On February fourth, I blogged about different aspects of the Egyptian revolution, including its challenge to those who might possibly explain it as fomented by the State Department, the CIA, or Soros-type NGO’s. I wrote:
Ever since the Balkan Wars, many leftists have understandably fallen victim to a kind of mechanical anti-imperialism in which politics is reduced to looking for clues of American support for dissidents overseas. While there is no question that such a methodology works well for Yugoslavia, Lebanon, or Georgia, it cannot do proper justice to the movement against Ahmadinejad in Iran or against Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Imperialism, for its own reasons, will often place money on a horse. It will also place money on two different horses in the same race, in an effort to hedge its bets. Considering how Goldman-Sachs routinely doles out millions to Democrats and Republicans alike in the same presidential race, this should not come as any surprise.
In a remarkable article in the NY Times today (A Tunisian-Egyptian Link That Shook Arab History) detailing the origins of the protest movement in Tunisia and Egypt, there’s much more information on the NGO tie-in:
The Egyptian revolt was years in the making. Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old civil engineer and a leading organizer of the April 6 Youth Movement, first became engaged in a political movement known as Kefaya, or Enough, in about 2005. Mr. Maher and others organized their own brigade, Youth for Change. But they could not muster enough followers; arrests decimated their leadership ranks, and many of those left became mired in the timid, legally recognized opposition parties. “What destroyed the movement was the old parties,” said Mr. Maher, who has since been arrested four times…
For their part, Mr. Maher and his colleagues began reading about nonviolent struggles. They were especially drawn to a Serbian youth movement called Otpor, which had helped topple the dictator Slobodan Milosevic by drawing on the ideas of an American political thinker, Gene Sharp. The hallmark of Mr. Sharp’s work is well-tailored to Mr. Mubark’s Egypt: He argues that nonviolence is a singularly effective way to undermine police states that might cite violent resistance to justify repression in the name of stability.
The April 6 Youth Movement modeled its logo — a vaguely Soviet looking red and white clenched fist—after Otpor’s, and some of its members traveled to Serbia to meet with Otpor activists.
Another influence, several said, was a group of Egyptian expatriates in their 30s who set up an organization in Qatar called the Academy of Change, which promotes ideas drawn in part on Mr. Sharp’s work. One of the group’s organizers, Hisham Morsy, was arrested during the Cairo protests and remained in detention.
If you are susceptible to mechanical thinking, the connection to Otpor would automatically lead you to conclude that the revolt in Egypt was tainted. After all, Otpor was in the vanguard to overthrow one of the few opponents of NATO in Eastern Europe, Slobodan Milosevic’s government in Serbia.
On November 26, 2000 an article by Roger Cohen titled “Who Really Brought Down Milosevic?” appeared in the Magazine section of the Sunday NY Times. Cohen wrote:
American assistance to Otpor and the 18 parties that ultimately ousted Milosevic is still a highly sensitive subject. But Paul B. McCarthy, an official with the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, is ready to divulge some details. McCarthy sits in Belgrade’s central Moskva Hotel, enjoying the satisfaction of being in a country that had long been off limits to him under Milosevic. When he and his colleagues first heard of Otpor, he says, ”the Fascistic look of that flag with the fist scared some of us.” But these feelings quickly changed…
”And so,” McCarthy says, ”from August 1999 the dollars started to flow to Otpor pretty significantly.” Of the almost $3 million spent by his group in Serbia since September 1998, he says, ”Otpor was certainly the largest recipient.” The money went into Otpor accounts outside Serbia. At the same time, McCarthy held a series of meetings with the movement’s leaders in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, and in Szeged and Budapest in Hungary. Homen, at 28 one of Otpor’s senior members, was one of McCarthy’s interlocutors. ”We had a lot of financial help from Western nongovernmental organizations,” Homen says. ”And also some Western governmental organizations.”
The National Endowment for Democracy first came to prominence during Reagan’s war against Nicaragua. It poured millions into the coffers of the anti-Sandinista parties and generally operated as a wing of the counter-revolution. It has tried to destabilize Venezuela and Cuba in the recent past.
If the NED operates as governmental body against states deemed inimical to U.S. interests, Gene Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institution seeks more or less the same goals operating as an NGO. Sharp receives major funding from Peter Ackerman, a leveraged buyout operator at Drexel-Burnham in the 1970s who was Sharp’s student at Tufts. Ackerman set up his own NGO with ambitions similar to the Albert Einstein Institution. It calls itself the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and has played a prominent role in “colored revolutions” in the recent past. Venezuelan activist Eva Golinger has written about its role in her own country and elsewhere:
In 1983, the strategy of overthrowing inconvenient governments and calling it “democracy promotion” was born.
Through the creation of a series of quasi-private “foundations”, such as Albert Einstein Institute (AEI), National Endowment for Democracy (NED), International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI), Freedom House and later the International Center for Non-Violent Conflict (ICNC), Washington began to filter funding and strategic aid to political parties and groups abroad that promoted US agenda in nations with insubordinate governments.
Behind all these “foundations” and “institutes” is the US Agency for Inter- national Development (USAID), the financial branch of the Department of State. Today, USAID has become a critical part of the security, intelligence and defense axis in Washington. In 2009, the Interagency Counterinsurgency Initiative became official doctrine in the US. Now, USAID is the principal entity that promotes the economic and strategic interests of the US across the globe as part of counterinsurgency operations. Its departments dedicated to transition initiatives, reconstruction, conflict management, economic development, governance and democracy are the main venues through which millions of dollars are filtered from Washington to political parties, NGOs, student organizations and movements that promote US agenda worldwide. Wherever a coup d’etat, a colored revolution or a regime change favorable to US interests occurs, USAID and its flow of dollars is there.
How Does a Colored Revolution Work?
The recipe is always the same. Student and youth movements lead the way with a fresh face, attracting others to join in as though it were the fashion, the cool thing to do. There’s always a logo, a color, a marketing strategy. In Serbia, the group OTPOR, which led the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, hit the streets with t-shirts, posters and flags boasting a fist in black and white, their symbol of resistance. In Ukraine, the logo remained the same, but the color changed to orange. In Georgia, it was a rose-colored fist, and in Venezuela, instead of the closed fist, the hands are open, in black and white, to add a little variety.
Given all this irrefutable evidence, how can one possibly distinguish the revolt against Mubarak from Otpor or any other reactionary student/middle-class movement seeking to promote “civil society” and oppose “dictatorship”, even when the targets are like Hugo Chavez who has been elected time after time without using intimidation of any sort?
On first blush, the Egyptian youth movement has the same class composition as Otpor or the anti-Chavez movement in Venezuela. Wael Ghonim, the Google marketing director who has emerged as a leader of the movement, told the Wall Street Journal that after meeting with military leaders: “In summary of our meeting, I trust in the Egyptian army.” This would lead you to think that such middle-class activists are already lining up behind the counter-revolution.
But things are not that simple. In the N.Y. Times article discussed above, we learn that the April 6th Youth Movement has what we in the Trotskyist movement used to call a proletarian orientation:
The Egyptian revolt was years in the making. Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old civil engineer and a leading organizer of the April 6 Youth Movement, first became engaged in a political movement known as Kefaya, or Enough, in about 2005. Mr. Maher and others organized their own brigade, Youth for Change. But they could not muster enough followers; arrests decimated their leadership ranks, and many of those left became mired in the timid, legally recognized opposition parties. “What destroyed the movement was the old parties,” said Mr. Maher, who has since been arrested four times.
By 2008, many of the young organizers had retreated to their computer keyboards and turned into bloggers, attempting to raise support for a wave of isolated labor strikes set off by government privatizations and runaway inflation.
After a strike that March in the city of Mahalla, Egypt, Mr. Maher and his friends called for a nationwide general strike for April 6. To promote it, they set up a Facebook group that became the nexus of their movement, which they were determined to keep independent from any of the established political groups. Bad weather turned the strike into a nonevent in most places, but in Mahalla a demonstration by the workers’ families led to a violent police crackdown — the first major labor confrontation in years.
Just a few months later, after a strike in the Tunisian city of Hawd el-Mongamy, a group of young online organizers followed the same model, setting up what became the Progressive Youth of Tunisia. The organizers in both countries began exchanging their experiences over Facebook. The Tunisians faced a more pervasive police state than the Egyptians, with less latitude for blogging or press freedom, but their trade unions were stronger and more independent. “We shared our experience with strikes and blogging,” Mr. Maher recalled.
If the ostensible goal of any group supported by Gene Sharp or the NED is to support capitalist stability, this support for workers strikes would defy expectations. This, of course, is not a problem for those Marxists who understand that society is pervaded by what Hegel called contradictions.
In one of the best attempts to explain such phenomena in the Marxist movement, Leon Trotsky’s Learn to Think challenges mechanical attempts to simply reality. He writes:
Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the Italian workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism. Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the Italian workers and the rebellious Algerians, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in fascist Italy at the same time, even in this case the strikers should make an exception in favor of those ships carrying aid to the colonial slaves in revolt; otherwise they would be no more than wretched trade unionists – not proletarian revolutionists.
Is there any real difference between such a hypothetical situation and the NED or Gene Sharp throwing their support behind the student youth in Egypt? I would say no.
Trotsky’s warning about the need to understand contradiction is one of my favorite quotes from the great Russian revolutionary:
In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.
That is our task as well. We have to orient ourselves independently and not on the basis of the class enemy’s bet-hedging strategies. While it is true that the U.S. has funded Mubarak’s opposition, it has given much more to the Egyptian kleptocracy. In a 2009 article in Foreign Policy (Don’t Give Up on Egypt ), Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney pointed out:
The Obama administration has drastically scaled back its financial support for Egyptian activists fighting for political reform. US democracy and governance funding was slashed by 60 percent. From 2004 to 2009, the US spent less than $250M on democracy programs, but $7.8 billion on aid to the Egyptian military.
For those who harp on the 250 million dollars while ignoring the $7.8 billion on aid to the military, my only advice is to “learn to think”.