Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hosni Ceausescu - A Mockery In Cairo

It was a scene for the history channel: on August 3 2011, Hosni Mubarak, the much feared former president of Egypt, was presented to the Egyptian public and to an Egyptian court as an ailing 83 years old man, lying on a hospital bed inside a cage of mesh and iron bars. If Hosni had worn a mask, I would have sworn that this was Hannibal Lecter in a new sequel of Silence of the Lambs. 

Hosni Mubarak is accused of having ordered the killings of protesters during the 18 days of Tahrir in January and February of this year. His regime of 30 years, his repression and oppression of democratic movements, is not called into question in this trial. But can the reign of the Pharaoh reduced to 18 days in an Arab winter leading to an Arab spring leading to an Arab leader's fall?

The scenes in Cairo looked like bread and circus to me. This trial, at this time, is opium for the masses. Who is trying who? The revolution in Egypt is stalled and the generals now in charge of running the business are busy keeping a stranglehold on every demand for real reforms coming from the revolutionary factions. The same people that cleared Tahrir Square on August 1 wanted to clear themselves by wheeling Hosni Mubarak into a courtroom on August 3. The old regime is getting rid of a persona non grata to strengthen their position in view of an endgame for the throne of the new Egyptian Pharaoh.

Once again, the Egyptian people are not given the responsibility for their own destiny. Once again, the Egyptian people have outsourced decisions about who is to live and who is to die to institutions and centers of power they have not voted for.

Mubarak must be tried, at one point of history or another, no doubt about that. But instead of trying Mubarak the Man, any trial must be about Egypt the System. Even a dictator can't do it all by himself, utilizing a network of disciples and dependents to survive. Why can't "Egypt" wait with trying the old rulers until new institutions - a new president, a new parliament, a new constitution - have been elected into function? Only a new system can bury an old system. The old system purging itself is just not credible. There are no quick fixes on the way to a free society.

a swift end: Hosni Mubarak (left)

Where does the United States stand in all of this? For decades, Mubarak was Washington's darling, being their good strategic partner for Israel and fighting Islamist's tendencies threatening the American interests in the country and in the region. Now a voice from the White House is absent when buddy Hosni is behind bars in Cairo. The American love is fickle. It has never paid off to be their friend.

On December 25 1989, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, together with his wife, was shot in Bucharest by a firing squad, standing against a wall. On April 28 1945, a firing squad shot Benito Mussolini in Northern Italy, his companion Clara Petacci falling by his side. Their bodies were later displayed publicly, hanging from a scaffold in Milan. The final fate of these tyrants was quickly sealed and swiftly executed. If convicted in court, Mubarak could face the death penalty. I would have preferred for him to die like Ceausescu or Mussolini. At least his death would not be the result of a mock trial by his own people. In Egypt, despite the trial, things are still done the Mubarak way.

But maybe I'm getting it all wrong and the farce in Cairo is well planned, like a chess game. Maybe his appearing in court is a final salute from Mubarak. Suffering from cancer he knows his days are numbered, regardless of any judge's verdict. With this trial, Mubarak plays a last card to keep his gang, the Egyptian army, in power. Damn the Tahrir. Let the games begin.

By the way: where is Omar Suleiman, the former Egyptian intelligence chief and short term vice president, when all of the above takes place? I have a feeling that the system still needs him. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Oslo Is Not OK

It was many years ago, almost in another life, that I was traveling through the United States. I kept a diary then while traveling and here is what I wrote when I came to Oklahoma City:

On April 19 1995 Oklahoma City became a tourist attraction. On this day the terrorist Timothy McVeigh blasted a public building in the inner city, killing 168 people. The building will not be reconstructed, the site of the attack is a piece of lawn today. The fence enclosing the site is used by mourning Americans as a black board. They hang messages of consolation or t-shirts with their names into the wires. We wouldn't have been able to find the crime scene without the help of a young "Okie" who gave us directions, his eyes shining. Does he sympathize with the perpetrator? Generalizations and stereotypes are dangerous, but a young wife and a kid, and being a kid himself, bad teeth and a beat up car, an obvious poverty and a overdone friendliness are signs of people who deem every means justified to fight the conspiracy in Washington. Oklahoma is promoting herself with "Oklahoma is OK". It fits the self given image of a Midwestern Disneylandia that half of the radio stations play country music. On a Wednesday in April, Oklahoma was not OK. 

On a Friday in July, Oslo was not OK. Anders Behring Breivik (ABB), a blond viking of 32 years, first detonated a car bomb in downtown Oslo, killing 7 people, then headed out to a small island where young people affiliated with Norway's Labor Party had gathered for a summer camp. ABB set out for a shooting spree across the island, killing another 70 people, mostly at close range.

TV "experts", newspaper "analysts" and the usual mob posting in various internet chat rooms were quick to blame Muslim terrorists for the horrendous crimes. Who else to blame? While a car bomb in a government district might have the Al Qaeda trademarks, the island shooting clearly was not their style. Why do we keep associating terrorism with the faith of Islam? Historically, aggression has been directed more from Europe to the Muslim world than the other way round. And then there is statistical evidence from Europol: in 2010, the European Union was the victim of 249 terrorist attacks. Only three (3) of them had an Islamist background!

On Saturday morning the dust had settled and it became clearer: the perpetrator was a very sick, technically very capable man from Norway. (To this date I still suspect that he didn't act alone, that he had some support, particularly to build the car bomb.) Then the rhetoric in the free Western press changed. The word "terrorist" seemed to have vanished from the editors' vocabularies, instead the Norwegian monster was now called a madman, a lone wolf, a mentally derailed, a killer. A terrorist among us? Too painful to accept. It is easier - quoting Tara McKelvey in "The Daily Beast" here - to see terrorists as the Other, as someone who holds bizarre views, living in a far-flung country, and is utterly alien. Yet real-life terrorists are not the shadowy figures of 24; they are just like us. 

Soon it became apparent that ABB was quite an active contributor to social media. He was even on twitter, although he only tweeted once, paraphrasing the philosopher John Stuart Mills on July 17 2011: "One person with belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests." His twitter account was booming on Saturday morning, shooting from a few followers to 2000+ in a couple of hours (and currently standing at 3975 followers). What were his new followers expecting? That he would tweet again? This is definitely a new phenomenon: instead of the rubbernecks at the scene of an accident, the 3rd millennium knows "the new follower on twitter". Crime attracts.

Over the weekend the motives of ABB became public. A 1500 pages manifesto "2083: a European Declaration of Indepence"  - referring to 1683, when Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg pushed back the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna - had been sent just two hours before the attacks to numerous organizations and individuals in various countries. In this lengthy document, Anders Behring Breivik laid out his crude ideas of fighting multiculturalism, cultural Marxism and a demographic jihad emanating from Muslim countries that had befallen Europe. The internet is a great platform indeed for all kinds of thoughts, sane or insane, such like yours truly blog you are reading at present. What we are faced with here is a new form of right extremism, one without antisemitism. In this context it is not surprising then that last December European members of parliament affiliated with ring-wing and anti-Muslim parties took a tour of West Bank settlements, to get a look at the lives and various activities of Israel's right-wing activists. Gershon Mesika, the Shoron Regional Council chairman, who joined the officials, said on the occasion that "the parliament members on the tour in the Shomron region all battle Islamic extremism and the spreading of terror organizations in Europe, while explicitly supporting the state of Israel". 

multiculturalism is dead: Europe

ABB's views are mainstream in a 21st century Europe. Already last year Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and a Christian Democrat, declared that "multiculturalism is dead". Theo Sarrazin - himself a Social Democrat - wrote Germany's non-fiction bestseller of 2010 with "Deutschland schafft sich ab" (Germany abolishes itself). The book stirred up a big controversy by explaining in all disputable details that Germany's immigrants Muslim population is reluctant to integrate and tends to rely more on social services than to be productive. Furthermore, Sarrazin was conjuring up old race theories by claiming that Muslim were less intelligent (than "pure bred" Germans) and that all Jews would share a certain gene that distinguishes them from other people.

And in France? Marine Le Pen has taken over the leadership of the right-wing "Front National" from her barking father Jean-Marie. The new, slick Le Pen has a serious shot at the French presidency in the 2012 elections, at least to make it into a second round against the incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy, now that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been sidelined in New York. 

Breivik's act is possibly only a preview of things to come in the next fifty European years. As George Friedman argues in his book "the next 100 years": "It's hard to imagine now, in 2009, but by 2030 advanced countries will be competing for immigrants." It is not a demographic jihad but a demographic decline that is threatening the economical well-being of Europe. And now ABB wanted to save Europe by killing young Norwegians? I'm very scared of the things to come.

Intelligence services and police forces were quick to ask for new (legal) possibilities to fight people like Breivik. Until ten days ago, demands for more personnel were justified with the need to fight Islamist terrorism and to therefore monitor Jihadi websites. Only a few employees were monitoring fascist websites. But then again: a lone guy with a gun and a secret plan is hard to detect for any intelligence service (except in George Orwell's world of 1984). Monitoring online activities for suspicious behavior means monitoring you, monitoring me. Are we ok with opening up our Facebook accounts and our twitter DMs in order to prevent 70 dead bodies on a small island in Norway?

In a democracy, police forces and intelligence services only do what politics tells and allows them to do. So why does politics turn a blind eye on homegrown extremism from right and left, focusing their security services' attention on foreign Muslim extremists instead? Because some politicians have been active sympathizers of these types of groups themselves, in their early adult life, in their "Sturm und Drang" time. Now, as a legislator, comfortably sitting in a parliament chair, suffering from the first attacks of midlife crisis, they are hesitant to go against their own roots, their own memories of a conscious youth when everything seemed possible. Additional competences for State Protection Services are useless when they are given the wrong focus!

I will end this post with words from Henning Mankell, the human rights activist (Flotilla 1) and author of crime novels from Sweden. Talking about Norway, Oslo and Anders Behring Breivik, Mankell wrote in "The Guardian": "It may be impossible to completely defend oneself and one's country against these actions, but we must try. We must defend the open society, because if we start locking our doors, if we let fear decide, the person who committed the act of terror will win. He will have injected fear into our community. As Franklin D Roosevelt put it: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

However hard the young Norwegian man tries to justify his actions, there will still be something that we cannot understand: what goes through the mind of a person who turns a gun against a young woman or man he does not know and pulls the trigger. In every barbaric act there is a human element. That is what makes the barbaric act so inhuman."