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Mubarak’s Thirty-Year Dictatorship
by Stephen Lendman
Throughout decades of brutal rule, Mubarak remained a steadfast US ally. As a result, Washington rewarded him generously. US administrations also ignored his crimes, corruption, and lawlessness, as late January released WikiLeaks cables reveal, showing Obama knew he kept power through ruthless state terror.
On January 15, 2009, ambassador Margaret Scobey called security force brutality “routine and pervasive,” saying:
“(P)olice using force to extract confessions from criminals (is) a daily event. (US informants) estimate there are literally hundreds of torture incidents every day in Cairo police stations alone.”
Political activists and opponents are also targeted, Scobey adding:
“(T)he GOE (government of Egypt) is probably torturing (an April 6 activist) to scare other….members into abandoning their political activities.” It also referred to the “sexual molestation of a female ‘April 6 activist,’ ” and that another victim’s torture only stopped “when he began cooperating.”
Moreover, “standing orders from the Interior Ministry between 2000 and 2006 (instructed) the police to shoot, beat and humiliate judges in order to undermine judicial independence.”
A July 28, 2009 embassy cable said:
“(A) recent series of selective (government) actions against journalists, bloggers and even an amateur poet illustrates the variety of methods available to the GOE to suppress critical opinion, including an array of investigative authorities and public and private legal actions.”
A January 12, 2009 cable admitted that Mubarak ruled through police state “emergency powers” for decades, saying:
“Egypt’s State of Emergency, in effect almost continuously since 1967 (since Nasser and Sadat), allows for the application of the 1958 Emergency Law (EL), which grants the GOE broad powers to arrest individuals without charge and to detain them indefinitely,” omitting what’s also common in America and US-controlled offshore torture prisons extra-judicially.
According to the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR), Egypt’s EL grants “broad power to impose restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, movement or residence; the power to arrest and detain suspects or those deemed dangerous, and the power to search individuals and places without the need to follow the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code.”
It violates Egypt’s constitutional personal freedom, inviolability of private homes, and freedom of movement, letting Mubarak trash legal principles and rule despotically. It also criminalized assembly of five or more people that could “threaten public order.”
Other cables identified Egypt’s military as the real center of power. One on July 30, 2009 said, along with state security forces, it:
“would ensure a smooth transfer of power, even to a civilian,” to assure seamless succession under new leadership.
Moreover, cables revealed longstanding US knowledge of extreme security force brutality, including recent arrests, torture, and assassinations of protesters demanding regime change.
Egypt also partnered with Washington and Israel by enforcing Gaza’s siege. Moreover, it did it for internal security reasons because of the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged ties to Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas.
Anatomy of Mubarak’s Dictatorship
Since the 1970s, Egypt shifted from defying Western imperialism to becoming a reliable strategic partner. Sadat hastened a trend already underway called “infitah,” or open-door policy, to attract foreign capital by loosening currency controls, creating tax-free investment zones, and privatizing state industries. Political changes followed, including rapprochement with America to resolve conflict with Israel and remove the threat of war.
At the time, Egypt’s crumbling infrastructure, fragile transportation and telecommunications networks, as well as fear of re-nationalizations deterred foreign investments. As a result, relaxed import controls facilitated flooding Egypt’s market with luxury goods for the rich, not economic growth that deteriorated instead, mostly harming its workers and poor.
In November 1977, Sadat extended peace overtures to Israel in Jerusalem. A year later, Camp David followed, establishing full diplomatic and economic relations as well as getting Egypt expelled from the Arab League (AL), its headquarters moved from Cairo to Tunis. In 1989, Egypt was readmitted. In 1990, AL’s headquarters returned to Cairo.
Sadat hoped economic growth would follow as well as US aid. His October 1981 assassination elevated former air force commander/deputy defense minister/air chief marshall/vice president Mubarak to power, replacing him. From then until now, he served reliably as a US puppet, profiting handsomely from the relationship, besides what he gained from other high positions.
He allied with America’s 1991 Gulf War, collaborating again in 2003 by giving Pentagon forces priority Suez Canal access and unrestricted use of Egypt’s airspace. At the time, David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs called America’s partnership with Egypt “a cornerstone of our foreign policy in the Middle East.” It leveraged its relationship to secure other regional allies. In return, Mubarak and Egypt’s ruling class profited handsomely at the expense of their deeply impoverished people, the spark, along with extreme repression, that erupted in protests.
In her February 4 Foreign Policy article titled, “Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Hosni Mubarak,” Elizabeth Dickinson said millions of Egyptians forced him not to run again for office, but demand more. “The president, they charged, was an autocrat, a repressor, and a tired leader. He had to go….Mubarak’s Egypt,” in fact, “is a textbook police state. For 30 years, anger and frustration brewed among his subjects, bottled up and sealed with fear.”
Egypt’s brutal police enforced hardline control, targeting activists, dissidents, Islamists, opposition forces, and anyone perceived threatening as well as ordinary citizens suspected of crimes or looking suspicious. In June 2010, a young man, Khaled Said, was beaten to death for not showing his identity card after entering an Alexandria Internet cafe. Torture and disappearances are also commonplace as are sham elections.
“Even if a candidate manages to successfully jump through (numerous) hoops, the Political Parties Commission, (responsible for registering parties) has broad authority to close offices, seize funds, or refuse to recognize a party in the first place – meaning that in practice, elections are only as competitive as Mubarak wants them to be.”
A 2010 WikiLeaks released cable said the “Interior Ministry uses (state security) to monitor and sometimes infiltrate the political opposition and civil society, and to suppress political opposition through arrests, harassment and intimidation.”
Mubarak also claims threatening Islamic extremism to justify harsh repression and extract more Western aid. Moreover, a 1996 press law criminalizes defamation, insults, and libel as a way to suppress press freedom and speech, including against bloggers.
“Academia isn’t safe either: Since the state controls promotions, appointments, and university administration, a subtle self-censorship prevails.” As a result, professors have been fired and students harassed, especially leaders for organizing.
Moreover, women are regularly mistreated, their rights compromised by sexual abuse, harassment, and assaults. A 2008 Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights report said over 80% of women suffered public sexual humiliation, from groping to criminal attacks.
Gays and other minorities are targeted as well, including mass arrests of men accused of homosexual acts. Though religious freedom is allowed, Christians at times clashed with police.
Especially disturbing “are reports of the regime’s treatment of street children,” numbering thousands in Cairo alone. Human Rights Watch estimated 11,000 arrests and detentions for weeks in unsanitary, hazardous conditions, “often with adult criminal detainees who abuse them.” In addition, they’re denied adequate food, water, bedding and medical care.
Amnesty International’s 2010 Egypt Report
It explained that Emergency Law powers are used “to detain peaceful critics and opponents as well as people suspected of security offenses or involvement in terrorism.” Some are detained administratively. Others get unfair military trials. Many are tortured. Death sentences are freely imposed. Freedom of speech, assembly and association are extremely restricted.
“Rising food prices and poverty fueled a wave of strikes by private and public sector workers.” A UN Special Rapporteur for human rights criticized Mubarak’s counterterrorism policy, human rights abuses, and repressive emergency powers, called the “norm” under his regime.
Besides various lawless acts discussed above, forced evictions have also been commonplace. In 2008, residents of 26 Greater Cairo areas were affected, their communities called “unsafe” under a government master development plan. Administrative orders were implemented “without notice or prior consultation,” preventing the likelihood of legal challenge.
In November 2009, AI issued a report titled, “Egypt: Demand Dignity: Buried Alive: Trapped by Poverty and Neglect in Cairo’s Informal Settlements,” saying:
Evictions from areas called unsafe “breached the international standards that states must observe, (requiring they) have procedural safeguards in place.” Instead, hundreds of homes were demolished with inadequate or no notice or consultation given affected communities, including plans for resettlement. As a result, homelessness and other state-imposed harshness followed. Egypt’s poor, marginalized population suffers grievously under repressive regime policies.
A Final Comment
Given this backdrop and sustained visceral mass protests, the Obama administration is stalling for time, a White House February 5 press release saying:
“The President emphasized the importance of an orderly, peaceful transition, beginning now, to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, including credible, inclusive negotiations between the government and the opposition.”
In fact, Omar Suleiman’s vice presidential appointment signified Washington approving his leadership heading new faces with old policies, what Egyptian masses won’t accept. They demand all remnants of Mubarak’s regime ousted, replaced by new officials they choose in free, fair, open elections.
On February 7, Al Jazeera said two weeks of protests show no signs of abating despite some emerging normality in parts of Egypt’s capital. Dr. Sally Moore, representing the Popular Campaign in Support of ElBaradei (one of six groups comprising the “Youth of the Egyptian Revolution” coalition) said:
“The word ‘stability’ is a word the regime uses all the time – but – what is stability without freedom. We are in for the long haul. The regime is trying to play us against the people in Tahrir Square, but we always remind them they are our people, our families. (They) want radical change, not minor reform.”
Al Jazeera’s Cairo correspondent said:
“Protesters tell me Obama still hasn’t come up with any statement that they want to hear. They want immediate change and the feeling among many of them is that the way the US is handling this crisis is not good for the way America is perceived both here and in general in the wider region.”
In fact, from the outset, the Obama administration acted duplicitously to maintain imperial control throughout the region, especially by ensuring continuity in Egypt, under Suleiman and other reliable figures. On February 5, Secretary of State Clinton endorsed him saying:
“I think it’s important to support the transition process announced by the Egyptian government, actually headed now by Vice President Suleiman (and) an orderly establishment of the elections that are scheduled for September.”
She also backed Egypt’s military “as a respected institution” and its banking sector. In other words, money and martial power are crucial ingredients of Washington’s imperial control.
In contrast, Sunday protesters declared February 6 a “day of martyrs,” commemorating thousands of Mubarak security force torture, disappeared, and murder victims.
How and when this ends remains uncertain, but one thing is clear. Millions of Egyptians exhibited extraordinary sustained courage. So far, they’re not backing down from one of the region’s most brutal regimes, financed and supported by imperial Washington, maneuvering to keep it empowered as a reliable vassal state.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.