"Egypt's Pharaohs – Ancient & Today:
Mubarak's Military Mindset & His Allies Here & Elsewhere"
Every year at Passover, Jews recall the story of an ancient Egyptian ruler who oppressed his people and was overthrown by God, the People, and the Earth itself.
This story is not just an antiquarian tale. It is an archetypal vision of what happens, again and again, when top-down tyranny becomes addicted to its own power, at first unwilling and then unable to change.
We saw again these past weeks how profound the story is -- first in Tunisia and then in Egypt.
During the past week, we have seen hundreds of thousands of Egyptians face down their own modern Pharaoh –- dictatorial, repressive, and corrupt. We have seen crowds kiss the police and soldiers sent to control them, we have seen minimal violence and maximum resistance from the revolutionaries even when they are beaten, jailed, tortured, killed.
In Israel and Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, even in America, other governments are worrying or even quaking in their military boots.
Why? Because these other governments gambled that repression would work forever. Now they are frightened by the near-collapse of tyranny. An Israeli government that got addicted to military control of the Palestinian people made allies with an Egyptian government that did the same to its own people. And the US government did the same with them both, funneling huge amounts of military aid to both governments and then even huger amounts of its own blood and treasure into military control of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The result: 18 wasted years. Since 1993, when the Oslo Agreement was signed on the White House lawn, Israeli governments have refused to face up to what would have made peace while the making was possible, refused to affirm and negotiate the emergence of an independent Palestine alongside Israel, refused even to discuss the proposal from the Arab League for a regional peace treaty on condition that a free Palestine join other Arab states in making peace with Israel and being made peace with by Israel.
Of course the Israeli government had Palestinian allies in their rejection. The best allies of hawks on one side of any barricade are hawks on the other side. Terrorist murders of Israeli civilians certainly plucked on the hypersensitive nerve of Jewish fear. Most Israeli governments during these years rejected the notion that the way to end terrorism was to negotiate a peace with Palestinian and Arab leaders. Instead, they boasted that "separation" -- the Fence/Wall that tracked not the 1967 borders but swallowed huge chunks of Palestinian land; the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza; the blockade against Gaza -- all this, they said, would end terrorism. But "separation" led not to peace but to the self-destructive wars against Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009.
"Separation" and military force were not the only conceivable response to terrorism. The bravest and wisest Israelis and Palestinians were those who joined in the "Circle of Bereaved Families" to insist that the killing of their own children by "the other side" made peace crucial, not impossible.
Nor was fear the only possible response. Yitzhak Rabin again and again insisted in every city, town, and kibbutz, that Israelis were no longer victims, no longer helpless, and could afford the practicality of making peace through the Oslo Agreement. But the Jewish terrorist who murdered Rabin left behind Israeli politicians too stupid or too cowardly to carry forward Rabin's late-blooming message or his policy.
Indeed, the "Palestine Papers" published by Al Jazeera show that for the last 10 years, the Palestinian Authority was in fact ready to make deep concessions to win peace, and it was the Israeli government -- supported by the US government –that rejected them.
It is true that the Oslo agreement and the Arab League peace plan would have made a deal with top-down governments throughout the region. But by freeing Palestine, it would have taken that issue off the table. When uprisings came – as they now have – Israelis and their supporters would not have had to fear that the uprisings would create new governments much more hostile to Israelis who are still occupying the West Bank, blockading and bombing Gaza, and destroying Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.
And the new Uprising societies would not have seen America as the arsenal of their tyrants if America had actually used its clout to insist on a regional peace settlement that included peace for both Israel and Palestine, had stayed out of Iraq, had decided against Predator bombings in Pakistan, had pressed Mubarak to end corruption and coercion. (Not just in words: with reductions in military aid, for example.)
We who enjoy many aspects of Israeli society and culture (try reading David Grossman, for example) and admired what used to be the vibrancy of Israeli democracy and is still a democracy-for-Jews, though a democracy wounded, coughing blood with every shout of protest -- we live in agony over the 18 wasted years.
There might still be time to redress the short-sightedness of those years. Maybe the Israeli and US governments are not utterly addicted to the coercive use of military power. Maybe the Obama Administration can rescue the courageous words of its early days and turn them into courageous deeds for an over-all Middle East regional peace.
But they are not likely to do so unless sizeable numbers of American Jews, Christians, and Muslims can band together in strong support of the people of Egypt, strong support for an emergency regional peace conference insisting on peace among Israel, Palestine, all Arab governments, and Iran as well.
It is the end of the Exodus story that makes possible the living and telling of its beginnings. The biblical stories of Pharaoh, the plagues, the Exodus, the Red Sea -- those stories hang on how a disorderly band of runaway slaves began to shape a new kind of community at Sinai and in the Wilderness. Today we face the same imperative: Shape a new planetary community, or slave and die under new planetary Pharaohs imposing on us new planetary plagues.
Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I have just finished a book of searching examination of the wisdom of that story. (Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness Across Millennia, by Jewish Lights Publishing -- available February 25. Reserve a copy by clicking here. )
Our book applies the ancient wisdom to today, on a global scale. Today we face Pharaohs. Big Oil, Big Coal, the Military-Corporate Complex, and Big Banking are chief among those pharaohs, bringing plagues upon the Earth and all humanity. It is clear that after a certain point, these Pharaohs become so addicted to their own power that only their utter ruin – and that of their society --can undo it.
But it is also true that these "Pharaohs" have many opportunities to turn their path around. And that the people have many opportunities to make the turning happen.
It is up to us and the God Who is YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life Who breathes and speaks in every language, every culture, every life-form, every era, Who calls us to courage and compassion.
Our official political system is paralyzed. Creative direct action – people power in the tradition of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Gandhi, the Flint Michigan auto sit-down strikes of 1937, the sit-in movement of 1960, King, Mandela -- is not paralyzed. Indeed, Tunisia showed us that one spark can free the imagination into utterly unexpected action.
Time to light our nonviolent sparks. Which one will illuminate the world, we cannot know in advance. But we do know that if we refuse to light the sparks, we will be condemned to live – and die -- in darkness.
Between now and mid-April, the coming of Passover and Palm Sunday (that brave Passover-time demonstration against the tyranny of the Roman Empire, led by a radical rabbi), we at The Shalom Center are planning to light several such sparks. Freedom Journeys is only one of them. Interfaith direct nonviolent action will be another. So will be a report on "Who are the Pharaohs, Caesars, and Abu-Jahls Today?" It will be a great help if you can support our work both with your own action and with (tax-deductible) donations. To make them, please click on our logo below.
Many thanks -- and many blessings of shalom, salaam, peace, grounded in justice and freedom and truth.
CODE PINK, MEDEA BENJAMIN Dear Dick,
After several cancelled flights, I am finally on my way to Egypt to join my CODEPINK colleagues who are already there. We were supposed to be leading a delegation to Gaza right now, traveling through the Sinai to get to Gaza's southern border. The Rafa crossing into Gaza has been closed, our delegation is unable to leave Cairo, and we have been caught up in the breath-taking people's movement that is sweeping Egypt. CODEPINK’s Tighe Barry has been out on the streets of Cairo all week long. You can hear a compelling report from him here.
When CODEPINK was in Cairo for the Gaza Freedom March last year, we led and participated in small, peaceful protests that were set upon by hundreds of riot police at the behest of repressive Mubarak regime.
But now there has been a seismic shift. There are not 50 people rallying in Cairo, but hundreds of thousands protesting across the nation. Dozens have been killed; hundreds have been wounded.
But the Egyptian people will not be turned back. They feel their power and are determined to seize the moment.
The US has given Egypt $68 billion since 1948, and since 1979, Egypt has been the second-biggest recipient of US aid after Israel. Our government currently gives $1.3 billion a year of our tax dollars in military aid to the Mubarak regime.
Join us in telling President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Congress to stop funding the Mubarak regime now, to call on Mubarak to resign, and to expressly say that our government stands with the Egyptian people. After all, in his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama declared: “The United States stands with the people of Tunisia.” Shouldn’t we also stand with the Egyptians?
Sign here to stand in solidarity with people who are giving their government, our government and the world a lesson in democracy.
Mubarak is refusing to leave. But our government can—and must—break its ties to this dictator. As courageous Egyptian citizens are being assaulted with U.S. tear gas and other Made-in-the-USA weapons, we must say: Enough.
Stop funding the Mubarak regime now!
The US government must break its ties to the current regime in Egypt. As courageous Egyptian citizens are being bombarded with U.S. tear gas and other Made-in-the-USA weapons, we must say: Basta. The US gives $1.3 billion a year of our tax dollars to Hosni Mubarak. We have given Egypt $68 billion since 1948, and since 1979, Egypt has been the second- biggest recipient of US aid after Israel.
Join us in telling President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Congress to stop funding the Mubarak regime now, to call on Mubarak to resign, and to expressly say that our government stands with the Egyptian people.
MAZIN QUMSIYEH [HumanRights in Egypt] Transformation in the Arab World by Mazin Qumsiyeh
"Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he's been very
responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle
East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing
relationship with Israel.. I would not refer to him as a dictator" US Vice
President Je Biden ( a lackey of AIPAC)
I first visited Egypt 30 years ago in 1981 to do research for my master's
thesis which was later published in my first book "The Bats of Egypt". I
visited Egypt twice since then and I recall vividly police abuse of their
own people and yet the Egyptians I encountered mocked and joked about
dictatorship. We tried at least from a distance to support our Egyptian
brothers and sisters as they struggle for freedom. Arabs everywhere (yes
even here in occupied Palestine) are talking about a transformation and
about revolution. But all such transformations carry pain. Over 200
Egyptians were killed, thousands injured, and there is much destruction.
Yet in a nation of 85 million people this is still a relatively peaceful
transformation. While dealing with the present is critical we must also at
this juncture start to look post dictatorship in the Arab world and plan the
I recall vividly a talk by a self-described "Liberal Zionist" (an oxymoron)
at Duke University on 1 March 198l; at 77 year old he had no inhibitions in
saying "Zionists do not want democracy in the Arab world." He explained
that if Egypt was a democracy, it would not have signed a peace deal with
Israel since the sentiments of the Arab people does not accept such
arrangements that could be done with someone like President Sadat or King
Hussein. On this point he was absolutely correct but in the long run such
short-sighted perspective is self-destructive (1).
As I watched last night Hosni Mubarak make his (hopefully last) speech, I
was very much reminded of the last speech of the Shah of Iran, Marcos of the
Philippines, Bin Ali of Tunisia. They all claimed after so many years of
torturing their own people that they now want to "reform". The US funded
and supported the brutal Mubarak regime for over 30 years even as plenty of
evidence from human rights organizations documented its abuse of its own
citizens. See example videos of torture by Egyptian police (2). This is
also the same police who, on the instruction of the Mubarak dictatorship,
beat international activists trying to provide humanitarian relief to
besieged Gaza (3). Mubarak then went on to for the first time appoint a
vice president (his intelligence chief and ex-army buddy Omar Suleiman) and
appoint another army officer as prime minister. It is now recognized that
his reign is ending and a new era is beginning.
It is rather amusing that the brutal dictator of "Saudi" Arabia (a country
named after a ruling family!) called to support Mubarak and stated that the
demonstrators are hooligans and criminals. Anyone who knows anything about
Egypt knows that this amazing and inspiring mostly nonviolent revolution is
a true expression of the will of the Egyptian people regardless of their
political or religious persuasions (leftist, Muslim Brotherhood, Nasserite
Arab Nationalist, Christians, Muslims, etc).
In other news in brief for those who don't keep up with internet news or
those who watch mainly the (supine) Western Media:
-Large demonstrations by Egyptians and human rights defenders at Egyptian
embassies around the world all demanding democracy
-Israeli embassy in Cairo essentially emptied (an apartheid state embassy in
the largest Arab country is an abomination)
-Israeli pundits very worried about how Egypt might look after Mubarak.
-There are many signs that the Egyptian military (like the Tunisian
military) may be critical in this struggle. Already there are instances
where the demonstrators were protected from the Egyptian police by the
Egyptian military. See footage (4)
-A number of human rights groups and Egyptian community representatives
abroad all called for ending the Egyptian police brutality. By contrast EU
and US government officials are making feeble statements to hedge their bets
and at best call for "peaceful" actions from "all sides". Slowly they were
forced to modify their retorhic to talk about "change" but must finally call
on their puppet Mubarak to leave power and insist that he and his sons and
family return the billions stolen from the Egyptian people.
-A number of religious and civil organizations in Egypt broke their silence
to support the ouster of the "last Pharaoh"
-The dictatorship cutting of web and mobile phone services and banning
reporting by groups like Al-Jazeera did little to stem the tide of protest
because people are living it daily in their homes and on the streets and
they are not being incited from outside.
-Protests spread to Jordan and Yemen (two other Western supported
governments). There are now plans for large protests in Syria and other
-On the Palestinian Authority TV news, they noted that Mahmoud Abbas called
Mubarak and stated his support for stability of Egypt. Other news outlets
stated that he fully supports the Mubarak regime. Hamas then came in to say
that they support the Egyptian people. Sadly, I think all rational human
beings know which horse to bet on in this struggle between people and a
western-supported dictator who accomplished nothing for his people and
instead enriched his family (his sons are billionaires in a country in which
tens of millions of people live on less than $1 a day).
I wrote seven months ago that "The political leadership in the fragmented
Arab countries and Palestinian authority have convinced themselves that they
have no option but to endlessly try to talk to politicians from Tel Aviv and
Washington (the latter also Israeli occupied territory) hoping for some
'gestures'..I know most politicians like to feel 100% safe (mostly for their
position of power) and are afraid of any change. But I wish they would
realize that daring politicians make the history books and those who hang
around trying to protect their seats will be forgotten. Cowardice is never
a virtue." And then I concluded that "In the demonstrations yesterday, a
child in Gaza was carrying a sign that says 'we demand freedom' and a child
in Cairo that says 'children in Egypt and in Gaza want the siege lifted'.
That is our future - not elderly politicians meeting to do media damage
control with empty words. "(5)
But make no mistake about it: no power transformation happens without a
period of unrest, instability, and pain. I believe in these difficult
periods, humans are tested. Some are weak and may even try to use the
situations to make some quick personal profit. Others are of strong and
decent character and this shows in their watching for their neighbors and
their community. I have seen countless pictures and heard countless stories
of acts that can only be described as heroic (e.g. people protecting the
national museum in Cairo or their neighbors' houses). Intellectuals are
stepping forward to articulate rational scenarios for the future. People
helping other people. So I think we will weather the transition. As to
what the future holds. Clearly, the era of ignoring the masses is gone. It
will not be easy since we have a legacy of decades of poor education (one
that does not emphasize civic and individual responsibility etc). Getting
rid of dictators is not enough. Building a civic participatory society is
not easy (Europe's enlightenment did not come just from removing a few
People's expectation raised for change will dash against the reality that it
will take decades to create systems of governance, accountability, economic
justice, etc to allow for unleashing the great potential in the Arab world.
And there is great potential (natural resources, water, educated
hard-working middle class etc). It is critical that people begin to chart
this future honestly and pragmatically. Slogans will not work. We the
people must take responsibility for our own lives and for our communities.
We need to take time to educate children in a very, very different way than
we were educated. The beginnings may be simple. For example, in many Arab
countries, people were thinking that as long as the country is not theirs
(ruled by dictators), they can only watch over their own personal space and
literally dump trash in the public space. In the new era, they have to
learn that public space is theirs too. Order and respect for fellow
citizens and for the country will have to be taught very early to our
children. This is but one example for laying a brick in the road to real
freedom and real prosperity. The bricks though are many and they will have
to be fashioned and laid by the people. It is very hard work but it is the
only way forward.
(1) I challenged him on this in the Q&A and then wrote a follow-up letter
that was published in the Duke Chronicle. See
(2) Torture at Egyptian police stations, here are three examples (warning
3) Egyptian police beat Free Gaza convoy activist on December 30, 2009
4) See this associated press story about role of Egyptian military
and this interesting footage of military shielding demonstrators
5) Mazin Qumsiyeh "Of Cowardice, Dignity and Solidarity"
Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
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