Monday, April 02, 2007

Referendum Blues

Maria Golia's latest...

Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) should be congratulated for its expeditious handling of the March 26th referendum. Well-scripted, timed, and executed, it also fulfilled the public’s expectations. Everyone knew the yes-no vote would favor the institution of 34 constitutional amendments drafted by the state. They knew it so well that only an estimated ten percent of registered voters, the bulk of which are, in all probability, employed either by the state or NDP backers, bothered going to the polls.

While the usual accusations of fraud have been leveled, they are as empty as the voting boxes. Since the opposition, including the Muslim Brothers, encouraged their constituencies to boycott the polls, they have little grounds for calling foul. Had they participated, they might have more legitimately contested the results.
Granted, the state ensured that there was no time to rally. Yet, if notoriously bungling administrators could mobilize a nationwide election in a few weeks, the Muslim Brothers, feared by the regime for their widespread popularity, could surely have gotten the word around. It may be that in the current depressed atmosphere, even the Brothers figured they would make at best, a poor showing. Then too, there is the justifiable fear of arrest for challenging the state.

Another opportunity has meanwhile been lost. Most Egyptians say, with a rueful laugh, that their opinion doesn’t matter, that the outcome would have anyway been fixed, that they are too busy trying to put food on the table to take time out for futile exercises. Nevertheless, the government has afforded them a valuable lesson in democracy, Egyptian-style, i.e. you had your chance, such as it was, to say ‘no’ and you blew it. So don’t come crying to us.

On the eve of the referendum, another of the ruling party’s tutoring sessions took place as a few dozen protestors tried to assemble and march the two blocks between Tahrir and Talaat Harb Squares. Along the way they were harassed and several were arrested. Those that made it to Talaat Harb were outnumbered twenty to one, surrounded and pressed against the mirrored windows of the Air France office on the square.
There is a very tall, sad-faced, plainclothes cop who oversees these gatherings. When politely but fervently requested to let the few demonstrators, including women and journalists, out of the tortuously packed circle, he gestured with one hand: wait. When asked again, ten minutes later (while women bleated, ‘let us out’, and someone struck up the ‘down with Hosni Mubarak’ chant before either losing or being deprived of his breath), the tall man motioned calmly again to wait.


It became clear that the police were training these young people, these very few brave ones, accustoming them to the idea that they are vastly outnumbered, showing them how being roughed up, much less going to jail, is not fun and probably not worth it. Yes, there were slaps, kicks and punches thrown in the melee, but the prevailing police tactic in these situations consists of encircling protestors and tightening the circle, piling people on top of one another, suffocating them, exemplifying the notion that there is no space for them in Egypt, no air for them to breathe unless they tow the line.

It is likely that the tall sad-faced man felt he was going easy on the protestors; he had all the air of a disappointed father. Likewise, when President Mubarak defends the constitutional amendments, saying ‘the security and stability of Egypt and the safety of its citizens are a red line which I have not allowed and will not allow anyone to cross’, he no doubt speaks what he considers a beneficent truth. Egypt has in fact remained admirably quiet despite economic hardship and regional turmoil; you might even say dead quiet.
The ruling party, which sees itself as Egypt’s benefactor, cannot grasp that by denying civil rights it has condemned people to lives of painfully slow attrition, where each day brings fresh loss, of possibilities and self-esteem. In precisely the same way, America’s Bush regime, blinded by wealth and privilege, serves but a few in the name of democracy.

When Condoleezza Rice offered her pallid criticism of Egypt’s constitutional referendum, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit retorted, ‘Only the Egyptian people have the right to say their views…[this] is our country’. But whose country was he referring to, if not the ruling party’s? Which views can be fully expressed, if not theirs?

The first article of Egypt’s new constitution now reads that ‘the Arab Republic of Egypt adopts a democratic system based on citizenship.’ But what does it mean to be a citizen, what are the rights and responsibilities attached to that title, aside from obedience and mediocrity?

Several articles of the constitution related to personal freedoms have been overridden by article 179, which is meant to replace the Emergency Law, and grants the executive branch a free hand in dealing with whoever it perceives as terrorists. These articles (41,44,45), demanding warrants for arrests and surveillance, were added to the constitution under Sadat, an era known, ironically, for its tapped phones and opened mail. The constitution is hardly sacred writ in Egypt, where actions speak louder than words. Indeed, the new amendments merely formalize existing conditions.

Similarly, while much opposition to the constitutional amendments centered on the notion that they facilitate Gamal Mubarak’s succession, it hardly matters. Whoever Egypt’s next president happens to be, he will be cast in a familiar authoritarian mould. Unless the space for alternative leadership is not only opened but creatively encouraged, it will not magically appear, and the NDP is presently incapable of rising to such a challenge.

One of Cairo’s polling stations is located in an old villa that has been used as a school since the Officer’s Revolution, a splendid building with graceful proportions. Traces of fine Egyptian craftsmanship are still evident in the woodwork, tiling and stained glass, despite a half-century’s accumulated grime and general gratuitous decay. When asked to whom the villa once belonged, the NDP apparatchik-in-charge, perhaps embarrassed that he did not know, said sorry, but he had strict instructions not to answer any questions. ‘What matters’, he said with a hint of menace, ‘is that now it is a school’.

4 comments:

Seneferu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Baxter said...

Every September, I recall that is more than half a century (62 years) since I landed at Nagasaki with the 2nd Marine Division in the original occupation of Japan following World War II. This time every year, I have watched and listened to the light-hearted "peaceniks" and their light-headed symbolism-without-substance of ringing bells, flying pigeons, floating candles, and sonorous chanting and I recall again that "Peace is not a cause - it is an effect."

In July, 1945, my fellow 8th RCT Marines [I was a BARman] and I returned to Saipan following the successful conclusion of the Battle of Okinawa. We were issued new equipment and replacements joined each outfit in preparation for our coming amphibious assault on the home islands of Japan.

B-29 bombing had leveled the major cities of Japan, including Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, Yokosuka, and Tokyo.

We were informed we would land three Marine divisions and six Army divisions, perhaps abreast, with large reserves following us in. It was estimated that it would cost half a million casualties to subdue the Japanese homeland.

In August, the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima but the Japanese government refused to surrender. Three days later a second A-bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The Imperial Japanese government finally surrendered.

Following the 1941 sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese admiral said, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant..." Indeed, they had. Not surprisingly, the atomic bomb was produced by a free people functioning in a free environment. Not surprisingly because the creative process is a natural human choice-making process and inventiveness occurs most readily where choice-making opportunities abound. America!

Tamper with a giant, indeed! Tyrants, beware: Free men are nature's pit bulls of Liberty! The Japanese learned the hard way what tyrants of any generation should know: Never start a war with a free people - you never know what they may invent!

As a newly assigned member of a U.S. Marine intelligence section, I had a unique opportunity to visit many major cities of Japan, including Tokyo and Hiroshima, within weeks of their destruction. For a full year I observed the beaches, weapons, and troops we would have assaulted had the A-bombs not been dropped. Yes, it would have been very destructive for all, but especially for the people of Japan.

When we landed in Japan, for what came to be the finest and most humane occupation of a defeated enemy in recorded history, it was with great appreciation, thanksgiving, and praise for the atomic bomb team, including the aircrew of the Enola Gay. A half million American homes had been spared the Gold Star flag, including, I'm sure, my own.

Whenever I hear the apologists expressing guilt and shame for A-bombing and ending the war Japan had started (they ignore the cause-effect relation between Pearl Harbor and Nagasaki), I have noted that neither the effete critics nor the puff-adder politicians are among us in the assault landing-craft or the stinking rice paddies of their suggested alternative, "conventional" warfare. Stammering reluctance is obvious and continuous, but they do love to pontificate about the Rights that others, and the Bomb, have bought and preserved for them.

The vanities of ignorance and camouflaged cowardice abound as license for the assertion of virtuous "rights" purchased by the blood of others - those others who have borne the burden and physical expense of Rights whining apologists so casually and self-righteously claim.

At best, these fakers manifest a profound and cryptic ignorance of causal relations, myopic perception, and dull I.Q. At worst, there is a word and description in The Constitution defining those who love the enemy more than they love their own countrymen and their own posterity. Every Yankee Doodle Dandy knows what that word is.

In 1945, America was the only nation in the world with the Bomb and it behaved responsibly and respectfully. It remained so until two among us betrayed it to the Kremlin. Still, this American weapon system has been the prime deterrent to earth's latest model world- tyranny: Seventy years of Soviet collectivist definition, coercion, and domination of individual human beings.

The message is this: Trust Freedom. Remember, tyrants never learn. The restriction of Freedom is the limitation of human choice, and choice is the fulcrum-point of the creative process in human affairs. As earth's choicemaker, it is our human identity on nature's beautiful blue planet and the natural premise of man's free institutions, environments, and respectful relations with one another. Made in the image of our Creator, free men choose, create, and progress - or die.

Free men should not fear the moon-god-crowd oppressor nor choose any of his ways. Recall with a confident Job and a victorious David, "Know ye not that you are in league with the stones of the field?"

Semper Fidelis
Jim Baxter
Sgt. USMC
WW II and Korean War

Job 5:23 Proverbs 3:31 I Samuel 17:40

greyscale said...

dude, the LOL/haha post is hilarious...how come you disabled commenting on that one?

i use both actually..but i use "lol" more.

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