Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Arab governments alarmed by crackdown on British Summertime protests

AliBababa News Agency (10.30 am Mekka/ 10am GMT) –

“Londonistan in Flames – People overpower Bourgeois Police State.”

Londonistan – The bourgeois minority regime of Cameron, Clegg and Crony has been shaken by widespread People Power demonstrations across Britain for a third night running. Summertime protests have sent a chill wind of hope through Britain's long repressed people. "Fear of the police has gone," dissident youth leaders claim. "It's a free for all society now or never."

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has broken his silence by warning the regime not permit rioting to reach Saudi sovereign territory in the Mayfair district of the British capital and to introduce reforms at once. Other world leaders have joined the chorus of condemnation of the increasingly isolated Cameron clique. The Syrian foreign minister, Walid Haged, has welcomed the joint condemnation of Cameron's regime by the Arab League and African Union and suggested the UN Security Council should authorise all necessary means to stop repression by regime thugs of the street protests. Analysts expect the ban on heroin exports to Britain announced jointly by Afghanistan and Burma could add to the pressure-cooker atmosphere in Britain which is 100% dependent on narcotics imports.

The regime has pinned its hopes for international legitimacy on next year's Londonistan Olympic Games which were controversially awarded to bourgeois Britain despite signs that its economy was overheating and popular anger against the regime rising. Threats of a boycott by the highly-regarded Omani-burka clad beach volley ball team could be a humiliation too far for Cameron's clique.

Reports of foreign interference in the British crisis have been rejected by expert analysts. Instead domestic tensions are seen as the only cause .The Yemeni professor of protestology, Bahce Kewi, explains "The ruling Consumerist Party finds that thirty years of its strict ideological dominance has not bred a docile youth. Young people are aware of a cyber-world beyond Britain where values like free access to the internet are normal. They can't wait to join the cashless society and get their hands on stuff for nothing."

Rejecting the empty slogans “You Can’t Buck the Market” and “There is No Alternative,” indignant youth across Britain have stormed the ruling regime’s local headquarters setting fire to symbols of Consumerist dominance and removing telecommunications and internet monitoring equipment from branches of the feared Curry’s organization in towns across the country.

With unverifiable but plausible reports of more than a thousand deaths in the Arsenal district of north Londonistan where a crowd estimated at a million strong overwhelmed the hated Met riot squads to occupy the Consumer Electronic Outlets Center, its seems likely that the popular protests could spread from the simmering suburbs even to previously loyal uptown areas like Kensington and Cholsey where many regime supporters have their luxurious barricaded villas.

Recognising the growing unrest, the secular Consumerist regime has tried to ban the traditional hoodie and mask outfit worn by the nation’s discontented youth as a rejection of the tie-less suit-wearing “official” style. This has only inflamed the mood of desperation in the capital’s teeming suburbs like Cronydon, where uncollected garbage is piled up for two weeks at a time.

AliBaba’s reporters are not allowed into Britain but using social networking sights and videophone images uploaded via MagiKarpit internet portal, our team of experienced journalists supported by expert analysts have put together a clear picture of the crisis in Britain.

Analysts report that the British regime’s claim to democratic legitimacy masks the reality that it is drawn from the minority bourgeois tribe, and especially from the Etonian clan with its headquarters west of London overlooking the country’s main airport at Heathrow.

Dissidents inside Britain as well as reform-advocates outside the country at the Damascus-based British Underground Liberty League have provided international media with 24/7 updates via Foxglove and the Gaggle-website Rumors with an exhilarating insight into a popular uprising by brave young people in their millions who have exposed the hollowness of the Consumerist ideology.

The regime’s own media like the Bourgeois Broadcasting Corporation try to portray the popular protests as outbursts of criminality and refer to the occupations of Consumerist branches as looting, AliBaba’s satellite channel has been able to contact one Twitteringham resident via Blackberry outside a “liberated” shopping center. To protect his identity, Alibaba is calling him “The Finger.” Using a brand-new handset to outwit secret police surveillance, The Finger told Alibaba that “We ain’t dun nuffin wrong. The doors was open and we are protecting the property in our own way.”

This kind of spontaneous organisation at grass-roots level has baffled the previously all-powerful Consumerist regime. Unable to rely on the Army for crowd control because of the large Oik majority in the ranks, the bourgeois regime is floundering as its levers of power no longer react to commands.

Desperate measures are being used in some areas according to reliable tweets. The sinister silence of veteran bloggers like the Mosside community organiser, The Spliff, shows the extremism of the hardliners according to human rights observers who are increasingly concerned that Manchester's failure to rise in revolt alongside nearby Liverpool suggests that the regime's widely-reported use of chemical weapons there is true.

Expert analysts suggest that deep-seated socio-economic resentments are at the root of the protest movement as a tiny elite is suspected is ripping off state revenues to fund lavish lifestyles at the expense of the People. Corrupt bourgeois-run banks have been bailed out with billions taken from the country’s oil revenues while queues of the unemployed waiting for famine relief outside hospitals wait for months on an end for the chance of a drip-feed.

Fears of a sectarian split in Britain have also been voiced by some foreign academic observers. They point out that shops owned by the widely-hated bourgeois minority were attacked across the country and fear that if the Cameron regime fell, then isolated bourgeois communities could face copy-cat revenge attacks for their decades of profiteering at the expense of the long-suffering people.

Signs of internal dissent within the Consumerists have been detected. Defections from the regime have been reported. The finance vizier, George Osborne, has been sighted in California where Alibaba’s internet sources suggest he has stashed the regime’s gold reserves. Meanwhile Defence Minister, Liam Fox, is in Spain, though the regime insists that he remains loyal and “is directing operations from his hotel.” However, the fact that the Prime Minister’s own wife, Samantha and children have been flown to safety in Italy suggests that David Cameron himself is not confident of the regime’s survival.

Increasingly isolated, Cameron and his fellow Etonian clan member, Boris Johnson, who runs the City, have turned to the snakeheads of the regime, the so-called COBRA group. [COBRA = Coordinating Bourgeois Reaction Army – AliBaba editorial] Along with the Specials, a bourgeois militia who form the regime’s Reactionary Guards, COBRA are threatening to flood the streets of Britain’s cities with merciless politically-correctional “volunteers.”

With the stock-market in free fall and international sanctions in the offing, the economic basis of the Consumerists’ ability to buy off protest and pay off loyalist thugs masquerading as policemen and Specials is waning fast.

Banning popular sports like soccer threatens to put more youth onto the streets while formerly regime-backing footballers like David Beckham have gone into exile in Los Angeles rather than play the beautiful game in a Wembley stadium converted into a make-shift prison.

If Consumerism falls in Britain how long can it last in its hardline center, the United States, is a question being asked by analysts. Despite its clandestine nuclear weapons programme and mercenary militias called Contractors, even Washington’s hold over its own long-suffering people looks shaky. With flash mobs reported in Philadelphia and Newark, the ayatollahs of Wall Street are having to devote all their security resources to protecting the bourgeois heartland.

This leaves Cameron's dictatorship desperately exposed. The British regime’s only hope to keep the masses off the streets for a fourth night of protests is the weather forecast. Loyalists are praying for a rain of terror to come in from the Atlantic coast and keep the people power movement indoors. God-willing the cloud of Consumerism will be lifted from the long-suffering Britons before the end of Ramadan.

AliBaba Breaking News - Britain's puppet-parliament recalled for emergency session. After decades of docility rumors of a Westminster Palace putsch are spreading as are reports of a new tough state security law. Cameron says Olympic Games to go ahead over dead bodies.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

NATO helps Gaddafi look Libyans in the eye

After Buckingham Palace was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz, the present Queen’s mother is supposed to have said, “Now we can look the East End in the eye.” In a war any sense that the rulers are immune to the risks and privations affecting ordinary folks is damaging to their leadership. Britain's royal family was grateful to Hitler for targeting their palace. Colonel Gaddafi must be feeling the same after NATO killed his youngest son and three grandchildren late on Saturday night.

His spokesman emphasised that the “Brother Leader” now shared the sacrifices made for forty days and forty nights by other Libyan families. By missing the Colonel and killing the kids, NATO has given the Colonel a huge boost just as trouble was growing on the Tunisian front as well as carrying on in Misrata and in the east beyond Brega. The man who outlived Reagan’s onslaught in 1986 has done it again.

Only the perverted predatory mentality of NATO’s target-selectors could locate a harmless son of Gaddafi as well as his children, and then think it was a smart move to kill them. It would be bad enough if this blunder was simply what some Nevada-based geek-in-uniform assumed would make a neat kill, but it is obvious that frustration with the failure of Gaddafi to fall after a few cruise missile strikes six weeks ago has led the NATO leaders to think that de-capitation is the way out of the war which they launched with gay abandon.

Until 30th April, the logic of NATO’s air campaign was to concentrate its fire on Gaddafi’s foot soldiers while endlessly repeating the demand that the Colonel and his sons leave Libya. This seemed a crude ploy to get ordinary Libyans to ask why their boys were dying while the Gaddafi clan were unharmed. Splitting your enemy is a time-honoured tactic in warfare. Instead of wearing down Libyan morale and undermining the regime’s legitimacy by leaving the Gaddafi clan free to chat to Western channels, while ordinary soldiers died, NATO has given Gaddafi’s clan a blood bond with its supporters.

Generals are often accused of fighting the last war. The humanitarian bombers are repeating the propaganda from their Kosovo intervention in 1999. Mass murder, government organised rape camps with mercenaries fired up on Viagra, and so on are the staples of Washington’s increasingly hysterical denunciations of Gaddafi as it turns out that his family has more support than the glib proponents of hellfire missiles as humanity’s preferred way to protect civilians would have had us believe.

The UN Security Council resolution 1973 made not distinction between the obligation to protect unarmed civilians in Libya. But NATO's interpretation is that Gaddafi’s civilian supporters are collateral damage under the guise of “command and control centres” in short trousers.

No strategist in their right mind would do what the witches sabbath of Hilary Clinton, Susannah Rice and Samantha Powers has cooked up for fighting Gaddafi. But the male chorus in this tragedy is no more worthy of respect. Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron are the new Bill Clintons as promiscuous in their use of high-tech weapons as he was, only not yet caught in flagrante with an intern. Attributing rational military motives to these posturing humanitarian warmongers in Washington, London and Paris is obviously a mistake. They clearly live on another planet from the humanity whom they claim to protect.

Maybe they hope to draw the Gaddafi family out for Saif al-Arab’s funeral. Remember the Western elite is devoted to The Godfather. It is the template of their style – look at the hoods who surround them for security and the black-windowed armoured limousines in which they travel – as well as their international policy-making. As Francis Ford Coppola demonstrated on celluloid funerals make a good place to eradicate rival clans. Their advisers will have told them that Arab culture requires a public burial with father and brothers in attendance. Vultures used to haunt desert graves, now predators hover above them.

Just as George W. Bush deliberately sought to exterminate the male members of Saddam Hussein’s family in Iraq, killing not only his odious sons but other junior members of the clan as well as executing the former dictator, so now the same logic is at work in the Obama-Cameron-Sarkozy mindset. Of course, the mirror-image of that familicidal mentality would be for a Libyan to target Queen Elizabeth and her sons, grandsons and other male relatives, all in uniform for the wedding of Flight-Lieutenant Wales on 29th April. Michelle Obama and the kids live in America’s command-and-control HQ and mobile missile-launching communications accompany her husband even when he is spending quality-time with his daughters so they are collateral damage in-waiting by Dad’s definition. As for Carla Bruni…

The Duke of Wellington rounded on an officer at Waterloo for suggesting that Bonaparte was within range: “Generals of armies have more important things to do than shoot at each other.” But since then Obama-Cameron-Sarkozy axis has rewritten the rules of war: family members are now fair game. When it comes to decapitating a regime, the kids are included too.

No normal person would wish the families of Western leaders to face the kind of brutal evaporation which their fathers and power-moms direct at humanity’s enemies, but the West itself is no longer ruled by people with normal humane values. The rhetoric of humanitarian war blinds them to any common humanity with anyone on the enemy side of whatever age or infirmity. Who can doubt that a colour-blind and morally-blind person would see no reason to spare the Cameron kids if firing on Downing Street anymore than Cameron baulks at sacrificing Gaddafi’s grandchildren?

Little wonder, the royal newly-weds’ honeymoon was suddenly cancelled on Saturday. So much of William and Kate’s nuptials was choreographed around their parents’ and grandparents’ weddings that it was a fair guess that like Princess Elizabeth and Philip they were going to fly to Malta to start their honeymoon before going on to Kenya where three generations of Windsors have enjoyed cementing their relations. Malta is too close to Libya for comfort and Kenya’s Muslim minority might not be too friendly to a serving NATO officer.

William Wales has been put in the firing line not only by his uniform but by his prime minister. David Cameron could defend himself by saying that he has willingly put Sam Cam and their “kids” at risk for the humanitarian cause but instead tried to weasel out of his responsibility by denying that NATO was targeting Gaddafi and sons. It is peculiarly distasteful that our humanitarian warriors want to claim the credit for their high-sounding motives but never to carry the can for the blood shed in pursuit of them. Their inability to take responsibility is the worm gnawing away at any remaining naïve public faith in their sincerity.

Ironically, Gaddafi would have been regarded as the embodiment of bombastic mendacity without rival until Sarkozy, Cameron and the Nobel Prize-winning predator Barak Obama opened their mouths to explain their actions. Suddenly the Colonel has serious rivals for the status of least credible statesman of the age. Is there any indictment of these gentlemen’s humanitarian bloodletting than that a Libyan government spokesman’s account of the death of three children is more credible than their sleazy denials, obfuscations and shifting of responsibility? The proponents of humanitarian intervention constantly insist that they want an end to political leaders using force with impunity. Doesn’t making rulers responsible for civilian casualties begin at home?

Of course, Tony Blair’s Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, explained after Kosovo, there is no question of Western leaders going to Hague for any innocents killed by their order. Command responsibility did not apply to them. The “end of impunity” is for weak wogs, not nuclear-armed fops like Cameron, Sarkozy or Obama. But that reality of power can only fuel the rage of people belonging to lesser races subject to international law. Terrorism not freedom is the likely outcome of NATO’s stupid determination to make a martyr of Gaddafi. Sadly, with their armoured cars, blast-proof walled homes and swarms of security hoods, any anti-Western terrorism will not hurt the Western elite. Only little people will pay the price of our rulers’ folly. From Pakistan to the shores of the Mediterranean the predator has become the promoter of terrorism not its nemesis.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Libya - 100 Years of Bombing, or Is Fascism the Forgotten Root of Humanitarian Intervention?

The celebrations of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Italian unification in March, 2011, were overshadowed by the crisis in Libya. Coinciding with Italy’s birthday, Silvio Berlusconi’s government decided to make seven air bases available to NATO allies for the bombing of Colonel Gaddafi’s forces.

By coincidence, this was one hundred years since the Italians invented aerial bombardment and initiated its practice precisely over Libya. A century later, the bomber returns to the scene of its bloody birth. Clio seems to take a perverse enjoyment in ensuring that history repeats itself, first acting as imperialism then as humanitarian intervention, without even needing to change the stage-set.

On 1st November, 1911, Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti dropped the first bomb from an aeroplane. According to the Ottoman authorities it hit the military hospital in Ayn Zara in the Libyan desert. The Italians strongly denied targeting an installation protected by the Geneva Convention. Modern aerial warfare and the propaganda battle which has accompanied it ever since was underway from the start.

Lt. Gavotti’s four bombs were modified hand grenades, but soon the Italians had learned how to drop incendiary bomb and shrapnel bombs – what we would now call cluster munitions.

The initial impact of aircraft overhead was alarming and disorientating to the forces below. Panic spread as an airplane engine was heard approaching. But soon enough the Turks and Arabs below learned the limitations of aerial bombardment and their terror subsided. The Italians decided that they had to increase the terrorising effect of their bombing and strafing to keep the enemy on the run. The Italian pilots also realised that fixed targets like villages or oases were easier to find and strike than mobile guerrillas.

The British Arabist, G.F. Abbott who was with the mixed Turkish-Arab forces resisting the invasion noted that they soon recovered from their fear partly because bombs which fell into the sand tended to explode harmlessly. But he added, “The women and children in the villages are practically the only victims, and this fact excited the anger of the Arabs.”

Antagonising the civilian population was an unfortunate side-effect of the bombing which became a major factor in turning the Italian invasion into a protracted counter-insurgency.

When the idea of occupying Libya as a fiftieth birthday present to themselves was turned into practice in September, 1911, Italians were assured of a quick victory there. They were told that the Ottoman Turkish regime was thoroughly hated by the Arabs living there and that a warm welcome could be expected for the soldiers bringing civilization and liberation from the Sultan’s tyranny. To use modern parlance, Italians were encouraged to expect a cakewalk. The media assured the soldiers, “Arab hostility is nothing but a Turkish fable.”

Gavotti’s dropping of the first bombs in history barely a month into the campaign was evidence of how quickly the Italians realised that things were not going to plan. Resistance in the main cities like Tripoli was quickly crushed but in the great expanses of territory even the 100,000 troops deployed by Italy were not enough to regulate a thousand-mile-wide country stretching deep into the Sahara. The newly-invented airplane offered a way of displaying Italian power across vast swathes of land which were in effect controlled by local Arabs who preferred the Muslim Turks to the Christian Italians – not least when the Italians preached civilization via shrapnel bombs dropped from a few thousand feet.

The alleged cruelty of local Arabs and Turks towards captured Italian soldiers was one of the justifications for the widening use of reprisals from the air and on the ground in Libya. In a fight against uncivilized folk like them the rules of war could be suspended. But the Libyans proved harder to terrify into submission than Rome anticipated.

Nevertheless, on 9th November, 1911, the Italian government declared victory, even though the war was only just beginning. With the mission far from accomplished, the war was vastly more costly than Italians had expected. Characteristically, the prime minister, Giovanni Giolitti, lied to Parliament in Rome saying the war had cost 512 million lire. That was a huge figure given that the War Ministry’s last annual peacetime budget was only 399 million lire. But in reality off-balance sheet accounting hid another billion lire in costs of the war against the Ottoman Empire over Libya. As for the human cost, 8,000 Italians were killed or wounded. No-one counted the Arab dead.

Although the Italian elite had economic aims in occupying Libya wrapped up in nationalist and civilizational rhetoric, oil was not the Italian motive. Only at the end of the Fascist period was any serious exploration undertaken which indicated that oil lay beneath the desert. Libya’s first major oil strike was outside Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte in 1959. At the end of thirty years of Italian rule, salt was still Libya’s main export. Italians were fed the idea that Libya would return to being the bread basket of the Mediterranean as it had been under the Roman Empire. Few in 1911 seem to have realised that the desert had spread over the Roman fields and cities long ago.

As the war dragged on enthusiasm in Italy waned but the newspapers and instant books of the day record how united the opinion-makers were in support of the war at its opening shots. Above all, there was admiration for the airmen dealing death from the sky. The cult of the pilot soaring across the sky while clinically disposing of a dot-like savage foe below was born.

The greatest living Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzion immediately sought to immortalize Lt. Gavotti’s act in his Canzone della Diana. (A few laters in the First World War, D’Annunzio would take to the skies over Vienna and drop leaflets threatening bombs to come.)Giovanni Pascole sentimentalised the feats of Italian pilots as the Libyan war passed it first Christmas in La Notte di Natale. The Futurist, Filippo Marinetti, took the air over Libya itself to urge Italian soldiers below to fix bayonets and charge.

Everybody seemed to support the invasion at the beginning. The great philosopher and future anti-Fascist, Benedetto Croce declared –apparently without irony - that occupying Libya was a worthy birthday gift to Italy on the fiftieth anniversary of its unification. The 1907 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, E.T. Moneta, became the first – though by no means the last recipient of the dynamite fortune’s largesse – to anticipate Barak Obama's faith in aerial bombardment as a tool of progress for humanity and therefore declared it was not against his pacifist principles. The Catholic hierarchy had been hostile to the secular not to say Masonic Italian political elite but it endorsed Giolitti’s crusade in Libya with as much enthusiasm as its predecessors had backed the original version over eight hundred years earlier. The meeting of the poetry scholars of the Dante Aligheri Society on 20thSeptember, 1911, broke up with cries of “To Tripoli!”

It was not only Italian proto-Fascist intellectuals like D'Annunzio and Marinetti who swooned at the thought of a pilot soaring high over the desert dealing death to savages below. Sweden's Gustaf Janson described the intoxicating sense of unbridled power and of the pilot's impunity in action against primitives below whose air defence was incapable of revenging their casualties: "The empty earth beneath him, the empty sky above him and he, the solitary man, sailing between them! A feeling of power seizes him. He was flying through space to assert the indisputable superiority of the white race. Within his reach he had the proof, seven high- explosive bombs. To be able to sling them from the heavens themselves - that was convincing and irrefutable."

A few Italians protested the naked aggression. It was left to the extremist Socialist newspaper editor, Benito Mussolini, to make the most unconditional rejection of the war. He was arrested after dismissing the national flag as a “rag to stick on a dunghill” in a speech denouncing the war in Forlì.

This was a stark contrast with the attitude of the ex-Marxist in power as Duce of Fascism after 1922. The airplane and the destructive power it could project enthralled Mussolini the Fascist as it had repelled Mussolini the Marxist. He declared that the airplane was “the first Fascist.” He became a born-again bomber.

Mussolini’s rejection of Marxism and his embrace of the thrill of ultra-modern war was simultaneous. Almost as soon as he came to power, Mussolini was taken up for his first flight by the war ace, Mario Stoppiani, who described the Duce’s “enthusiastic delirium” with the experience. Then he learned to fly (and to the alarm of his more pedestrian ally, Hitler, would take charge of the controls of planes with the timid Fuehrer on board.) Until George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin has there been a political leader who piloted himself so publicly?

The airplane was also used to suppress his opponents: Mafia bosses and Libyan tribal chiefs would be taken for a one-way flight out over the Mediterranean and pushed to their deaths in the sea below.

Mussolini developed the use of air power to repress rebels in Libya and eventually broke their resistance after almost twenty-five years occupation. In Ethiopia he took his war for civilization to new depths. Fascist Italy announced it would abolish slavery there but first it had to conquer the natives. The exiled Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, described to the League of Nations how the Italians used crop-spraying techniques designed to kill insects to poison his people. Mussolini’s regime made no bones about its methods and did not hide behind cant about having “no reports of civilian casualties.”

Flying Fascists became the order of the day as Mussolini became expansionist in the mid-1930s. His eldest son, Vittorio and his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, took part as pilots in bombing Ethiopia.Mussolini’s son, Bruno, wrote a lyrical description of what it was like to watch Ethiopians explode like petals when he dropped his bombs among them.

Bertrand Russell saw Bruno Mussolini's evocation of air power's immaculate ability to destroy puny humans as embodying the reality of the modern totalitarian regimes, but worse still of a future world controlled from the air. Russell asked, "If one could imagine a government that governed from an aeroplane... wouldn't such a government get a completely different view of its opposition?" Russell feared that a regime of air power would "exterminate" any resistance or dissent. He thought the bomber rendered mass conscript armies redundant and highly-skilled mercenaries would replace them willing to do the bidding of their masters rather being part of the people: "“We seem now, through the aeroplane, to be returning to the need for forces composed of comparatively few highly trained men. It is to be expected, therefore, that the form of government, in every country exposed to serious war, will be such as airmen will like, which is not likely to be democracy.”

But the Italian Fascists were to discover that air power was a two-way street. Libyans and Ethiopians could not declare “no fly zones” over Rome or bombard Florence, but after 1940, the British then the Americans could.

Italian pioneering efforts at air warfare were widely admired and imitated. Fiorello La Guardia was trained to fly by Italian instructors after the United States entered the First World War in 1917. The American pioneer of bombing, Billy Mitchell, recognised Italy’s role as an air power pioneer and became an admirer of the Fascist regime, calling it in 1927 “one of the greatest constructive powers for good government that exists in the world today.” Like Mussolini’s air chiefs, Mitchell was a moderniser who got left behind by the pace of change: he agreed with the Fascist airmen that aircraft carriers had no future.

In Britain, too, there were close links between Fascism and flying. Lady Houston, who funded Supermarine’s embryo Spitfire to compete in the Remy Schneider Flying Trophy also offered £200,000 to the British Union of Fascists led by flying enthusiast Oswald Mosley – so her contribution to defeating Fascism was greater than the effect of backing the British Union of Fascists – aspects of the patriotic myth which are omitted the Leslie Howard film First of the Few (1942).

Even today there is the odd, even erotic, irony that Mosley’s step-granddaughter, the glamorous model Daphne Guinness is amorously linked to Bernard-Henri Levi, the chief French exponent of bombing as the path to freedom in Libya – a strange misalliance between the Repubblica Salo and the République Sarkozyste, or a reconciliation of a false dichotomy?

But whatever the role of other countries in pioneering air flight or even Fascism, Italy can fairly claim to have got both off the ground. It put the warplane in the sky soon enough with a Fascist at the joy-stick. Giulio Douhet was the first serious strategist of bombing. Although he backed Mussolini, Douhet’s career as a practitioner of airpower was stymied in Fascist Italy by rivals with better party credentials.

One of the few dissenting voices in 1911 belonged to a schoolboy in Ferrara who would become the second most famous Fascist after Mussolini not least for his flying exploits. Then the fifteen year old Italo Balbo broke with the nationalist atmosphere and published an article denouncing the invasion of the territory which he would come to rule after 1933 as Mussolini’s viceroy. But in the meantime Balbo became Italy’s own Charles Lindbergh – a celebrity pioneer aviator who criss-crossed much of the globe to demonstrate the new Fascist regime’s commitment to the most modern manifestation of power – the airplane.

Back in 1911 like Mussolini, Balbo was an odd man out. Of course not every future Fascist opposed the war. Sergio Panunzio, for instance, remonstrated with the young Balbo for publishing an article against the pro-war consensus: “Why? To go against the grain, against reality, against the government.” Panunzio anticipated the classic Fascist argument that right was made by the might of media opinion and the might of state power.

Italians were to be proud of pioneering military aviation in the cause of civilization. In 1911, Italians achieved a series of aerial firsts: the first night flight, the first aerial photograph, the first aerial bombing – and the first plane to be shot down. Some pedants pointed out that if balloon-launched explosives were included then it was Italian territory which was the first target of bombing as far back as 1849. Then the Austrians besieging rebel Venice sent balloons filled with explosives drifting across la Serenissima which crashed onto the Austrian troops on the other side causing the first casualties of aerial friendly-fire. The governor of Libya, Balbo himself, fell victim to friendly fire when his three-engined plane was shot down by his own anti-aircraft forces at Tobruk on 28th June, 1940. In 1941, Bruno Mussolini was also killed testing a new plane. The airplane was beginning to eat the Fascists and the nation which gave birth to its military role.

Rejecting any romantic nostalgia for the days of one-on-one fighter-pilot duels in the First World War, Balbo was the proponent of launching “hundreds and hundreds” of planes into the sky in future wars. Mass attacks were to be the Fascist approach to aerial warfare – but Mussolini’s regime was stronger on intimidating bombast than putting resources into such a vast expensive programme. It was the democracies who built and deployed the first fleets of heavy bombers.

As the Second World War progressed, northern Italy was especially badly hit by bombing as the Allies advanced to drive out the Germans and destroy Mussolini’s Salo regime. Leaving aside the human cost, the cultural losses were enormous. Buildings like La Scala in Milan or the Bramante church housing Leonardo’s Last Supper in its miraculously unscathed refectory could be rebuilt but the works of art in them like the Mantegna fresco of the Life of St. James in the Ovetari Chapel in Padua were lost when shattered by Allied bombs.

The impact of the Second World War left Italians deeply suspicious of getting involved in warfare, let alone bombing former colonial territory. In 1999, Italy broke the tabu. Led by ex-Marxists, the Italian government accepted the use of their country as the main launching ground for airstrikes on Serbia over Kosovo briefly part of Mussolini’s inglorious new Roman Empire (1941-43). Fishermen in the Adriatic still moan about the risks of falling victim to NATO ordinance dumped in the sea. But now a regime with “post-Fascist” participation competes with the post-Marxists to justify Italy’s renewal of war over Libya just in time for the centenary of a Italy as the mid-wife of aerial warfare.

On this morbid anniversary, the crusade for civilization then has become a crusade for human rights today. The machinery of the contemporary crusaders may be faster than the bi-planes of 1911 and the bombs are certainly vastly more explosive, but the unanimity of the politicians and media across the West are a strange echo of Italy’s echo-chamber of mutually reinforcing propaganda from the men in power and men of the press. But today there isn’t even a Mussolini in parliament or the media to oppose air power as a force for progress!


Italians have written extensively about the war for Libya in 1911 and the invention of aerial bombardment by their fellow countrymen. Useful English sources include:

Richard Bosworth, Italy and the Approach of the First World War(Macmillan: London, 1983), Azar Gat, A History of Military Thought from the Enlightenment to the Cold War (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2011), Alan Kramer, Dynamic of Destruction. Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War(Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2007), Sven Lindqvist, A History of Bombing translated by Haverty Rugg (Granta: London, 2001), Bertrand Russell, Power with an introduction by Kirk Willis (Unwin, 1938, reprinted by Routledge: London, 1995), Dan Segre, Italo Balbo: A Fascist Life (University of California Press: Berkeley, 1987), David Stevenson, Armaments and the Coming of War. Europe, 1904-1914 paperback edition (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2000), and John Wright, The Emergence of Libya: Historical Essays(Society for Libyan Studies: London, 2008).

Monday, 14 February 2011

Was It Just a Dream? Egypt's Revolution: 'People Power' or Military Coup?

“Now our nightmare is over. Now it is time to dream.”

Wael Ghonim (New York Times – 13th February, 2011)

“I'm still trying to untangle the emotions and impact of the Egyptian revolution
in my own mind… For me, the contagious euphoria of Friday and Saturday has
been replaced by a Sunday morning letdown. Last night, as I made my way
through "liberated" Tahrir Square in Cairo, I was o vercome by sadness… It
oddly felt like an era is over.”

Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor – 13th February, 2011)

Was it all a beautiful dream? The Western world's broadcasters and print-journalists repeatedly characterised the celebratory atmosphere in Cairo and other Egyptian cities after Hosni Mubarak's resignation late on 11th February as like a rock festival or a big party. It was the happy ending to die for - or was it the end?

On Monday, the crowds who had defied the feared Mukhabarat of Mubarak melted away when told to go by the new ruling junta. When red-capped military policemen cleared away the remaining revellers or protestors, as you prefer, and the detritus of their Glastonbury-style camp, with them it was clear that People Power Egyptian-style was not what it had been all cracked up to be. But when or where in the last twenty years has the hype been followed by the fuflillment of the people's hopes?

While the world's media was focussed on the crowd scenes in Tahrir Square, regime-change as an inside-job was under way. Only Sky News Tim Marshall predicted from Day One of the protests that the most likely outcome of the protests was that the Egyptian Army would take power. Other on-the-spot reporters were whipped up by the exuberance of their own partisan reporting into insisting that the momentum of the People was unstoppable.

Now the spontaneity of the events is being called into question. The New York Times has a track record of raining on the People Power parade - when it is all done and dusted - and setting the record straight, but only once its editorial line has won. Until the object of popular derision, who happens also to have outlived his usefulness to the White House, has been toppled, the New York Times leads the pack of sententious insistence that only the People are involved. No suggestion of external political forces or internal power-plays is allowed to detract from the purity of the morality play on the streets of captal city X. From Belgrade to Tbilisi with a sidestep to Bishkek, the Times has always told the full story only once the telling cannot influence events.

Already it has begun to name the people forming international links with training centres and cash and technical aid from outside Egypt. Before long as with the Serbs or Georgians who thought they had played the decisive role, the celebration of the backroom cadre of People Power veterans who guide the spontaneous steps of each infant democracy will be "all the news that's fit to print." Instead of Arabic names our old favourites, Collonel Gene Sharp, the "Clausewitz of People Power," George Soros, "the Paymaster-General of People Power" and the various goatee-bearded NGO activists will get their commendations from the very media which decried any suggestion that a foreign hand might be in play. (In the meantime, for starters, see David D. Kirkpatrick & David E. Sanger, "A Tunisian-Egyptian Link That Shook Arab History" in the New York Times - 13th February, 2011.)

But what of the generals? Surely their patriotism and professionalism puts them above suspicion of having any interest except Egypt's own at heart?

In realty it seems Mubarak and the generals were engaged in a wrestling match - with Washington acting as a hardly impartial umpire. Remember the demonstrations kicked off while the Egyptian Defence Minister, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and the chief of staff, Sami Enan were in the Pentagon.

Washington has been concerned about the succession to the aging autocrat. Mubarak falls in a long line of former favourites who stayed on too long and risked destabilising their own regimes by putting family interests ahead of the ruling military group as a whole.

From Romania in 1989 to Egypt today, the people who go out on the streets - however well justified their grievances and whatever their courage in risking the first steps of public defiance - in practice seem to act as stage extras while a coup d'etat is carried through while the world watches their defiance not realising it is a popular pageant rather than People Power.

Just as Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu offended Communist sensitivities and the ambitions of better-qualified apparatchiks by promoting his son, Nicu, as well as his wife, Elena, so Mubarak - an old friend by the way of the Ceausescus - offended key elements in his regime by letting his son, Gamel, and other family members and cronies not only look set to succeed to the most prestigious job but also he let them get too much of the economic pie.

The military takeover after Mubarak's resignation was not a break with Egyptian political tradition but a continuation of it.

Inside the miltary regime which has ruled Egypt since 1952, there was tension between the generals with ambitions to succeed Mubarak and his grooming of his son, Gamel, as successor. Even the generals who did not imagine themselves as president, resented the growing intrusion of Mubarak fils and his cronies into areas of business traditionally reserved for the military.

Despite all the huffing and puffing about Egyptians' pride in their armed forces, Field Marshal Tantawi's exploits in 1973, in reality the Egyptian army has long been much less effective at defending the country than defending the interests of the officer corps. Like many other African armies, Egypt's is better understood as a protection racket rather than the protectors of the nation.

As a study prepared at Fort Leavenworth for the US military from as long as 14 years ago showed, the Egyptian Army was engaged in an offensive to control the rapidly privatizing Egyptian economy - rather as China's People's Liberation Army has its fingers in many private business pies. Ironically, Mubarak's nepotism was a threat to the military's own insider-deals.

Of course, dynastic succession was very unpopular with ordinary Egyptians who have been squeezed between the rapacious demands of the competing factions within the regime as well as by the impact of rapid inflation pushing up food and fuel prices. Mubarak loyally followed the Washington consensus in reducing subsidies to the poor, but not fast enough to keep in favour there, but more than fast enough to alienate ordinary people, even ordinary policemen. (Don't hold your breath for a "populist" candidate proposing more social protection in the promised elections. Free marketeers from micro-parties are already the favoured candidates with the people who decide such matters.)

Mubarak, however, had antagonised the Americans - not because he only went to Israel once or let anti-Israeli television shows run on state TV - but because he was beginning to let Chinese businesses into Egypt. He was also talking about energy deals with the Russians. No doubt, he would take his cut but Washington did not like to see Egypt less dependent on its largesse. The generals still got a huge handout from America and knew that Chinese businessmen, even with a PLA background, would be much better at business than them.

US geopolitics and the self-interest of the Egyptian general-managers ran together. Mubarak was becoming a threat to the mutual longterm interests of Washington and his generals.

Having asserted their authority and sent the demonstrators packing with the backing of the self-appointed leaders of the Facebook generation, the generals can now get down to what they do best: their business is running Egypt's business.

Although the generals doled out some food on Monday in poor parts of the big cities to reinforce the message that people who stayed away from public meetings would get a pat on the head.

What of the indomitabe proponents of People Power?

The Google executive whose spontaneous twitterings we were told set the whole thing in motion suddenly sent out a very different message once the generals had issued their orders. According to CNN on Sunday, Wael Ghonim told the People to get off the streets and forget about politics: "Dear Egyptians, go back to your work on Sunday, work like never before and help Egypt become a developed country." But neither Mr Ghonim nor CNN mentioned that 25% of Egyptians would be going back to work for the generals in one way or another. Mubarak's corruptioon, cronyism and skimming of contracts was an intolerable affront to the Egyptian People, but their patriotism enables them to see the Army's businesses as all for the good of the nation.

Maybe the generals will keep their promise to hold elections in six months. But will they be really any freer and fairer than those under Mubarak? After all the people counting the votes and controlling the streets look set to be very similar to those in place for past elections. Like so many other states which have undergone the excitement of People Power as a response to corruption and election fraud, in Egypt the fall of the old boss does not seem to have shatterd the old regime.

Back in France in 1789, Louis XVI's government was dispersed long before he was decapitated in 1793: none of his ministers or provincial governors were in office six months after the fall of the Bastille. Real revolutions tend to become more radical, and that it is not necessarily a good thing., but they are more than one-act teasers like our post-modern dramas. Nowadays, revolution seems to be an inverted fairy story with a happy ending at the beginning: it is all over so quickly that most of the old regime's loyal servants hardly have time to turn their coats before they resume work in the same office.

Dream or nightmare?

Who can say for certain, but don't ask the Egyptian generals, they are just busy getting Egypt back to business.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Ghost of Regime-Change Past: Enron’s Frank Wisner Jr does Dad’s Job in Egypt

Barak Obama’s slogan in 2008 was “Yes, we can.” By choosing as his point-man to guide Egypt’s future, the son of one of the CIA most famous “can do” covert operatives , Obama has shown once again that his promise of “Change We Can Believe in” did not rule out changes which turn the clock back.

On 31st January, the U.S. State Department admitted that Frank Wisner Jr was in Cairo but did not disclose when he arrived. The U.S. ambassador to Egypt, 1986-91, Mr Wisner is Washington’s special representative for the crisis facing the Egyptian regime. But for any historian of regime change, the name Frank Wisner is a familiar one. It conjures up a ghost from the CIA’s past covert role in “revolutions” and regime change in Iran, Central America and South-East Asia. Sometimes Papa Wisner’s boys toppled opponents of the United States, sometimes the victims were old friends who had lost their usefulness.

Today’s arbiter of Egypt’s future, Frank Wisner Jr has “regime change” in his DNA.

Although Washington is busily dispensing with the services of allied gerontocrats like Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak, it is an irony of the age of “People Power” that the White House chooses men with a careers stretching back deep into the Cold War-era of dirty tricks and covert operations as its representatives to guide young democracies in their wobbly infancy.

Now 73 years old, Frank Wisner Jr’s childhood was marked by extensive separation from his father because Frank Wisner Sr. was a wartime OSS agent. Wisner Sr. made the transition to the newly-established CIA in 1947. As head of operations and deputy director, he played a key role in countering Communism. To Wisner Sr. anything which he thought might tend to Communism if only by not bending Washington’s way was to be sabotaged and destroyed. From the Philippines in the early 1950s, Iran in 1953 via Guatemala in 1954 to South Vietnam in 1963, Frank Wisner’s fingers were in every regime-change pie. But he was more than just the advocate of manipulating the politics of foreign states.

Like several other key CIA officials in the first two decades of the Agency’s existence, Wisner was fascinated by mind-control. He encouraged research on brain-washing of individuals, something which the democracies had to learn to counter sinister Chinese and North Korean practices on U.S. PoWs in Korea. He encouraged the use of drugs like LSD in experiments on unwitting American civilians. (He may even have experimented on himself – as several other privileged U.S. insiders did.)

But controlling the minds of the Western public was his key goal. Wisner controlled unregistered funds with which he paid journalists and media proprietors. In the 1950s for the first time, young American journalists working for obscure newspapers or Mid-Western outlets with no obvious appetite for news from beyond the Prairies appeared able to live in exotic and expensive locations. Swarms of goatee-bearded civil society activists and new media specialists have followed in their footsteps in the last two decades.

Frank Wisner Sr is most famous for his indiscrete claim that he had so many agents and assets in the American and Western media that he could play the press like a “mighty Wurlitzer.” In the age of coordinated Twitter, Facebook and blogging campaigns, old man Wisner’s image of a cinema organ making the world’s mood music in a crisis might seem old-fashioned, but its essence - a coordinated campaign within the supposedly free media by strategically-placed intelligence assets – seems less anachronistic today than ever as countless breathless journalists for innumerable outlets seem to recite from the same script.

Frank Wisner Sr’s frenzy of subversive activity was liberally fuelled with booze. Nervous breakdowns rarely kept him long from his Langley desk but his erratic behaviour worried the more sober-suited spooks. Instead of sinking into an embarrassing alcohol-soaked retirement, he did the Agency a final favour in 1965 and shot himself – a tragic hero of the undercover world.

But should the son be judged in the light of his father’s career or habits?

The official line is that after a classic upper class[1] education at St. Albans and Princeton, Wisner Jr passed up the chance to serve his country in the CIA but took on the more open and honourable profession of diplomat instead. But, like several of his contemporaries, Wisner has mixed diplomacy, business and backstage influence in ways which have been very successful – but not explored by a free media as tame as in his father’s heyday when it comes to querying Washington’s power elite’s modus operandi.

Like Richard Holbrooke, Frank Wisner Jr cut his teeth in South Vietnam in the early 1960s as the U.S.-backed Diem regime came to a bloody end with Washington’s connivance but the rhetoric of democratization U.S.-style carried on. A generation later Holbrooke would denounce Serbs as “war criminals” for participating in the kind of pacification programme - targeted assassination, village clearances, and so on - which he helped advise on back then. Frank Wisner Jr was closer to the heart of the action in Saigon. Eight years earlier his father had played a key role in installing President Diem as President of South Vietnam. He was awarded an über-Mubarak 98.2% of the vote in the election called to confirm his installation in office. (Afficionados of CIA-sponsored Cold War film propaganda will remember the end of Joseph Mankiewicz’s cynically-twisted version of Greene’s Quiet American with its thanks to “the elected president of Vietnam”.) By the time young Frank’s membership of an obscure State Department-Pentagon overlap-unit in the U.S. embassy in Saigon was listed Diem’s star had waned in Washington and he was murdered in October, 1963, in a CIA-sponsored coup while his brother achieved what Robert Kennedy called the “unique feat” of committing suicide in custody with his hands tied behind his back! Young Frank learned how to stabilise a “nascent democracy” in tough conditions back then.

Another young member of the U.S. team in Vietnam then was Kenneth Lay. Mr Lay would leave public service – a Pentagon liaison team – to join the energy industry, but never lost contact with his comrades in the battle for democracy in Vietnam.

Although Frank Wisner Jr. carried on in the underpaid US diplomatic service, his path just kept crossing Ken Lay’s growing energy empire. His ambassadorship in the Philippines was devoted to promoting US investment – to be precise the purchase of Subic Bay power stations by Lay.

It was during his time in India that the Wisner-Lay axis reached its apogee and began to unravel the U.S. economy.

At the end of October, 1997, Wisner joined the board of Enron. He had just finished his stint as ambassador in India where he had represented U.S. interests since 1994. He had done much to promote the Texas-based energy giant’s activities in India. It was in India that Enron’s complex web of financial fraud began to unravel. No doubt the State Department took the line that what was good for Enron was good for America – certainly it was good for certain American diplomats.

Enron was desperate to get the Dabhol power project in Maharashta state. The U.S. embassy fought hard, some say dirty, to get the Indians to sign up to a deal which required the state to guarantee the profits of the foreign private investor. It was emblematic of the new world order: profits would be private but any losses, environmental costs and so on would be borne by the people. But without Wisner on hand and with turbulent local democracy electing officials who were not take with Socialism for the Foreign Rich, things began to go wrong. By 2001, Enron was both India’s biggest foreign investor and losing money there hand over fist. Sucheta Dalal noted that February, “The fact that Frank Wisner, the aggressive and high profile former US ambassador to India, promptly joined the Enron Corporation board of directors after leaving the country, has done nothing to enhance the power company's credibility. If that were not enough, Wisner's successor Richard Celeste chose to emulate his predecessor and used a farewell visit to Bombay to openly lobby for Enron and threaten the state government.” [2]

As in California at the same time, Enron was reaping the whirlwind of its successful lobbying to weaken state regulation of electricity prices and hike them, but as in California its early super-profits had soured into soaring losses. Indians could not and would not pay Enron’s inflated prices – but Enron needed their cash to flow through its complicated fraudulent financial system to keep it afloat.

Like the other members of the Teflon Texas political elite, Wisner Jr walked untainted from the wreckage of Enron. A guardian angel hovered over his career and reputation – maybe Dad put in a good word with the patron saint of greed for him. American newspapers always call him “respected” but never mention Enron and his name in the same column.

After the Enron debacle, Wisner went on to bigger and better bankruptcies. He became a member of the board of AIG, but though it went belly-up in 2008 taking umpteen billions of U.S. taxpayers dollars, Frank Wisner Jr’s unblemished reputation lives on.

Contrary to the “idiot leftists” who see capitalism as the determinant of politics, the careers of a Wisner or his fellow late AIG director Richard Holbrooke compared with the humiliating fate of Enron’s Ken Lay show it is political insider-status that enables a power-broker to survive insider-dealing admissions as Holbrooke himself made in 1999 on the eve of the Kosovo War which he did so much to promote.

To sit on the board of one economic Titanic without noticing the icebergs looming ahead might seem unlucky, but to grace two capsized engines of capitalism like Wisner looks careless – except when you have his aura. Money might buy influence, even protection. Power guarantees it.

Promoting Kosovo’s independence, despite the evidence of unsavoury criminal activities by the politicians whom Washington backed was Frank Wisner’s main “diplomatic” activity in retirement. Just as Dad had turned a blind eye to the drugs smuggler from Marseilles to the Mekong Delta who helped the anti-Communist fight after 1947, so his boy seems to have been unconcerned about evidence in the possession of the US government and its European allies that the KLA had a profitable sideline in corruption, drug smuggling to Western Europe, people trafficking and – it is alleged by the Council of Europe – even organ trafficking.

Just as his father’s CIA saw exotic micro-peoples in South-East Asia – Hongs and Karens – as valuable allies in the main struggle despite their involvement in the heroin trade, so promoting weak, criminalised micro-states has been part of his son’s “foreign policy.” Such entities are dependent on protection by a great power. Being Mafioso-states, they understand and respect power.

Egypt is a very big state with 80 million people, but its internal regime based on intertwining family and corporate interests with the mechanisms of state power to guarantee them is not essentially different from other U.S. allies of convenience.

Wisner Jr. did not drop his interest in Egypt after he had served there as ambassador during the painful period, 1986-91, when Mubarak began “reforms” cutting living standards and privatizing. This process has gone on until now with good GDP figures which pleased foreign investors but masked the reality of growing poverty for the many while a relative few profited from the “growth.” Mubarak was a poster boy for economic reform in the Arab world and took no nonsense from whinging populists.

In recent years, Wisner has worked for the Washington lobbyist firm, Patton Boggs, which has lucrative contracts on behalf of the Egyptian government, including the military. Polishing Egypt’s public image has been one of Patton Boggs’ tasks. Maybe, today, President Mubarak will be asking whether he got his money’s worth.

In 2005, Wisner endorsed Mubarak’s decision to stand for re-election as President of Egypt and suggested that in a free and fair election 65% of Egyptians would endorse their president since 1981. But there was a sting in the tail of his endorsement: All of these are factors, plus the fact that this is clearly the last time President Mubarak will stand for re-election. His age is such that [Egypt] is clearly in a transition period, with something else to follow.”[3] However, as we anticipate a post-Mubarak regime, Wisner also had a s sting in the tail for naïve democrats who believe that Mubarak’s slow motion resignation means that someone entirely new and untainted by service in the Mubarak camp will be his successor. Wisner remarked, “The political culture of Egypt is to vote for stability.”

On 1st February, an anonymous US official – possibly Wisner himself – told AP, Wisner and Mubarak are friends and the official said the retired ambassador made clear that it was the U.S ‘view that his tenure as president is coming to close.’”[4]

Frank Wisner Jr has been director of the appropriately-named Pharaonic American Life Insurance Company (ALICO) in Egypt since 2007. He also serves on the board of Hakluyt, the British “investigative” company which may employee a higher proportion of ex-spooks than any other company on either side of the Atlantic. Along with Pentagon’s Ken Bacon, Wisner has shown his charitable side serving on the board of Refugees International. Cynics will be unkind enough to recall his father’s involvement, along with Allen Dulles, in infiltrating charities aiding so many refugees in Europe after 1939. America needed agents and information, refugees need help – for them it is a matter of life or death. But association with an intelligence service via a charity could be fatal too as some of those who got help from the proto-CIA ended up shot by Hitler or later by Stalin as spies, real or imagined.

But it is Wisner’s role today as the pivot of America’s regime-change agenda in Egypt which makes him so important despite his invisibility. The man in the shadows has strings to pull which are anchored at the Archimidean point of world politics in Washington.

It is not just a case of easing out Mubarak but of making sure that all of what Tony Blair would call the “good he has been doing” is carried forward. Not only must Egypt’s next president be a reliable ally in the Middle East peace process, but under the guise of democratic legitimacy, real or media-hyped, he must also pursue the economic agenda which has undermined Mubarak’s regime.

When American officials from Obama downwards repeatedly couple their calls for democratisation in Egypt with demands for market reforms, the old Enron devil inside Frank Wisner knows what that must mean for Egypt’s impoverished masses. If tens of millions of Egyptians are angry with Mubarak about getting poorer already, what will they make of the final abolition of any subsidies on food and energy?

Mr Wisner is such a “respected” diplomat that no-one in the official media has queried possible conflicts of interest arising from his business activities in the country whose political system he is reshaping so selflessly. Future privatizations are part of the reform agenda being pressed on Egypt. Could it possible have occurred to the former director of Enron and AIG as well as of the Pharaonic American Life Insurance Company that a privatization on the epic scale worthy of the land of the Pharaohs is looming: the Suez Canal was nationalised by Mubarak’s first patron, Gamel Abdul Nasser, won’t it be a neat sign that People Power has truly triumphed in Egypt when ownership of the Suez Canal is returned to private, preferably international owners? And then of course, the Aswan dam’s electricity generating capacity can only improve if foreigners with expertise in the energy field give a helping hand….

Asking who has the power to profit from People Power is an undiplomatic question. Maybe it is wiser to leave it in the shadows where Wisners prefer to remain.

[1] Married to the French President’s stepmother, the former Christine Sarkozy, Wisner is bi-lingual in French which helps in North Africa especially where French culture lingers among the elites.

[2] See Sacheta Dalal, “The Enron crisis reaches a crisis point” Rediff.com (8th February, 2001): http://www.rediff.com/money/2001/feb/08dalal.htm.

[4] See Matthew Lee, “AP source: Obama envoy tells Mubarak time is up” AP (1st February, 2011): http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/ap-source-obama-envoy-824086.html.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

After Mubarak - Mubarak?

Egypt’s “People Power” revolution seems to have shaken the foundations of the corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak. President for thirty years, Mr Mubarak has found that even putting his army on the streets of Cairo has not quelled popular discontent.

But the Egyptian people lack a Mandela-style popular leader to replace Mubarak. Neither the ex-weapons inspector Muhammed El Baradei nor the US and Soros-backed opposition groups led by men like Ayman Nour enjoy much popular name recognition or support outside the educated elite.

All that unites 80 million Egyptians is revulsion for their autocratic leader since 1981.

Mubarak’s deep unpopularity has been exposed for all to see. But happens next? While all eyes have been on the street protests it looks as though the Egyptian Army was staging a silent coup d’etat. They have pressed Mubarak into appointing his intelligence chief as Vice-President. This means if Mubarak resigns, a military man will replace him.

The new Vice-President, Omar Soleiman, has served as intelligence boss for twenty years. Will the street protestors accept him?

A big component of the crowds have been supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have no reason to like the new Vice-President and many reasons to fear him. He led the crackdown on radical Muslims in Egypt. He is politely called "intelligence chief" by Western journalists and "respected" but the respect felt for him is best understood when translated from the Sicilian. Soleiman headed what in Saddam's Iraq or Assad's Syria would be labelled "the feared Mukhabarat" or secret police. His no-holds-barred approach to dissent in the past silenced many critics of Mubarak once and for all.

But Western diplomats and Israeli politicians know and like Soleiman as an urbane negotiator. With him heir to the hated “Pharaoh” Mubarak, Washington and London can breathe easier. The Middle East’s key country will be in safe hands. But will the people of Cairo calm down? Mubarak has signalled that he will leave office at the latest when his term expires this November. How many Egyptians will want his Vice-President to slip suavely into his place?

Rumours abound that Soleiman had planned for this moment. His group of seniot security officials regarded Mubarak's preferred successor, his son, Gamal, as a playboy who could not be relied on to exercise power effectively. He could lose control because of the nepotism required to install him. The generals did not want a succession like that but don't want the regime - their regime - to fall.

Many other "People Power" revolutions from the bloody fall of Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 to the so-called "Rose Revolution" in Georgia in 2003 have seen regime-insiders use the cover of popular protest to ease an elderly dictator aside. In June, 1990, Romania saw a brutal crackdown on those who still took People Power seriously. It was not until November, 2007, that Georgia's President Saakashvili sent his security forces out on the streets to smash opposition there.

Will Egypt's revolution avoid that kind of cynical cosmetic change? The risk must that if “People Power” simply replaces Mubarak with his chief enforcer until now, Egypt will explode uncontrollably next time. Replacing Mubarak with Soleiman as the man the West can do business with, could mean the next-but-one Egyptian president is no friend of ours.

Oxford historian, Mark Almond, is Visiting Professor in International Relations at Bilkent University, Turkey.

(A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Mirror on 30th January, 2011.)

Friday, 9 April 2010

Kyrgyzstan: Central Asia’s Poverty-Stricken Roundabout Revolves Again

Pity poor post-Communist Kyrgyzstan.

The bloody events in its capital, Bishkek on Wednesday 7th April are only the most recent round in the political infighting there. Even the flight of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, apparently to his southern stronghold of Osh suggests that continued political violence remains a possibility. But it is the naïve belief fostered by Western media that the violent sacrifice of over 70 lives must mean fundamental change which distracts from understanding the recurring cruel realities of post-Communist politics in Kyrgyzstan.

It is almost exactly five years since Bakiyev’s predecessor, Askar Akaev, took the presidential plane to exile in Moscow. Then the regime-change was greeted as the triumph of “People Power” and the beginning of true democracy and prosperity. This year’s revolution was bloodier than in 2005 but anyone with a memory will recognise not only the street-scenes of pillage and blood-stains but even the faces of the leading revolutionaries.

Despite the new regime’s familiar faces, Western media are reporting the upheaval in Kyrgyzstan as the sign of a geo-political earthquake in the strategically sensitive Central Asian state. Back in 2005, it was quickly clear that the new regime was pro-American. What about 2010’s crop of Kyrgyz revolutionaries and their role in the “Great Game” for control of the Eurasian heartland?

Did the Kremlin’s Hidden Hands pull the rug from under Bakiyev?

The Russian premier, Vladimir Putin, spoke dismissively of the ousted president Bakiyev’s corruption and nepotism on the day of the uprising. Bakiyev’s prime minister complained about Russian media coverage of the crisis as it developed. Putin however telephoned Rosa Otumbayeva, the head of the self-proclaimed interim government and treated her as the legitimate authority in Kyrgyzstan. This showed Moscow imprimatur for the new regime. But are Western conspiracy theorists right to detect the Kremlin’s hidden hand behind the violent events in Bishkek?

The standard explanation by Russophobe media is that Putin was anxious to force the closure of the US airbase at Manas just outside the Kyrgyz capital. The conspiracy theory is that the Russian regime is anxious to make life difficult for the US troops occupying Afghanistan. Since Manas is a key link in the Pentagon’s re-supply route the New Cold Warriors see it as the nodal point of the new “Great Game” between Washington and Moscow for control of the oil, natural gas and opium-rich Central Asian states.[1]

Although Askar Akaev, who was ousted in 2005, has been interviewed by Russia Today[2] saying that his successor had discredited himself by being too close to the United States and by downgrading relations with Russia, official Russia seems to be engaged in much less of a New Cold War than either US neo-conservative ideologists believe or the victims of US-sponsored “colour-coded” revolutions in 2003-05 would like to think.

After all, on the very day of the coup in Bishkek, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev was in Prague to sign the new START nuclear arms treaty with President Obama. Medvedev’s government agreed in 2009 to facilitate the re-supply of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan by allowing transhipment of supplies across Russian territory to Central Asia. If the Kremlin is playing a Machiavellian game to undermine the United States, the only rational explanation of Russia’s direct assistance to the US war effort in Afghanistan is that Medvedev and co. are encouraging Obama’s desire to be bogged down there! Only the more paranoid of the Pentagon’s grand strategists can really believe that is Russia’s game.

Russia’s acceptance of the new regime fits a pattern of acquiescence in US-backed regime change.

In October, 2000, Vladimir Putin sent his foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, to Belgrade to persuaded Slobodan Milosevic to concede defeat in the Yugoslav presidential elections to the US-backed candidate, Dr. Kostunica. In November, 2003, Ivanov went to Tbilisi to tell Eduard Shevardnadze to relinquish office to Mikheil Saakashvili, the US-sponsored leader of Georgia’s “Rose Revolution.” In April, 2004, Ivanov was on hand to usher Saakashvili’s regional rival, Aslan Abashidze, on to his plane and exile in Moscow. In 2005, Russia gave Kyrgyzstan’s Askar Akaev asylum but recognised the regime which came to power in Bishkek even though Western media broadcast pictures of US-funded resources being used to back the opposition to Akaev.[3]

The Moldovan Model

In April, 2009, a violent uprising in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, prefigured the events in Bishkek on 7-8th April. A year ago in Europe’s poorest country, post-Soviet Moldova, a similar violent scenario was played out. Parliament was stormed and new elections forced. Like Kyrgyzstan, Moldova had been highly praised in the 1990s as a model of economic reform and admitted into the World Trade Organisation by passing laws and regulations embracing pure capitalism while the real economy crashed.

Like Kyrgyzstan, Moldova is dirt poor and under-developing as each year went by since the collapse of Communism. The Moldovan President, Vladimir Voronin, had made the mistake of drifting into economic dependence on Russia as his country’s economy and society imploded under the burden of poverty induced by the shock therapy imposed on the advice of Western experts and the Soros Foundation. The mob in Moldova stormed the Parliament and forced fresh elections. Naked power rather than the people’s will had been demonstrated and the Moldovan electorate wisely voted for the representatives of parties backed by the mob rather than anyone disliked by it. Russia even accepted this outcome. The EU and USA applauded it.

Both Kyrgyz and Moldovan societies were heavily dependent on remittances from migrant workers scratching a living in Russia or other countries. The financial crash of 2008 and the continuing lack of demand for unskilled labour has had a cruel effect on Kyrgyz and Moldovan migrant workers. At the same time, energy prices in particular have shot up. The last straw for ordinary Kyrgyz in their bleak mountainous Central Asian homeland was the dramatic hike in electricity and natural gas tariffs at the start of 2010. With the arrival of spring, the destitute could come out onto the streets to protests.

The problem for ordinary people in Kyrgyzstan as elsewhere in the post-Soviet realm is that popular protests may topple regimes, but “The People” cannot hold power for themselves. Only a few people can actually sit in office as ministers. It is those with “experience,” however dubious, who fill the ministerial posts in any new regime In Bishkek, political insiders who had fallen out with Akaev before 2005 and then Bakiyev afterwards have been scrambling to occupy vacant ministerial posts.

Any consideration of who constitutes the new regime in Bishkek as well as Russia’s track-record of accepting and even facilitating “colour-coded” revolutions since October, 2000, must put the neo-con conspiracy theories aside.

New Regime, Old Faces

The Financial Times quoted the former Soros-supported activist, Edil Baisalov as saying, “"What we are seeing is a classic popular uprising. This is a revolution, and it is bloody."[4] Certainly since the Moldovan events, “velvet revolutions” have gone out of fashion but how much change is really heralded by the bloodshed in Bishkek?

Although in Western media Rosa Otunbayeva’s biography begins in 1991 like so many reformers favoured by Washington, her political career began as an official of the Soviet Communist Party as far back as 1981. Like the rest of the Kyrgyz elite applauded periodically as model reformers since 1991, the current self-proclaimed president’s skills at in-fighting and career-building were not honed in the Westminster school of politics but the Leninist one. Explaining the self-proclaimed interim president of Kyrgyzstan to its readers, the international mining magazine, Mineweb declared that she was already “known as the Thatcher of Kyrgyzstan”![5] In fact, she had served as both Akaev’s foreign minister until 1997and then after a brief interval as an ambassador to the UK for instance, she became leader of the opposition Social Democrats, and foreign minister again after the “Tulip Revolution” in 2005. Later she fell out with President Bakiyev before re-staging her role in this year’s bloody re-run of the Tulip events.

Rosa Otunbayeva told Russian Mir TV, “"The security service and the interior ministry, all of them are already under the management of new people.” But the “new people” turned out to be old-hands in these jobs. For instance, the new defence minister, Ishmail Isakov, was Bakiyev’s defence minister from 2005 until 2008. Last October, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for abuse of office. As in Soviet days, charges of corruption are often made in Kyrgyzstan for political reasons but sadly the facts of corruption by office-holders are commonplace. The new interior minister, Bolotbek Sherniyaov, was key organiser of the 2005 revolution.

These new ministers have Soviet-era pasts which the Kremlin will know about but they have also been deeply-engaged with US government agencies and US-based organisations like the Soros Foundation (in whose office I met Mrs Otunbayeva fifteen years ago, for instance).

The new leadership has reassured his contacts in Washington that Manas can continue to function as the Pentagon’s forward base in Central Asia. Despite their failure to control the anti-Bakiyev crowd, the Kyrgyz special forces trained by US contractors at Tokmok, seen firing their guns, wearing US-style desert fatigues and coal-scuttle helmets on the streets of Bishkek seem set to continue to receive US training and subsidy. Maybe they will do a better job when the next poverty-stricken crowd demonstrates for another regime-change.

New Regime, Old Policies

This rotation within the post-Communist regime’s personnel bodes ill for Kyrgyzstan’s future. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the poverty-stricken Central Asian state has repeatedly undergone traumatic changes. Yet a huge gulf has yawned between Western media coverage of the country and the harsh reality of life there. Worse still, US-funded NGOs specialising in regime-analysis and regime-change show no willingness to learn from their past mistakes nor a readiness to be a little more modest about promoting personalities or policies as the salvation of countries like Kyrgyzstan which have gone downhill following previously approved recipes or leaders. While life has lurched from bad to worse for ordinary people in Kyrgyzstan, on the few occasions the outside world has taken note of events there it has been to announce a re-birth of society and hope rather than to warn against repeating mistakes or following mirages of freedom and prosperity.

The US organisation Freedom House has a dubious track record in the Central Asian state. For years it acted as an advocate of the Akaev regime before suddenly turning on it in 2004 and promoting the regime-change in 2005. At first, Freedom House endorsed the Bakiyev regime but in 2009 it downgraded Kyrgyzstan to a “not free” country.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on 12th January, 2010, that “Kyrgyzstan -- once the center of pro-democracy hopes in Central Asia -- moved from ‘partly free’ to ‘not free’ category. The downgrade was due… to claims of voter irregularities in the country's July 2009 presidential election, consolidation of power in the executive branch, and new restrictive legislation on freedom of religion. The setback means the entire region of Central Asia is now rated ‘not free.’…” RFE/RL cited Freedom House’s Central Asian analyst Christopher Walker as saying, “the hopes that bloomed in 2005 for Kyrgyzstan and the region are now history.” According to Walker, “Kyrgyzstan has turned out to be a sour disappointment in terms of political rights and civil liberties, and has trended downwards over the last two years.”[6] But such disappointment has not stopped the inter-locking world of US democracy promotion agencies and private foundations like Soros from dropping yesteryear’s favourite and extolling a new champion of freedom.

Remember the “Tulip Revolution.” Dan Fried, still the key State Department architect of US policy promoting so-called “People Power” under President Obama as well as Republican presidents, told us in October, 2005, “Kyrgyzstan experienced what the people there call the March events. Some people call it the Tulip Revolution… An authoritarian president was overthrown because of widespread revulsion at perceived massive corruption and other factors. There followed elections which were just about the freest the region had seen and you have a reformist leadership trying to move the country ahead and trying to get it on its feet.” If the new presidential elections in six months are held and produce another 86% landslide like Bakiyev’s poll in 2005 will the US State Department wait five years to denounce electoral manipulation?

This year’s violent events seem set to repeat the Kyrgyz syndrome of regime change, international approval, followed by further corruption until poverty provides those who lose out in the inevitable in-fighting over the country’s few spoils with enough discontented young men to rush the police cordon around government house. The so-called “Tulip Revolution” in 2005 was, like other “People Power” revolutions, not a fundamental regime-change but a change within the regime. Is the current chaos in Kyrgyzstan the prelude to another game of political musical chairs or something more profound?

North-South Split

One possible spoke in the wheels of the rotation of government posts within the elite is the ousted Bakiyevs refusal to resign. Instead he has fled to his home base in the south of the country protected by Central Asia’s highest mountain chain.

In 2005, there was an initial north-south split. But then, it was Bakiyev’s southern backers who set the revolution rolling. The first sign of the crisis was when crowds attacked government offices and the police in the city of Osh.

Osh at the eastern end of the Ferghana Valley was a key centre in the Central Asian smuggling trade. Situated on the border of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan but also a centre for Afghan and Tajik traders. Bakiyev’s retreat to his homebase raises the risk of a split inside Kyrgyzstan. Certainly in 2005, the smugglers backed him in what was euphemistically called a “free market revolution”! Will the ex-president be able to buy back power? Certainly, the US-led coalition has done nothing to fight the drugs mafia whose smuggling routes criss-cross Central Asia from Afghanistan via Kyrgyzstan to the West – unless verbal denunciations of the evil of opium are to be counted part of the Pentagon’s arsenal of smart weapons. Anyone challenging the Kyrgyz affiliates of the heroin trade would be putting their political careers on the line.

Manna for Manas

What is the role of the Manas airbase which figures so prominently in conspiracy theory accounts of the Kyrgyz coup?

The US military presence in Kyrgyzstan was dramatically increased after 9/11. Until then, small contingents of special forces and intelligence agents – plus “private contractors” – helped train the Kyrgyz security forces and to observe local Islamic militants and events in nearby Afghanistan. The US invasion of Afghanistan after 7th October, 2001, transformed the military relationship between the superpower and the “Switzerland of Central Asia.” The Soviet-built long runway at Manas airport outside Bishkek was ideal for US transport planes. The proximity of Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan meant that a host of intermediary operations as well as supply from the US homeland could be facilitated through it.

Washington’s local favourite in the 1990s,Askar Akaev, agreed to the US use of Manas for a minimal payment. As the years of Operation Enduring Freedom rolled by he began to ask for a more generous rent. Then his standing as a democrat and economic reformer went into free fall – whither it should have dropped years earlier.

After Akaev’s fall, the Bakiyev regime agreed to keep the base, but his clan too needed cash and Kyrgyzstan has no oil or gas, or even opium of its own, to squeeze as a cash cow.

At first at the start of 2009, it seemed Bakiyev was part of a Russian plot to shut US out of access to Manas. President Medvedev granted Kyrgyzstan a generous line of credit at the height of the crisis with the Pentagon when Bakiyev and his tame parliament had refused to prolong the deal for US use of Manas. But once he had the Russian cash up front, Bakiyev suddenly agreed to let the Pentagon use the air field for US$117 million per annum.

The agreement runs for one year at time. The current agreement runs out in June. Getting in on the negotiations and the sweeteners which drip off such contracts made this spring in Kyrgyzstan particularly tense. Bakiyev’s concentration of economic power and rent-collection in his immediate family and their clan’s hands outraged Kyrgyzstan’s class of reformers who feel entitled to a cut.

It is instructive to contrast Russian and US approaches to the politics of aid. The Russians subsidise societies with loans for projects whereas the Americans buy the political elite with rent. Russia agreed to grant Kyrgyzstan US$2 billion in 2009 but it was tied to economic aid projects while the United States paid US$117m in rent. Even though economic aid would certainly be ruthlessly skimmed by the Bakiyev clan’s control of the economy, the rent for Manas constituted a direct grant to the ruling family. At least if they have lost power, the manna from Manas will cushion their exile.

Anyone wanting to understand the principles of the much-touted reform process now about to re-start in Kyrgyzstan could do worse than listen to Swedish shock therapist turned Washington insider, Anders Aslund. He reassured worried Americans straight away on 7th April itself that the Manas Airbase was safely in their hands. “This is very much on a pecuniary basis.” Aslund added, “The US pays a substantial amount to hold the airbase” and it continue to hold it regardless of regime.”[7]

Reform-Revolution-Reform - - - the Roundabout Revolves Again

Western media seem unable to escape from the stereotype of any and every new Kyrgyz ruler as “reformer.” For instance, Isabel Gorst’s report on the events of 7th April, 2010, carried the sentence, “Mr Bakiyev introduced sweeping government reforms that transferred management of the economy and security to new bodies controlled by his family and close associates”![8] If those were “reforms” what would bad policies be? If past form is any guide, we can expect any successor to Bakiyev to be lauded as the new Jefferson of Central Asia, and so on.[9]

Even as the crisis unfolded, the Peterson Institute reassured Beltway insiders reporting arch-shock therapist, “Anders Åslund says the overthrow of President Baikyev was led by pro-democracy forces that will likely continue reforms and maintain ties with Washington.”[10] In other words, the policies which have impoverished the population and promoted periodic brutal revolt and plundering will continue. Pity poor Kyrgyzstan, with such faithful friends and sponsors in Washington it has no hope of escaping from the syndrome of reform followed by impoverishment and then revolution. The continuation of the downward spiral seems pre-programmed.
Maybe ordinary Kyrgyz would welcome someone who plotted a different course from the tragic one pursued for two decades now, but sadly their tiny in-fighting political class has nothing to gain from abolishing a rent-seeking relationship with the Pentagon or other foreign sponsors. Until Kyrgyzstan stops the cycle of regime-change and finds new political leaders it looks doomed to repeat its unhappy past.

[1] For a British neo-cold warrior version of events, see Simon Tisdall, “Kyrgyzstan: a Russian revolution?The US is on the back foot in Central Asia after Vladimir Putin appears to be winning a round in the new Great Game” in The Guardian (8th April, 2010): http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/08/kyrgyzstan-vladimir-putin-barack-obama
[2] Broadcast 2.30pm GMT, 9th April, 2010.
[3] See Manon Loizeau, Revolution.com. L’evoluzione della Guerra fredda (23rd July, 2007): http://www.ariannaeditrice.it/articolo.php?id_articolo=12759 & http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm? fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=45233954 for one Bishkek-based Freedom House US activist’s comment, “We’ve got wrapped up in that story of velvet revolutions, orange revolutions. I keep saying, ‘I want to see a green revolution.’ Bring in the money!” as he waves some US currency.
[4] See Isabel Gorst, “Bishkek curfew as dozens shot dead “ FT.com (7th April, 2010): http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c3b7f250-421e-11df-9ac4-00144feabdc0.html
[5] See Dorothy Kosich, “Kyrgyz revolution unlikely to affect Kumtor – Centerra” Mineweb (8th April, 2010): http://www.mineweb.co.za/mineweb/view/mineweb/en/page34?oid=102291&sn=Detail&pid=102055.
[6] See Nikola Krastev, “Democratic Decline Continues across Former Soviet States” RFE/RL (12th January, 2010): http://www.rferl.org/content/Report_Democratic_Decline_Continues_Across_Former_Soviet_States_/1927675.html
[7] See “Uprising in Kyrgyzstan” Peterson Institute for International Economics (7th April, 2010): http://www.piie.com/publications/interviews/interview.cfm?ResearchID=1538.
[8] See Isabel Gorst, “Bishkek curfew as dozens shot dead” FT.com (7th April, 2010): http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c3b7f250-421e-11df-9ac4-00144feabdc0.html.
[9] Who has forgotten Strobe Talbott’s ineffable encomium of Akaev in 1994?: “We here in Washington think of President Akaev as the ‘Thomas Jefferson’ of Kyrgyzstan, and of Central Asia— and that's not just because he can quote from the writings of one of our own Founding Fathers. After hearing him engage Vice President Gore in a long and animated conversation about the potential of the information superhighway, I realized that President Akaev has more than a bit of Benjamin Franklin in him as well.”
[10] See “Uprising in Kyrgyzstan” Peterson Institute for International Economics (7th April, 2010): http://www.piie.com/publications/interviews/interview.cfm?ResearchID=1538