BEIRUT — It is difficult to overstate the potential for Egyptian citizens advancing universal aspirations for freedom, dignity and basic human rights now spreading from the determination of those who for more than a week have risked their lives while inspiring much of the world at Cairo’s Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square. Tahrir public plaza near central Cairo has been the traditional site for numerous major protests and demonstrations over the years, including during the 1977 Egyptian Bread Riots and the March 2003 protests against the American war in Iraq. Washington DC and Tel Aviv are reportedly shocked by the rapidly unfolding and unpredictable revolution.
One can quickly recall a long list of geographic place names that are indelibly etched in the annals of humanity’s quest for freedom and whose very geographical place name connotes resistance to aggression, oppression, occupation and tyranny. Names like Le Place de la Resistance, Tiananmen Square, the Gdansk Shipyards, Bunker Hill, Iran’s Azadi Square, Bogside, Martyr’s Square, Karbala, Aita Shaab, among scores of others. Tahrir Square has become a name symbolizing every people’s willingness, indeed insistence, to make personal, potentially life-taking sacrifices to achieve freedom from an illegitimate, corrupt, brutal, treasonous dictatorship or from occupiers or aggressors.
While few outside Egypt had heard of, much less could locate on a blank map of Cairo, “Tahrir Square”, the World now realizes it as the epicenter of the Middle East’s unfolding and unpredictable earthquake event. The Tahrir Square uprising has led to one Arab diplomat, currently posted to Beirut, observing yesterday: “If there were to be an Arab League meeting this week attended by all the Arab Heads to State, an honest participant might suggest to the assembled potentates to look to their right and then look to their left and realize that in perhaps 24 months close one third may not be attending subsequent Arab League summits.”
The Tahrir uprising may, following a cursory examination, appear unconnected with much outside the Egyptian public’s urgent longings to escape poverty, unemployment, lack of educational opportunities, caused by decades of regime economic mismanagement, police brutality and government torture chambers, and pervasive corruption that has seeped into nearly every aspect of Egyptian life. But it increasingly appears that other forces are influencing recent events as noted below.
The eyes, hope, and solidarity of much of the Middle East are on Tahrir Square, and the bloodied but unbowed Egyptian people, who, old and young, religious and secular, illiterate and lettered, paupers and moneyed, all of whom today, following upon the glow of a spontaneous intifada in the cradle of civilization, stand to win or lose so much for the region.
As the Mubarak regime plots a path for the beleaguered President to stay in power, it is employing the well tested bromide of most despots, including citing the need for stability, orderly transition, prevention of religious fanatics and extremists from taking over, and the need for fighting “terrorism.” The pro-Mubarak Egyptian daily Al-Yawm Al-Sabah is claiming that Hamas is behind much of the instigation to violence in Tahrir Square and other areas of the country.
Not buying all of these scare tactics, the Obama Administration is revving up its “now means three days ago and counting” demands. Mr. Mubarak told CNN on February 3 that he’s fed up and would like nothing better than to step down but chaos and the Muslim Brotherhood would surely follow. His closest political confident and just-appointed Vice-President, Omar Suleiman, also predicted chaos if Mr. Mubarak resigned, saying it would leave a body without a head. The White House is still leaning toward Omar Suleiman, but believes that Suleiman was aware of the campaign in recent days to intimidate the opposition, and staffers are wondering whether he is still an acceptable choice. Late word from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is that the Obama Administration may support Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who has joined anti-Mubarak protests in Tahrir Square, and is hinting he may run for president in the upcoming election. Israel would support him over Mohammad El Baradei, who many view as pro-Iranian.
Still, the Mubarak regime is not without supporters. Former Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has defended Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, saying his collapse will be a “tremendous loss” for Israel. The former army general praised Mubarak for supporting Israel for thirty years, Israel’s Arutz Sheva newspaper reported. “When I watched his speech in which he said he would step down, it pained me to see his collapse,” Ben-Eliezer said on February 2 about Mubarak.
Both Washington and Tel Aviv were reportedly shocked by the speed of the Egyptian revolt, and their intelligence agencies admit not seeing it coming. Much of the American reaction is being scripted by AIPAC and other Israel lobby agents who regularly contribute campaign cash to 90 percent of the US Congress, including 390 of the 435 Members of the House of Representative (89.7%) who voted to support Israel after it repeatedly committed condemned serial murders of innocent civilians and myriad crimes against humanity in Gaza. These Israeli-pushed “American” initiatives will likely range from possibly terminating aid to Lebanon (some Obama Administration friends of Israel claim there is a link between the South Beirut Hezbollah neighborhood of Dahiyeh and Cairo’s Tahir Square events) and cutting off Egypt’s nearly 30 years of annual multi-billion dollar cash grants, as well as massive military hardware.
The US-Israel imperative appears designed to immediately regain control and co-opt the Tahrir uprising and quickly channel the uprising into a political cul de sac until Egypt can be returned to “normal”, meaning US-Israel shared hegemony.
What will ultimately determine which way the Middle East will move following Tahrir Square events is not the armed might of the regional super power or the weapons of the global superpower. Both Israel and the US can have a short term impact, but the former is shaking while the latter, equally impotent to subdue 83 million Egyptians and perhaps soon millions of Palestinians, Jordanians, Yemenis and others, is trying to stall any major regime change in favor of cosmetic adjustments to the current government. Even the Obama Administration’s current public choice, Omar Sulieman, is meeting with increasing resistance in Washington as details of his CV emerged including being a torture specialist and possibly a Mossad agent.
What both Israel and the US fear most is a determined and successful grassroots movement that will liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation. The Obama administration can be expected to continue to temporize events as best it can while calculating how to insert its choice of a compliant President in Mubarak’s palace. As one Congressional commented by email: “The last thing the White House or Israel want is an Egyptian Chavez, or even someone like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Completely unacceptable would be anyone with even the hint of pro-Iranian or Hezbollah leanings. The State Department favors another strong man, with an essentially rubber stamp Parliament after ‘free elections’ as long as there are no troublesome Algerian, Gaza, or Lebanon style election results. The US-Israel bottom line is that Egypt’s next government must be one that will guarantee that the 1979 Camp David Accords and Egypt’s willingness to continue accepting a total of more than three billions in US taxpayer dollars annually as bribe money to collaborate with Israel against Palestine.
History is filled with ironies. One of them is the coincidence that two of the fundamental causes of the unfolding Egyptian revolution happened within months of each other both 30 years ago — soon to be followed by the beginning of the current Mubarak dictatorship — the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the US-sponsored Camp David Accord. The Camp David giveaway and cave-in to colonialist Israel was never accepted by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic Republic, or by any but a small percentage of the people of the Middle East.
The hegemonic objectives of the 1979 Camp David have rolled across the region for three decades, being rejected and increasingly confronted by a growing culture of Resistance set in motion with the 1979 Imam Khomeini-led revolution. Both 1979 events fueled myriad other more immediate causes, including those noted above, and significantly inspired the current Egyptian eruptions, some of the paths of which are predictable while the results are unknown.
There are many other Tahrir Squares in the Middle East. One of which is Al Aksa square in Jerusalem, the eternal and indivisible capital of Palestine. It remains to be seen when or if Palestinians will revive Jerusalem as a modern day resistance place name and whether, like Tahrir Square, Jerusalem will rise up in support of increasing cries for Palestinian liberation as the inspiration and revolution of their neighbors in Tahrir Square spreads.