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Saad’s Revolution

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Posted on Feb 1, 2011
AP / Amr Nabil

Egyptian academic Saad Eddin Ibrahim, in 2002, waits for his defense hearing in a Cairo court cage.

By Juan Cole

A largely unheralded hero of the Egyptian revolution is a mild-mannered academic who endured imprisonment and then exile for daring to criticize the Mubarak family’s increasingly dynastic ambitions.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim has spoken out forcefully on human rights and democracy for decades, and he is finally being vindicated. But his message that the United States needs to support democracy in the Arab world and put aside its paranoia about Muslim fundamentalist movements may be unpalatable to Washington’s elites.

As an academic at the American University of Cairo, Ibrahim pioneered the study of Muslim dissidents and radicals, receiving permission to interview them in the dreaded Tura prison in the early 1980s, in the wake of the assassination of President Anwar Sadat by a joint council of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Grouping.

By a great irony of history, Ibrahim was destined to join his former interview subjects in prison himself. Having become a democracy activist in the 1990s, Ibrahim helped make films instructing peasants how to vote. In Egypt’s class-ridden, hierarchical society, the elite around President Hosni Mubarak viewed these activities as seditious.

But Ibrahim’s most serious infraction was to indirectly slam the increasingly obvious moves by Mubarak and his wife Suzanne to install their son, Gamal, as the future president-for-life. In an interview on satellite television, Ibrahim was asked about the tendency toward dynastic rule in the Arab world, with longtime Syrian dictator Hafez Assad ensuring he would be succeeded by his son Bashar. Ibrahim joked that the Arabs had invented a new, heretofore unknown form of government. It joined the republic (in Arabic, jumhuriya) with the monarchy (mamlakiya), creating the ... jumlukiya! We might translate the term as “monarpublicanism.”

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The Mubaraks, who knew Ibrahim socially, were livid at this denigration of Gamal’s ambitions. Egypt is a nation of stand-up comedians, and the first family knew that nothing could more effectively puncture their carefully cultivated dynastic image than a humorous term such as jumlukiya. Indeed, Arab wags took the joke further. The premodern Arab world had often been ruled by Mamlukes, or a military caste. People called the Bashar Assads and the Gamal Mubaraks “Jumlukes.”

Suddenly, Saad Eddin Ibrahim was subjected to trumped-up charges that his foundation had taken European Union money for election monitoring without properly reporting the foreign funds. He was tried and sentenced to prison in 2000, languishing there until 2003, with bad effects on his health. His appeals were consistently upheld by the courts, and Mubarak faced international pressure, including from President George W. Bush, to release the hapless sociologist. He was thus released and had to go into exile in the United States.

Ibrahim was often cited by the neoconservatives who backed the Iraq War, but he did not return their esteem. He denounced them for cynically using the Sept. 11 attacks “to advance hegemonic designs” and complained that the Iraq debacle had turned the world against the U.S., causing the original sympathy generated by the attacks to evaporate.

Ibrahim saw a brief moment of redemption in Bush administration democratization policies in 2005-06, with U.S. backing for the Cedar Revolution against Syrian dominance in Lebanon. But with the victory of Hamas in the January 2006 elections for the Palestine Authority, he lamented, the Bush team made an about-face and fomented a “cold war” against “Muslim democrats.” The unseating of Hamas in the West Bank by a U.S.-backed PLO coup, and then the Israeli war on Hezbollah in Lebanon, he said, gave new heart to Arab autocrats. When the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood unexpectedly did well in the 2006 Egyptian parliamentary elections, he implied, Washington pressure on Mubarak to democratize vanished. Ibrahim warned that the future of the Arab world was democratic, and that the opinion polling done by his Ibn Khaldoun Institute demonstrated that the democracy would have a strong Islamic coloration. He pointed out that none of the Arab heads of state were among the top 10 people the Arab public said it admired, whereas Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and the Muslim Brotherhood’s then leader did make it onto that list. He would tell the Obama administration too that support for democracy means making its peace with the likely influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In recent years, Ibrahim became critical of what might be called the “neorealism” of the Obama administration. In a reaction against Bush’s rampages in the region, which it sometimes attempted to justify with reference to “democratization,” Obama’s team had chosen instead to work with the existing leaders in the region. He lamented the “free pass” he said Obama had given Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, despite human rights violations, torture and sectarian violence. He said, “The most disheartening part in all of this is that Washington under President Obama is conducting old-style foreign policy with Arab tyrants from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi to Syria’s Bashar Assad,” contrasting the sordid reality with the bright promises in Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim is being vindicated by history. The young crowds in the streets are protesting about the same policies he has spent his life deploring. The Obama administration has fumbled badly in its statements on Egypt’s unrest, from Hillary Clinton’s assertion that the Mubarak regime is “stable” to Joe Biden’s ill-advised insistence that Mubarak is not a dictator. It would do well to take some advice from the grand old man of Egypt’s democracy movement. One thing is increasingly clear: Egypt will be spared the ignominy of monarpublicanism.


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By REDHORSE, February 2, 2011 at 5:34 pm Link to this comment

SAAD paid the serious dues necessary to provide a “voice” for the countless Egyptians suffering at the hands of a police state dictatorship. He laid his life, health and future on the line. (Remember the 60’s in America?)


    The open propagandist actions of the American MSM to call for and prep the American people for open violence, arrest, murder and torture of the Egyptian protestors is shameful. Straight faced reports today that “Mubarak supporters” are attacking “pro-democracy” demonstrators or recent revelations that “violent looters” destroying Egyptian antiquities were actually “undercover police” echo the same fascist American black flag ops used against American protestors in Minneapolis and Seattle.

  Again, Washington is an open lie. Democracy is not “capitalism” and neither is oligarchic corporate fascism. The Egyptian people are standing. Perhaps the American people should too.

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By alturn, February 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment

“The days of the dictators, the sultans and sheiks are ending. Now is the time for government by the people, for the people.”
“The process of haves and have-nots in the Middle East continues, but it only came to the forefront against the background of outside cultures penetrating the fabric of the Middle Eastern way of life. Maitreya says: An Arab is supposed to be an Arab, with an Arab culture, an Arab background. The masses remain Arab. The rulers lead a double life. This means that at home they show they are Arabs. Abroad they identify with nonArabs. This process guarantees a type of aura which makes one fall apart.
Maitreya says: Look at the Sheikhs. They tell their people they defend and nurture their countries with the Arab way of life. But what have they done? The wealth of the nations has been spent on arms, on personal luxuries and investments abroad, while the masses struggle for existence. . .
Maitreya says to these rulers: “It is time for you to go. Government will be by the people and for the people. The wealth of the nation is for the nation. If the nation is deprived of its health and wealth, it will rise up.”
Maitreya has made it clear to various Middle Eastern rulers that although they have tried to involve the Americans, the consequences spell disaster. Even if war takes place, there will ultimately be no sultans, emirs or sheikhs continuing to rule as they do now.
Everywhere, the politicians are frightened. The people will begin to ask questions about the billions spent on arms, which should have been spent on the people.”
- World Teacher Maitreya through an associate as reported by Share International

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By prgill, February 2, 2011 at 4:05 am Link to this comment

Very interesting discussion and important topic.

Thank-you TD.

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By Shama Zaidi, February 2, 2011 at 2:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s all right for an imperialist power to choose and pamper dictators in defense of its own democracy. But why is our government in India not coming out in support of the people demonstrating for their democratic rights.Democracy in Asia and Africa will help all of us in keeping NATO and the West confined to their own continents.

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By node1, February 1, 2011 at 3:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If I’m remembering correctly, Saad insisted years ago that the Middle East was on the verge of democratization via upsurge from the educated middle class. He spent much of his professional life analyzing the Muslim Brotherhood, bringing nuanced understanding (but not always approbation) to our understanding of the organization. Vindication indeed! Let’s hope we hear from him more often in the future.

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By domnuledoctor, February 1, 2011 at 2:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

IBRAHIM is a rather typical case of what I saw in Egypt. I was introduced to him through fellow medical students in East Europe, assuming it is the same person. His account of the morphosis of Mubarak as a classical: power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, could well apply to anyone, Obama included. Mubarab was a very modest and serious man catapulted to history’s challenge of leadership and his trajectory was most probably be the same as that of anyone else’s that follows him. The issue now is, as always, one of the marvelous “checks&balances;” that only a nation of self-centered shopkeepers and farmers like the small businessmen who created the USA could dream up. Elsewhere, a leader is really moreIt remains to be seen if Egyptians appreciate that issue of checks and balances now that they are no longer lemmings, having learned from their experience with a demigod, Nasser.

As for the neoconservatives, everyone in the Middle East knows of their crude qualities since the Saudis had exposed the “deal” that one of these lowlifes offered the Saudis: invest $billions in our company and we’ll tone down the emphasis on the Saudi source of alQaeda. It takes a small time morally bankrupt president like Bush to gamble with their influence at such a high level as national security witch such shysters; their moment at the pinnacle of power bespeaks the institutional corruption of American society operating in an amoral social culture.

And so, as Americans watch ongoing events in Egypt on alJazzira and discover that instead of the picture of “total chaos” that   media in America sought to paint, Arabs are today no less sophisticated than Americans in appreciating what corruption of the common good through jingoistic government can do to them. A little modesty would facilitate the realization that things are getting gradually as bad here as in Egypt; it also would help Americans greatly to see what happened when citizens abrogate their own powers and allowed power to go to corporate entities. Disappearance of a social welfare safety net for increased military capacity is the yardstick that defines a corrupt society. 

We are a declining power that is rotting with corruption and public despair. Like Egyptians have been for so long, we are caught between the élan of nationalist mobilization and the realization that our nation’s government is the machinery through which corporate cannibals catch us to consume us, making us more “consum-ED” than “consum-ERs.” It thus follows that what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt and possibly beyond in other Middle East nations, is a prologue to where we’re going as our population comes to terms with how it’s present and the future of its children are devoured by corporate cannibals. More and more, since the fall of Communism went to the head of our corporatists, we are looking like Egypt and Tunisia. It’s a matter of degree; but if we wait until we achieve the same level, we will not rebel as they are finally doing now, for too long we have been Pavlovian conditioned emotionally and Skinnerian operant conditioned to think that there is a system available to us for taking by force from our neighbors, sanctioned by our corporate Gov. We are soft and too programmed to do what the EastEuros did in the 90s and Arabs are doing today. Instead, we will probably more likely comply with corporate power, cannibalizing each other while all cannibalized by Obama’s corporate masters.

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By frecklefever, February 1, 2011 at 1:50 pm Link to this comment

BIDEN ON HIS LAST TRIP TO ZION..SAID HE WAS A ZIONIST…NOW HE STATES MUBARAK IS NOT
A DICTATOR…ITS TIME FOR BIDEN TO RESIGN…OBAMA COULD CHOOSE A REPLACEMENT VICE
PRESIDENT…SOMEONE WHO KNOWS WHAT’S SHAKING….THEN OBAMA COULD RESIGN AND
THE NEW PRESIDENT COULD APPOINT OBAMA AS VICE PRESIDENT…WHERE HE COULD SERVE
HIS APPRENTICESHIP….THEN AMERICA WOULD BE ALL BETTER…........JUST A PATRIOTS DREAM..

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CJ's avatar

By CJ, February 1, 2011 at 10:17 am Link to this comment

CNN’s on the story like proverbial white on rice. As well they might be given
drivel that emanates therefrom 99.9% of the time. Still, Zakaria the other day
asked a presumptive question, as Sharif Abdel Kouddous noted on DN
yesterday. (Cole was on last week with Kouddous and, as here, astute as ever.)
Ben Wedeman has appeared on the verge of tears most of the time—due to
events (fear of or thrill over) or due to 20-hour marathons.

Various power corrupts in so many ways the minds of all its bearers, whether
Zakaria or Mubarak, or Clinton or Bush, or some half-baked Republican from
Michigan who appeared yesterday in a three-piece job last (and aptly) spotted
on Cotton Mather.

All are so, so concerned for “stability.”

I recall from Polysci 101, the term, “stability.” That’s where all these blind mice
(among Ibrahim men and women) come from—fear of instability. Though CNN
is breathlessly waiting for the shooting to start, and so this morning TJ Holmes
could not figure out why a young American woman remained, as opposed to
making a dash for the nearest airport.

At CNBC (go there—if you dare—for the most atrocious “analysis” from the
standpoint of the investor class), some dope on Fast (Easy) Money flatly stated
too that Mubarak is not a dictator. A guest of same program claimed just
yesterday that Venezuela is next. SAY WHAT? Invest in oil, or don’t; I didn’t
quite get it, so loony was his point of view, which should only have been
spoken to his therapist, bartender or broker.

Foreign policy born of fearful fantasy, which makes Cole’s “neorealist” label for
Obama that much richer, so to speak. “Post-realist”? Or “Never was that”?
People don’t exist for these people, except as laboring machines born to it.

Stability. Zakaria’s attitude is that of all ruling elites, though at least he noted
Mubarak is a dictator. Well, in so many words, as he wondered too of the
Brotherhood, fear of it. Fear is always expressed on the people’s behalf. Thanks,
but stow it.

Obama’s a smart fella who seems bent on dumbing down himself, or who has
to in order to function within the complex. The Bush clan is another story of no
more nor less than the sheer will to power, since it’s not new to money.

No person nor persons outside the class/clan cannot or will not serve the
privatizing interest of any of the aforementioned. Thus, “Mubarak faced
international pressure, including from President George W. Bush, to release the
hapless sociologist. He was thus released and had to go into exile in the United
States.” (Nicely put, Mr. Cole.) It’s not difficult to see the source of comedy,
however also tragic. Not that any self-respecting stand-up would have anything
to do with such murderous hypocrisy. GHWB was also going to back democrats
in Iraq, remember? Oh well, sounded good, like Obama’s speech to Arabs. Was
that before or after Obama met the bond market? And the generals? Or anyone
at all other than Rahm Emanuel, speaking of dictatorship, Chicago-style.

And so, democracy can only come from below, which we all knew already.
Democracy is by nature unstable, a risky biz, but the only biz worth any serious
risk, as though any attuned to CNBC ever took a serious risk anyway.
Democracy, however, scares the bejesus out of ‘em. Someone or some many
might expropriate what was theirs to begin with. (The markets suffered a
severe loss of nerve last Friday, when the panic-prone gold-folded.)

Who knew democracy could look so good? Not really all that unstable as it’s
turning out. Who knew, other than Chomsky, that anarchy could look like
Tunisia and Egypt? Not even most on the left, let alone the fear- and war-
mongers who populate “stable” regimes and megamedia.

Events have made these last weeks the most beautiful in a long, long time.

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