You may have got the impression that Egyptians are on the road to their first democratic elections now. Unfortunately there’s no guarantee that that’s going to happen. In fact the army are still co-operating with the dictatorship to try to crush any resistance and any demands for a transition to power sharing with the opposition before elections. When the focus of most of the media shifted to Libya the Egyptian army took the opportunity to clear Tahrir Square by shooting into the air, beating protesters and tasering them (1). When Egyptian protesters raided an Interior Ministry building to get files on who had been involved in torture, Suleiman and the army responded the next day by shooting above their heads to keep them out, while also employing the plain clothes thugs stabbing people, attacking them with machetes and iron bars and throwing bricks – the same tactics used by Mubarak in the past (2) – (4).
None of this stops the US military aid flowing or Cameron from continuing to arm the Egyptian dictatorship. The Obama administration have never once even verbally backed the protesters against the dictatorship in their demands for a transition to a National Unity government including the opposition parties.
The Egyptian SSI secret police and their Tunisian equivalent have formally been abolished by court order (5) – (6). There remains the possibility that they will turn up under a different name, just as they did in Iraq. Bush claimed that “the torture chambers and the secret police are gone forever” in his speech on the capture of Saddam (7).Yet Iraqis still face US trained police commandos and “counter terrorism unit” death squads using the same methods as Saddam’s forces, including pulling out nails with pliers, rape and electrocution (8) – (10).
The democratically elected Iraqi government also initially had unarmed demonstrators shot dead by the dozen when they protested against it recently, just like the dictatorships have. The killings have not been on the same scale as in Egypt or Libya so far and shooting protesters seems to have stopped for now, but they show Iraq after “regime change” is far from fully democratic. The Iraqi government has also used the tactics of Mubarak and his successors – hiring civilian thugs or plain clothes police to attack anti-government protesters with beatings, knives and bricks (11 – (13). So Iraq as a lot further from real democracy than Blair or Bush or their blind disciples would have you believe.
In Bahrain the country’s own military and police and Saudi and UAE troops are targeting protesters and medical staff with live fire, snipers and helicopters – just the same as Gaddafi’s forces have done in Libya, but with no calls for the Emir of Bahrain or the King of Saudi to be tried by the International Criminal Court.
This underlines the fact that western governments oppose Gaddafi’s dictatorship in Libya for the same reason they opposed Saddam’s – it doesn’t give them the profits and military bases they want from it. Most of the governments who are against any kind of intervention in Libya have motives just as selfish. Italy gets over 30% of it’s energy from Libya. Russia and China are in talks with Gaddafi on replacing former British, American and French oil and arms contracts with ones for their own companies.
The Libyan rebels are in the sad position of having no-one but foreign governments and militaries to call on for assistance if they want to avoid defeat. For that reason I’m for giving them the assistance they ask for – but make no mistake, the governments calling for intervention are not doing so for democracy or to save lives – and their involvement in Libya would be a double edged sword for the majority of Libyans.
Even in Tunisia and Egypt it’s a long way from decided whether they’ll end up democracies or new dictatorships or one party states. We know that with Ben Ali’s RCD party disbanded by court order and Ben Ali’s former Prime Minister Mohammed Gannouchi having been forced to resign by further protests, the US and French governments are seeking to ensure that prominent members of the RCD are absorbed into a new “centrist” party in order to attempt to ensure some continuity with the previous system (14) – (16). So, while this brings Tunisa closer to democratisation than Egypt, as in Egypt with US backing for Mubarak’s appointed successor Suleiman, the Obama administration’s priority is not to support democratisation, but to limit it.
The best that can be said of this is that past transitions to democracy, like those in Spain and Portugal in the 1970s, show that partial transitions to democracy in which members of the previous regime retain some influence, are more likely to succeed as the previous regime have less motive to carry out a counter-coup.
(1) = Reuters/Guardian 26 Feb 2011 ‘Protesters say Egypt military used force to disperse them’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/26/protesters-egypt-military-used-force
(2) = guardian.co.uk 07 Mar 2011 ‘Egyptians prise open secrets of Hosni Mubarak's state security headquarter’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/07/egypt-state-security-mubarak-cairo
(3) = Al Jazeera Egypt Live Blog 6 Mar 2011, http://blogs.aljazeera.net/live/middle-east/egypt-live-blog-march-6
(4) = AFP 15 Mar 2011 ‘Egypt minister disbands feared security police’, http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110315/wl_afp/egyptpoliticsunrestsecurity_20110315164128 ; Protesters stormed several state security buildings early this month to retrieve files kept on the population by the powerful regime apparatus long accused of human rights abuses. In one incident, hundreds of protesters outside the state security headquarters in Cairo were attacked by armed civilians, as the army fired warning shots and used sticks to disperse the crowd, prompting Washington to voice its concern.
(5) = AFP 15 Mar 2011 ‘Egypt minister disbands feared security police’, http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110315/wl_afp/egyptpoliticsunrestsecurity_20110315164128
(6) = guardian.co.uk 07 Mar 2011 ‘Tunisia dissolves secret police to meet key demand of protesters’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/07/tunisia-abolishes-secret-police-force
(7) = White House – Office of the Press Secretary 14 Dec 2003 ‘President Bush Addresses Nation on the Capture of Saddam Hussein’, http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/12/20031214-3.html
(8) = New York Times Magazine 01 May 2005 ‘The Way of the Commandos’, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/01/magazine/01ARMY.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
(9) = Shane Bauer ‘Iraq’s new death squad’ in The Nation 6th June 2009, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090622/bauer
(10) = Amnesty International World Report 2010 (covering 2009) – Country Report Iraq,http://report2010.amnesty.org/sites/default/files/AIR2010_AZ_EN.pdf#page=123 ;(once pdf loads, scroll down to page 125 (by PDF page number) or 178 (number marked on page); ‘Iraqi security forces committed gross human rights violations including extrajudicial executions, torture...and did so largely with impunity....Torture methods reported included beatings with cables and hosepipes, suspension by the limbs for long periods...electric shocks to the genitals...breaking of limbs, removal of toenails with pliers and piercing the body with drills. Some detainees were alleged to have been raped….In May inmates of the womens’ prison in al Kadhimiya told members of the parliament’s human rights committee that they had been raped while held in prison or detained elsewhere’
(11) = AP 25 Feb 2011 ‘12 killed as Iraqis protest in 'Day of Rage'’,http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110225/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_iraq
(12) = guardian.co.uk 04 Mar 2011 ‘Baghdad protesters converge on Liberation Square’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/04/baghdad-protesters-iraq-driving-ban ; Security forces around Iraq clashed with protesters last Friday in the country's most widespread and violent demonstrations since a wave of unrest began to spread across the Middle East. At least 14 people were killed
(13) = HRW 25 Feb 2011 ‘Iraq: Open Immediate Inquiry Into Protester Deaths’, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/02/25/iraq-open-immediate-inquiry-protester-deaths
(14) = guardian.co.uk 09 Mar 2011 ‘Tunisia dissolves ousted president's party’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/09/tunisia-dissolves-ousted-presidents-party
(15) = guardian.co.uk 27 Feb 2011 ‘Tunisian prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi resigns amid unrest’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/27/tunisian-prime-minister-ghannouchi-resigns
(16) = guardian.co.uk 27 Feb 2011 ‘Tunisians know Ben Ali was not democracy's only block’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/27/tunia-islamists-west-elections-role-politics ; ‘France and the US are thought to be pressing for the formation of a new centre party that will absorb leading members of the old ruling party, the RCD, and provide a good candidate for the presidency.’