Friday, February 04, 2011

US backs Egypt's chief torturer

The New York Times reports that the US is negotiating with the Egyptian military to force Mubarak, preserve the regime, and put the Vice President and former chief of military intelligence, Omar Suleiman, in charge as transitional president. The US trusts him, of course, because in addition to torturing Egyptians he helped run the CIA's kidnapping and torturing ring, known as 'rendition'. The New Yorker summarises:

While he has a reputation for loyalty and effectiveness, he also carries some controversial baggage from the standpoint of those looking for a clean slate on human rights. As I described in my book “The Dark Side,” since 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service. In that capacity, he was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.

As laid out in greater detail by Stephen Grey, in his book “Ghost Plane,” beginning in the nineteen-nineties, Suleiman negotiated directly with top Agency officials. Every rendition was greenlighted at the highest levels of both the U.S. and Egyptian intelligence agencies. Edward S. Walker, Jr., a former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, described Suleiman as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.”

So, if we can summarise. The US backed Mubarak for more than three decades after the assassination of Sadat, supplied him with billions in aid, military equipment, torture equipment, tear gas, etc. They trained the army, forging close ties with the military top brass. The IMF vended largesse, with the usual strings attached. Beginning with Sadat's 'Open Door' policies and the peace treaty with Israel, Egypt was transformed from a nationalist, corporatist, anti-imperialist polity, into a neoliberal comprador regime. A new fraction of rentiers emerged as the financial sector grew and private sector capitalists were given greater opportunities to profit from public investments. Every crisis of the system, whether it was produced by a financial crash, a slump in oil prices, the upending of BCCI, or the long-term collapse of fruit and vegetable exports, was an occasion for further austerity, cutting 'profligate' state spending. When revenues from the nationalised petroleum company and the Suez canal bolstered state revenues, the credit for growth was allocated to the IMF and its free market wizardry. The result was that wealth was perpetually transferred to an increasingly aloof ruling class, affiliated to the regime. When Mubarak slaughtered opponents, as during the anti-Islamist counterinsurgency in 1992-97, which included the famously brutal wipe-out in a working class quarter of Embada in 1992, the US sent more money, more weapons. The CIA forged ties with the security apparatus, . Mubarak's regional importance for the US was heightened during the 'war on terror', and especially when he agreed to help impose the Quad's blockade on Gaza. The flow of weapons, money and diplomatic support was not interrupted by a wave of protests arising from the Second Intifada in 2002, or from mass strike action radiating from Mahalla in 2007, both of which Mubarak's police cracked down on viciously. But then the global capitalist system went haywire, sinking into its worst crisis for decades, which struck at the heart of the fragile accumulation regimes pursued by north African states. The protests against the regime did not begin when Tunisia went up, but it was a catalyst for a drastic escalation of the revolt. And in the last couple of weeks, the accumulated grievances and agitation of decades has exploded in an astounding revolt which has withstood waves of massacres from armed police, looting and chaos by officers out of uniform, terror by mounted and armed terror gangs (again, largely populated by Mubarak's police force) . The US responds with concern, calls for protesters to make nice, and pays tribute to Mubarak's courageous work in the fictitious 'peace process'. Officials urge Mubarak to embark on political and economic reforms to placate the opposition. For well over a week, throughout all the bloodshed, Hillary Clinton insists that the US has no plans to revise aid to the regime. US officials fearmonger about the Muslim Brothers, asserting that there must be a managed, 'orderly transition', but do not call for Mubarak to step down. The Egyptian army, presumably under instructions for the US, protects the regime, and allows it to try every measure to crush the revolt. It also moves to secure the Rafah crossing, so that no one gets any ideas. Egyptians form people's committees to manage local resistance. Workers form new trade unions, and embark on a general strike. They fend off wave after wave of assault. The US begins to hint that Mubarak should step aside and appoint a transitional government to replace him. And, unsurprisingly, it emerges that they've been negotiating to impose a trusted regime hard man. And if Egyptians won't accept Suleiman, as they almost certainly won't? Watch this space...