The blood on the streets of Egyptian cities isn’t even dry yet the naysayers and doubting Thomases are already coming out of the wormwood. What Khalaf Al Habtoor’s op-ed piece in today’s Gulf News lacks in accuracy it gains in paranoid delusions.
Al Habtoor initially praises the “young, educated” people who started the ball rolling by calling for a public demonstration on January 25th. He fails to mention that Asmaa Mahfouz, the vlogger who originally posted the call to rise up, is currently under virtual house arrest having been warned that if she goes out she’ll be taken by security services. He also does not discuss that Wael Ghonim, the blogger who started the We are all Khaled Said facebook page, is currently being detained by secret police at and undisclosed location and is presumably being tortured.
Al Habtoor correctly states that Mubarak has “maintained stability” but he does not detail at what cost: hundreds, if not thousands, of political dissenters imprisoned; rampant corruption and a hugh disparity in income distribution. The climate for foreign investment he “cultivated” is one which investors knew they only had to pay a 20% cut to the powers that be. Al Habtoor disingenuously claims that Mubarak wasn’t aware that those around him were enriching themselves. This is laughable. Recent conservative estimates put the value of his family’s wealth in land, investments and cash at over US$40 billion held in offshore holdings and secret accounts.
While he does detail the recent evidence of lawlessness in Egypt, Al Habtoor does not properly accredit it to Mubarak, a dictator clinging to power with the only tools he knows: police brutality and overt violence directed at peaceful demonstrators. That Mubarak withdrew police off the streets and simultaneously emptying four prisons is indisputable. At the same time bands of thugs (many with police identification or poor people who admitted to being paid the equivalent of US$75 by NDP party hacks) came on the scene and chaos erupted. This was not a coincidence.
It is also not a coincidence that the military were brought in once the police had been beaten off the streets. Unfortunately for Mubarak they lacked the stomach to do the dirty work that he wanted them to do. After several days of watching the protests, however, they effectively turned a blind eye and deaf ear on the NDP thugs and secret police who tried, once more, to defeat the citizens of Egypt and silence the journalists there to record history in the making. This resulted in the over 48 hours of unparalleled bloodshed on the streets on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.
Ridiculously Al Habtoor states that Mubarak “immediately responded to protestors demands”. Either Al Habtoor has problems with short-term memory or he wasn’t watching events on the ground in Egypt over the past 13 days. Mubarak only spoke to the Egyptian people from the secure confines of his Presidential Palace on the morning of Day 5 of the popular uprising. By then the initial demands were a thing of the past. Having endured days of attacks by thousands state security police, countless rounds of tear-gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition the ante had been seriously upped: the Egyptian people demanded his immediate ouster. Al Habtoor claims Mubarak has fulfilled their demands. This simply is not the case. Changing one crew of thugs for another is hardly the sweeping constitutional and legal change that Egyptians are demanding. They want basics freedoms and dignity: the rights to assemble, freely associate and elect a democratically representative government. Under the current one party state and constitution they get no such guarantees.
Al Habtoor claims the youth uprising has been hijacked. He fails to flesh out his accusation with any names or substantiation. He insinuates that Islamic fundamentalists will be out to suborn what ever democracy comes out of the revolution. He states that the Muslim Brotherhood should be excluded from the political equation. He fails to realize that in a democracy everyone is equal: everyone has one vote. Halas.
Tellingly, Al Habtoor calls the ignition of democratic ideals in the MENA region a “contagion” and warns of it spreading. He then uses the royal “we” when discussing what he does and doesn’t want. One can’t be sure who he is referring to but it’s probably himself and the rest of the well heeled board members of the Al Habtoor Group since his essay was originally posted on his company’s website the day before being published in the Gulf News. i’m sure the spreading of democracy in the region’s collection of paternalist autocracies shakes the very foundations of their privileged positions.
At the end of the day what matters is not what Al Habtoor wants but what the people of Egypt want or don’t want. It is patently obvious that they want a new constitution, one that allows fundamental freedoms recorded in the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. The current Egyptian constitution needs to be torn up and a new one written. It is also patently obvious the Egyptian people do not want Mubarak. A return to stability will be best engendered by Mubarak’s immediate departure to one of his posh properties elsewhere in the world.