Game Over…We Win?
By Imam Zaid Shakir
The current uprising in Egypt, coming in the aftermath of the popular revolution in Tunisia, is a monumental event that is altering all of the political calculations currently governing how we think about Middle Eastern politics. The emerging popular movements in the region have led to a swift reshuffling of the mental furniture governing the way Tunisians, Egyptians, and likely other people in the region see themselves and their relationship to those who have been ruling them with repression, fear and intimidation. The new thinking shows that the people are no longer afraid of their rulers and their dreaded security apparatuses. Now that that reshuffling has occurred, as one of the most popular Tunisian protest posters declared, “Game Over.” No matter what happens in Egypt going forward, the old game is indeed over.
Middle Easterners are not the only ones whose mental furniture needs reshuffling. Here in the United States, we need to begin to critically assess our silence in the face of the atrocities we support, or knowingly turn a blind eye to. Our officials know that the money we have been pumping into the Mubarak regime for the past 30 years has done nothing to improve the lot of the average Egyptian. Rather, it was being used to strengthen the Egyptian military and the internal “security” forces, which is a euphemism for the forces of torture and political repression. For example, the State Department’s 2008 Human Rights Report for Egypt mentions:
Police and the SSIS reportedly employed torture methods such as stripping and blindfolding victims; suspending victims by the wrists and ankles in contorted positions or from a ceiling or door-frame with feet just touching the floor; beating victims with fists, whips, metal rods, or other objects; using electric shocks; dousing victims with cold water; and sexual abuse, including sodomy. Victims reported that security officials threatened them and forced them to sign statements for use against themselves or their families should they in the future lodge complaints about the torture. Some victims, including women and children, reported that security officials sexually assaulted or threatened to rape them or their family members. Human rights groups reported that the lack of legally required written police records often effectively blocked investigations.
What is mentioned in this report is the tip of the iceberg concerning the abuses that every Egyptian knows of. The dehumanizing horrors occurring in the “Zinzana” are not well-kept secrets. However, what did the United States do about these atrocities after documenting them? We did the same thing we did about the rigged elections that kept falsely affirming Mubarak and his gerontocracy in power. We did the same thing we did in the face of the grinding poverty of the country, only accentuated by the regime’s enthusiasm to accept neoliberal economic policies that only funneled money from the impoverished masses and into the clutches of the wealthy elite managing their society on behalf of their western sponsors. Namely, nothing. In the name of our war against terror, in the name of our security interests, in the name of our economic interests we did nothing.
It is time for Americans to acknowledge that when we prioritize our interests in foreign lands over the interests of the citizens of those lands in many instances those citizens are starved, politically disenfranchised, tortured and sometimes killed. We have to realize that this is not only true in the Middle East, it is just as true in the Congo, Haiti and elsewhere.
Tunisians and now Egyptians have bravely stood up and challenged the hypocrisy, brutality and illegitimacy of their rulers. It is blatant hypocrisy for America to pontificate about the need for peaceful political reform in the Middle East and then support the violent repression of peaceful reformers or circumvent internal reform all together by imposing political change through the barrel of an M1 Abrams tank. It is time that the people of this country stand up and challenge that hypocrisy. The masses in Tunisia and Egypt should be a source of courage and inspiration for us in this regard.
The popular movements emerging in the Middle East are giving birth to watershed events that may well redefine the political map of the region for the next century. We should work to make sure that the vision and hope they embody are not confined to the Middle East. Now is the time for us to express our solidarity with the people of Egypt and elsewhere as they struggle to carve out a dignified existence for themselves and their progeny. If we do so with courage, conviction, vision and principle we may all live to see a day when the old game will be over everywhere. If that happens, we will all be the winners