Seeing cracks in the empire, by Danny Lucia
February 7, 2011
NEW YORK– One night after a 5,000-person solidarity demonstration for the Egyptian revolution, more than 250 people came out on a cold rainy night to a panel discussion about the rapid changes taking place in the Middle East and beyond. The event, organized by the International Socialist Organization, was titled, “Wikileaks, the Palestine Papers and Revolt in the Arab World: Cracks in the U.S. Empire.” See video of this event here.
The panel was composed of long-time activists who have particular expertise about key areas of the U.S. imperial system. Adaner Usmani, a Pakistani student activist, gave his own country’s history of U.S.-backed military dictators and described the increasingly unsustainable current situation, in which the military budget is being increased even as reconstruction funds for last year’s devastating floods have been cancelled.
Lamis Deek, representing Al-Awda New York: The Palestine Right of Return Coalition, argued that the embarrassing revelations in the Wikileaks cables and Palestine Papers did not cause the uprisings now taking place, but that they have provided “vindication for Arabs who for years have been dismissed as radicals and conspiracy theorists.”
The leaks, she said, demonstrate that Israel has been surrounded not by hostile enemies but by allies like the Egyptian regime, which Al Jazeera recently revealed has been selling Israel natural gas below cost. In other words, Deek pointed out, Egypt has been paying Israel to take its gas.
For the other speakers on the panel as well, all discussions led back to Egypt. Arun Gupta, editor of the Indypendent newspaper, noted that the corporate media routinely refers to the legitimately elected Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez as a dictator, while until recently Hosni Mubarak was described as a “strong and stable ally.”
Iraq expert Michael Schwartz argued that the strength of the Egyptian protests lie in their economic power. The occupation of Tahrir Square, he argued, is “the visible manifestation of what is in fact a general strike,” because nobody is going to work. Therefore, he continued, the longer the protests continue, the weaker the government becomes because business needs people to get back to work.
Given the excitement about Egypt, it was not surprising that the final speaker, Egyptian-American socialist and SocialistWorker.org contributor Mostafa Omar, brought down the house.
He described the growing levels of organization and political maturity among the protesters in Egypt and the crucial unity being forged between Muslims and Christians, and men and women.
Importantly, he took a step back from the daily developments to lay out the bigger picture for the movement.
The February 4 “Day of Departure” protest was a great day for the revolution, he said, but then warned that that there will be more bad days in the future as well because “no entrenched ruling class has ever given up its power without a fight.” The role of activists in the U.S. and Europe is not just to provide solidarity, but to build a movement strong enough to prevent our own governments from crushing the revolutions that will continue to unfold across the Middle East.
He concluded with this exhortation: “People are saying ‘Another Middle East is possible.’ Not only that–another world is possible. Every person in this room can help make that happen.”