of these appointments are from weak parties or opposition from within their own parties.

Mounir Abdl Nour, the head of the liberal Wafd party, accepted the position of Minister of Tourism. An excellent move in an attempt to insure the west continues to view Egypt as "liberal", at least for the tourists that need to pour in to fix Egypt's failing economy. Not a position that would lend towards much political or financial power.

The Deputy Prime Minister post appears to have gone to Dr. Yahia El Gamal (Coptic Christian?), described as a "constitutional scholar" from the Cairo University's School of Law and a member of the People's Assembly.

The other posts are explained more thoroughly here along with information about the "new" ministers' past relations with the regime. Many of them have already served as ministers in the Mubarek NDP regime and have various relations. El Gamal is noted as having served under the "Nasserite" government and is potentially the oldest minister ever. He is reported as "a leader" of El Baradei's National Association of Change coalition.

Included in this mess is the continuing of Shafik as the prime minister and Dr. Hani Sarie El Din as the minister of Commerce and Investment. While the last may alleviate some foreign investors concerns about continuing business in Egypt, it will also likely continue to give precedence to some of the NDP/Mubarek regime's favored businesses. Equally concerning is the appointment of a possible MB adherent, Ahmed Moussa, as Minister of education.

Gowdat Abdel-Khaleq, from the opposition party Tagammu, was appointed as Minister of Social Solidarity and Social Justice. Tagammu, also known as the National Progressive Unionist Party, is associated with the union and labor movements in Egypt that came out late and helped push the Jan25 revolution over the top by impacting Egypt's economic sector. However, the Tagammu party is quickly separating itself from the decision calling it "personal". Calling the situation as they see it, they are opposed to the formation of the new government because, to paraphrase, it stinks of the old government.

The Muslim Brotherhood was left out of the "reshuffle" of ministries. A spokesman for the MB (who had previously said they were not interested in political posts and were discussing setting up a separate political party now affirmed as the Justice and Freedom party) basically gave the same answer as Tagammu, claiming that the "new" appointments were anything but change and insisting that all of Mubarek's regime must go.

Left unfilled are the Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior and Minister of Finance. The Minister of Defense may remain the same as he is currently running the Supreme Military Council. The Minister of Interior and Finance will be extremely important. The Interior controls the state police and the electoral commission among two of the major issues that sparked the revolution. Concerns about police mistreatment and outright abuse of power are still driving many activists' concerns.

The Finance ministry has been under attack due to its control of business application, loans and banking, among many issues. Many Egyptians have blamed for the economic problems that have seen rising inflation, food costs, interest rates, severe regulations for small businesses as well as potentially limiting competition in favor of NDP related business. That is just the start.

The Ministry of Information, another source of angst among the revolutionaries, has been abolished. That is leaving the state run media scrambling to establish the rules and conditions of how it operates and reports.

In other unsettling news, the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Justice are said to be remaining at their posts. The last presents a troubling problem for the "New Egypt" as the Minister of Justice is considered one of Mubarek's henchmen and was responsible for handing down very harsh punishment to any accused opposition to the regime. To make matters worse and to continue to pick at the barely existing scab of Egyptian Unity, the courts have acquitted several of the accused in the Christmas Eve massacre of Coptic Christians.

In the meantime, the Constitutional Reform Committee, is working on revising or, more accurately, "reforming" the laws in order to allow more open elections in six months. The changes are expected to be announced on Tuesday. Sobhi Saleh, the only member of the MB and a noted jurist on the committee said that any total revision of the constitution would have to wait until "there were stable political institutions and established political forces to guide the process."

The many issues that need to be resolved include how a candidate gets approved for running in an election and how a party could be granted permission to form. Both processes required a run through the gauntlet of NDP controlled ministries, electoral commission and the People's Assembly. Of continuing concern is that, if this process is not completely thrown out, any party that obtains power would have the same control over politics in Egypt. In a nod to opening this process, the courts approved a new "moderate" Islamic party on Saturday.

The committee is also considering placing a two term limit on the president, but Saleh reported that a decision has not been made yet. That could be a problem for the young activists whose main concern was that they were not able to change their government. Further, it sounds like other political parties or groups are looking towards their future possibility of controlling the presidency and general government over a long period, much as the NDP. Otherwise, a term limit on the position would seem like a very simple and necessary move to insure rotation of the position and true representation of a polities' changing needs.

One of the major concerns of the more liberal activists, as reported by El Baradei in his Al Jazeera interview, is that the six month time period is not long enough for long disorganized, outlawed and unfunded liberal parties to from and participate fully in the elections. He does note that others are concerned that any longer time period might see the "revolution's" gains be completely eroded or anarchy begin to reign.

On the other hand, the Military Supreme Council's process for choosing committee members is not transparent and neither is the work of the committee itself. While the military has set up its own facebook page, it has done little to actually answer questions. Instead, Tantawi and others appear on state tv to pronounce their actions and then go on about their business. Re-enforcing the idea that many of the cabinet changes are only meant to look like they are complying even as the NDP (or whatever it will call itself in the future) retrenches and the military protects itself from the possibility of too much civilian rule.

In the meantime, as if to appease other "New Egypt" concerns and possibly to establish Egypt's independence from foreign pressure, the Military Supreme Council has announced that the Gaza border will be open "both ways" on Tuesday. In the past, the opening has been highly controlled and usually only one way, either to let travelers, food and supplies into Gaza or to let a select few out. This opening is said to be limited to 300 a day (probably to prevent overwhelming and uncontrolled migration into Egypt of Palestinians) and to be first focused on "high priority" persons such as patients, students and persons holding other country visas.

This is just days after the Council approved the passing of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal. Egypt and Iran are not necessarily on friendly terms, but as both a move to show independence from foreign governments and establish its own power in the region, it along with the Gaza border opening was a bold move.

The Supreme Military Council is also moving to show that it is heeding the people's concerns by taking several legal steps to freeze assets of 25 public figures to go along with the three former ministers currently under scrutiny for fraud, corruption and abuse of public money.

The question remains as to whether the general public will feel like all of these changes are enough to satisfy their concerns to allow certain aspects of regime business to continue "as usual".

In other news, various foreign governments and representatives are making their way to Egypt. Britain's Prime Minister Cameron arrived to meet with the Military Supreme Council and various opposition groups (not to include the Muslim Brotherhood). Ostensibly to insure that military rule was going to be transitioned to civilian rule. The US, obviously not willing to give the current Egyptian military government much approval, sent Under Secretary of State William Burns on a similar mission.

In the mean time, as predicted while discussing with Rashid, the various activist groups are gearing up to start their own parties along with multiple varieties of socialist, unionist and Islamist parties. Thirteen in all including, of course, a party of approximately 5000 recent former members of the NDP.

What this all seems to equate to is that the core of the old NDP, who says it is not disbanding, will remain in some substantial power for the time being even as it is weakened by mass resignations of members for new (weaker?) parties. The MB's new party will be the likely second runner up as MB members flock to support the political wing and everything else will be divided up between the multiple warring parties of socialists/labor, communists and various liberal parties. With the likelihood that, as in Iraq some five years ago, many of these parties will come and go, sifting away until what remains are the major Islamist and nationalist party with three or four other parties desperately trying to form a block in parliament to become either a coalition government or a principled opposition.

That's IF the remains of the old Regime and the new triangulations of the ruling Military regime don't conspire to limit the power of the people's democracy. At this point, it seems like they are going to give people and new parties the ability to run for the Assembly, to be part of their "government", but still hold on to all of the government power houses and money. The easiest way within a "democracy" to keep the people happy and the opposition under control.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Your Middle East Irony of the Day: Anti-Revolutionary Revolutionary

Ohhh, the irony!

Apparently, the daughter of ex-Iranian President Rafsanjani was arrested today in Iran:

Fars said she was arrested in the street while "leading a number of anti-revolutionaries and rioters."

News flash to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary government:

When you have been in charge of government for forty years, you are no longer the "revolution", you are the ESTABLISHMENT.

Baghdad Bob must have found his new home in Iran. There are no revolutionaries in the streets! We are the revolutionaries!

A Letter to Rashid

This is a letter in response to a comment over at Sandmonkey by Rashid.

Dear Rashid

First, let me put my take on this in perspective. I am not "afraid" of the MB getting a piece of the political pie. They will, no matter what. I am glad they will get to really participate. Let them be part of actually having to govern a state rather than being on the outside shouting slogans. The reality is world's apart.

What I am concerned about is that those who went to Tahrir for freedom are not prepared to fight the next battle and will leave the MB with much more of the pie than they should get. Why?

I wrote about it here. The MB is organized, has a platform, has long time membership, has outreach programs and has its own news papers, TV, etc. They are light years ahead of you all (I'll give you a general term of "liberals")in terms of political experience, preparation and participation.

I realize what Mubarek was doing, but it does not negate the reality of practicing politics. When it comes time for elections, the difference can be quite telling.

Secondly, per my blog on political realities, in times of turmoil and crisis, people tend to do two things: fall back on their conservative roots as a bulwark against the insanity and bet on the people/things that they know. Also, urban groups tend to forget about their rural counterparts out in "fly over country" (as we call it). Those groups almost always trend more conservatively. Particularly because they are often older since the young tend to flee towards the urban centers for jobs and education.

Based on how Egypt's voting districts are carved up with two seats in parliament per district, that equates to at least twenty to twenty five seats, maybe more, that can very likely go to a "conservative" candidate, most likely with some affiliation with the MB or with Islamic conservative leanings, who will, by their constituent demands, go with the conservative block.

Third, if you look at how parliaments work with more than two major parties taking a majority one way or the other, even 25% (I say 30%) can act as a controlling block, especially when (I don't say if, but when) all of the other parties seated do not have a similar majority and have difficulty joining forces due to ideological/agenda differences or because they are working on solidifying and boosting their adherents in the public venue so they don't want to look like they agree too much with an opponent group. (Please look at Iraq's parliament and how they get things done...or not; they have at least six major parties there with none having a clear majority and their "coalition" government can barely get the trash picked up and the electricity staying on).

If the MB has at least 30% of the seats with some lesser Islamist/conservative leaning candidates/parties getting another five to ten, when it comes time for presenting a voting block to push through bills or, more importantly, block bills that might be too liberal for their tastes, they can act as a spoiler.

But, let's get to the other problems. You have mentioned our labor unions. They present a serious voting block in our country that can often push a candidate into Congress. You in Egypt have the same issue. The labor unions are a big part of your work force (27%). They, like the MB, have a ready made organization, information network, news papers, leadership and a captive funding base. And, they don't have to rely just on their union members, they will appeal to other laborers interested in improving their wages, health care, etc.

These will represent the likely second largest party in parliament. Among the issues facing you is that these groups have already had experience partnering with the MB out in the non-parliament world. Do not suppose that their issues of "social justice" etc are so different that they will not be willing to partner in Parliament for some quid pro quo (ie, you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours). This could see some support for tighter Sharia law enforcement (such as restricting alcohol, penalties/taxes for businesses that are open on the sabbath, etc) in exchange for support on workers issues and strengthening unions or opening other labor markets to unionization.

While that seems like no big deal, it is a) just the first line of encroachment on freedom/liberality and b) could be a serious hindrance to developing your economy with both the tourist industry and your own internal consumers. Once it happens, it is hard to turn back the clock.

I expect that the union/labor party(s) will get 25-30% as well. When you put that together with the MB, that is 50-60% of your parliament. Leaving only 40% to be divided between whatever groups are left over (Liberals, communists, coptic Christians, some form of revamped NDP - because you know they are not going to go away). That doesn't leave the liberal folks much power to play with. That's IF you can put together a party, leadership, funding and some form of organization within the next 60 days (the proposed length for the next election to parliament).

My liberal Egyptian friends keep telling me how the MB can only get 20 or 25% (you all don't even agree on that), but my question to you is really, what percentage of parliament seats do you think you can get? Between all of the possibilities of parties going to the ballot box, how will you perform? Can you actually beat that and/or create an amalgam of liberal parties to represent a real counter to their power? Who, by the way, will be busy in-fighting over important ministry and judicial appointments/sharing (see Iraq) while the other, more organized and disciplined block goes about the business of pushing their agenda.

If we are honest, you all have been very vocal about not having leadership and not caring who gets in as long as you can vote them out. Well, according to how the current committee for the (limited?) revision of the constitution to get to the next election is made up, once they get in, you are going to have a hell of a time getting them out or countering them.

The dictum goes: those in power are extremely reluctant to give it up. What kind of real change can you expect? Will you be more free or will it be equally repressive under new laws?

This isn't just some concern from the "West". This is a real friend who is concerned about the future for my friends over there.

You all lack an organization, clear leaders, an appealing agenda (besides being the revolutionary youth to topple the regime), funding and, beyond the internet, no voice into the rest of the non-facebook/blog/twitter polity of Egypt. They might love you for taking out Mubarek, but that doesn't mean they will love what direction you are going to take the country.

By the way, if your group of youthful folks want real participation in politics, the first thing you had better hope for is that the "committee" over turns the electoral rule that states members of parliament must be 30 years or older. They need to reduce it to 25. Otherwise, it is going to be the older folks doing the politicking while they pat you on the head, thank you for doing the work they couldn't and then tell you to run along while the adults take care of business.

It is the liberal Jan25 youths that are going to be lucky to get 20% of the parliament and they are going to be faced with making compromises with people they probably otherwise would rather tell to take a hike.

El Baradei and others have not even been invited to talk with the Supreme council, participate in the revision committee or otherwise participate in anyway for the new government. The "jurists" selected are largely MB related lawyers. What do you think you are getting out of that?

What I would like to hear right now is not some platitudes about not worrying about the MB. I am worrying because it feels like you all are not. What I want to know, for the sake of your own future, is what are you all doing to get organized right now for the next fight for freedom: the elections?

Because, that is what freedom is about. Constant vigilance and the fight to remain that way.

Yours in liberty,

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Libya Revolution: Not Peaceful At All

Just catching AJ in English on the Libyan situation. Seems that the peaceful protesters have decided that it is time to meet force with force. They overtook a security site that was being used to shoot at them (possibly killing a dozen or more from that position). They are saying they are going to kill the soldiers they captured.

And, just reported, the military base that the revolutionaries overtook when it "surrendered"...the revolutionaries are threatening to kill 150 soldiers if the government does not accede to their demands.

Of course, as Blackfive posted, peaceful revolutions are only really possible when the ruling opponent is constrained against violence due to their own morality or that fousted on them from outside forces. Libya has neither. Gadaffi's forces and various opponents of the revolt have been shooting, beating and blowing up whoever they can reach. It was just a matter of time before it went from a "peaceful" revolution to all out civil war.

Stand by.

Information Warfare: The Next Revolution Will Be On the Internet - Literally

Well, it had to come sometime. In the great space of the internet, creating the widest form of free expression interconnecting the world (and maybe beyond someday), somebody had to come forward and claim to be the revolutionary forces of the internet, freeing information to people everywhere in the name of - well, it is hard to tell exactly what that cause is except free flow of information. They call it "global correction":

Anonymous and the global correction

Terminology, let alone our means of exchanging information, has changed to such a degree that many essential discussions in today's "communications age" would be entirely incomprehensible to many two decades ago.

As the social, political and technological environment has developed, some have already begun to explore new options, seizing new chances for digital activism - and more will soon join in. It is time for the rest of the world to understand why.

This is a letter written by someone calling themselves "anonymous" as is the name of the loose organization of internet "activists" who are hacking their way across the globe. He or she says it is for "great justice":

In this case, the idea that a loose network of people with shared values and varying skill sets can provide substantial help to a population abroad is seen as quixotic - or even unseemly - by many of those who have failed to understand the past ten years, as well as those whose first instinct is to attack a popular revolt rather than to assist it.
Well, there is only one problem with that...what if popular revolts turn into oppressive regimes supported by a mass of the population (hence, a majority over the minority or in some political ideology that is itself simply oppressive)? Is anonymous going to be around to attack this new government or are they going to leave it alone because it has popular support of some kind of majority and, of course, they helped to install it they think in their collective minds?

The writer says that they now have something to believe in, but their belief sounds nearly nihilistic as in there is nothing good beyond the popular of the moment to reach for.

The letter is somewhat self congratulating and egotistical with little self-introspection as to whether they are really doing good or bad in their efforts. What should be most concerning to any organization is the last statement that gives the basis of their apparent "manifesto":

This is the future, whether one approves or not, and the failure on the part of governments and media alike to understand, and contend with the rapid change now afoot, ought to remind everyone concerned why it is that this movement is necessary in the first place.

So, for the sake of actual interfacing (we call it dialogue in the real world), if any anonymous hacker would care to answer, how do you determine what is good and what is bad when deciding who you attack in the virtual world?

Is Al Qaeda good if it is advocating "freedom" for Islamists to institute "true" Islamic government in Islamic countries who would do so through "revolution" supported by a "popular" movement of a large group of believers, good?

If Communism, one of the worst oppressive political ideas with a murderous history in every country that it was instituted in, was to suddenly arise again as a mass popular movement (as it was originally installed) claiming to provide "justice" and representation for the people, would anonymous be supporting that movement?

Let's be real here. Nothing is absolutely good, but there is definitely worse and down right horrible. What ideology is anonymous expressing beyond, what sounds like, some serious self congratulations over participating in events from a distance and threatening anyone that doesn't meet some group think idea of "justice"?

Anonymous? Anyone?

PS...please don't hack me for asking questions otherwise you will be in violation of your own expressed idea of freedom of information...or whatever it is.

The Hated West, Freedom, Democracy, Iraq and the Middle East: Irony

Maysoon Shaladi (ex-pat, living in UK tweeting about Libyan uprising, angry with lack of western coverage or pressure on the situation, paraphrasing Lincoln)

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves

If there was any irony to be had from the current multiple situations in the Middle East, it is the continuing reviling of the dratted "West", demands for western interference in the name of obtaining democracy, damning the west for supporting dictators, denigrating the "late" coming of western governments to supporting their cause even as they scream for them to stay out now, using twitter and facebook (a western invention only available due to the freedom to think and create) to stoke their revolutionary fire, all under the guise of democratic aspirations (arguably a western Greco-Humanist-Christian concept though I am certain I have had an argument with an Islamic acquaintance in the past who insisted it was an Islamic invention).

I have to say that with some of my own irony even as I support their democratic aspirations with the full knowledge that some of my friends may not get exactly what they expected without another fight, as other alleged democratic uprisings are likely to result in some unfriendly and dangerous situations coming to fruition (Yemen comes to mind immediately) without true democracy.

Neither can I forget the absolute reviling of the West over Iraq and the final institution of democracy (yes, at gun point) that did exactly what it was supposed to do: give an Arab people their own government and the Middle East the idea that people CAN rule themselves democratically, regardless of race or religion. That it was the dreaded Neo-Con (alleged Jewish conspiracy still being bruted about in reputed and allegedly non-partisan ME news sites) that expressed that idea and pushed leaders in the ME to institute some form of liberality and representation in their governments.

While it cannot be said that the Neo-Cons started the idea brewing in the minds of people in the ME (it has been there for awhile, considering their long interaction with western democracies and various attempts at establishing representative governments), it was the dreaded head Neo-Con, president Bush, that pushed, prodded and pulled these governments to let off some of the levers of oppression in the recent past. The Domino Theory of Democracy. How ironic is it that some writer for an ME news organization actually says that the Neo-Cons did not believe that Arab, Islamic people were ready for democracy.

Bush left, the Neo-Cons went out of power and the realpolitik folks took over and were left holding the bag. Apparently crossing their fingers on both hands that that little sortie into meddling had little effect or could be contained. Dictators sighed with relief and tried to go back to business as usual.

Freedom is the fire in the minds of men. Now it's a conflagration.

Of course, the ME is all abounding with fears that the west (new friends) is trying to "steal" Egypt's revolution by rushing in with assistance post mortem. That is ironic and extremely humorous in a gallows sort of way. Sorry, but we've been there all along and in the way of all friends, not everything we did seemed in our friends' best interests as, with all friends, there is always some kind of ego and self interest apparent.

Case in point, even as a "late comer", had the western nations not warned off Mubarek, the Egyptian Military and now the Bahrain government from smashing freedom of expression, the blood shed in these nations would have been so much more worse (for sure, the Bahraini's would not have pulled back their military and allowed the people to occupy the square again after the last few days of attempted violent suppression). We don't have the same power in Yemen or Libya, nor am I sure we want to exercise it in light of who might be demanding the overthrow of the government.

I know...ironic. Or, to our ME friends, hypocritical. I can't wait until they have to make their own decisions about which way their country goes and how often they must compromise in the name of their own security. It is, ironically, easier to blame outsiders and some dictator for the things we are not directly responsible for. Not so easy when we have no one to blame but ourselves.

On the other hand, it wasn't American blood being spilled and we certainly did not occupy Tahrir or Pearl Square in the name of the people. It is their revolutions after all. We are merely interested by standers, pushing and pulling, praying for the best even as we look on with extreme trepidation and the sure knowledge that we can do little to help or hinder in either direction, but expending great political capital and possible future security to do. So that, in the end, we are doing as people have so ironically screamed that we are not: standing by our basic principles of freedom and democracy.

One can't give too much credit to the Neo-Con faction I suppose. The idea that freedom and democracy would counter any despotic and oppressive idea was imagined a long time ago by people much more thoughtful and intelligent than we poor substitutes. It was brought forth as a foreign policy by Truman and nursed throughout the Cold War in various forms with much back and forth on its support and many, many mis-steps along the way. Even the Great Liberator Reagan was not adverse to supporting despotism in the short run while pushing freedom some place else.

The entire idea was that short of actual military interference, people would naturally come to that conclusion by simple interaction with western democracy through social, political and economic means. Hence, the fall of the USSR and the eastern block. It has been and continues to be a very long, slow road with plenty of twists and turns that prevent a reliable predictor of the future, but it is the long view of democratic nations.

And, the irony of all ironies is that, with every creation of a democracy, with every inch forward of freedom, the US and other nations will see their power diminish as new competition arrives in the form of newly freed minds and economies with states working towards their own interests. Shooting ourselves in the foot and destroying the idea of American Exceptionalism for the basic principle:

"all men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness"

Yes, ALL MEN (and women, too). There was never such a grand idea with the such a potential, inherent self-destruct mechanism.

It is, of course, bad form to expect any gratitude for a supposedly selfless gift (more irony as it isn't exactly selfless; the hoped for purpose is to expand alliances, open markets and create over arching security, but that is another post). We are ever humble in the face of Liberty (yes, yes, I said "humble") and the sure knowledge that it is the Free Will and a thinking brain given by our common Creator that provides us the basis democratic government (more irony as my atheist friends would insist that mind was created through eons of natural evolution, but that, as I said before, is another post).

So, with all of the irony that is inherent in this rambling post, I leave the (paraphrased) words of a great western actress, Betty Davis, instead of "your welcome" or even "congratulations" (as in a previous post) to our newly liberated friends and those struggling for something similar.

"Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."

Revolution in the Middle East: Rebirth of Pan-Arabism?

Reading an interesting article from Al Jazeera. The author, Jaswant Singh, suggests in his opening paragraph that this is the re-emergence of "pan-Arabism". That the revolutions are a show of Arab Unity.

In the days and weeks ahead, there could arise occasions when the news from Cairo is not uplifting, but let us never forget that Egypt has taken a giant step, which in reality is a giant step for all Arabs. After all, Egypt is the heart, brain, and nerve center of the Arab world. True, it once spawned the radical Muslim Brotherhood, but it also gave birth to Islamic socialism and anti-colonialism, Arab unity, and now a democratic affirmation of the people's will.

That is an odd take on the situation. The truth, when looking close enough at each of the subsequent revolutions, seems very far away from Arab Unity.

Pan Arabism was the idea that the nations of the Middle East, largely populated by "Arabs" and sharing a single faith, Islam (with it's multiple sects based on various Islamic jurisprudence, but let's not get into that) and one similar language (disrespecting indigenous languages or dialects) would unite to create an Arab Republic. Based on socialist-Islamic-democratic ideas, this Republic would create a political and economic giant that could compete with the various economic powerhouses of the time (USSR, United States, Europe). Most importantly, pan-Arabism would overthrow colonial powers and throw off western influence.

Pan Arabism enjoyed it's Hay-days in the mid sixties, barely getting off the ground and taking its last breath after the Six Day War with Israel. The rivalries for power over any such Arab Republic could never compromise enough nor could the realities of the real socio-economic necessities of the states depend only upon themselves. Most of these states had little in the way of natural resources to establish any industrial base besides oil, some states having more than others. A republic would require those states to share their wealth in some manner. That was not going to happen.

Are the revolutions from Tunisia to Egypt to Bahrain, Libya and Yemen the new "pan-Arabism"? No.

They certainly share some unique similarities such as peaceful protests, demands for a more representative government and despots ranging from incredibly corrupt and murderous (such as Gadaffi in Libya and Saleh in Yemen) to "despot light" (such as Bahrain), but the people involved are so disparate and their reasons unique to each of their situations that it is hard to envision this as some sort of new Pan Arabism. In fact, it is likely that these situations will both contract pan Arab state cooperation and increase it, for a time, leaving the states very much separate entities whose cooperation will still be determined by the circumstances of each situation.

For instance, Egypt is largely Sunni Muslim with Christian and Shia minorities. Egyptians see themselves as a group of people, powerful within their own right and with their own economic and political position to maintain. They are hardly likely to want to fall in with the Saudi government on all fronts. Especially now that they are democratic and Saudi Arabia is not.

Saudi Arabia will want to influence how Egypt leans in the Middle East so they will, undoubtedly, funnel large sums of money through various social and religious programs. Largely to keep Egypt from heading into the Iranian camp. Iran will do the same in the hopes of pulling Egypt towards their own sphere of influence, but it is even harder to see that occurring. Egyptians view the Iranians as both oppressive and possibly fanatical. The question will be whether the new Egypt will comprehend their unique place between these two rivals as a very real, potential power broker in the Middle East.

Far from shifting power into the hands of these two houses, it may shift completely towards the country on the Mediterranean Sea.

In Bahrain, the demand for political representation has only its similarities in that parts of society are excluded or limited in participation. However, those who have been limited in Bahrain are the Shia majority, making this a sectarian issue.

While the protesters in Bahrain have taken their cue from Egypt by largely "peaceful" demonstrations, they are not Egypt or Egyptians. They are not largely "cosmopolitan" in their views nor is their an overwhelming "liberal" demand to their protests. Few are seeking to over turn Sharia law nor liberalize the economic infrastructure. They just want to have their voices heard in the political arena and have their very local concerns about government heard and acted on.

Further, representation within the government is hardly likely to pull them towards any unity with other "Arab" nations. They have their own indigenous, social identity. Expressed in their protests are definite over tones of nationalism (witness protesters in each nation carrying their national flag, painting their faces with their national flag colors, etc), but we aren't talking about "Arab" nationalism. We are talking about "Bahraini" nationalism. As we can talk about Egyptian nationalism and Tunisian. That hardly opens the way for a new "Pan Arabism". In fact, democratic governments are usually overwhelmed far more with their local concerns and addressing their constituents direct needs such as jobs, education and security.

As far as Libya and Tunisia go, their populations are much more religiously conservative than their Egyptian neighbors. Overthrowing their dictators who have used an amalgam of secular, socialist and Islamic rule isn't more likely to pull them towards liberality, an issue that Egypt will now struggle with, but more likely to pull them towards conservative Islamic rule. The only real opposition that has existed in these nations for decades.

What we may see in the way of cooperation between these states will be three fold: 1) supporting democratic governments between them as a bulwark against the influence of non-democratic, Middle Eastern States (including Saudi Arabia and Iran) and overt western influence as they seek to establish their national identities; 2) economic cooperation; 3) security cooperation (see number one).

The most influential in the short run will likely be one and two with emphasis on #2: economic cooperation. If Egypt and Bahrain can stabilize quickly, there is a potential that new economic doorways will be opened as Libya (if Gadaffi can be overthrown) and Tunisia seek to improve it's infrastructure and economic conditions. Everything from technology to roads to agriculture will need to be built. If Libya and Tunisia can keep from exploding into sectarian or religious strife and security is largely guaranteed, Egyptian and Bahrain investors could see ample opportunities to develop businesses in these nations.

The major hindrance, beyond potential security issues in these nations, would be what resources or sources of wealth does Libya and Tunisia have that would lure investors and builders? They do have one excellent resource: a cheap labor pool that would be happy to improve their economic situation by any amount.

Then there is Yemen. It is difficult to see that Yemen would become any sort of democracy in a post Saleh era. Out of all of the so called "democratic revolutions" in the Middle East, Yemen is the least to actually represent it. This is about tribal areas that differentiate widely from each other attempting to gain their own power, not install democracy. We're talking about warlords in the south and despotic wannabe's in the north, each with its own tendency towards Islamic fundamentalism.

Still, while each of these "revolutions" is taking place in "Arab" countries, this isn't about an Arab identity. This is about Tunisian, Egyptian, Bahraini identity with a whole lot of tribalism thrown in to the rest of the states. A new era of Arab cooperation is not being born here. It is a new era of people in nations demanding that their nation represent them in all of their various forms and desires.

What these new nations will do with that representative government, the world awaits with bated breath.