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Counterinsurgency, Death Squads, and the Population as the Target: Empire Under Obama, Part 4

Counterinsurgency, Death Squads, and the Population as the Target: Empire Under Obama, Part 4

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at The Hampton Institute

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Part 1: Political Language and the ‘Mafia Principles’ of International Relations

Part 2: Barack Obama’s Global Terror Campaign

Part 3: America’s “Secret Wars” in Over 100 Countries Around the World

While the American Empire – and much of the policies being pursued – did not begin under President Obama, the focus of “Empire Under Obama” is to bring awareness about the nature of empire to those who may have – or continue – to support Barack Obama and who may believe in the empty promises of “hope” and “change.” Empire is institutional, not individual. My focus on the imperial structure during the Obama administration is not to suggest that it does not predate Obama, but rather, that Obama represents ‘continuity’ in imperialism, not “change.” This part examines the concept of ‘counterinsurgency’ as a war against the populations of Iraq, Afghanistan and spreading into Pakistan.

Continuity in the imperialistic policies of the United States is especially evident when it comes to the strategy of ‘counterinsurgency,’ notably in Afghanistan. As examined in Part 1 of this series, language plays a powerful role in the extension and justification of empire. George Orwell noted that political language was “largely the defense of the indefensible,” where horrific acts and policies – such as maintaining colonial domination, dropping atomic bombs on cities – can only be defended “by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face.” Thus, political language is employed, consisting “largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” One specific example was provided by Orwell in his essay – Politics and the English Language - which holds particular relevance for the present essay: “Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.” Virtually the same process or strategy is today employed using words like counterinsurgency or counterterrorism. These military strategies are frequently employed, and the words are carelessly thrown around by military officials, politicians, intellectuals and media talking heads, yet little – if any – discussion is given to what they actually mean.

Near the end of the Bush administration in 2008, General David Petraeus was appointed as the Commander of CENTCOM (Central Command), the Pentagon’s military command structure over the Middle East and Central Asia, overseeing the two major ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, Obama had appointed Petraeus as commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, and in 2011, he was appointed as CIA Director. Petraeus is a good starting point for the discussion on counterinsurgency.

Petraeus was previously commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, having quickly risen through the ranks to lead Bush’s “surge” in 2007. Prior to the surge, Petraeus was initially sent to Iraq in 2004 given the responsibility of training “a new Iraqi police force with an emphasis on counterinsurgency.” While in Iraq, Petraeus worked with a retired Colonel named Jim Steele, who was sent to Iraq as a personal envoy of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Steele acquired a name for himself in ‘counterinsurgency’ circles having led the U.S. Special Forces training of paramilitary units in El Salvador in the 1980s, where he turned them into efficient and highly effective death squads waging a massive terror war against the leftist insurgency and the population which supported them, resulting in the deaths of roughly 70,000 people.[1]

Jim Steele had to leave a promising military career after his involvement with the Iran-Contra scandal – trading arms to the Iranians for their war against Iraq to finance the death squads in Central America – and so he naturally turned to the private sector. But he had so impressed a Congressman named Dick Cheney, that when Cheney was Vice President, he and Rumsfeld maintained a cozy relationship with Steele who was then sent to Iraq in 2003 to help train the Iraqi paramilitary forces. Steele, working with David Petraeus and others, helped establish “a fearsome paramilitary force” which was designed to counter the Sunni insurgency which had developed in reaction to the U.S. invasion and occupation, running ruthless death squads which helped plunge the country into a deep civil war. Petraeus’ role in helping to create some of Iraq’s most feared death squads was revealed in a 2013 Guardian investigation.[2]

However, in 2005, the Pentagon had openly acknowledged that it was considering employing “the Salvador option” in Iraq in order “to take the offensive against the insurgents.” John Negroponte, who had been the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras when the U.S. was running death squads out of Honduras in Central America was, in 2005, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. The Pentagon and the CIA were considering what roles they could play, possibly using U.S. Special Forces, to help train Iraqi “death squads” to hunt down and kill “insurgents.”[3]

Within the first three years of the Iraq war and occupation, the British medical journal, The Lancet, published research indicating that between 2003 and 2006, an estimated 650,000 – 940,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war.[4] A survey from 2008 indicated that there had been more than one million deaths in Iraq caused by the war.[5]

This is referred to as a “counterinsurgency” strategy. In 2006, General Petraeus wrote the foreward to the Department of the Army’s Field Manual on Counterinsurgency, in which he noted that, “all insurgencies, even today’s highly adaptable strains, remain wars amongst the people.”[6] A 1962 U.S. counterinsurgency guide for the U.S. war in Vietnam said it even more bluntly when it noted that, “The ultimate and decisive target is the people… Society itself is at war and the resources, motives, and targets of the struggle are found almost wholly within the local population.”[7]

At the risk of being redundant, let me put it even more simply: counterinsurgency implies a war against the population. An insurgency is an armed rebellion by a significant portion – or sector – of a population against an institutional authority or power structure (usually a state or imperial power). Thus, for the American Empire – adhering to its rigid ‘Mafia Principles’ of international relations – an ‘insurgency’ is always a threat to imperial domination: if people are able to resist domestic power structures (say, a specific U.S. ally/client state), then other people around the world may try the same. The United States will seek to counter insurgencies for several reasons: to maintain the stability of their ally, to maintain the confidence of other allies, to maintain its reputation as the global hegemon, and to counter more direct threats to U.S./Western interests, such as the loss of access to resources or key strategic points, or in the case of U.S. military occupations, to crush any and all resistance.

In Part 1 of this series, I briefly summarized some major strategic reports written by key U.S. imperial planners, such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft. A 1988 National Security Council-Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy was co-chaired by Kissinger and Brzezinski, and directly acknowledged that most conflicts across the world were “insurgencies, organized terrorism, [and] paramilitary crime,” including “guerilla forces” and “armed subversives.” The report stated that the U.S. would have to intervene in these “low intensity conflicts” in which the “enemy” was “omnipresent” (or, in other words, in which the target was the population), because if the U.S. did not wage war against armed rebellions or uprisings around the world, “we will surely lose the support of many Third World countries that want to believe the United States can protect its friends, not to mention its own interests.”

This is a key example of ‘Mafia Principles.’ The Mafia is able to expand its influence not simply through coercion, but through offering ‘protection.’ Thus, businessmen, politicians or other individuals who pay dues to the Mafia are in turn given protection by the Mafia. If they are confronted with a problem – competition, threats to their position, etc. – the Mafia will use threats or force in order to protect their patrons.

Take, for example, a corrupt politician (I know, how redundant!) who is in the pocket of the Mafia. A mob boss may ask for a favour – to pass (or block) a particular law – and in turn, the politician gets protection from the mob. Suddenly, an up-and-coming young politician gains in popularity in opposition to the corrupted political figure. The politician asks the mob for some help (after all, the mob doesn’t want to lose the person in their pocket for the one who appears to be a wild card), and so the mob attempts to bribe or makes some threats to the aspiring political figure. If the bribes and/or threats don’t work, then force may be used. Suddenly, the aspiring political figure was found washed ashore along the city’s riverbanks.

This has served several purposes: the politician is kept in the pocket of the Mafia (always easier than trying to find a new point man), the mob maintains its reputation as an organization not to be challenged or disobeyed (fear plays a essential part in maintaining power), and the politician is more indebted than ever to the mob. Interests are secured, reputations are maintained, and power is strengthened.

An ‘insurgency’ in a client state or against a Western occupation poses such a threat to the local and international power structures of imperialism. Thus, the Empire must counter the insurgency in order to undermine the immediate threat to its forces (or those of its allies/clients), to maintain its reputation as what Obama recently referred to as “the anchor of global security,”[8] and thus, to maintain the confidence of other allies around the world, and to pose a powerful threatening force to other populations which may attempt resistance. Interests are secured, reputations are maintained, and power is strengthened.

The notion that a counterinsurgency campaign is targeting a population resisting some form of authority – whether justified or not – and that such a strategy leads to enormous human tragedy, civilian casualties, suffering, chaos, destruction and human social devastation simply is of little significance to those who advocate for such doctrines. If the interest is in maintaining ‘power,’ the suffering of people is irrelevant. For the Empire, power and profit are what matters, people are incidental, and most often, in the way.

In the midst of the massive civil war in Iraq that Petraeus helped to bring about (with his ‘counterinsurgency’ operations of building death squads), Bush appointed Petraeus to head the planned “surge” of 20,000 U.S. troops into the country in 2007, which was hailed in the media and by the political class and their intellectual sycophants as a profound success.

By 2008, violence in Iraq was down, and this was of course interpreted as a success of the counterinsurgency/surge strategy. The reality was, as several commentators and analysts have pointed out, that the violence decreased because most of the ethnic cleansing in Iraq had taken place by then, and the Shia had won.[9] One academic study noted that just prior to the surge, there was a massive ethnic cleansing that took place within Iraq, and so by the time the surge began, noted one researcher, “many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country,” and that, “violence has declined in Baghdad because of inter-communal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning.” The effect of the surge was not to reduce violence, but rather, noted the report: “it has helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighborhood homogenization that is now largely achieved.”[10]

Even General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO who led the NATO war against Yugoslavia in the 1990s, wrote in 2007 that as the surge was taking place, “vicious ethnic cleansing is under way right under the noses of our troops.”[11] Upon the disgraced resignation of Petraeus from the position of CIA Director (due to some insignificant political sex scandal) in 2012, the Washington Post reflected on the “surge” strategy back in 2007 which propelled Petraeus “to the top,” writing that the surge strategy was “about helping Iraqis.”[12] Naturally, such a notion – in the Western media – is a given ‘fact’ without the need for qualification: we did it, therefore it is ‘good'; we did it in Iraq, therefore it was for the benefit of Iraq; we did it to Iraqis, therefore it was for Iraqis.

Counterinsurgency strategy – or ‘COIN’ as it is referred to in military parlance – shares a great deal with terrorist strategy, namely that, “the target is the people.” The difference, however, is that one is employed by a massive state-military power structure while the other is used by small networks of individuals (often) operating outside of state structures. Both, however, are typically driven by relatively small groups of violent extremists.

Obama briefly appointed General Stanley McChrystal – former commander of the JSOC forces running secret wars around the world – as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2009, who was a strong advocate of “counterinsurgency tactics.”[13] In March of 2009, Obama announced his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan as a dual ‘AfPak’ strategy, expanding the Afghan war theatre directly into Pakistan, a nation of some 180 million people and armed with nuclear weapons.[14]

The strategy in Afghanistan was expected to drive militants into neighboring Pakistan, likely destabilizing the country.[15] As the Obama administration began its “surge” into Afghanistan in March of 2009, under the leadership of General McChrystal, who formerly ran Cheney’s “executive assassination ring,” an additional 21,000 troops were sent to the country. The Pakistani military warned the Americans that they were worried that U.S. actions in Afghanistan would not only send an increased level of militants, including the Taliban, into Pakistan’s lawless areas, but that it could also “prompt an exodus of refugees from southern Afghanistan.” In May of 2009, under U.S. pressure, the Pakistani military launched an offensive against the stateless North West Frontier Province (NWFP), displacing over 2 million people.[16]

This offensive was urged by State Department official Richard Holbrooke, as well as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus.[17] The Independent referred to the displacement which resulted as “an exodus that is beyond biblical,” creating roughly 2.4 million internal refugees within the span of a month. Across the world, only Sudan, Iraq and Colombia had larger internal refugee populations. The speed of the “displacement” reached up to 85,000 per day, matched only by the Rwandan genocide in 1994.[18] The refugee crisis had subsequently “inflamed murderous ethnic rivalries” across Pakistan, noted the Wall Street Journal.[19] However, by late August, Pakistan had returned roughly 1.3 million of the refugees to the areas from which they were displaced.[20]

In October, Obama sent an addition 13,000 troops to Afghanistan.[21] The Pakistani Prime Minister warned that this would “destabilize his country.”[22] In December, Obama announced an intention to send an additional 30,000 U.S. forces to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. troops in the country to roughly 100,000.[23]

In a 2009 State Department cable from Pakistan, Anne Patterson reported that U.S. policy and actions in Pakistan “risks destabilizing the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis in Pakistan without finally achieving the goal.” However, Patterson, seemingly without paradox, wrote that the U.S. strategy was “an important component of dealing with the overall threat” of terrorism.[24]

Further, noted Patterson, the U.S. strategy in relation to Afghanistan, which included supporting an increased role for India, Pakistan’s long-standing state-enemy, was pushing the Pakistanis “to embrace Taliban groups all the more closely,” and that U.S. arms deals with India “feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them close to both Afghan and Kashmir-focused terrorist groups while reinforcing doubts about U.S. intentions.”[25]

Another 2009 diplomatic cable from Patterson in Pakistan noted that nuclear proliferations was “a bigger threat than terrorism,” while Pakistan had been building nuclear weapons “at a faster rate than any other country in the world,” according to a U.S. national intelligence official in 2008. U.S. support for India’s nuclear program (which is not a signatory to the NPT), has continued to cause Pakistan to refuse to sign the NPT, and had encouraged Pakistan to instead develop more nuclear weapons. Patterson described the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. as one of “mutual distrust,” explaining that, “the relationship is one of co-dependency we grudgingly admit – Pakistan knows the US cannot afford to walk away; the US knows Pakistan cannot survive without our support.”[26]

Patterson noted in a 2009 cable that most Pakistanis view America with “suspicion,” and that the Pakistani government was worried about the influx of militants and refugees from the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan, and that they would prefer to implement a strategy of “dialogue, deterrence and development” (instead of military operations) in regards to the country’s own troubled regions which were becoming hot-beds for the growth of extremist groups. Patterson recommended that the U.S. government instruct the Pakistanis that, “it will be difficult for international donors to support a government that is not prepared to go all-out to defend its own territory.” In other words: if Pakistan wants military and economic aid and IMF ‘assistance,’ it will have to continue military operations.[27]

Fred Branfman, who examined in detail Wikileaks cables related to Pakistan, summarized their findings as thus: “A disastrously bungled U.S. policy toward Pakistan has led a majority of the Pakistani people to see the U.S. as their ‘enemy’ and strengthened jihadi forces in both the northwest territories and Punjab heartland and thus made it more likely that anti-American forces could obtain Pakistani nuclear materials.” As America continues its war in Afghanistan, it will “continue to destabilize the Pakistani state,” not to mention, so too will undertaking a ‘secret war’ inside Pakistan itself.[28]

Since General Petraeus had so much “success” with creating death squads in Iraq, plunging the country into a deeper civil war, supporting the massive ethnic cleansing and undertaking a war against the population (“counterinsurgency” campaign), he was naturally the right choice for Obama to appoint in 2010 when it came to leading the “counterinsurgency” and “surge” into Afghanistan, replacing General McChrystal.

As revealed by Bob Woodward in 2010, under the Obama administration, the CIA was “running and paying for a secret 3,000-strong army of Afghan paramilitaries whose main aim is assassinating Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives not just in Afghanistan but across the border in neighboring Pakistan’s tribal areas,” likely working “in close tandem” with U.S. Special Forces undertaking “kill-or-capture” missions, all of which is approved by the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus.[29]

The Afghan “surge” of the Obama administration was a profound failure. Following the first year of the surge, 2010 was recorded as the “deadliest year” for Afghan civilians since the war and occupation began in 2001, with over 2,700 civilians killed, up 15% from the previous year, according to the UN.[30] In 2011, the death toll reached another record high, with more than 3,000 civilians killed, according to the UN, an 8% increase from the previous year, and the number of deaths caused by suicide bombings increased by 80% from the previous year.[31]

The U.S. troops presence was to be reduced significantly following the formal “withdrawal” in 2014, after which time Obama pledged to keep a “small troops presence” in the country.[32] The remaining force would largely be geared toward “counterterrorism” operations in the country.[33] In June of 2013, the “formal” handing over of security operations from U.S.-NATO forces to Afghan forces was initiated, with a 350,000-strong military and police force trained by NATO and the US to manage internal ‘security’ against the continued ‘insurgency’ in the country.[34]

In other words, nearly thirteen years after a U.S.-NATO war and occupation began in Afghanistan, the war will continue indefinitely, and the “target” will remain as the population. In our media, we hear about deaths of “militants” or “Taliban” as if these are easily confirmed card-carrying or uniform-wearing groups and individuals (just as we report in regards to Obama’s global drone bombing terror campaign). Yet, these reports often go unquestioned, much like during the massive counterinsurgency war the U.S. waged in Vietnam, where the majority of the population was largely opposed to the imperial presence of the United States, and where those whom the U.S. killed were given the all-encompassing label of ‘Viet Cong’ – the “enemy.” So long as those who we murder in our foreign occupations are given the correct ‘label’ (whether Viet Cong, Taliban, al-Qaeda, or the ever-bland ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’), our continued slaughtering is continuously justified.

Few comments are made about the notion of the right of populations to resist foreign military occupations. Regardless as to whether or not we – as individuals – approve of particular militant groups in places like Afghanistan or Pakistan, we do not have the ‘right’ to dictate who rules those nations. And, in fact, our presence strengthens the more extremist, militant, violent and deplorable groups precisely because they are those which are best equipped to resist another – far more – violent, extremist, militant and deplorable group: namely, Western military occupation forces.

Here is a hypothetical: imagine you live in the United States, and the government collapses amid disarray and disagreement (I know, I’m being redundant again!), but then, China suddenly decides to send in its army of 2.2 million forces to occupy the United States in order to act as an “anchor of security” for the world. Imagine Chinese forces installed a puppet government, maintained an occupation for over a decade, and ultimately ruled the country by force. Surely, in the United States, armed resistance would emerge. Yet, who – in the U.S. – are those most likely to resort to armed resistance?

Chances are, such groups would emerge among the militant right-wing Christian groups spread out across much of the country, holding extremist ideologies which much of the population finds deplorable, but also being among the best armed members of the domestic American population. Other gangs and criminal groups would likely flourish, war lords and drug lords would rise to high places (as they have in Afghanistan, Mexico, and Colombia), and then the Chinese would resort to a ‘counterinsurgency’ strategy, in which the whole population is punished. This would ultimately increase support for the domestic militants, despite their deplorable ideologies, and a subsequent cycle of violence and destruction would likely ensue.

Surely, such a scenario is not desired – at least not by the many Americans I know and consider friends and family – but such is the scenario we impose upon countries and people all across the planet. This insanity must stop. There must be – in the West and most especially within the United States itself – the development of an anti-imperial/anti-empire social movement. It is not only a requirement out of some uncomfortable argument about the ‘economic costs’ of extending an empire around the world, but it is a moral necessity. As Obama himself stated in September of 2013, “for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security.”[35] That is seven decades of American imperialism on a truly global scale, for which the populations of the West must now make amends, and that can only be done by ending the empire. Nothing less than the absolute abolishment of imperialism – in all its modern forms – is of the utmost human necessity.

We can have destruction, or we can have dignity. We can have hypocrisy, or we can have honesty. We can have fascism, or we can have a future. We can have hatred, or we can have humility. We can have repression, or we can have possibility. We can have war, or we can have no more. We can have Empire, or we can have Humanity. We cannot have both. Clearly, those in power are not equipped with the principles or possible threat of having a ‘moral moment’ in order to make such decisions: Barack Obama is no exception. Obama is merely the latest political personification of imperial phlegm spewed forth from the charred chest of the American oligarchy as their chief representative, diligently applying Mafia principles to international relations.

The future of humanity – and the ending of empire – can only exist in hands of humanity itself, not a single human being with concentrated power, but rather, with the actualization – the decentralization – of power among the population.

When Hitler’s second in command – Hermann Goering – was asked at the Nuremberg trials about Nazi Germany plunging the world into war, he replied: “Why, of course, the people don’t want war… Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship… voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”[36]

It would seem, then, that the only ones qualified to determine foreign policy are those it affects the most – those who are sent off to kill, and those who are targeted to be killed – in short: the population. Peace is possible, if people are empowered. Otherwise, imperialism is inevitable, and extinction is nearly ensured. There is a choice: we can passively accept imperialism and internalize a sense of insignificance and apathy; or, we can acknowledge that the whole global imperial system and structures of domination were established and are maintained precisely because those few in power – the tiny minority of global oligarchs – who rule the world are very well aware that when people work together, locally and globally, change is inevitable. If people were so easily controllable, so automatically apathetic, or inherently insignificant, why are there so many institutions, ideologies, techniques, structures and systems designed to keep people that way?

We can have Empire, or we can have Humanity. The choice is yours.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

Notes

[1] Mona Mahmood, et. al., “From El Salvador to Iraq: Washington’s man behind brutal police squads,” The Guardian, 6 March 2013:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/06/el-salvador-iraq-police-squads-washington

[2] Ibid.

[3] John Barry, “‘The Salvador Option’,” Newsweek – The Daily Beast, 7 January 2005:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2005/01/07/the-salvador-option.html

[4] “The Iraq deaths study was valid and correct,” The Age, 21 October 2006:

http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/the-iraq-deaths-study-was-valid-and-correct/2006/10/20/1160851135985.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

[5] Luke Baker, “Iraq conflict has killed a million Iraqis: survey,” Reuters, 30 January 2008:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/01/30/us-iraq-deaths-survey-idUSL3048857920080130

[6] Thomas A. Bass, “Counterinsurgency and Torture,” American Quarterly (Vol. 60, No. 2, June 2008), page 233.

[7] Nick Cullather, “‘The Target is the People': Representations of the Village in Modernization and U.S. National Security Doctrine,” Cultural Politics (Vol. 2, No. 1, 2006), page 41.

[8] Barack Obama, “Transcript: President Obama’s Address To The Nation On Syria,” NPR, 10 September 2013:

http://www.npr.org/2013/09/10/221186456/transcript-president-obamas-address-to-the-nation-on-syria

[9] Patrick Cockburn, “Iraq: Violence is down – but not because of America’s ‘surge’,” The Independent, 14 September 2008:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-violence-is-down-ndash-but-not-because-of-americas-surge-929896.html

[10] Maggie Fox, “Satellite images show ethnic cleanout in Iraq,” Reuters, 19 September 2008:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/09/19/us-iraq-lights-idUSN1953066020080919

[11] Wesley Clark, “Bush’s ‘surge’ will backfire,” The Independent, 7 January 2007:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/wesley-clark-bushs-surge-will-backfire-431053.html

[12] Max Fisher, “The Iraq success story that propelled David Petraeus to the top,” The Washington Post, 9 November 2012:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/11/09/the-iraq-success-story-that-propelled-david-petraeus-to-the-top/

[13] Ann Scott Tyson, Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Is Fired. The Washington Post: May 12, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/11/AR2009051101864.html

[14] George Packer, The Last Mission. The New Yorker: September 28, 2009: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/28/090928fa_fact_packer

[15] Andrew Gray, US Afghan surge could push militants into Pakistan. Reuters: May 21, 2009: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N21412211.htm

[16] AP, Afghanistan surge tied to Pakistan stability. MSNBC: May 21, 2009: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30871807/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/

[17] George Packer, The Last Mission. The New Yorker: September 28, 2009: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/28/090928fa_fact_packer

[18] Andrew Buncombe, In Pakistan, an exodus that is beyond biblical. The Independent: May 31, 2009: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/in-pakistan-an-exodus-that-is-beyond-biblical-1693513.html

[19] YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, Refugee Crisis Inflames Ethnic Strife in Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal: May 30, 2009: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124363974401367773.html

[20] Nita Bhalla, Some Pakistan war displaced must winter in camps: U.N. Reuters: August 20, 2009: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE57J2N020090820

[21] Ann Scott Tyson, Support Troops Swelling U.S. Force in Afghanistan. The Washington Post: October 13, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/12/AR2009101203142.html?hpid=topnews

[22] US surge in Afghanistan ‘may destablize Pakistan’. Press TV: November 30, 2009: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=112484&sectionid=351020401

[23] Scott Wilson, Obama: U.S. security is still at stake. The Washington Post: December 2, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/01/AR2009120101231.html

[24] US Embassy Cables, “US embassy cables: ‘Reviewing our Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy’,” The Guardian, 30 November 2010:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/226531

[25] Ibid.

[26] Fred Branfman, “WikiLeaks Revelation: How US Policy in Pakistan Heightens the Risk of Nuclear Attack,” AlterNet, 16 January 2011:

http://www.alternet.org/story/149547/wikileaks_revelation%3A_how_us_policy_in_pakistan_heightens_the_risk_of_nuclear_attack?paging=off

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Julius Cavendish, “How the CIA ran a secret army of 3,000 assassins,” The Independent, 23 September 2010:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/how-the-cia-ran-a-secret-army-of-3000-assassins-2087039.html

[30] Laura King, “U.N.: 2010 deadliest year for Afghan civilians,” Los Angeles Times, 10 March 2011:

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/10/world/la-fg-afghan-civilian-deaths-20110310

[31] Damien Pearse, “Afghan civilian death toll reaches record high,” The Guardian, 4 February 2012:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/04/afghan-civilian-death-toll-record

[32] Scott Wilson and David Nakamura, “Obama announces reduced U.S. role in Afghanistan starting this spring,” The Washington Post, 11 January 2013:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/karzai-meets-obama-to-discuss-us-drawdown-in-afghanistan/2013/01/11/b50c72ec-5c03-11e2-9fa9-5fbdc9530eb9_story.html?hpid=z1

[33] Michael R. Gordon, “Time Slipping, U.S. Ponders Afghan Role After 2014,” The New York Times, 25 November 2012:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/26/world/asia/us-planning-a-force-to-stay-in-afghanistan.html?pagewanted=all

[34] Nathan Hodge, “Blast Mars Day of Security Handover in Kabul,” The Wall Street Journal, 18 June 2013:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323566804578552593026745674.html

[35] Barack Obama, “Transcript: President Obama’s Address To The Nation On Syria,” NPR, 10 September 2013:

http://www.npr.org/2013/09/10/221186456/transcript-president-obamas-address-to-the-nation-on-syria

[36] G.M. Gilbert, Nuremberg Diary (New York: Signet, 1961), pages 255-256.

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America’s “Secret Wars” in Over 100 Countries Around the World: Empire Under Obama, Part 3

America’s “Secret Wars” in Over 100 Countries Around the World: Empire Under Obama, Part 3

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at The Hampton Institute

20120105-potus-pentagon_0

Part 1: Political Language and the ‘Mafia Principles’ of International Relations

Part 2: Barack Obama’s Global Terror Campaign

Obama’s global terror campaign is not only dependent upon his drone assassination program, but increasingly it has come to rely upon the deployment of Special Operations forces in countries all over the world, reportedly between 70 and 120 countries at any one time. As Obama has sought to draw down the large-scale ground invasions of countries (as Bush pursued in Afghanistan and Iraq), he has escalated the world of ‘covert warfare,’ largely outside the oversight of Congress and the public. One of the most important agencies in this global “secret war” is the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC for short.

JSOC was established in 1980 following the failed rescue of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran as “an obscure and secretive corner of the military’s hierarchy,” noted the Atlantic. It experienced a “rapid expansion” under the Bush administration, and since Obama came to power, “appears to be playing an increasingly prominent role in national security” and “counterterrorism,” in areas which were “traditionally covered by the CIA.”[1] One of the most important differences between these covert warfare operations being conducted by JSOC instead of the CIA is that the CIA has to report to Congress, whereas JSOC only reports its most important activities to the President’s National Security Council.[2]

During the Bush administration, JSOC “reported directly” to Vice President Dick Cheney, according to award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (of the New Yorker), who explained that, “It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on.” He added: “Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.”[3]

In 2005, Dick Cheney referred to U.S. Special Forces as “the silent professionals” representing “the kind of force we want to build for the future… a force that is lighter, more adaptable, more agile, and more lethal in action.” And without a hint of irony, Cheney stated: “None of us wants to turn over the future of mankind to tiny groups of fanatics committing indiscriminate murder and plotting large-scale terror.”[4] Not unless those “fanatics” happen to be wearing U.S. military uniforms, of course, in which case “committing indiscriminate murder and plotting large-scale terror” is not an issue.

The commander of JSOC during the Bush administration – when it served as Cheney’s “executive assassination ring” – was General Stanley McChrystal, whom Obama appointed as the top military commander in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, JSOC began to play a much larger role in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.[5] In early 2009, the new head of JSOC, Vice Admiral William H. McRaven ordered a two-week ‘halt’ to Special Operations missions inside Afghanistan, after several JSOC raids in previous months killed several women and children, adding to the growing “outrage” within Afghanistan about civilian deaths caused by US raids and airstrikes, which contributed to a surge in civilian deaths over 2008.[6]

JSOC has also been involved in running a “secret war” inside of Pakistan, beginning in 2006 but accelerating rapidly under the Obama administration. The “secret war” was waged in cooperation with the CIA and the infamous private military contractor, Blackwater, made infamous for its massacre of Iraqi civilians, after which it was banned from operating in the country.[7]

Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, was recruited as a CIA asset in 2004, and in subsequent years acquired over $1.5 billion in contracts from the Pentagon and CIA, and included among its leadership several former top-level CIA officials. Blackwater, which primarily hires former Special Forces soldiers, has largely functioned “as an overseas Praetorian guard for the CIA and State Department officials,” who were also “helping to craft, fund, and execute operations,” including “assembling hit teams,” all outside of any Congressional or public oversight (since it was technically a private corporation).[8]

The CIA hired Blackwater to aid in a secret assassination program which was hidden from Congress for seven years.[9] These operations would be overseen by the CIA or Special Forces personnel.[10] Blackwater has also been contracted to arm drones at secret bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan for Obama’s assassination program, overseen by the CIA.[11] The lines dividing the military, the CIA and Blackwater had become “blurred,” as one former CIA official commented, “It became a very brotherly relationship… There was a feeling that Blackwater eventually become an extension of the agency.”[12]

The “secret war” in Pakistan may have begun under Bush, but it had rapidly expanded in the following years of the Obama administration. Wikileaks cables confirmed the operation of JSOC forces inside of Pakistan, with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani telling the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson (who would later be appointed as ambassador to Egypt), that, “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.”[13]

Within the first five months of Obama’s presidency in 2009, he authorized “a massive expansion of clandestine military and intelligence operations worldwide,” granting the Pentagon’s regional combatant commanders “significant new authority” over such covert operations.[14] The directive came from General Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM, authorizing Special Forces soldiers to be sent into “both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa.” The deployment of highly trained killers into dozens of countries was to become “systemic and long term,” designed to “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” enemies of the State, beyond the rule of law, no trial or pretenses of accountability. They also “prepare the environment” for larger attacks that the U.S. or NATO countries may have planned. Unlike with the CIA, these operations do not report to Congress, or even need “the President’s approval.” But for the big operations, they get the approval of the National Security Council (NSC), which includes the president, as well as most other major cabinet heads, of the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, etc.[15]

The new orders gave regional commanders – such as Petraeus who headed CENTCOM, or General Ward of the newly-created Africa Command (AFRICOM) – authority over special operations forces in the area of their command, institutionalizing the authority to send trained killers into dozens of countries around the world to conduct secret operations with no oversight whatsoever; and this new ‘authority’ is given to multiple top military officials, who have risen to the top of an institution with absolutely no ‘democratic’ pretenses. Regardless of who is president, this “authority” remains institutionalized in the “combatant commands.”[16]

The combatant commands include: AFRICOM over Africa (est. 2007), CENTCOM over the Middle East and Central Asia (est. 1983), EUCOM over Europe (est. 1947), NORTHCOM over North America (est. 2002), PACOM over the Pacific rim and Asia (est. 1947), SOUTHCOM over Central and South America and the Caribbean (est. 1963), SOCOM as Special Operations Command (est. 1987), STRATCOM as Strategic Command over military operations to do with outer space, intelligence, and weapons (est. 1992), and TRANSCOM handling all transportation for the Department of Defense. The State Department was given “oversight” to clear the operations from each embassy,[17] just to make sure everyone was ‘in the loop,’ unlike during the Bush years when it was run out of Cheney’s office without telling anyone else.

In 2010, it was reported by the Washington Post that the U.S. has expanded the operations of its Special Forces around the world, from being deployed in roughly 60 countries under Bush to about 75 countries in 2010 under Obama, operating in notable spots such as the Philippines and Colombia, as well as Yemen, across the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. The global deployment of Special Forces – alongside the CIA’s global drone warfare program – were two facets of Obama’s “national security doctrine of global engagement and domestic values,” in the words of the Washington Post, though the article was unclear on which aspect of waging “secret wars” in 75 countries constituted Obama’s “values.” Commanders for Special Operations forces have become “a far more regular presence at the White House” under Obama than George Bush, with one such commander commenting, “We have a lot more access… They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly.” Such Special Operations forces deployments “go beyond unilateral strikes and include the training of local counterterrorism forces and joint operations with them.”[18]

So not only are U.S. forces conducting secret wars within dozens of countries around the world, but they are training the domestic military forces of many of these countries to undertake secret wars internally, and in the interests of the United States Mafia empire.

One military official even “set up a network” of private military corporations that hired former Special Forces and CIA operations to gather intelligence and conduct secret operations in foreign countries to support “lethal action”: publicly subsidized, privatized ‘accountability.’ Such a network was “generally considered illegal” and was “improperly financed.”[19] When the news of these networks emerged, the Pentagon said it shut them down and opened a “criminal investigation.” Turns out, they found nothing “criminal,” because two months later, the operations were continuing and had “become an important source of intelligence.” The networks of covert-ops corporations were being “managed” by Lockheed Martin, one of the largest military contractors in the world, while being “supervised” by the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command.[20]

Admiral Eric T. Olson had been the head of Special Operations Command from 2007 to 2011, and in that year, Olson led a successful initiative – endorsed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates – to encourage the promotion of top special operations officials to higher positions in the whole military command structure. The “trend” was to continue under the following Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who previously headed the CIA from 2009 to 2011.[21] When Olson left his position as head of Special Operations Command, he was replaced with Admiral William McRaven, who served as the head of JSOC from 2008 to 2011, having followed Stanley McChrystal.

By January of 2012, Obama was continuing with seeking to move further away from large-scale ground wars such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, and refocus on “a smaller, more agile force across Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East.” Surrounded by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in full uniforms adorned with medals, along with other top Pentagon officials, President Obama delivered a rare press briefing at the Pentagon where he said that, “our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority.” The priorities in this strategy would be “financing for defense and offense in cyberspace, for Special Operations forces and for the broad area of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”[22]

In February of 2012, Admiral William H. McRaven, the head of the Special Operations Command, was “pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy,” advocating a plan that “would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed,” notably with expansions in mind for Asia, Africa and Latin America. McRaven stated that, “It’s not really about Socom [Special Operations Command] running the global war on terrorism… I don’t think we’re ready to do that. What it’s about is how do I better support” the major regional military command structures.[23]

In the previous decade, roughly 80% of US Special Operations forces were deployed in the Middle East, but McRaven wanted them to spread to other regions, as well as to be able to “quickly move his units to potential hot spots without going through the standard Pentagon process governing overseas deployments.” The Special Operations Command numbered around 66,000 people, double the number since 2001, and its budget had reached $10.5 billion, from $4.2 billion in 2001.[24]

In March of 2012, a Special Forces commander, Admiral William H. McRaven, developed plans to expand special operations units, making them “the force of choice” against “emerging threats” over the following decade. McRaven’s Special Operations Command oversees more than 60,000 military personnel and civilians, saying in a draft paper circulated at the Pentagon that: “We are in a generational struggle… For the foreseeable future, the United States will have to deal with various manifestations of inflamed violent extremism. In order to conduct sustained operations around the globe, our special operations must adapt.” McRaven stated that Special Forces were operating in over 71 countries around the world.[25]

The expansion of global special forces operations was largely in reaction to the increasingly difficult challenge of positioning large military forces around the world, and carrying out large scale wars and occupations, for which there is very little public support at home or abroad. In 2013, the Special Operations Command had forces operating in 92 different countries around the world, with one Congressional critic accusing McRaven of engaging in “empire building.”[26] The expanded presence of these operations is a major factor contributing to “destabilization” around the world, especially in major war zones like Pakistan.[27]

In 2013, McRaven’s Special Operations Command gained new authorities and an expanded budget, with McRaven testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “On any day of the year you will find special operations forces [in] somewhere between 70 and 90 countries around the world.”[28] In 2012, it was reported that such forces would be operating in 120 different countries by the end of the year.[29]

In December of 2012, it was announced that the U.S. was sending 4,000 soldiers to 35 different African countries as “part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the U.S. a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge,” operating under the Pentagon’s newest regional command, AFRICOM, established in 2007.[30]

By September of 2013, the U.S. military had been involved in various activities in Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia, among others, constructing bases, undertaking “security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network.”[31]

In short, Obama’s global ‘war of terror’ has expanded to roughly 100 countries around the world, winding down the large-scale military invasions and occupations such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, and increasing the “small-scale” warfare operations of Special Forces, beyond the rule of law, outside Congressional and public oversight, conducting “snatch and grab” operations, training domestic repressive military forces in nations largely run by dictatorships to undertake their own operations on behalf of the ‘Global Godfather.’

Make no mistake: this is global warfare. Imagine for a moment the international outcry that would result from news of China or Russia conducting secret warfare operations in roughly 100 countries around the world. But when America does it, there’s barely a mention, save for the passing comments in the New York Times or the Washington Post portraying an unprecedented global campaign of terror as representative of Obama’s “values.” Well, indeed it is representative of Obama’s values, by virtue of the fact that he doesn’t have any.

Indeed, America has long been the Global Godfather applying the ‘Mafia Principles’ of international relations, lock-in-step with its Western lackey organized crime ‘Capo’ states such as Great Britain and France. Yet, under Obama, the president who had won public relations industry awards for his well-managed presidential advertising campaign promising “hope” and “change,” the empire has found itself waging war in roughly one hundred nations, conducting an unprecedented global terror campaign, increasing its abuses of human rights, war crimes and crimes against humanity, all under the aegis of the Nobel Peace Prize-winner Barack Obama.

Whether the president is Clinton, Bush, or Obama, the Empire of Terror wages on its global campaign of domination and subjugation, to the detriment of all humanity, save those interests that sit atop the constructed global hierarchy. It is in the interests of the ruling elite that America protects and projects its global imperial designs. It is in the interests of all humanity, then, that the Empire be opposed – and ultimately, deconstructed – no matter who sits in office, no matter who holds the title of the ‘high priest of hypocrisy’ (aka: President of the United States). It is the Empire that rules, and the Empire that destroys, and the Empire that must, in turn, be demolished.

The world at large – across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America – suffers the greatest hardships of the Western Mafia imperial system: entrenched poverty, exploitation, environmental degradation, war and destruction. The struggle against the Empire cannot we waged and won from the outside alone. The rest of the world has been struggling to survive against the Western Empire for decades, and, in truth, hundreds of years. For the struggle to succeed (and it can succeed), a strong anti-Empire movement must develop within the imperial powers themselves, and most especially within the United States. The future of humanity depends upon it.

Or… we could all just keep shopping and watching TV, blissfully blind to the global campaign of terror and war being waged in our names around the world. Certainly, such an option may be appealing, but ultimately, wars abroad come home to roost. As George Orwell once wrote: “The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.”

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

References

[1] Max Fisher, “The Special Ops Command That’s Displacing The CIA,” The Atlantic, 1 December 2009:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/12/the-special-ops-command-thats-displacing-the-cia/31038/

[2] Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast,” The New York Times, 24 May 2010:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/world/25military.html?hp

[3] Eric Black, “Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh describes ‘executive assassination ring’,” Minnesota Post, 11 March 2009:

http://www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2009/03/investigative-reporter-seymour-hersh-describes-executive-assassination-ring

[4] John D. Danusiewicz, “Cheney Praises ‘Silent Professionals’ of Special Operations,” American Forces Press Service, 11 June 2005:

http://www.defense.gov/News/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=16430

[5] Max Fisher, “The Special Ops Command That’s Displacing The CIA,” The Atlantic, 1 December 2009:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/12/the-special-ops-command-thats-displacing-the-cia/31038/

[6] Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Halted Some Raids in Afghanistan,” The New York Times, 9 March 2009:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/10/world/asia/10terror.html?hp

[7] Jeremy Scahill, The Secret US War in Pakistan. The Nation: November 23, 2009: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20091207/scahill

[8] Adam Ciralsky, “Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier, Spy,” Vanity Fair, January 2010:

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2010/01/blackwater-201001

[9] Mark Mazzetti, “C.I.A. Sought Blackwater’s Help to Kill Jihadists,” The New York Times, 19 August 2009:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/20/us/20intel.html?_r=0

[10] R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, “Blackwater tied to clandestine CIA raids,” The Washington Post, 11 December 2009:

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2009-12-11/news/36873053_1_clandestine-cia-raids-cia-assassination-program-blackwater-personnel

[11] James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “C.I.A. Said to Use Outsiders to Put Bombs on Drones,” The New York Times, 20 August 2009:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/21/us/21intel.html

[12] James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “Blackwater Guards Tied to Secret C.I.A. Raids,” The New York Times, 10 December 2009:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/11/us/politics/11blackwater.html

[13] Jeremy Scahill, “The (Not So) Secret (Anymore) US War in Pakistan,” The Nation, 1 December 2010:

http://www.thenation.com/blog/156765/not-so-secret-anymore-us-war-pakistan#

[14] March Ambinder, “Obama Gives Commanders Wide Berth for Secret Warfare,” The Atlantic, 25 May 2010:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/05/obama-gives-commanders-wide-berth-for-secret-warfare/57202/

[15] Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast,” The New York Times, 24 May 2010:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/world/25military.html?hp

[16] Marc Ambinder, “Obama Gives Commanders Wide Berth for Secret Warfare,” 25 May 2010:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/05/obama-gives-commanders-wide-berth-for-secret-warfare/57202/

[17] Max Fisher, “The End of Dick Cheney’s Kill Squads,” The Atlantic, 4 June 2010:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/06/the-end-of-dick-cheneys-kill-squads/57707/

[18] Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe, “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role,” The Washington Post, 4 June 2010:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/03/AR2010060304965.html

[19] Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti, “Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants,” The New York Times, 14 March 2010:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/15/world/asia/15contractors.html?pagewanted=1

[20] Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Is Still Using Private Spy Ring, Despite Doubts,” The New York Times, 15 May 2010:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/16/world/16contractors.html?pagewanted=all

[21] Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “Special Operations Veterans Rise in Hierarchy,” The New York Times, 8 August 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/us/09commanders.html?pagewanted=all

[22] Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, “Obama Puts His Stamp on Strategy for a Leaner Military,” The New York Times, 5 January 2012:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/us/obama-at-pentagon-to-outline-cuts-and-strategic-shifts.html

[23] Eric Schmitt, Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker, “Admiral Seeks Freer Hand in Deployment of Elite Forces,” The New York Times, 12 February 2012:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/13/us/admiral-pushes-for-freer-hand-in-special-forces.html?pagewanted=all

[24] Ibid.

[25] David S. Cloud, “U.S. special forces commander seeks to expand operations,” Los Angeles Times, 4 May 2012:

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/04/world/la-fg-special-forces-20120505

[26] Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, “A Commander Seeks to Chart a New Path for Special Operations,” The New York Times, 1 May 2013:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/us/politics/admiral-mcraven-charts-a-new-path-for-special-operations-command.html?pagewanted=all

[27] Nick Turse, “How Obama’s destabilizing the world,” Salon, 19 September 2011:

http://www.salon.com/2011/09/19/obama_global_destablization/

[28] Walter Pincus, “Special Operations wins in 2014 budget,” The Washington Post, 11 April 2013:

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-11/world/38448541_1_mcraven-socom-special-forces

[29] David Isenberg, “The Globalisation of U.S. Special Operations Forces,” IPS News, 24 May 2012:

http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/05/the-globalisation-of-u-s-special-operations-forces/

[30] Tom Bowman, “U.S. Military Builds Up Its Presence In Africa,” NPR, 25 December 2012:

http://www.npr.org/2012/12/25/168008525/u-s-military-builds-up-its-presence-in-africa ;

Lolita C. Baldor, “Army teams going to Africa as terror threat grows,” Yahoo! News, 24 December 2012:

http://news.yahoo.com/army-teams-going-africa-terror-threat-grows-082214765.html

[31] Nick Turse, “The Startling Size of US Military Operations in Africa,” Mother Jones, 6 September 2013:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/09/us-military-bases-africa

Egypt Under Empire, Part 4: Dancing Between Dictatorship and Democracy

Egypt Under Empire, Part 4: Dancing Between Dictatorship and Democracy

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally published at The Hampton Institute

US President Barack Obama (L) shakes han

Part 1: Working Class Resistance and European Imperial Ambitions

Part 2: The “Threat” Of Arab Nationalism

Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak

America’s Mambo with Mubarak

America’s ruling elites – and those of the Western world more generally – are comfortable dealing with ruthless tyrants and dictators all over the world, partly because they’ve just had more practice with it than dealing with ‘democratic’ governments in so-called ‘Third World’ nations. This is especially true when it comes to the Arab world, where the West has only ever dealt with dictatorships, and often by arming them and supporting them to repress their own populations, and in return, they support US and Western geopolitical, strategic and economic interests in the region. America’s relationship with Egypt – and most notably with Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt from 1981 to 2011 – has been especially revealing of this imperial-proxy relationship between so-called ‘democracies’ and dictatorships.

Maintaining cozy relationships with ruthless tyrants is something US presidents and their administrations have done for a very long time, but in recent decades and years, it has become more challenging. The United States champions its domestic propaganda outwardly, presenting itself as a beacon of democratic hope, a light of liberty in a dark world, espousing highfalutin rhetoric as the expression of an adamantine code of values – beliefs in ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ as untouchable and non-negotiable – all the while arming despots, tyrants, and ruthless repressors to protect themselves against their own populations and to stem the inevitable tide of human history.

Simply by virtue of the fact that people are more connected than ever before, that more information is available now than ever before, and with more people rising up and demanding change in disparate regions all over the world, it has become more challenging for the United States and its imperial partners to maintain their domination over the world, and to maintain their propagandized fantasies in the face of glaring hypocrisies. In short, it’s harder for the world to take America seriously about democracy when it so consistently arms and works with dictatorships. And so, for those who justify such injustice, they must dance between rhetoric and reality, attempting to find some thin line of reasoning between both to present some pretense of rationality; all the while, attempting to undermine any attempts to understand America as an empire. This dance is difficult, often very spastic and erratic, but America is a championship dancer with dictatorships. America’s ‘Mambo with Mubarak’, however, revealed the challenges of being the ultimate global hypocrite in a world of mass awakening and popular uprisings.

Shortly after becoming president, in June 2009, Barack Obama was asked by a BBC reporter, “Do you regard President Mubarak as an authoritarian ruler?” to which Obama replied, “No, I tend not to use labels for folks. I haven’t met him. I’ve spoken to him on the phone.” Obama continued, calling Mubarak a “stalwart ally” to the United States, who has “sustained peace with Israel” and “has been a force for stability.”[1] A few months earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave an interview with an Arab television network in Egypt in which she said, “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family,” and added, “I hope to see him often.”[2]

In May of 2009, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey wrote in a diplomatic cable that Mubarak would more likely die than ever step down as president, noting, “The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2011 and if Mubarak is still alive it is likely he will run again and, inevitably, win.” The “most likely” successor to Mubarak, noted Scobey, was his son Gamal, adding, “some suggest that intelligence chief Omar Soliman [sic] might seek the office; or dark horse Arab League secretary general Amre Moussa.” Ultimately, Scobey noted, in terms of choosing a successor, Mubarak “seems to be trusting to God and the ubiquitous military and civilian security services to ensure an orderly transition.”[3]

Before Mubarak was to visit Washington in August of 2009, Scobey wrote to the State Department that Mubarak was “a tried and true realist” with “little time for idealistic goals.” Further, Scobey noted, Mubarak’s “world view” is most revealed by his reaction to U.S. pressure to “open Egypt” to political participation and relax the police state dictatorship, of which he had only “strengthened his determination not to accommodate our views.” Scobey further reported that Egypt’s defense minister Tantawi “keeps the armed forces appearing reasonably sharp,” while Omar Suleiman and the interior minister, al-Adly, “keep the domestic beasts at bay, and Mubarak is not one to lose sleep over their tactics,” which is to say, torture and human rights abuses. Further, Scobey warned, “Mubarak will likely resist further economic reform,” which is to say, to enhance and deepen neoliberal measures which facilitate impoverishment, plundering and exploitation by a small domestic and international oligarchy at the expense of the domestic population at large, noting that Mubarak might view further reforms “as potentially harmful to public order and stability.”[4]

Another cable from 2009 reported how, “Mubarak and [Egyptian] military leaders view our military assistance program as the cornerstone of our mil-mil [military to military] relationship and consider the $1.3b in annual [military aid] as ‘untouchable compensation’ for making and maintaining peace with Israel,” as well as ensuring that “the US military enjoys priority access to the Suez canal and Egyptian airspace.”[5]

A 2009 cable prepared for the Pentagon’s CENTOM (Central Command) chief, General David Patraeus, in the lead-up to a visit to Egypt, noted that the United States has avoided “the public confrontations that had become routine over the past several years,” with the Bush administration. Ambassador Scobey had pressured Egypt’s interior minister to release three bloggers, a Coptic priest, and grant three U.S.-based “pro-democracy” groups to operate in the country (the latter of which was denied). In anticipation of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Mubarak in 2009, Scobey recommended that Clinton not thank Mubarak for releasing a political opponent, Ayman Nour, whose imprisonment in 2005 was condemned around the world, including by the Bush administration.[6]

Scobey noted in another 2009 cable that Mubarak took the issue of Ayman Nour “personally, and it makes him seethe when we raise it, particularly in public.” Referring to Egypt as a “very stubborn and recalcitrant ally,” Scobey explained: “The Egyptians have long felt that, at best, we take them for granted; and at worst, we deliberately ignore their advice while trying to force our point of view on them.”[7]

When Mubarak visited the White House in August of 2009, in a joint press conference following their meeting, Obama referred to Mubarak as “a leader and a counselor and a friend to the United States,” and went on to thank Egypt for its support to Iraq in its “transition to a more stable democracy.” Mubarak explained that it was the third time in three months he had met with Obama, describing relations between the US and Egypt as “very good” and “strategic.”[8]

Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations explained that the Obama administration did not want to view its relationship with Egypt through the issue of ‘democracy,’ noting: “I think there is an effort to see the relationship in broader terms, because the experience of looking at it through the straw hole of democracy and democracy promotion and reform proved damaging to the relationship.” Cook added, “Let’s be realistic – Hosni Mubarak and the people in the regime don’t really have an interest in reform.” At the White House, Mubarak went on to meet with Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, after all, as Hillary previously noted, they were “family friends.”[9]

On his trip, Mubarak was also accompanied by his Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and the intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman. The dictator also met with Vice President Joseph Biden. The purpose of the meeting, noted the New York Times, was to signal “an effort to re-establish Egypt as the United States’ chief strategic Arab ally.” Former Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Abdel Raouf al-Reedy, commented, “The United States has to have a regional power to coordinate its policies with and Egypt cannot be a regional power without the United States… So there is some kind of a complementary relationship.”[10]

To Tango with Tyranny

This “complementary relationship” between regional dictatorships and imperial powers is not confined to Egypt (or America), nor are its various rationales. The Arab Spring sparked in Tunisia in December of 2010 and led to the overthrow of its long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January 2011. Tunisia was, in the words of international law professor and former United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard A. Falk, a “model U.S. client.”[11] Between 1987 – when Ben Ali came to power – and 2009, the United States provided Tunisia with $349 million in military aid,[12] and in 2010 alone, the U.S. provided Ben Ali’s dictatorship with $13.7 million in military aid.[13]

Tunisia, which was a former French colony, also had strong relations with France. During the outbreak of the crisis in December of 2010, the French suggested they would help Ben Ali by sending security forces to Tunisia to “resolve the situation” in a show of “friendship” to the regime.[14] The French foreign minister suggested that France could provide better training to Tunisian police to restore order since the French were adept in “security situations of this type.” Jacques Lanxade, a retired French admiral, former military chief of staff and former French ambassador to Tunis noted that the French had “continued public support of this regime because of economic interests,” and added: “We didn’t take account of Tunisian public opinion and thought Ben Ali would re-establish his position.”[15] In other words: we support dictators, and don’t care about human populations as a whole. So surprised were the French at the thought of a popular uprising overthrowing their stalwart ally in Tunisia, that Sarkozy later – after the fall of Ben Ali – stated that the French had “underestimated” the “despair… suffering,” and “sense of suffocation” among Tunisians.[16] Perhaps a delicate way of suggesting that the French government does not care about the despair, suffering or suffocation of people until the people overthrow the French-subsidized dictators, forcing the imperial power to do a little dance with democratic rhetoric until it can find a replacement to support, and return to its habitual ‘underestimations’ of entire populations.

This imperial logic has been given terms and justifications from establishment intellectuals and academics in the United States and other Western powers. Academics with the Brookings Institution, an influential U.S. think tank, suggested in 2009 that this was the logic of “authoritarian bargains,” in which dictatorships in the region were able to maintain power through a type of “bargain,” where “citizens relinquish political influence in exchange for public spending,” suggesting that: “non-democratic rulers secure regime support through the allocation of two substitutable ‘goods’ to the public: economic transfers and the ability to influence policy making.”[17]

Of course, these ‘intellectuals’ failed to acknowledge the fact that in the previous three decades, the “bargain” part of the “authoritarian bargain” was dismantled under neoliberal reforms. But facts are trifling obstructions to justifications for injustice, and such ‘intellectuals’ – who serve power structures – will wind their way with words through any and all frustrating truths, so long as the end result is to continue in their support for power. Such a “bargain” could have been argued under the likes of Nasser, but Mubarak was another creature altogether, and the intellectual discourse built around support for dictatorships had not evolved over the course of several decades, save for the words used to describe it.

In 2011, those same academics wrote an article for the Brookings Institution in which they noted that as economic conditions deteriorated and unemployment rose, with neoliberal reforms failing to provide economic opportunities for the majority of the populations, the “Arab authoritarian bargain” – or “contract” – between dictators and the populations was “now collapsing,” adding that, “the strategies used by Arab leaders to maintain power may have run their course.” They added: “Partial political liberalization may not be enough at this point to make up for the current inability to deliver economic security and prosperity, spelling the final demise of Arab authoritarian bargain.”[18]

F. Gregory Gause III, writing in Foreign Affairs, the establishment journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, the most prominent foreign policy think tank in the United States, referred to this concept as “authoritarian stability” theory. Following the initial Arab Spring uprisings, he wrote about the “myth” of authoritarian stability, noting that many academics had focused on trying to understand “the persistence of undemocratic rulers” in the region, though implicitly without questioning the imperial relations between the local governments and the dominant Western powers. Gause himself acknowledged that he had written an article for Foreign Affairs in 2005 in which he argued that, “the United States should not encourage democracy in the Arab world because Washington’s authoritarian Arab allies represented stable bets for the future,” and that, “democratic Arab governments would prove much less likely to cooperate with U.S. foreign policy goals in the region.” Gause then reflected in 2011 that, “I was spectacularly wrong.”[19]

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, a prominent American think tank, and was previously foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the Jordanian dictatorship. Following events in Tunisia, Muasher wrote an article for the Carnegie Endowment in which he explained why the events were not foreseen, noting that: “The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” Thus, wrote Muasher, “entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground,” an argument which he noted, “has been fundamentally undermined by the unfolding events in Tunisia.” Because Tunisia had comparably low economic problems, a small opposition, and a “strong security establishment,” it was thought that “the risk of revolt was considered low.” Muasher wrote: “It wasn’t supposed to happen in Tunisia and the fact that it did proves that fundamental political reforms – widening the decision-making process and combating corruption – are needed around the entire Arab world.”[20]

This concept of “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control,” has been referred to by Noam Chomsky as the “Muasher doctrine,” noting that this has been consistent U.S. policy in the region since at least 1958, when Eisenhower’s National Security Council acknowledged that the US supported dictators and opposed democracy, and that this was a rational policy to serve American interests in the region.[21]

There are, however, factions within the American elite that understand that the ‘Muasher Doctrine’ is unsustainable and that they must push for ‘reform’ within the Arab world over the short-term in order to ultimately maintain ‘order’ and ‘stability’ over the long term. This is where ‘democracy promotion’ comes into play.

U.S. Democracy Promotion in Egypt: A Hidden Plot or Hedging Bets?

Following the Arab Spring’s toppling of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, some commentators in the West have critically noted the U.S. and Western support for pro-democracy groups within the Arab world – likening them to the Western-funded ‘colour revolutions’ that swept several former Soviet bloc countries – and concluded that the Arab Spring was a U.S.-supported attempt at ‘regime change.’

Indeed, the United States and its Western allies provided extensive funding and organizational support to civil society groups, media organizations, activists and political parties in several countries where – through contested elections – they helped to overthrow entrenched political leaders, replacing them with more favourable leaders (in the eyes of the West). In Serbia, U.S. non-governmental and even governmental organizations poured funding into the organization Otpor which helped engineer the ousting of Milosevic, providing hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in support through organizations like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI), among other agencies.[22]

As several former Soviet republics slowly ‘opened’ their societies, Western-funded NGOs and civil society organizations flooded in, with powerful financial backers. Over the course of years, funding, training, organizational support, technical and material support was provided for a number of organizations and political groups that helped overthrow regimes in Georgia (2003), the Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005). Not only were there government funded NGOs involved, but also private foundations, such as billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Institute.[23]

These Western-backed ‘color revolutions’ included major organizational support from the local American embassies in whichever country they were seeking a change of government. The activists who made up Serbia’s Otpor organization aided in the training of other groups in countries like Ukraine. In Serbia, the U.S. government officially spent $41 million “organizing and funding” the operation to remove Milosevic. A primary strategy in funding these ‘colour revolutions’ was to organize the opposition within a country “behind a single candidate.”[24] Such Western organizations also provided extensive funding for so-called “independent” media networks to promote their particular agenda in the country, following a pattern set by the CIA some decades earlier in terms of covertly funding opposition groups and media outlets.[25]

In Ukraine, the Bush administration spent some $65 million over two years to aid in the ‘colour revolution’ which took place in 2004, and several other Western countries contributed to the process and funding as well, including Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.[26] Such immense funding programs trained hundreds of thousands of activists, and when elections and protests took place, tents, cameras, television screens, food and other equipment were provided en masse, and the events were met with an immediately favourable reception in the Western media.[27]

When it comes to Egypt and the Arab Spring, the United States did attempt to provide some funding and organizational support to various pro-democracy groups. The April 6 movement in Egypt, which was pivotal in organizing the January 25 protest in Cairo that led to the overthrow of Mubarak on February 11, was one group that received some U.S. support. Other groups in Bahrain and Yemen also received U.S. support. Egyptian youth leaders attended a ‘technology meeting’ in New York sponsored by the State Department, Facebook, Google, MTV and Colombia Law School, where they received training “to use social networking and mobile technologies to promote democracy.”[28]

One Egyptian youth leader commented upon the meeting and U.S. support, stating, “We learned how to organize and build coalitions… This certainly helped during the revolution.” Another Egyptian activist noted the hypocrisy of the U.S., which, while funding some pro-democracy groups, was providing billions in financial support to the military dictatorship the activists had to struggle under, stating, “While we appreciated the training we received through the NGOs sponsored by the U.S. government, and it did help us in our struggles, we are also aware that the same government also trained the state security investigative service, which was responsible for the harassment and jailing of many of us.”[29]

As several Wikileaks cables showed, however, the Western-backed Arab dictatorships were extremely suspicious of U.S.-supported democracy groups and activists. This was especially true in Egypt, where one cable from 2007 reported that Mubarak was “deeply skeptical of the U.S. role in democracy promotion.” The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs complained to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo in 2006 about the “arrogant tactics in promoting reform in Egypt.” Mubarak’s son, Gamal, was described in one 2008 cable as being “irritable about direct U.S. democracy and governance funding of Egyptian NGOs.” Ultimately, the local dictatorships would increasingly clamp down on such organizations, attempting to prevent their functioning or interaction with Americans institutions.[30]

A December 2008 cable from the U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey in Cairo noted that one activist from the April 6 movement had met with U.S. government officials in the United States as well as with various think tanks. The activist (presumably Maher) reported to Scobey that the Egyptian government “will never undertake significant reform, and therefore, Egyptians need to replace the current regime with a parliamentary democracy,” noting that the activist further “alleged that several opposition parties and movements have accepted an unwritten plan for democratic transition by 2011.” However, Scobey added, “we are doubtful of this claim.” After noting that several April 6 activists had been arrested and harassed by the Egyptian dictatorship, Scobey continued: “April 6’s stated goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections is highly unrealistic, and is not supported by the mainstream opposition.”[31]

Scobey further reported that the April 6 activist told her that “Mubarak derives his legitimacy from U.S. support,” and thus, that the U.S. was “responsible” for Mubarak’s “crimes,” and the activist suggested that those NGOs which sought to promote “political and economic reform” were living in a “fantasy world.” Finally, Scobey noted, the activist “offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6’s highly unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections.” She then noted that most of the “opposition parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible, incremental reform within the current political context,” and that the activists “wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this mainstream of opposition politicians and activists.”[32]

The U.S. government also provided assistance to many activists in the Arab world – including Egypt – in gaining access to technology which allows dissidents “to get online without being tracked or to visit news or social media sites that governments have blocked.” Many of the tech firms and non-profits that received funding saw huge increases in the use of their technology across the Arab world during the start of the Arab Spring, much to their surprise. As one tech firm executive stated, “We didn’t start this company to go against any government… and here we are impacting millions of people in the Middle East and helping revolutions in Tunisia and Libya. We didn’t set out to do this, but we really think it’s cool we’re doing this.”[33]

Such funding and organizational initiatives from the U.S. government and related institutions for pro-democracy groups in the Arab world, and notably Egypt, has led some commentators to suggest that the Arab Spring is simply the Middle Eastern version of the U.S.-sponsored ‘colour revolutions’ over the previous decade, even writing that such U.S.-supported activist groups “indelibly serve US interests” in terms of “controlling the political opposition,” to “ensure that the US funded civil society opposition will not direct their energies against the puppet masters behind the Mubarak regime, namely the US government.”[34]

There are some fundamental problems with this position. A 2011 article in EurasiaNet noted that while there were “some similarities” between the Arab Spring and the Color Revolutions the previous decade, “there are key differences as well,” primary among them being that the Arab dictatorships “were far more authoritarian and brutal than their counterparts in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine,” which meant that the Color Revolutions “occurred in more semi-democratic contexts, in which the regimes… allowed for more media and political freedom, and were generally less repressive.” Further, the Color Revolutions based their model for ‘regime change’ exclusively upon “an electoral breakthrough in which ballot fraud became the focal point around which the civic and political opposition could rally.” Such was not the case in Tunisia or Egypt, where the sparks for revolution were unforeseen and rapid, “suggesting that the electoral breakthrough model is only possible in countries where there is some degree of political pluralism,” noted Lincoln Mitchell, an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia University.[35]

Further, the Color Revolutions had a “geopolitical element” in which they were incorporated into the “freedom agenda” of the Bush administration, and “occurred in countries that had been the beneficiaries of ample US democracy assistance.” While the U.S. was credited – or accused (depending upon who was speaking) – of having “an almost magical role in organizing the opposition, spreading democracy, funding various organizations and the like,” in the context of the Arab Spring, “social networking technology has displaced the United States as the apparent catalyst for protest,” with Twitter and Facebook being “perceived as the magic explanatory variable.”[36]

Indeed, while the U.S. provided funding for several dissident groups in the Arab world, it was not comparable in to the previous ‘Color Revolutions’ in terms of dollars, training, equipment or technical assistance in any capacity. The dissidents were not organized around a single leader or singular oppositional group, and while the U.S. Embassies were establishing contacts with dissidents, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest they were heavily involved or ‘directing’ them. The fact that much of the assistance for dissidents was in the form of training and gaining access to technologies is also noteworthy. Technology – in and of itself – is neutral: it can be used for good or not. It is entirely dependent upon how the person(s) using it choose to wield it. The United States sought to help activists gain access to technologies to work around the authoritarian regimes (which the US was supporting with billions in military and economic aid), and to slowly push for ‘reforms.’ The U.S. can help activists with getting training and access to technologies, but it has no control over how those activists ultimately utilize these technologies.

Further, as was revealed by the 2008 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, while the Embassy and U.S. government had established contact with the April 6 Movement, Scobey portrayed their objectives as “highly unrealistic,” and the unnamed activist in the cable even stressed that the U.S. was “responsible” for the “crimes” of Mubarak. The cable stressed that the U.S. was in contact with mainstream opposition forces in Egypt, none of which were determining factors in the revolution, whereas the April 6 Movement, as Scobey noted, was “outside this mainstream of opposition and activists,” proposing the “unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime.”[37]

The U.S. interest in doing this was not altruistic, of course, but was ultimately aimed at ‘hedging their bets.’ Certainly, the U.S. government would be seeking to use activists and dissident groups for its own purposes, but one must also acknowledge that activists and dissident groups use the U.S. government (and its funding) for their own purposes. The State Department and USAID (which provide the majority of funding for pro-democracy groups and activists from the U.S. government) know what they are told by those groups, what the groups write in reports and grant applications. In a country like Egypt, which was ruled by a repressive military dictator for three decades, sources of funding for democracy projects and activism is not easy to come by. As an activist, you would likely take whatever sources of funding and support you could get, so long as you can use the access and support for your own objectives, which is exactly what the April 6 Movement did.

Indeed, in the Arab world, the United States and its Western allies have not been interested in promoting revolution, but rather an incremental process of reform. Top US policy planners at the Council on Foreign Relations produced a report – and strategic blueprint – for the United States to follow in 2005, entitled, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How, co-chaired by former Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute, and is chair of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, one of the major pro-democracy funding groups based out of the US.

The other co-chair of the Task Force report was Vin Weber, former Congressman and member of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the primary ‘democracy promotion’ organization funded by the U.S. government. Other members of the Task Force which produced the report held previous or present affiliations with First National Bank of Chicago, Occidental Petroleum, the Carnegie Endowment, the World Bank, Brookings Institution, Hoover Institution, the U.S. State Department, National Security Council, National Intelligence Council, the American Enterprise Institute, the IMF, AOL-Time Warner, and Goldman Sachs.[38] In other words, the strategic blueprint for promoting ‘democracy’ in the Arab world was developed by major U.S. strategic and corporate elites, including those who literally run the major democracy promotion organizations (including those that funded such groups in Egypt and elsewhere).

So what did the report have to say about the American Empire’s strategy for promoting democracy in the Arab world? Firstly, the report noted that, while “democracy entails certain inherent risks, the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers. If Arab citizens are able to express grievances freely and peacefully, they will be less likely to turn to more extreme measures.” Thus, the report noted, “the United States should promote the development of democratic institutions and practices over the long term, mindful that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside and that sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable.” Most importantly, however, the report noted: “America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.”[39]

So how can we interpret this? Democracy, as the United States defines it, is more “secure” precisely because it provides an institutional framework in which control may still be exercised, but where there are various degrees of freedom, enough to allow social pressures to be released, dissent to exist, and thus, contribute to the overall stability of a society through building consent to the power structures which rule it. Dictatorships are supported by coercion, not consent.

As America’s most influential political commentator of his time, Walter Lippmann, articulated in the 1920s, that modern democracies required the “manufacture of consent” of the public by the powerful, because “the public must be put in its place… so that each of us [elites] may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.” Manufacturing the consent of the public to the social order – and its prevailing power structures and hierarchies – would allow for “the least possible interference from ignorant and meddlesome outsiders.” A system in which the public’s consent was manufactured, noted Lippmann, “would provide the modern state with a foundation upon which a new stability might be realized.”[40]

That “stability” has been understood by U.S. elites for nearly a century, and it is known to be built upon the “manufacture of consent.” This is why the Task Force report on promoting Arab democracy noted that, “the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers.” The Arab Spring revolutions did not follow the criteria established by the U.S. strategy, which specifically said that, “sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable,” though it is exactly what took place, and of course, that democracy should be promoted through “evolution, not revolution.” As the Task Force report further noted, there was a risk that, “if Washington pushes Arab leaders too hard on reform, contributing to the collapse of friendly Arab governments, this would likely have a deleterious effect on regional stability, peace, and counterterrorism operations.” While instability may arise “in the short term” from promoting democracy, the report suggested, “a policy geared toward maintaining the authoritarian status quo in the Middle East poses greater risks to U.S. interests and foreign policy goals.”[41]

For the United States and its Western allies, “democracy” is not the goal, but rather a means to a goal. The goal is, always has been, and always will be, “stability and prosperity;” control and profit. When the dictatorships fail to bring about stability and prosperity, “democracy” – so long as it is constructed along Western liberal state-capitalist lines – will be the preferred option. The European Union, when reporting on its own efforts to promote democracy in the Mediterranean region, noted that, “we believe that democracy, good governance, rule of law, and gender equality are essential for stability and prosperity.” In other words, democracy is not the goal: control and profit are the goals. The means are merely incidental, whether they be through dictatorships, or top-down democratic structures.[42]

The problem in the Arab world is deepened for the United States when one looks at public opinion polls from the region. Just prior to the outbreak of protests in Tunisia, a major Western poll on Arab public opinion was conducted by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, published in the summer of 2010. The results were very interesting, noting that only 5% and 6% of respondents in 2010 believed that “promoting democracy” and “spreading human rights” were the two factors (respectively) which were most important in America’s foreign policy in the region. At the top of the list of priorities, with 49% and 45% respectively, were “protecting Israel” and “controlling oil,” followed by 33% each for “weakening the Muslim world” and “preserving regional and global dominance.”[43]

Further, 92% of respondents felt that Iran has a right to its nuclear program if it is peaceful, and 70% feel that right remains even if Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Roughly 57% of respondents felt that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, things would be “more positive” for the region, compared to 21% who thought it would be “more negative.” The poll asked which two countries posed the largest threat to the region, with Israel at 88% and the United States at 77%, while Iran was viewed as one of the two major threats to the region by only 10% of respondents, just above China and equal to Algeria.[44]

In other words, if truly representative – or genuine – democracies emerged in the region, they would be completely counter to U.S. strategic interests in the region, and thus, real democracy in the Arab world is not in the American interest. Top-down democracy, however, largely influenced by Western ideas and institutions, in which people are able to select between a couple parties which articulate social differences but implement largely identical economic and strategic policies, is an ideal circumstance for imperial powers.

Interestingly, Barack Obama’s 2010 budget sought to cut funding for democracy and governance aid to both Egypt and Jordan by roughly 40%, and for Egypt specifically, “funding has been cut by nearly 75 per cent for pro-democracy NGOs of which the Egyptian government does not approve.” These are hardly the actions of an American government seeking to implement ‘regime change’ through funding pro-democracy groups. Michele Dunne, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment, a major U.S. based think tank, noted that the cuts to funding pro-democracy groups in Egypt (and elsewhere) show that, “the Obama administration has decided on a more conciliatory approach toward the autocratic regimes, such as Egypt’s, that dominate Middle Eastern politics.”[45]

While funding for democracy groups in Egypt was cut by 75% for 2010, U.S. aid to the Egyptian government would amount to $1.55 billion for 2010, of which $1.3 billion was in the form of military aid. Michele Dunne noted, “My conversations with members of the [Obama] administration have made it clear that they did not want economic assistance to irritate the Egyptian government,” whereas the Bush administration’s funding for civil society groups in Egypt had caused a great deal of frustration from Mubarak and his regime. Under Bush, such funding had “doubled and tripled.” Under Obama, much of this was undone. Safwat Girgis, who runs two Egyptian-based NGOs, said that Obama’s “decision is in the best interest of the Egyptian government, not the people nor the civil society organizations… In my opinion, this is just an exchange of interests between Egypt and the United States.”[46]

The ‘Liberal Opposition’ in Egypt

When powerful Western states seek to influence or manage ‘transitions to democracy,’ they generally support whatever elite most closely resembles themselves, usually a variation of liberal democratic state-capitalist groups. But whatever dominant institutions pre-exist in that society have to be integrated with the new ‘method’ of governance (political parties, elections, etc.), though the pre-existing oligarchy generally remains in charge. Transitions to ‘democracy’ are promoted by the American Empire as if the United States had some sort of ‘God complex,’ seeking to remake the world in its own image… or delusion, rather.

Political parties need to be organized. Those which are more ‘Western’ are deemed more acceptable to Western elites, usually the ‘liberal democrats,’ or some variation thereof. In Egypt, there was not such an organized opposition in time for the revolution. There were attempts within Egypt to develop a liberal opposition, but the dictatorship kept a firm fist over political life. One such liberal opposition figure was Mohamed ElBaradei, an international diplomat who had, for decades, lived in the West.

In 2009, the former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, announced that he would consider running for president of Egypt in the planned 2011 elections, commenting, “I have been listening tentatively, and deeply appreciate the calls for my candidacy for president.” He explained that he would “only consider it if there is a free and fair election, and that is a question mark still in Egypt.” ElBaradei received support in running for president from the liberal Wafd party, as well as from groups within the Kefaya (“Enough”) movement.[47]

As ElBaradei arrived in Egypt in February of 2010, he was greeted by hundreds of Egyptians welcoming him, hopeful for his potential presidential bid. The first multiparty elections in Egypt were held in 2005, though the entire process was “marred by fraud,” unsurprisingly. While 2011 was set to have a follow-up election, most assumed that Hosni Mubarak would attempt to hand power over to his son, Gamal.[48] That same month, ElBaradei announced that he was going to form “a national association for change” in Egypt, opening the invite for “anyone who wanted a change to the ruling party” to join the association, following talks with several opposition figures and civil society leaders, including a representative of the Muslim brotherhood.[49] The National Association for Change would have as its “main target” to “be pushing for constitutional reforms and social justice,” explained ElBaradei.[50]

In June of 2010, the Muslim Brotherhood officially endorsed the ‘reform campaign’ of ElBaradei, following a meeting between ElBaradei and Said al Katani, the leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc. Both the Brotherhood and ElBaradei’s National Association for Change announced that they would plan to co-ordinate and work together in the future on promoting reform in Egypt.[51]

The National Association for Change (NAC) created a petition which called for constitutional amendments allowing independent political candidates to run in the upcoming election, as well as providing independent supervision of the elections. Only 70,000 signatures were attached to the petition within a few months, though ElBaradei had been anticipating millions. ElBaradei had been hoping for mass protests and a boycott against the upcoming legislative elections planned for the fall of 2010, commenting that, “anyone who will participate in this charade will be giving legitimacy or pseudo-legitimacy to a regime desperate to get legitimacy.” ElBaradei also extended his criticisms to the Egyptian population, suggesting that there was “a high level of apathy and despair that anything is going to change,” and that “people need to mature… I can be a leader if I have the people behind me. I can’t bring about change single-handed.”[52]

The following month of July 2010, Mohamed ElBaradei was appointed to the board of trustees of the International Crisis Group (ICG). The ICG describes its goals as being to work “through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict,” producing “regular analytical reports containing practical recommendations targeted at key international decision-takers.”

The board of trustees was made up of a number of prominent Western elites from the state, military, think tanks, corporations and international organizations, including: Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador; George Soros, billionaire investor and chair of the Open Society Institute; Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General (now on the international advisory board of JPMorgan Chase); Samuel Berger, former U.S. National Security Adviser and chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group; Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander; Carla A. Hills, former U.S. trade representative and member of numerous corporate boards; Jessica Tuchman Matthews, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Javier Solana, former NATO Secretary-General, among many others.[53]

Senior advisers to the International Crisis Group also include Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi Ambassador to the United States; former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico, among many other former top government officials and current corporate and think tank leaders.[54]

Further revealing how entrenched the ICG is within the Western imperial establishment, roughly 49% of its funding comes from governments, including the foreign affairs departments and aid agencies of the governments of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Roughly 20% of the ICG’s funding comes from private foundations, such as the Carnegie Corporation, Elders Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Foundations (run by the Soros family), the Radcliffe Foundation, Stanley Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Private sector support for the ICG accounts for 31% of its funding, from individuals and institutions such as: Dow Chemical, McKinsey & Company, Anglo American PLC, BG Group, BP, Chevron, Shell, Statoil, the Clinton Family Foundation, ENI, and many others.[55]

Western elites were obviously taking note of potential changes in Egypt, and certain groups within elite circles seek to get ahead of change and try to steer ‘reforms’ into safe areas (for entrenched power structures). They were aiming to encourage ‘reform’ in Egypt, not revolution. The International Crisis Group (ICG) is a good example of this, an organization with a focus on monitoring and providing ‘advice’ to states and other powerful institutions on preventing and managing crises, bringing together corporate, financial, ‘philanthropic,’ strategic and intellectual power players into a single institution. Inviting Mohamed ElBaradei into the group was an opening to attempt to bring Egypt’s potential future leadership more closely aligned with the interests and ideas of the Western elite. When ElBaradei returned to Egypt once again – though days after the uprising began – he suspended his membership with the International Crisis Group.[56]

Mohamed ElBaradei, after forming the National Association for Change in Egypt, spent most of his summer in 2010 abroad, though he returned in September to meet with opposition groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, at the Brotherhood’s annual Ramadan iftar banquet, where one leader from the Kefaya movement lambasted the Brotherhood for not taking an official stance in announcing it would boycott the coming legislative elections. Since the Brotherhood was the only large organized opposition within Egypt, the more liberal-leaning opposition groups formed a tenuous alliance with the organization.[57]

As a leader in the National Association for Change – Cairo University political scientist Hassan Nafaa – said: “We are forced to come together.” A spokesperson for the Brotherhood commented, “There are now only two possibilities: the regime or the Muslim Brotherhood.” Still, the Brotherhood, which held the largest opposition seats in the Parliament (with 20% of the total), “has been careful not to criticize Mubarak directly and insists it would never nominate its own candidate for the presidency.” The official stance of the Brotherhood has, however, “alienated many of its most active young members,” many of whom resigned in protest. Mohamed Salmawy, the president of the Egyptian Writers’ Union, referred to the Brotherhood, saying, “They can never come up with a real platform… If they did, it would give them away. They would be found out as people who do not believe in democracy.”[58]

That same month, ElBaradei went on to call for a national boycott of the elections and told several activists that, “regime change was possible in the coming year.” The National Association for Change had compiled nearly one million signatures demanding constitutional change, and ElBaradei commented, “If the whole people boycott the elections it will be, in my view, the end of the regime.”[59]

Intelligent Imperialism: The Working Group on Egypt

The Working Group on Egypt was formed in April of 2010 as a co-operative effort by officials from multiple prominent U.S. think tanks to encourage a change in policy toward Egypt, and more specifically, to encourage ‘democratic reforms.’ The Working Group consisted of nine different individuals: Elliott Abrams, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former State Department official who also served on the National Security Council in both the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations; Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, former senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former member of the State Department in the Reagan administration, and he also currently sits on the Secretary of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board; Scott Carpenter of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, previously served as a Deputy Secretary of State in the Bush administration, and served as an adviser in managing the Iraqi occupation, previously having worked with the International Republican Institute (IRI); Ambassador Edward Walker of the Middle East Institute, a former Assistant Secretary of State and ambassador to Israel, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

Other members of the Working Group included: Tom Malinowski, a director of Human Rights Watch, and former member of the National Security Council in the Clinton administration and former speechwriter for Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright; Ellen Bork of the Foreign Policy Initiative, former director at Freedom House, former deputy director of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), former State Department official and member of the Council on Foreign Relations; Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recognized as a ‘foremost’ authority on democracy-assistance programs, he served in the State Department working with USAID on ‘democracy assistance’ to Latin America during the Reagan administration; Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment, a former member of the National Security Council staff and the State Department’s Policy Planning staff, she also served as a diplomat in Israel and Egypt, and currently is a vice president at the Atlantic Council and is on the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy; and Daniel Calingaert, vice president of Freedom House, formerly with the International Republican Institute (IRI), and was a researcher at RAND Corporation.

Of the nine officials that make up the Working Group on Egypt, Calingaert was the only one who did not previously serve on the National Security Council or State Department. Moreover, several of the most influential U.S.-based ‘democracy promotion’ organizations were heavily represented in the Group, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House.

Thomas Carothers, a member of the Working Group, is considered by the major think tanks and establishment journals to be “one of the world’s foremost experts on democracy building.”[60] In 1997, he wrote an article explaining the general strategy of “democracy assistance” by the United States, primarily focused on supporting ‘institutions’ that the state views as “constituent elements of democracy.” This is broken down into three areas, providing support to “the electoral arena, governmental institutions, and civil society.” In the electoral arena, the focus is on providing for “free and fair elections.” They also “aid” in the development of political parties, “primarily through technical assistance and training on campaign methods and institutional development,” with the ultimate aim of creating a “party system” in which there are several different parties which differ only in “mild ideological shadings.”[61]

In terms of providing assistance to ‘governmental institutions,’ Carothers noted the U.S. democracy aid “seeks to help build democracy from the top down,” as opposed to allowing for democracy to generate from the bottom up (aka: genuine democracy). One of the primary facets of this program is for the U.S. to “aid” in the writing of a new constitution, “to help steer the country toward adopting a constitution that guarantees democratic government and a full range of political and civil rights,” of course including private property rights for corporations and specific privileges for elites.[62]

The U.S. also offers “assistance” in helping to form parliamentary bodies and undertake “judicial reform… to increase the efficiency and independence of judicial systems.” In terms of support to ‘civil society,’ U.S. assistance tends to pour into NGOs, the media, and unions. The key determinant of support for NGOs is if they “seek to influence governmental policy on some specific set of issues.” Support for media aims to make it an “independent, professionalized media,” which is to say, corporate controlled; and support for unions, Carothers explained, was an older ‘assistance’ program by the U.S. government aimed at building up unions “not affiliated with leftist political parties or movements.” Again, for the United States, “democracy” is all about “top down,” which is to say, democracy engineered by (and for) elites.[63]

In their first statement, issued to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April of 2010, the Working Group urged Clinton “to promote democratic reform in Egypt in advance of the upcoming elections,” warning that, “rather than progressing gradually on a path of desirable reform, Egypt is instead sliding backwards into increased authoritarianism.” Noting that, “Egypt is at a critical turning point,” the Working Group recommended that the Egyptian government should respond “to demands for responsible political change… [and] face the future as a more democratic nation with greater domestic and international support,” which is to say, ‘order and stability.’[64]

If this is not done, they warned, “prospects for stability and prosperity in Egypt will be in doubt,” which would “have serious consequences for the United States, Egypt’s neighbors, the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, and regional stability.” The United States, they wrote, “has a stake in the path Egypt takes.” Noting that Egypt had a massive population of unemployed youth, the statement declared: “To fulfill expectations and to prevent the onset of frustration and radicalism, Egypt must expand citizens’ say in how they are governed,” explaining that there was “now an opportunity to support gradual, responsible democratic reform,” noting that the longer the U.S. waits, “the harder it will be to reverse a dangerous trend.”[65]

The Working Group sent a follow-up letter to Clinton the next month, upon Mubarak’s decision to extend the “state of emergency” (which he initially passed when he came to power in 1981) for another two years, noting that the situation “heightens our concern that the administration’s practice of quiet diplomacy is not bearing fruit,” and that, “we are more convinced than ever of the importance of U.S. engagement… the United States is uniquely positioned to engage the Egyptian government and civil society and encourage them along a path toward reform. The time to use that leverage is now.”[66]

Noting that when rebels ousted the corrupt Kyrgyzstan government in April of 2010, the population complained of the U.S.’s silence in the face of rigged elections and human rights abuses, “placing a clear priority on strategic cooperation with the government.” Watch out, Kagan and Dunne warned: “If the Obama administration does not figure out how to make clear that it supports the political and human rights of Egyptian citizens, while cooperating with the Egyptian government on diplomatic and security affairs, people will be saying that about the United States in Cairo one of these days – and maybe sooner than we expect.”[67]

In November of 2010, members of the Working Group on Egypt held a meeting with members of the Obama administration’s National Security Council staff, including Dennis Ross, Samantha Power, Pradeep Ramamurthy, Dan Shapiro, and Gayle Smith. The meeting was “to discuss Egypt’s upcoming elections, prospects for political reform, and the implications for U.S. policy.”[68]

The Working Group on Egypt was made up of a group of strategists from the dominant think tanks and ‘democracy’ promotion organizations embedded within the U.S. elite establishment, organized in an effort to promote a strategy which would secure long-term Western interests in the Arab world and Egypt in particular, pushing for ‘democratic’ reforms in order to placate the inevitable tide of history from tossing the United States out of Egypt in a revolutionary fervor. When the uprising began, and thereafter, those involved with the Working Group on Egypt became increasingly influential within U.S. policy circles, most notably at the National Security Council (NSC).

The Secret Report

In August of 2010, Obama issued a Presidential Study Directive to be undertaken by some of his advisers “to produce a secret report on unrest in the Arab world.” The 18-page report was produced by Dennis Ross, the senior adviser on the Middle East, and senior director of the National Security Council Samantha Power, along with another NSC staffer, Gayle Smith. Weekly meetings were held between these officials and representatives from the State Department, CIA, and other agencies. The conclusions of the report were – as the New York Times reported – “without sweeping political changes, countries from Bahrain to Yemen were ripe for popular revolt,” with particular ‘flashpoints’ being identified, including Egypt.[69]

The report suggested that proposals be put forward on how to pressure Arab regimes to implement reforms before such circumstances arose. A senior official who helped draft the report later commented, “There’s no question Egypt was very much on the mind of the president… You had all the unknowns created by Egypt’s succession picture – and Egypt is the anchor of the region.”[70]

Yemen, long ruled by Ali Abdullah Saleh, was another nation that figured prominently in the report. Another administration official acknowledged that with rising youth populations, increasingly educated, yet with few economic opportunities and access to social media and the Internet, there was a “real prescription for trouble… whether it was Yemen or other countries in the region, you saw a set of trends.” Obama also pressed his advisers to look at the popular uprisings in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia to draw parallels and assess successes and failures. The report laid out a basis upon which the U.S. attempted to navigate its initial strategy during the uprisings of the Arab Spring.[71]

Imperial Dilemma: Choosing Dictatorship or Democracy?

The stage was set, change was inevitable, strategy was lagging – though developing – and the empire was thrown into a crisis when Egypt’s 18-day revolt took the world by shock. When one of the most important strategic ‘allies’ (aka: proxies) of the United States was thrown into a crisis in the form of a popular domestic uprising against the U.S.-subsidized dictatorship, the American Empire attempted to dance its way between the rhetoric – and strategic interest – of ‘democracy’ and the known stability and comfort of dictatorship. This dance over the 18-day uprising will be the focus of the next part in this series.

This report described some of the key ideas and characters that would become intimately involved in attempting to manage the situation within Egypt during the 18-day revolt and in the years since the uprising overthrew Mubarak. From the dictatorship, to democracy-promotion, and Egypt’s ‘liberal opposition,’ the Obama administration – and most especially the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council (often working closely with the Working Group on Egypt) sought to manage the dance between dictatorship and democracy for the Arab world’s most populous country in the midst of a popular uprising.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

 

Notes

[1] Justin Webb, “Obama interview: the transcript,” BBC, 2 June 2009:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/news/2009/06/090602_obama_transcript.shtml

[2] Political Punch, “Secretary Clinton in 2009: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family”,” ABC News, 31 January 2011:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/01/secretary-clinton-in-2009-i-really-consider-president-and-mrs-mubarak-to-be-friends-of-my-family/

[3] Simon Tisdall, “WikiLeaks cables cast Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s ruler for life,” The Guardian, 9 December 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/09/wikileaks-cables-hosni-mubarak-succession

[4] Ibid.

[5] Luke Harding, “WikiLeaks cables show close US relationship with Egyptian president,” The Guardian, 28 January 2011:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/28/wikileaks-cairo-cables-egypt-president

[6] Mark Landler and Andrew W. Lehren, “Cables Show Delicate U.S. Dealings With Egypt’s Leaders,” The New York Times, 27 January 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/world/middleeast/28diplo.html?pagewanted=all

[7] Jeffrey Fleishman, “WikiLeaks: Diplomatic cables show Egyptian leader’s acrimony with Iran,” The Los Angeles Times, 29 November 2010:

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/29/world/la-fg-wikileaks-arabs-20101130

[8] Press Release, “Remarks by President Obama and President Mubarak of Egypt During Press Availability,” The White House, 18 August 2009:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-President-Obama-and-President-Mubarak-of-Egypt-during-press-availability

[9] Anne E. Kornblut and Mary Beth Sheridan, “Obama Optimistic About Mideast Peace,” The Washington Post, 19 August 2009:

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2009-08-19/world/36857472_1_egyptian-president-hosni-mubarak-president-obama-egypt-and-jordan

[10] Michael Slackman, “Mubarak to Tell U.S. Israel Must Make Overture,” The New York Times, 16 August 2009:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/17/world/middleeast/17mubarak.html

[11] Richard Falk, “Ben Ali Tunisia was model US client,” Al-Jazeera, 25 January 2011:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/01/201112314530411972.html

[12] Daya Gamage, “Massive U.S. Military Aid to Tunisia despite human rights abuses,” Asian Tribune, 18 January 2011:

http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2011/01/18/massive-us-military-aid-tunisia-despite-human-rights-abuses

[13] NYT, “Challenges Facing Countries Across North Africa and the Middle East,” The New York Times, 17 February 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/17/world/middleeast/0217-mideast-region-graphic.html

[14] Samer al-Atrush, “Tunisia: Why the Jasmine Revolution won’t bloom,” The Telegraph, 16 January 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/tunisia/8261961/Tunisia-Why-the-Jasmine-Revolution-wont-bloom.html

[15] Steven Erlanger, “France Seen Wary of Interfering in Tunisia Crisis,” The New York Times, 16 January 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/world/africa/17france.html

[16] Angelique Chrisafis, “Sarkozy admits France made mistakes over Tunisia,” The Guardian, 24 January 2011:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jan/24/nicolas-sarkozy-tunisia-protests

[17] Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard, and Tarik M. Yousef, “The Logic of Authoritarian Bargains,” Economics & Politics (Vol. 21, No. 1, March 2009), pages 93-94.

[18] Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard and Tarik Yousef, “Is the Arab Authoritarian Bargain Collapsing?,” The Brookings Institution, 9 February 2011:

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2011/02/09-arab-economies-desai-yousef

[19] F. Gregory Gause III, “Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring: The Myth of Authoritarian Stability,” Foreign Affairs (Vol. 90, No. 4, July/August 2011), pages 81-82.

[20] Marwan Muasher, “Tunisia’s Crisis and the Arab World,” the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 24 January 2011:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2011/01/24/tunisia-s-crisis-and-arab-world/1n0e

[21] Noam Chomsky, “Is the world too big to fail?,” Al-Jazeera, 29 September 2011:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/09/201192514364490977.html

[22] Roger Cohen, “Who Really Brought Down Milosevic?” The New York Times, 26 November 2000:

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/26/magazine/who-really-brought-down-milosevic.html

[23] Philip Shishkin, “In Putin’s Backyard, Democracy Stirs — With U.S. Help,” The Wall Street Journal, 25 February 2005:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB110929289650463886.html

[24] Ian Traynor, “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev,” The Guardian, 26 November 2004:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

[25] Mark Almond, “The price of People Power,” The Guardian, 7 December 2004:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/dec/07/ukraine.comment

[26] Matt Kelley, “U.S. money has helped opposition in Ukraine,” Associated Press, 11 December 2004:

http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20041211/news_1n11usaid.html

[27] Daniel Wolf, “A 21st century revolt,” The Guardian, 13 May 2005:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/may/13/ukraine.features11 ;

Craig S. Smith, “U.S. Helped to Prepare the Way for Kyrgyzstan’s Uprising,” The New York Times, 30 March 2005:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9806E4D9123FF933A05750C0A9639C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all ;

John Laughland, “The mythology of people power,” The Guardian, 1 April 2005:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/01/usa.russia ;

Jonathan Steele, “Ukraine’s postmodern coup d’etat,” The Guardian, 26 November 2004:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.comment

[28] Ron Nixon, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings,” The New York Times, 14 April 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/world/15aid.html?pagewanted=all

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “Egypt protests: secret US document discloses support for protesters,” The Telegraph, 28 January 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/8289698/Egypt-protests-secret-US-document-discloses-support-for-protesters.html

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ian Shapira, “U.S. funding tech firms that help Mideast dissidents evade government censors,” The Washington Post, 10 March 2011:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/09/AR2011030905716.html

[34] Michel Chossudovsky, “The Protest Movement in Egypt: “Dictators” do not Dictate, They Obey Orders,” Global Research, 29 January 2011:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-protest-movement-in-egypt-dictators-do-not-dictate-they-obey-orders/22993

[35] Lincoln Mitchell, “North Africa through the Lens of the Color Revolutions,” EurasiaNet, 4 February 2011:

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/62832

[36] Ibid.

[37] “Egypt protests: secret US document discloses support for protesters,” The Telegraph, 28 January 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/8289698/Egypt-protests-secret-US-document-discloses-support-for-protesters.html

[38] Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), pages 49-54.

[39] Ibid, pages 3-4.

[40] Andrew Gavin Marshall, “‘A Lot of People Believe This Stuff': Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Politics of Public Relations,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 7 September 2012:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/09/07/a-lot-of-people-believe-this-stuff-bill-clinton-barack-obama-and-the-politics-of-public-relations/

[41] Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), pages 12-13.

[42] Michelle Pace, “Paradoxes and contradictions in EU democracy promotion in the Mediterranean: the limits of EU normative power,” Democratization (Vol. 16, No. 1, February 2009), page 42.

[43] Report, “2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll: Results of Arab Opinion Survey Conducted June 29-July 20, 2010,” The Brookings Institution, 5 August 2010:

http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2010/08/05-arab-opinion-poll-telhami

[44] Ibid.

[45] Matt Bradley, “Egypt’s democracy groups fear shift in US policy will harm their work,” The National, 29 January 2010:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/africa/egypts-democracy-groups-fear-shift-in-us-policy-will-harm-their-work

[46] Ibid.

[47] Opposition hopeful for an ElBaradei presidential run,” The National, 6 December 2009:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/opposition-hopeful-for-an-elbaradei-presidential-run

[48] Abigail Hauslohner, “Will ElBaradei Run for President of Egypt?” Time Magazine, 20 February 2010:

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1966922,00.html

[49] “ElBaradei to form ‘national association for change’,” BBC News, 24 February 2010:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8534365.stm

[50] Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman, “Egypt’s Mohamed ElBaradei creates National Front for Change,” The Los Angeles Times, 24 February 2010:

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/feb/24/world/la-fg-egypt-elbaradei25-2010feb25

[51] Matt Bradley, “Brotherhood sides with ElBaradei,” The National, 6 June 2010:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/brotherhood-sides-with-elbaradei

[52] Nadia Abou el Magd, “Mohammed ElBaradei, Egypt’s wake-up caller,” The National, 26 June 2010:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/mohammed-elbaradei-egypts-wake-up-caller#full

[53] Brussels, “Crisis Group Announces New Board Members,” International Crisis Group, 1 July 2010:

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/media-releases/2010/crisis-group-announces-new-board-members.aspx

[54] ICG, “Crisis Group Senior Advisers,” International Crisis Group:

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/about/~/link.aspx?_id=AFAAD992BC154C93B71B1E76D6151F3F&_z=z

[55] ICG, “Who Supports Crisis Group?” The International Crisis Group, funding for the year ending 30 June 2012:

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/support/who-supports-crisisgroup.aspx

[56] International Crisis Group, “Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (I): Egypt Victorious?” Middle East/North Africa Report, (No. 101, 24 February 2011), page 4 (footnote #33).

[57] Thanassis Cambanis, “Thin Line for Group of Muslims in Egypt,” The New York Times, 5 September 2010:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/world/middleeast/06egypt.html?pagewanted=all

[58] Ibid.

[59] Jack Shenker, “Egyptian dissident Mohamed ElBaradei urges election boycott,” The Guardian, 7 September 2010:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/07/egypt-mohamed-elbaradei

[60] Thomas Carothers, “Think Again: Arab Democracy,” Foreign Policy, 10 March 2011:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/03/10/think_again_arab_democracy

[61] Thomas Carothers, “Democracy Assistance: The Question of Strategy,” Democratization (Vol. 4, No. 3, Autumn 1997), pages 112-113.

[62] Ibid, page 113.

[63] Ibid, pages 113-114.

[64] Working Group on Egypt, “A Letter to Secretary Clinton From the Working Group on Egypt,” Carnegie Middle East Center, 7 April 2010:

http://carnegie-mec.org/2010/04/07/letter-to-secretary-clinton-from-working-group-on-egypt/b983

[65] Ibid.

[66] The Working Group on Egypt, “A Second Letter to Clinton from the Working Group on Egypt,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 12 May 2010:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2010/05/12/second-letter-to-clinton-from-working-group-on-egypt/9je

[67] Michele Dunne and Robert Kagan, “Obama needs to support Egyptians as well as Mubarak,” The Washington Post, 4 June 2010:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/03/AR2010060303935.html

[68] Press Release, “Working Group on Egypt meets with NSC staff,” The Carnegie Endowment for International peace, 2 November 2010:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2010/11/02/working-group-on-egypt-meets-with-nsc-staff/q0c

[69] Mark Landler, “Secret Report Ordered by Obama Identified Potential Uprisings,” The New York Times, 16 February 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/world/middleeast/17diplomacy.html

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid.

Egypt Under Empire, Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak

Egypt Under Empire, Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally published at The Hampton Institute

Egyptians Prepare In Tahrir Square For The First Anniverary Of The Revolution

Part 1: Working Class Resistance and European Imperial Ambitions

Part 2: The “Threat” Of Arab Nationalism

Between 1952 and 2011, Egypt was ruled by three military dictators: Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. Nasser placated labour unrest and imposed many social programs that benefited the population. Sadat subsequently began to break down the ‘social contract’ with Egyptian society, and when Mubarak came to power in 1981, the following three decades witnessed the imposition of a neoliberal order, complete with crony-capitalists, corrupted bureaucracies and a repressive police force. Three decades of increased poverty, polarized wealth and power, and increased labour unrest all laid the groundwork for the 2011 popular uprising.

As Nasser came to power in Egypt in 1952, he successfully crushed labour militancy in the country, and even executed two labour leaders as a symbol of the new regime’s lack of tolerance for radical labour actions. Nasser engaged in a power struggle for a brief period, before assuming complete power in 1954, at which point independent political organizations were banned and he “ushered in a populist-corporatist pact between labour and the state,” in which “the state controls the bulk of the economic, political, and social domains, leaving little space for society to develop itself and for interest groups to surface, compete, and act autonomously.”[1]

Labour groups were organized “into a limited number of singular, compulsory, non-competitive, hierarchically ordered and functionally differentiated categories.” In 1957, the government created the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (GFETU), monopolizing labour unions under the government, purging the radical leaders and co-opting the moderates. Since this period, “trade unions have functioned as an arm of the state rather than as democratic representatives of workers.” Thus, labour activism and actions largely subsided throughout the 1950s and 60s.[2]

Despite violent repression of independent political organizations, communists and militant labour groups, Nasser became incredibly popular both within Egypt and across the wider Arab world. He established a one-party state and a large security apparatus “to crush any and all dissent.” However, his articulation and actions related to Arab nationalism and Arab socialism – the twin pillars of his ‘revolution’ – sought to free Egypt and the Arab world from imperial domination, and to undertake a social revolution domestically as “part of an informal social contract where the population accepted constraints on its political freedom in exchange for the promise of higher living standards and a stronger nation.”[3]

A large network of social services was established, which “provided employment, education and healthcare, as well as subsidized transportation and food.” This program also entailed “spending large sums of money on the military, which was seen as the protector of the nation from external enemies.” These social programs helped to “create a modern middle class” in Egypt.[4] The allegiance of the middle class to the authoritarianism of the regime was secured by the government guaranteeing state employment to all university graduates.[5]

Nasser also implemented major agrarian reforms, which between 1952 and 1961, “redistributed about one seventh of the country’s cultivable land from large landowners… passed on to the landless and near landless fellahin rather than kept for direct use by the state.” This led to an “improvement of rural incomes and agricultural production,” and attempted to undermine the influence of the large landowning class of Egyptians.[6]

With the defeat of Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Nasser’s government suffered a humiliating defeat, and Nasser’s death in 1970 led to the emergence of a new dictator, Anwar Sadat, also emerging from the military, who ruled the country from 1970 until 1981. Undertaking a policy of ‘de-nasserisation,’ Sadat sought to undo many of Nasser’s more progressive policies, earning him the favour of the West. Among such policies were to return the “confiscated” land to the large landowners within Egypt by employing an ‘open door’ market-oriented program called infitah. The intifah helped to create the conditions for a real estate and credit boom, ultimately adding to Egypt’s foreign debt as the country became increasingly dependent upon foreign financing and ‘investment.’[7]

The infitah – or “opening” – wrote Hibbard and Layton, “offered an alternative vision of economic development to that of Arab socialism;” beginning a process of liberalization and an influx of Western capital, “to integrate Egypt into the Western capitalist system.” Sadat’s policies also oversaw the gradual elimination of Nasser’s social programs and “the abandonment of Nasser’s anti-imperialism.” The country quickly became more trade dependent, having to import staple foods, and foreign financing was limited to non-productive sectors of the economy. Egypt increasingly exported its labour to the Persian Gulf, which helped to reduce the problems of unemployment at home, and increased the country’s reliance upon remittances from its foreign workers sending their wages back home. In 1974, labour remittances, oil exports, tourism, foreign aid and the Suez Canal accounted for nearly a third of Egypt’s foreign income, a number that exploded to 75% in 1980. A new commercial elite developed with extensive ties to the state, while economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society accelerated.[8]

Such policies did not occur without resistance, however, with opposition emanating from academics, state bureaucrats and workers, with strikes and “popular unrest” occurring throughout the mid-1970s, with a major transport worker strike in 1976 and large bread riots in 1977. Sadat responded to the labour unrest and food riots by sending in the military to crush the protests. Sadat oversaw the construction of an alliance between the large landowning class, the business class, and the conservative religious elite, and even sought to build ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Further, Sadat rebuilt ties with the United States, and even established an alliance and peace treaty with Israel, negotiated by the Carter administration in the U.S. as the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords. With that, Sadat lost a great deal of popular support, and Egypt’s Islamists rejected him. Sadat was ultimately assassinated by an Islamist group in 1981.[9]

In 1981, Hosni Mubarak then took control of Egypt, also emerging from within the military and continuing the trend of maintaining the military dictatorship established since 1952, and deepening the economic ‘reforms’ begun under Sadat. Under Mubarak, the military and economic elites became more closely integrated, and with the imposition on the Emergency Law following Sadat’s assassination, Mubarak wielded more authoritarian power, suspending the constitution and dismantling the rights of citizens, also allowing for “detention without charge, press censorship and other restrictions on civil liberties.” A new – parallel – legal system was constructed, relying upon military courts, purportedly for use against ‘terrorists’ but used to persecute any and all forms of political opponents.[10]

Mubarak oversaw – during the 1980s and 1990s – a massively expanded entrenchment of neoliberal economic and social reforms in Egypt. Mubarak also pursued a major campaign against Islamists, who were making political gains with segments of the population by capitalizing on the poverty and popular anger toward the government, largely brought on as a result of the economic reforms. Mubarak’s Egypt thus became a major human rights violator, all the while receiving immense financial and military aid from Western governments, namely, the United States. The role of the security services – in particular the police forces under the control of the Interior Ministry – became more predominant throughout Mubarak’s rule, with torture and other abuses widespread.[11]

The military plays a very large role in the economy as well, and under Mubarak, military officials were appointed as regional governors, village chiefs and put in charge of state-run companies. The military itself has undertaken large land expropriations, runs companies and factories, giving it a major role to play in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, gas and consumer industries. The military, however, keeps most of its economic activities secret, and does not pay taxes while often using “conscripted labourers” for its workforce.[12]

Mubarak began to implement further ‘reforms’ to the agrarian sector along neoliberal lines during the 1980s. The Agriculture Minister Yusuf Wali began implementing agriculture sector liberalization policies in 1986, working “hand in hand with USAID and the World Bank.” The U.S. stressed “market-oriented” reforms and promoted export-led growth, as USAID invested $1.26 billion in the agricultural reforms. These reforms continued over the 1990s, and resulted in widespread dispossession of small farmers and a further alliance between economic and military-political elites.[13]

The major neoliberal reforms in Egypt arrived under Mubarak with the signing of a 1991 Economic Restructuring and Adjustment Program with the IMF, demanding liberalization of trade and prices, privatization, and labour ‘flexibility,’ as well as the removal of several social safety net measures.[14]

The ‘new economic elite’ that emerged in Egypt as a result of the IMF’s programs of the 1990s were closely tied to the ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), and Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who headed the NDP. Prominent businessmen became more influential in policy-making circles and “the number of businessmen elected to Egypt’s parliament increased from 8 in 1995 to 150 by 2005.”[15] Public spending on social services was dramatically cut, state-owned industries were privatized and employees fired, resulting in “staggering hardships for the majority.”[16]

As labour was under sustained attack, they fought back, with twice as many labour protests in the 1990s than took place during the 1980s. With the 1991 IMF program, Egypt was firmly entrenched in a neoliberal ‘order,’ which would accelerate over the following two decades. Fifteen years following the IMF program’s beginning – by 2006 – Egyptian workers had been subjected to continuous hardships and exponentially increased their resistance to it.[17]

The privatization program led to the unprecedented plundering of the Egyptian economy into the hands of relatively few economic elites. Out of 314 state-run companies, 209 were privatized by 2005, “leading to a massive displacement of public sector workers, and with it a further weakening of the struggling labour movement.” The number of workers employed by public sector companies was cut in half between 1994 and 2001. The IMF praised the privatization program in 2006 for having “surpassed expectations.” Wealth and power was concentrated “in the hands of a tiny layer of the country’s elite,” and a few large conglomerates dominated the major sectors of the economy. As Henry Veltmeyer wrote, “Mubarak – and the Egyptian state as a whole – represented an entire capitalist class.”[18]

Neoliberal reforms were further implemented under Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif (2005-2011), which saw businessmen take a more direct role in managing the state, with six major government ministries being run by six major businessmen in the areas of trade and industry, housing, transportation, health, agriculture and social welfare. Taxes were dramatically cut for corporations and elites and dramatically increased for the rest of the population. Corruption and embezzlement of public funds was rampant as the privatization programs effectively subsidized “the private sector at the expense of the nation as a whole.”[19]

The costs of food, fuel and transportation skyrocketed, while Prime Minister Nazif instructed protesting Egyptians to “grow up.” Thus, in 2006, Egypt witnessed a new wave of labour unrest.[20] Independent forms of worker organization re-emerged and in 2006 alone, “there were 220 major strikes involving tens of thousands of workers in the largest strike wave that Egypt had seen in decades,” and which were increasingly linking up with peasant movements protesting against the large landowners.[21]

In 2006, a three-day strike of workers at a weaving and spinning factory in El-Mahalla was “a major turning point in the history of the Egyptian workers’ movement,” marking a total work-stoppage and for a much longer duration than strike action prior and helped in the formation of new workers associations with more democratic accountability, directly challenging the state monopoly over unions.[22]

The strike was “the largest and most politically significant industrial strike since a dispute in the same workplace in 1947,” having roughly 24,000 workers participating, with over 10,000 occupying the factory for three days and nights, and on the fourth day the government granted a concession by offering a 45-day bonus. This set off a wave of worker protests and strikes across the country over the following years. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.7 million workers participated in protest actions, including private and public industrial workers, postal workers, educational administrators, workers in transportation, tax collection, healthcare, and other sectors. The recent years of labour unrest has been referred to as “the largest social movement in over half a century” taking place within Egypt.[23]

Between 2006 and 2008, Egypt recorded annual growth rates of 7%, and in 2009 – while much of the world was experiencing negative growth – Egypt recorded a 4.6% growth rate. However, between 2008 and 2009, poverty in Egypt increased from 20% to 23.4%, while roughly 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 per day, one-third of the population is illiterate, and youth make up roughly 90% of the unemployed. Thus, while the neoliberal reforms of the previous three decades produced high growth rates, “it has [also] led to worsening living standards for the majority of the population and the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority.”[24] Between 1998 and 2010, there were between 2 and 4 million workers who took part in between 3,400 and 4,000 strikes and other labour actions.[25] There were 266 strikes and labour actions in 2006, 614 in 2007, and they reached roughly 1,900 in 2009.[26]

As strikes escalated, the demands for higher wages and more democratic union representation evolved into demands for the end of the Mubarak regime (and the neoliberal reign of Prime Minister Nazif). One strike organizer in 2007 told a radio program, “We are challenging the regime.” At strikes, workers were chanting, “We will not be ruled by the World Bank! We will not be ruled by colonialism!” Images of signs at protests circulated, reading, “Down with the Government. We want a Free Government.” One strike leader who was arrested in 2007, said upon his release: “We want a change in the structure and hierarchy of the union system in this country… The way unions in this country are organized is completely wrong, from top to bottom. It is organized to make it look like our representatives have been elected, when really they are appointed by the government.”[27]

The second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 helped spawn new social movements within Egypt. The Cairo Conference was held in 2002 in an attempt to organize disparate social groups around two main shared positions: anti-neoliberalism and anti-war. In 2004, this led to the formation of the Kefaya (“Enough”), the Egyptian Movement for Change.[28] This was aided along by a major demographic change within the country, where by 2011, roughly 52% of Egypt’s population was under the age of 25, and it was this group which disproportionately lacked employment, with roughly 95% of post-secondary educated youth being unemployed or working in fields unrelated to their education with very low pay. It was this demographic which became increasingly mobilized around non-ideological movements such as Kefaya, organizing a series of anti-Mubarak protests between 2004 and 2005, demanding democracy and accountability. The younger members of this group then established the April 6 Movement, “an organization that emerged in support of the 2008 strike by textile workers in Mohalla al-Kubra.”[29]

A number of other social groups and protests organizations emerged from 2004 onwards, including Students for Change, Youth for Change, University Professors for Change, Workers for Change, Artists for Change, and the People’s Campaign for Change, among many others. In 2005, as Kefaya organized a massive anti-Mubarak protest, an organization of Egyptian intellectuals was formed as the National Assembly for Democratic Transition. Lawyers, journalists and other professions increasingly took part in protests.[30]

The April 6 Youth Movement began to support the Mahalla workers’ strike in 2008, with founder Ahmed Maher having started a Facebook page that quickly reached over 70,000 members. As support grew, the government crack down ensued, with roughly 500 activists arrested over the following two months, including Maher (who was also tortured).[31]

Since the Mubarak government made it illegal to hold meetings of more than five people, with a heavy-handed approach to information control and news censorship, Facebook and other Internet-based social media platforms quickly became very popular among young Egyptians. Roughly one in nine people in Egypt have Internet access, and 9% of those who have access used Facebook, making it the most visited website in the country, following Google and Yahoo. The Facebook page for the April 6 movement, reported the New York Times in 2009, was the page “with the most dynamic debates” among young Egyptians, “most of whom had never been involved with politics before joining the group.” The Facebook page provided a venue for young Egyptians “to assemble virtually and communicate freely about their grievances.”[32]

The United States has been a major sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship, giving it extensive leverage with the regime. Between 1948 and 2011, the U.S. provided Egypt with a total of $71.6 billion in bilateral foreign aid (most of which consisted of an annual aid package of $1.3 billion in military aid from 1987 to present), and since the peace treaty with Israel was signed in 1979, Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. ‘aid’ in the world (after Israel).[33]

Another large international sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship was the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which also heaped praise upon the Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali prior to its overthrow. In a 2010 report on Egypt, the IMF noted that the country had been following the Fund’s advice on economic reforms, though continued to recommend “phasing out energy subsidies” and increasing privatizations. The IMF further noted that, “the relationship between Egypt and the World Bank Group has been transformed and markedly improved over the last few years as a result of the progress Egypt has made in implementing reforms.”[34]

In 2010, labour unrest continued throughout the country, with one strike organizer telling the press in May of 2010, “The government represents the marriage between authority and money – and this marriage needs to be broken up… We call for the resignation of Ahmad Nazif’s government because it works only for businessmen and ignores social justice.”[35]

Egypt was clearly on the edge of an uprising, all that was required was a ‘spark’ – which came in the form of the Tunisian uprising in December of 2010 and January of 2011. With the overthrow of the long-time dictator, Ben Ali, in Tunisia, Egyptians were motivated to mobilize against Mubarak.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.

Notes

[1] Rabab El-Mahdi, “Labour protests in Egypt: causes and meanings,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 390.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 198-199.

[4] Ibid, page 199.

[5] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 390.

[6] Ray Bush, “Coalitions for Dispossession and Networks of Resistance? Land, Politics and Agrarian Reform in Egypt,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (Vol. 38, No. 3, December 2011), page 395.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), page 200.

[9] Ibid, pages 200-201.

[10] Ibid, pages 201-202.

[11] Ibid, pages 202-203.

[12] Angela Joya, “The Egyptian revolution: crisis of neoliberalism and the potential for democratic politics,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 372.

[13] Ray Bush, op. cit., pages 396-397.

[14] Angela Joya, op. cit., page 370.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, op. cit., page 202.

[17] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.

[18] Henry Veltmeyer, “Unrest and Change: Dispatches from the Frontline of a Class War in Egypt,” Globalizations (Vol. 8, No. 5, October 2011), page 612.

[19] Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 370-371.

[20] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.

[21] Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 612.

[22] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., pages 397-399.

[23] Ibid, pages 387-388.

[24] Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 611.

[25] Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 326.

[26] Ibrahim Awad, “Breaking Out of Authoritarianism: 18 Months of Political Transition in Egypt,” Constellations (Vol. 20, No. 2, 2013), page 278.

[27] Joel Beinin, op. cit., page 331.

[28] Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 368-369.

[29] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 206-207.

[30] Angela Joya, op. cit., page 369.

[31] Ellen Knickmeyer, “Fledgling Rebellion on Facebook Is Struck Down by Force in Egypt,” The New York Times, 18 May 2008:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/05/17/ST2008051702711.html

[32] Samantha M. Shapiro, “Revolution, Facebook-Style,” The New York Times, 22 January 2009:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25bloggers-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

[33] Jeremy M. Sharp, “Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service, 27 June 2013: page 9.

[34] Patrick Bond, “Neoliberal threats to North Africa,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), pages 483-484.

[35] Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 339.

Egypt Under Empire, Part 2: The “Threat” of Arab Nationalism

Egypt Under Empire, Part 2: The “Threat” of Arab Nationalism

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

The following is Part 2 of my series, “Egypt Under Empire,” originally posted at The Hampton Institute

Part 1: Working Class Resistance and European Imperial Ambitions

Arabnationalism

In 1945, the British agreed to renegotiate the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, with the British seeking to protect their large military presence with their base at the Suez Canal. The negotiations had become frustrated with the Egyptians demanding the unconditional removal of all British troops, a prospect that was reviled by both the British and Americans, who were first and foremost interested in maintaining their imperial hegemony over the region.[1] One of the major threats to Western imperial domination of the Middle East and North Africa (and thus, of Asia and Africa more generally) was the “rising tide” of Arab Nationalism.

Arab Nationalism was considered a threat for a number of reasons: it presented the possibility of small countries being able to unite as a common force, chart their own paths and determine their own sovereignty, remain ‘neutral’ in the Cold War, and threaten the West’s control of the region’s oil resources and transport routes long considered vital to energy, trade, and military expansionism. In short, Arab Nationalism was a threat precisely because it presented an ‘alternative’ for the poor nations and peoples of the world to follow, an independent form of nationalism not tied to or dependent upon the imperial powers, instead seeking to unite the ‘Third World’ – with its vast natural resource wealth and strategic locations – and thus, could potentially bring the downfall of Western imperial domination of the world.

As early as 1943, in light of the massive oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8926 which declared that, “the defense of Saudi Arabia [is] vital to the defense of the United States.”[2] In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote a memo to the American Director of Economic Operations in the Middle East in which he made clear, “The Middle East is an area in which the United States has a vital interest.” That interest, of course, was oil. Roosevelt made clear that Middle Eastern oil belonged to the Western imperialist nations and not the Middle East itself, as he wrote that “the objective of the United States” in the Middle East “is to make certain that all nations are accorded equality of opportunity,” and that “special privileges… should not be afforded to any country or its nationals.” This was, of course, indirectly referring to France and especially Great Britain, the imperial hegemons of the Middle East at the time. The “equality of opportunity” to exploit the resources of the Middle East was simply referring to the expansion of America’s “vital interest” in the region.[3]

American interest in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East more broadly did not die with Roosevelt. His successor, Harry Truman, was just as eager to “open the door” to the Middle East. A 1945 memorandum to President Truman written by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs in the U.S. State Department, Gordon Merriam, stated: “In Saudi Arabia, where the oil resources constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history, a concession covering this oil is nominally in American control.”[4] Adolf A. Berle, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s closest advisers, particularly in relation to the construction of the post-War world, years later remarked that controlling the oil reserves of the Middle East would mean obtaining “substantial control of the world.”[5]

After the British left India in 1947 and Palestine in 1948, their largest military base outside Great Britain was on Egypt at the Suez Canal Zone. Yet, in 1947, the Labour government was determined to maintain “a firm hold in the Middle East.” Bilateral talks were held between the British and the Pentagon in 1947 in which they discussed the region, some twenty countries, in which the two powers recognized the region as “vital” to their security interests and agreed to “parallel policies.” This was agreed to by the newly-formed National Security Council (NSC), though the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) were hesitant, fearful that American forces would be drawn into the Middle East at a time when the size of the forces were being decreased while the demands of the emerging empire were increasing. Thus, the JCS stipulated that the “British should continue to maintain primary responsibility for the defense of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.”[6] In 1947, even the U.S. State Department agreed that while “the security of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East… is vital to the security of the United States,” America’s security in the region depended upon the “strong strategic, political, and economic position” of Britain in the region.[7]

As the British Empire continued its decline in influence, and the Soviet Union continued its increase in influence, the Americans became especially concerned with an expanded Soviet presence in the Middle East. In the early 1950s, Secretary of State Dean Acheson sought to exert control over the region “through the coordination of American, British, and indigenous [local Arab dictator] efforts under a concept of the defense of the Middle East as a whole.” Top State Department officials presented the plan to the Pentagon, who agreed, but were hesitant to commit troops to the region, instead favouring the building up of local allies (i.e., to establish strong regional proxies), and recommended the U.S. invite Turkey into NATO in an effort to move the strategic objectives forward. President Truman promptly invited Turkey into NATO in 1951.[8]

In 1951, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State George McGhee stated, “We wish to keep the area on our side where it is clearly cooperating with us, or to bring it firmly onto our side where it is wavering.”[9] That same year, the Egyptian parliament – frustrated with the British – abrogated the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty in the face of widespread popular demands within the country, frustrating plans for a joint American and British military command of the region, which they wanted to establish within Egypt.[10]

As tensions rose, fighting broke out between British and Egyptian forces, with mass protests and unrest in the streets across the country. It was at this point that the Egyptian army’s ‘Free Officers’ intervened and orchestrated the bloodless coup in 1952.[11] The Americans were warned beforehand about the possibility of a coup, and expressed support for Nasser and the coup officers, feeling that they were “pro-Western,” though the U.S. Ambassador in Egypt added that they were “woefully ignorant of matters economic, financial, political, and international.”[12]

As the Americans sought closer ties to Egypt, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles went to meet with Nasser, who explained that any alliance with the West – built upon the concept of the Cold War’s ‘struggle’ against Communism – would require the British to leave Egypt entirely. Nasser explained that for Egyptians, the main enemy was imperialism, not communism. He told Dulles, “I would become the laughingstock of my people if I told them they now had an entirely new enemy, many thousands of miles away, and that they must forget about the British enemy occupying their territory. Nobody would take me seriously if I forgot about the British.”[13]

The United States continued to attempt to gain the favour of Nasser and the regime in Egypt, noting its strategic importance to the domination of the entire region. The CIA established ties with Nasser’s government in 1953, passing money to the regime, which Nasser (correctly) interpreted as a bribe. Nasser accepted the American approaches to his regime, hoping to keep the U.S. comfortable, though he articulated a ‘non-aligned’ position for Egypt, choosing neither the side of the Soviet Union or the U.S. in the Cold War. The Americans had to accept this position, as they were bluntly told by Nasser’s closest adviser: “You will never be able to get the oil of the Middle East if its people do not side with you… Either you win us forever, or you lose us forever.” The U.S. attempted to ‘win’ favour, by providing funding through the World Bank for the construction of the Aswan Dam.[14]

Nasser’s suspicions grew, however, when World Bank funding came with ‘conditions’ which would allow for concessions to the British and Americans, specifically regarding the Suez Canal. Nasser felt the World Bank was cooperating with “the imperialist nations,” who were getting in the way of his attempted project to build a modern society for Egypt: to achieve a social revolution. Nasser then announced an arms deal with the Soviet Bloc in 1955, prompting the US and UK to cancel their funding of the Aswan Dam.[15]

By 1956, the State Department acknowledged – in internal documents – that, “there seems little likelihood the US will be able to work with Nasser in the foreseeable future.” British Prime Minister Anthony Eden had even stated that he wanted to “destroy” Nasser. A State Department official noted in July of 1956 that, “Nasser is pursuing policies in the Near East opposed to reasonable U.S. objectives.”[16] As the U.S. ended funding for the Aswan Dam, Nasser announced that Egypt would fund the project by nationalizing the Suez Canal. The British and French were furious, with Anthony Eden cabling President Eisenhower that they had to “be ready… to use force to bring Nasser to his senses.” The French compared the nationalization of the Suez Canal to Hitler’s seizure of the Rhineland, but the Americans remained hesitant to resort to military action, fearing that undertaking such a response would ‘compromise’ their position in the region. The British and French told the Americans that “military action is necessary and inevitable,” and hoped for U.S. support.[17]

A special national intelligence estimate shared with the National Security Council in the United States noted that Nasser’s decision had “greatly strengthened his position, not only as leader of Egypt, but also as the spokesman and symbol of Arab nationalism throughout the Middle East.” The decision to nationalize the Suez Canal “has won wild acclaim from the Egyptian population, warm support from the greater part of the Arab world, and approval from the USSR.” The intelligence estimate noted: “Nasser’s action has strengthened anti-Western, anticolonial, and nationalist trends throughout the area, and if successful, will encourage future moves toward early nationalization or other action against foreign-owned oil pipelines and petroleum facilities.”[18]

Referring to Nasser’s nationalization as a “dramatic act of defiance,” the intelligence document explained that this will “have an intoxicating effect on Arab nationalist sentiment,” and subsequently, “certain Arab states may be encouraged, both by example and persuasion, to take similar anti-Western actions.” All of these threats and possible actions “would be increased in the event of intervention by Western military forces or a substantial increase in Western arms shipments to Israel.”[19]

A State Department policy paper from early August 1956 referred to Nasser as “an international political adventurer of considerable skill with clearly defined objectives that seriously threaten the Western world.” The State Department concluded: “Nasser intends to make full use of the resources of the Arab world, notably the Suez Canal and the oil, the resources and turmoil of the entire African continent, and the support of Muslims in Indonesia, China, Malaya, Siam, Burma and elsewhere” in order “to wield a power without limit.” Thus, the State Department noted, “it must be concluded that Nasser is not a leader with whom it will be possible to enter into friendly arrangements of cooperation or with whom it will be possible to make any feasible accommodations.” Nasser did not seek to become “a stooge of the Kremlin,” but rather, to take “a more ambitious” role as a “third force,” which would ultimately “be as inimical to the interests of the West as those of the Kremlin.”[20]

The State Department paper went on to acknowledge that the regional resentment of populations against the West was legitimate in the historical context of Western colonialism and empire, but that it would be necessary to prevent the region coming together, to ‘divide and conquer.’ In the policy paper’s own words, the State Department acknowledged that “the hatreds, frustrations and resentments of the people of the Middle East and Africa certainly exist and there is no easy way of dealing with the problems which they create.” Tellingly, the report continued: “it is to the interest of the West that they be dealt with as nearly separately as possible and that no leader… be permitted to merge the emotions and resources of the entire Middle East and Africa into a single onslaught against Western civilization.” Thus, the West would have to implement “policies designed to reduce… Nasser as a force in the Middle East and Africa.” The memo bluntly concluded: “it is in U.S. interests to take action to reduce Nasser’s power.”[21]

Still, however, fear of the popular reaction in the Arab, Muslim and African world prevented the United States from supporting military intervention in Egypt, as “anticolonial and anti-Western tendencies would be greatly reinforced and resentment of the continued presence of Western power elements in the Middle East would be intensified,” according to a National Intelligence Estimate.[22]

In late October of 1956, the Israelis, British and French began their attack and invasion of Egypt. In a meeting with his National Security Council, Eisenhower declared, “How could we possibly support Britain and France if in doing so we lose the whole Arab world?”[23] The United States and the USSR both publicly and internationally condemned the European-Israeli invasion of Egypt, demanded a ceasefire and a withdrawal of troops. The event was considered a victory first and foremost for Nasser’s Egypt, then for the Soviets and Americans, and a major defeat for the waning influence of the French and British in the region (and not to mention, increased hostility toward Israel, largely viewed as a Western imperial proxy in the region).

Nasser’s influence was especially increased following the Suez Crisis. Nasser’s support for nationalist movements in North Africa, particularly Algeria, increasingly became cause for concern. Pro-Western governments in the Middle East stood on unstable ground, threatened by the ever-expanding wave of Pan-Arab nationalism and indeed, Pan-African nationalism spreading from North Africa downward.

The United States, however, noting the power vacuum created by the defeat of Britain and France in the conflict, as well as the increasing support from the Soviet Union for nationalist movements in the region as elsewhere, had to decide upon a more direct strategy for maintaining dominance in the region. As President Eisenhower stated in December of 1956, as the Suez Crisis was coming to a final close, “We have no intention of standing idly by… to see the southern flank of NATO completely collapse through Communist penetration and success in the Mid East.” Secretary Dulles stated in turn, that, “we intend to make our presence more strongly felt in the Middle East.” Thus, the Eisenhower Doctrine was approved in early 1957, calling for the dispersal of “$200 million in economic and military aid and to commit armed forces to defend any country seeking assistance against international communism,” explaining that, “the existing vacuum… must be filled by the United States before it is filled by Russia.”[24]

Support for the Eisenhower doctrine in 1957 came from the pro-Western governments [aka: dictatorships] of Libya, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, while opposition was strongest amongst Syria and Egypt. Nasser suggested that the Eisenhower Doctrine was “a device to re-establish imperial control by non-military means,” and he would thus “have nothing to do with it and felt it was directed at Egypt as much as at any communist threat.”[25]

Indeed, Nasser was correct, as internal State Department policy planning papers reflected. While a great deal of the rhetoric from internal documents and public statements was directed at dealing with the threat of ‘communism’ and the Soviet Union’s influence in the region, Nasser and Egypt figured prominently in the internal discussion among U.S. policy-makers, noting the threat of a ‘Third Force.’ Thus, as the State Department noted, “efforts to counter Soviet penetration” of the region “must include measures to… circumscribe Nasser’s power and influence.” The U.S. was adamant that it must avoid “suspicion that our aim is to dominate or control any of the countries or to reimpose British domination in a different form,” and thus, “our actions will be largely self-defeating if they create a general impression that our objective is to directly overthrow Nasser.”[26] It may be worth noting that the document said that while they wanted Nasser gone, the issue was simply that they did not want to give the “impression” (appearance) that they wanted him gone. Thus, the guise of stemming the spread of ‘communism’ became increasingly useful in a strategic context.

A National Security Council Operations Coordinating Board report from 1957 acknowledged that there had “been increasing manifestations of an awakened nationalism” in the Arab world, largely emerging in response to “a desire to end both real and imagined vestiges of the mandate and colonial periods.” Since the historic colonial powers of the region “were from Western Europe, this nationalism has assumed generally an anti-Western form” which has “created opportunities for Soviet exploitation” which has “placed the United States in a difficult position.” The “sympathy” that the United States has towards those who want to overthrow the oppressive structures of empire and domination – which is to say, the rhetoric of the American system as being supportive of democracy and liberation – often runs “into sharp conflict with actions required to maintain the strength of the Western alliance and to support our closest allies,”[27] who happen to be ruthless tyrants.

While Britain and France viewed this nationalism “as a threat to their entire position in the area,” the United States felt that while such nationalism “represents a threat to the West,” it viewed it “as an inevitable development which should be channeled, not opposed.” While acknowledging that Nasser would “remain the leader of Egypt” for some time, the objective of the United States would be to determine “the degree to which it will actively seek to curb Nasser’s influence and Egyptian activities in the Near East and Africa.”[28]

A 1958 National Security Council report on the ‘Long-Range U.S. Policy Toward the Near East’ noted that the region was “of great strategic, political, and economic importance to the Free World,” by which they meant, the Western imperial powers. This was especially true because the region “contains the greatest petroleum resources in the world and essential facilities for the transit of military forces and Free World commerce,” such as the Suez Canal. Thus, the report noted, “it is in the security interest of the United States to make every effort to insure that these resources will be available and will be used for the strengthening of the Free World,” with the added benefit of the fact that the “geographical position of the Near East makes the area a stepping-stone toward the strategic resources of Africa.”[29]

The NSC document noted that, “In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism,” believing “that the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress.” The status quo, of course, was to support ruthless dictators who impoverished their populations and gave their nation’s resources over to Western imperial powers. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, has a much better reputation within the Arab world, supporting the cause of Arab nationalism without demanding the same allegiance in the Cold War struggle that the U.S. was demanding of its autocratic allies in the region. Thus, “the prestige of the United States and of the West has declined in the Near East while Soviet influence has greatly increased.” The U.S. and Soviet Union were largely divided on issues related to Israel-Palestine, Arab nationalism and self-determination, U.S. support for its “colonial” allies in Western Europe, and the “widespread belief that the United States desires to keep the Arab world disunited and is committed to work with ‘reactionary’ [i.e., authoritarian] elements to that end.”[30]

These beliefs, the report went on to note, were essentially true. The United States “supports the continued existence of Israel” and “our economic and cultural interests in the area have led not unnaturally to close U.S. relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries,” identifying the rulers of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Jordan as obvious examples. The report even acknowledged that the “police-state methods” employed by communist governments “seem no worse than similar methods employed by Near East regimes, including some of those supported by the United States.”[31]

Acknowledging that the region had “extremes of wealth and poverty,” the Arab people largely blamed “external factors” such as “colonialism,” and “a desire on the part of the West to keep the Arab world relatively undeveloped so that it may ultimately become a source of raw materials.” The NSC also acknowledged that because of the U.S. alliance with the Western European colonial powers through NATO, “it is impossible for us to avoid some identification” with colonialism. However, the NSC noted, “we cannot exclude the possibility of having to use force in an attempt to maintain our position in the area,” though such force may only preserve Western interests “with great difficulty.”[32]

Instead of “attempting merely to preserve the status quo,” the NSC document suggested, the United States should “seek to guide the revolutionary and nationalistic pressures throughout the area into orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West and which will contribute to solving the internal social, political and economic problems of the area.” However, this still required the United States to “provide military aid to friendly countries to enhance their internal security and governmental stability,” or in other words, to preserve the status quo. However, when a “pro-Western orientation is unattainable,” the document recommended to “accept neutralist policies of states in the area” and that the U.S. should “provide assistance… to such states.”[33]

In terms of the ‘threat’ posed by Pan-Arab nationalism, the NSC report recommended that the U.S. publicly proclaim “support for the ideal of Arab unity,” but to quietly “encourage a strengthening of the ties among Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq” in order to “counterbalance Egypt’s preponderant position of leadership in the Arab world” to support the political and economic power of “more moderate” states such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Sudan and Iraq. The United States still had to “be prepared” to use force, however, in order “to reconcile vital Free World interests in the area’s petroleum resources with the rising tide of nationalism in the area.”[34]

The National Security Council Planning Board produced a report in July of 1958 which noted a difference of views within planning circles, one of which was that the U.S. “must face up to the fact that Arab nationalism is the dominant force in the Arab world, and that it has assumed a radical form symbolized by Nasser.” Further, because “we back regimes which seem out of step with it, or otherwise seek to retard its impact, we are going to appear to oppose it.” Thus, the NSC put forward one suggestion that, “we must adapt to Arab nationalism and seek to utilize it, if we are to retain more than a steadily declining influence in the Arab world.”[35]

Another view of the matter, the NSC paper articulated, was that, “because of the many disparities between our interests and the demands of radical Arab nationalism, the United States cannot afford to accommodate it,” as Nasser’s brand of Pan-Arab nationalism “may be virtually insatiable; it mat not stop its march until it has taken over large parts of Africa,” and thus, accommodation “may only bring a still more rapid loss of Western influence.” Ultimately, the NSC document noted, “if we choose to combat radical Arab nationalism and to hold Persian Gulf oil by force if necessary, a logical corollary would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power left in the Near East.”[36] In other words, the United States would support Israel as a buffer against the spread of Arab nationalism.

Two days after the NSC document was issued, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles stated – during a meeting of the National Security Council – that, “Arab nationalism was like an overflowing stream – you cannot stand in front of it and oppose it frontally, but you must try to keep it in bounds. We must try to prevent lasting damage to our interests in the Near East until events deflate the great Nasser hero myth,” and that “we must try to deflate that myth.” President Eisenhower chimed in during the meeting, suggesting, “we could support self-determination by the Arabs as far as the internal governments of the various countries were concerned. Since we are about to get thrown out of the area, we might as well believe in Arab nationalism.”[37]

The following month, in August of 1958, a Special National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) noted that many pro-West dictatorships in the region were experiencing major crises, such as Lebanon and Jordan (both of which the U.S. sent troops to that year), or having been overthrown (such as Iraq), or forced to make accommodations to Nasser (such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), and thus, noted the NIE: “the Western-supported conservative governments of the Middle East have seen their influence and authority slip away.” Arab nationalism, the NIE noted, “is a movement of long standing, with great emotional appeal, aimed at a renaissance of the Arab peoples and the restoration of their sovereignty, unity, power, and prestige.” Thus, while pro-West governments publicly spoke out against Western imperialism, they continued to maintain ties to the imperial powers “because they needed Western support in order to stay in power.”[38]

The radical nationalist governments, on the other hand, “were far more distrustful of the West, more determined to eradicate the remaining Western controls over Arab political and economic life, and far more serious about achieving (rather than simply praising) the goal of Arab unity.” Further, these radical regimes “added a doctrine of social revolution and reform to the older tenets of Arab nationalism, and thus came into conflict with the traditional upper classes and social and economic systems of the Arab world on which the conservatives’ power rested.” Ultimately, the NIE noted, “it is necessary to think of Nasser and the mass of Arab nationalists as inseparable” and that “no rival is likely to challenge him unless he suffers a series of defeats.”[39]

An NSC planning board paper from late August suggested that the United States should “seek to contain radical pan-Arab nationalism from spilling out beyond the Near East and undermining other pro-Western regimes.”[40]

Indeed, few things are more frightening to imperial powers than the possibility of a good example. If a comparably small and poor country like Egypt could successfully defy the United States, France, Britain, Israel and the Soviet Union – to not become a proxy of any major power – and to chart its own path in international affairs and attempt a ‘social revolution’ at home, the rest of the world – the majority of the world being poor and living in Africa, Asia and Latin America – are paying attention. If Egypt could do it, so could they. What’s more, if the Arab countries could unite, then the African countries could unite, defying the fallacious borders carved up by European empires and creating powerful regional forces of their own.

In short, it amounts to a type of domino theory which was articulated by the Pentagon and other imperial planning bodies in the United States to justify their massive wars in Indochina and beyond, except instead of fearing the spread of Communism – with countries caving one by one (like dominos) to the appeal of the Soviet Union – the reality of the threat was much greater: a successful attempt of independent nationalism would encourage more to follow.

This is no less true today than it was when Nasser was in power. Perhaps the most important quote regarding the spread of Arab Nationalism in the 1950s – from the perspective of American imperial strategists – was when the NSC declared in 1958 that the United States should “seek to guide the revolutionary and nationalistic pressures throughout the area into orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West and which will contribute to solving the internal social, political and economic problems of the area.” Indeed, one could imagine such a statement appearing almost verbatim in the internal documents of the Obama administration related to Egypt’s ongoing revolution.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.

Notes

[1] Peter L. Hahn, “Containment and Egyptian Nationalism: The Unsuccessful Effort to Establish the Middle East Command, 1950-53,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 11, No. 1, January 1987), pages 25-26.

[2] Maurice Jr. Labelle, “‘The Only Thorn': Early Saudi-American Relations and the Question of Palestine, 1945-1949,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 35, No. 2, April 2011), pages 259-260.

[3] Letter from President Roosevelt to James M. Landis, American Director of Economic Operations in the Middle East, Concerning the Vital Interest of the United States in the Middle East, Foreign Relations of the United States, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, 6 March 1944.

[4] Report by the Coordinating Committee of the Department of State, “Draft Memorandum to President Truman,” Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers, The Near East and Africa, Vol. 8, 1945, page 45.

[5] Lloyd C. Gardner, Three Kings: The Rise of an American Empire in the Middle East After World War II (The New Press, 2009), page 96; Noam Chomsky, “Is the World Too Big to Fail?” Salon, 21 April 2011: http://www.salon.com/2011/04/21/global_empire_united_states_iraq_noam_chomsky/

[6] Toru Onozawa, “Formation of American Regional Policy for the Middle East, 1950-1952: The Middle East Command Concept and Its Legacy,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 29, No. 1, January 2005), pages 120-121.

[7] Peter L. Hahn, op. cit., page 24.

[8] Ibid, pages 28-29.

[9] Toru Onozawa, op. cit., pages 125-127.

[10] Peter L. Hahn, op. cit., pages 34-35.

[11] Ibid, pages 36-39.

[12] H.W. Brands, “The Cairo-Tehran Connection in Anglo-American Rivalry in the Middle East, 1951-1953,” The International History Review (Vol. 11, No. 3, August 1989), pages 446-447.

[13] Ibid, pages 451-452.

[14] Barry Rubin, “America and the Egyptian Revolution, 1950-1957,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 97, No. 1, Spring 1982), pages 76-80.

[15] Amy L. S. Staples, “Seeing Diplomacy Through Bankers’ Eyes: The World Bank, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Crisis, and the Aswan High Dam,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer 2002), pages 410-414.

[16] Geoffrey Warner, “The United States and the Suez Crisis,” International Affairs (Vol. 67, No. 2, April 1991), pages 304-308.

[17] Ibid, pages 308-309.

[18] Document 40, “Special National Intelligence Estimate,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 16, Suez Crisis, 31 July 1956.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Document 62, “Paper by the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant (Russell),” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 16, Suez Crisis, 4 August 1956.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Document 175, “Special National Intelligence Estimate,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 16, Suez Crisis, 5 September 1956.

[23] Document 455, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 302d Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, November 1, 1956, 9 a.m.,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 16, Suez Crisis, 1 November 1956.

[24] Peter L. Hahn, “Securing the Middle East: The Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, (Vol. 36, No. 1, March 2006), pages 39-40.

[25] Ibid, page 41.

[26] Document 161, “Paper Prepared in the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs and the Policy Planning Staff,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iran; Iraq, 5 December 1956.

[27] Document 178, “Operations Coordinating Board Report,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iran; Iraq, 22 December 1956.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Document 5, “National Security Council Report,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 24 January 1958.

[30 - 34] Ibid.

[35] Document 35, “Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Planning Board,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 29 July 1958.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Document 36, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 374th Meeting of the National Security Council,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 31 July 1958.

[38] Document 40, “Special National Intelligence Estimate,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 12 August 1958.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Document 42, “Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Planning Board,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 19 August 1958.

Egypt Under Empire, Part 1: Working Class Resistance and European Imperial Ambitions

Egypt Under Empire, Part 1: Working Class Resistance and European Imperial Ambitions

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at The Hampton Institute

egypt

Egypt is one of the most important countries in the world, geopolitically speaking. With a history spanning some 7,000 years, it is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, sitting at the point at which Africa meets the Middle East, across the Mediterranean from Europe. Once home to its own empire, it became a prized possession in the imperial designs of other civilizations, including the Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Byzantine to the Islamic and Ottoman Empires, and subsequently the French, British and Americans. For any and every empire that has sought to exert control over the Middle East, Asia or Africa, control over Egypt has been a pre-requisite. Its strategic location has only become more important with each subsequent empire.

For the British to control India – their prized imperial possession – dominance over Egypt was a necessity. With the construction of the Suez Canal, Europe became increasingly dependent upon Egypt as a transport route for trade, energy and warfare, making Europe’s domination of the world increasingly dependent upon their domination of Egypt, particularly for the French and British. For the modern American Empire, which designates all of planet Earth as being under its hegemony, Egypt remains one of the most important countries over which to exert influence: with its strategic location to some of the world’s most prized energy resources, to the maintenance of the Canal route for the benefit of transport and trade – not least of all for America’s European allies – and due to Egypt’s ability to exert influence across Africa, the Middle East, the Arab/Muslim world as a whole, and indeed, across the so-called ‘Third World’ as a whole.

In the past two and half years, Egypt has been experiencing an unprecedented revolutionary struggle. Egypt’s Revolution represents a popular uprising against a domestic dictatorship, the denial of liberties and freedoms, the repression of workers and dissidents, against a global socio-political and economic system (which we commonly refer to as ‘neoliberalism’), and against the American Empire and its many institutional manifestations. Any revolution within Egypt is inevitably a revolution against the American Empire. An uprising – not only against a long-time dictator and his authoritarian imitators who followed – but against the most powerful empire the world has ever known is a powerful symbol to the rest of the world, most of which has known the terror of living under domestic tyranny, and the reality of living under America’s global hegemony.

A good example can go a long way.

This series examines some of Egypt’s recent history as it relates to Empire, and as it has built up to Egypt’s unfinished Revolution.

Egypt and the State-Capitalist Imperial Order

The development of the Egyptian working class, labour activism and nationalism was intimately tied to the expansion of Western imperial expansion and domination over Egypt and much of the rest of the world. In the early 19th century, Egypt was increasingly an autonomous state under the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Muhammad Ali who initiated a process of state-sponsored industrialization. In 1819, his regime constructed European-style factories for military production, agricultural processing and textiles. By the early 1830s, there were 30 cotton mills on operation, employing roughly 30,000 labourers, who were largely recruited from among the landless peasants.[1]

Egypt’s attempt to industrialize followed the examples set by Britain and other European powers – as well as the United States – by imposing protective measures, tariffs on foreign goods and other subsidies for domestic industry in order to allow the country to compete against the heavily protected industries of the European and American economies. Egypt was not the only major country to pursue such a strategy, as India and Paraguay also attempted major state-led industrialization programs. In 1800, Egypt’s GNP was around that of France, higher than both Eastern Europe and Japan, and Paraguay also had comparable economic weight. They were attempting to industrialize, wrote Jean Batou, “in order to avoid dependency and underdevelopment.”[2]

Resistance to these industrialization projects was strong on the part of Britain and other industrial Western powers, which wanted these countries to be in subservient positions to their own. The Europeans – and especially Britain – pressured these countries to “open up” their economies to “free trade” competition with the heavily-protected industrial goods of the West. The result, of course, was that they could not compete on an even basis, and European industrial goods gained the major advantage, forcing these countries to focus on raw goods for export to the rich nations.

In Egypt, a great deal of resistance was also expressed by the new working class, and in the 1830s, the state-led industrialization programs began to decline. Following the death of Muhammad Ali in 1849, few of his industrial programs remained, “and Egypt was well on its way to full integration into a European-dominated world market as supplier of a single raw material, cotton.” If Egypt had succeeded in its industrialization programs, some have suggested, “it might have shared with Japan [or the United States] the distinction of achieving autonomous capitalist development and preserving its independence.”[3]

In the latter half of the 19th century, Egypt made an attempt at increasing its industrial potential, though this time relying primarily upon foreign capital from European powers. The most important example of this was with the foreign financing that led to the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869, which “resulted in the development of the export sector of the economy and its necessary infrastructure,” and in turn, the development of a permanent working class.[4]

Great Britain was the first major power to undergo an industrial revolution, with other European empires and the United States soon to follow. Countries that underwent industrialization did so with heavy state involvement in the form of subsidies and protective tariffs and trade measures, allowing domestic industries and goods to gain a competitive advantage over those of other nations around the world. The global trading system – as an outgrowth of the development of the modern state-capitalist system – became a central facet in the construction and expansion of empire.

The imperial powers – predominantly in the North Atlantic region, the United States and Western Europe, with the later addition of Japan – had to maintain their own influence over the world by ensuring that the rest of the world did not follow their examples of industrialization, and thus, be able to compete with them for regional and global influence. Thus, industrialization – or ‘development’ – in the ‘core’ countries necessarily required de -industrialization – or underdevelopment - in the rest of the world, the global imperial ‘periphery.’

The period between 1770 and 1870 marked “the first phase of the underdevelopment process” for many countries and regions in the world. In 1770, “the present Third World probably had a real income and an industrial product per capita comparable to those of the rest of the world.” Multiple countries attempted state-led and protected industrialization processes in the early nineteenth century – notably Egypt and Paraguay, though lesser efforts at state-led industrialization were made in what are modern-day Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia and Brazil, with more isolated and less state-involved efforts in Mexico and Colombia. By 1870, however, the gap had widened significantly between the industrial powers (Western Europe, North America and Japan), which exported manufactured goods, and the rest of the world, which largely focused on exporting commodities needed for industry.[5]

The “specialization” of economies in the Global South – the ‘Third World’ – made them dependent upon the export of raw materials to the rich, powerful countries, and thus, kept them in a subservient position within the global order. This has been referred to as the “Great Divergence” between the powerful countries and the rest of the world, where the powerful countries industrialized themselves and de-industrialized others.[6] In short, the powerful countries became – and remained – powerful by virtue of their ability to undermine and disempower the rest of the world, pushing them away from independence and autonomy into a position of dependence on the ‘core’ economies.

In 1870, roughly 70% of Egypt’s exports were cotton, and by 1910-14, this had risen to 93%. In 1882, the British occupied Egypt, at which point the country was essentially ruled over by Lord Cromer, “a devout believer” in the ‘free market’ (for every country except Britain). Cromer’s rule of Egypt (1883-1907) coincided with many of the “formative” years for the Egyptian working class, as labour became increasingly exploited in sectors dominated by European capital.[7] Out of a total population of 11 million, Egypt had approximately 350,000 male workers in the 1907 census, with 100,000 in transport and 150,000 in commerce. Thus, by the early 20th century, “Egypt had a modern working class concentrated in its two largest cities and ready to make itself heard.”[8]

Anarchism and a Radical Working Class in Egypt

Added to the increased domestic formation of a working class, a large presence of foreign workers was brought into Egypt to provide the necessary skills for building the country’s infrastructure. Waves of immigrant workers came from Europe, notably Italy and Greece. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, many of these migrant workers brought with them to Egypt the emerging ideologies and philosophies of resistance and revolution which were spreading among the European working classes, notably socialism and anarchism. Italian workers began forming anarchist groups within Egypt, and others soon followed. Egypt’s anarchists quickly established close connections with anarchists in Greece and Turkey, and were developing connections with groups in Tunis, Palestine and Lebanon.[9]

From the 1880s onward, anarchist groups within Egypt – still primarily European in membership – were forming educational groups and starting publications around the country. As the domestic Egyptian labour movement grew, so too did the influence of anarchists, notably anarcho-syndicalists. While still largely Italian in makeup, the anarchist community in Egypt became increasingly multi-ethnic, with the increased presence of Greeks, Jews, Germans, and several Eastern European nationalities. Arab Egyptians became increasingly involved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, specifically within the working class, and notably among the cigarette workers, printers and service employees.[10]

The first major strike in Egypt took place in 1899 among the Cairo cigarette rollers. More strike activity took place in the following years, incorporating both foreign and domestic workers within the country. The primary issues for workers were the long hours, low wages, minimal benefits and oppressive management. Since almost all of Egypt’s large employers were foreign, and the country was under foreign (British) occupation since 1882 (to 1922), “the struggle of Egyptian workers for economic gains converged with the nationalist movement seeking to end British rule.”[11] Thus, resistance to domestic tyranny within Egypt inevitably required resistance to imperial hegemony over Egypt by outside powers.

Anarchists in Egypt created the Free Popular University (UPL) in Alexandria in 1901, “with the aim of providing free evening education to the popular classes… and drew widespread support from across the full range of Alexandrian society.” Classes were given on subjects from the humanities to the sciences, to discussing workers’ associations and women in society, with discussions given in a number of different languages, including Italian, French, and Arabic. As anarcho-syndicalists began building ties with the indigenous Egyptian workers, international (or ‘mixed’) unions were formed between domestic and foreign migrant workers in Egypt, which helped contribute to the 1899 cigarette rollers strike, among other actions.[12]

During World War I, Britain decided that Egypt was now a ‘protectorate,’ and over the course of the war (1914-18), the British “oversaw a policy of clamping down on all political activities, interning nationalists, surveilling or deporting foreign anarchists and closing down newspapers.”[13] In 1919, there was a popular uprising against the British – called the 1919 Revolution – in which nationalists called for the British to leave Egypt and for independence. Workers participated in the form of strikes, demonstrations and clashes with police. Anarcho-syndicalists also played a part in supporting the protests and strikes of the 1919 Revolution.[14]

Ultimately, the British agreed to grant Egypt ‘formal’ independence by 1922, but in the decade and a half that followed World War I, the major political issues revolved around the negotiation of a treaty with Britain and the establishment of a parliamentary regime. The Wafd party, founded in 1918, would quickly become the “embodiment of the Egyptian national movement,” holding a great deal of popular support, winning all of the elections until 1952, but it was largely used as a party through which to co-opt the more radical labour and anti-imperialist elements within Egyptian society. The Wafd encouraged union organization, but only under its umbrella, not independently. When a treaty with Britain was reached in 1936, the Wafd began to lose some of its influence as new political organizations formed, such as the precursor to the Muslim Brotherhood. Labour struggled for more rights, seeking to pass legislation that would, among other things, allow for independent unions. World War II, however, came with the imposition of martial law, but also with increased industrial development within Egypt, and thus, a growing working class.[15]

Between the end of the war and 1952, Egypt “saw the appearance of an active left inside and outside the workers’ movement, a new political scene characterized by new mass organizations and issues, and renewed nationalist struggle including guerrilla action against British forces.” In 1952, Gamal Abdul Nasser and the ‘Free Officers’ orchestrated a bloodless coup, abolished the monarchy and the parliament and installed a nationalist military government under the leadership of Nasser. The coup quickly resulted in the repression of the militant labour movement, bringing workers under the control of the government.[16]

The development and evolution of Egypt’s working class has been intimately tied to the development and evolution of Egypt’s relations with the Western imperial powers and their imposition of a global state-capitalist order. The struggle of workers continued over the following decades, providing a major impetus behind the conditions that led to the start of Egypt’s unfinished Revolution in 2011, where the conditions of workers remain tied to the imperial imposition of a state-capitalist order.

In the next part of this series, I examine the relationship between Arab Nationalism – as propagated by Nasser – and the American Empire’s efforts to exert its influence over the Middle East and much of the rest of the world.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, the research director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and has a weekly podcast with BoilingFrogsPost.

Notes

[1] Zachary Lockman, “Noted on Egyptian Workers’ History,” International Labor and Working Class History (No. 18, Fall 1980), pages 1-2;

Joel Benin, “Formation of the Egyptian Working Class,” MERIP Reports (No. 94, February 1981), page 14.

[2] Jean Batou, “Nineteenth-Century Attempted Escapes from the Periphery: The Cases of Egypt and Paraguay,” Review – Fernand Braudel Center (Vol. 16, No. 3, Summer 1993), pages 279-280, 291-292, 294-295.

[3] Zachary Lockman, “Notes on Egyptian Workers’ History,” International Labor and Working Class History (No. 18, Fall 1980), page 2.

[4] Joel Benin, “Formation of the Egyptian Working Class,” MERIP Reports (No. 94, February 1981), page 15.

[5] Jean Batou, op cit., pages 282-283.

[6] Jeffrey G. Williamson, “Globalization and the Great Divergence: terms of trade booms, volatility and the poor periphery, 1782-1913,” European Review of Economic History (Vol. 12, 2008), pages 357, 379.

[7] Joel Benin, op. cit., page 15.

[8] Zachary Lockman, op. cit., page 2.

[9] Anthony Gorman, “Diverse in Race, Religion and Nationality… But United in Aspirations of Civil Progress: The Anarchist Movement in Egypt 1860-1940,” in Steve Hirsch and Lucien van der Walt (eds), Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1870-1940: The Praxis of National Liberation, Internationalism and Social Revolution (Boston, Brill, 2010), pages 3-6.

[10] Ibid, pages 8-10.

[11] Zachary Lockman, op cit., page 3.

[12] Anthony Gorman, op. cit., pages 18-23.

[13] Ibid, page 26.

[14] Zachary Lockman, op. cit., page 4; Anthony Gorman, op. cit., page 26.

[15] Zachary Lockman, op. cit., pages 4-6.

[16] Ibid, pages 6-7.

Turkey’s Urban Uprising: The Struggle for Democracy Against Inequality, Oligarchy, Oppression and Tyranny

Turkey’s Urban Uprising: The Struggle for Democracy Against Inequality, Oligarchy, Oppression and Tyranny

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

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It began innocently enough, it seemed, when a plan to turn Istanbul’s Gezi Park – located at Taksim Square – into a shopping mall spurred a small group of environmental activists to occupy the park in protest in late May of 2013. Within a week, a wave of urban uprisings had spread across the country, involving hundreds of thousands of protesters, in dozens of cities, met with massive state repression and violence, resulting in a few deaths and thousands of injuries and arrests. The world is now watching Turkey – the connecting landmass between Europe and Asia – once home to the Ottoman Empire, and now home to a profound lesson for the world’s people in a struggle for democracy against inequality, oligarchy, oppression and tyranny.

The Spark in the Park

Small protests began on May 26 attempting to prevent bulldozers from destroying Gezi park in Istanbul after plans were announced to turn the small park – one of Istanbul’s lone green areas – into a shopping center. As Bloomberg explained:

Gezi Park itself is small. Imagine if Manhattan had no Central Park, and authorities decided to cut down the few trees in Union Square to build a mall on it. New Yorkers might have something to say. They might even protest and try to stop construction. And they would probably be upset if President Barack Obama told them that what they thought was irrelevant and sent in riot police to clear them.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has led the country since he was elected in 2003, and is himself a former mayor of Istanbul. As the occupation and protests about the planned destruction of the park continued, Erdogan expressed his sentiment toward the actions and ideas of the protesters, saying on May 29 that, “Whatever you do, we’ve made our decision and we will implement it.”

That day, protesters at Taksim Gezi Park set up tents and engaged in a sit-in, even getting support from opposition politicians in the Turkish government, braving the advances of riot police and tear gas. On top of the plans to build a shopping center, the government was proposing plans to rebuild an old Ottoman barracks on the land. As protesters entered their third night of occupying the park on May 30, riot police were sent in with tear gas to disperse the crowds, removing tents and sleeping bags. The number of people in the park had swelled to thousands.

The courage of the occupiers inspired more to come down to support them, as one Turkish citizen stated, “I saw it on TV last night, saw that there were people, young people taking ownership of the environment. I wanted to support them, because I think not supporting them is inhumane.” A 21-year old architecture student commented on the government response to the protests, “Gas, gas, gas, it is the only way they deal with problems.” Demonstrators in the park began chanting, “this is only the beginning, our struggle will continue,” and Michelle Demishevich, an activist member of Turkey’s Green Party commented: “This is an uprising, a protest against the increasing bans,” referring to the recent upsurge of restrictions imposed by the government, “Perhaps just like we saw the Arab Spring, this will be the Turkish Spring.”

A week prior to the protests, the Turkish parliament rushed through legislation that would place restrictions on alcohol sale and consumption in the country, worrying many retailers and small business owners, among many others. As one resident of Istanbul’s busy Beyoglu district (largely known for its night life) commented, “If Turkey really is a secular state, then the government should not have the right to tell me when and where to drink alcohol… As long as I don’t harm others, drinking is a matter of my own personal freedom.”

Haydar Tas, the owner of a bar in the district commented: “The AKP government wants to control what Beyoglu looks like, and who can be here. In the future, there will be no room for alternative places like ours. All leftist opposition groups, associations and cultural spaces will be rooted out, and the only place to get a drink will be expensive luxury hotels and restaurants. It will be the end of Beyoglu as we know it.” His bar is not merely a place to drink, but also serves an interesting social function, with postings and flyers supporting LBGT rights and environmental issues scattered on tables next to a stack of feminist magazines. Tas stated, “Places like ours do not fit in the AKP’s vision of Istanbul… And restrictions on alcohol consumption will make things harder for us.”

On May 30, as police dispersed protesters at the park with tear gas and water cannons, they even began setting fire to the tents put in place to facilitate the popular occupation. Construction workers immediately moved in to begin work, tearing down trees – some of which were torn down a few days prior, but re-planted by the protesters. One protester even stood in front of a bulldozer to prevent its advancement into the park.

On Friday 31 May, the protests reached a new level, with thousands of people coming out into the streets as Gezi Park sparked a wider general opposition to the government. Thousands of people protested in Istanbul’s main Taksim Square, where there was “an assortment of tear gas canisters everywhere.” As police moved in and began arresting dozens of people, an Al-Jazeera reported stated that, “the protesters are saying that this is not about trees anymore.” As protests continued throughout the day, several people were hospitalized with head injuries, over 100 more were subjected to other injuries, some even lying unconscious on the ground.

In the Turkish capital of Ankara, solidarity protests erupted with over 5,000 people gathering in a park only to be met with riot police and tear gas. Many of the protesters chanted, “Everywhere is resistance, Everywhere is Taksim,” referring to Taksim Square in Istanbul as the main center of protest. One reporter noted that in Istanbul, “We saw a lot of tourists running to different directions. People are trying to take refuge at coffee shops and the homes around the area. Police have been firing tear gas in different directions,” also adding that several protesters were throwing rocks back at the police, though, “the predominant complaint here is that police are firing teargas indiscriminately.”

At Taksim, police used tear gas and chemical spray to disperse the thousands of protesters. What was just days prior an environmental protest had “become a lightning conductor for all the grievances accumulated against the government.” Protesters brought home-made gas masks and called for solidarity protests across the country, while police surrounded the park and enclosed it “under clouds of gas.” The ruling AKP party with Islamist roots represents a “conservative Muslim bourgeoisie” which rose to prominence since the continued neoliberal economic reforms of the 1980s onwards. After having spent more than a decade in power, the AKP has accelerated neoliberal reforms and privatizations which have “led to accelerated inequality, accompanied by repression.”

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One protester who attended the 31 May demonstrations in Istanbul commented, “I’ve been in the protests since yesterday afternoon, it has been a long couple of days for us. Now we’re protesting not because of some trees, but because we’re sick of this oppression and this police brutality against people.” Critics began to compare the Taksim Square protests to those that took place in Egypt’s Tahrir Square in 2011 leading to the fall of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak.

A former Turkish diplomat who is now with the American think tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace stated, “The movement in Tahrir targeted removal of the regime, whereas the reaction in Turkey is against the government’s ruling method. The similarity is the sense of self-empowerment. Until today, ruling as it wished didn’t have any consequences for the government because it kept thinking it can override the opposition, but these protests might be a turning point.” Thousands continued to call for Erdogan to resign in what the Wall Street Journal called the “fiercest antigovernment protests for years.”

Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Bosphorus University stated, “We do not have a government, we have Tayyip Erdogan… Even AK Party supporters are saying they have lost their mind, they are not listening to us,” and added: “This is the beginning of a summer of discontent.”

A local court in Istanbul suspended the project to uproot the trees of Taksim’s Gezi Park, but as images and word reached wider Turkish society regarding the use of excessive police force, thousands more poured into the streets to protest the increasingly authoritarian nature of the government. The protests spread to over a dozen cities across the country. The U.S. State Department issued a statement declaring: “We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing.”

Within Turkey, there was very little television media coverage of the protests, reflecting the “self censorship” exercised by the media, with journalists also being targeted by riot police at the protests. The head of Turkey’s lawyers’ association, Metin Feyzioglu, stated: “The people are demonstrating against the government’s intolerance toward demonstrations… The government must display understanding and immediately stop the violence against the demonstrators.”

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As many Turkish journalists complained that they were being pressured to censor the news, one local journalist stated, “Gezi Park is the new Tahrir of the region.” Another journalist tweeted, “Occupy Gezi is the explosion of anger against the hubris of one man whose ambitions for power are unmeasured.” Adding to the anti-government anger were plans announced in the same week to build a new $3 billion bridge over the Bosphorus named after the 15th century Ottoman Sultan Selim. Erdogan stated, “There might be some petty unpleasantness but our security forces act proportionately.”

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An architecture historian participating in the protests told the media, “The real problem is not Taksim, and not the park, but the lack of any form of democratic decision-making process and the utter lack of consensus. We now have a PM who does whatever he wants.” Sparking further anger on Friday, one politician from the ruling AK Party tweeted, “It looks like some people needed gas… If you go away, you will have a nice day. One has to obey the system.”

Amnesty International issued a press release which demanded that the “Turkish authorities must order police to stop using excessive force against peaceful protesters in Istanbul and immediately investigate alleged abuses.” Observers from Amnesty International who were at the protests were even gassed and hit with truncheons, prompting an Amnesty director to state: “The use of violence by police on this scale appears designed to deny the right to peaceful protest altogether and to discourage others from taking part… The use of tear gas against peaceful protestors and in confined spaces where it may constitute a serious danger to health is unacceptable, breaches international human rights standards and must be stopped immediately.”

Turkey: The World’s Worst Jailer of Journalists

In December of 2012, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a report which accused Turkey of being “the world’s worst jailer” of journalists, with 49 behind bars for writing or publishing pieces the government dislikes. Turkey was ahead of both Iran and China, with worldwide imprisonment of journalists reaching a record high in 2012, “driven in part by the widespread use of charges of terrorism and other anti-state offenses against critical reporters and editors,” tallied at 232, an increase of 53 from 2011. An Istanbul-based editor commented that, “the government does not differentiate between these two major things: freedom of expression and terrorism.”

A special CPJ report on Turkey noted: “Authorities have imprisoned journalists on a mass scale on terrorism or anti-state charges, launched thousands of other criminal prosecutions on charges such as denigrating Turkishness or influencing court proceedings, and used pressure tactics to sow self-censorship.” As the Guardian commented in 2012, “modern, secular, western-oriented Turkey, with its democratically elected government, has locked away more members of the press than China and Iran combined,” with nearly 100 journalists behind bars, according to numbers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). And it wasn’t just the press which was a major target: “students, academics, artists and opposition MPs have all recently been targeted for daring to speak out against the government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his mildly Islamist Justice and Development Party.” An Al-Jazeera journalist visiting Turkey was harassed and detained by police, who went through his possessions and, while reading a news transcript, voiced their objections to describing Turkey as having an “increasingly authoritarian government.” As the journalist later wrote: “Who says that Turks don’t do irony?”

Press freedom continued to decline into 2013, and despite rhetoric from the government years earlier to allow for a more “open” society, Turkey’s respect for freedom of the press and freedom of expression has declined under the rule of Erdogan. Internet freedom under Erdogan has also “largely disappeared,” with the government passing legislation to facilitate “mandatory filtering of content.”

In an interview with the German publication Deutsche Welle in early May 2013, Turkish journalist Ragip Duran commented on the decline of press freedom in his country: “In the past, our colleagues were killed, newspaper offices were bombed out, the military used repression, there was censorship. Today, journalists are no longer killed. But while in the past we had to go to our colleagues’ funerals, we now have to visit them in prison or attend trials in court. There is a lot more censorship, self-censorship and pressure on media outlets and on journalists in comparison to 20 or 30 years ago.”

Students, Scholars and Dissidents

Scholars and academics have also come under extensive repression. As one journalist noted: “the number of people charged, mostly under anti-terrorism legislation, for some ‘crime’ that has a political angle, be they journalists, elected deputies, protesting students, human rights activists or environmentalists — with many languishing in prison — almost matches the number of people in a similar situation under military rule in Turkey in the past.” One Amnesty International researcher referred to the number of intellectuals imprisoned in Turkey as “staggering.

In December of 2010, hundreds of students protested Prime Minister Erdogan as he met in Ankara with officials at the Middle East Technical University. Turkish police used batons and tear gas to disperse the student protesters, arresting roughly 50 students at the demonstration. As students then protested against the excessive use of force by police, the police responded by pepper spraying them. One female student who threw an egg at a State Minister during a protest in Ankara was facing up to two years and four months in prison as “an attack on a public official’s honor, pride and prestige.” Among her immense crimes was that she apparently ruined the left shoulder of the minister’s jacket.

In 2010, when three students attended a public meeting help by Prime Minister Erdogan, they unveiled a banner reading, “We want free education, we will get it.” Two of those students were then sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for “membership of a terrorist organization” while the third was sentenced to two years and two months in prison for “spreading terrorist propaganda.”

Source: DHA

Source: DHA

In 2013, an internationally renowned Turkish pianist was sentenced to ten months in prison for a Tweet which the government considered a violation of the law against “publicly insulting religious values that are adopted by a part of the nation.”

In August of 2012, the Turkish Ministry of Justice revealed that there were 2,824 students who had been arrested since the beginning of the year, with over 1,700 of them charged with a crime, and over 600 of which were charged with “being a member of an armed terrorist organization.” A month earlier, the Solidarity with Arrested Students Platform reported that there were 771 students in prison across the country. As one university academic commented: “None of the students have exerted violence against anyone. Most of them are not members of any illegal organization, although they are charged with making propaganda for them. The issues they are charged with are asking for free education or education in Kurdish. According to a decision by the Supreme Court in 2008, one can be charged with making illegal propaganda for participating a protest held by an organization.”

Politically active students had been subjected to dramatically increased state repression under Erdogan. The Turkish Minister of Education reported that in 2010 and 2011, “a total of 7,043 college students have been subjected to disciplinary investigations at their colleges. 4,602 of them have received suspensions while 55 have been expelled.” A group of university faculty even set up a white board outside a prison in Northwestern Turkey as a symbolic lesson to the students held captive inside, with one participating professor beginning the lecture by saying, “We came here for our students under arrest. This is not their place, they should be at their classrooms.” As students were increasingly detained under draconian anti-terror laws put in place by the Erdogan government, students and other members of society held solidarity protests with the imprisoned youth.

As Erdogan was advancing his program for the privatization of university education, over a thousand students protested in the streets in late December of 2012, met with over 3,000 police officers using tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets.

In recent years, Turkey has imprisoned thousands of political prisoners for associating with the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democratic Party (BDP), which the Turkish government considers to be a terrorist organization because it advocates for the rights of Kurdish citizens. Among the thousands arrested under anti-terrorism measures for associating with the BDP were writers, academics, parliamentarians, mayors, and students. Some academics were arrested simply for delivering speeches to the BDP, prompting Amnesty International to condemn the government.

In January of 2013, the Turkish government arrested 15 human rights lawyers “known for defending individuals’ right to freedom of speech and victims of police violence.” Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey, Andrew Gardner, noted: “The detention of prominent human rights lawyers and the apparent illegal search of their offices add to a pattern of prosecutions apparently cracking down on dissenting voices.” Gardner added: “Human rights lawyers have been just some of the victims in the widespread abuse of anti-terrorism laws in Turkey. The question to ask is: who will be left to defend the victims of alleged human rights violations?

Human Rights Watch also spoke out against the arrests, with the lead researcher on Turkey commenting, “Police raids against lawyers at 4 a.m., their arrest and imprisonment are part of a wider clampdown on those who oppose the government.” The researcher, Emma Sinclair-Webb, added: “What makes the latest arrests particularly disturbing is that these lawyers are well-known for acting on behalf of those whose rights have been violated by the state.” Official figures revealed in May of 2012, Sinclair-Webb said, “suggest that many thousands are in prison for terrorism offenses, many of them political activists, students, journalists, and human rights defenders… Most have committed no offense that could or should be described as terrorism under international law.”

Turkey: A “Model Democracy”?

When Barack Obama spoke to the Turkish parliament in 2009, he referred to Turkey as a “strong and secular democracy,” and that the country was “a critical ally” of the United States, emphasizing his “commitment to our strong and enduring friendship.”

In an article for Christian Science Monitor, Reza Aslan, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote that following several constitutional reforms in 2010, Turkey had taken “another step toward solidifying its position as the new superpower of the Middle East: the shining model of what a modern, Muslim-majority democracy can achieve if given the opportunity.”

As Hosni Mubarak, the military dictator of Egypt, was facing immense opposition in the streets of Tahrir Square and elsewhere across the country in February of 2011 – as the Arab Spring was spreading across the region – Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan stated, “No government can remain oblivious to the democratic demands of its people… There isn’t a government in history that has survived through oppression. Know that governments that turn a blind eye to their people cannot last long.”

As Time Magazine noted, with the unrest spreading across the region in early 2011, many commentators were pointing to Turkey’s “successful melding of a largely Muslim population with an officially secular and working democracy as a role model for what might come next.” In September of 2012, Erdogan declared that, “We called ourselves conservative democrats. We focused our change on basic rights and freedom… This stance has gone beyond our country’s borders and has become an example for all Muslim countries.”

In light of the Arab Spring, Hugh Pope of the International Crisis Group stated that, “Turkey is the envy of the Arab world… It has moved to a robust democracy, has a genuinely elected leader who seems to speak for the popular mood, has products that are popular from Afghanistan to Morocco — including dozens of sitcoms dubbed into Arabic that are on TV sets everywhere — and an economy that is worth about half of the whole Arab world put together.”

On May 24, 2013, a few days prior to the current protests and police repression erupting across the country, the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Besir Atalay, spoke at the 38th Congress of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), declaring: “We enhanced suspect and defendant rights and custody conditions. We based our solutions for all problems, including terror, on more democracy, freedom and pluralism. We have lifted the legal barriers on free expression of non-violent and non-threatening thoughts. We have made great efforts to normalize Turkey.” He also explained that Turkey “used to have problems” in regards to human rights problems, but the country has “changed a lot.

Apparently, two days later, it changed back.

No Stranger to Atrocities

Turkey’s horrific human rights record is most revealed by its treatment of the large Kurdish ethnic minority, with a 30-year war between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which killed upwards of 40,000 people. Those within Turkey – whether academics, journalists, or politicians – who support nonviolent Kurdish resistance are considered by the government to be “terrorists” and are often jailed.

As the Turkish government undertook a massive counterinsurgency program against the PKK specifically and the Kurdish population of Turkey more generally, tens of thousands were murdered, tortured and imprisoned. At the height of Turkish state atrocities, the country was a major recipient of U.S. military aid. A 1995 report from Human Rights Watch concluded that: “the U.S. is deeply implicated in the Turkish government’s counterinsurgency policy and practices through its provision of arms and political support, and is aware of the abuses being committed, but has chosen to downplay Turkish violations for strategic reasons.”

In the decade between 1985 and 1995, the United States had supplied Turkey with nearly $8 billion in military aid, putting the country just behind Israel and Egypt as the largest recipients of American military subsidies. In a civil war that began between the PKK and the Turkish government in 1984, atrocities were committed on both sides, however, with U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter jets, the Turkish government was able to destroy entire Kurdish villages, displace millions of people, and killed tens of thousands of Kurds. As the Turkish war against the Kurds escalated in 1992, “American military aid to Turkey…  escalated as well.” As the New York Times reported in 1995, the United States “provide[d] 85 percent of Turkey’s arms imports and 90 percent of its military aid.”

Between 1984 and 1999, the Turkish war against the Kurds claimed upwards of 37,000 lives, mostly Kurdish, as well as the destruction of roughly 3,000 Kurdish villages. In that same amount of time, the United States supplied Turkey with roughly $10.5 billion in U.S. weapons, according to a 1999 joint report from the World Policy Institute and the Federation of American Scientists.

A 1999 report from the U.S. State Department read: “Turkey is vitally important to U.S. interests. Its position athwart the Bosporus – at the strategic nexus of Europe, the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Caspian – makes it an essential player on a wide range of issues vital to U.S. security, political, and economic interests. In a region of generally weak economies and shaky democratic traditions, political instability, terrorism, and ethnic strife, Turkey is a democratic secular nation that draws its political models from Western Europe and the United States. Turkey has cooperated intensively with the U.S. as a NATO ally and is also vigorously seeking to deepen its political and economic ties with Europe.”

In 1992, President Bill Clinton pledged “to reduce the proliferation of weapons of destruction in the hands of people who might use them in very destructive ways.” In the first six years of the Clinton administration, the United States supplied Turkey with $4.9 billion in U.S. weapons, “more than four times as large as the entire value of U.S. arms transfers to Turkey during the 34 years from 1950 to 1983.”

Even in 2007, the United States continued to help Turkey in providing intelligence and other support for attacks against Kurdish separatists. In early 2009, the government of Turkey announced a “Kurdish Opening,” relaxing restrictions on rights to Kurds and allowing for amnesty for PKK fighters. Later that year, when Kurds held a parade for returning PKK militants, the government changed its mind and in October of 2009, the Kurdish “opening” was closed. In 2010, an American journalist was arrested and deported for writing about the plight of the Kurds.

In March of 2011, inspired by events taking place in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) called for a “civil disobedience” campaign against the Turkish government in support of Kurdish rights. Beginning with a 20,000 strong sit-in strike, a BDP representative stated, “The government will not solve this problem… We want the process to be intervened in through civil politics, the democratic power of the people and civil-disobedience actions.” The demands they were asking for included “education in mother tongue, the release of political prisoners, an end to military and political operations [against Kurds] and the elimination of the 10 percent [election] threshold.” They further emphasized that all their actions would be “democratic and peaceful.

As the Kurdish protests continued through April, one BDP representative stated, “Our struggle is not just for our rights, but to bring democracy to Turkey.” In May of 2011, Erdogan declared that, “There is no longer a Kurdish question in this country. I do not accept this. There are problems of my Kurdish brothers, but no longer a Kurdish question.” By late May, it was reported that more than 2,500 activists engaging in civil disobedience for Kurdish rights had been “taken into custody” over the previous 50 days.

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As Erdogan won another national election in June of 2011, the BDP threatened further civil disobedience if their rights were not recognized in a new constitution. As pro-Kurdish protesters marched in Istanbul in late June, they were met with riot police and tear gas. Protests sparked up once again in December of 2011 following the government killing 35 Kurdish civilians in an airstrike, mistaking them for militants. In early January of 2012, the government said it would compensate the families of the 35 Kurdish victims for killing the wrong people.

In November of 2012, roughly 700 prisoners in Turkey had gone on hunger strike in support of Kurdish rights. However, a few weeks later the hunger strike ended after a jailed Kurdish PKK leader called for an end to it. In February of 2013, Kurdish protesters clashed with Turkish riot police once again. By March of 2013, a ceasefire was announced between the government and the PKK. However, major issues remain, as Turkish law “still equates Kurdish identity politics with abetting terrorism,” and there exist “8,000 or so pro-Kurdish political activists held in pretrial detention under Turkey’s sweeping antiterrorism laws.” In the previous year and a half, violence between the Kurds and Turkish government had been the worst in more than a decade with over 900 people killed, and it was in that same amount of time that roughly 8,000 Kurdish journalists, politicians, and activists were imprisoned, and remained so by May of 2013.

Clearly, the struggle for democracy in Turkey has to include the Kurds front and center.

Neoliberalism and the Economic Oligarchy in Turkey

The grievances in Turkey are not simply the result of the plans to demolish a park, or the lack of democracy and heavy-handed police repression, but also of the economic reforms which often go hand-in-hand with democratic decline. Indeed, Turkey’s economy is dominated – like most countries – by a very small oligarchy, which is itself highly integrated with the global state-capitalist oligarchy of bankers, corporations and policy-makers.

Following the decline and demise of the Ottoman Empire, the modern Turkish republic was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, establishing the ideology of ‘Kemalism,’ which sought to modernize Turkey along the same lines as the Western European powers. Nationalist elites arose through the 1920s and 30s, directing Turkey’s state capitalist order, where “the state bureaucracy operated as the original source of capitalist accumulation.”[1]

The Turkish state then “literally created big private businesses within a society where a self-developed business class had been absent.” With the onset of the Great Depression, “Turkish industrial and commercial entrepreneurs rushed to engage in speculative activities that adversely affected the national economy,” leading to increased hostility toward business interests. Corruption and profiteering became rampant within Turkish industry, especially during World War II. Legislation was even introduced in 1942 to punish war profiteers.[2]

The Kemalist state pursued a state monopoly from the 1920s onward largely by nationalizing major sectors of the economy, including “the railways, telecommunications, port facilities, and mining and textile corporations, most of which had been in the hands of foreigners.” Following World War II, the capitalists revolted against the one-party rule of the Kemalist People’s Party and installed “a pseudo-democracy under the leadership of the Democratic Party (DP), which represented landlords and capitalists.”[3] With some outside pressure coming from the United States to allow for “multi-party politics,” the government caved to the U.S. and the Democratic Party came to power in 1950, with the party and Prime Minister Adnan Menderes “committed to the demands of private business.”[4]

At that point, the country began a process of economic development through import substitution industrialization (ISI), whereby the aim was to reduce dependency on foreign imports by focusing on domestic production of industrial goods. This helped facilitate an export boom, “and triggered the explosive growth of urban industrial centres.” As John Lovering and Hade Türkmen wrote in the journal International Planning Studies, this process “lead to the consolidation of a set of protected industrial corporations, a new state-industrial managerial elite, the growth and urbanization of an industrial working class, and the institutionalization of one-way rural-urban migration.”[5]

The major Turkish conglomerates which arose maintained family ownership of the firms and their subsidiaries through the formation of large holding companies, the first ones of which were established in 1955, the Deva Holding and the Sinai & Mali Yatirim Holding. The political instability which resulted from the “state-business collusion under pseudo-democracy” led to the May 1960 military coup. The military arrested the prime minister, president, cabinet members, and took control of key government posts. These original holdings collapsed without the support of the DP. As Ingyu Oh and Recep Varcin wrote in the journal Third World Quarterly, “the new top-down Mafioso state bred and protected new holdings,” much larger than those established under the DP government. Notably, in 1963, the Koc Holding was established, owned by the Koc family.[6]

In 1971, another military coup took place, though the major holdings remained, “mainly because of their sheer size and market power in the Turkish economy.” These holdings then formed an interest group called the Association of Turkish Industrialists and Employers (TUSIAD), which consisted of the membership of the large holding companies of Koc, Sabanci, Tekfen, Eczacibasi and Yasar.[7]

Founded in the same year as the military coup (1971), TUSIAD’s “members sought to increase the legitimacy of private enterprise as an acceptable endeavor and path towards development.” The members of TUSIAD “owed the success and even existence of their firms to state contracts and subsidies that they had managed to obtain through informal access to officials and government.”[8]

Throughout the 1970s, squatter areas in the cities – in large part created by the massive urban migration of the rural poor in previous decades – had led to increased tensions and conflicts, as these “areas of the cities became battlegrounds fought over by nationalist, fascist, Maoist, Guevarist, anarchist, socialist and Islamist factions.”[9] These “antagonistic class relations” had begun “to undermine corporatist state-labor relations and to weaken the position of the oligarchs.”[10]

In 1979, as Turkey was in economic trouble – along with much of the rest of the ‘Third World’ – the TUSIAD flexed its political muscle and published newspaper ads “criticizing the reluctance of the then Prime Minister Ecevit in the full adoption of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) measures.” Some observers credit this letter with leading to the military coup that took place in 1980.[11]

When the new military government came to power, TUSIAD openly endorsed it, rather than supporting the previous democratically-elected government which the business organization had criticized. In fact, the owner of Koc Holding – the largest Turkish conglomerate – Vehbi Koc, “sent a letter to the new military leaders to publicize his support.” Other major holdings even appointed military generals to their boars of directors. In Turkey, “frequent military coups further reduced the military’s grip on the economy, while the Holdings could cash in on political instability by continuing to expand through co-opting each new set of military leaders.”[12]

Immediately following the coup, the military government attempted to restore order to Turkey “by dissolving the parliament, the political parties, trade unions, and civil society organizations and by banning the party leaders from re-entering politics.” The only major organization which was not dissolved or co-opted by the military dictatorship was TUSIAD.[13] The process not only involved “dissolving” the groups, but also purging them of membership, as the army “imprisoned and killed activists and trade unionists, replaced suspect academics with complaint ‘Pyjama Professors’ appointed overnight, and drew up a new and less permissive constitution.”[14]

The overthrow of the democratic government and its replacement with a military dictatorship in 1980 marked the beginning of the neoliberal era in Turkey. One of the most influential figures during this period – Turkey’s equivalent of Thatcher or Reagan – was Turgut Ozal. Having risen through the state bureaucracy responsible for economic management in the 1960s and 1970s, he then went to go work for the World Bank. Between 1973 and 1979, Ozal returned to Turkey to work in the private sector, including holding a top position at the Sabanci Corporation, one of Turkey’s largest family holdings. As the government began negotiations with the IMF in 1979, Ozal was appointed as the main figure responsible for implementing the IMF’s demanded reforms in 1980. When the civilian government that appointed him was overthrown by the military, the new government kept Ozal on, and the interim government elevated him to the position of Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Economic Affairs.[15]

Ozal had to resign from his post in 1982 due to a scandal, but at that time, he began to organize a new political party, the Motherland Party (ANAP). When the military government held elections in 1983, the ANAP won a majority and Ozal became Prime Minister. He would later be re-elected in 1987, and would become President in 1989 until his death in 1993. Thus, “from January 1980 to November 1989, albeit with the interruption of a brief period, Turkey experienced extraordinary continuity in economic leadership.”[16]

As Prime Minister, Ozal implemented policies of trade liberalization, opening up Turkey to foreign markets, and even made steps toward encouraging the privatization of state owned enterprises (though this would not accelerate until later). Ozal also implemented austerity measures, reducing public spending and increasing various taxes on the population. At the same time, his government provided tax rebates and major subsidies to Turkey’s large holding conglomerates, providing “incentives” for the companies to export more, and to establish subsidiary “foreign trade companies” with the purpose of transitioning Turkey into “an export-led economic order.” Thus, in 1980, Turkey’s exports were valued at $2.9 billion (U.S.), and in 1989 this increased to $12.9 billion. Ozal was able to implement these neoliberal reforms precisely because the military government prior to his administration had already banned the opposition parties and political elites, and “the armed forces violently suppressed trade unions and leftist groups in order to safeguard the unpopular reform measures in the face of bottom-up pressures.”[17]

In the late 1980s, Ozal had to bow to popular pressure and allow other political elites and parties to return to the process, and following the 1989 election, he became president of the republic. His policies over the previous decade “disproportionately benefitted the established family business oligarchs.”[18]

At the same time Ozal became President of the Turkish Republic, leadership changed within the business organization TUSIAD, where in the 1980s its focus was almost exclusively on economic issues, under the direction of Cem Boyner in 1989 it “began to focus on political issues again,” publishing reports into the 1990s promoting various rights and local government privileges. In 1997, TUSIAD published the report Perspectives on Democracy, promoting various democratic reforms within the country. Many within TUSIAD were interested in advancing their relationship with the European Union, which would require specific reforms to join, and throughout the 1990s many of the big conglomerates were “becoming increasingly international and were moving towards more capital-intensive sectors of industry.” Thus, they needed access to new technologies and foreign investment, as well as the creation of a qualified labour force and domestic market. These interests “required the kinds of institutions found in democracies, such as the rule of law, and also went hand-in-hand with the more social aspects of democracy.”[19] Though, of course, there are limitations to how far oligarchs are willing to reform.

The post-Ozal governments through the 1990s, however, failed to advance the neoliberal agenda as well as their predecessor, reverting to more familiar patterns of corruption (and not to mention, waging a massive war against the Kurds). This led to the emergence of new Islamist parties “that were able to present themselves as comparatively untainted by corruption,” as well as being “pro-market.” In the mid-1990s, many Islamist governments were taking control of local governments and cities.[20]

With the concentration of economic power in so few hands, and with an increased focus on financialization instead of industrialization, Turkey experienced an economic crisis in 1994. At this point, the IMF was called in and established a program with Turkey calling for austerity measures and various other structural reforms.[21] The result was predictable: income distribution accelerated its shift from industrial sectors and labour/wages toward financial sectors, controlled by the large conglomerates. In the aftermath of the crisis, wages for workers in manufacturing sectors declined by 30% in the private sector and 18% in the public sector. In 1995, “growth” was restored to Turkey in the form of more financial speculation, leading to the next economic crisis from 2000-2001, which again forced labour markets to suffer in response to the crisis.[22]

With the 2000/2001 crisis, the IMF came to the “rescue” once again, and this time, the Turkish technocrat responsible for implementing the ‘reforms’ was Kemal Dervis, who had a long career at the World Bank. Many segments of the population, however, “identified him as an agent of the IMF, transplanted to Turkish politics by external forces… a representative of the transnational capital and narrowly-based Istanbul elites.”[23] Dervis went on to head the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and is currently a vice president at the Brookings Institution, a major American think tank. He is also a senior adviser to Sabanci University and is on the international advisory board of Akbank, one of Turkey’s largest banks.

The international advisory board of Akbank is made up of a collection of prominent global plutocrats, including Josef Ackermann, former chairman and CEO of Deutsche Bank, currently the chairman of Zurich Insurance Group who sits on the boards of Siemens, Royal Dutch Shell, and Investor AB, as well as holding leadership positions with the World Economic Forum and the Bilderberg Group.

In 2002, a new political party was formed by the former mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the main representative of the ‘Muslim business class,’ Abdullah Gul. The new party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), “was able to present itself as fresh, democratic and economically rational, especially to global audiences.” After winning the election that year and coming to power in 2003, Erdogan and the AKP “picked up the neo-liberalizing agenda begun two decades previously, at the same time tightening control over the media and educational appointments.”[24]

Erdogan’s AKP government was the first Turkish government to successfully and rapidly advance the privatization agenda. Since the creation of the privatization agency under Ozal in 1985 until 2002, privatizations had only generated $9.5 billion. Yet, between 2002 and 2012, with Erdogan at the helm, privatizations generated over $34 billion, “with most sales occurring in the fields of energy, telecommunications, mining, sugar and tobacco.” The levels of foreign direct investment (foreign corporations entering the Turkish market) also increased, reaching $20 billion in 2007.[25]

The AKP government actively sought the support and participation of the major family conglomerate holdings represented by TUSIAD. The government pursued reforms which were demanded in order to gain possibly entry into the EU, as well as initially continuing to implement the reforms demanded by the IMF. TUSIAD lobbied for support to join the EU, organizing visits with European leaders, and in the first few years of the AKP in power, “both Erdogan and TUSIAD made conscientious efforts to establish direct contact with each other,” and one TUSIAD member even served as an economic adviser to Erdogan.[26]

As Ziya Onis wrote in Third World Quarterly, Erdogan’s AKP party “proved to be highly committed to extend the path of Turkey’s neo-liberal integration to the global economy with a new wave of economic reforms.” Among them were efforts – in the early years of AKP rule – to pass legislation which protected the ‘rights’ of foreign investors, such as the 2003 Foreign Investment Law. Domestic conglomerates were also better positioned “to participate in Turkey’s privatization experiment,” since many of these firms had transnationalized, and were often able to form “strategic partnerships with foreign firms [which] rendered the job of the government easier for legitimizing a large-scale privatization program to the public.”[27] One such strategic partnership was established between the world’s largest corporation – Shell – and Turkey’s largest conglomerate – Koc Holding – in the privatization of TÜRPAS, a major Turkish oil refining complex.[28]

TUSIAD has increased its membership from 140 in 1975 to roughly 600 in 2008, but “it still remains the voice of the few families who own the largest holdings in Turkey,” and the way in which it is structured and managed by its High Advisory Council and board of directors “reflects an attempt to safeguard the control of key families.” As Devrum Yavuz wrote in the journal Government and Opposition, “in a context where a pro-business party is lacking, business associations can work to give members of capital a more legitimate and less reactionary way of participating in debates,” and thus, “TUSIAD works as the bourgeoisie’s ‘party’ and its more informed members help formulate its ideology.”[29]

TUSIAD’s High Advisory Council was chaired by Vehbi Koc from the organization’s founding in 1971 until 1979. His son, Rahmi Koc, joined the High Advisory Council in 1989, and was chairman from 1990 until 1994. His eldest son, Mustafa Koc, chaired the council from 2005 to 2010. The Koc family have also been fairly consistent members of the board of TUSIAD, as well as honourary chairmen.

In 2010, the Koc family had a wealth valued at more than $10 billion, making them Turkey’s richest family, with Koc Holding being active in the automotive, energy, petrochemical, retail, food and finance sectors. Other prominent Turkish dynasties, such as the Sahenk and Sabanci families also topped the list of the country’s wealthiest people. These families have been able to dramatically increase their wealth through directly or jointly owning large banks, with the Sahenk family partnering with Garanti Bank, the Sanbaci’s with Akbank, and the Koc family with Yapı Kredi Bank, of which Mustafa Koc is chairman.

As Tayyip Erdogan became Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003, Koc Holding’s then-chairman Rahmi Koc handed his position over to the eldest of his three sons, Mustafa Koc. As he took up his new position, Mustafa Koc expressed confidence in the newly-elected AKP government, explaining, “the people who propelled Mr Erdogan to power were voting against the old guard of corrupt politicians. If he deviates from secularism, they will bring him down.” Mustafa added: “We have excellent relations with the prime minister… and he listens to what we have to say.”

Rahmi Koc (left) and PM Erdogan (right)

Rahmi Koc (left) and PM Erdogan (right)

As of early 2013, Koc Holding “owns all of Turkey’s oil refining capacity,” and like the Rockefeller family in the United States, they have imprinted their name and influence across all sectors of society, with five museums and galleries established by family members, “and hospitals, schools and universities all bear their name.”

Today, Mustafa Koc is the quintessential example of a top representative of a national oligarchy who is deeply integrated with the global oligarchy. Not only is he chairman of the board of Turkey’s largest conglomerate and honorary chairman of TUSIAD, but he is also a member of the international advisory council of the world’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase, as well as sitting on the international advisory board of Rolls Royce. Mustafa sits on the Global Advisory Board of the most influential think tank in the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations; he is a member of the Steering Committee of one of the world’s most influential international think tanks, the Bilderberg Group, and is on the advisory board of Monument Capital Group. He is also a former member of the international advisory board of the National Bank of Kuwait.

Mustafa Koc

Mustafa Koc

At the June 2013 Bilderberg Meeting, taking place in the midst of the mass protests in Turkey, Mustafa Koc participated alongside several other Turkish members, including a columnist for Milliyet Newspaper, as well as Ali Babacan, the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic and Financial Affairs; the president of the Retail and Insurance Group of Sabanci Holdings; Soli Ozel, a lecturer at Kadir Has University and columnist with Habertürk Newspaper and Safak Pavey, a member of the Turkish parliament for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). Koc and the other Turkish participants met at Bilderberg with prominent members of the global plutocracy, including top executives and board members of Deutsche Bank, Zurich Insurance Group, Barclays, BP, Investor AB, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Royal Dutch Shell, as well as top European Union officials, heads of state, elite academics, think tanks, media conglomerates, and the heads of international organizations like the IMF.

In 2006, Prime Minister Erdogan attended the 80th anniversary celebration of Koc Holding, shortly following honourary president Rahmi Koc having made a statement about Turkey’s “stable” economic environment as being owed largely “to the success of a one-party government.” Sources informed the Turkish media that “the cordial relations between the most powerful company in Turkey, Koç Holding, and the government were continuing.”

As Bloomberg reported in 2010, Erdogan’s economic policies had helped fuel the rise of a “new elite” in Turkey, which potentially “threaten to overshadow the business dynasties that have dominated Turkey for decades,” though the “old guard” still managed to do very well under Erdogan. In just four years, the Sabanci family’s Sabanci Holding saw revenue rise by 86% to $12.6 billion in 2009, while revenue for Koc Holding doubled between 2004 and 2006. Nahit Kiler, one of Erdogan’s “new elite” and owner of Kiler Holding, whose personal wealth reaches between $500-750 million, credits his success story in construction and energy markets to Erdogan’s government: “We have started these investments with confidence in the government’s decisions… A single-party government without opposition speeds things up.”

In December of 2011, Erdogan met privately in a meeting closed to the press with Rahmi Koc at the president’s palace less than two weeks after Koc publicly complained about the “strain” some economic policies were putting on his business. The meeting also reportedly discussed the possibility of producing a national automobile. Mustafa Koc later publicly came out against the government’s idea of creating a distinctly Turkish car, claiming it would be “commercial suicide.” Koc Holding, which is the largest automaker in Turkey, primarily works through joint ventures with major international automakers such as Ford, Fiat and Renault. With resistance to the government’s idea coming from members of TUSIAD, as well as various criticisms from the members toward Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian government, relations between the organization and the government grew tense. Erdogan has even threatened in late 2012 to boycott TUSIAD, and in April of 2013, TUSIAD’s new chairman complained that they had been unable to have a meeting with the prime minister, “We demanded an appointment with the prime minister… We are the party that has demanded the rendezvous.”

TUSIAD, however, met with several other government officials, including President Abdullah Gül, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, and several opposition figures. TUSIAD was recommending that the government consider three primary measures to add to the constitution: “judicial freedoms, universal rights and freedoms and a change in the democratic representation system.” With these reforms, TUSIAD stated, “then we can be more hopeful about the future of the country.”

Finally, in early May 2013, Erdogan met with TUSIAD leaders in a closed session. Following the meeting, the TUSIAD president Yilmaz stated, “We are on the even of making a quantum leap in prosperity, bringing peace to the country and society.” When Erdogan went to the US in mid-May to meet with President Obama, TUSIAD members also went to meet with their American counterpart business organizations.

TUSIAD’s criticism of the Erdogan government and its advocacy for ‘democratic rights’ should not be mistaken for an interest in genuine democracy. Remember, when it has suited their interests, TUSIAD and the major family conglomerates have always supported coups and dictatorships, so why would they suddenly become strong advocates of ‘democracy’? This is derived from their advocacy of a narrowly defined concept of democracy and democratic rights, one which grants the rule of law and private property rights and thus, prevents governmental interference in their privileges, and out of an interest to join and integrate with their plutocratic counterparts in the European Union, which demands certain democratic rights as a pre-requisite.

Further, in the midst of popular protests and urban rebellions, plutocrats and oligarchs are interested in the maintenance of ‘stability’ and ‘order.’ It is well understood that societies which allow for dissent – even if it remains marginalized and ignored – achieve longer-term stability, for it creates a release valve through which discontent at the social order could reduce its pressure, somewhat akin to opening the flood gates of a dam so as to prevent the dam from breaking. Thus, in the midst of the mass protests against the Erdogan government, TUSIAD issued a public statement declaring: “The disproportionate force used against… the protests have not only harmed the public conscience, they have had demoralizing effect on any efforts over reconciliation.”

So plutocrats may come into conflict with politicians in petty squabbles for power, but ultimately they are playing a game between and with each other – in competition or cooperation – but the main consistency is that power is exercised above and over the actual population as a whole. Erdogan’s government has even run into conflict with the Koc family and Koc Holding.

In December of 2012, as part of the government’s ambitious privatization agenda, Koc Holding won a bid for a 25-year highway concession, the country’s second largest ever privatization, in cooperation with another Turkish conglomerate, Yildiz Holding and a state-owned Malaysian engineering company, UEM. The concession would grant this consortium of three companies to “operate and maintain a network of 1,975km of highways, including the toll roads on two bridges that cross the Bosphorus.” In February of 2013, the Turkish government cancelled the $5.7 billion deal “because the price tag was not high enough.” However, all was not lost for Koc Holding, as in a meeting chaired by Erdogan the previous month, the Turkish defense procurement body agreed to begin talks with the Koc Holding over a $2.5 billion contract for the company to build six warships.

Is Turkey an “Economic Miracle”?

While Turkey’s power politics between plutocrats and politicians may grab headlines, the reality is, as economics professor Sumru Altug of Koc University in Istanbul noted, “When it comes to economy, Erdogan’s politics have always been pragmatic and progressive and that’s what is being acknowledged by all business people, regardless of their political or religious attitudes… At the end of the day, money is money and business is business.” Indeed, under Erdogan’s government, both old and new conglomerates have profited immensely from what is termed “Turkey’s economic miracle.”

Like all self-proclaimed economic “miracles,” it’s only miraculous for a very small minority within society, and it tends to be increasingly difficult for most of the rest of the population. The Istinye Park shopping mall “is an emblem of Turkey’s economic boom,” drawing in the Istanbul elite “with its valet parking and chic boutiques.” Just behind this high-end establishment is a large Istanbul slum housing migrants from the countryside who came to the city in search of work. According to Sinan Ulgen of the Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, based in Istanbul, the wide disparity in Turkish society has been fuelling “alienation and disenfranchisement.” Among the 34 rich countries of the world which comprise the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Turkey has the third highest levels of income inequality (that is, the third highest divides between the rich and poor), even though the country had been experiencing annual economic growth of 3.5% between 2007 and 2011.

Turkish economist Mustafa Sonmez stated: “The social state is missing in Turkey. The highest amount of taxes is collected from the middle and lower classes… For the equal distribution of income you need strong labour unions, but this right has been scaled back since Sept. 12, 1980,” when the military overthrew the government and dissolved unions and killed union activists. Sonmez added: “Workers don’t have a say in income distribution.” Women are especially vulnerable, with restrained access to higher education and where many are encouraged not to work. As of 2011, roughly 30% of Turkish women and 40% of Turks aged 15-24 were employed or actively looking for work. An opposition politician in charge of economic policy for the Republican People’s Party warned: “If the hope of the young to reach the desired living standard gradually fades… Turkey may face serious social issues.”

Turkey has an extremely unequal tax system, as most countries do, whereby “the rich pay only a tiny fraction of their income,” as distinct from their overall wealth, while “about 60-70 percent of the employed and especially poor people’s incomes go to the state as taxes.” According to the most recent stats from the OECD, the top five most unequal countries on earth – in descending order – were Chile, Mexico, Turkey, the United States and Israel, all of which are major examples of neoliberal “success stories” rooted in deeply violent and militaristic societies run by small oligarchies.

The “economic success story” of Turkey, which has tripled the size of its economy over the last decade of Erdogan’s rule, has also featured “a deepening income gap and crimped workers’ rights,” according to a report in EruasiaNet. The Ministry of Family and Social Rights revealed in 2012 that “nearly 40 percent of Turkey’s population of over 75.6 million lives at or below the monthly minimum wage of 773 liras, or about $415.19,” while roughly 6.4% “live below the designated hunger line” at $237.95 per month (or 430 liras). At the same time, according to the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency, “63 percent of the country’s bank deposits belong to a mere one-half of a percent of all account holders.”

In other words, while 40% of Turkey’s population lives in poverty and 6.4% live in hunger, a tiny 0.5% of the population control 63% of the country’s wealth (in bank deposits). Even a columnist at a pro-government newspaper warned in late May of 2013 that, “There is [a] big social gap between rich and poor. Poverty is getting deep[er] every day.” An official with the United Metal Workers Union stated that: “Prices are going up every day, the cost of living is becoming very expensive and workers are in no position to demand extra pay.” Thus, he explained, “what they have to do is work longer and longer hours… It is not even considered overtime anymore.” The OECD even noted that roughly 46% of Turkish employees work “very long hours” compared to the average for OECD countries, where roughly 9% of employees across the 34 OECD countries work ‘very long hours.’ Since the AKP came to power with Erdogan in 2002, “labor union membership has fallen from 9.5 percent of the country’s workforce of 28.9 million to 5.9 percent.”

As Human Rights Watch noted, while the government of Turkey lifted a ban on state workers joining unions in 2004 (under pressure from the EU), the government has continued to persecute union activists under its anti-terror laws, with 67 labour unionists in prison in 2012. Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch warned: “In all of these kind of operations, when you go after labor unionists as terrorists, although you have no evidence of them committing violent activities or inciting violence, it essentially has a chilling effect for the workforce more widely.” Sharan Burrow of the International Labor Union Confederation (ITUC) warned that “the situation is getting worse,” noting: “Workers can’t operate openly, they can’t hold [a] public assembly, and major companies can use laws against workers to choose which unions operate.”

On 1 May 2013 – internationally known as ‘May Day’ marking labour protests – Turkish protests in Istanbul turned violent when riot police used water cannons and tear gas on workers and supporters who defied a ban on protests to demonstrate in the streets. Thousands of police were dispersed into the streets, while government officials refused to give trade unions the right to protest in Taksim Square, “saying construction work there would make any gathering of protesters there too dangerous.” Roughly 72 arrests were made and at least 28 people were injured by the police. May Day protests had been banned for decades in Turkey, though they were officially reinstated in 2010. While tens of thousands of protesters defied the ban and attempted to breach the barriers on the streets established by police forces to prevent entrance to Taksim, heavy-handed repression was used to keep them away, with some protesters reacting by throwing rocks. Several protesters were admitted to hospitals with head traumas and respiratory problems brought on by the tear gas and police assaults.

Erdogan: Barack Obama’s “Outstanding Friend”

Roughly two weeks after Erdogan’s government violently crushed the May Day protests at Taksim, and less than two weeks before he would begin crushing the much larger mass protests across the country, Prime Minister Erdogan went on an official state visit to the United States to meet President Obama on May 16.

Following their meeting, the two heads of state gave a joint press conference, where Obama stated, “It is a great pleasure to welcome my friend, Prime Minister Erdogan, back to the White House,” adding that the U.S. values its relationship with Turkey as being of great importance, “and I value so much the partnership that I’ve been able to develop with Prime Minister Erdogan.” Further, explained Obama, “I want to make sure that we also keep deepening our economic ties with Turkey,” adding: “the progress that Turkey’s economy has made over the last several years I think has been remarkable and the Prime Minister deserves much credit for some of the reforms that are already taking place.” Noting that the United States “has stood with you in your long search for security” (leaving out the part about supplying tens of billions in arms while Turkey killed tens of thousands of Kurds), Obama then said, “we will support efforts in Turkey to uphold the rule of law and good governance and human rights for all.” Presumably, Obama forgot about the thousands of imprisoned journalists, union activists, intellectuals, politicians, students, Kurds, lawyers and human rights activists.

Source: AFP

Source: AFP

At the same press conference, Erdogan stated that, “I am here with close to a hundred business people, and they are holding meetings with their counterparts in the United States,” noting that in the previous ten years, trade between Turkey and the United States had increased from $8-20 billion, but that, “this amount is still not sufficient. We have to increase the amount of trade between our two countries.” Erdogan suggested, “we need to strengthen this relationship with free trade agreements and other agreements.”

In January of 2012, President Obama explained to Time’s Fareed Zakaria that, “the friendships and the bonds of trust that I’ve been able to forge with a whole range of leaders is precisely – or is a big part of what has allowed us to execute effective diplomacy.” Obama then went on to identify five world leaders with whom he has established especially ‘friendly’ and ‘trusting’ relationships: “I mean, I think that if you ask them – Angela Merkel [in Germany], or Prime Minister Singh [in India], or President Lee [in South Korea], or Prime Minister Erdogan [in Turkey], or David Cameron [in the UK] would say, we have a lot of trust and confidence in the President. We believe what he says. We believe that he’ll follow through on his commitments. We think he’s paying attention to our concerns and our interests.” Of course, that’s not to be confused with the ‘interests’ of the people of those countries, but rather the ‘interests’ of the political and economic elites of those countries: oligarchic interests (precisely the same interests Obama serves within the United States itself).

obama-erdogan-300x240

On June 3, several days into the mass protests and state repression and violence, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the United States “supports full freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to protest,” and added that the administration believes “that the vast majority of the protesters have been peaceful, law-abiding, ordinary citizens exercising their rights.” Carney then urged “all parties to refrain from provoking violence.” Carney said that Obama had not spoken to Erdogan since the protests began, but when asked how important stability in Turkey was to Obama, Carney replied: “Turkey is a very important ally. And look, all democracies have issues that they need to work through and we would expect the government to work through this in a way that respects the rights of their citizens.”

On the same day, Secretary of State John Kerry took the same talking points, saying that, “the United States supports full freedom of expression and assembly, including the right of people to peaceful protest,” but that “we are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police,” and added that, “we urge all people involved, those demonstrating and expressing their freedom of expression and those in the government, to avoid any provocations of violence.” Vice President Joe Biden, speaking to the American-Turkish Council, said that, “Turkey’s future belongs to the people of Turkey and no one else. But the United States does not pretend to be indifferent to the outcome.”

The Urban Uprisings Accelerate

Following the first week of protests at Gezi Park and the massive police response which took place in May 31, the protest movement rapidly accelerated and spread across the country, followed closely by massive state repression.

On May 31, the protests had spread to the cities of Izmir and Ankara, while police used water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray to attempt to suppress the crowds, arresting dozens and even sending people to the hospital. Overnight, police had begun to use helicopters to drop tear gas canisters on the protesters below, and at half past one in the morning of June 1, the city of Istanbul was wide awake with people banging pots and bans, blowing whistles, and flashing their lights on and off in solidarity with the protesters.

In the capital of Ankara, protesters lit fires to counter the immense levels of tear gas used by police, and in Istanbul large bonfires were lit alongside overturned vehicles as protesters battled with riot cops. In more than 90 separate protests across the country that day, roughly 1,000 people were arrested. More than a thousand protesters were injured in Istanbul alone, along with several hundred more in Ankara. Helicopters continued to launch tear gas into residential neighbourhoods, and one protester was hit by an armored police truck as it drove through a barricade. One protester stated, “It’s about democracy, and it’s going to get bigger,” while a 60-year old participant explained, “All dictators use the same methods, oppressing their people.” Erdogan arrogantly proclaimed: “If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party.”

On June 2, as the protests continued, Erdogan stated, “I am not going to seek the permission of the [opposition] or a handful of plunderers,” referring to his plans to demolish Gezi Park, adding: “If they call someone who has served the people a ‘dictator,’ I have nothing to say.” Erdogan also claimed the protesters were being “manipulated by the opposition,” calling them “marauders and extremists,” adding that he suspected “foreign powers” were behind the protests.

Most of the protests were organized and publicized through social media, as Turkey’s media failed to cover the protests at all, or downplayed their significance. In the early days of the major protests and clashes with police, CNN Turk was playing “a three-part documentary about penguins rather than cover what is arguably the biggest news story inside Turkey for decades.” Nina Oginanova of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) – which has been highly critical of Erdogan’s jailing of journalists in recent years – commented: “What we’re seeing now is really the product of what has come to be seen as a timid local media, a repressed local media that has made everyone unhappy in Turkey. This is the product of the government’s policy toward the press, particularly the high hostility from the very top toward critical media, toward individual journalists and columnists who have criticized the policies of the AKP.”

cnn-turkey-protests

As the protests continued for days, NTV, one of the country’s largest television networks (and a partner of MSNBC), officially apologized for its failure to cover the protests. Other media outlets began following in step, increasing their coverage of events. One student protester explained, “There has been too much blood shed and they’ve only just now apologized. It’s too late… I’m done with them.” Asli Tunc, professor and head of the Media School at Istanbul Bilgi University commented: “I think there is pressure coming from the grassroots level now, especially from young people who don’t buy newspapers or watch TV news now. They’re just looking at Twitter or blogs. Things are changing rapidly. The way people consume media, especially young people is changing so the media has to adjust, otherwise it will lose all of its advertising revenue.”

It’s no surprise then, that Erdogan stated on June 2 that, “Now we have a menace that is called Twitter… The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.” Erdogan has thus joined the list of Arab and Middle East dictators who have lashed out against social media, and specifically the use of Twitter, Facebook and Youtube in organizing and documenting protests and revolutions. As Erdogan declared he didn’t need “permission” from “marauders” and lashed out against the “menace” of social media, Turkish protesters using social media reacted. One tweet declared, “He’s a dictator… He sounds like Mubarak,” and another in response said, “He’ll end up like him, too.”

Source: EPA

Source: EPA

On Sunday 3 June, the third major day of protests across the country drew tens of thousands of people into the streets, with more than 200 demonstrations in 67 cities, with hundreds of injuries reported. Erdogan referred to the protesters as “a few looters.” It was reported that over the course of the weekend, more than one thousand protesters in Istanbul and 700 in Ankara had been injured, according to the Turkish Doctors’ Association, while roughly 2000 people had been arrested. Barack Obama’s White House called for “calm” and for the Turkish security forces to “exercise restraint” in crushing the protests.

Exercise “Restraint”: The Softer Side of State Repression

While U.S. statements called for “calm” and “restraint” – including urging restraint among the tens of thousands who are being repressed by the security forces – the U.S. has been a leading supplier of Turkish arms and various “crowd control” equipment to Turkey. In 2009 alone, Turkey purchased $1.5 billion in U.S. arms.

At a major international arms dealer convention in Abu Dhabi in February of 2013, several companies from the US, Europe and around the world were encouraging Middle East and North African countries to increase their purchases of arms, especially in light of the Arab uprisings in recent years. A representative from Paramount Group, a major South African defense and security corporation stated, “Every country must invest in the correct equipment for crowd control.” He continued: “The riot catastrophe in Egypt, for example, was greatly exacerbated because police were using inappropriate equipment,” he said, referring to the Egyptian uprising as a “riot catastrophe.” Paramount Group was displaying its new riot control equipment at the arms dealer bonanza, alongside a prominent Turkish company, Otokar, which was displaying the latest in riot control vehicles. The Paramount Group representative went on, explaining: “Appropriate and better-quality anti-riot vehicles and equipment increases police safety, thus reducing the pressure they feel in conflict situations.”

Source: Reuters

Source: Reuters

Steven Adragna of the US-based Arcanum defense firm stated, “If a given state lacks the means, the doctrines, and the training for homeland defense and internal security missions, that government is more likely to use lethal means that are disproportionate.” Thus, he suggested that anti-riot gear could “maintain order,” adding: “If an individual policeman is trained on how to use those devices,” such as batons, shields, shotguns, rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, “I think they are perfectly legitimate.” A Brazilian arms dealer noted, “Rubber bullets come with instructions.” An Italian arms dealer proudly explained, “Egypt is a big customer. Egyptian police have several thousands of this” M3 shotgun, used for “crowd control.” He added: “In the past two years, we had a big increase in purchase orders from the Middle East.”

The Turkish-based Otokar defense firm received a contract from the Turkish government in April of 2013 “to provide tactical armored vehicles to the security forces.” The company has also been seeking to increase exports of its armored vehicles to countries around the world. Incidentally, the largest shareholder in Otokar is Turkey’s largest conglomerate, Koc Holding, which owns almost 50% of the company’s shares.

Over the past 12 years, Turkey has purchased $21 million in tear gas and pepper spray, primarily from firms in the United States and Brazil, including 628 tons of tear gas imported between 2000 and 2012. This is hardly surprising, considering that in 2013 alone, the government of Egypt purchased $2.5 million worth of teargas from the United States, consisting of roughly 140,000 teargas canisters. The U.S. is a major exporter of various “crowd control” and “riot control” devices to dictatorships and repressive regimes around the world, including the sale of high-tech “sonic weapons” to the repressive regime in Azerbaijan.

In 2012, the Obama administration decided to resume arms sales to the dictatorship of Bahrain as it continued to crush its domestic popular uprising, leading to serious human rights violations. In recent years, the U.S. has been increasing its sale of arms, armored vehicles, as well as chemical and riot control equipment (including teargas) to countries such as Algeria, Egypt, and Peru, all of which have been increasingly repressing demonstrations within their countries. However, the United States isn’t the only major power doing so, as the UK has been selling ‘crowd control’ equipment to ruthless and repressive regimes as well. Still, the United States remains – by far – as the world’s largest arms dealer.

On June 3, as Turkish police continued to use excessive force and even fired teargas into apartment buildings, protesters managed to set fire to the AKP headquarters building in the city of Izmir. Police were firing teargas canisters at unarmed protesters from close distances, as images and videos of indiscriminate police violence against protesters were increasingly making their way through social media networks. For the hundreds and thousands of protesters arrested, many were denied access to lawyers, with their photographs and fingerprints taken, while some were denied medical access for up to 12 hours. Many protesters were beaten while in detention, and police also attacked NGO-run infirmaries used to treat wounded protesters.

Source: Reuters

Source: Reuters

The hacktivist group Anonymous announced that it would launch attacks against specific Turkish websites in what was called ‘#opTurkey’ in reaction to the government response to the protests. The group released a statement declaring: “We have watched for days with horror as our brothers and sisters in Turkey who are peacefully rising up against their tyrannical government [have been] brutalized, beaten, run over by riot vehicles, shot with water cannons and gassed in the streets.”

Workers Join the Struggle for Democracy

On June 4, the Turkish Public Workers Unions Confederation – with an estimated 240,000 members – joined the protests for a two-day strike in response to “state terror implemented against mass protests across the country,” as Erdogan’s government had “shown once again… enmity to democracy.” An Al-Jazeera reporter in Istanbul noted: “They are trying to send a message, that this is not just youth on the streets, this is not just about a park or individual demands – this is about something bigger.” However, she added, “It has to be said that unions are not that strong in Turkey. This is going to be a test to show that they are able to deliver on what they say.”

The protests had by that time resulted in the deaths of two demonstrators, as Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation reported that more than one thousand protesters had been subjected “to ill-treatment and torture” by the police forces. Erdogan had left the country the previous day to go on an official visit to Morocco where he claimed the situation in Turkey was “calming down,” rejecting any discussion of a “Turkish Spring” and calling the demonstrators “vandals.” He added: “On my return from this visit, the problems will be solved.”

In the midst of the protests, Turkey’s stock market experienced its largest fall in a decade, plunging 10.47% “over investor concerns the unrest could damage the country’s economy,” with Turkish finance minister Mehmet Simsek commenting, “This mischief making naturally affects financial markets. Their aim is to make our country weaker but the macro fundamentals are solid.” Erdogan added, “It’s the stock market, it goes down and it goes up. It can’t always be stable.”

More unions quickly announced that they were joining the protest for a public sector strike on June 5, with the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK) announcing, “The power stemming from production will take its place in the struggle.” The Turkish Doctors’ Union (TTB) and the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) also announced they would join the strike, along with left wing parties and civil society groups, who converged for a mass peaceful protest in Ankara’s Kizilay Square. The government announced that security forces were urged to use restraint, and so demonstrators didn’t hesitate to join the protest with families and children, but in the early evening the government undertook a “rapid and sudden intervention” and began using water cannons and tear gas on the crowds, clearing the square and calling on the rest of the protesters to “disperse.”

Source: CNN

Source: CNN

As Erdogan was due to return to Turkey on June 6 from his trip to North Africa, protesters gathered in mass numbers the night before. In the previous six days of protesters, two people had been killed and more than 4,000 had been injured across roughly a dozen cities. While Istanbul was relatively quiet that night, while police kept their distance, the government crackdown accelerated in other cities across the country. With more unions having joined the protests, hundreds of thousands of workers filled the streets, banging drums, holding banners and chanting for Erdogan to resign.

Democracy and Diversity

The protests were drawing an increasingly diverse group of people together, with groups convening in Gezi Park to discuss what the nature of their movement was: not yet a revolution, but was it “an awakening, a renaissance or a citizen’s revolt?” United in their opposition to Erdogan above all else, the diversity of the protesters was impressive. One young demonstrator commented on how Erdogan sparked a much larger movement: “His understanding of democracy is you vote and that’s it. But that’s not how democracy works… There was a protest by a few tree-huggers not wanting another shopping mall being built. The police met this with huge force. Suddenly these pent-up tensions building for a long time exploded.” Some complained about the increasing turn to legislating Islam in a secular country, “In the past, the army would step in if the government abandoned secular values,” said one demonstrator. “They can’t do it any more. Most of the generals are in jail. So people have realized they have to voice their own concerns. There is no other way to change [things] than ourselves.” Some spoke out against Erdogan’s foreign policy, notably in reference to his active support and arming of certain rebel groups in neighbouring Syria. Many chants and posters depicted Erdogan as an “American stooge” or “as a puppet held by Barack Obama.”

One report in the Globe and Mail commented on the diversity of the protesters taking to the streets:

Office workers in business suits chant anti-government slogans alongside pious women wearing Muslim headscarves. Schoolchildren and bearded anarchists rub shoulders with football fans, well-heeled women in designer sunglasses and elderly couples donating food.

With 3,300 people have been arrested in the previous six days, what began as an environmental protest had “burgeoned into the most widespread unrest Turkey has seen in decades.” A representative from the group Anti-Capitalist Muslims commented, “We were in Taksim Square to resist against the authoritarian governance, police violence and to protect our park.” One businessman commented, “I saw the awful images on the Internet,” referring to the violence at Gezi Park, noting that the protesters “were there having a picnic, protecting the trees, but their tents were burnt and they were forced out with pressurized water, which can be lethal… My conscience was hurt.”

An online survey conducted by two academics from Istanbul Bilgi University over June 3 and 4 noted that the majority of protesters who convened at Taksim, “do not feel close to any political party and have said the prime minister’s authoritarian attitude caused the ongoing protests across the country.” Only 15.3% of those who took the survey said they identified with a specific political party, with 7% saying “the political party they were a member of influenced them in joining the protests.” A large percentage – 92.4% – credited Erdogan’s “authoritarian attitude” as the most influential reason to join the protests, and 91.3% also credited “the police’s disproportionate use of force” as influential. The violation of democratic rights was viewed as influential by 91.1% of respondents, and the silence of the media was seen as a significant motivator by 84.2%, while just over half – 56.2% – said the plan to cut down Gezi Park’s trees was a significant motivator.

The primary demands of protesters, according to the survey, were to bring “an end to police violence” (with 96.7%) and “respect of liberties from now on” (from 96.1% of respondents). Only 37% of survey respondents demanded a new political party be formed, and 79.5% said they did not want a military coup to intervene, with 6.6% wanting a military coup. A majority of the protesters – approximately 81.2% of the survey respondents – described themselves as “libertarian” (not to be confused with the American brand of ‘libertarianism’). Roughly 64.5% of protesters described themselves as “secular,” with 75% saying they were not “conservative.” Approximately 63.6% of the 3000 survey respondents were between the ages of 19 and 30.

While some right-leaning libertarian forums in the United States have happily endorsed the report of 81% of protesters describing themselves in Turkey as “libertarian,” the reality is that the type of libertarian identified in Turkey is more in line with how the term used to be defined and is better understood elsewhere in the world (outside the United States), referring more to left-libertarian, libertarian socialist or anarchist. American libertarians kept the anti-state rhetoric of original libertarianism, but in recent decades adopted the pro-market rhetoric of neoliberalism, a radically different form of what libertarians tend to identify themselves as in the rest of the world.

The French media more correctly interpreted the term as ‘liberal.’ Again, it is important to note that while 81% of survey respondents identified themselves as ‘libertarian,’ almost an equal percentage (75%) indicated that they were “not conservative,” while libertarians in the US tend to identify as conservative.

As some Middle Eastern reporters covering the protests in Turkey noted, the month of May “will go down in Turkish history as a truly memorable chapter,” beginning with the May Day protests of workers, union activists and leftist groups, and ending with the current unrest. The reporter noted that those who went into the streets “were predominantly the young – with a mixture of seculars, socialists, Marxists, Kemalists, anarchists, nationalists, Alevis and Kurds – who manifested high emotions and resolve against what they saw as an insufferably authoritarian way of managing affairs.”

Source: Huffington Post

Source: Huffington Post

While some Western media – such as the New York Times – framed the protests as a struggle between secularism and Islam, this “misses the point completely,” noted one demonstrator, who explained: “Sure, there are hardcore secularists in the crowds. But there are also feminists, LGBT activists, anarchists, socialists of various stripes, Kurdish movements leaders, unionized workers, architects and urban planners, soccer hooligans, environmentalists, and people who are protesting for the firs time!” A reporter with the Turkish publication Radikal noted, “Demonstrators all want different things from this protest… But right now all have united against police violence. Most importantly, they all want to practice their rights to assemble in the streets and squares, to assemble and to protest in peace.”

A reporter with Vice Magazine noted that at the protests one would see “Turkish nationalists next to Muslim anti-capitalists and even Kurds,” as well as “women in head scarves, football hooligans, and anarchists.” Like at any protest, the reporter added, “you see socialist flags and anarchist flags, but… this is clearly not a protest with [a] specific political agenda. Above all, this is a protest about human right, freedom of speech, and democracy.”

A first-person account from the protests in Istanbul noted that the AK Party “is strongest in rural parts of Turkey and resistance to the government has been strongest in the traditionally socially liberal, left-leaning, and more European cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.” Further, the author noted, “[t]he Turkish Left is larger than anything I’ve ever experienced in the [United] States or the UK and appears to be dominated by Leninists. An anarchist presence seems negligible at best.”

Uprising Turns ‘Markets’ Against Erdogan

By Thursday, June 6, the day of Erdogan’s return to Turkey, over 4000 protesters had been injured and three killed. Erdogan blamed “terror groups” for manipulating the protesters, adding, “We are against the majority dominating the minority and we cannot tolerate the opposite.”

In the city of Izmir, 33 protesters had been arrested for posting what the government defined as “misinformation” on Twitter, though the government decided to release them after the news spread. Protesters, meanwhile, demanded that governors, senior police officials and others “responsible for the violent crackdown be removed from office,” as well as demanding the cancellation of the plan to level Gezi Park. The “Taksim Solidarity Platform” was formed as a leaderless group of academics, architects and environmentalists in order “to protect Taksim Square from development.”

The New York Times reported that the middle class population whom Erdogan’s government “created” is now challenging the government, as they are “committed to individual freedoms.” Thus, college students, primarily of middle class backgrounds, were a major “organizing force in the demonstrations,” as they “set up makeshift clinics, provided legal counsel for those demonstrators arrested and established hot lines for injured people.” The New York Times presented this as “proof” that “economic development leads to more democracy,” ignoring the fact that the most rapid declines in democratic rights and liberties occurred as the economic boom accelerated. If anything, it’s evidence that the Turkish people are simply no longer willing to accept living under military dictatorships, or inauthentic ‘pseudo-democracies’ directed by and for economic oligarchs, or seeking to reverse the declines imposed by the acceleration of neoliberalism, among many other motivating factors. The New York Times article went on to praise Erdogan’s “free-market economics, successfully privatizing Turkey’s moribund public-sector companies,” though unmentioned was the repression of workers’ rights and increases in income inequality and poverty that went with that process.

Indeed, much of the Western media has been confused about how such massive protests could be experienced in the country given the credit of being an “economic miracle.” As one CNN headline declared, “Despite economic boom, Erdogan targeted by protests.”

The growth of the middle class in Turkey was largely facilitated by increasing reliance upon “dependency on external debt, which, at a moment of crisis can leave a country dangerously exposed to market volatility and the whims of investors.” In short, Erdogan’s “Turkish economic miracle” – like most self-proclaimed ‘economic miracles’ – are miraculous illusions, concentrating economic power in a few hands, creating debt-fuelled consumption booms and exposing the country to the diktats of international banks and investors (what a former US Treasury official referred to in the Financial Times as the “global supra-government”). Thus, Turkey’s prosperity “relied on speculative investors from abroad,” with its external debt standing at $413 billion (or 51% of GDP), leading Goldman Sachs analysts to describe it as one of the most indebted economies “in the emerging-market universe.” A Turkish columnist noted: “The influx of foreign capital and growth gave the perception of stability. Now that stability is under question, which puts the influx under question, and throws the ‘economic miracle’ in doubt.”

While the protests have been increasingly drawing out people who are dissatisfied with Erdogan’s economic policies, including a Muslim anti-capitalist group, international investors also expressed worry at Erdogan’s stance toward the protesters, with the chief economist at Finansbank in Istanbul telling the Wall Street Journal that Erdogan’s “combative tone has disappointed the markets,” as the “possible resumption of heavy-handed police response could undermine lira-denominated assets.” In short, as investors note that the protest movement is largely directed against Erdogan himself, they were increasingly wary of continuing support for him and critical of his response to the protests. A managing director with a New York political risk advisory firm, Teneo Intelligence, noted: “Usually Erdogan takes very pragmatic steps and the market likes that. But these protests are unprecedented, he has been cornered like never before and he also faces a different opposition, a weird coalition without leaders… Politics is potentially entering a new phase. It remains to be seen if it will be a phase where political stability is affected and as strong as we have enjoyed in the last six years.”

The Financial Times noted that, “European equity markets fell as investors sold off stocks with exposure to Turkey after a sharp fall on the Istanbul Stock Exchange.” European companies with large exposures in Turkey were experiencing declines in stock value, such as ING, UniCredit, Allianz, and Fiat, which is partnered with Koc Holding. As the New York Times noted, it was “not often that the rock-throwing street protester and the seasoned bond investor see eye to eye.” Fears were mounting among some investors that the “economic boom” in Turkey, which was “built on a mountain of debt… would reach a painful end.” While these warnings “were ignored” in the recent past, the massive protest movement has prompted ‘markets’ to react nervously. Indeed, as London and New York traders look at the scenes of protests and police repression, they do not see a struggle for democracy among repressed peoples – something to be hopeful and encouraging of – but rather, they view them as “scenes of mayhem” which may prompt them to begin “redirecting their money to safer havens.”

Erdogan remained defiant on June 6, declaring: “Public property was damaged during the Gezi Park protests. The Taksim [Square] project is a project that will make Istanbul more beautiful,” referring to the destruction of a park and replacing it with a shopping center (apparently, more beautiful than nature).

Amnesty International again called on the Turkish government “to end the use of excessive force on peaceful protestors which has seen at least one protestor die and over 4,300 people injured.”

The Turkish People Teach the World a Lesson in Democracy

Protests have been held across the world in solidarity with the demonstrators in Turkey, including 150 people in Chicago, further demonstrations in San Diego, hundreds of people gathered in New York at Zuccotti Park (home of the Occupy Wall Street protests), another rally took place outside the White House in Washington, D.C., with other protests in Paris, in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, as well as in Geneva, and with significant Turkish populations drawing larger crowds in Berlin and as many as 300 in Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, and significantly, roughly a thousand Greeks marched in support of Turkish protesters, chanting slogans such as, “Authoritarianism is broken on the street, solidarity with the Turkish people,” and “From Taksim Square to Athens, we fight poverty and hunger.” Roughly 500 people showed up to a solidarity protest in Boston with people championing the neologism “Resistanbul!

Erdogan called for an immediate end to the protests, having arrived back in Turkey only to be met by a pro-government rally of supporters chanting slogans such as, “We will die for you, Erdogan” and “Let’s go crush them all.” As he spoke to the crowd of supporters, he declared, “I call for an immediate end to the demonstrations, which have turned into unlawfulness and vandalism.” He further added, “Among the protesters, there are extremists, some of them implicated in terrorism.” As one protester told the media, “It’s all up to Erdogan and what he says right now. He will decide the fate of the resistance, whether it will calm or escalate.”

As an observer from across the other side of the world, I can only say that I hope the fate of the resistance will be – and remain – in the hands of those resisting. There is a great deal to resist against, and the struggle for democracy is not a short one. It is yet to be seen if this will be the ‘Turkish Spring’ or a true uprising or even revolution, but what is clear is this: the Turkish people have arisen en masse like never before, years of isolated struggles for rights and freedoms have come to the center stage of Turkish society, have inspired much of the population, the youth, and the world.

The people are raising their voices and expressing their frustrations, and the world is listening, even if their ‘leaders’ aren’t. The world watches as Turks teach the rest of the world a valuable lesson, a lesson in what democracy really is. Democracy is not voting in occasional elections for competing factions of political elites who serve the same economic oligarchy – both nationally and globally – but rather, democracy and freedom is in the action. In a country with so many jailed journalists, intellectuals, hundreds of imprisoned students, and now thousands of protesters having been injured and arrested, they continue to go out into the streets and struggle for the rights that the state denies them.

Turks are teaching the world that liberty and democracy is not something the state can give – it is something the state takes away – but the only way to gain those rights, liberties, and achieve democracy is to use those very rights you are denied, and thereby, expropriate your freedom from the state. Turks are denied rights to freedom of expression, speech, and assembly, and they express their dissatisfaction with those policies by assembling and speaking, and even though they are met with massive state repression… they continue.

Erdogan has learned his lessons from those he has criticized in the past, from Mubarak and the other Arab dictators. Back in 2011, Erdogan referred to Mubarak in Egypt, stating: “No government can remain oblivious to the democratic demands of its people… There isn’t a government in history that has survived through oppression. Know that governments that turn a blind eye to their people cannot last long.” Erdogan would do well to take his own advice.

For the people of the Western world where our nations are responsible for arming and supporting the brutal tyrants in the rest of the world, providing the equipment and diplomatic support for them to repress their own populations, we would do well to learn some lessons from the Turkish people. The best thing we can do to help the Turkish people in their struggle for liberty and democracy is to take that struggle home, to take it to the beating, pulsing heart of empire.

Let us learn a profound lesson about what liberty and democracy really is, and the type of courage and perseverance it takes to be and act freely and democratically.

Thank you to the people of Turkey for teaching the rest of the world about democracy.

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Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.

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Notes

[1]       Roy Karadag, “Neoliberal Restructuring in Turkey: From State to Oligarchic Capitalism,” Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Discussion Paper 10/7, page 6.

[2]       Sükrü Ozen and K. Ali Akkemik, “Does Illegitimate Corporate Behaviour Follow the Forms of Polity? The Turkish Experience,” Journal of Management Studies (Vol. 49, No. 3, May 2012), pages 523-524.

[3]       Ingyu Oh and Recep Varcin, “The Mafioso State: state-led market bypassing in South Korea and Turkey,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 23, No. 4, August 2002), page 719.

[4]       Roy Karadag, op cit., page 12.

[5]       John Lovering and Hade Türkmen, “Bulldozer Neo-liberalism in Istanbul: The State-led Construction of Property Markets, and the Displacement of the Urban Poor,” International Planning Studies (Vol. 16, No. 1, February 2011), page 80.

[6]       Ingyu Oh and Recep Varcin, op cit., pages 718-719.

[7]       Ibid, page 720.

[8]       Devrim Yavuz, “Testing Large Business’s Commitment to Democracy: Business Organizations and the Secular-Muslim Conflict in Turkey,” Government and Opposition (Vol. 45, No. 1, 2010), pages 73, 80-81.

[9]       John Lovering and Hade Türkmen, op cit., page 77.

[10]     Roy Karadag, op cit., page 13.

[11]     Devrim Yavuz, op cit., page 81.

[12]     Ingyu Oh and Recep Varcin, op cit., pages 720-721.

[13]     Roy Karadag, op cit., page 13.

[14]     John Lovering and Hade Türkmen, op cit., page 77.

[15]     Ziya Onis, “Turgat Ozal and his Economic Legacy: Turkish Neo-Liberalism in Critical Perspective,” Middle Eastern Studies (Vol. 40, No. 4, July 2004), pages 115-116.

[16]     Ibid, pages 116-117.

[17]     Roy Karadag, op cit., pages 14-15.

[18]     Ibid, pages 16-17.

[19]     Devrim Yavuz, op cit., pages 81-83.

[20]     John Lovering and Hade Türkmen, op cit., page 78.

[21]     Roy Karadag, op cit., page 18.

[22]     Erinc Yeldan, “Neoliberal Global Remedies: From Speculative-Led Growth to IMF-Led Crisis in Turkey,” Review of Radical Political Economics (Vol. 38, No. 2, Spring 2006), pages 199-200.

[23]     Ziya Onis, op cit., page 117.

[24]     John Lovering and Hade Türkmen, op cit., page 78.

[25]     André Bank and Roy Karadag, “The ‘Ankara Moment’: the politics of Turkey’s regional power in the Middle East, 2007-2011,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 34, No. 2, 2013), page 293.

[26]     Devrim Yavuz, op cit., pages 84-85.

[27]     Ziya Onis, “Power, Interests and Coalitions: the political economy of mass privatisation in Turkey,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 32, No. 4, May 2011), pages 12-13.

[28]     Ibid, pages 15-16.

[29]     Devrim Yavuz, op cit., pages 89-91.

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