by Ron Kenner
February 3, 2011
AMERICA IN EGYPT: NO MORE FRANKENSTEINS
LOS ANGELES, Calif., Feb. 3, 12:50 p.m. PST -- With some 47 million people living in poverty, 50 million without health insurance, millions jobless and millions more underemployed, President Barak Obama could be less circumspect and more passionate about stimulating our economy. We need urgent measures for these urgent times.
Yet in Egypt, even if the President came a little late to the support of pro-democracy demonstrators, it may make sense to be circumspect. And we might well be a good deal more judicious in how we spend our billions abroad, especially in support of colonists, Cold War tyrants, modern autocrats and dictators who may be future Frankensteins. Osama bin-Laden is hardly the only monster we and our allies have helped create in the Middle East.
In Egypt, as in other key events, we see impressive displays of media courage in harm's way and welcome the massive news coverage provided with remarkable skill, speed, and efficiency under very difficult conditions. It was inspiration to witness the aplomb, leadership and courage of CNN's Anderson Cooper as he strode deliberately through a pack of Mubarak thugs that punched hinm repeatedly in the head as he walked, camera still running.
For ABC producer Brian Hartman, a network photographer and four of his crew, the pro-Mubarak violence against journalists almost cost them their lives on Thursday, Hartman wrote in a news report quoted on Mediaite today:
And today, Washington Post Bureau Chief Leila Fadel and Post photographer Linda Davidson were held for six hours by the regime, which has both apologized and recanted the apology, speaking as it does from a bifurcated tongue. But not least among those conditions, and making the Cairo coverage more difficult, is a shrinking American media, with fewer foreign bureaus, experienced correspondents, and investigative reporters.
FoxNews had correspondent Greg Palkot and a photographer in Tahrir Square; both got severly beaten and hospitalized, but were released today. The BBC crew there was trobbed of all its equipment. A Reuters crew was also attacked, and two reporters for the New York Times and CBS News bureau chief Lara Jogan were arrested.
Al-Jazeera said three of its reporters had been arrested and a fourth was missing, and later, itds offioces were wrecked and its equipment stolen. Two Japanese freelancers were attacked and robbed, the Kyodo News Service said, and a Greek reporter, Petros Papaconstantinou, for Kathimerini was stabbed "lightly" in the leg and robbed of his equipment, and two reporters for the Toronto Globe were also arrested.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reacted sharply to these events in a statement this afternoon. "... [F]reedom of the press... [is one of the] pillars of an open and inclusive society," she said. "The government of Egypt must ensure the ability of journalists" to tell the world what the country is experiencing.
Yet the rush to print at a dramatic moment often blocks out the past. To the media's credit, a lot of the current reporting makes it painfully clear that millions in Egypt are currently rising up against a despot we have supported with at least #1.3 billion a year in military aid. Today, it's hard to ignore the massive protests. Yet President Hosni Mubarak has been a despot for some 30 years, and the full history of his rule remains largely ignored in the mainstream media.
Knowledgeable, thoughtful, highly credible books on the Middle East and Egypt - writing that provides revealing insight into a potential major turning point in history - rarely comes along, and when it does, gets little attention.
Even so, a broad, insightful picture of Egypt in a sharper Mideast historical context - with both literal and figurative smoking guns lying all over the place - is readily available for the asking.
One stunning book that relates the current moment in Egypt to relevant Middle East history is Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, by Robert Dreyfuss (Metropolitan Books, Oct. 2005). He is a talented author and journalist who has written extensively on the Middle East and the War on Terror for the Nation, Mother Jones and The American Prospect.
Devil's Game was described by a critic at Salon as "The most clear and engaging history of the deadly, historic partnership between Western powers and political Islam." Unlike some, Dreyfuss doesn't lay off Israel as a culprit in the twisted history of Egypt and the Levantine.
A reviewer on Amazon noted that "Dreyfuss reports that Israeli intelligence - particularly the Mossad - not only endorsed but participated in the creation and development of Hamas as an organization that could be used to defeat the PLO."
That astonishing factoid is expanded upon in the book: "In the early 1980s," Dreyfuss writes, "Israel supported the Islamists on several fronts. It was, of course, supporting the Gaza and West Bank Islamists that, in 1987, would found Hamas ... They were trying to defeat Arab nationalism with Muslim zealots."
Who could have imagined that historic twist of fate?
The influential publishing magazine Booklist says "Dreyfuss traces this ultimately misguided approach from support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950s, the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the ultraorthodox Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, and Hamas and Hezbollah to jihads in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden."
It is a remarkable book that provides a good sense of that fuller story now unfolding in the Middle East, but few Americans have read it yet.
As investigative reporter Seymour Hersh said in 2005,"Robert Dreyfuss has taken us - all of us - behind the trauma of 9/11 and shown that George Bush's failure to understand the dynamics of Islamic fundamentalism is nothing new. Our presidents have been missing the point for decades and, by doing so, have become the best allies of our worst nightmare."
Hersh, endorsing the book in the middle of the last Bush Administration, wrote, "I would have entitled this brilliant book Dumb and Dumber."
In Tuesday's New York Times, Maureen Dowd in her column 'Bye Bye, Mubarak,' noted that "President George W. Bush meant well when he tried to start a domino effect of democracy in the Middle East and end the awful hypocrisy of America coddling autocratic rulers.
"But the way he went about it was naive and wrong," Dowd says.
And no doubt it was naive and wrong of President George Bush to invade the wrong country (Iraq) with apparently fraudulent justifications.
But politics, and American politics in particular, is rich in irony, Dowd notes, "… [N]ot the least of which is the American president who inspired such hope in the Middle East with his Cairo speech calling around this week to leaders in the region to stanch the uncontrolled surge of democracy in the Arab world.
"Egyptians rose up at the greatest irony of all: Cleopatra's Egypt was modern in ancient times and Mubarak's was ancient in modern times. The cradle of civilization yearned for some civilization."
For some of us, anyway, there doesn't seem to be too much hope for the current Tea Party-run GOP leadership, which is beginning to make President Bush look moderate. President Obama does seem to know better than Mr. Bush or the GOP, but at a time of great urgency, he's been "playing it cool," and despite urging Mubarak to step down, his promptings have come late.
Egypt may yet provide great opportunity for President Obama, as 9/11 did for Mr. Bush and the military-industrial complex. Yet it remains to be seen whether an American president will in the end support more Frankensteins, as depicted in Devil's Game. From Osama bin Laden to Cold War relics like the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak, today's dictators and religious fanatics are the monstrous legacy we and our allies have created.
President Obama's legacy is still being shaped. And for all the calamitous potential of the current moment in Egypt, I hope this will be a special time, one when - more carefully than President Bush in his nation-building - we may err on the right side of history.
Ron Kenner retired from the Los Angeles Times Metro staff. He is also a book editor at his RKedit, and has edited many award-winning books.