The recent events in Egypt have justifiably grabbed the headlines as “unprecedented”. Ever since Sadat’s assassination in 1981, Egypt has been ruled by Hosni Mubarak who has been acting like a latter-day Pharaoh for the past 30 years. During his firm rule Mubarak brought “stability” to Egypt, albeit that it was a kind of stability that primarily benefited the ruling classes and not the man-and-woman in the street. And now, after “Eighteen Days That Shook the Middle East”, to quote the Associated Press in a reference to John Reed’s book on the Russian Revolution, Mubarak has left the scene in the wake of 300 dead Egyptians. The army is in charge now, and has even vowed to lead the way to democratic elections in six months’ time but has in the meantime suspended the constitution.
But, how did this wave of public dismay suddenly pop up across North Africa and the Middle East? Can it be true that the internet and such websites like WikiLeaks and various social media have emboldened younger generations to such an extent that they have now literally taken to the streets or is there more than meets the eye? Some commentators appear to believe that the Egyptian Revolution was a genuine popular uprising that brought an end to decades of unpopular rule. Even the veteran critic of U.S. interventionism Tariq Ali has called it a “genuine, popular upheaval”, adding: “I think the mass movement in Egypt is a movement for national independence, [an] end to neo-colonialism and for democracy”. Speaking on the Russian state-sponsored international broadcaster RT, he even compared the event in Egypt and the wider Middle East to the European revolutions of 1848. Tariq Ali put forward that the people of Europe then opposed the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Czar of Russia, which he compares to the U.S. in the contemporary context.
Still, a little bit of caution and critical sense seems appropriate. Following the break up of the Soviet Empire, the proliferation of colour revolutions throughout former Communist countries also appeared spontaneous and driven by the popular will. In hindsight, however, their organisation and planning funded by the West has come to light and rather than spontaneous and popular nowadays these “revolutions” have been called “orchestrated” on more than one occasion. The people of Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan were manipulated by U.S. intelligence agencies and NGOs like Freedom House and the Albert Einstein Institution to overthrow their ex-Soviet and pro-Russia leadership. So, what about the events in Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt? Is the Middle East now being remade in the shadow of Brzezinski’s “arc of crisis”? In this context, Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution appear highly significant. Sharp, also known as the “Machiavelli of nonviolence” or the “Clausewitz of nonviolent warfare”, has written a great many books on “Civilian-Based Defense” and democracy that can serve as blueprints for popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes. On the institution’s website many books are available for free download in a great variety of languages. Sharp’s ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’ can be accessed in such languages as “Amharic, Arabic, Azeri, Belarusian, Burmese, Chin (Burma), Jing-paw (Burma), Karen (Burma), Mon (Burma)”.
The protestors on Tahrir Square time and again stressed the peaceful and non-violent nature of their actions, only to be violently disrupted by pro-Mubarak or “pro-stability” activists on horseback and mounted on camels one day, leading to significant casualties and fatalities. But, quite apart from NGOs and their encouragements of non-violent protest in favour of regime-change more amenable to NATO and U.S. interests, the whistle-blower WikiLeaks has revealed something altogether much more sinister and calculated. The broadcaster RT reports that the “‘U.S. government had been planning to topple the Egyptian President for the past three years – that’s according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The files show Washington had been secretly backing leading figures behind the uprising”. A cable dated December 30, 2008 indicates that a leader of the April 6 Youth Movement – a Facebook-driven opposition group – informed U.S. officials that opposition groups had come up with a plan to topple Hosni Mubarak before scheduled elections in September 2011. The cable further elaborates that the anonymous leader quoted listed the liberal Waft Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Revolutionary Socialists as well as Kefaya, a broad-based reform movement, as part of a planned rising. The WikiLeaks revelations also indicate that the U.S. authorities helped an April 6-leader to attend an “Alliance of Youth Movements” summit at Columbia University in New York on 3-5 December 2008. In November 2008, the U.S. government promoted this event as an occasion bringing together “Facebook, Google, YouTube, MTV, Howcast, Columbia Law School and the U.S. Department of State . . . to Find Best Ways to Use Digital Media to Promote Freedom and Justice, Counter Violence, Extremism and Oppression”. The participating youth leaders were expected to “produce a field manual for youth empowerment”, adding that this document “will stand in stark contrast to the Al-Qaeda manual on the basics of terrorism, found by Coalition Forces in Iraq”. Matthew Waxman, a Columbia associate professor of law, said that “We at Columbia are excited about helping, designing, and studying innovative public-private partnerships that leverage new technologies to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges. This summit is a great opportunity to do this”. In this way, using fashionable buzzwords and jargon Dr Waxman tacitly provided academic credibility to this summit so clearly aimed at surreptitiously furthering America’s cause across the world. In addition to the April 6 Youth Movement leader, the summit was also attended by such luminaries as Whoopi Goldberg, actress and host of ABC’s “The View”, Dustin Moskovitz, Co-Founder of Facebook and James K. Glassman, Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
Now that the Egyptian Revolution has come to a happy conclusion, it seems possible to identify the anonymous April-6 member who was surreptitiously flown to New York and back. On 27 January, the Egyptian authorities arrested Google’s head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa. Wael Ghonim is also a prominent member of the already mentioned April-6 movement – a Facebook-driven opposition group. Two days after the protests erupted he was snatched off the street, but then he was released from jail on Monday, 7 February. While he was in prison, April-6 even named him their official spokesman. As a result, it seems very likely that Ghonim was the anonymous activist flown to New York two years ago to attend an event intended “to Find Best Ways to Use Digital Media to Promote Freedom and Justice, Counter Violence, Extremism and Oppression”. Far from being a spontaneous popular rising which supposedly emulates events in Tunisia, the earlier groundwork behind the scenes allowed Egyptians to take to the streets in an organised and peaceful fashion. America’s preparations have apparently come to fruition, and the world was watching the events in Cairo awestruck and full of trepidation and concern. Can it really be the case that a video message (or vlog) posted on a Facebook profile by the young Egyptian Asmaa Mahfouz proved to be the impetus needed for the protests on Tahrir Square to explode?
According Asmaa’s virtual friend Iyad El-Baghdadi, her vlog, recorded on 18 January was “so powerful and so popular, that it drove Egyptians by the thousands into Tahrir Square, and drove the Egyptian government to block Facebook”. In her vlog message, Miss Mafouz uses all the techniques employed in viral marketing – the use of “pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives (such as product sales) through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of virus or computer viruses”, as explained on Wikipedia. In her vlog, Asmaa Mahfouz starts off by evoking the self-immolation of four anonymous Egyptians in protest of thirty year of oppression. She claims that these young men’s actions were undertaken to spark a popular uprising, similar to the one that had recently rocked Tunisia. After one of them died, Miss Mahfouz relates how she alone, as a “girl”, staged a protest, and was joined by but a “few guys”. Similar to the way that then-Candidate Obama strategically repeated the phrase “Yes, we can” during his 2008 election campaign speeches, Asmaa Mahfouz then reiterates the word “Kifaya” (‘Enough’) that has become the slogan for the resistance against the Mubarak regime and the unofficial name for the grassroots resistance coalition known as the Egyptian Movement for Change (or ‘el-Haraka el-Masreyya men agl el-Taghyeer’). Wearing a chaste headscarf in the clip, the young Asmaa Mahfouz finishes her vlog message by calling for people “to go down to Tahrir Square on 25 January”, she urges people to protest for “honour and dignity” and for “human rights”. Employing a slight form of emotional blackmail and appealing to male pride and Muslim righteousness to achieve maximum impact, she addresses the listener directly: “If you have honour and dignity as a man, come. Come and protect me, and other girls in the protest”, urging her viewers to use SMS messages, the internet, their friends and family connections to spread the word. Asmaa Mahfouz adds that they will not set themselves alight but protest peacefully against the regime that has oppressed Egypt and its population for the past 30 years. Can this cunning use of the internet’s social networks really be the doing of one single “girl” acting on her own? Did Asmaa Mahfouz really single-handedly manage to shake up Egypt, acting in a chaste (her headscarf) yet provocative (her words) manner to shame the Egyptian people into staging peaceful demonstrations? Did the U.S. State Department under George W. Bush play a role in promoting the Albert Einstein Institution and Gene Sharp’s agenda of encouraging peaceful popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes by means of new media, social networks and viral marketing?
Again looking at the events of the recent past might prove to be enlightening. In July 2008, the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published an important piece of investigative journalism in The New Yorker magazine. In the article, Hersh details the covert operations the Bush Administration had initiated in Iran, with a view to precipitating regime change. Hersh says that late in 2007 “Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership”. Where did all that money go and what was the outcome of that spending? The economist and columnist Paul Craig Roberts explains this in the following detailed way: the “claim is made that Ahmadinejad stole the election [on 12 June 2009], because the outcome was declared too soon after the polls closed for all the votes to have been counted. However, [Mir Hossein] Mousavi [, Ahmadinejad’s main rival,] declared his victory several hours before the polls closed. This is classic CIA destabilization designed to discredit a contrary outcome. It forces an early declaration of the vote. The longer the time interval between the preemptive declaration of victory and the announcement of the vote tally, the longer Mousavi has to create the impression that the authorities are using the time to fix the vote. It is amazing that people don’t see through this trick. As for the grand ayatollah Montazeri’s charge that the election was stolen, he was the initial choice to succeed Khomeini, but lost out to the current Supreme Leader [, Ali Khamenei]. He sees in the protests an opportunity to settle the score with Khamenei. Montazeri has the incentive to challenge the election whether or not he is being manipulated by the CIA, which has a successful history of manipulating disgruntled politicians. There is a power struggle among the ayatollahs. Many are aligned against Ahmadinejad because he accuses them of corruption, thus playing to the Iranian countryside where Iranians believe the ayatollahs’ lifestyles indicate an excess of power and money”. And these machinations then led to the peaceful protests that became known as the Green Revolution, a popular movement that was meant to bring Mousavi to power and Iran back to the fold of civilised nations. In the end, however, the people’s peaceful uprising failed and Ahmadinejad is still in power today.
In addition to Hersh and Roberts’s interpretations, there is the fact that the journalist, political writer, and conservative Republican activist Ken Timmerman wrote on 11 June 2009, one day prior to the Iranian elections: “And then, there’s the talk of a ‘green revolution’ in Tehran, named for the omnipresent green scarves and banners that fill the air at Mousavi campaign events”. Did Mister Timmerman have access to a magic crystal ball or were his ears so finely tuned to Iranian whispers as to pick up “the talk of a ‘green revolution’ in Tehran” back in his home in Maryland, where he lives with his wife and five kids? Was Timmerman just another U.S. observer or did he have a stake in what was going down in Iran? On his personal website, one can read this boastful statement: “For his work in exposing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, he was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize by former Swedish deputy Prime Minister Per Ahlmark”. I would say that the fact that he received a Nobel nomination for uncovering a non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons’ programme qualifies Timmerman as a stakeholder. The 2005 National Intelligence Estimate clearly states that Iran was not developing a nuclear weapons’ programme, but that Tehran was “about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon”, as reported by the Washington Post’s Dafna Linzer.
Do these machinations concerning Iran, which is a major preoccupation of the U.S. government, have any bearing on the Tahrir Square protests and Mubarak’s departure on 11 February 2011? In order for that question to be answered satisfactorily, the exact roles played by Wael Ghonim and Asmaa Mahfouz will need to be determined. Are the present events really the outcome of plans hatched during the much-maligned Bush years? As long ago as 2003, then-President George W. Bush famously stated that “Our commitment to democracy is being tested in the Middle East . . . The good and capable people of the Middle East all deserve responsible leadership. For too long, many people in that region have been victims and subjects. They deserve to be active citizens”. Mubarak has long been a trusted ally of the U.S. in the region, but his autocratic rule and the rampant corruption present in his government have turned him into a liability, and thus one could argue that, under the guise of bringing democracy to the Middle East, the U.S. might very well favour a new leader in Egypt, preferably one with a popular mandate and connections to Washington.
The Egyptian army’s leadership seems to have taken the initiative forcing Mubarak to quit the day after he emphatically declared his intention to stay in power till the September elections. Tariq Ali has indicated that Washington will be involved in the upcoming elections, as Israel is a primary concern for the U.S. In addition, one could argue that the U.S. would want to protect its investment, keeping in mind that last year Egypt received a total of $1.55 billion in aid from the U.S. Will the elections confirm the rapidly appointed Soleiman as the new President of Egypt or will a popular candidate emerge representing the will of the population of Egypt?