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World of Resistance [WoR] Report, Part 1: The Global Awakening

World of Resistance [WoR] Report, Part 1: The Global Awakening

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at Occupy.com

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The world today is in the midst of the most monumental social, political and economic upheavals in human history – a state of continual protests, uprisings and what may be considered inevitable revolution on a global scale. Power that had been centralized for roughly 500 years among the Atlantic powers of Western Europe and North America is rapidly shifting to include the rise of the East, as China, India and others operating within established, institutional frameworks of power get wooed by the former Western imperial managers to become colluders in empire, instead of competition.

To add to this, global wealth and power is being centralized among a highly interconnected and transnational ruling class: a small global elite who own and operate the major banks, corporations, foundations, think tanks, universities and international organizations. It is this numerically minute group of plutocrats whom empire serves. Long established among the Western elites, this group of plutocrats is attempting to bring the oligarchies of other powerful and rising states firmly within its organizational and ideological structure.

Think of it as an established Mafia that helped build up a few other crime families in order to extend its influence – and which now has to contend with the increasing autonomy and competition that these strengthened crime families pose, as it attempts to bring them closer within the established ‘Family’ instead of risking an all-out Mafia war in which all parties would surely lose. The changing structures of global power, along with the ever-increasing unrest of populations around the world, has created perhaps the most challenging situation for any empire in human history.

Zbigniew Brzezinski has written and spoken for years on the issue, publishing in establishment journals and speaking at elite think tanks about what he calls the “Global Political Awakening.” Brzezinski is not a casual observer nor a resigned academic; he sits within the heart of the intellectual and institutional foundations of the American empire alongside other notable figures such as Henry Kissinger and Joseph Nye. Brzezinski was even recruited as a foreign policy adviser to the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama, who referred to Brzezinski as “one of our most outstanding thinkers.”

Brzezinski wrote in 2005 that the United States needed to face “a centrally important new global reality: that the world’s population is experiencing a political awakening unprecedented in scope and intensity, with the result that the politics of populism are transforming the politics of power.” Thus, the “central challenge” for the U.S., noted Brzezinski, “is posed not by global terrorism, but rather by the intensifying turbulence caused by the phenomenon of global political awakening. That awakening is socially massive and politically radicalizing.”

In a 2004 speech to the elite-populated Carnegie Council, Brzezinski explained that the global awakening was partly “spurred by America’s impact on the world,” by virtue of the fact that America is able “to project itself outward” and “transform the world,” creating an “unsettling impact, because we are economically intrusive, [and] culturally seductive.” In other words, American imperialism is – by its very nature – creating its antithesis: the global awakening.

The awakening “is also fueled by globalization,” Brzezinski further explained, “which the United States propounds, favors and projects by virtue of being a globally outward-thrusting society.” The process of globalization, however, “also contributes to instability, and is beginning to create something altogether new: namely, some new ideological or doctrinal challenge which might fill the void created by the disappearance of communism.”

In other words, since the end of the Cold War, when Marxism and Communism represented the largest and most organized global ideological challenge to Western state-capitalist democracy, Brzezinski maintains there has been an ideological vacuum in terms of ideas opposing the present global order. The global awakening, however, is changing the circumstances. As he stated: “I see the beginnings, in writings and stirrings, of the making of a doctrine which combines anti-Americanism with anti-globalization, and the two could become a powerful force in a world that is very unequal and turbulent.”

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Brzezinski noted in 2005 that, “the population of much of the developing world is politically stirring and in many places seething with unrest,” having become “acutely conscious of social injustice to an unprecedented degree, and often resentful of its perceived lack of political dignity.” A “community of shared perceptions” was being created by the spread of radio, television and Internet access, creating the potential for energies to be galvanized which “transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches.”

The youth of the Third World represent “a demographic revolution,” and being “particularly restless and resentful,” they also represent “a political time-bomb… creating a huge mass of impatient young people.” The “potential revolutionary spearhead” of the Third World youth was, in Brzezinski’s view, “likely to emerge from among the scores of millions of students” concentrated in the educational institutions of the developing world. Having largely originated from “the socially insecure lower middle class and inflamed by a sense of social outrage, these millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting… connected by the Internet… Their physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred.”

In 2008, Brzezinski wrote in the New York Times that “global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination.” In his view, the necessary course of action “is to regain U.S. global legitimacy by spearheading a collective effort for a more inclusive system of global management.” Brzezinski noted, in a speech he gave that same year to Chatham House, that “in the current post-colonial era, it is too costly to undertake colonial wars” which is why the U.S. should attempt to avoid getting further “bogged down” in the Middle East and Central Asia, where America would be “engaged in a protracted post-imperial war in the post-colonial age, a war not easy to win against aroused populations.”

Later, in a 2010 speech to the Canadian International Council (CIC), an elite think tank based in Canada, Brzezinski explained the “total new reality” of the awakening of mankind, explaining that “most people know what is generally going on… in the world, and are consciously aware of global iniquities, inequalities, lack of respect, exploitation. Mankind is now politically awakened and stirring.”

In a 2012 speech at the European Forum for New Ideas (EFNI), Brzezinski stated that 20 years following the end of the Cold War, “a truly comprehensive American global domination is no longer possible [because] in recent decades, worldwide social change has experienced unprecedented historical acceleration, particularly because instant mass communications… cumulatively have been stimulating a universal awakening of mass political consciousness.”

“The resulting widespread rise in worldwide populist activism is proving inimical to external domination of the kind that prevailed in the age of colonialism and imperialism,” he continued. “Persistent and highly motivated populist resistance of politically awakened and historically resentful peoples to external control has proven to be increasingly difficult to suppress, as protracted guerrilla warfare in Vietnam, Algeria, or Afghanistan have amply demonstrated; and as the rising turmoil in both the Middle East and Southwest Asia are foreshadowing.” (“The Role of the West in the Complex Post-Hegemonic World,” Speech at the European Forum for New Ideas, 26 September 2012)

As Brzezinski explained to his fellow elites and imperialists in the United States and other powerful Western societies: “The worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening.” As he stated at Chatham House in 2008, the world’s major powers, “new and old, also face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.”

Institutional and imperial power structures have never been more globalized or concentrated in human history; yet, simultaneously, never have they been under more threat from an awakened humanity. We have unprecedented access to information and communication; never have we had a greater opportunity to transform the world for the better and to challenge – or make obsolete – the prevailing global power structures.

Yet, simultaneously, never has humanity – collectively – faced such a monumental challenge: a combination of a massive global economic crisis, growing levels of poverty and hunger, tens of millions dying from poverty-related causes every year, massive global land grabs, high-tech police states and surveillance societies, murder by remote control drone terror campaigns, a more distanced decision-making apparatus than perhaps ever before, and an ecological crisis of such proportions that it threatens the very survival of the human species, let alone all other life forms on Earth.

The World of Resistance (WOR) Report is a new Occupy.com series that aims to provide greater context and understanding about the causes, and the consequences, of social unrest, protests, riots, resistance, uprisings, rebellions and revolutions spreading across the globe. What form is the “global political awakening” taking in different regions, under different conditions, and with what differing degrees of success and failure?

This series aims to explore the evolution of the long road to world revolution so that we may better understand, and support, the causes of human and biological survival to ensure that people’s “central challenge” to elites – that is, the quest for “human dignity” – is made all the more impossible for 1% institutions and ideologies to undermine or repress.

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.

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A Teaser to ‘The Empire of Poverty’: The First Volume of The People’s Book Project

A Teaser to ‘The Empire of Poverty’: The First Volume of The People’s Book Project

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

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The following is a little teaser to some of the ideas, approach and perspective being pursued through the research and writing of the first volume of The People’s Book Project, ‘The Empire of Poverty.’ Please consider donating to the Project to help these efforts come to fruition.

It’s important to try to understand the global economic and financial system – the banks, corporations, central banks, economic policies (and effects) of governments, trade agreements, the creation and value of currencies, the function of the oft-heard ‘markets’ – as daunting as the task may seem. One might think that they need a degree in Economics in order to understand the complexities of the global economy, to comprehend the correct choices and policies which achieve the desired results. One might think that this is true, but it isn’t. The truth is that if most economists understood the global economy, and knew the ‘correct’ choices to make, we wouldn’t be where we currently are.

Economics – both theory and practice – is an illusion. There are no concrete rules on which to base economic thought; there is no ‘gravity’ to its physics. Economics is not science, it’s sophistry; the sleight of hand, the quick and slick tongue, the wave of the wand, the theatrics of the stage set for all to see, and the effects – as destructive as they may be to the real world and all life within it – are largely hidden from view; the illusion keeps the population enraptured in awe, aspiration, and fear.

This is not to say that there cannot be anything real produced or given growth by what we call ‘economics’: there are of course exchanges made, resources used, products created, lives benefitted, and entire societies and peoples changed. The effects are very real. However, they have a disproportionately destructive, oppressive, and dehumanizing effect upon the vast majority of humanity: they bestow upon a tiny fraction unparalleled power, and thus, dehumanization in another form; while creating a comparably minimal buffer of generally satiated and malleable middle classes, educated well-enough to work and survive the horror show that is the global economic order, but consumed by a culture lacking in substance and meaning, and thus, left morally, psychologically, and intellectually lobotomized, physically paralyzed, and thus, once again, dehumanized.

So our global economic order has the effect of generally dehumanizing all who are subject to its whims and whammies; which is to say, almost everyone, everywhere. Those peoples and societies that are not integrated into the global economy tend to be bombed, invaded, overthrown or droned. Those who remain are doomed to slow death: one in seven people on earth live in urban slums[1] – more than the combined populations of Canada, the United States, and the European Union – while the majority of humanity lives in deep poverty, in hunger, and malnutrition; with 18 million people being killed from poverty-related causes every year, including over 9 million children.[2] Every year.

During the Holocaust, approximately six million Jews were killed. Take that number, add 50% to make 9 million, and just think: this is how many children die every year from poverty. Every year a new Holocaust.

These deaths are preventable. Truly. It has been estimated that less than the yearly Pentagon budget would lift the poorest 3 billion people of the world out of extreme poverty. In fact, in the twenty years following the end of the Cold War in 1991, there were roughly 360 million preventable deaths caused by poverty-related issues, more than the combined deaths of all of the wars of the 20th century.[3]

But this is not our priority. Our priority is that banks and corporations make as much profits as possible, because this – by some unknown and unseen magic – will (it is said) benefit everyone else. It is propagated and believed that this system, as it exists, or even with the proper tinkering and toiling, can represent the totality of life and being on this world; to be humanizing, and to represent ‘human nature’ at its best. But if this system were ‘human nature,’ why would it be so dehumanizing? How many organisms grow by destroying that which their existence depends upon? Parasites, cancers and various diseases can kill the host before transferring to another.

We have no other host to go to. Those who sit atop the global structure know this, which is why they express such an interest in finding new planets to escape to (and presumably, plunder and destroy). The billionaires have given up pretending to care for the world’s billions of people suffering, which is why they are looking to space travel, mining asteroids, and searching for hospitable environments elsewhere.[4] Their long-term ‘exit strategy’ is to abandon ship, not to change the direction we currently traverse.

Are we – as a species – a cancer upon the earth? Looking at the big picture, it may often seem that way. But it is in the small moments, the single acts, exchanged emotions, interacting individuals, in the every day life – those moments of joy, love, wonder – in which we find our own personal meaning, in which we discover that humanity – and human nature – can be so much more than destructive, petty, and pestilent behaviour. We are told we are a society of ‘individuals’ – that we are free, democratic and equal. If that were the case: why are we so isolated? We are individuals, yes, in the physical sense: but we are disconnected from the collective, separated from the species as a whole.

We think and act individually, but do so ignorantly, and arrogantly. Our thoughts and feelings are collected and collated by our commanding culture of irrelevance. The immense gift of a human mind – with all of its possibilities and capabilities, both known and unknown – is largely squandered on pop culture, sports, celebrities, consumer items and entertainment. So long as we remain distracted by the ‘celebration of irrelevance’, we are lobotomized of our meaning.

Is this how you see yourself as an individual? As the world you live in? It’s not an appealing thought. So why, then, do we live in a world in which as individuals we may act morally, purposefully, passionately, and proudly; though as a collective species, we are petty, parasitic, power-mad, pathological, and pretty much evil?

Is it ‘human nature’ that our personal values and priorities are not reflected in the collective – institutionalized – expression of humanity? Or, is it that the way in which our society is constructed, the institutions and ideologies, the policies, programs, priorities and effects of the way in which our world is ordered and altered, is inherently counter to ‘human nature’? In other words: is human nature inherently self-destructive; or, is our constructed human ‘society’ (our global social, political and economic order) inherently destructive to human nature? Does human nature pervert the effects we have upon the world, or do the structures of world order – and power – pervert human nature?

It is this vast disconnect between our personal values and the form they take at the global – collective – level of the species, which is ultimately so dehumanizing. Because power is centralized at the top, and for such a tiny fraction of the species – so much so that there has never been a more unequal and vast ‘Empire of Poverty’ in all of human history, the ‘great inequality’ is not of wealth, but of power.

Wealth is an illusion: a manufactured means to power, a collective delusion. Power is central to human nature. Every person needs power: they need autonomy over their own lives, thoughts, feelings, and decisions. It is central to maturity, it is central to leaving adolescence and becoming an adult, and it is central to finding a sense of self-worth. Understanding oneself is to empower oneself. Power is about possibility, personal fulfillment, passion and purpose. It has individual and social representations. It can be seen – or not – in your own life, but also in the world around us.

A pre-requisite for power is freedom. The process of achieving freedom is, itself, empowering. Once (and if) achieved, it is of immense responsibility to use your new power of freedom wisely, for the effects that it may have upon others and the rest of the world are endless. Power is freedom, quite simply, because slavery is the opposite of both freedom and power: it is the most un-free and the most disempowering personal position to be in.

Freedom is power; power is freedom. If we were actually free, we would have significantly more power. But we don’t. We barely have any control over our own individual lives, let alone the world around us. We leave all that to the others, to those with the proper degrees, the ‘expertise,’ the politicians, the pundits, the ‘right’ people… because they’ve obviously done such a great job of it so far. We remain – as a species, and very often as individuals – neutered from the necessities of individual empowerment, subjected instead to the very-often-arbitrary abuses of power over others.

So if we are not free, what are we? Certainly, we are not slaves, for we have no shackles, bear the brunt of no whips, serve no visible masters. We are, perhaps, slaves of another kind. We are financially, reflexively, intellectually, emotionally and hopelessly and very often spiritually enslaved to the system, as it exists. We are slaves to money. We serve the masters of money, with our time, with our labour and efforts, with our interactions, exchanges, interests, intelligence and aspirations. We are slaves to money.

Our society is built and sustained upon it; and our species is being driven to extinction because of it. The cause and effect of money – or more aptly, debt – slavery, is the distribution of power among the species: too few have too much, and too many have too little. This imbalance of power within the species is leading to our self-destruction, our inevitable extinction if we continue along this path.

Money is both the means and very often – the reason – for continuing down this path, for maintaining this imbalance. While very few have all the money, everyone – and everywhere else – has all the debt. This is not the wondrous ‘free market’ capitalist utopia which is incessantly babbled about, but the very real global feudal dystopia, both cause and effect of the power imbalance and money-system. In feudalism, there is no freedom, only serfdom.

Welcome to our global economic order, serf!

Welcome to the Empire of Poverty.

But it’s not hopeless. The truth is both painful, but also full of possibilities. The truth is that we do have the ability to understand the world we live in, to comprehend our global economic order. We don’t need a degree; we just need honesty.

The illusion that is our economic system is built not upon technical knowledge, but rather, technical language, a highly political language, “designed to make lies sound truthful, murder respectable, and to give a feeling of solidity to pure wind,” as George Orwell defined the term. Our inability to communicate honesty, and thus effectively, about our economic – and indeed, political and social – system is an essential mechanism in maintaining that system.

To speak and ‘understand’ this language, at least at a superficial level, usually does require some ‘education’: economists must be trained, so too must political and other social scientists. The artificial separations in their knowledge – (as in, the notion that the economic world exists separate from the political and social world, and thus, must be studied separately) ensures that none who receive a ‘proper education’ achieve a profound understanding of the world. Some may, but they are few and far between, and usually weeded out or co-opted.

Such a ‘proper education’ will allow one to gain enough basic knowledge related to the sector of society in which they aim to explore and advance, and they are given just enough knowledge to do so, but not enough to honestly look at – let alone have the capacity to communicate – the reality of how our global political, social and economic order functions and evolves. They may see problems, make recommendations, propose policies, and they may even do some good, but ultimately – as we still remain on the path toward extinction – they have not, and cannot – do enough.

Few possibilities – few ‘solutions’ – or opportunities, are communicated to the populations that are effected under and by these societies, and by the decisions the few at the top make. People are generally given a small set of options from which to choose, like guessing what’s behind door number one or two, when both are ultimately terrible, and ineffectual (in a positive sense). We put ‘faith’ – however empty – into the hands of politicians, we consume the crap spewed in the media, or we lose ourselves in the vast vacancy that is the ‘substance’ of our culture; a culture of mythology, lies, fantasy, persuasion, punishment, entertainment and manipulation.

Our hope is first in honesty. We can – and must – look honestly at the world for what it is, not what we want or imagine it to be, but what it is. Then, we can – and must – communicate this message, and to do so honestly and directly. This is a human reality, and it must become a part of a collective human knowledge, a shift in understanding, and thus, a change in direction; away from the current-inevitably of extinction, and toward survival. What comes after is for future generations to determine. For now, we must aim to simply survive.

Our goal must first be to begin charting a new path toward survival; this must be the duty of our present living and younger generations, as challenging, demanding and terrifying a responsibility that may be, it is either that, or extinction. And this is not a matter of hundreds or thousands of years away; it could be as soon as decades. If you – like me – are between 18 and 45 – the coming few decades of the world in which you currently live and hope to survive will become increasingly dreadful, destructive, oppressive, and disempowering. We cannot afford to continue kicking the can down the road, delaying – and exacerbating – the inevitable.

There is always hope, not in myths and fantasy, but hidden in reality. In our actions, ideas, in us – as individuals – connecting, interacting, sharing, working and creating together, as collectives, as part of a larger human organism; beginning to act as if we don’t want to self-destruct as a species, creating a new society – a new order – to make the current one obsolete. This is our great challenge. How do we navigate through living within the present existing order, while simultaneously seeking to create a new and alternative order? Moreover, how do we achieve this if it takes nearly all our effort, time and energy to simply survive the present order? To put it as crudely (and honestly) as possible: how the fuck are we supposed to change the world?!

I don’t know the answers. But I think that the best way to get them is to ask honest questions, seek an honest understanding, and to communicate honestly – about ourselves and the world – personally, and globally. This book is my attempt to understand and speak honestly about the world, not to speak in a language that only economists and political scientists or other so-called ‘experts’ can understand, but to speak plainly and directly. This will require me to dedicate some focus in attempting to translate political language into English. I don’t have a degree, and you won’t need one to read this, or to understand it.

The hope, then, that I hold for this book – and the wider book project of which it is apart – is that it presents an accessible and usable collection of knowledge. It is not the book that asks every question, or has ever answer (no books do!), but it is an attempt at taking a different approach to asking and seeking answers to some rather important questions about our world: what is the true nature of our society? How did we get here? Where are we going? Why? And, what can we do to change it?

This is but an introduction to our world, by no means comprehensive or conclusive, simply accessible, honest, and (hopefully) useful.

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 the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

Notes

[1]       Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (Verso: London, 2007), pages 151-173.

[2]       Thomas Pogge, “Keynote Address: Poverty, Climate Change, and Overpopulation,” Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law (Vol. 38, 2010), pages 526-534.

[3]       Ibid.

[4]       Dan Vergano, “Billionaires back ambitious space projects,” USA Today, 13 May 2012:

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/story/2012-04-25/space-exploration-billionaires/54866272/1

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.

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.

An Anarchistic Understanding of the Social Order: Environmental Degradation, Indigenous Resistance, and a Place for the Sciences

An Anarchistic Understanding of the Social Order: Environmental Degradation, Indigenous Resistance, and a Place for the Sciences

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

The following was an original essay published in the Spanda Journal (Vol. 4, No. 1, 2013: Anarchy and Non-Profit: An Emerging Affair), an open-access journal which you can download for free here.

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FOR ROUGHLY FIVE HUNDRED YEARS, INDIGENOUS peoples have been struggling against the dominant institutions of society, against imperialism, colonialism, exploitation, impoverishment, segregation, racism, and genocide. The struggle continues today under the present world social order and against the dominant institutions of ‘neoliberalism’ and globalization: the state, corporations, financial institutions and international organizations. Indigenous communities continue to struggle to preserve their cultural identities, languages, histories, and the continuing theft and exploitation of their land. Indigenous resistance against environmental degradation and resource extraction represents the most direct source of resistance against a global environmental crisis which threatens to lead the species to extinction. It is here that many in the scientific community have also taken up the cause of resistance against the destruction of the global environment. While Indigenous and scientific activism share similar objectives in relation to environmental issues, there is a serious lack of convergence between the two groups in terms of sharing knowledge, organization, and activism.

Indigenous groups are often on the front lines of the global environmental crisis – at the point of interaction (or extraction) – they resist against the immediate process of resource extraction and the environmental devastation it causes to their communities and society as a whole. The continued repression, exploitation and discrimination against Indigenous peoples have made the struggle – and the potential consequences of failure – significantly more problematic. This struggle has been ongoing for centuries, and as the species heads toward extinction – as it is along our current trajectory – Indigenous peoples will be on the front lines of that process. Many in the scientific community have been struggling for decades to address major environmental issues. Here, the focus is largely on the issue of climate change, and the approach has largely been to work through institutions in order to create enough pressure to reform. Yet, after decades of organizing through academic and environmental organizations, lobbying governments, corporations and international organizations, progress has been slow and often ineffectual, with major international conferences being hyped up but with little concrete results. Indigenous peoples continue to struggle against the dominant institutions while many in the scientific community continue to struggle within the dominant institutions, though their objectives remain similar.

A major problem and disparity becomes clear: Indigenous peoples – among the most repressed and exploited in the world – are left to struggle directly against the most powerful institutions in the world (states and transnational corporations), while many in the sciences – an area of knowledge which has and continues to hold enormous potential to advance the species – attempt to convince those powerful institutions to profit less at exactly the point in history when they have never profited more. Indigenous communities remain largely impoverished, and the scientific community remains largely dependent for funding upon the very institutions which are destroying the environment: states, corporations and international organizations. Major barriers to scientific inquiry and research can thus be established if the institutions feel threatened, if they choose to steer the sciences into areas exclusively designed to produce ‘profitable’ forms of knowledge and technology. As humanity enters a critical stage – perhaps the most critical we have ever faced as a species – it is important to begin to acknowledge, question, and change the institutional contradictions and constraints of our society.

It seems only logical that a convergence between Indigenous and scientific activism, organization, and the sharing of knowledge should be encouraged and facilitated. Indeed, the future of the species may depend upon it. This paper aims to encourage such a convergence by applying an anarchistic analysis of the social order as it relates to environmental degradation, specifically at the point of interaction with the environment (the source of extraction). In classifying this as an anarchistic analysis, I simply mean that it employs a highly critical perspective of hierarchically organized institutions. This paper does not intend to discuss in any detail the issue of climate change, since that issue is largely a symptom of the problem, which at its source is how the human social order interacts directly with the environment: extraction, pollution, degradation, exploitation and destruction at the point of interaction.

This analysis will seek to critically assess the actions and functions of states, corporations, international organizations, financial institutions, trade agreements and markets in how they affect the environment, primarily at the point of interaction. It is also at this point where Indigenous peoples are taking up the struggle against environmental degradation and human extinction. Through an anarchistic analysis of Indigenous repression and resistance at the point of interaction between the modern social order and the environment (focusing primarily on examples from Canada), this paper hopes to provide encouragement to those in the scientific community seeking to address environmental issues to increase their efforts in working with and for the direct benefit of Indigenous peoples. There exists a historical injustice which can and must be rectified: the most oppressed and exploited peoples over the past five hundred years of a Western-dominated world are on the front lines of struggling for the survival of the species as a whole. Modern science – which has done so much to advance Western ‘civilization’ – can and should make Indigenous issues a priority, not only for their sake, but for the species as a whole. Indeed, it is a matter of survival for the sciences themselves, for they will perish with the species. An anarchistic analysis of the social order hopes to encourage a convergence between Indigenous and scientific knowledge and activism as it relates to resolving the global environmental crisis we now face.

GLOBAL CORPORATE POWER

Corporations are among the most powerful institutions in the world. Of the top 150 economies in 2010, 58% were corporations, with companies like Wal-Mart, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, and BP topping the charts[1]. According to Fortune’s Global 500 list published in 2012, the top ten corporations in the world were: Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, BP, Sinopec Group, China National Petroleum, State Grid, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Toyota Motor[2]. The Global 500 corporations posted record revenues for 2011 at USD 29.5 trillion, up 13.2% from the previous year. Eight of the top ten conglomerates were in the energy sector, with the oil industry alone generating USD 5 trillion in sales, approximately 17% of the total sales of the Global 500. The second largest sector represented in the Global 500 was commercial banks, followed by the auto industry[3].

A scientific study conducted by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich analyzed the ‘network of control’ wielded through 43,000 transnational corporations (TNCs), identifying “a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.” The researchers identified a ‘core’ of 1,318 companies which owned roughly 80% of the global revenues for the entire network of 43,000 TNCs. Above the core, the researchers identified a ‘super-entity’ of 147 tightly-knit corporations – primarily banks and financial institutions – collectively owning each other’s shares and 40% of the wealth in the total network. One researcher commented, “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 percent of the entire network[4].”

Writing in the Financial Times, a former US Treasury Department official, Robert Altman, referred to financial markets as “a global supra-government,” explaining:

They oust entrenched regimes where normal political processes could not do so. They force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes. Their influence dwarfs multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Indeed, leaving aside unusable nuclear weapons, they have become the most powerful force on earth[5].

The “global supra-government” of financial markets push countries around the world into imposing austerity measures and structural reforms, which have the result of benefiting the “super-entity” of global corporate power. The power and wealth of these institutions have rapidly accelerated in the past three decades of neoliberal ‘reforms’ promoting austerity, liberalization, deregulation, privatization and financialization. Neoliberal ideology was politically championed by Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, but was largely imposed upon the so-called ‘Third World’ (Latin America, Asia, and Africa) through major international organizations like the World Bank and the IMF. The results of this massive transfer of wealth and power to an increasingly connected and small fraction of the world’s population have been devastating for humanity and the world as a whole. This process guided by neoliberal dogma has been most often referred to as ‘globalization.’

As the 1980s debt crisis gripped the ‘Third World,’ the IMF and World Bank came to the ‘rescue’ with newly designed loan agreements called ‘Structural Adjustment Programs’ (SAPs). In return for a loan from these institutions, countries would have to adhere to a set of rigid conditions and reforms, including austerity measures (cutting public spending), the liberalization of trade, privatization, deregulation, and currency devaluation[6]. The United States controls the majority shares of both the World Bank and IMF, while the US Treasury Department and Federal Reserve work very closely with the IMF and its staff[7]. If countries did not adhere to IMF and World Bank ‘conditions,’ they would be cut off from international markets, since this process was facilitated by “unprecedented co-operation between banks from various countries under the aegis of the IMF[8].” The conditions essentially opened up the borrowing countries to economic imperialism by the IMF, World Bank, and transnational corporations and financial institutions, which were able to gain access and control over the resources and labour markets of poor countries. Thus, the 1980s has been known as the “lost decade of development,” as many ‘Third World’ countries became poorer between 1980 and 1990[9]. Joseph Stiglitz, a former chief economist at the World Bank, wrote that, “such conditions were seen as the intrusion by the new colonial power on the country’s own sovereignty[10].”

The structural adjustment programs imposed upon the Third World devastated the poor and middle classes of the borrowing countries, often resulting in mass protests against austerity[11]. In fact, between 1976 and 1992, there were 146 protests against IMF- sponsored austerity measures in 39 different countries, including demonstrations, strikes and riots. The governments, in response, would often violently repress protests[12]. The government elites were often more integrated with and allied to the powerful institutions of the global economy, and would often act as domestic enforcers for the demands of international banks and corporations. For many countries imposing structural adjustment programs around the world, authoritarian governments were common[13]. The IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs also led to the massive growth of slums around the world, to the point where there are now over a billion people living in urban slums (approximately one out of every seven people on earth)[14].

Further, the nations of the Third World became increasingly indebted to the powerful financial institutions and states of the industrial world with the more loans they took. The wealthy elites within the Third World plunder the domestic wealth of their countries in cooperation with global elites, and send their money into Western banking institutions (as ‘capital flight’) as their domestic populations suffer in poverty. The IMF and World Bank programs helped facilitate capital flight through the deregulation and ‘liberalization’ of markets, as well as through the opening up of the economies to unhindered exploitation. Some researchers recently compared the amount of money in the form of aid and loans going into Africa compared to that coming leaving Africa in the form of capital flight, and found that “sub-Saharan Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world by a substantial margin.” The external debt owed by 33 sub-Saharan African countries to the rest of the world in 2008 stood at USD 177 billion. Between 1970 and 2008, capital flight from those same 33 African countries amounted to USD 944 billion. Thus, “the rest of the world owes more to these African countries than they owe to the rest of the world[15].”

The neoliberal ideology of ‘profit before people’ – enforced by the dominant states, corporations, banks and international organizations – has led to a world of extreme inequality, previously established by centuries of empire and colonialism, and rapidly accelerated in the past three decades. As of 2004, one in every three human deaths was due to poverty-related causes. In the twenty years following the end of the Cold War, there were approximately 360 million preventable deaths caused by poverty-related issues. Billions of people go hungry, lack access to safe drinking water, adequate shelter, medicine, and electricity. Nearly half of humanity – approximately 3.1 billion people as of 2010 – live below the USD 2.50/day poverty line. It would take roughly USD 500 billion – approximately 1.13% of world income (or two-thirds of the US military budget) – to lift these 3.1 billion people out of extreme poverty. The top 1% own 40% of the world’s wealth, while the bottom 60% hold less than 2% of the world’s wealth. As Thomas Pogge wrote, “we are now at the point where the world is easily rich enough in aggregate to abolish all poverty,” but we are “choosing to prioritize other ends instead.” Roughly 18 million people die from poverty-related causes every year, half of whom are children under the age of five. Pogge places significant blame for these circumstances upon the “global institutional arrangements that foreseeably and avoidably increase the socioeconomic inequalities that cause poverty to persist [...] [policies which] are designed by the more powerful governments for the benefit of their most powerful industries, corporations, and citizens[16].”

In 2013, Oxfam reported that the fortunes made by the richest 100 people in the world over the course of 2012 (USD 240 billion) would have been enough to lift the world’s poorest people out of poverty four times over. An Oxfam executive, Barbara Stocking, noted that this type of extreme wealth – which saw the world’s richest 1% increase their income by 60% in the previous twenty years – is “economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive [...] We can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for few will inevitably benefit the many – too often the reverse is true[17].” A study by the Tax Justice Network in 2012 found that the world’s superrich had hidden between USD 21 and 32 trillion in offshore tax havens, meaning that inequality was “much, much worse than official statistic show,” and that “for three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of superrich,” with the top 92,000 of the world’s superrich holding at least USD 10 trillion in offshore accounts[18].

THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF INEQUALITY

The human social order – dominated by states, corporations, banks and international organizations – has facilitated and maintained enormous inequality and poverty around the world, allowing so few to control so much, while the many are left with little. This global social and economic crisis is exacerbated by the global environmental crisis, in which the same institutions that dominate the global social order are simultaneously devastating the global environment to the point where the future of the species hangs in the balance.

Just as the dominant institutions put ‘profit before people,’ so too do they put profit before the environment, predicating human social interaction with the environment on the ideology of ‘markets’: that what is good for corporations will ultimately be good for the environment. Thus, the pursuit of ‘economic growth’ can continue unhindered – and in fact, should be accelerated – even though it results in massive environmental degradation through the processes of resource extraction, transportation, production and consumption[19].

Trading arrangements between the powerful rich nations and the ‘periphery’ poor nations allow for the dominant institutions to exploit their economic and political influence over weaker states, taking much more than they give[20]. These trading relationships effectively allow the rich countries to offshore (or export) their environmental degradation to poor countries, treating them as exploitable resource extraction sources. As the resources of poor nations are extracted and exported to the rich nations, the countries are kept in poverty (with the exception of their elites who collude with the powerful countries and corporations), and the environmental costs associated with the high consumption societies of the industrial world are ultimately off-shored to the poor countries, at the point of interaction[21]. Thus, international trade separates the societies of consumption from the effects of extraction and production, while the poor nations are dependent upon exports and exploiting their cheap labour forces[22]. This process has been termed ecological unequal exchange[23].

Between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, the majority of the world’s non-renewable resources were transferred from poor to rich nations, accelerating in volume over time (due to technological advancements), while decreasing in costs (to the powerful nations). Thus, between 1980 and 2002, the costs of resource extraction declined by 25% while the volume of resource extraction increased by more than 30%. Environmentally destructive processes of resource extraction in mining and energy sectors have rapidly accelerated over the past few decades, resulting in increased contamination of soils, watersheds and the atmosphere. Negative health effects for local populations accelerate, primarily affecting Indigenous, poor and/or migrant populations, who are subjected to excessive pollutants and industrial waste at nearly every part of the process of extraction, production and transportation of resources and goods[24].

In an examination of 65 countries between 1960 and 2003, researchers found that the rich countries “externalized” the environmentally destructive consequences of resource over-use to poor, periphery nations and populations, thus “assimilating” the environments of the less-developed nations into the economies of the powerful states, disempowering local populations from having a say in how their resources and environments are treated[25]. Rich societies consume more than can be sustained from their own internal resource wealth, and thus, they must “appropriate” resource wealth from abroad by ‘withdrawing’ the resources in environmentally destructive (and thus, more economically ‘efficient’) ways. Apart from ecologically destructive ‘withdrawals,’ the rich nations also facilitate ecologically destructive ‘additions,’ in the form of pollution and waste which cause environmental and health hazards for the poor societies. This is facilitated through various trading arrangements (such as the development of Export Processing Zones), consisting of minimal to no environmental regulations, cheap labour and minimal restrictions on corporate activities[26].

While Japan and Western Europe were able to reduce the amount of pollutants and ‘environmental additions’ they made within their own societies between 1976 and 1994, they accelerated their ‘additions’ in waste and pollutants to the poor countries with which they traded, “suggesting a progressive off-shoring over the period onto those peripheral countries” not only of labour exploitation, but of environmental degradation[27]. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by transnational corporations has been linked to extensive environmental hazards within the countries in which they are ‘investing,’ including growth in water pollution, infant mortality, pesticide use, and the use of chemicals which are often banned in the rich nations due to high toxicity levels and dangers to health and the environment, and greater levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, between 1980 and 2000, the total anthropogenic CO2 emissions from the rich countries increased by 21%, while over the same period of time in the poor countries it more than doubled. While forested areas in the rich nations increased by less than 1% between 1990 and 2005, they declined by 6% over the same period of time in poor countries, contributing to soil erosion, desertification, climate change and the destruction of local and regional ecosystems[28].

According to an analysis of 268 case studies of tropical forest change between 1970 and 2000, researchers found that deforestation had shifted from being directed by states to being directed and implemented by corporations and ‘economic’ interests across much of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. This was largely facilitated by the IMF and World Bank agreements which forced countries to reduce their public spending, and allowed for private economic interests to obtain unprecedented access to resources and markets. The rate of deforestation continued, it simply shifted from being state-led to “enterprise driven[29].”

Using a sample of some sixty nations, researchers found that IMF and World Bank Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) were associated with higher levels of deforestation than in countries which did not sign the SAP agreements, as they allowed rich nations and corporations to “externalize their forest loss” to poor nations. Further, “economic growth” as defined by the World Bank and IMF was related to increased levels of deforestation, leading the researchers to acknowledge that, “economic growth adversely impacts the natural environment[30].” World Bank development loans to countries (as separate from structural adjustment loans) have also been linked to increased rates of deforestation in poor nations, notably higher rates than those which exist in countries not receiving World Bank loans[31].

Military institutions and armed warfare also have significant environmental impacts, not simply by engaging in wars, but simply by the energy and resources required for the maintenance of large military structures. As one US military official stated in the early 1990s, “We are in the business of protecting the nation, not the environment[32].” While the United States is the largest consumer of energy among nations in the world, the Pentagon is “the world’s largest [institutional] consumer of energy[33].” The combination of US tanks, planes and ships consume roughly 340,000 barrels of oil per day (as of 2007)[34]. Most of the oil is consumed by the Air Force, as jet fuel accounted for roughly 71% of the entire military’s oil consumption[35].

Nations with large militaries also use their violent capabilities “to gain disproportionate access to natural resources[36].” Thus, while the US military may be the largest single purchaser and consumer of energy in the world, one of its primary functions is to secure access to and control over energy resources. In an interview with two McKinsey & Company consultants, the Pentagon’s first-ever assistant secretary of defense for operational energy and programs, Sharon E. Burke, stated bluntly that, “My role is to promote the energy security of our military operations,” including by increasing the “security of supply[37].”

In a study of natural resource extraction and armed violence, researchers found that, “armed violence is associated with the extraction of many critical and noncritical natural resources, suggesting quite strongly that the natural resource base upon which industrial societies stand is constructed in large part through the use and threatened use of armed violence.” Further, when such armed violence is used in relation to gaining access to and control over natural resources, “it is often employed in response to popular protest or rebellion against these activities.” Most of this violence is carried out by the governments of poor nations, or by mercenaries or rebels, which allows for distancing between the rich nations and corporations which profit from the plundering of resources from the violent means of gaining access to them. After all, the researcher noted, “other key drivers of natural resource exploitation, such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and global marketplace, cannot, on their own, guarantee core nation access to and control over vital natural resources[38].” Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the United States – and other powerful nations – and the major arms companies within them are the largest arms dealers in the world[39].

It is clear that for scientists – and anyone else – interested in addressing major environmental issues, the source of the problem lies in the very structure and function of our dominant modern institutions, at the point of interaction. In short: through states, armed violence, banks and corporations, international organizations, trade agreements and global ‘markets,’ the environment has become a primary target of exploitation and destruction. Resources fuel the wealth and power of the very institutions that dominate the world, and to maintain that power, they engage in incredibly destructive activities with negative consequences for the environment and the human species as a whole. The global environmental crisis is intimately related to the global social and economic crises of wealth inequality and poverty, labour exploitation, and ‘economic growth.’ To address the environmental crisis in a meaningful way, this reality must first be acknowledged. This is how an anarchistic understanding of the environmental crisis facing the world and humanity can contribute to advancing how we deal with these profound issues. For the sciences, the implications are grave: their sources of funding and direction for research are dependent upon the very institutions which are destroying the environment and leading humanity to inevitable extinction (if we do not change course). Advancing an anarchistic approach to understanding issues related to Indigenous repression and resistance to environmental degradation can help provide a framework through which those in the scientific community – and elsewhere – can find new avenues for achieving similar goals: the preservation of the environment and the species.

INDIGENOUS REPRESSION AND RESISTANCE

Indigenous peoples in the Americas have been struggling against colonialism, exploitation, segregation, repression and even genocide for over 500 years. While the age of formal colonial empires has passed, the struggle has not. Today, Indigenous peoples struggle against far more powerful states than ever before existed, transnational corporations and financial institutions, international organizations, so-called “free trade” agreements and the global ‘marketplace.’ In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, the struggle for Indigenous peoples to maintain their identity and indeed, even their existence itself, has been increasingly globalizing, but has also been driven by localized actions and movements.

Focusing upon Indigenous peoples in Canada, I hope to briefly analyze how Indigenous groups are repressed, segregated and exploited by the dominant institutions of an incredibly wealthy, developed, resource-rich and ‘democratic’ nation with a comparably ‘good’ international reputation. Further, by examining Indigenous resistance within Canada to the destruction of the natural environment, I hope to encourage scientists and other activists and segments of society who are interested in environmental protection to reach out to Indigenous communities, to share knowledge, organizing, activism, and objectives.

A LEGACY OF COLONIALISM

Historically, the Canadian government pursued a policy of ‘assimilation’ of Indigenous peoples for over a century through ‘Indian residential schools,’ in what ultimately amounted to an effective policy of “cultural genocide.” In 1920, Canada’s Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott bluntly explained: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem [...] Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politics and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department[40].”

The segregation, repression and exploitation of Indigenous communities within Canada is not a mere historical reality, it continues to present day. Part of the institutional repression of Indigenous peoples is the prevalence of what could be described as ‘Third World’ conditions within a ‘First World’ nation. Indigenous communities within Canada lack access to safe drinking water at a much higher rate than the general population[41]. Indigenous people and communities in Canada also face much higher levels of food insecurity, poverty, unemployment, poor housing and infant mortality than the rest of the population[42]. Accounting for roughly 4% of the population of Canada (approximately 1.2 million people as of 2006), Indigenous peoples also face higher rates of substance abuse, addiction, and suicide[43].

Indigenous people – and especially women – make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population[44]. Further, as Amnesty International noted, “Indigenous women [in Canada] are five to seven times more likely than other women to die as a result of violence[45].” The Native Women’s Association of Canada has documented roughly 600 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada, more than half of which have occurred since 2000, while Human Rights Watch reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in northern British Columbia had “failed to properly investigate the disappearance and apparent murders of [indigenous] women and girls in their jurisdiction[46].”

RESOURCE EXTRACTION, ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION, AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

Industries seeking to develop land and extract resources are increasingly turning to Indigenous territories to develop and seek profits on the land and environment upon which such communities are so often dependent for survival. At the point of interaction with the environment, Indigenous peoples are left to struggle with the damaging environmental and health consequences caused by state and corporate interests extracting resources and wealth from the land and environment.

The Alberta tar sands (or oil sands) is a primary example of this process. Many environmental, indigenous and human rights organizations consider the tar sands development as perhaps “the most destructive industrial project on earth.” The United Nations Environmental Programme identified the project as “one of the world’s top 100 hotspots of environmental degradation.” The dense oil in the tar sands (diluted bitumen) has to be extracted through strip mining, and requires enormous amounts of resources and energy simply to extract the reserves. It has been documented that for every one barrel of oil processed, three barrels of water are used, resulting in the creation of small lakes (called ‘tailing ponds’), where “over 480 million gallons of contaminated toxic waste water are dumped daily.” These lakes collectively “cover more than 50 square kilometres (12,000 acres) and are so extensive that they can be seen from space.” The processing of the oil sands creates 37% more greenhouse gas emissions than the extraction and processing of conventional oil[47].

While the United States consumes more oil than anywhere else on earth, Canada is the main supplier of foreign oil to the United States, exporting roughly 1.5 million barrels per day to the US (in 2005), approximately 7% of the daily consumption of oil in the US. The crude bitumen contained in the tar sands has been estimated at 1.7 trillion barrels, lying underneath an area within Alberta which is larger than the entire state of Florida and contains over 140,000 square km of boreal forest. In 2003, the United States Department of Energy officially acknowledged the reserves of crude bitumen in the Alberta tar sands, and elevated Canada’s standing in world oil markets from the 21st most oil-rich nation on earth to the 2nd, with only Saudi Arabia surpassing[48].

Alberta’s tar sands have attracted the largest oil companies on earth, including Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, and Total S.A. Local indigenous communities thus not only have to struggle against the devastating environmental, health and social consequences caused by the tar sands development, but they also have to struggle against the federal and provincial governments, and the largest corporations on earth. The Athabasca River (located near the tar sands development) has been depleted and polluted to significant degrees, transforming the region “from a pristine environment rich in cultural and biological diversity to a landscape resembling a war zone marked with 200-foot-deep pits and thousands of acres of destroyed boreal forests.” Indigenous peoples have been raising concerns over this project for years[49].

Disproportionate levels of cancers and other deadly diseases have been discovered among a local Indigenous band, the Fort Chipewyan in Athabasca. These high levels of cancers and diseases are largely the result of the enormous amounts of land, air, and water pollution caused by the tar sands mining[50]. One Indigenous leader in Fort Chipewyan has referred to the tar sands development as a “slow industrial genocide[51].” As pipelines are planned to be expanded across Canada and the United States to carry tar sands oil, this will have devastating impacts for “indigenous communities not only in Canada, but across the continent[52].”

Between 2002 and 2010, the pipeline network through Alberta experienced a rate of oil spills roughly sixteen times higher than in the United States, likely the result of transporting diluted bitumen (DilBit), which has not been commonly transported through the pipelines until recent years. In spite of the greater risks associated with transporting DilBit, the US agency responsible for overseeing the country’s pipelines decided – in October of 2009 – to relax safety regulations regarding the strength of pipelines. In July of 2010, a ruptured Enbridge pipeline in Michigan spilled 800,000 gallons of DilBit, devastating the local communities in what the government referred to as the “worst oil spill in Midwestern history.” In July of 2011, an Exxon pipeline spilled 42,000 gallons of DilBit into the Yellowstone River in Montana[53].

IDLE NO MORE: THE RISE OF INDIGENOUS RESISTANCE

In 2009, the Canadian Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announced the Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development which sought to “improve the participation” of Indigenous people “in the Canadian economy,” primarily by seeking “to unlock the full economic potential of Aboriginal Canadians, their communities, and their businesses[54].” An updated report on the Framework in 2012 reaffirmed the intent “to modernize the lands and resource management regimes on reserve land in order to increase and unlock the value of Aboriginal assets[55].” As John Ibbitson wrote in the Globe and Mail, “businesses that want to unlock the potential of reserves, from real estate development to forestry and mining, need the legal certainty that a property regime makes possible[56].”

In late 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party introduced an omnibus Budget Bill (C-45) which amended several aspects of the Indian Act (without proper consultations with Indigenous groups). Bill C-45 also moved forward to “unlock” barriers to resource extraction, environmental degradation, and corporate profits with an amendment to the Navigable Waters Act, which dramatically reduced the number of protected lakes and rivers in Canada from 40,000 to 97 lakes, and from 2.5 million to 63 rivers[57].

Following the introduction of Bill C-45 to the Canadian Parliament, a group of four Indigenous women in the province of Saskatchewan held a “teach-in” to help increase awareness about the Bill, quickly followed by a series of rallies, protests and flash mobs where Indigenous activists and supporters engaged in ‘round dances’ in shopping malls, organized through social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. This sparked what became known as the ‘Idle No More’ movement, and on December 10, 2012, a National Day of Action took place, holding multiple rallies across the country. The immediate objectives of the Idle No More movement were to have the government “repeal all legislation that violates treaties [with Indigenous peoples], including those that affect environmental regulations,” such as Bill C-45 and the previous omnibus Bill C-38. The longer-term objectives of the movement were to “educate and revitalize aboriginal peoples, empower them and regain sovereignty and independence[58].”

Pamela Palmater, a spokesperson for Idle No More and a Ryerson University professor noted that Indigenous people in Canada were opposing Bill C-45 “not just because it impacts their rights, but also because we know that it impacts the future generations of both treaty partners,” referring to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. “The question,” she added, “really should be whether Canadians will rise to protect their children’s futures alongside First Nations[59].”

Theresa Spence, an Indigenous chief from a northern Ontario community (Attawapiskat) went on a hunger strike for 44 days to support Idle No More and raise awareness about a serious housing crisis in her community. Spence only ended her hunger strike upon being hospitalized and placed on an IV drip[60]. Her community of Attawapiskat had been experiencing a major housing crisis for a number of years, and in 2011, a state of emergency was declared in response to the fact that for over two years, many of the community’s 1,800 residents were “living in makeshift tents and shacks without heat, electricity or indoor plumbing.” James Anaya, a United Nations human rights expert expressed his “deep concern about the dire social and economic condition” of the Attawapiskat community to the Canadian government, which reflected a situation “akin to third world conditions[61].” The Conservative government of Stephen Harper (which came to power in 2006) blamed the crisis on the internal handling of funds within Attawapiskat, claiming that the government provided CAD 90 million in funding for the community since 2006. However, analysis of the funds revealed that only CAD 5.8 million in funding had gone toward housing over the course of five years. Meanwhile, estimates put the necessary funds to resolve the housing crisis alone at CAD 84 million[62]. The former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs acknowledged that the government had known about the housing crisis for years, saying that it “has been a slow-moving train wreck for a long time[63].”

In 2005, the community of Attawapiskat had signed a contract with the international mining conglomerate De Beers to develop a diamond mine 90 km near their community. The mine officially opened in 2008, projecting a 12-year contribution to the Ontario economy of CAD 6.7 billion[64]. In 2005, De Beers dumped its sewage sludge into the Attawapiskat community’s lift station, causing a sewage backup which flooded many homes and exacerbated an already-developing housing crisis, followed by another sewage backup potentially caused by De Beers in 2008[65]. Afterward, the company donated trailers to the community to serve as “short-term emergency shelters,” yet they remained in place even four years later[66].

As the Idle No More movement took off in late 2012 and early 2013, members of the Attawapiskat community undertook road blockades leading to the De Beers mine. The company sought a legal injunction against the protesters, and the blockade was ended just as a large number of police were headed to the community to “remove the barricades.” After successfully blocking the mine from properly functioning for nearly twenty days, the company announced that it was considering taking legal action against the protesters[67].

The Idle No More mission statement called “on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water [...] Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth.” The movement’s manifesto further declared that, “the state of Canada has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world by using the land and resources. Canadian mining, logging, oil and fishing companies are the most powerful in the world due to land and resources. Some of the poorest First Nations communities (such as Attawapiskat) have mines or other developments on their land but do not get a share of the profit[68].” As Pamela Palmater noted, Idle No More was unique, “because it is purposefully distances from political and corporate influence. There is no elected leader, no paid Executive Director, and no bureaucracy or hierarchy which determines what any person or First Nation can and can’t do [...] This movement is inclusive of all our peoples[69].”

The Athabasca Chipewyan Indigenous band which had been struggling for years against the tar sands development were further mobilized with the eruption of Idle No More onto the national scene, including by establishing a blockade on Highway 63 leading to the tar sands development[70]. As Chipewyan chief Allan Adam noted, “The way I look at it, the First Nations people are going to cripple this country if things don’t turn out [...] Industry is going to be the target.” He also added: “We know for a fact that industry was the one that lobbied government to make this regulatory reform[71].” Indeed, this was no hyperbole.

THE STATE IN SERVICE TO CORPORATIONS

Greenpeace obtained – through access to information laws – a letter sent to the Canadian government’s Environment minister and Natural Resources minister dated December of 2011, written by a group called the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI), representing the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Fuels Association, and the Canadian Gas Association. The letter sought “to address regulatory reform for major energy industries in Canada” in order to advance “both economic growth and environmental performance.” It specifically referenced six laws that it wanted amended, including the National Energy Board Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Referring to many of these laws as “outdated,” the letter criticized environmental legislation as “almost entirely focused on preventing bad things from happening rather than enabling responsible outcomes[72].”

Less than a month after receiving the letter, the Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver lashed out at activists opposing the construction of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline shipping oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the B.C. coast for shipment to Asia, stating, “Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade… Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.” Oliver went on, saying that such “radical groups” were threatening “to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda,” and accused them of using funding from “foreign special interest groups[73].”

Documents from the energy industry revealed that big corporations advised the Harper government not to amend the many environmentally related acts separately, but to employ “a more strategic omnibus legislative approach,” which resulted in the two omnibus bills over 2012, Bills C-38 and C-45, which included “hundreds of pages of changes to environmental protection laws [...] weakening rules that protect water and species at risk, introducing new tools to authorize water pollution, as well as restricting public participation in environmental hearings and eliminating thousands of reviews to examine and mitigate environmental impacts of industrial projects[74].” The energy industry got virtually everything it asked for in the two omnibus bills, including – as their letter to the Harper government suggested – reforming “issues associated with Aboriginal consultation[75].”

Documents from Environment Canada showed how the minister informed a group of energy industry representatives that the development of pipelines were “top-of-mind” as the government pursued “the modernization of our regulatory system.” When the new legislation passed, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced that it has cancelled roughly 3,000 environmental assessments, including 250 reviews related to pipeline projects[76]. Other documents showed that at the same time the minister was informing energy corporations that he was serving their interests, he was to inform Indigenous leaders that any “changes to the government’s environmental assessment or project approvals regime” were “speculative at this point” and that they would “respect our duties toward Aboriginal peoples[77].”

As the Harper government became the primary lobbyist for the Alberta tar sands, documents showed how the government compiled a list of “allies” and “adversaries” in its public relations campaign, referring to energy companies, Environment Canada and the National Energy Board as “allies,” and the media, environmental and Indigenous groups as “adversaries[78].” The Canadian government even ran an “outreach program” where diplomats would attempt to secure support among American journalists for the Keystone XL pipeline project – taking oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast in the United States[79].

As the Canadian government revised its anti-terrorism strategy in early 2012, it listed “eco-extremists” alongside white supremacists as a threat to national security[80]. A review of Canadian security documents from the national police force (RCMP) and the Canadian intelligence agency (CSIS) revealed that the government saw environmental activism such as blockades of roads or buildings as “forms of attack” and “national security threats.” Greenpeace was identified as “potentially violent,” as it had become “the new normal now for Canada’s security agencies to watch the activities of environmental organizations,” noted one analyst[81].

IDLE NO MORE AND OIL PIPELINES

The government of Canada acknowledged in early 2013 that it expected – over the following decade – that there would be “a huge boom in Canadian natural resource projects,” potentially worth CAD 600 billion, which is foreseen to be taking place “on or near” Indigenous lands. One Indigenous chief in Manitoba warned that the Idle No More movement “can stop Prime Minister Harper’s resource development plan and his billion-dollar plan to develop resources on our ancestral territory. We have the warriors that are standing up now, that are willing to go that far[82].”

In an official meeting between the Harper government and the Assembly of First Nations in January of 2013, Indigenous ‘leaders’ presented a list of demands which included ensuring there was a school in every indigenous community, a public inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women, as well as several other very ‘moderate’ reforms. For the government, the objectives were much more specific, as internal documents revealed, written in preparation for Harper’s meeting with Indigenous leaders. As one briefing memo stated, the government was working towards “removing obstacles to major economic development opportunities[83].”

For the Idle No More movement, which does not consider itself to be ‘represented’ by the Assembly of First Nations leaders, the objective is largely “to put more obstacles up,” as Martin Lukacs wrote in the Guardian. Indigenous peoples, he noted, “are the best and last defense against this fossil fuel scramble,” specifically in mobilizing opposition to “the three-fold expansion of one of the world’s most carbon-intensive projects, the Alberta tar sands[84].”

In March of 2013, an alliance of Indigenous leaders from across Canada and the United States announced that they were “preparing to fight proposed new pipelines in the courts and through unspecified direct action,” specifically referring to the Northern Gateway, Keystone XL and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects. One Indigenous leader at the formation of the alliance warned, “We’re going to stop these pipelines one way or another.” Another Indigenous leader commented: “We, as a nation, have to wake up [...] We have to wake up to the crazy decision that this government’s making to change the world in a negative way[85].”

The territories of the ten allied Indigenous groups “are either in the crude-rich tar sands or on the proposed pipeline routes.” One Indigenous leader from northern British Columbia referred to the Canadian government, stating, “They’ve been stealing from us for the last 200 years [...] now they’re going to destroy our land? We’re not going to let that happen [...] If we have to go to court, if we have to stand in front of any of their machines that are going to take the oil through, we are going to do that. We’re up against a wall here. We have nowhere else to go[86].”

Roughly one week after the Indigenous alliance was formed, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying Alberta tar sands oil through the United States ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, spilling thousands of barrels of oil into residential neighbourhoods and the surrounding environment. Exxon quickly moved in with roughly 600 workers to manage the cleanup and sign checks “to try to win over the townsfolk and seek to limit the fallout[87].” The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) put in place a “no fly zone” over Mayflower, Arkansas, within days following the oil spill. The ‘no fly zone’ was being overseen by ExxonMobil itself, thus, as Steven Horn commented, “any media or independent observers who want to witness the tar sands spill disaster have to ask Exxon’s permission[88].”

Between March 11 and April 9 of 2013 (in a span of roughly thirty days), there were 13 reported oil spills on three separate continents, with more than a million gallons of oil and other toxic chemicals spilled in North and South America alone. The oil spills included an Enbridge pipeline leak in the Northwest Territories in Canada (March 19), a tar sands ‘tailing pond’ belonging to Suncor leaking into the Athabasca River in Alberta (March 25), a Canadian Pacific Railway train derailment spilling tar sands oil in Minnesota (March 27), the Exxon spill in Mayflower (March 29), oil-based hydraulic fluid spilling into the Grand River from a power plant in Michigan (March 31), a CN Rail train derailment in Ontario (April 3), a drilling leak in Newfoundland (April 3), the Shell pipeline leak in Texas (April 3), a condensate spill at an Exxon refinery in Louisiana (April 4), and a pump station ‘error’ in Alaska (April 9)[89]. Another spill took place in June on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia, one of the pipeline extensions being opposed by Indigenous groups[90].

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper was in New York in May, speaking to the highly influential US think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, where he explained that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline “absolutely needs to go ahead,” adding that it was “an enormous benefit to the US in terms of long-term energy security[91].” TransCanada, the company aiming to build the Keystone XL pipeline, along with the government of Alberta, hired a team of lobbyists with connections to the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry in particular to pressure the US government to approve the pipeline[92]. In late April, the president of the American Petroleum Institute confidently declared, “When it’s all said and done, the president will approve the pipeline[93].” In late May, the CEO of TransCanada said, “I remain extremely confident that we’ll get the green light to build this pipeline[94].”

Leaders from 11 different Indigenous bands in the United States “stormed out” of a meeting in May being held with federal government officials in South Dakota in protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. The leaders criticized both the project and the Obama administration, with one leader commenting, “We find ourselves victims of another form of genocide, and it’s environmental genocide, and it’s caused by extractive industries.” Another Indigenous leader who walked out of the meeting warned, “What the State Department, what President Obama needs to hear from us, is that we are going to be taking direct action[95].” TransCanada has even been supplying US police agencies with information about environmental activists and recommendations to pursue charges of “terrorism” against them, noting that the company feared such “potential security concerns” as protests, blockades, court challenges, and even “public meetings[96].”

While Indigenous communities in Canada and elsewhere are among the most repressed and exploited within our society, they are also on the front lines of resistance against environmentally destructive practices undertaken by the most powerful institutions in the world. As such, Indigenous groups are not only standing up for environmental issues, but for the future of the species as a whole. With the rapidly accelerating ‘development’ of the tar sands, and the increasing environmental danger of huge new pipelines projects, resistance to how our modern society treats the environment is reaching new heights. Indigenous organizing – much of which is done along anarchistic ideas (such as with the Idle No More movement) – is presenting an unprecedented challenge to institutional power structures. Thus, there is an increased need for environmentalists, scientists, and others who are interested in joining forces with Indigenous groups in the struggle against environmental degradation and the potential extinction of the species. In Canada, there is an even greater impetus for scientists to join forces with Indigenous communities, for there is a state-sponsored assault upon environmental sciences that threaten to devastate the scientific community in the very near term.

THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT’S ATTACK ON ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE

Since Stephen Harper’s Conservative government came to power in 2006, there has been a steady attack upon the sciences, particularly those related to environmental issues, as the government cut funding for major programs and implemented layoffs. One major facet of this attack has been the ‘muzzling’ of Canadian scientists at international conferences, discussions with the media, and the publication of research. At one conference hosted in Canada, scientists working for Environment Canada were forced to direct all media inquiries through the public relations department in an effort “to intimidate government scientists[97].” Under new government guidelines, scientists working for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) cannot publish material until it is reviewed by the department “for any concerns/impacts to DFO policy.” The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) expressed in a letter to Stephen Harper their “deep dismay and anger at your government’s attack on the independence, integrity and academic freedom of scientific researchers[98].” Hundreds of Canadian scientists marched on Parliament Hill in July of 2012 in what they called a “funeral procession” against the government’s “systematic attack on science[99].”

One of the world’s leading science journals, Nature, published an editorial in March of 2012 calling on the Canadian government to stop muzzling and “set its scientists free[100].” Journalists requesting interviews with Canadian government scientists on issues related to the Arctic or climate change have had to go through public relations officials, provide questions in advance, adhere to “boundaries for what subjects the interview could touch upon,” and have a PR staffer “listen in on the interviews[101].”

Dozens of government agencies and programs related to environmental sciences have had their budgets slashed, scientists fired, or were discontinued altogether[102]. The Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria lodged a formal complaint with Canada’s Federal Information Commissioner about the muzzling of scientists, outlining multiple examples “of taxpayer-funded science being suppressed or limited to prepackaged media lines across six different government departments and agencies.” Natural Resources Canada now requires “pre-approval” from the government before any scientists give interviews on topics such as “climate change” or the “oilsands[103].”

The attack upon the sciences is part of the Harper government’s 2007 strategy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage, which directed “a major shift away from scientific goals to economic and labour-market priorities,” aiming to focus on science and research which would be directly useful to industry and for commercial purposes. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has been steered by the government “toward industry-related research and away from environmental science.” The government’s minister of state for science and technology noted that the focus for research was to be on “getting those ideas out to our factory floors, if you will, making the product or process or somehow putting that into the marketplace and creating jobs[104].” Further, the National Research Council (NRC) was “to focus more on practical, commercial science and less on fundamental science” which wouldn’t be as beneficial to corporate interests. The minister of state for science and technology, Gary Goodyear, announced it as “an exciting, new journey – a re-direction that will strengthen Canada’s research and innovation ecosystem for many years to come.” The president of the NRC noted that, “We have shifted the primary focus of our work at NRC from the traditional emphasis of basic research and discovery science in favour of a more targeted approach to research and development[105].”

As Stephen Harper said, “Science powers commerce,” but apparently to Harper, that is all it should do, even though many scientists and academics disagree[106]. The implications should be obvious: just as society’s interaction with the environment is unsustainable, so too is the dependency of the sciences upon those institutions which are destroying the environment.

MOVING FORWARD

Regardless of one’s position in society – as a member of an Indigenous group, an activist group, or within the scientific community – all of human society is facing the threat of extinction, accelerated by our destruction of the environment sourced at the point of interaction (the location of extraction) between the dominant institutions of our world and the natural world itself. Roughly half the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, with billions living in hunger, with poor access to safe drinking water, medicine and shelter, monumental disparities in wealth and inequality, the production and maintenance of unprecedented weapons of death and destruction, we are witnessing an exponentially accelerating plundering of resources and destruction of the environment upon which all life on Earth depends. If there has ever been a time in human history to begin asking big questions about the nature of our society and the legitimacy of the institutions and ideologies which dominate it, this is it.

An anarchistic understanding of the institutions and ideologies which control the world order reveals a society blinded by apathy as it nears extinction. The institutions which dictate the political, economic and social direction of our world are the very same ones destroying the environment to such an extent that the fate of the species is put at extreme risk. To not only continue – but to accelerate – down this path is no longer an acceptable course of action for humanity. It is time that socially segregated populations begin reaching out and working together, to share knowledge, organizational capacity, and engage in mutual action for shared objectives. With that in mind, it would appear to be beneficial not only for those involved – but for humanity as a whole – if Indigenous peoples and segments of the scientific community pursued the objective of protecting the environment together. Acknowledging this is easy enough, the hard part is figuring out the means and methods of turning that acknowledgement into action.

This is again where anarchist principles can become useful, emphasizing the creative capacity of many to contribute new ideas and undertake new initiatives working together as free individuals in collective organizations to achieve shared objectives. This is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one. The very future of humanity may depend upon it.

For notes and sources, download the paper here.

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 Pro-ject, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

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.

Meet the Next Country That Might Explode into Protests Against Corporate Plunder and Slave Labor Working Conditions

Meet the Next Country That Might Explode into Protests Against Corporate Plunder and Slave Labor Working Conditions

Will the wave of global unrest crash on Indonesia next?

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally published on AlterNet

indonesia

Indonesia – a Southeast Asian archipelago that is home to the largest Muslim population on Earth – is a key global hot spot for corporate plundering, worker exploitation, land grabs and environmental devastation. Simultaneously, the country is becoming a tinderbox for militant labour unrest, peasant rebellion and indigenous resistance. After 500 years of domination by imperial powers, the population of Indonesia is organizing and resisting the ‘new order’ of global corporate colonization. Much like Brazil and Turkey, Indonesia has been praised by the imperial powers as a “model democracy” and the IMF hails its progress as an “emerging economy.” The illusions of Turkish and Brazilian state-capitalist ‘democracy’ have been revealed by massive urban uprisings. The conditions are present for Indonesia to become home to its own national uprising, the only question may be: what will be the spark?

Indonesia: A “Model Democracy” and “Emerging Economy”

Indonesia has been roundly praised by the major imperial powers as a “model democracy” – assuming they have any legitimacy to judge what that may be, with former World Bank president and Pentagon official in the Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz, having written that Indonesia was “an example for other aspiring democracies,” having shown a “remarkable” achievement in “building democratic institutions.” Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the “great transformation” of Indonesia since the dictatorship of Suharto, stating: “If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia.”

President Obama even praised Indonesia’s “extraordinary democratic transformation” which demonstrated “that democracy and development reinforce one another.” British Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed that Indonesia could “inspire” young Muslims around the world “to choose democracy as their future.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germans “view Indonesia as a model of peaceful and tolerant development,” and even suggested that the way in which Indonesia tackled its debt was “an example of what can be achieved and what Europe has to achieve.” Perhaps, Greece and Spain – in time – could become what Merkel views as “model democracies” along the lines of Indonesia.

Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and one of the top 20 economies in the world – listed among the major “emerging economies” – with one of the cheapest labour forces in Asia, which the New York Times explained was “a main reason [corporations] are attracted to Indonesia.” In 2013, Indonesia was listed as the world’s 12th largest exporter of textile products, with the minimum wage averaging $80-160 per month (as determined by local governments), compared with $75 in Cambodia and $37 in Bangladesh.

In a country of 240 million people, roughly 120 million live on less than $2 per day, though the government maintains that only 12% of the population – 30 million – live in poverty (which it defines as less than 86 cents U.S. per day), while 40% of children under the age of five suffer from moderate to severe ‘stunting’ due to malnutrition.

Despite the mass poverty and increasing growth of slums, a small section of Indonesian society has witnessed a remarkable growth in wealth, with the explosion of shopping malls, luxury cars and goods, and high-rise buildings. For Indonesia, “wealth and poverty are both on the rise.” The combined wealth of the country’s 40 richest individuals equaled that of its 60 million poorest citizens. Standard Chartered Bank noted that, “despite the rhetoric about middle classes contributing to growth in Indonesia, 82 percent of the population is living on less than four dollars a day.” Further, most of the economic ‘growth’ was experienced only by the consumer elite within the country.

A Pew Research Poll released in 2013 noted that only 37% of Indonesians felt their economy was “doing well,” with the number one concern needing to be addressed was that of rising prices, ranked above economic disparity, unemployment and sovereign debt. Roughly 75% of Indonesians felt that the economic system “generally favors the wealthy,” with 60% saying inequality had increased in recent years.

A Human Rights Watch researcher noted that with the “routine” trampling of rights for religious and ethnic minorities in Indonesia, along with brutal repression of peaceful protests, the imprisoning of political prisoners, along with torture and denial of medical care for prisoners, “the country is by no means a bastion of tolerance.” A former Indonesian economic minister recently noted that “the outlook for Indonesia becoming a well-functioning democracy is fast deteriorating,” with a tiny elite controlling the country while most people “have few prospects for improving their lives.” A former Indonesian foreign minister suggested that the country was fast in need of “a second wave of democratic reforms,” as when economic conditions worsen, “we will have a reaction on the street” since there existed within the country, a “dissatisfaction at a deeper level with the current state of democracy.” Even the Wall Street Journal noted that with the country’s continuous economic growth, “underneath lies a restlessness for real change that would affect the common person.”

But let’s not let facts get in the way of further praise; the IMF certainly doesn’t.

The Rising “Restlessness” from “Underneath”

The IMF has written in glowing terms of the success of Indonesia’s “structural reforms” which have led to “healthy” balance sheets for corporations and financial institutions. Growth forecasts remained above 6%, though more work could be done, noted the IMF: ending fuel subsidies, investing in infrastructure (meeting the demands of corporations), and to continue with “reforms” to labour laws, allowing for reduced wages, less benefits and protections for workers, and thus, attracting “foreign investment.”

In April of 2013, the IMF warned that “emerging Asia” needed to be careful about asset bubbles – like those that helped plunge the U.S. economy into crisis – and recommended the countries of the region “liberalize rigid labour and product markets,” thus allowing for cheaper labour in what is already a region for some of the cheapest labour on Earth.

Being the 12th largest exporter of textile products in the world, Indonesia is home to a significant sweatshop economy, marred by pervasive exploitation of labour. One Taiwanese-owned sweatshop employs nearly 10,000 people, mostly women, who work for 50 cents per hour making shoes for Nike, where the employees were verbally and physically abused. Indonesia is home to Nike’s third largest manufacturing base, following China and Vietnam, exploiting roughly 140,000 workers.

Indonesia’s ‘labour law’ – which was passed several years earlier – provided for slightly increased wages and severance pay in the event that a company decides to ‘downsize’ its workforce. Corporations have gotten around this law by hiring labour as ‘contract workers’ and firing them without benefits (what Indonesians call “outsourcing”). While corporations have been able to find legal loopholes – or simply ignore the law altogether – they have been facing increased pressure from labour unrest in recent years, and not merely in the textiles sector.

As the economy boomed in recent years, the labour force wanted a greater share of the benefits. Strikes had been increasing with demands for higher wages by mine workers, supermarket clerks, pilots and others who have “disrupted business operations – and could potentially deter foreign dollars.” The country had 53 strikes in the first seven months of 2010 alone, and they were continuing through subsequent years.

A strike took place at a plant owned by the French retail giant Carrefour in 2011 in protests against the company’s avoidance of adhering to Indonesia’s labour laws and in demand of higher wages. The strike was organized by one of the country’s largest trade unions – Kasbi – which represents 130,000 workers and has as its slogan, “Young, brave, militant.” Increasingly, labour organizers and workers have been connecting through social media, gaining access to more information than ever before and facilitating new ways to organize.

During the strike wave of 2011, Indonesia’s investment chief complained about the labour unrest in his country in an interview with the New York Timeswhere he expressed his fears that it would “reduce profit margins and competitiveness,” adding: “My concern is this will trigger a domino effect … it may trigger pressure for a rise in wages that not all companies can afford.” In May of 2013, Basri would go on to be appointed as the country’s finance minister.

In early 2012, Nike paid a $1 million out-of-court settlement for not having paid 4,500 workers at a factory for over 600,000 hours of overtime over the course of two years. The chairman of Indonesia’s trade union Serikat Pekerja National noted, “This has the potential to send shockwaves through the Indonesian labour movement… We have only just begun.”

In October of 2012, roughly 2.8 million factory workers across the country went on a one-day strike supported by several unions in 24 cities. In the capital of Jakarta, more than 700 companies were shut down for the day, while the government deployed 11,000 police officers and 4,000 military personnel to “secure” the rallies throughout the city. The mass protests were in opposition to companies hiring labour as “contract workers” and in demand of higher wages. Rallies were held across Jakarta and the country, where trade union leaders gave what the Financial Times referred to as “fiery speeches,” while the managing director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia complained that corporations viewed the existing labour laws as “counter-productive.”

The mass protests continued into November, at which point the government announced it was considering a minimum wage increase of up to 50%, though corporations were warning they would move their factories elsewhere. Following continued agitation over the course of the month, which saw demonstrators entering factories, urging workers to join them and shutting down production, the new governor of Jakarta approved a 44% increase in the province’s minimum wage. Tens of thousands of workers continued to protest, while business leaders complained that, “the minimum wage should be lower.” As the protests threatened the President’s major infrastructure development plans, one large corporate group warned: “The frequent protests are obstructive… They are getting to be too much and must be stopped.”

As the Asian Development Bank (ADB) warned earlier in 2012, while many governments in Asia had been experiencing rapid economic growth, rising inequality had become a major problem that could lead to social unrest and create “pressure to take on populist policies that are economically not very wise.” It advised Asian countries “to do something about it.”

In December, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (commonly known as SBY) declared an end to the “era of cheap labour,” noting that wages were set to increase in a few provinces, though added that the government could not tolerate “disturbances in the production process.” A government economic minister stated in a speech that, “We should also take sides with businesses. Companies unable to comply with the minimum wage increases should immediately file a report with the government to demand a wage freeze. We will definitely facilitate them.” The threat of unrest and resistance had prompted several Asian countries – including Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and China – to begin increasing their minimum wages by the end of the year.

As 2013 arrived and the wage increases were set to take effect, companies were finding their way around the new laws. Several Nike plants hired police and military officials to intimidate workers into signing away their rights to higher wages. Even before the New Year, roughly a thousand companies were seeking exemptions from the government in paying the higher wages. By mid-January, 941 companies had sought exemptions, by which time the government had granted 47. Thousands of workers took to the streets in protest, often met with police brutality or violence from “organized thugs.”

By early February, the government announced that of the total of 941 companies wanting exemptions, “we will grant about 80 percent of them.” Instead, 500 companies were given a “delay” in paying higher wages, with more expected. Labour groups were increasingly threatening action and agitation in response. Tens of thousands of workers continued to take to the streets in protest, demanding companies adhere to the law, that the government enforce it, and requesting a health insurance and pension system. Business groups were threatening to layoff up to a million workers and close 1,300 factories if they were forced to follow the law. One business group complained that companies were “facing tough times.”

On May 1 – the international labour day known as ‘May Day’ – tens of thousands of workers in Jakarta went on a one-day strike and march, bringing the city to a “standstill.” Roughly 50,000 people protested outside the Presidential Palace, not only demanding better wages and conditions, but also opposing the government’s new plan to raise fuel prices (by cutting subsidies). The Indonesia press reported that roughly 135,000 workers joined the May Day marches, as business groups complained such protests were a threat to “economic growth.”

Like any good state-capitalist ‘democracy,’ Indonesia went on to ignore the will of the people and bow to the will of the IMF. Following the advice of the IMF and World Bank, the government of Indonesia passed a law in mid-June to reduce fuel subsidies and increase the cost of fuel by 44% over the coming weeks. Thousands of protesters took to the streets over several days, met with tens of thousands of police and security personnel. Students and other groups joined demonstrations across the country, noting that increased costs of fuel raise the prices of other goods and services, such as food, clothing and public transportation. The cut to subsidies was designed to “ease investor concerns” about Indonesia’s finances. During the protests, the police used excessive force – as well as hiring “local thugs” – to attack protesters, and arrested 229 students in 62 cities, with roughly 118 students injured during protests, often by being fired upon with rubber bullets.

Can it really be said that Indonesia is a “model democracy” when so much of its economic “growth” is built on the backs of the mass exploitation of workers, and for the benefit of undemocratic global corporations? Indonesia is a model, perhaps, but not of democracy: it is a model for the global corporate plutocracy.

Though it has been fifteen years since the end of dictatorship, Indonesia’s transition to democracy has barely begun. The democratic aspirations of Indonesians are not seen in the luxury cars, shopping malls or high-rises that span the cityscapes – as the idolatries of economic ‘growth’ – but rather, it is seen in the workers who emerge from the factory sweatshops and take to the streets en masse, demanding the promises of democracy and economic growth be realized at long last.

Extractive Industries and Exploited Communities

Suharto’s ‘New Order’ witnessed the carving up of much of Indonesia’s wealth for American, British, French, German, Japanese and other corporations from the powerful countries of the world. The neoliberal era – from the 1980s onward – witnessed an exponential increase in corporate colonization, a process that accelerated with Indonesia’s transition from dictatorship to ‘democracy.’

In the early 1970s, the American oil company Mobil Oil discovered one of the world’s largest natural gas fields at Arun, located in Aceh province. For three decades, the Indonesian military waged a battle against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which sought autonomy from the country, leaving 10-30,000 people killed. When Mobil merged with Exxon in 1999, it retained control of the Arun project, and the military continued to attack local villages with the direct support of ExxonMobil. A lawsuit against Exxon alleges that the company “supervised, controlled and directed” military personnel who committed major human rights abuses between 1999 and 2001.

The region of West Papua was not part of Indonesia, but was a separate Dutch colony struggling for independence in the early 1960s. The U.S. and U.N. negotiated an agreement in 1962 where West Papua would be under the “interim control” of Indonesia for six years, at which point the country would vote for independence or to be part of Indonesia. When Suharto took full power in 1967, he negotiated an agreement with Freeport to grant a mining concession in the region. When the election in 1969 saw overwhelming support for independence, Suharto declared the area “a military operation zone” and sent in the military to crush the people’s local movement. Repression was rampant for decades, with up to 100,000 West Papuans having been murdered since 1969 in what some have referred to as a “slow-motion genocide.” Despite the region’s immense natural wealth, it remains as Indonesia’s poorest province. The Freeport mine itself has created “irreversible ecological devastation” to the region, with hundreds of thousands of tons of waste dumped into waterways and valleys daily.

The U.S.-based Freeport mine in West Papua – the largest copper and gold reserves in the world – experienced a three-month strike in 2011, where workers were demanding higher wages. Workers were paid as low as $1.50 per hour, while the mine made the company $5 billion in 2010 alone. Eventually, after a great deal of violence and injuries, including one death, the workers agreed to a 37% wage increase (far from their demands for a five-fold increase), but one union official noted, “This is not the end of our struggle.” Freeport had been paying millions of dollars directly to the police which guard its facilities, who had – on occasion – opened fire on the workers as they were protesting against the mine. In the ten years between 2001 and 2011, Freeport had given $79.1 million to Indonesian police and military forces.

As Amnesty International has noted, the police and security forces in Indonesia were often implicated in “torture, excessive use of force and unlawful killings.” Freeport’s chairman in 2005 explained: “There is no alternative to our reliance on the Indonesian military and police… The need for this security… as well as the decisions regarding our relationships with the Indonesian government and its security institutions, are ordinary business activities.”

Tin mining on the Indonesian island of Bangka has been popular among imperialists since the Dutch colonized the country in the early 19th century. Combined with the neighbouring island, Belitung, tin mining on these islands accounts for 90% of Indonesia’s tin, with the country being the second-largest exporter of tin in the world, used largely for consumer electronics. Indonesia supplies companies such as Samsung, Foxconn, Apple, Sony and LG with tin from these islands. The miners get paid low wages and workplace injuries (and deaths) have been on the rise in recent years. Further, the “lucrative but destructive trade… has scarred the island’s landscape, bulldozed its farms and forests, [and] killed off its fish stocks and coral reefs.” This destruction has often resulted in protests, some numbering over tens of thousands of locals.

In November of 2012, the U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez, stated that the United States hoped to “double its trade with Indonesia over the next five years,” as U.S. corporations were getting “excited about the opportunities” in the country for ‘growth.’ Sanchez traveled to Indonesia to encourage more trade between the countries, and he was accompanied by a delegation of corporate leaders from Cisco Systems, General Electric, and Honeywell International, among others.

Among the “opportunities” for growth – inspiring the ‘excitement’ of multinational corporate plunderers – is the profit that can be extracted from partaking in major land grabs and the destruction of the environment, with the added bonus of displacing thousands of peasant and indigenous communities in the process.

Land Grabs Lay Waste to Indonesia

Massive land grabs have been accelerating around the world since 2009, driving Indigenous peoples and farming communities off the land as foreign investors lay waste to the environment and create cash crops for export to rich countries. Oxfam noted in 2011 that the global land grabs were “already leading to conflict, hunger and human rights abuses,” since the ‘investment’ deals ignore the rights of those who live on the land, “leaving them homeless and without land to grow enough food to eat and make a living.” Land grabbing has been encouraged by the World Bank and IMF, most aggressively in Africa, but have spread across the world, from Central America to Indonesia.

In April of 2013, a Canadian mining company – East Asia Minerals Corporation – announced that it was working with the Indonesian government to “re-zone” nearly 2 million hectares of protected forest in Aceh for “industrial activities,” including mining, logging, and palm oil plantations. The company announced in a press release that they were working with the government to reclassify zones from “protected forest” to “production forest.”

Environmental groups warned that the reclassification could put biodiversity at risk, including endangered rhinos, elephants, orangutans, and tigers. Scientists from the Asia chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation released a declaration stating: “Aceh forests are essential for food security, regulating water flows in both the monsoon and drought seasons to irrigate rice fields and other cash crops… Forest disruption in Aceh’s upland areas will increase the risk of destructive flooding for people living downstream in the coastal lowlands.” Despite opposition from environmental groups, scientists, human rights groups and local communities, the “model democracy” government said it hoped to approve the plan “as soon as possible,” which the mining company said was “positive news.”

This “positive news” has the effect of not only destroying what’s left of the third largest rainforest on Earth – and causing irreversible harm to its biodiversity – but it is also displacing the Indigenous and small farmer communities that live off the land and forests, most of whom are not compensated and forced to either migrate to urban slums or work for minimal wages at the companies that stole their land. Many communities resist, but are met with the “heavy-handed security and paramilitary forces.” In the previous ten years, more than 10 million hectares of land was “given away and converted to plantations,” destroying thousands of communities and laying waste to the environment in the process.

Over 600 conflicts over land in Indonesia were reported in 2011, including 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries. A national human rights commission in Indonesia reported over 5,000 human rights violations in 2012, largely linked to companies involved in deforestation. The founder of the Indonesian Peasant Union – with a membership of 700,000 – noted that the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations “has spawned  a new poverty and is triggering a crisis of landlessness and hunger,” marred by forced evictions, violence, torture and even death.

A director of Friends of the Earth in Indonesia noted: “Who controls the land in Indonesia controls the politics. Corruption is massive around natural resources. We are seeing a new corporate colonialism. In the Suharto era you were sent to prison for talking about the government. Now you can be sent there for talking about corporations.” The police presence around plantations has been increasing, as has violent repression as the government “is trying to clamp down on mass protests.”

In the span of thirty years, global agribusiness, pulp and paper companies have turned the islands of Sumatra and Borneo – the third and sixth largest islands in the world – into near wastelands, threatening the incredible biodiversity – including endangered tigers, rhinos and elephants – to develop biofuels, vegetable oil and toilet paper. Scientists and environmentalists recently warned that “one of the 21st century’s greatest ecological disasters is rapidly unfolding.” In a matter of years, more than half of the third largest rainforest on Earth has been destroyed, and 70% of what remains is marked for “transition” into plantations. Nearly one million hectares of rainforest are destroyed every year in Indonesia, with scientists suggesting the endangered wildlife on the region will be extinct within a couple decades.

One Greenpeace official in Indonesia explained: “This is the fastest, most comprehensive transformation of an entire landscape that has ever taken place anywhere in the world including the Amazon. If it continues at this rate all that will be left in 20 years is a few fragmented areas of natural forest surrounded by huge manmade plantations. There will be increased floods, fires and droughts but no animals.” A director of Indonesia’s largest environmental group, Walhi, noted, “The legacy of deforestation has been conflict, increased poverty, migration to the cities and erosion of habitat for animals. As the forests come down, social conflicts are exploding everywhere.” Coal, copper, and gold mining companies are moving into Sumatra and Kalimantan, causing widespread deforestation and violent conflicts with local communities. The rare of deforestation is also increasing rapidly in the poorest province of West Papua.

In May of 2013, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported that Indonesia – with the third largest tropical forest coverage in the world – was “not doing enough to protect its forests.” While Indonesia passed a moratorium on deforestation in May of 2013, a number of loopholes make it almost meaningless.

Due to its rapid rate of deforestation and the draining of peatlands, Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, ahead of Saudi Arabia, Australia, Brazil and France. The large paper company – APRIL (Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings) – has come into conflict with multiple villages in Sumatra as it undertakes a project to destroy 450,000 hectares of rainforest, an area which holds roughly 1.5 billion tons of carbon. A local village leader noted: “We would die for this [forest] if necessary. This is a matter of life and death. The forest is our life. We depend on it when we want to build our houses or boats. We protect it. The permits were handed out illegally, but now we have no option but to work for the companies or hire ourselves out for pitiful wages.”

The devastation to rainforests has not merely been confined to Indonesia, but has spread at an alarming rate across much of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Burma, largely being driven by export-led growth, monoculture plantations, and the construction of dams and other large-scale infrastructure projects. The increasing rates of deforestation are exacerbated by the global explosion in land grabs, with the World Bank and other financial institutions like Deutsche Bank funding land grabs across Southeast Asia in which Indigenous people “are bearing the brunt of the seizures.”

In late June, fires started on or near major palm oil plantations owned by large companies became so large that the pollution spread across Malaysia and Singapore, causing a “hazardous” pollution warning in Singapore in the “worst haze” the country ever faced. Soon after, the Indonesian government announced it was investigating eight companies that might have started the fires on Sumatra, though the companies immediately blamed small landholders. An official from the Rainforest Action Network noted, “This recent smog is just the most visible part of the serious deforestation and human rights crisis sweeping Indonesia… Widespread, illegal burning to clear rainforests and peatlands for palm oil and pulp and paper plantation expansion is unfortunately a well-established yearly ritual in Sumatra.”

Farmers, workers, Indigenous people, women, youth, students and NGOs have been forming groups in which they pledged “resistance” in an “alliance against land grabbing” by the government and international corporations. Police have been using excessive force against protesters and Indigenous communities, and several peaceful activists have been imprisoned for opposing land grabs, deforestation and the construction of plantations.

The Indonesian People’s Alliance (IPA) formed in 2013 as an alliance of dozens of civil society groups, seeking to unite forces across Indonesia and internationally to oppose trade “liberalization” and respect national sovereignty. An IPA coordinator declared: “We have been told to preserve our forests, but large industry continues to wreck our environment and marginalize our own people. We cannot continue washing their dirty laundry.”

In June, a “militant peasant organization” – the Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement (AGRA) – protested in the thousands against land grabbing in Indonesia, stating that the land “needs to be distributed back to the peasantry through genuine agrarian reform.” An official from the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) – a regional Asian alliance of peasant organizations – noted that resistance was growing not only within Indonesia, but across much of Asia, where peasants were working to launch an “anti land grabbing campaign.”

Is an Indonesian Revolution in the Making?

The circumstances certainly exist – with 120 million people living on less than $2 per day, mass exploitation of workers, labour unrest, violent state repression, land grabs and corporate plundering, peasant and indigenous resistance, environmental devastation, and political corruption – for Indonesia to potentially witness a mass uprising. Workers are organizing across the cities against labour exploitation, while peasants and indigenous communities are organizing across the countryside against land grabs and environmental degradation, and increasingly, they are organizing and working together.

While the leaders of the imperial powers and institutions of the world praise Indonesia as an “emerging economy” and “model democracy,” the population of Indonesia is rising up against the corrupt, plutocratic elites, violent repression, environmental devastation, widespread exploitation and plundering that comes with those buzzwords. In short, the people of Indonesia are struggling to turn their country into a real model for democracy, and for the economy to emerge in respect of that ideal, not against it.

The demolition of a park in Istanbul sparked the urban uprising in Turkey, and the plan to raise bus fare sparked the urban uprising in Brazil. So perhaps the question is not ifIndonesia will experience similar circumstances, but rather: when, and what will be the spark?

Only time will tell, and no doubt, the Indonesians will let us know when it has happened.

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.

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.

ALINAphoto

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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