Egypt: paranoids see neocon conspiracy (again)

A prominent New York Times article of Feb. 13 will doubtless be seized upon as vindicating paranoia about neocon conspiracies behind the Egyptian revolution. It seems that one of the early protest groups, the April 6 Youth Movement—so named for their failed plan for an uprising on that date in 2008—drew inspiration (although not, by any indication, money or training) from the Serbian protest movement Otpor and international non-violence guru Gene Sharp.

Ben Smith blogging on Politico calls Sharp “The most influential American political figure you’ve never heard of,” implying the Egyptian protests are a cookie-cutter affair modeled on the 2000 overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. Committing a howler worthy of a particularly slow high-school student, he refers to Egypt’s Otpor link as a “Baltic” connection. (May we suggest that you meant “Balkan,” Ben? Please consult an atlas.)

This is too funny. The neocons themselves (against all evidence) tried to take credit for the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions—and now some lefty pundits seem to be buying their own self-serving propaganda! Meanwhile, the neocons’ arch-enemies in the Iranian regime likewise try to take credit for the Egyptian upsurge—even while suppressing similar protests within their own borders. Another one to file under “life’s little ironies.”

Other sectors of the idiot left, e.g. the ever-reliable Workers World Party, loved Milosevic but have at least got enough savvy to cheer on the Egyptian protesters. Yet they were sickeningly eager to betray the Iranian protest movement in 2009—and will doubtless be equally eager now that protests begin to re-emerge in the Islamic Republic.

One paranoid anarchist blogger writes of the Egyptian upsurge: “US Co-opted ‘Revolution’ for Neoliberal Designs.” Our problem is with use of the past tense—the US, like Tehran, will certainly try to co-opt the Egyptian revolution. Whether either will succeed remains to be seen. For the moment, the Egyptian revolution is under nobody’s control. And the very rush to claim it is testament to how dangerous it really is. A genuine secular working-class revolutionary movement is a threat to both the US-backed neoliberal order and fundamentalist states like Iran. If the movement isn’t crushed by the military, will it manage to avoid being domesticated by either the mullahs or the neocons? Insh’allah.

See our last posts on Egypt, the new Arab revolutions, and the neocons and the idiot left (a distinct entity from the intelligent left that we hope still exists…).

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  1. Gene Sharp in the NY Times… again
    Another New York Times story Feb. 16, “Shy US Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution,” further fleshes out the role of Gene Sharp in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions:

    Few Americans have heard of Mr. Sharp. But for decades, his practical writings on nonviolent revolution — most notably “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for download in 24 languages — have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt.

    When Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement was struggling to recover from a failed effort in 2005, its leaders tossed around “crazy ideas” about bringing down the government, said Ahmed Maher, a leading strategist. They stumbled on Mr. Sharp while examining the Serbian movement Otpor, which he had influenced.

    When the nonpartisan International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which trains democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop, among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp’s “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action,” a list of tactics that range from hunger strikes to “protest disrobing” to “disclosing identities of secret agents.”

    Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian blogger and activist who attended the workshop and later organized similar sessions on her own, said trainees were active in both the Tunisia and Egypt revolts. She said that some activists translated excerpts of Mr. Sharp’s work into Arabic, and that his message of “attacking weaknesses of dictators” stuck with them.

    The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict has been prompted to add a page to its website entitled “Setting the Record Straight,” where it addresses various media distortions (from left and right alike) portraying it as a hidden puppet-master. Our fave is their response to the vile Edward Herman and David Peterson, who portrayed them as a tool of external “destablization” in Iran… (As if destabilization in Iran would be a bad thing.)

    A piece that same day in Foreign Policy magazine by Tina Rosenberg, enigmatically entitled “Revolution U,” notes that at least one Egyptian activist sought training from the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) in Belgrade. Now here’s where it gets complicated, so pay close attention.

    Rosenberg writes of CANVAS:

    To the world’s autocrats, they are sworn enemies—both Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko have condemned them by name. (“They think we are bringing a revolution in our suitcase,” one of CANVAS’s leaders told me.)

    Now there is plenty of good reason to revile Lukashenko. But lumping him in with Chávez is an oversimplification at best. As one commenter posted to Rosenberg’s piece:

    Contrary to the misleading remarks in this otherwise well-written article, Hugo Chavez is not an autocrat. He is a populist, democratically elected leader who commands the support of a huge majority of the Venezuelan population. CANVAS, a USAID and NED-funded organization tried to advance US interests in the region and that is why they were chastised.

    OK, good point. And it is certainly troubling if CANVAS is getting money from USAID. But the commenter overlooks some critical points too. One is that Chávez, disappointingly, has forged an alliance with dictator Lukashenko. Another is that Chávez, if democratically elected, has displayed certain autocratic tendencies. And a look at the CANVAS website indicates that they also support Palestinian protesters on the West Bank—hardly a fave neocon cause.

    So things would appear to be a bit more complicated here than the dogmatists of either side would allow…

  2. Gene Sharp in the NY Times… again
    A nice little irony. Nicholas Kristof has a New York Times op-ed piece April 16, “The Power of Mockery,” again portraying (although this time favorably!) the Egyptian revolution as a mass-produced affair overseen from afar by Gene Sharp:

    This “uprising in a bottle” blueprint was developed by the Serbian youth movement, Otpor, to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. One of Otpor’s insights was that the most effective weapon against dictators isn’t bombs or fiery speeches. It’s mockery. Otpor activists once put Milosevic’s picture on a barrel that they rolled down the street, inviting people to hit it with a bat.

    Otpor’s strategy mirrors one promoted by a rumpled Boston academic named Gene Sharp, who is little known in America but inspires tremors among dictators abroad. Sharp’s guide to toppling despots has been translated into 34 languages so far and was widely circulated in Egypt last year in Arabic.

    But Global Voices Online one day earlier noted that Egyptian tweeters have themselves been mocking all the hype about how Gene Sharp masterminded their revolution, sending messages with the hashtag “#GeneSharpTaughtMe.” E.g.:

    I was happy all my life under Mubarak, but suddenly #genesharptaughtme I must rebel.

    People do start civil disobedience without having to have read a book theorizing about civil disobedience. #GeneSharpTaughtMe

    #GeneSharpTaughtMe how to grow and eat garlic and breath in my enemies faces so they will faint.

    We hope that both Sharp’s boosters and critics are listening.

  3. Egyptian protesters refute astroturf canard
    From Egypt’s al-Ahram, April 20:

    April 6 Movement refutes foreign support claims
    Senior founders of the April 6 Youth Movement were keen to get one message across loud and clear in a press conference Tuesday: they would never receive any foreign financial support or training.

    Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that democracy-building campaigns undertaken by US agencies have been nurturing some of the widespread revolutions in the region, including Egypt.

    The newspaper’s report, published 14 April and based on a WikiLeaks document, claimed that the April 6 Movement, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Yemeni rights activist Entsar Qadhi had received training and funding by the likes of the International Republican Institute and Freedom House.

    Other reports said the ruling French party Union for a Popular Movement had invited members of the Egyptian group to a celebration in Paris to honour them for their role in the January 25 Revolution, implying that the youth movement has a hidden agenda.

    Meanwhile, a rift among the April 6 members has been deepening, with some alleging that Ahmed Maher, the group’s founder and general coordinator, is seeking to turn the group into a civil community organisation that could later officially cooperate with other institutes abroad.

    Maher was the first of several co-founders to speak in the news conference and thoroughly go through the allegations. On the WikiLeaks document, he said: “A translator who used to work for us paid periodical visits that we knew nothing about to the American Embassy in Egypt.

    “No sooner had we known about that than we released more than one statement, warnings that this person does not represent the movement. He was just a friend who offered his services to help us communicate with foreign media, but he’s not one of us.

    “So that document might be correct but it’s about someone who doesn’t belong to the April 6 Movement. We categorically refuse to receive any financial support from any foreign entities; this contradicts with our code…New York Times should have verified such information by contacting these [foreign] organisations.”

    Mahmoud Afifi, part of the movement’s political department, sees The New York Times’ claims as part of a bigger scheme. “The US wants to come across as democracy promoters; it tries to take the credit for all revolutions in the Middle East…”

    So why are so many “leftists” in the United States falling for it?