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Egypt: History Will Be Made Tonight!

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Wael Ghonim vs. Barack Obama: Change we Can Believe in, Yes we Can

02/10/2011 by Juan Cole

It is no secret that President Barack Obama has been in some regards a profound disappointment to the American Left, and his erratic and often disgraceful performance on the Egypt crisis exemplifies his faults in this regard. (Tom Engelhardt puts it best regarding the administration: “It has shown itself to be weak, visibly fearful, at a loss for what to do, and always several steps behind developing events.”) Obama just seems to lack empathy with the little people and is unwilling to buck the rich and powerful, even though they all opposed his run for the presidency. As Iran’s speaker of the house put it, the Obama administration, faced with a choice of supporting the youth revolution or the camels unleashed on it, has chosen the camels. It makes a person think there should be rule that no one can run for the presidency who didn’t have a proper father figure in his or her life (Bill Clinton, W., Obama), since apparently once they get into office they start thinking the billionaires are their long-lost parent, whom they have to bend over backward to please.

Obama dealt with the Wall Street crisis by rewarding with more billions the corrupt and/or grossly incompetent financiers who threw millions of Americans out of work and out of their homes, and by appointing persons to deal with the crisis who had been among its instigators. He declined to end the abuses against the Bill of Rights of the Orwellian-named ‘PATRIOT Act,’ even though he had a Democratic House and Senate. Indeed, the Left was put in the humiliating position of being grateful to Michelle Bachman for helping do what Obama would not, when she and other Tea Party Republicans joined the principled Democrats in the House to decline to extend the human rights abuses embedded in that infamous Act.

“National Security Letters” under the act allowed the FBI to snoop on people with no court warrant and no evidence of wrongdoing, even spying on their library records. Librarians from whom the records were demanded were put under an unconstitutional gag order that prevented them from revealing what was going on. You could discover that the FBI had tossed your apartment with no warrant and for no reason, and then be forbidden from even publicly complaining about it! This is not America, it is North Korea. Obama has actually expanded the Surveillance State, violating our Fourth Amendment rights in a thoroughgoing way. He is enamored of pulling the trigger on people he doesn’t like through covert operations rocket and missile strikes, operating outside any rule of law (the missiles are fired into places with which the US is not at war, killing people who have been convicted of no crime; in short, Obama is simply assassinating people, and would do so to Americans, something that even past Republican presidents agreed was illegal. Because he charged the CIA with the drone strikes, they are classified operations and citizens and their representatives cannot even question administration officials about them in public!

Obama has coddled his administration colleagues who support Mubarak, want him to stay, and support VP Omar Suleiman.

Unlike Obama, Wael Ghonim, the 28-year-old Google executive who helped instigate the Egyptian uprising, wants genuine change.

He wants long-serving autocrat Hosni Mubarak to step down. Unlike VP Joe Biden, Ghonim has no doubts that Mubarak is a dictator.

Ghonim wants an end to the “Emergency Laws,” more Draconian than the PATRIOT Act, whereby the Egyptian state sets aside any slight civil liberties mentioned in the constitution.

He wants an end to Egypt’s crony capitalist state, which allowed Hosni Mubarak to accumulate a fortune of $70 billion while 40 percent of Egyptians live on $2 a day or a little over that. Ghonim told CNN, “The plan was to get everyone on the street. The plan was number one we’re going to start from poor areas. Our demands are going to be all about what touches people’s daily life. And by the way we honestly meant it. One of the very famous videos we used all the time to promote this was a guy eating from the trash.”

He added, ‘we truly believe in these demands. Like the minimum wage. Like talking about the end of, the end of unemployment…reducing unemployment or at least giving people some sort of compensation to make living.’

Ghonim’s emphasis on labor demands came about because the uprising in Egypt is largely a labor uprising. It is an alliance of blue collar workers with white collar workers, all of them supported by a progressive youth movement and college students. It is therefore not actually a surprise that some 200,000 working class people joined in the protests on Wednesday, striking, encouraging strikes, and demanding a proper minimum wage.

“Muhit” reports that as the revolutionary movement entered its third week, thousands of workers in a number of factories and establishments launched sit-ins, strikes demanding better pay and better working conditions.

A few workers at the Suez Canal joined in, which threw everyone in the West for a loop — though their work stoppage was not aimed at disrupting canal traffic. 7.5 percent of all world trade goes through that artery, and 10% of all petroleum. Given tight supplies for the former, a Suez work stoppage that actually closed the canal temporarily would be a further blow to Western economies. (The small labor actions of Wednesday did not threaten such a thing, but the longer the uprising festers and Mubarak refuses to step down, the more the danger grows). In Port Said, poor slum dwellers set the governor’s mansion ablaze.

On Wednesday, 1500 workers in the official government telecom company struck, and in Damanhour, 2000 electricity workers ceased work. In the Delta town of Kafr Ziyat, 1500 hospital workers stopped work. Additionally, thousands of protesters on Wednesday cut the road and rail link of the southern city of Asyut with Cairo.

The broad commitment of the working class to the revolution has been apparent all along, but it turned dramatic on Wednesday because of the size and variety of unions who declared for read change.

Change we can believe in.

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