In 1848, in the midst of economic hardships and political repression, alliances between middle class liberals and working class radicals rose up and challenged the “forest of bayonets” protecting absolutist regimes throughout Europe.
Triggered by events in Paris, news of revolutionary successes and violent repressions was transmitted with unprecedented speed by new communication technologies — telegraph, rail and steamship — which, in turn, fueled the wave of rebellion and gave rise to the “Springtime of the Peoples”
Today we see something analogous happening in North Africa: a wave of revolutionary activity that was sparked, literally, by the self-immolation of a frustrated Tunisian fruit vendor named Mohammad Bouazizi. Within weeks, copycats had self-immolated in Egypt, Mauritania and Algeria displaying the pervasiveness of North African discontent with their autocratic governments. In Tunisia itself, the 23 year reign of Ben Ali came to an end as he fled the country, giving others in the region hope that they too might liberate themselves.
Nowhere did this hope take root more than in Egypt, which is on the verge of toppling the 30 year reign of Hosni Mubarak.
The regimes in Tunis and Egypt have both been U.S. allies, and Mubarak especially has enjoyed lavish amounts of military aid — aid which has continued under Obama.
As a matter of fact, the tear gas canisters being used to put down the rebellion in Egypt are “Made in the U.S.A” — Jamestown, Philadelphia, to be precise. So “if the army ever decides to shoot into a crowd of unarmed protestors, it will be shooting with hardware provided by the United States.”
Meanwhile, leaders of the current U.S. administration wasted no time in offering support to their beleaguered friend, Mubarak.
Sec. of State Clinton exposed her sympathies when she asserted that Mubarak’s tyrannical regime was “stable” just as hope emerged among Egyptian people that it was not. Vice President Biden added that he “would not refer to [Mubarak] as a dictator” — on the contrary he “has been a good ally”. And Obama, whose military escalations and drone strikes continue to kill and wound many, made a plea to the Egyptians that “violence is not the answer”.
Meanwhile Wikileaks, in the wake of developments in Egypt, has released more U.S. diplomatic cables which corroborate what we already knew — that the U.S. turns a blind eye to the torture and lawlessness of its client regimes. See, for example, this cable in which a U.S. diplomat relates how, during murder investigations, it is the practice of Egyptian police to “round up 40 to 50 suspects from a neighborhood and hang them by their arms from the ceiling for weeks until someone confesses.”
One such excess in particular had become a rallying point among Egyptian protesters: the murder of Khaled Said, who was beaten to death by Egyptian police. Here are pictures of Khaled before and after his treatment by the Egyptian police, and a cartoon (by Carlos Latuff) of his afterlife as an avenging angel:
BagNewsNotes, always interesting for its analysis of news images, has discussed this photograph of the Egyptian government pissing on its citizens:
And we have to give a shout out to this guy:
A word of warning, however: In 1848, the “Springtime of the Peoples” was ultimately succeeded by a “Counter-Revolutionary Autumn” in which many of the democratic advances were reversed. According to historian Mike Rapport, this reversal was made possible in part by the unraveling of the tenuous alliance between “liberals” (who sought to retain some privileges from the conservative order) and “radicals” (who sought a more thorough transformation of society). Time will tell if events in North Africa will follow a similar trajectory, but for now perhaps we can celebrate recent advances with this man.