Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt and the Iranian parallel

The best background piece now available on the Egyptian uprising comes to us from Jeff Cohen at Truthout:
For decades beginning during the Cold War, US policy in the Islamic world has been aimed at suppressing secular reformist and leftist movements.
Why do they hate us? Because we have a history of doing that.
In these dictatorships, often the only places where people had freedom to meet and organize were mosques - and out of these mosques sometimes grew extreme Islamist movements.
They turned to Islam because they had nowhere else to go.

Revolution is no dinner party, and I can't claim to be optimistic about the ultimate outcome of the Egyptian rebellion. Although many protesters insist that they want no part of the Muslim Brotherhood (or so I've heard on Al Jazeera), instability could lead to a takeover by religious zealots. After all, within living memory, Cairo schoolkids were taught to throw stones at the Sphinx, due to its pagan origin.

Fortunately, Egyptians also have a robustly secular political tradition. Attitudes toward the Coptic churches provide us with some insight: Although the Muslim Brotherhood has done much to persecute the Copts over the past three decades, many Egyptians spontaneously rallied to support the Copts last month, after fanatics bombed a church.

So, yes, this uprising carries a risk. But when a dictatorship has been in power for 30 years, and when 90 percent of the population lives in dire poverty -- even during a "good" economy -- the risk must be taken.

"Our ally": The Iranian parallel must be faced directly, because we've heard a great deal of right-wing historical revisionism:
One of the mantras on US television news all day Friday was: Be fearful of the democratic uprisings against US allies in Egypt (and Tunisia and elsewhere). After all, we were told by Fox News and CNN and Chris Matthews on MSNBC, it could end up as bad as when "our ally" in Iran was overthrown and the extremists came to power in 1979.
The Shah of Iran was not an ally: He was our creature. And he was a monster.
The Shah's torture state in Iran was brilliant at cleansing and murdering the left - a process that helped the rise of the Khomeini movement and ultimately Iran's Islamic Republic.
Most Americans have not met anyone who suffered under the Shah. I have.

Was Khomeini's rise spontaneous? Let's look at a previous post:
One theory -- and it is really more than a theory -- holds that the 1979 Iran revolution was itself a CIA coup. During the last years of the Shah's regime, the Socialist party of Iran stood a good chance of gaining power. The CIA knew that the Shah could not last. America could not tolerate the ascent of Socialism in such an oil rich nation. Moreover, neocon strategic thinkers wanted to see a sharp rise in Islamic fundamentalism on the border of the USSR.

At the time, the Ayatollah Khomeini was an obscure exile. One Iranian dissident once told me that the CIA arranged for the widespread duplication and distribution of Khomeini's tapes in Iran. I do not know the basis for his claim, but I suspect that he was right.

In my view, Khomeini was put into power on the "better a religious kook than a red" theory.
Zbigniew Brzezinski (Jimmy Carter's Kissinger) largely confirmed this theory. From History Commons:
In November 1978, President Carter appointed George Ball head of a special White House Iran task force under Brzezinski. Ball recommends the US should drop support for the Shah of Iran and support the radical Islamist opposition of Ayatollah Khomeini. This idea is based on ideas from British Islamic expert Dr. Bernard Lewis, who advocates the balkanization of the entire Muslim Near East along tribal and religious lines. The chaos would spread in what he also calls an “arc of crisis” and ultimately destabilize the Muslim regions of the Soviet Union.
This scenario will strike many young people as preposterous: How could the United States support Islamic radicalism? But back in the 1960s and 1970s, conventional wisdom held that the only hope for an end to the USSR was an Islamic uprising, a possibility which did not then seem so very threatening to our interests. That idea was taught in grade school.

We were also taught that the Russians were desperate to take over Iran in order to gain access to warm water ports. My fellow geezers will recall how often that "warm water port" thing was drilled into our heads.

Did Jimmy Carter dump our "ally," the Shah? That story will sell only to those too young to remember 1977-79. Carter infuriated many (not just those on the left) with his mawkish televised expressions of support for Shah Reza Pahlavi, even after everyone understood that the regime would soon end.

We now know that the CIA learned early on that the Shah was a dying man. That's the key fact which you won't learn from the right-wing's historical revisionists (like these guys).

The most likely scenario: What the CIA knew and what the CIA told Jimmy Carter were two different things.

Is the CIA behind the Egyptian uprising? Many wonder if the current revolution was instigated by outside forces. That's the question being asked at sites like this one and this one. (Ah, good old A.J.!) So far, I've seen no evidence -- just inchoate expressions of paranoia.

I'll repeat it: When Americans instigate a coup, they always have a guy in the wings. Think of Yeltsin on that tank. There's no "tank moment" to be found here.

What about Omar Suleiman? Mubarak, who clearly wanted his unpopular son to succeed him, has now turned to Suleiman, an old spook close to Israel and Washington. Suleiman is precisely the sort of fellow the CIA would have picked -- if they were in charge of the situation.

But they are not; it's too late, baby. Egyptians know that Suleiman would simply mean more of the same. They won't tolerate him.

The CIA does not like chaos and unpredictability. The Agency isn't behind this.

Prediction: Today, Joe Biden refuses to call Mubarak a dictator, and aid to his regime continues to flow. The tear gas canisters being thrown at Egyptian protesters are stamped "Made in U.S.A." Nevertheless, twenty years from today, American rightists will probably argue that Obama abandoned "our ally" Mubarak. And young voters who are in pre-school right now will believe that nonsense.

That oh-so-predictable revisionism will be infuriating.
"They turned to Islam because they had nowhere else to go."

Just like the Poles turned to the Catholic Church during the Cold War. Oh, but that was different--they were white European Christians with many of their relatives living in the US. My bad.
Most blogs are rifew ith Carter-hate today, along with predictable anti-O bombast, but I have yet to hear any practical response to the "what would do" question for either Carter or teh Precious. Well, except here, where reason appears to have a stronger hold than most places.

According to a top secret Foreign Office memo, US President Eisenhower described to the British the need for ‘“a high class Machiavellian plan to achieve a situation in the Middle East favourable to our interests” which could split the Arabs and defeat the aims of our enemies’."

That plan included suborning the MB for the purposes of the west. The MB offshoot Hamas was sponsored and funded heavily by the Israelis, who were attempting to bleed off support for Al Fatah.

Any one who attended university when I did knew Iranian people that were afraid of the Shah's secret police even here in the US. I had friends disappear completely during the revolution. This is not the Iranian situation at all. Egypt is not Shia for one. Iran is ethnically Persian and not very diverse. Egypt has a lot of diverse communities including Arabs. Any one who knows people from any of the countries over in the area can tell you how different each of them are. It's more diverse than Europe, but never portrayed that way by people who are making money and gaining power from spreading anti-Islam stereotypes.
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