Daily Archives: February 16, 2011
This, from Austin Bay, does an excellent job of making the point about Egypt that I have been trying to get across in a meta sense. He does it with a look back at the Iranian revolution. It, in many ways, mirrors what is happening in Egypt today. Bay makes the point that in all such revolutions, the key is organization. And unfortunately authoritarians usually do a better job of organizing than do democrats.
A democratic movement will never march in lockstep, but common principles — such as dedication to individual rights — must translate into a common spine to resist, with armed force when necessary, inevitable manipulation, threat and attack by tyrants, terrorists and their vicious partisans.
Recent history bears tragic witness. In the aftermath of their popular rebellion of 1979, the hodgepodge collection of Iranian liberals and nationalists fragmented. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s radical Islamic totalitarians divided the democratic coalition and attacked them individually. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Iran’s first president after the 1979 revolt, identifies the failure to form a unified democratic front as the Iranians greatest strategic error.
In an essay published in the Christian Science Monitor last month, Bani-Sadr said most Iranian political organizations "did not commit themselves to democracy. Lacking the unity of a democratic front, one by one they became targets of power-seeking clergy in the form of the Islamic Republic Party … ."
I remember the Iranian revolution vividly. I remember Bani-Sadr and the hopes he had for a free and democratic Iran. And I also remember the relentless Ayatollahs and their eventual success at the "divide and conquer" strategy they used. Iran has never gotten off the mat since.
Bay is much more optimistic about the outcome in Egypt than I obviously am. I think it is much to early to determine that they are headed in the right direction. Bay says there are hopeful signs. Good. But … and there’s always one of those when talking about an authoritarian regime willingly handing over power … we’re so early in the process it’s impossible to tell if the military is really serious about the handover or whether nationalists, secularists, “moderate” Islamists and activists can indeed form a united front or will instead fracture at various points.
History says “fracture”.
Bay puts the “key” to success in his conclusion:
How the military receives the counter-proposal is crucial. Rejection or ambivalent delay sends the ominous message that there is at least one strong faction of military Bonapartists who prefer pharaoh to freedom. The give and take of sincere negotiations among revolutionary factions and the military, ending in authentic compromise, however, will not only forward the process of building a democratic front but signal the emergence of genuine democratic politics.
You can be guaranteed there are what Bay calls “Bonapartists” within the military. And in Egyptian history it isn’t unheard of for more junior level officers to resort to violence to take over (Gamal Nasser anyone?). In the sort of revolutionary atmosphere now prevalent in Egypt it should be remembered that not all revolutionaries want democracy or freedom. You can rest assured there are power struggles going on within a great number of these factions both within and outside the military.
Given Bay’s quoting of recent history, I’m not sure how he is so optimistic at this early date in the process, but he does seem to think that a united Egyptian democratic front may emerge from all this turmoil. I remain skeptical and doubtful (even if I’d love to be proven wrong). And … I have history on my side.
Giving the left the benefit of the doubt, maybe they didn’t know about this. Because I’m sure, just as they blasted Wall Street for paying bonuses after receiving bailout money and TARP funds, they’d be keen to be consistent and do the same to GM.
Less than two years after entering bankruptcy, General Motors will extend millions of dollars in bonuses to most of its 48,000 hourly workers as a reward for the company’s rapid turnaround after it was rescued by the government.
The payments, disclosed Monday in company documents, are similar to bonuses announced last week for white-collar employees. The bonuses to 76,000 American workers will probably total more than $400 million — an amount that suggests executives have increasing confidence in the automaker’s comeback.
But the comeback was and is still financed by taxpayers money and borrowing. What in the world is GM doing paying out bonuses when it still owes at least $40 billion in loans? That $400 million would be a nice chunk toward that payback, wouldn’t it?
But the bonuses drew criticism from an opponent of the auto industry bailout in Washington who said GM should repay its entire $49.5 billion loan before offering bonuses.
"Since the taxpayers helped these companies out of bankruptcy, the taxpayers should be repaid before bonuses go out," said Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa. "It sends a message that those in charge take shareholders, in this case the taxpayers, for a sucker."
Yeah, kind of hard to argue otherwise, isn’t it? And no, for you that believed all the hype, GM hasn’t paid back its loans despite the commercials it made claiming it had. It isn’t even close to paying them off.
That said, I’m sure, once the story gets out that the left will be just as consistent in slamming GM for paying bonuses without repaying its loans as it was with taking Wall Street (properly I might add) for precisely the same reason. (HT: Maggie’s Notebook).
Oh, and by the way:
Ford Motor Co. announced plans last month to pay its 40,600 U.S. factory workers $5,000 each, the first such checks since 1999. The Dearborn, Mich., company, which avoided bankruptcy and did not get a government bailout, made $6.6 billion last year.
Ford also plans to pay performance bonuses to white-collar workers in lieu of raises, but it would not reveal the amounts.
Good for them and congratulations.
The committee empaneled to rewrite the Egyptian Constitution and given 10 days to do so has named it’s head.
Egypt’s new ruling military council has appointed an Islamist judge to head the committee drawing up a new constitution, angering some of those who argued last week’s revolution would deliver the country to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Of course there are some who continue to argue this is all a secular movement (how does one conclude a group calling itself the Muslim Brotherhood is somehow a “secular” group as the West would define “secular?) and that the end result will be a strong democracy as demanded by the people.
Uh, probably not. Careful monitoring says that most likely the next government will be anything but “secular” as defined by the West:
But the make-up of the new committee, and the fact it has been given just ten days to come up with a new constitution, has dashed hopes that it will remove Article 2, which makes Islam the state religion and says Shariah is the main source of law.
There is something very concrete for you to watch for and monitor – the status of “Article 2” in any new constitution. The double-talk isn’t just confined to the word “secular”. “Moderate” gets a going over too. What anyone in the West would consider a “moderate” here would most likely be called a “secular liberal” there. The West might consider Egypt’s “moderates” as fairly radical here. As an example of having to read carefully, look at this:
"Al-Bishry is a figure who is accepted by all Egyptians," said Aboul Ella al-Madi, leader of Al-Wasat. "He has criticised the Coptic Church but he has also criticised the Muslim Brotherhood and the former regime.
Sounds great right? But what is “Al-Wasat”? It’s an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. And you have to love the fact that he feels qualified to speak for “all Egyptians”.
Another claim made by those appointing the committee is it includes a “Coptic Christian” (The NYT names him as Maher Samy Youssef, a judge and Coptic Christian). Or maybe not:
But Bishop Markos, a member of the Coptic Church’s Holy Syndicate, said no one from the Military Council had been in touch since it came to power.
He said: "We do not know the result of this but we hope the committee will be wise enough to take into account the rights of all Egyptians."
And Islamists in general (using “Islamist” in the generally accepted sense of “religious radical”)?
In another sign of increased freedoms for Islamists, the Gama’a Islamiya, the radical group responsible for a wave of terror attacks in the 1990s, held a public meeting in a town in southern Egypt on Monday night, according to a local newspaper, Al-Masry al-Youm.
Nice – radical terror groups go main stream and hold public meetings.
Back to the head of the committee …. a person who knows Egypt pretty well has weighed in:
Wael Abbas, the best-known human rights blogger in Egypt, who was sentenced to prison by the Mubarak regime last year, said it was a "worrying" choice.
"There is no such thing as a moderate Islamist," he said. "We want a secular state that respects all religions and which belongs to all religions."
Take that one sentence to heart – “there is no such thing as a moderate Islamist”. We’ve come to understand that over the years, yet many of us seem to want to ignore that when it comes to Egypt. Note that Abbas wants a real secular state as you and I might define it, not one as the Muslim Brotherhood would.
This move by the military council is one, I think, that is calculated to further calm fears that the military plans to continue to hold on to control. The NYT says:
Though the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which seized power with Mr. Mubarak’s exit, has repeatedly pledged to uphold the goals of the Egyptian revolution, many in the opposition have questioned the army’s willingness to submit for the first time to a civilian democracy after six decades of military-backed strongmen.
So appointing the committee helps calm those fears:
“The move to appoint the panel is the first concrete thing the army has done since taking over,” said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent civil rights lawyer and Mubarak critic. “We have only had communiqués. We have been analyzing the rhetoric. But now is the first concrete move, and there is nothing about it that concerns us.”
That last sentence is very telling, especially the claim “there is nothing about it that concerns us”. The fact that Bahgat isn’t concerned doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be concerned. An Islamist judge heads the committee and:
The biggest surprise was the inclusion of Sobhi Saleh, an Alexandria appeals lawyer and former member of Parliament who is a prominent figure of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Mubarak government repeatedly portrayed Mr. Saleh as extremist. Mr. Saleh has espoused some views many here might consider excessive, like advocating a ban on public kissing in most places, and he was released from an Egyptian intelligence prison recently.
Is that a “moderate” position? Would such bans be “secular” in scope? My guess is the answer would be “yes” from someone like Saleh if passed by a Parliament (using the democratic process to pass authoritarian laws). Anyway, you then have to love this analysis of the committee by Saleh:
“The committee is technical and very balanced,” Mr. Saleh said. “It has no political color, except me because I was a member of Parliament.”
Well yeah, so who is it that will lend “political color” to this work? A radical member of the Muslim Brotherhood on a committee headed by an Islamist judge.
There’s no question there’s a lot of “hope” going on in Egypt right now – but as when “hope” was a prominent word here in the US during the last election cycle, everyone is being left to write their own interpretation on the large blank page “hope” has provided. The problem there, as it was here, is what the people of Egypt “hope” will come about and what they will actually get out of this process – as it appears to be lining up – are probably not the same thing at all.