Archive for the ‘Arab people power’ Category


As usual, I am cyber-commuting.  I am currently in Vegas, in the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino Hotel to be exact, to attend the 13th meeting of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) study group on countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Asia Pacific which starts tomorrow morning.

I am currently commuting between TNT’s broadcast of the NBA All-Stars game, Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail.  The focus of my FB-ing and Tweeting is Libya, or what is happening in Libya over the past few days.

Which brought back some memories of that country, which neighbors Egypt to the west.

In April 1987, as special correspondent of Business Day, I found myself in Libya in response to an invitation to visit the country as its leader Muammar al-Gaddafi (or Khadafi or Qaddafi) tried to drum support against the United States.  Since I was critical of US imperialism myself, it was not difficult for me to decide to make the trip.

A year earlier, the US Air Force launched Operation El Dorado Canyon, involving bombing attacks against targets in the capital city of Tripoli and Benghazi from bases in the United Kingdom as Spain and France refused to allow the F-111s to fly over their territory.  While the attacks destroyed some military assets, several civilians, including the adopted two-year daughter of Gaddafi, were killed.

The collateral damage was apparently the result of a confluence of two decisions.  The Libyans placed their military assets and other high-value targets such as the residences of Gaddafi near civilian buildings and residential areas believing that the Americans will be deterred from attacking because of unacceptable collateral damage.  Meanwhile, the Americans were confident that their new ‘smart’  bombs were smart and accurate enough to hit the targets with ‘surgical’ precision.  Furthermore, the Americans wanted to kill Gaddafi himself.

So in Tripoli, we were regaled with exhibits of the remnants of the now-not-so-smart US bombs and huge blown-up photos of the dead and wounded, including the dead adopted daughter, Anna.

The casus belli between the two states?  It was something that did not happen overnight.

Libya’s foreign policies have undergone much fluctuation and change since the post-colonial state was proclaimed on December 24, 1951. As a Kingdom, Libya maintained a definitively pro-Western stance, yet was recognized as belonging to the conservative traditionalist bloc in the League of Arab States (the present-day Arab League), of which it became a member in 1953. The government was in close alliance with Britain and the United States; both countries maintained military base rights in Libya. Libya also forged close ties with FranceItalyGreece, and established full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1955.

On September 1, 1969, a small group of military officers led by then 27-year-old army officer Muammar al-Gaddafi staged a coup d’état against the reigning King Idris, launching the Libyan Revolution.

The dashing Gaddafi in the 1970s

After the 1969 coup, Gaddafi closed American and British bases and partially nationalized foreign oil and commercial interests in Libya. He also played a key role in promoting oil embargoes as a political weapon for challenging the West, hoping that an oil price rise and embargo in 1973 would persuade the West, especially the US, to end support for Israel. Gaddafi rejected both Eastern (Soviet) communism and Western (United States) capitalism and claimed he was charting a middle socialist course for his government.

In the 1980s, Libya increasingly distanced itself from the United States, based on the principle of non-alignment and the adoption of a middle path betweencapitalism and communism referred to as “the Third Theory“. The animosity was deepened due to Gaddafi’s support for groups like the Palestine Liberation Organization, which were considered terrorist organizations by the US government, and his flirtation with the Soviet Union .  US Secretary of State Alexander Haig considered Libya as “a Soviet satellite” and a “Soviet-run terrorist training network”. When Libya intervened in Chad in 1980, the incident was perceived by the American authorities as the Soviet Union’s attempt to spread control in Africa. In addition to this, Gaddafi’s opposition to Israel, an American ally, were enough reasons to have Libya considered an American enemy. Consequently, the Reagan administration began its campaign of assisting Libya’s neighbors militarily to be able to respond to any Libyan attempt to invade them. Tunisia was given some fifty-four M60 tanks plus $15 million in military credits, while other countries like Egypt and Sudan were given an increase in military credits and training with a full-fledged promise of support in face of Libyan threats. These strategies aimed at isolating Libya and pressure it to reconsider its policies towards the US.

Gaddafi in the 1980s

The first confrontation with the US occurred when Gaddafi had declared two hundred miles of the Gulf of Sirte to be restricted of any international usage.  An ‘intruding US Boeing EC-135 was fired upon by a missile of the Libyan air force. The attack did not cause any damage to the aircraft, and Jimmy Carter, the U.S. President at the time, did not respond militarily.   Talk was rife that Gaddafi ordered the burning of the American embassy in Tripoli.  In response U.S. President Ronald Reagan had the “Libyan People’s Bureau” closed, and oil imports banned from North African States. Reagan also contested the restricted area defined by Gaddafi based on a 1958 convention that stated that countries were allowed to claim twenty four miles of width from their coasts.  On August 19, 1981 US  navy ships  were sent close to Libya’s coast which resulted in a confrontation where two of the SU-22 fighters supplied to Libya by the Soviet Union were shot down. Following this, Libya was implicated in committing mass acts of state-sponsored terrorism. When CIA allegedly intercepted two messages implying Libyan complicity in the Berlin discothèque terrorist bombing that killed two American servicemen, the United States mounted Operation El Dorado Canyon.

From Tripoli, we (invited visitors from the world over) were brought to Benghazi (or was it Misratah?) where Gaddafi addressed us through interpreters.  All throughout his soft-spoken speech, partisans would chant: “Our leader!” which would then be answered by “Gaddafi” by another groups of militants. And the chanting continued in a march on the main street of Benghazi (or was it Misratah?).  The icing on the cake of the Libyan tour was a visit to the ancient ruins of the Roman city, Leptis Magna, located in Al Khums, 130 kilometers east of Tripoli. Leptis Magna is one of the most spectacular and unspoiled Roman ruins in the Mediterranean.

Leptis Magna (photo by Nenad Markovic)

As hundreds of  thousands of Libyans protesting against his more-than-forty-years rule are being mowed down by machine gun fire in Benghazi and Tripoli, and elsewhere in Libya, perhaps the chants are now:

Gaddafi ruing ouster of Tunisian strongman Ben Ali in January 201

Our killer!

Gaddafi!


Last 31 January, I, together with my graduate students in International Political Economy (IPE) at the University of the Philippines, tried to deliver a letter to the Egyptian Embassy in the Philippines.

The letter expressed our solidarity with the Egyptians struggling for freedom and human dignity and our concern on the violent police crackdown on non-violent demonstrators.

I consulted the gods of Google, the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and other sources and learned that the Egyptian embassy is located inside Dasmarinas Village, Makati City, near the Santuario de San Antonio Church.

The corner of Banyan and Paraiso streets inside Dasmarinas Village to be exact.

We assembled at the Starbucks near Santuario before we proceeded on foot to the embassy.  We tried entering the McKinley Road gate but we were told by the security guards that we can reach the embassy through the other Dasma Village gate behind the Santuario.

We dutifully walked to that other gate and explained our business to the security guards.  In the morning before proceeding to Makati City, I called the Egyptian Embassy and asked to talk to the Ambassador himself after identifying myself fully as UP professor.  I was referred to an unnamed female secretary who asked me if our only business was to deliver a letter.

I told her that it was our only intention and even asked for a 3:00 pm appointment with the embassy’s public affairs officer.

At this second gate, the security guards told us that the Egyptian embassy was not inside Dasma Village.

I insisted that it was, citing the phone call I had with the embassy secretary earlier.

Then I gave them the telephone number I used to call the embassy hours earlier.

They called the number (or so I thought) and came back to me that indeed, the embassy was not in Dasma.

I asked the one apparently in charge if the embassy was ever in Dasma and he was not sure.  What he sure of was that the embassy was not in Dasma.

In response to my question, he told me that the Egyptian embassy was located in a building in Salcedo Village, also in  Makati.  I tried calling the number of the embassy once more but this time nobody was answering the ringing phone.

Mubarak has already resigned.

We will revise our letter for the Egyptian people. We will congratulate them and wish them well.

However, we cannot deliver the letter unless we know the exact address of the Egyptian embassy in Makati City.

Can anybody help?


Jubilant Egyptians celebrating Mubarak's resignation (Getty Images)

Viva Egypt!

After 18 days of non-stop, non-violent protests, marches, and general strikes, former air force general and supreme leader of Egypt for the last 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, skedaddles to a Sinai peninsula resort town while his designated VP Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak has resigned as Egypt’s president.

The chairman of the Grand Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces also went on TV announcing that the military was in control and that it will oversee the transition process.  While he paid tribute and praised Mubarak for his services to the nation in times of war and peace, he gave a snappy military salute to the more than 300 Egyptians who died in the last 18 days.

Egyptians in Meydan Tharir predictably exploded in a paroxysm of jubilation.  As of this writing, the celebration continues in Egypt and in other parts of the world such as London where there would be a sizable number of Egyptians.  Arabs in Jordan and the Gaza strip also join the festivities.

While PM David Cameron of the United Kingdom was quite cautious in his congratulatory message, German PM Angela Merkel was more sanguine calling the Egyptian phenom a great triumph.

For his part, US President Barack Obama praised the Egyptian people but stressed that the Egyptian military, who is in de facto control of the country, has a key and important role in ensuring the ‘orderly’ transition to democracy.

What is paramount in Obama’s mind is that exit of Mubarak should not upset the quadrilateral US-Egypt-Israel-Jordan partnership that has kept the peace in the Middle East (aka known as the absence of an international war pitting Israel against Arab states).

The last Arab-Israeli conflict, known as the Yom Kippur War, was fought in October 1973.  Even if Israel won the war, it remained worried about its security as it was surrounded by hostile Arab states.

The US stepped in and convinced Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat and Israeli PM Menachem Began to start talking peace through the Camp David process.  In March 1979, a peace treaty was signed between the two states and this meant that for the first time, an Arab state recognized the right of the Israeli state to exist.

In 1994, a similar treaty was signed between Israel and Jordan.

In my opinion, none of these considerations animated the millions of Egyptians mobilized in the last 18 days.  What united them is a burning desire to get rid of Hosni Mubarak and frustrate the plan to install son Gamal as his successor.

And they succeeded.

There may be others who are not satisfied since the Egyptian military, a key prop of the Mubarak dictatorship, is still in control.

This fact should not blind us to the more important fact that an important victory has been achieved.

The victory of the Egyptian people will serve as the base, the launching pad of the future struggles for full democracy in Egypt.

In conclusion, I call on my readers to pay tribute and pray for Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor who started the Arab prairie fire for freedom from dictators.

Let’s us also pray and pay tribute to the more than 300 still-unnamed martyrs of the Egyptian revolution.

Let’s also praise the Egyptian military and urge them to continue listening to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

VIVA!


In December last year, a humiliated fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, burned himself and sparked what is now known as the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia that sent long-entrenched dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, his family and cronies packing their bags and ill-gotten loot and skedaddling  to Saudi Arabia and to parts unknown after that.

And Tunisia proved to be the spark that lit the now raging prairie fire in the Arab world.  Yemen is boiling.  Jordan too. But the focus of our attention is Egypt where the thirty-year old Mubarak regime is desperately clinging to power amidst calls made gingerly by West European and US governments for the strongman to start an ‘orderly transition of power’ what ever that means.

In our neck of the woods, the intrepid Heidi Mendoza (no relations; how I wish I had) revealed in one parliamentary hearing yesterday she made a pledge with her fellow auditors that she will run naked in the streets of Manila if the Ombudsman (the special court that supposedly tries cases against corrupt and erring public officials) found the case she built against the plundering Gen. Carlos Garcia to be ‘weak’.

Heidi Mendoza at House hearing

An hour ago, the voluptuous and reportedly openly-bisexual Mocha (Margaux) Uson, model and lead singer of the eponymously-named all-female show band MOCHA GIRLS, tweeted:

Mocha Uson
MochaUson Mocha Uson
ATTN: Heidi Mendoza. You have my support. I vow to run naked with you in the street if Garcia’s case will be dismissed.

Mocha Girls

Mocha kissing her bandmate

All these ‘body movements’ from Tunisia to the Philippines recall the excellent paper presented by Dr. Vene Rallonza of the Ateneo de Manila University at last year’s annual meeting of the Philippine Political Science Association (PPSA) in Baguio City.
Vene was my student in an International Studies course that examined non-violent political struggles the world over during the 20th century.  While her classmates chose to make class presentations on such struggles as the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the march of the Sumilao farmers from Mindanao to Manila, and the protest of the Chinese youth in Tien-an-men Square in Beijing in 1989, Vene decided to focus attention on the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), that band of activists who would rather wear leaves or go naked rather than wear ‘glamorous’ fur.
Vene joined me in a panel on unconventional lifestyles and politics where I also presented a paper co-wrote with my son Arlo, who is into literary theory and a member of an indie rock band on the politics of the Jologs, the Philippine version of gangsta, punk, and grunge.
We had a standing-room only audience.

PETA's 'rather go naked than wear fur' campaign

Two months after, during World Cup 2010 in South Africa, the world was treated to threats that they will run naked in the streets of their native cities.
The cellphone-on-the-chest wielding Larissa Riquelme, who is rooting for Paraguay, promised to run naked in the streets of Asuncion if her national team wins the Cup..
Larissa Riquelme
Or the coach of Argentina, the Diego Maradona of ‘the hand of God’ (in)fame(y), who made the same promise.
I guess the guys in Buenos Aires, even if elated over an Argentinian victory will prefer Larissa to do her run instead of Diego.

Maradona the bull

One may dismiss Mocha’s tweet as a blatant attempt to capitalize and ride on Heidi Mendoza’s current popularity.  Be that as it may, she has an acute sense of the great political possibilities of the body.
Today’s Inquirer carries a full-page ad paid for by a certain Jose Mari Moraza who declared himself a “soldier of truth who is one” with Heidi Mendoza “in the fight for a corruption free Philippines”.
Moraza encouraged Heidi: “Sa gitna ng tukso, pangungurakot-Huwag kang manghina at manatiling nakatutok sa tunay na layunin” (Amidst temptation and corruption, don’t weaken and stay focused on the true objective).
Burning bodies. Toppled dictators.
Naked bodies. Running bodies.
World Cup trophies?
Nah!
Convicted plunderering generals?
Hopefully, yes!
What more can I say?

Medan Tahrir

As I write this blog entry, a pitched battle between pro- and anti-Mubarak forces is raging in Tahrir Square (aka Medan Tahrir or Midan Tahrir) in central Cairo and nearby surroundings, including the Museum of Antiquities.  It started yesterday afternoon as pro-Mubarak forces mounted on horses and camel charged into the ranks of anti-Mubarak demonstrators in the square wielding clubs, sticks, and swords.  A number of them were forced off their mounts and were beaten up by the incensed demonstrators.  As nightfall fell, the pro-regime forces started pelting the other side with stones, rocks, and petrol bombs.  And the other side also started returning the favor.

Mubarak supporters on a camel charging anti-Mubarak protesters

The positions of both sides solidified as the night deepened into the dawn and metal barricades separated the combatants.  The contest is now a flurry and counter-flurry of projectiles and Molotov cocktails.  The contested ground seems to be Tahrir itself but the pro-Mubarak forces are not in any way poised to take control over the precious real estate. Especially since the anti-regime forces still outnumber them.

The battle of Tahrir

Meanwhile, the security forces (police and military) are not doing anything to restore order and to stop the hostilities.  Perhaps, their superiors found it prudent to allow partisans on both sides to vent their emotions through the street action.  Perhaps, what they intend is to confine the disorder only within the square. Or better yet, their superiors may believe that sending them into the fray may divide the security forces themselves–leading to a more frightening scenario of street fighting between fire-armed forces.  Better to confine the weapons to stones and fire-bombs!

Present? Absent!

Battle of Tahrir II

Meanwhile, there’s a dire need for medical and emergency personnel to tend to the wounded running into hundreds!

The street fighting is also duplicated in Egypt’s second-largest city, Alexandria.

Street fighting in Cairo

All these developments ensued after a defiant speech by Mubarak on nation-wide television with the strongman declaring that while he will not stand for any position at the coming September 2011 elections, he declared that he intends to die on Egyptian soil.  That he was a soldier and that he will not abandon his post.

A few hours after that inflamed speech came the horse and camel charge of the pro-Mubarak forces.

Apparently, Mubarak is not yet ready to cut, and cut cleanly.  And the US government headed by President Obama is either undecided or unwilling to speed up the process.

So now, Egypt’s future will, rightfully, be decided by the war of attrition in Cairo, Alexandria, and elsewhere within the country.


It’s the Chinese Lunar New Year!

The year of the metal rabbit, to be precise.

As I write, I hear firecrackers and rockets exploding in the night sky over Diliman, Quezon City.

Thousands of miles and several time zones away,  the largely-peaceful anti-Mubarak demonstrators and media persons in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt are being terrorized by ‘security thugs’ and apprehensive pro-regime supporters on camels, horses brandishing clubs, swords, and other weapons.  The anti-regime protesters protected themselves by throwing back stones and rocks.  At the moment, the Tahrir Liberation Square is a literal ‘war zone’ with petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails raining from the roofs of surrounding buildings unto the anti-Mubarak protesters.

Reports from Al Jazeera correspondents in situ indicate that the army is trying “its level best” to interject soldiers and armored vehicles between the clashing groups as the number of injured increased by the minute.  Soldiers also reportedly used firetrucks and water cannons to douse fires in the square.

 

DailyNewsEgypt reports that several men in religious garb stand in between two sides in Tahrir trying to stop the violence.

 

 

Back home, at out neck of the woods, we are luxuriating at the bravery of Heidi Mendoza, the former Commission on Audit (COA) auditor who had earlier painstakingly investigated fraudulent disposition of public monies at the  Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and testified the day before yesterday at the Senate.

Mendoza and the anti-Egyptian demonstrators (who have been protesting since January 25) and the Tunisian people are beacons of hope for decent and freedom-loving people the world over.

The sword-wielding thugs on horseback are a source of worry.  But worse, the intransigence of Mubarak suggests the possibility of a Tien-an-men style crackdown.  Mubarak maintained his tough stance amid denunciations of the violence by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon and even as Western governments, including Washington, called for an immediate transition of power.

We hope that the current impasse in Cairo will be resolved without further violence and bloodshed.

Obviously, something has got to give sooner or later.

The anti-Mubarak opposition will up the ante this coming Friday declaring it the “Mubarak will depart” day.

Meanwhile, the Grand Mufti of Cairo called on the anti-Mubarak protesters in Tahrir to go home as it is haram (forbidden) to defy authority.

It remains to be seen if petrol bombs and the Grand Mufti’s words will be enough to give a longer lease of life to the Mubarak regime.

Every new year ushers hope and good cheer.  Every courageous act of fellow human beings anywhere in the world inspires others about the possibility of a better world.

Every act of violence of any human being against another diminishes us all.

 


The protest against Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak is being amped up with a million-man-march planned in a few hours.

The broad opposition coalition, which includes the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and the April 6 Youth Movement, said it will march from Tahrir, or Liberation Square in central Cairo to the Presidential palace to force Mubarak to step down as soon as possible.  A general strike is also being planned.

We know about the Muslim Brotherhood.  In a previous blog entry, we introduced the Egyptian Kefaya.  Today, we talk about the April 6 Group, a grass-roots movement of young people that has been pushing for democratic reforms since 2008.

Who, what is the April 6 Group?

April 6 Youth Movement Facebook profile photo

Again, Wikipedia comes to the rescue.

____________________________________________________________________

The April 6 Youth Movement is an Egyptian Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/shabab6april)  group started by Ahmed Maher in Spring 2008 to support the workers in El-Mahalla El-Kubra, an industrial town, who were planning to strike on April 6.

Activists called on participants to wear black and stay home the day of the strike. Bloggers and citizen journalists used FacebookTwitterFlickr, blogs and other new media tools to report on the strike, alert their networks about police activity, organize legal protection and draw attention to their efforts.

The New York Times has identified the movement as the political Facebook group in Egypt with the most dynamic debates. As of January 2009, it had 70,000 predominantly young and educated members, most of whom had not been politically active before; their core concerns include free speechnepotism in government and the country’s stagnant economy. Their discussion forum on Facebook features intense and heated discussions, and is constantly updated with new postings.

The April 6 movement is using the same symbols as the Otpor! movement from Serbia, that helped bring down the regime of Slobodan Milosevic and whose tactics were later used in Ukraine andGeorgia.

Aside from discussing the state of the nation online, members of the group have organized public rallies to free imprisoned journalists and engaged in protests concerning the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict. In its official pronouncements, the group stresses that it is not a political party. Ahmed Maher the founders of the group, were arrested by the Egyptian authorities in May 2008 in an attempt to shut it down.

In July 2008, Maher was again arrested, along with 14 other members of the group, and charged with “incitement against the regime”. He also claimed that Egyptian state security officers threatened to rape him in custody.

On April 6, 2009 the group was subjected to attacks, suspected to have been orchestrated by the Egyptian government. Several websites supporting the group were hacked simultaneously, and protests in Cairo were confronted by plain clothed Egyptian policemen and numerous arrests.

On January 29th, 2011 a WikiLeaks document was revealed to show how the United States actively supported efforts for regime change in Egypt. On January 31, 2011 the movement promoted participation of at least a million in a march on Tuesday, February 1, 2011.

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Let’s see what happens with the million-man march.  Thanks to Al Jazeera live, now available on YouTube, we can do so.