Monday, February 28, 2011

The CIA’s ‘Secret War’

Decades After US Forces Exited The Vietnam War The Remnants Of A CIA-Backed Force Of Lao Villagers Still Live In Fear In The Jungle.

By William Lloyd-George
February 25, 2011
Courtesy Of "The-Diplomat"

In a clearing deep inside the Laotian jungle, a group of Hmong fall to the ground and beg me for help as soon as they see me. Chor Her, a skinny man wearing torn camouflage, is the only one to remain standing. He salutes before joining the others on the muddy ground.
‘We have no food, every day we have to run, we are being hunted like animals,’ says one elderly woman,weeping. The young children surrounding her are also crying—I’m told it’s the first time they’ve seen a foreigner. Indeed, these people have been largely cut off from the outside world since the Vietnam War.
Back then, the Hmong were fighters—secret fighters in a 15-year covert US operation backed by the CIA. Now they are forced to constantly run for their lives in a country whose government doesn’t officially acknowledge they exist.
‘The Americans gave us weapons and told us to shoot the enemy,’ says Chor Her, waving a battered CIA-issued M79 in the air. ‘Then they left us and we’ve been slowly dying here ever since…When the Lao Army kills one of our men, they feel as though they’ve killed an American in revenge for us helping them during the war.’
Almost before he has finished his sentence, another man jumps into the conversation, pleading for food and medicine. ‘We are human beings, so why does the world turna deaf ear and blind eye to us?’ he asks.
As the Vietnam War raged,Washington noticed that communist forces had spilled over into Laos. In response, the Americans launched what was later called a secret war. At the time, Laos had been declared ‘neutral,’ but with a growing communist presence, the CIA saw it as the next front in the conflict. A handful of CIA agents were flown in to build on existing tensions between the Hmong and the Laotian government, led by the communist Pathet Lao.
‘They were better than anyone else around, every step they took was up or down so they could move a lot faster than the enemy,’ says Bill Lair, a legendary CIA agent who headed the agency’s paramilitary operations in Laos. ‘They needed a leader and Vang Pao seemed like the most suitable man for the job.’
Vang Pao, or ‘the General,’ was selected for his charisma and leadership skills, honed when the Hmong had previously allied with the French against North Vietnamese forces. With the help of the CIA, he reportedly trained and armed more than 60,000 Hmong fighters. While the Americans set up a major military airport in Northern Laos, the Hmong were in charge of disrupting communist supply lines and rescuing downed pilots. 
It has been estimated that the Hmong lost nearly 100,000 people during this secret operation. As the war progressed, and with casualties quickly mounting, Vang Pao and his CIA backers eventually had to turn to the use of child soldiers to keep up the resistance efforts.
‘An American and a Thai man came into my school and I was taken away to military training,’ says Bou Than, a former Hmong soldier. Still only 13 years-old, the war was raging around him in the Laotian jungle. He was poached from a classroom and shipped straight off for military training.
‘I saw many of my school friends die in those jungles to help American forces,’ he says. ‘Kids as young as eight were being used.’
It’s rumored that at one point, Vang Pao said he wanted to cease all military operations with the CIA over concerns that the enormous loss of life could ultimately lead to the Hmong communities being wiped out altogether. Regardless of his intentions, though, the Hmong involvement continued—as did the casualties.
Soaring heroin sales were perhaps one thing that persuaded him to keep going. Before the Americans arrived, opium smoking was a cultural norm in the region and was prevalent throughout the Hmong highlands. US planes gave the Hmong the opportunity to do something they hadn’t previously—transport and sell large quantities of the drug, including to US soldiers.
There has been a great deal of debate since over the exact details of the operation, based on testimony given by CIA agents who were there at the time. But one thing is clear—there was a busy opium trade operating in the region, and the agency appears to have turned a blind eye.
A number of CIA officers have claimed since that, fearing their operation could be embarrassingly exposed, they decided to give Vang Pao his own local airline, Xieng Kouang airlines, as part of a compromise following his demands for control of all of the agency’s planes.
Much of the opium that was produced is said to have ended up in the hands of American GIs on the frontlines, leading to a dramatic rise in the number of overdoses among soldiers. Yet despite this obvious drawback, those involved in the operation appear to have felt there was little they could do as the profits were, in effect, also helping to fund the war effort.
‘Opium grew everywhere in our highlands,’ says Tho Ther, a former Hmong soldier who now resides in the United States. ‘We smoked it openly, but it was only when the Americans came that our leaders began to sell it.’
‘We were losing countless male children for the CIA’s war and needed to pay to keep the villagers happy,’ he adds. ‘Otherwise they would have changed sides to save their men from joining our army.’
But it still wasn’t enough. The communist forces continued to grow in strength and advanced towards the CIA bases despite Washington’s best efforts—and $2 million a day spent carpet bombing Laos—to stop them. Accepting defeat, the Americans eventually fled, taking a handful of Hmong leaders, including Vang Pao.
With the Americans out of the picture, the Pathet Lao moved to try to wipe out the remaining Hmong elements that had worked with the CIA. But while thousands perished in aerial attacks on Hmong settlements—spurring a mass exodus to Thailand—the rest fled deeper into the jungle, where many remain today, still hoping the United States will return to save them.
Funeral For A Father
Earlier this month, thousands of mourners gathered in California for Vang Pao’s funeral. While an average Hmong usually receives a three-day funeral, owing to his stature among exiled Hmong, Vang Pao was given a six-day ceremony. While his critics have suggested his decision to support foreign forces led to his people suffering unnecessarily, the numbers attending the funeral demonstrated the loyalty he still inspired, with thousands of supporters flocking from locations as far away as France and Thailand to bid farewell to the symbolic head of a troubled people.
‘We call him “father.” He was always our leader and never turned his back on us, until his very last day,’ says Meng Lee, who attended the service.
In what turned out to be his final effort to secure some kind of lasting peace for his people, Vang Pao last year surprised followers by announcing a planned visit to Laos to meet government officials. The plan, revealed at a Hmong New Year dinner, was for him to make a peace deal with his former enemy on the Thai-Laotian border. Once peace had been agreed, Vang Pao planned to travel into Laos to assist the jungle Hmong. He hoped that those left in the jungle could then join repatriated refugees from Thailand on specially designated farmland, free from persecution.
But the Laotian government didn’t share this vision. In response to the proposal, Laos’ foreign minister is quoted as having said: ‘If he comes to Laos soon he must submit to the death sentence.’ The trip was cancelled.
The chilling response wasn’t entirely surprising—the Laotian government remains bitter over the role Vang Pao played in the Vietnam War. Ironically, then, the death of the would-be peacemaker might actually benefit the Hmong people, leaving space for a younger generation of ‘untainted’ leaders better able to avoid direct conflict with Vientiane. Still, the prospects for a breakthrough anytime soon seem remote.
No Foreign Friends?
Despite being home to more than 250,000 Hmong refugees, the United States has done little to try to resolve the ongoing tensions. In a recent meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Lao’s foreign minister in Washington, no mention seems to have been made of the persecuted Hmong.
The same can be said for Thailand, which allowed the forced repatriation of 4000 Hmong despite having trained many of Vang Pao’s forces. Thailand now also tops the list of Laos’ foreign investors.
Meanwhile, the Lao People’s Army continues to hunt down the remainder of the once formidable Hmong force. Always on the run, they have no time to harvest rice, so they survive largely by eating bugs and tree roots. Some of those who have surrendered in the past have returned to the jungle with stories of torture and rape. Without any form of foreign assistance, it seems likely most will eventually be found by the Army. 
Shortly after Vang Pao’s death, speaking over a phone smuggled in by Hmong-American activists, Chor Fer says his group is struggling.
‘We’ve lost our father and don’t know what to do, we just keep running with nowhere to go,’ he says over a crackling line. ‘Every one of us wants to put an end to the war, but we know what will happen if we surrender. The communists will kill us.’
William Lloyd-George is a freelance journalist based on the Thai-Burma border. His work has appeared in TIME, The Independent, Bangkok Post, Afternposten, Irrawaddy and Global Post among others.

Egypt's Fight For Historical Memory

Official histories approved by the Mubarak government excluded large sections of Egyptian society, including women, working people, Coptic Christians and the poor, argues one historian [GALLO/GETTY]

The Mubarak Regime Kept Its Records Secret, Depriving Historians Of Crucial Sources.

By Yoav Di-Capua
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2011 12:58 GMT
Courtesy Of "Al Jazeera"

In recent years, on websites, newspaper articles, and in various academic publications, young Egyptian historians, journalists, pundits and activists began grappling with an uneasy sensation that they were ignorant about their country’s history.

In a recent posting on his website, Egyptian journalist and activist Hossam el-Hamalawy admitted as much, and added that given the repressive nature of authoritarianism this was hardly surprising.

A citizen who cannot reason historically about the business of the state is not a participating and change-demanding citizen, but a docile subject. This is the way a succession of Egyptian regimes wanted things to be. And this is how they were.

In the last few weeks, we have heard in great detail how the Mubarak regime robbed ordinary Egyptians of their political, human, economic and social rights. That is, how an ever-growing number of Egyptians were robbed of their human dignity.

Yet parallel to this realisation, and indeed tightly bound up with it, Egyptians have also begun to understand they were also robbed of their past, their sense of history, and their right to a critical historical consciousness.

Saving The Past

As a new civic dawn breaks on the Nile valley and with political submission now a thing of the past, Egyptian public intellectuals will have to confront the urgent task of reinstituting their human right to history, salvaging their past from oblivion, and turning it into democratic building blocks.

What exactly does this mean and what concrete steps should be taken?

Let’s begin with the problem. Chose any major event or issue in recent Egyptian history, be it the 1967 war with Israel, the business history of privatization, the treatment of political prisoners, the pedagogy of school curricula, or national water policy, and ask yourself if you can find relevant historical sources in the state archive. The answer is a categorical no.

Though a progressive archival law has been in place since 1954, the state largely ignores it and does not deposit its records for public scrutiny. With a lack of transparency and accountability as guiding principles of those in power, historians were systematically incapacitated.

Consequently, decades of Egyptian history are virtually unknown, or worse, they are known in a highly distorted and for the state, self-serving, fashion.

'No Records' From Camp David

For those who follow Egyptian history writing, this is hardly a new topic. Since the 1960s, Egyptian historians have been periodically petitioning the regime to open its records for scrutiny.

Using the political momentum that the Subsidy and Bread Riots of 1977 had created, historians petitioned the government once again. "We want to know," they said, "what happened in 1967. The records belong to the people."

Anwar Sadat, the former president, listened and established an official committee for the writing of the war's history. Hosni Mubarak chaired it. He did his best to kill the initiative, and was indeed successful.

The government kept the 1967 records secret. Rumor has it that a few years ago, when the Palestinian peace negotiations team asked the Egyptian government if they could consult their records on the Camp David Accords for the sake of leveraging their position vis-à-vis Israel, the Egyptian government could not even locate the relevant files. Lost, or simply denied, the result is all the same.

For decades now, in place of the critical history that only an open-ended public discussion can generate, Egyptians have been consuming cheap substitutes of pseudo-history created by official committee.

This was a history so simplistic that it positioned the omnipotent state as a singular historical player and the Egyptian public as mere foot soldiers in its service. A sense of Egyptian exceptionalism cut through much of the official and semi-official histories. Especially ubiquitous is the politically sterile mantra of a glorious 7,000 year old civilization. Can citizens demand their rights with such a triumphalist and uncritical history? Obviously not.

Some former Egyptian officials, the most famous of whom is Mohamed Hasanein Heikal, possess their own private state archive of stolen docuemnts. These individuals are free to tell whatever story they like. But can these privately-generated stories help Egyptians objectively know history and thus, claim their rights? Not likely.

Can they help maintain rights that have already been secured? Not likely either.

Silenced Voices

Nationalist patriotic histories have their place as important identity codifiers but they cannot stand alone. While in any country school textbooks are typically not indicators for progressive critical historiography, the situation in Egypt is not restricted to the classroom but extends far beyond it into the press and university campuses.

Pseudo-history is everywhere. And who is missing from it? Copts, women, peasants, workers, the poor and the politically disenfranchised, to name a few. Or, in other words, the majority of Egyptians.

Living without history ultimately leads to living without rights. In 1992 Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim dedicated his new novel Zaat to this issue. He showed how his protagonists were disconnected from their immediate past to the degree that their moral landscape had become completely devoid of any ethical passion. Unable, and then unwilling, to act politically, they were by definition un-politicised, docile subjects.

Living in alienation even as they live together, they suffer from a general loss of meaning and a chronic inability to appropriate truth. They were classic exemplars of the so-called docile Egyptian.

If the novel teaches anything, it is that history is too important to be written by the state. And this is why in the momentous and transformative euphoria of the past few weeks, alongside the calls for human, economic, and social justice, we should not forget historical justice.

Here is a rare opportunity. In a new Egypt there are likely to be strongly voiced calls for the institution of a free press and the transformation of censorship laws. But this is also the time for Egyptian historians, archivists, and journalists to achieve a historic landmark and enshrine the popular right to history in clear and binding legislation.

Yoav Di-Capua, an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, specialising in modern Arab intellectual history. His publications include the 2009 book Gatekeepers of the Arab Past: Historians and History Writing in 20th Century Egypt (California University Press).

The Future of Egypt's Political Soul

An Egyptian army captain kisses a national flag amid protesters in Tahrir Square on Jan. 31.

By Chinua Akukwe
February 20, 2011
Courtesy Of "World Press"

The ouster of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak by massive street protests and an assist from the Egyptian military is setting the stage for a titanic battle for the future political soul of the country. After 30 years of repressive, autocratic rule, the future political orientation of Egypt will most likely be determined by five formidable segments of the Egyptian society.

 Those segments include the powerful, staunchly secular and economically entrenched armed forces of Egypt; the educated, technologically savvy, secular middle class who guided the 18-day uprising, deliberately leaderless; the Muslim Brotherhood, the grassroots political entity with deep roots in teachings and practices of Islam; the trade union movement, repressed in the last two decades but clandestinely kept intact at mid- and lower-ranking levels; and poor Egyptian families enraged by the massive corruption of the last 30 years and the repressive heavy hand of the state in all facets of their lives.
The Armed Forces Of Egypt
Today, the generals are in charge. However, the generals, key players in the Hosni Mubarak government, are presiding over a radically changed Egypt thirsty for political and economic freedom. The military has stated publicly its determination to hand over power in six months to a democratically elected government. They have also suspended the moribund constitution and dismissed the fraudulently elected parliament. In addition, a referendum on a new constitution is likely to predate national elections.
However, the military has yet to end the hated emergency rule or release more than 5,000 political prisoners in Egypt. The military leaders in Egypt, sophisticated in domestic and regional politics, will attempt to reshape the future of Egypt in their vision: staunchly secular, conservative in ideology, and with the retention of a sacrosanct role for the military in state and economic affairs. The military will also come under pressure from the United States, provider of $1.5 billion in annual armament and training aid, to hasten transfer of power to a democratically elected government. One thing that can be written in stone for the present crop of Egypt military leaders: They will never hand over power to an Islamist party.
Young, Educated, Secular Reformers
With demographics on their side, the young reformers represent a formidable force for change. More than half of 80 million Egyptians are less than 30 years of age. They had known no other leader besides Mubarak. It is not surprising that the young leaders of the successful uprising were the first opposition group to meet the senior leaders of the ruling military government.
Their quest for peaceful change represents the coming of age of a new generation of technology savvy, urbane young men and women no longer inspired by ethnic jingoism, religious differences or class warfare. However, what was an advantage in confronting a hated regime is now a potential handicap in the struggle for the political future of Egypt—namely, lack of public leadership and limited experience in operating national political structures. The young reformers face a fight against time to become a formidable force during the promised six-month window for political transition.
The Muslim Brotherhood
The most powerful grassroots political entity also showed remarkable agility during the 18-day uprising. By ceding limelight to the young reformers and the telegenic opposition figures known in the West, the Muslim Brotherhood shrewdly sought to burnish their image in nervous Western capitals and among suspicious secular reformers at home.
The organization throughout the uprising repeatedly stated their commitment to working with all strands of the Egyptian society in a post-Mubarak era. By preemptively announcing that it will not seek the presidency or majority in parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood assuaged a powerful internal foe: the current generals in the Egyptian military. However, the Muslim Brotherhood has an eye for the future, and an eventually run for the presidency. A major focus of the Muslim Brotherhood in the near term will be to control local governments as a prelude to national power. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood is aware of the current electoral math in today's pious but staunchly secular Egypt; an Islam-oriented party is unlikely to win more than 25 percent of national votes.
Trade Unions
For the last two decades, the hitherto powerful trade-union movement in Egypt appeared vanquished from brutal, coercive instruments of the state. The government also installed cronies at the helm of most national labor movements. However, events of the last few days after the ouster of Mubarak revealed a well-known secret: The labor movement is alive and well in Egypt and capable of bringing the country to its knees through strikes and work stoppages in all sectors of the economy. The labor movement is poised to push for better pay, better conditions of service and long-lasting political reforms. In the next six months, the labor movement will be a formidable force in the maneuvers to encourage the military to keep their word on ceding power to a democratically elected government. Through strikes, intermittent work stoppages and street marches, the labor movement will keep the pressure on the military government.
However, the labor movement in Egypt faces the challenge of credible national leadership after years of government cronies in top positions. They also face the potential of becoming enmeshed in debilitating, internal ideological battles. In addition, the labor movement also faces the challenge of managing labor relations in the era of globalization and how to adapt to the changing needs of younger workers.
Poor, Working Families In Egypt
The young, educated reformers organized the protests. However, the heroes of Tahir Square were mostly poor Egyptians fed up with an autocratic, repressive government. Working poor families struggling to make ends meet became the immovable support base of the street protests. These families were also motivated by a fear of a ruinous future for their educated children. Many had unemployed, university-educated sons and daughters living at home years after graduation. The working poor in Egypt are poised to make their voices heard loud and clear in forthcoming elections.
If elections are believed to be rigged, expect another sustained street rage by the working poor. With time it is likely that historians will regard the rise of the working poor as the deepest lasting achievement of the 2011 revolt in Egypt. In the absence of viable civil society organizations during a 30-year dictatorship, the working poor in Egypt now face the challenge of how to work with equally new political parties to make their voices heard during the political transition in Egypt.
The Six-Months Political Transition
To face the superior position of the military rulers in Egypt during the promised six-month transitional period, the youthful organizers of the uprising, the Muslim Brotherhood, the labor unions, long-term opposition figures and representatives of working families will attempt to work together. Despite current setbacks in the last few days to harmonize positions and leadership, these groups will select leaders to negotiate with the military government on political and economic reforms. They will also form political parties, select candidates for elections and enter into political coalitions to contest elections.
A tricky issue will be the choice of an opposition joint presidential candidate. Whoever emerges as the main opposition candidate for the presidency is almost likely to face a candidate backed by the military and the remnants of the nominal government ruling party. It will be a race against time in a country with little or no serious political activity to organize political activities, plan and implement transparent elections, and achieve a peaceful transfer of power from a military to a civil government. The democratically elected government at the end of the six-month period is likely to be seen as a transitional civilian government that sets the stage for deep-rooted political and economic reforms in Egypt.
For the next six months, Egypt will enter into one of the most important periods of its history. The struggle for genuine democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and property rights, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of association will all play out under the watchful gaze of the rest of the world. One thing is certain: the Egypt of the last 30 years is no more. What is less certain is the Egypt that will emerge.
View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Chinua Akukwe.

The Genie Is Out Of The Bottle

"The Arab Awakening is not a matter of months or a few years. It may well be a prolonged struggle, with many failures and defeats, but the genie will not return to the bottle. The images of the 18 days in Tahrir Square will be kept alive in the hearts of an entire new generation from Marrakesh to Mosul, and any new dictatorship that emerges here or there will not be able to erase them."

By Uri Avnery
(Saturday, February 19, 2011)
Courtesy Of "Media Monitors"

This is a story right out of “1001 Nights”. The genie escaped from the bottle, and no power on earth can put it back.
When it happened in Tunisia, it could have been said: OK, an Arab country, but a minor one. It was always a bit more progressive than the others. Just an isolated incident.
And then it happened in Egypt. A pivotal country. The heart of the Arab world. The spiritual center of Sunni Islam. But it could have been said: Egypt is a special case. The land of the Pharaohs. Thousands of years of history before the Arabs even got there.
But now it has spread all over the Arab world. To Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen. Jordan, Libya, even Morocco.   And to non-Arab, non-Sunni Iran, too.
The genie of revolution, of renewal, of rejuvenation, is now haunting all the regimes in the Region. The inhabitants of the “Villa in the Jungle” are liable to wake up one morning and discover that the jungle is gone, that we are surrounded by a new landscape.
WHEN OUR Zionist fathers decided to set up a safe haven in Palestine, they had the choice between two options:
 They could appear in West Asia as European conquerors, who see themselves as a bridgehead of the “white” man and as masters of the “natives”, like the Spanish conquistadores and the Anglo-Saxon colonialists in America. That is what the crusaders did in their time.
 The second way was to see themselves as an Asian people returning to their homeland, the heirs to the political and cultural traditions of the Semitic world, ready to take part, with the other peoples of the region, in the war of liberation from European exploitation.
I wrote these words 64 years ago, in a brochure that appeared just two months before the outbreak of the 1948 war.
I stand by these words today.
These days I have a growing feeling that we are once again standing at a historic crossroads. The direction we choose in the coming days will determine the destiny of the State of Israel for years to come, perhaps irreversibly. If we choose the wrong road, we will have “weeping for generations”, as the Hebrew saying goes.
And perhaps the greatest danger is that we make no choice at all, that we are not even aware of the need to make a decision, that we just continue on the road that has brought us to where we are today. That we are occupied with trivialities – the battle between the Minister of Defense and the departing Chief of Staff, the struggle between Netanyahu and Lieberman about the appointment of an ambassador, the non-events of “Big Brother” and similar TV inanities – that we do not even notice that history is passing us by, leaving us behind.
WHEN OUR politicians and pundits found enough time – amid all the daily distractions – to deal with the events around us, it was in the old and (sadly) familiar way.
Even in the few halfway intelligent talk shows, there was much hilarity about the idea that “Arabs” could establish democracies. Learned professors and media commentators “proved” that such a thing just could not happen – Islam was “by nature” anti-democratic and backward, Arab societies lacked the Protestant Christian ethic necessary for democracy, or the capitalist foundations for a sound middle class, etc. At best, one kind of despotism would be replaced by another.
The most common conclusion was that democratic elections would inevitably lead to the victory of “Islamist” fanatics, who would set up brutal Taliban-style theocracies, or worse.
Part of this, of course, is deliberate propaganda, designed to convince the naïve Americans and Europeans that they must shore up the Mubaraks of the region or alternative military strongmen. But most of it was quite sincere: most Israelis really believe that the Arabs, left to their own devices, will set up murderous “Islamist” regimes, whose main aim would be to wipe Israel off the map.
Ordinary Israelis know next to nothing about Islam and the Arab world. As a (left-wing) Israeli general answered 65 years ago, when asked how he viewed the Arab world: “though the sights of my rifle.” Everything is reduced to “security”, and insecurity prevents, of course, any serious reflection.
THIS ATTITUDE goes back to the beginnings of the Zionist movement.
Its founder – Theodor Herzl – famously wrote in his historic treatise that the future Jewish State would constitute “a part of the wall of civilization” against Asiatic (meaning Arab) barbarism. Herzl admired Cecil Rhodes, the standard-bearer of British imperialism, He and his followers shared the cultural attitude then common in Europe, which Eduard Said latter labeled “Orientalism”.
Viewed in retrospect, that was perhaps natural, considering that the Zionist movement was born in Europe towards the end of the imperialist era, and that it was planning to create a Jewish homeland in a country in which another people – an Arab people – was living.
The tragedy is that this attitude has not changed in 120 years, and that it is stronger today than ever. Those of us who propose a different course – and there have always been some – remain voices in the wilderness.
This is evident these days in the Israeli attitude to the events shaking the Arab world and beyond. Among ordinary Israelis, there was quite a lot of spontaneous sympathy for the Egyptians confronting their tormentors in Tahrir Square - but everything was viewed from the outside, from afar, as if it were happening on the moon. 
The only practical question raised was: will the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty hold? Or do we need to raise new army divisions for a possible war with Egypt? When almost all “security experts” assured us that the treaty was safe, people lost interest in the whole matter.
BUT THE treaty – actually an armistice between regimes and armies – should only be of secondary concern for us. The most important question is: how will the new Arab world look? Will the transition to democracy be relatively smooth and peaceful, or not? Will it happen at all, and will it mean that a more radical Islamic region emerges - which is a distinct possibility? Can we have any influence on the course of events?
Of course, none of today’s Arab movements is eager for an Israeli embrace. It would be a bear hug. Israel is viewed today by practically all Arabs as a colonialist, anti-Arab state that oppresses the Palestinians and is out to dispossess as many Arabs as possible – though there is, I believe, also a lot of silent admiration for Israel’s technological and other achievements.
But when entire peoples rise up and revolution upsets all entrenched attitudes, there is the possibility of changing old ideas. If Israeli political and intellectual leaders were to stand up today and openly declare their solidarity with the Arab masses in their struggle for freedom, justice and dignity, they could plant a seed that would bear fruit in coming years.
Of course, such statements must really come from the heart. As a superficial political ploy, they would be rightly despised. They must be accompanied by a profound change in our attitude towards the Palestinian people. That’s why peace with the Palestinians now, at once, is a vital necessity for Israel.
Our future is not with Europe or America. Our future is in this region, to which our state belongs, for better or for worse. It’s not just our policies that must change, but our basic outlook, our geographical orientation. We must understand that we are not a bridgehead from somewhere distant, but a part of a region that is now – at long last – joining the human march towards freedom.
The Arab Awakening is not a matter of months or a few years. It may well be a prolonged struggle, with many failures and defeats, but the genie will not return to the bottle. The images of the 18 days in Tahrir Square will be kept alive in the hearts of an entire new generation from Marrakesh to Mosul, and any new dictatorship that emerges here or there will not be able to erase them.
In my fondest dreams I could not imagine a wiser and more attractive course for us Israelis, than to join this march in body and spirit.

The Wind That Will Not Subside

Hearing Egyptian Echoes, China’s Autocrats Cling To The Hope That They Are Different

By Banyan
Feb 17th 2011
Courtesy Of "The Economist"

THE speed with which popular protest swept aside long-lasting authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and then Egypt was enough to unnerve autocrats everywhere. In Asia they have watched the tide of heightened democratic aspiration wash across the Middle East and wondered how far it would go. Even in China, the government, ostensibly so confident of the correctness of the path it has chosen, has been wary of the memories events in Cairo might evoke, and of the hopes it might rekindle.

The most complete Asian despotisms—Myanmar and North Korea—may feel immune to people power. They can rely on their isolation, and on the sheer ruthlessness of their repression. In Central Asian dictatorships, closer in geography, culture and religion to the Middle East, the resonance of the recent revolutions may yet be louder. But it is in China that domestic parallels with recent events, above all in Cairo, are on most people’s minds.

They are also of the greatest global consequence, not just because of China’s own growing importance, but because its rise has led to talk of a “Beijing consensus” in which rapid economic growth matters more than freedom. In 1989, after the Beijing massacre, as communist dominoes began to topple in eastern Europe, China seemed the outlier, bucking an historical trend that would catch up with it one day. Its subsequent success has made that trend—towards greater freedom and democracy—seem less inevitable, and, for some, less desirable. Even Western commentators have conceded that China’s system delivers the goods. Chinese officials talk of the unsuitability for their country of “Western-style” democracy. This ignores the Western, Leninist origins of the Communist Party’s organisation, and glosses over the crucial “Western” element missing in China—the ability to get rid of unpopular governments without a revolution. That is why revolutions elsewhere are bound to be of compelling interest.

Recollections of the Tiananmen protests were one reason China’s censors at first worked so assiduously to curtail discussion of the unrest in Egypt. The script was so familiar to those who had been in Beijing in 1989: the huge demonstrations; the mood of elated mass solidarity and rediscovered patriotism; the camping-out in the capital’s main square; the slogans against corruption and arbitrary rule; the belief that the army had sided with the people against their rulers; even the appearance of plain-clothes thugs in support of the regime. This time, however, the story had a happy ending, or at least a climactic, optimistic victory.

The Chinese press has indeed covered Hosni Mubarak’s downfall prominently, while noting, in the words of one newspaper, that “Egypt has won a battle, but not the war”. “Any political changes will be meaningless”, argued China Daily, “if the country falls prey to chaos in the end.” Others, however, have drawn a different conclusion from the events that led to a revolution. An editorial on the website of Caixin, a media group, began: “Autocracy manufactures turbulence; democracy brews peace.”

China’s own autocrats may feel, however, that for at least three reasons they can shrug off comparisons with Egypt and Tunisia. First is China’s record of three decades of stunning economic growth. A survey by the Pew Research Centre last year suggested 87% of Chinese were satisfied with “the way things were going” in their country. Second, even if they were not, no obvious hate figure exists to blame: China’s is a dictatorship of a party, not an individual. No long-serving despot is clinging tenaciously to power. In 2002 the Communist Party had its first-ever orderly leadership transition, and has promised another for 2012.

Third is the efficiency of its extensive internal-security apparatus and armed forces, which are subordinate to the Communist Party. But who knows how the security forces would respond if asked to suppress another mass uprising? They were ready to shoot protesters to quell unrest among ethnic Uighurs in Urumqi in Xinjiang in 2009. But even in 1989 the army did not prove wholly reliable—at least one general disobeyed orders to join the advance into Beijing.

A truly confident Communist Party would not have devoted so much effort to patrolling the internet to prevent surfers drawing parallels at home with events overseas. Always twitchy at any hint of instability, it has plenty of reasons to fret. Inflation, which raged in the late 1980s before the Tiananmen protests, is picking up again. The middle classes, often the locomotive of political change, are growing fast. Widespread graduate unemployment among their young is gnawing away at the hopes of those who should be the most optimistic about China’s future. And every year sees tens of thousands of protests, many over high-handed land grabs by local authorities.

And The Tree That Wants To Be Still

The latest people-power revolts pose two particular difficulties for China’s ideologues. First, they cannot be blamed on the usual suspects, external “black hands”—typically American. Rather, they have been in part anti-American rebellions. As in the Philippines in 1986, South Korea in 1987 and Indonesia in 1998, dictators once cosseted by America have been toppled.

Second, the revolts have lacked both clear ideological aims and coherent organising parties. China’s secret police are good at nipping political movements in the bud. But they missed the rise of the Falun Gong sect as a nationwide anti-government force. And despite their firewalls and armies of “harmonising” censors they might struggle to contain a microblog, text-message or social-network revolution. Their efforts to filter news from the Middle East were only partially successful. That may be why they find the news is so unsettling—because the Chinese people might see it not as a recollection of a nightmarish past, but as a vision of a hopeful future.

Egypt Revolt Becomes Global Case Study

Pro-Mubarak demonstrators stand under a poster of the former president in the Mohandessin neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt Friday, Feb. 18, 2011. In a sma
AP – Pro-Mubarak demonstrators stand under a poster of the former president in the Mohandessin neighborhood …

Associated Press
Sat Feb 19, 2:20 pm ET
Courtesy Of "Yahoo News"

CAIRO – It seems naive to hope the fallout from cataclysmic events in the Middle East and North Africa can spill beyond the region and stir distant, repressed populations with no cultural or historical affinity. Yet successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia have captivated dissidents and activists around the world who have campaigned in vain for radical change, in some cases for decades.
This week, South Korean activists even hoisted helium balloons into the air and watched them drift into North Korea with a message attached: discard your leaders, just as the Egyptians did.
"The Egyptian people rose up in a revolution to topple a 30-year dictatorship," said one of the leaflets coasting over the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. "The North Koreans too must revolt against a 60-year-old dictatorship."
The strain of poverty and inefficient government in North Korea, which has been targeted by international sanctions, matches or exceeds that of Arab autocracies currently buffeted by street protests. Its humanrights record, along with those of Myanmar and Zimbabwe, is routinely condemned in international forums.
But there are no clear signs that these countries will face the same kind of upheaval sweeping Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere.
"Everything depends on local conditions," said Charles Ries, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based RAND Corp. who recently oversaw economic issues while stationed at the American Embassy in Baghdad.
North Korea, after all, has a cult-like leadership rooted in its World War II-era separation from the south;Myanmar brutally stamped out revolts in 1988 and 2007; and Zimbabwe has a shaky coalition government and plans elections later this year.
Dissidents and authoritarian governments on other continents are undoubtedly reviewing the playbook of their counterparts in the Middle East — social media networking for the protesters, and hasty reform pledges and thugs in civilian clothes for the leaders. Unrest even spread to Djibouti, a city-state across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen, where protesters reportedly clashed with security forces on Friday.
Fear of bloody retaliation, sharp curbs on information, tactical decisions to avoid a showdown and the lack of a trigger — severe food shortages or a fuel price hike, for example — are deterrents to popular revolt in repressive systems.
Protesters in Egypt and the region used Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to organize, and benefited from pan-Arab media outlets such as Al-Jazeera television that spread word of the uprisings.
But there is no sign of an organized opposition in North Korea, where most people do not have access to outside TV and radio, or the Internet. The leadership had long-standing ties to ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. On Jan. 23, two days before protests broke out in Egypt, ruler Kim Jong Il, who rarely meets foreigners, hosted the head of Cairo-based Orascom Telecom, which built a 3G telephone service network in North Korea.
Dissidents in military-ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, want to know more about what happened in Egypt despite a state media blackout.
"Everyone is trying to find out information and is interested," said Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK, which is based in London. Dissidents are "talking about whether they can learn anything from this, and what examples there are," he said.
However, Farmaner said there no signs that anti-government groups want to try a revolt similar to the 18-day uprising in Egypt, where a military council took power and promised to oversee a democratic transition. The military sided with protesters in pushing out Mubarak.
In Myanmar, "the army has always been prepared to shoot when it's ordered to," Farmaner said. "There's no separation of president and military in any way."
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has called for dialogue with Myanmar's leaders, reflecting concern that a popular upheaval that could end in bloodshed.
"We are interested in the parallels in Egypt and the parallels with Burma but the institutions are not exactly the same. I think protests are one way of bringing about change but not necessarily the best way," she told the BBC in early February, before Mubarak was ousted.
There are plenty of precedents for politically potent ideas taking flight across continents. Ries, the former U.S. diplomat, said European thinkers provided some intellectual backbone for the American Revolution, which did the same for the French Revolution, which in turn inspired Haitian slaves in their revolt against French colonizers, all in the space of a few decades in the late 18th century.
"You look at other places where there are huge numbers of people who have little to lose by banding together and applying these new techniques," Ries said of today's uprisings. "It also exposes, in a sense, the impotence of repression against huge numbers."
Some Arab countries, however, have not yielded to protests, responding instead with deadly force. Prof. Hurst Hannum, an international law expert at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, cautioned against predictions of a worldwide "outbreak of 'democracy.'"
In an e-mail, he recalled the "rather premature" thesis of Francis Fukuyama, a U.S. academic whose 1992 book, "The End of History and the Last Man," declared that Western-style democracy would prevail over other systems in the wake of communism's fall.
On Feb. 3, state-run radio in Zimbabwe accused Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a former opposition leader, of trying to spark anti-government uprisings similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt. Tsvangirai said before he joined the governing coalition that he would not lead his followers into danger and that he stood for peaceful change.
State radio is controlled by loyalists of President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for three decades.
Political scientist John Makumbe wrote an essay titled "Is Egypt possible in Zimbabwe?" in which he speculated that the military would crack down on any revolt, but he drew inspiration from the uprisings to the north.
"Thank you, Tunisia and Egypt, for making us realize what is possible with people power," he wrote on the website of Nehanda Radio, an independent station.
The North Korean system, which survived a famine in the 1990s, has long defied predictions of collapse. Kim Jong Il, who inherited power from his father, has tightened his grip with perks for the military and a propaganda machine that seeks to rouse national pride by demonizing declared enemies.
North Korean state media have not reported events in Egypt, and it is doubtful that the leaflets of the South Korean activists, who also send short-wave radio broadcasts to the north, will reach or convince many people. But they draw a clear dynastic parallel — some images show Mubarak and his son, Gamal, once thought to be his successor, and Kim Jong Il and his third son and heir, Kim Jong Un.
Paik Hak-soon, an analyst at the Sejong Institute research center near Seoul, speculated that top government and trade leaders in North Korea were "definitely aware" of what is happening in Egypt. But a similar uprising is unlikely, he said.
"There are so many differences in terms of ideology, in terms of power structure, in terms of domestic and external relationships," Paik said. "North Korea is basically an isolated, socialist regime, protected by a most reliable and most supportive big power, China."
China itself portrayed the protests as the kind of chaos that comes with Western-style democracy, underscoring how wary it is of any potential source of unrest that might threaten its power. As Mubarak's hold slipped, Chinese censors blocked the ability to search the term "Egypt" on microblogging sites, and user comments that drew parallels to China were deleted from Internet forums.
In Myanmar, many people with access to satellite dishes followed the historic events in Egypt, quietly wishing for the same thing.
"Tears welled in my eyes when I watched the Egyptians, overjoyed after Mubarak left. I want to tell them that your fight has paid off but we don't know where our future lies," said a 53-year-old private tutor in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city. The tutor spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the authorities.