Kings expect immediate results, and the contours of Bahrain’s Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa can be traced around Egypt’s latest political developments. Days after a prospect meeting with Hamad, part of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) expansion campaign, Egyptian Field Mohammed Hussein Tantawi released what appears to be the military council's most unpopular proposal yet. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) stands accused of hoarding power and preserving Hosni Mubarak’s climate of fear.
The SCAF’s new proposal won’t be finalized until an “exhaustive debate is completed,” according to Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Salmy, but Egyptian revolutionaries don’t believe that they’ll be asked to participate.
Egypt’s connected military council
The draft’s present form compromises every phase of Egypt’s revolutionary transition. The military would enjoy immunity from political oversight, possess a veto “over legislation dealing with military affairs,” and be declared the protector of "constitutional legitimacy," wording that encompasses all of Egypt’s affairs. The SCAF also targeted Egypt’s future elections; a parliamentary election is scheduled for the 28th, with a presidential election tentatively delayed until 2013. The SCAF previously ruled that a 100-member committee would be elected from the new parliament to author a constitution, and political groups hoped to put distance between the civil government and SCAF.
Now the SCAF proposes that only 20 members be selected from parliament, with the other 80 chosen by the SCAF and interim Prime Minister’s cabinet. These terms have elicited widespread condemnation across Egypt’s spectrum, from the liberal political parties and civil coalition to the Islamic Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has attracted its own criticisms for cooperating with the SCAF, but now calls “on the people of Egypt to reject the document to protect their rights."
A mass demonstration is scheduled for November 18th.
This schismatic and potential destruction proposal follows an ongoing campaign against high-profile activists. Topping the list of cases is Alaa Abdel-Fattah, arrested after the October 9th clashes between government forces and Christian protesters. Abdel-Fattah accused the military of directly targeting protesters, a claim verified on video, and was finally arrested on October 30th. His charges: inciting the violence of October 9th, damaging military property and assaulting on-duty soldiers. Abdel-Fattah is being held on an indefinite 15-day cycle, although he was able to smuggle a letter to the outside world.
“I never expected to repeat the experience of five years ago: after a revolution that deposed the tyrant, I go back to his jails?”
Egyptian groups have decried Abdel-Fattah’s arrest as a flagrant insult by the SCAF. This imprisonment is designed to send a message that contradicts the SCAF’s rhetoric towards the international community: no one is safe. Activists and protesters continue to be arrested under martial law. State-media also remains corrupted under the SCAF’s watch, a vain attempt to counter Egypt’s widespread use of social media.
"Abd El Fattah's targeting is only the latest example of the systematic targeting of journalists, media figures, bloggers and activists by SCAF [the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces]," said the 'No to Military Trials' group in a statement. "As of today we refuse to co-operate with the military prosecution of civilians and we call on all Egyptian citizens to stand with us... This is not the new Egypt we have fought and died for."
This may not be the Egypt that Washington envisioned post-Mubarak, but the Obama administration hasn’t done much to change its trajectory. Instead of fully backing the revolutionaries, U.S. officials maintain close contact with the SCAF in order to slow Egypt’s transition, and offer financial loans to further entrench Western influence. President Barack Obama exchanged pleasantries with Tantawi less than a week before Abdel-Fattah was arrested: “He welcomed Egypt’s willingness to accept international election witnesses and urged that Egypt lift the emergency law and end military trials for civilians.”
Although Abdel-Fattah's appeal was rejected earlier today, Ambassador William Taylor had nothing but positive things to say about the SCAF.
Given the SCAF’s interaction with Washington and the GCC, Tantawi’s circle of generals aren’t alone in corrupting Egypt’s revolution. The Saudis seek their own favorable endgame and have enlisted GCC members to coordinate with Tantawi. The White House is so obsessed with controlling the Arab revolutions that it appointed a Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions - a “cleaner,” in other words. Taylor proceeded to scrub the SCAF by claiming “they have a well-established timeframe.” Confronted by spiking doubts over the SCAF, he picked a bad day to insist that the military wants out “of the governing business.”
“I had a long discussion with many Egyptians while I was there, including with the SCAF. Had three major generals sitting there on the other side of the table. They were at pains to emphasize how eager they were not to be governing. They were – they wanted to make it very clear to this American sitting on the other side of the table that they didn’t like the governing business.”
A follow-up question asked, “Did they tell you what you want to hear?” to which Taylor replied, “Some would say they’re not doing a great job of it. But I think they recognize that they’ve got these problems.”
Such is the intense U.S. pressure applied to Egypt’s ruling military council.
New day, same scam in Syria
Russian officials basked in Abu Dubai’s sun after arriving for the first GCC-Russian dialogue. Among many priorities on their plate: obstructing Syria’s revolutionaries. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov insisted that a GCC proposal would model itself on Yemen’s unpopular initiative, an automatic warning to Syrians. For now a competing proposal from the Arab League’s mirrors the GCC’s terms, calling for an end to violence and “inclusive dialogue” with a murderous regime.
These types of proposals mean death the revolutionaries.
“Nothing has changed,” said Iyad Shurbaji, a Syrian journalist in Damascus and a critic of the government. “Excessive violence has increased, tanks are still in the streets and not even one barricade has been removed.” He added: “The regime has no intention of carrying out the initiative. It is trying to buy time, betting on time to crush the uprising in attempt to create new facts on the ground, then negotiate from a strong position.”
Interestingly, the White House is flowing with the Arab League’s proposal in order to dilute the revolution. In fact the State Department’s Victoria Nuland explicitly stated, “their goals are the same as ours... So we encouraged – as we did with the GCC in Yemen, we encouraged the neighbors to do what they can. Their objectives are the same as ours.” This line of thinking contradicts Washington’s alleged support for Syria’s revolutionaries, since any proposal based around Yemen’s will result in similar consequences for Syria’s popular movement.
U.S. pressure on Saleh and al-Assad appears to be night and day; Nuland told reporters that al-Assad’s regime “has a long, deep, and continued history of broken promises and it has significant blood on its hands... we have not seen any evidence that the Asad regime intends to live up to the commitments that it’s made.” Saleh’s exact same pattern is then ignored. Nuland would only tell reporters on Tuesday, “The agreement calls for him to step down, but so far we haven’t seen the results of that.” Reminded that people are dying in the meantime, Nuland simply responds that “it’s very much a matter of concern.”
Ultimately Washington may be willing to accept regime alternation in both countries.
Lounging under the GCC’s umbrella
Shortly after President Barack Obama formally announced America’s withdrawal from Iraq, Hillary Clinton puffed out her chest and issued an odd warning to Iran. As if Tehran was blind, the Secretary of State told CNN that Iranian officials shouldn’t misread America’s departure from Iraq. U.S. officials have done everything in their power to counter impressions that Washington is withdrawing out of weakness, with unfavorable results. And Clinton doesn’t need to remind Tehran, “the United States is very present in the region.”
Iranian officials must have welcomed this self-admitted imperialism with glee. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also told CNN, “What are the American bases doing in our region? During the current year they made military contract amounting to $90 billion with the countries of the region. We have no problems of the people of the United States, we love them. We have problems with the government of the United States.”
The Obama administration's “new” strategy in the Gulf, which has been fomenting for years, calls for increased military cooperation with the GCC. According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s count, 23,000 American troops are already stationed in Kuwait, with 7,500 in Qatar, 5,000 in Bahrain and almost 3,000 in the United Arab Emirates. Some of the remaining 39,000 redeploying from Iraq will join them. As U.S. and Gulf officials laud their improving relations and mutual interests, Arab revolutionaries and concerned citizens fear that “containing Iran” includes themselves. Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has now added his voice to equation, telling Al-Arabiya TV, "The American occupation will stay in Iraq under different names.”
"America is not only occupying Iraq but also other Islamic countries," he said. "Occupying Iraq means occupying what is around Iraq, and then to control the Middle East."
al-Sadr’s comments will be swiftly rejected and discarded by U.S. officials, but he speaks the truth on U.S.-GCC relations. Beyond containing Iran through the Gulf’s militarization, regimes in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria have been marked for preservation. Those protesters trying create a new Middle East must overcome a massive counter-revolution that aims for regional hegemony. Clinton told CNN’s “State of the Union” that “no one, most particularly Iran, should miscalculate about our continuing commitment to and with the Iraqis going forward.”
Nor should anyone miscalculate Washington and Riyadh’s commitment to undermining the Arab revolutions.