Wednesday, February 02, 2011

da brother's gonna work it out

Our former prime minister supported Hosni Mubarak this morning in the name of stability.

Blair said that meant there should not be a rush to elections in Egypt.

"I don't think there's a majority for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. On the other hand, what you've got to watch is that they are extremely well-organised and well-funded whereas those people who are out on the street at the moment, many of them will be extremely well-intentioned people but they're not organised in political parties yet. So one of the issues in the transition is to give time for those political parties to get themselves properly organised," he said.

How's that working out for you, Tony? Here's a taste of the "no elections, leave Mubarak and Suleiman in power" plan in action:

7:41pm Al Jazeera web producer at Tahrir Square says that a crowd of about 500 pro-Mubarak people started throwing rocks over tanks near Qasr al-Nil bridge.

Yes, today has been so chaotic and unstable that not only are Mubarak's loyalist paramilitaries fighting the revolutionaries, they're also sometimes fighting the Egyptian Army as well, or at least doing something that could be mistaken for that. Meanwhile, the revolutionaries now no longer trust the army, as they did when it seemed to be passively enabling their protests over the weekend and yesterday. Thank God we didn't do anything rash and picked the stable option. Meanwhile, people who really are organised - like the spooks - are attacking the people he wants to give more time to get organised, before they can get organised.

And of course, people do get organised. There's a new trade union movement. Tahrir Square has grown a press bureau, a documentation team recording details of Central Security's crimes, support networks of all kinds. The police withdrawal on Friday may have been an enormous blunder precisely because it shifted the revolution from just mass demonstrations to block-level organising. If people survive tonight, I wouldn't bet against a major political organisation (call it the Civic Forum) emerging from the local committees. Look out for this this bloke.

Actually, it's possible that today's news explains the military's anomalous position over the last few days - it may be that they feared that fighting for the government, against the people, would simply destroy the social contract and bring about something indistinguishable from civil war. In the light of their special political role since the Free Officers' Movement. As Fake Hosni Mubarak says:
Whoever said "A captain must go down with his ship" is wrong. The ship must go down with its captain

The genuinely depressing thing about Blair's remarks is the degree to which he's internalised the regime's public arguments, and the degree to which he may still have real influence.

First, the real influence. It seems certain that the Americans only see this whole issue as part of that horrible grab-bag of cynicism known as the Middle East. Blair's role as envoy means he's still plugged into this. He has certainly had extensive contact with Suleiman and friends. Given the importance of all this, he can probably contact the State Department as easily as David Cameron can.

Moving beyond him, Mubarak has traditionally defended his role by claiming that he is a defensive bulwark against extremist Islam, incarnated for these purposes by the Muslim Brotherhood. It has been in his interests to talk up both this movement's popularity and its extremism, and also to talk down the role of all his other enemies. The Brothers and the state have what could be called a special relationship - the Brothers guarantee the special, pseudo-cold war status of the regime, and the regime guarantees their role as a monopoly of opposition. Being the one true opposition has obvious attractions to their leaders; it's also necessary that they be portrayed as extreme enough to warrant the deliveries of M1A1 tanks and prisoners in unmarked business jets. The Guardian's Jack Shenker, who has been doing a heroic job reporting the revolution, has an excellent article on this issue here. You would think that if they could shut down one opposition, they could also shut down one they supposedly consider much more of a threat...

Blair, of course, pretends to be utterly unaware of the clammy snog between the regime and its opposition franchise. But he can't be blamed for not realising that, if anyone's going to bring religious or anti-semitic violence to the streets, it might be the other side. After all, when he spoke, he probably didn't know that Mubarak's goon squad are in the habit of screaming "Jews!" as they assault journalists.

This does, by the way, make you - or me, at least - wonder exactly which organisation was able to put a significant mob on the streets at the drop of a hat, when the NDP had spectacularly failed to mobilise any sign of mass support for days on end. Military dictatorships with religious stylings are far from unknown - that was, after all, the fix Jaruzelski tried to impose on Poland after 1981, mixing more Catholicism and nationalism in with his communism but keeping the security state more in place than ever. And I can well imagine someone - someone, quintessentially, like Tony Blair - hailing cooperation between an Islamist movement and Central Security as being just the kind of faith-based initiative that contributes, helpfully, to shared norms for the new reality. As usual with Blair, it's the secular left that is his real enemy.

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