Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dark humour in a time of dictatorship


By Robert Fisk

"....Out from a paper bag at the back of the shop came a portrait of the great man, father of Egypt's real independence struggle, hero of 1919 when the Egyptian people – secular and religious, Muslim and Copt, men and women together – rose up in street demonstrations and industrial strikes to demand their freedom from Britain. It sounds familiar. It should. Here is a quotation from Mohammed Rifaat's Awakening of Modern Egypt which could have been written by any of us these past three weeks.

"The Revolution emblem of the Crescent embracing the Cross, which was held high overhead in their processions and funerals, in Mosques and Churches, had demonstrated ever since the union between the national elements of the nation ... during the Revolution, with their brothers, husbands and men folk out during the revolt demonstrating, and exposing themselves ... to the severest penalty, women couldn't help but play their part in the men's struggle for liberty and independence."

I saw the banners of Crescent and Cross in Tahrir Square last week – forgetting its almost 100-year-old historical antecedent – and reading Rifaat's account is like running the original black and white version of a movie. The spread of strikes across Egypt, the cutting of railway lines, the brutality of repression – by British soldiers in 1919, using live rounds rather than the coshes and tear gas of Mubarak's goons – was an almost fingerprint perfect copy of what would happen in Cairo almost a century later. And in 1919, American President Woodrow Wilson even did an Obama. Instead of supporting the Egyptian democrats and adhering to his gospel of self-determination for all races, he immediately recognised the British protectorate over Egypt.......

....What possessed La Clinton – and Obama – to tolerate him through the first two weeks of the new Egyptian revolution? As a frequent visitor to Washington, I think I can understand. For the US presidency and State Department and the Pentagon are now so in thrall to everything Israeli that Israeli intelligence – which, for its own reasons, wanted to keep Mubarak as dictator – carries more weight than US diplomatic reports or America's own intelligence files.....

....Truly, the Americans are all at sea. Just as they were in Tunisia....

Yet the farce of dictatorship – for the black humour of the dreadful regimes that have humiliated the Arab world for so many years has a strong flavour of terrible comedy about it – continues. Could there, for example, have been a more dreadful symbol of this dark world than the 19-year-old Syrian girl dragged into a special security court in Syria this week – chained and blindfolded, for heaven's sake – to be sentenced for using the internet to "reveal information to a foreign power that should remain secret"? Her real crime was to ask for a role in shaping the future of her country and to complain that Obama should do more for Palestinians. Wearing trousers and a wool hat – Syrian prisons do not have central heating – she was given a five-year prison sentence. Obama, of course, maintained a mouse-like silence.

Just as he did when Egyptian police stole US embassy cars in Cairo and used them to drive down demonstrators in the streets. Only when video footage revealed the identity of the vehicles did the embassy sneakily admit that the armoured cars had been stolen. It didn't tell us that at the time, needless to say, presumably because it didn't want to say that Mubarak's mobsters had stolen them....."

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