Thursday, February 3, 2011

Oh, please, no Revolution !!

Some 60 odd years ago I appeared in Federal Court in Chicago before Judge Igoe to be sworn in as an American citizen. The judge spoke to us at some length. He wanted to make very sure that we would remember that the United States was born in revolution. In order to emphasize that important lesson he read to us the entire Declaration of Independence. It is a long document and reading it took a long time. Lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants, witnesses and the public were crowding the hall waiting for this citizenship ceremony to end. The judge did not care; the lesson he was trying to impress on us was more important than keeping some people waiting.

The President and the Secretary of State and other leaders of the United States should have been in that courtroom. They too have forgotten our revolutionary antecedents. When they see the upheavals in the Arab world, they react fearfully, urging that stability be maintained, that the masses in revolt be calm and nonviolent. Little attention is being paid to the fact that the Egyptian government has ruled under a State of Emergency for 30 years and that the police has wreaked exemplary violence on ordinary Egyptians for all this time. Much of the looting so prominently displayed in our news reports is actually done by police -- some apparently even in uniform.

Americans pose in the world at large as the protectors of freedom and democracy. But when freedom and democracy mean the self-determination of ordinary Egyptians and their impassioned protests against poverty and very high unemployment, we retreat. We prefer stability -- a government whose actions are predictable. Crowds are notoriously unpredictable. The turbulence of freedom and democracy do not always produce a stable investment climate.

Most of the $2 billion, Mubarak received from the US annually in foreign aid returned to the US in the pockets of US weapons manufacturers, reports Ami Goodman: “ Where has the money gone? Mostly to U.S. corporations. I asked William Hartung of the New America Foundation to explain: 'It’s a form of corporate welfare for companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, because it goes to Egypt, then it comes back for F-16 aircraft, for M-1 tanks, for aircraft engines, for all kinds of missiles, for guns, for tear-gas canisters [from] a company called Combined Systems International, which actually has its name on the side of the canisters that have been found on the streets there.' “ The money strengthened the Egyptian military and police. It provided no help to the vast number of ordinary Egyptians who live in poverty without any work.

Egypt is important to us because US corporations make money there by selling the country arms. Ordinary Egyptians do not count for much in the halls of US power. (How much do ordinary Americans count?) A good and stable investment climate has become the prime concern of our government. Freedom no longer means the freedom of ordinary people to run their lives as they think best. Freedom means the ability of multinational corporations to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.

We too need to take Judge Igoe’s reminder very seriously: our country was born in revolution. When revolutions occur, we need to be firmly on the side of the people.