Notebook, 28 January 2011: Scattered thoughts . . .

There is way too many important events going on today to give

  1. First of all, GlowNZ is absolutely right. There is no reason I can think of that this story has not received massive amounts of media attention, but there you go. Thus far, all we hear are crickets . . . .

    I wonder how long this will remain the case. Rachel is on now, and she may just be the one to give it legs. There are huge political ramifications on a number of fronts. Note: Rachel dedicates her entire show to events in Egypt.

  2. Ok. What drowns out the story above is, of course, the events in Cairo. Even with the internet blackout (not a complete blackout. Banks and businesses used one small Egyptian ISP, through which access was possible).I think the most salient point I’ve heard is that it is mostly a product of the world economic recession, and the societal changes wrought overseas through the global acceptance of the Washington Consensus.
  3. Egypt 2.0: Richard Engel’s reporting on TRMS provides one little tidbit: the tear gas canisters being used in Egypt are made in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, USA.

    Says so right on the canister:

    It really does pay to advertise, doesn’t it?

  4. I hardly want to reiterate what everyone knows, apart from what everyone feels is the “Big American Idea” (standing for individual liberties), that the situation in Egypt creates for Washington’s diplomacy. I’m reminded of what Zbigniew Brzezinski called “the global political awakening.” I’m sitting here wondering if any of the talking heads, the pundits, “deans” of American foreign policy at the CFR (especially those America-bosterism is all that matters crowd at CFR), etc. thought that this awakening would look any different than this:

    I really wonder if those lofty minds thought that spreading communication capacities with the dissemination of both good and bad information, aligned with top-down neoliberal economic pressures with the resulting imbalance of wealth was ever going to yield any other results?

    At times, I’d just love to see these people STFU.

  5. I really wonder what President Obama could say to Hosni Mubarak. They spoke privately today by telephone. I wonder about Mubarak’s state of mind, and if he was really listening to what he wanted to hear. Something like, “America shall remain Egypt’s friend.” (The aid will keep flowing).
  6. President Obama’s remarks on the situation in Egypt:

    THE PRESIDENT: Good evening, everybody. My administration has been closely monitoring the situation in Egypt, and I know that we will be learning more tomorrow when day breaks. As the situation continues to unfold, our first concern is preventing injury or loss of life. So I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protestors.

    The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.

    I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they’ve taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cell phone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.
    At the same time, those protesting in the streets have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully. Violence and destruction will not lead to the reforms that they seek.

    Now, going forward, this moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise. The United States has a close partnership with Egypt and we’ve cooperated on many issues, including working together to advance a more peaceful region. But we’ve also been clear that there must be reform — political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

    In the absence of these reforms, grievances have built up over time. When President Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people tonight, he pledged a better democracy and greater economic opportunity. I just spoke to him after his speech and I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise.
    Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people. And suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. What’s needed right now are concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people: a meaningful dialogue between the government and its citizens, and a path of political change that leads to a future of greater freedom and greater opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people.

    Now, ultimately the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people. And I believe that the Egyptian people want the same things that we all want — a better life for ourselves and our children, and a government that is fair and just and responsive. Put simply, the Egyptian people want a future that befits the heirs to a great and ancient civilization.
    The United States always will be a partner in pursuit of that future. And we are committed to working with the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people — all quarters — to achieve it.

    Around the world governments have an obligation to respond to their citizens. That’s true here in the United States; that’s true in Asia; it is true in Europe; it is true in Africa; and it’s certainly true in the Arab world, where a new generation of citizens has the right to be heard.

    When I was in Cairo, shortly after I was elected President, I said that all governments must maintain power through consent, not coercion. That is the single standard by which the people of Egypt will achieve the future they deserve.
    Surely there will be difficult days to come. But the United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free, and more hopeful.
    Thank you very much.

    He’s trying to thread a very fine needle here, and like pretty much all State Department releases, it reads as if composed by people made of wood. That’s what you get when you vet your remarks through State.
    I much prefer the remarks on state sovereignty as written in the The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (pdf)

    1.32 In a dangerous world marked by overwhelming inequalities of power and resources,
    sovereignty is for many states their best – and sometimes seemingly their only – line of
    defence. But sovereignty is more than just a functional principle of international relations.
    For many states and peoples, it is also a recognition of their equal worth and dignity, a
    protection of their unique identities and their national freedom, and an affirmation of their
    right to shape and determine their own destiny.
    In recognition of this, the principle that all
    states are equally sovereign under international law was established as a cornerstone of the
    UN Charter (Article 2.1).

    (Emphasis mine.)

    A nice place to start from. Bearing this in mind, I might ask (and I think the implications are obvious) how the wishes and discontents of the Egyptian people are being expressed right now, and how this affects our position. We have sucessfully propped up repressive and unresponsive regimes before, but we also saw our position in the Middle East go to hell-in-a-handbasket when the Shah went down.

  7. Last thoughts: First, this is only tangentially about the US, though we have interests in the outcome, and we should tread softly, very softly. Policies emanating from the US, the so-called “Washington Consensus,” are, I feel, central to what causes these events. Whatever our interests are, they are irrelevant. This is an expression of the Egyptian people, and though I fully expect US security interests will be in there pitching secretly for Israel and Mubarak, which offends a deep sense of rightness in me. Secondly, I’ve been impressed once or twice by some of the things Hillary Clinton’s State Department has been able to accomplish, and I have every confidence that she and the President will bring us through—though with the caveat that I stated above. Third, I wonder how the world would be different today had Mohammed Atta been able to find work at his home—in Egypt.

    Finally, the events unfolding in Egypt are at best, an effect of globalization made manifest. At worst, they are a distraction from the underlying causes.


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