Local road blockade challenges Egyptian election fraud

On Sunday, Egypt held parliamentary elections which are widely known to be neither free nor fair (denunciation by the Carnegie Endowment for international peace). The elections were a demonstration of the government’s plans in advance of the 2011 elections, when long-time president Hosni Mubarak may make way for his son to rise as a successor. Unlike the media frenzy over the selection of Kim Jong-Il’s son to receive a special title, little mainstream outrage has been directed at Mubarak’s machinations. Egypt remains under its third decade of emergency rule (which ban demonstrations and some opposition parties), and is the largest non-democratic recipient of United States’ foreign aid by far. It’s also the largest undemocratic country in the Middle East, helped to remain so by our tax dollars, and military and diplomatic support. It’s the clearest sign that the alleged US policy to support democracy in the region is a joke.

In the absence of outside support, people in Egypt have made a number of challenges to this situation. One of the latest was the mid-day peaceful uprising on Sunday by residents of Balteem and Hamoul against voter fraud. Their actions were in defense of independent candidate Hamdeen Sabahy (profile). Since 1995, three of Sabahy’s voters have been killed by Egyptian riot police, while he won office in 2000 and 2005.

Blogger Baheyya has an hour-by-hour account of local resistance (h/t to The Arabist). Here are some highlights:

8:30 am. Sabahy’s representatives rush to photocopy the new certification papers required to gain access to polling stations. Early that morning at 12:30 am, Sabahy’s campaign was dumbfounded to learn of sudden new regulations for the papers, requiring that they be stamped from police precincts rather than notary publics as had been announced earlier. Certain that this is an 11th hour rule manipulation to bar Sabahy’s agents from accessing polling stations, campaign workers spend all night driving to police stations to get the necessary stamps.

9:10 am. The first reports of foul play trickle in. Candidate agents from 12 polling stations phone in that they have been kicked out of polling stations, and one says her certification papers were ripped up despite having the necessary police stamp.

1:00 pm. Sabahy’s representatives sent to Hamoul and agents of other candidates who are sympathetic to Sabahy begin to phone in reports of ballot-stuffing in favor of Abdel Ghaffar in villages surrounding Hamoul.

1:50 pm. Balteem’s main streets are lined with men congregating and sitting on the sidewalks, expressions somber and nerves frayed. A procession of cars and pickup trucks loaded with youth speed past in the direction of the highway. “They’re blockading the highway!” Spontaneously, Balteem and Borg youth decide to blockade the highway to protest what is now a certain sense of election rigging. The news travels like wildfire and some cars change route and head for the highway rather than Sabahy’s house. Frantic calls to campaign cars instructs them to make sure no women are headed to the highway, in anticipation of violence between protestors and riot police.

2-4 pm. Town youth blockade the highway with burning tires and clumps of tree branches and wooden sticks. Highway traffic comes to a standstill, with freight trucks backed up as far as the eye can see. A campaign worker says to no one in particular, “Didn’t I say that this morning was the quiet before the storm?”

4 pm. Townspeople converge on Sabahy’s courtyard and the candidate comes out to speak, standing on a pick-up truck. Livid, fiery youth and men climb on the pick-up truck and demand revenge. Sabahy struggles to control the crowd’s emotions, saying he’d rather withdraw and give up his seat than join this scandalously handpicked parliament. A fully veiled woman in black climbs on the truck and pulls the microphone from his hand, screaming, “Don’t you dare withdraw, Sabahy! Don’t you dare withdraw!”

The crowd chants, “Balteem boxes won’t leave! Balteem boxes won’t leave!” By law, counting stations for the entire district are located in Hamoul but since Hamoul was experiencing rigging, residents feared their ballots would be destroyed or disappeared en route to the counting station.

Ultimately, these efforts appear not to have saved the day. Instead it was the threat of further government violence that won. Al Ahram reported at 4:35 pm, “Police armored vehicles have stormed Balteem, in Kafr El-Sheikh, firing tear gas and live ammunition into the air.” Later, Sabahy himself convinced his supporters to stand down (again, the full day is here):

7:00 pm. Sabahy comes out and is immediately mobbed by the crowd, lifting him on their shoulders and giving him a hero’s welcome. He gives a rousing speech in which he denounces the government and several Amn al-Dawla officers by name for fixing the elections in Hamoul, and reiterates his position of withdrawing from the elections. The crowd presses him to authorize and lead a peaceful protest march to the police station to protest the rigging, but Sabahy fears security forces’ violent response and does not want injuries and casualties among his supporters, as in the past. The back-and-forth goes on for an hour that feels like an eternity, but in the end Sabahy prevails and the people are dejected, though none take matters into their own hands as some did that afternoon.

Somewhat obnoxiously, a government spokesman claimed, “The [governing] party’s careful selection of its candidates was a factor in defeating big opposition names such as Hamdeen Sabahi.” Sabahy withdrew from the race, and made these comments later: “The rigging proves that the [governing] NDP wants no opposition in parliament. With the new parliament, we will see increased restrictions on freedom of expression, including new restrictions on the media.” Whatever the wisdom of backing down (and no one should be too eager to second guess such moves when lives are at stake), residents’ willingness to take their anger to the streets are remarkable under so much pressure.

p.s. Apparently, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would like another dictatorship in Iraq, according to advice he gave to US officials (Thanks, Wikileaks).

Dignidad y dinero: Ecuador, Bolivia reject US pressure on climate

The central aim of any climate summit is not to save itself and accept any outcome, but to come to an agreement that will save humanity.” — Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s climate negotiator

In the days before this week’s conference, and while a global preparatory negotiations were being held on climate change in Bonn, this news came:

The US State Department is denying climate change assistance to countries opposing the Copenhagen accord, it emerged today.  The new policy, first reported by The Washington Post, suggests the Obama administration is ready to play hardball, using aid as well as diplomacy, to bring developing countries into conformity with its efforts to reach an international deal to tackle global warming.  The Post reported today that Bolivia and Ecuador would now be denied aid after both countries opposed the accord. (Guardian)

This came as a shot across the bow of other developing countries who are caught between environmental principles and economic realities.

These pressures are quite serious. A leading daily newspaper in Cochabamba, Los Tiempos, ran an op-ed yesterday that circled around the movie Avatar, a story of indigenous resistance to extractive industry. It was a blunt caution to the Bolivian government under the headline “Truths that hurt“:

If Bolivia were to act in a more diplomatic way, it could have a great opportunity in the carob market, and this could even be a part of the new economic base of the country. … With the poverty of people, they cannot make speeches which at the moment of settling accounts will amount to no more than that. Bolivia could play its cards in a different way, avoiding the politicization of an issue in which its vote matters very little. The rest is for the movies and for science fiction.

Of course, Bolivia is making just such speeches and hosting a massive civil society gathering on climate change. And it’s clear from the compendium of speeches all of us participants were given by the Foreign Affairs Ministry that this didn’t start yesterday. Instead, Bolivia has been playing a diplomatic role on behalf of the world’s hundreds of millions of indigenous people: pushing for the passage of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, calling for the Rights of Earth to be globally recognized, and connecting with environmental and indigenous delegates in the Copenhagen summit. It would represent a major reversal of rhetoric and a betrayal of the government’s indigenous base to turn back under pressure.

It’s also true that for many countries, the outcome of climate negotiations is the primary issue. The overall targets agreed to, and the effectiveness of the measure worked out determines how severe climate change will ultimately be. As long as negotiations are open, their resistance can push climate agreements to be more serious. Agreeing to take money from a mechanism

But there is something else at stake. To abandon a political initiative under this kind of pressure, is effectively to admit that the hemisphere’s great power  determines your policy. As Bolivian climate negotiator Pablo Solon put it, “We are a country with dignity and sovereignty and will maintain our position.” To do otherwise would be to admit that the country’s principles come with a price tag.

At yesterday’s Root Causes panel, Ecuador’s Ambassador to the UN, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, took this one step further.

Last week, the United States suspended Ecuador from$2.5 million in assistance in its climate change agenda because Ecuador did not adhere to the Copenhagen Accord. It was a punishment that the United States carried out upon Ecuador for not adhering to that Accord that was not an Accord. It was a spurious document made by just a few, without consulting all the governments and all the peoples of the world. Ecuador is not going to accept these forms of extortion. In return, the president of Ecuador and the people of Ecuador have said to the United States with all seriousness that Ecuador offers the United States $2.5 million if the US would sign the Kyoto Protocol. [applause] And we say it seriously. If the United States signs the Kyoto Protocol, we will transfer $2.5 million in cooperation to that country  to help them in their process of technological conversion that will so help the planet.

The offer stands.

U.S. torture of detainee reaching the reckoning stage…

After a U-turn by President Obama, it would seem we (yes, I sometimes use the U.S. we) have reached the point of actually contemplating criminal responsibility for systematically authorizing torture of “War on Terror” detainees. It would seem that once again the flawed-but-awesome Freedom of Information Act, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the bizarre nature of the state, which must both record everything and make up completely implausible justifications along the way, all deserve part of the credit. The camel’s-back-breaking straw seems to be this footnote in the May 30, 2005 memo:

The CIA used the waterboard “at least 83 times during August 2002” in the interrogation of Zubaydah. IG Report at 90, and 183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of K[halid] S[haikh] M[ohammed], see id. at 91. (May 30, 2005 memo available from the ACLU)

More details are available from the blogger who first publicized it, Marcy Wheeler of emptywheel.

As the paper trail is taken out from under a Bush administration coverup, we’re going to have to rewrite the entire narrative. In the process, we seem to be undergoing a moral transformation as well. As British reporter Phillippe Sands narrates it:

With a wide-ranging Spanish criminal investigation into torture at Guantánamo threatening to embarrass the US, Barack Obama decided to declassify legal memos sent under the Bush administration in the hope the country would move on. The opposite has happened. Ever more documents set out in meticulous detail the full extent of the cruelty: who was abused by whom, how they did it and what was done. The truth has been revealed in stark detail, from the number of times waterboarding was used to the legal deliberations that led to it. By Tuesday, President Obama had raised the possibility of US war crimes trials and far-reaching inquiries, developments that were unthinkable a month ago. (The Observer)

I’m not as hopeful that we’re really at a turning point on torture, as revealed by the unimpressive and unmoving poll results this week.

Currently, nearly half say the use of torture [“in order to gain important information”] is often (15%) or sometimes (34%) justified; about the same proportion believes that the torture of suspected terrorists is rarely (22%) or never (25%) justified.

However, public exposure of the realities of Guantanamo, Bagram, the CIA Black Sites, and Clinton-initiated extraordinary rendition, can only be useful in transforming Americans into the morally aware creatures we have the capacity to be. [Homework assignment in that direction: listen to Maher Arar, the Canadian computer programmer “we” rendered to Syria describe his detention, torture, and its effect on his life. The compare “cramped confinement” as authorized in the 2002 and 2005 memos.] We might emerge with a bit less fear of the rest of the world and a lot less confidence in our (and our government’s) righteousness.  If only the moral transformation would extend to the torture in our regular prisons and immigration detention centers…

The Gaza War: Time for Introspection…

The December-January war in Gaza came and went too fast for people in the United States who weren’t already convinced to come to a moral reckoning with what was being done in our name, and with the money and weapons we provided. Unlike the Iraq war, advertised for over a year before, this one took place in the shadow of a U.S. national election campaign that was generally unconcerned with Israel and Palestine.

But there should be no mistake for United States residents that this war was ours. The United States government was nearly unique in providing unqualified support to the Israeli assualt, which left over 1300 people dead. Near-unanimous votes in both houses of the U.S. Congress backed the Israeli position, nearly word for word. The unprecedented demand that the Palestinian side renounce violence per se as a condition of negotiations was included in that endorsement. The new president, Barack Obama, maintained a strategic silence but made clear that “Israel’s security” is “sacrosanct” in the campaign.

The depth of this support cannot be pinned entirely on the pro-Israel lobby, athough its operation is a part of the way Washington works, with clear parallels to the Indonesia lobby that maintained a flow of arms during more than two decades of the occupation of East Timor. But US support is also an issue of popular mentality, of the minds and perspectives in our community. It combines Christianity and Fundamentalist apocalyptic viewpoints with a common self-perception of our societies as divinely blessed cities on a hill in a hostile wilderness. This perspective is the ideology that was needed by our shared histories as a settler colonial states, reinforced over the past forty years by anti-Arab racism. It’s about resonance, a shared politics that makes it possible to endorse one another’s crimes. Smart analyses of these political affinities has come from both right (see Walter Russell Mead writing in Foreign Affairs last summer) and left (see chapter 4 of Retort collectives’ Afflicted Powers).

Somehow these ideological limitations seem to distort American perceptions more than Israeli ones when it comes to Israeli actions. No doubt this combines real and legitimate guilt and remorse over antisemitism (though rarely does that come with a real self-examination about antisemitism in American history) with the World War II-centered story of American nationalism. The fact that defeating Nazi antisemitism is at the center of the last war most Americans can be proud of has made many reluctant to criticize the Jewish state that emerged in the years that followed.

But not keeping our eyes open gets us into big trouble. Fortunately, the Israeli media some times offers an up-close view that is sadly lacking in our own. So too, of course, do the Arab and international media. Right now, the Gaza war is being examined in a big way. Take a look…

Change will come from us, when and where it comes…

It’s 19° here in DC this morning, where I will be joining some six or seven digit number of people outside for the inauguration. Washington is an old hometown to me, but it does have a different feel when it’s claimed as a front yard by people from across the country. Walking around last night, I saw more people on the street than I ever have, black folks selling “I was there” sweatshirts, and other black folks dressed to the nines out partying, a big time reception or three in different night spots, people dressed to be dropped off in limos (and clearly used to that too) walking through the cold because of the security perimeter, and a cleared out and brightly lit Pennsylvania Ave. surrounded by security fencing but nonetheless open to the public.

And in the past month, I’ve seen a disastrous war, bought, paid for, armed, and endorsed by my country but carried out in Gaza. I’ve called my black, Democratic Congressman from Brooklyn, Ed Towns, only to hear the exact Israeli line from his legislative aide, calling the deadliest assault in Palestine in three decades an act of “self defense.” Now over 1300 people are dead, and 50,000 are homeless.

I’ve also seen on video a black man shot in the back in Oakland, while waiting to be cuffed by BART police. And Oakland was my city, and New Year’s is my holiday in the Bay, and I had helped break up a fight earlier in the week, so I can sure imagine being swept up when the cops arrived. Oscar Grant could have been me.

These causes for despair can be healed, but it will be us, our actions that heal them by standing up and challenging injustice. I’m proud of so many people for standing up to these two in recent weeks (on Gaza | on Oscar Grant). They are what I have to celebrate today.

A couple months ago, I signed on to a call for a Bloc to be present at today’s inauguration called “Celebrate People’s History, Build Popular Power.” Given today’s mega-concert like feel, it might not be the action with the greatest impact. But I’m grateful for a way to set myself a bit apart today, to say the words “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” in a way that can never be the same as listening to the same words. To make the future we want, we all need to produce rather than consume our politics. See you in the streets, celebrating and fighting.

Laidoff Green Economy Workers Occupy Factory in Chicago

[Yes, more of an overview update is coming soon; there’s been big news in the past two months. The bailout has morphed into something bigger, with both interesting and scandalous implications (some times at the same time); we have a new president; anti-authoritarians have some interesting things to think through around grassroots political campaigning, public works projects and an economic crisis, etc. Plus, Thai mass direct action just brought down a government. But everything starts somewhere, so let’s start with a new kind of protest..]

In Chicago, the economic crisis hit the road in the form of worker suddenly cut off from their jobs at Republic Windows and Doors (company website here). Republic’s (apparently one and only) factory closed Friday, three days after its 260 workers were notified. Standard notice is sixty days. Severance and unused vacation for the workers have not been paid. In response:

Members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, which represents 260 workers at the company’s Goose Island plant, have taken shifts at a sit-in at the plant, 1333 N. Hickory Ave., since Friday. (Chicago Tribune)

Scores of workers laid off from a factory here that makes windows and doors have refused to leave, deciding to stage a “peaceful occupation” of the plant around the clock this weekend as they demand pay they say is owed them.

[…]

The workers, many of whom were sitting on fold-up chairs on the factory floor Saturday afternoon, said they would not leave.

“They’re staying because the fact is that these workers feel they have nothing to lose at this point,” said Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 1110, who said groups of 30 were occupying the plant in shifts. “Telling them they have three days before they are out on the street, penniless, is outrageous.” (NYT)

Clearly, this is the face of the overall downturn: we saw 533,000 lost jobs in November, bringing the total ot 1.9 million in the current recession. It’s also the front end of the bailout: Bank of America, backed up by our bailout, is Republic Windows and Doors’ creditor, and is accused by workers of not releasing the funds for the company to meet its obligations. Bank of America, by the way now includes ABN AMRO North America, FleetBoston, LaSalle Bank, NationsBank, predatory lender Countrywide Financial, Merrill Lynch, credit card giant MBNA. As of July, after taking on Countrywide, the company controlled between 20 to 25 percent of the home loan market. As Jobs with Justice reminds us, “Bank of America has received $25 billion in bailout funds, ostensibly in order to extend credit to companies that need it.”

You can back up their protest with letters to Bank of America here.

“Eco” Opponents of Immigration Really Concerned about Brown People, Not Green Issues

Writing in the SF Chronicle (“The changing face of America poses risks”), Californians for Population Stabilization cites recent Census projections on US racial demographics to expose his, the group’s and allegedly white America’s fears about losing control of the country.

the increasingly rapid erosion of the white population in America raises the stakes considerably no matter who wins the White House. The question transcends what the occupant of the Oval Office looks like and becomes whether whites are ready for the accelerating changes that will result in an America that no longer looks like them, sounds like them or necessarily embraces their cultural tastes.

The author, Mark Cromer is a “senior writing fellow” for CPS, a group spun off from Zero Population Growth, and descended from the efforts to use the Sierra Club to oppose immigration to the United States on ecological grounds. Perhaps the Earth isn’t exactly their top priority. With current projections showing the U.S. will no longer have a non-Hispanic white majority in my generation’s lifetime, Cromer is focused on so-called stability of racial divides:

In just over 300 of [3100 U.S. counties], ethnic minorities are now the majority population. The effect has often been the real-world elimination of hard-won racial balances, with traditional working and middle-class black and white communities effectively disappearing. In many places throughout Southern California, the white flight that marked the efforts at integration in the 1960s and early 1970s struck again in the 1990s, turning into a middle-class Anglo exodus from the state in the face of massive immigration from Mexico, helping create the first minority-majority state in the union.

In essence, he’s saying those whites who agreed to “tolerate” a certain level of black faces are not okay with black and brown people together outnumbering. The result he predicts is this…

This demographic upheaval has spawned another phenomena among the white middle class that has become iconic: the gated community.

Knowing the white folks in my own family who fled for the far suburbs when their neighborhood became “too ethnic,” I’m hesitant to dismiss this explanation. Such frankness on the anti-brown-immigrant, pro-white-flight side is very rare. But when it comes to policymaking, Cromer is calling for a racial compromise that means racial planning of immigration policy:

to begin any new round of negotiation on immigration reform with an understanding that any effort to legalize the status of millions of illegal immigrants will be matched with a commensurate reduction in legal immigration into the United States, spread out over years. This would go far in ameliorating the pervasive sense among whites that America is being overrun.

Read that again. More legalization of brown people must be offset less legal immigration of brown people. The presence of people of color feels like “America” is “being overrun.” Of course not all people have this racist perspective, but important thing is to compromise between other values and racism:

Failure to seize the opportunity to build a real national consensus – one that can only be obtained through what surely will be a hard-fought compromise – is to risk further alienating a white majority that will ultimately insist on having its voice heard on these issues, one way or the other.

The question is: do racist fears deserve a seat at the table in planning our cities and policing our borders, or should we act beyond racism and let our neighbors be whoever moves into the houses and apartments next door? Fortunately the answers will come with the free decisions and political lives of my generation. I want to ask my white peers whether this represents you, your friends, or your cousins. I’m really curious, and will strive not to be judgmental:

it’s not the end result that most white Americans probably find troubling today, but rather the factors that are fueling those projections [of a white non-majority], namely unrestrained immigration and the increasingly bitter sense that they’ve had little to no say about this matter.

Oh, and if this doesn’t represent you, consider dropping a line to the writer at Mrcromer@aol.com.

FBI Informants Tracking Terror, or Manufacturing Terror?

Inside the Green Scare

Elle Magazine has a profile piece of “Anna”, a young woman who volunteered to be an informant for the FBI on the anarchist scene. As it turns out, she was lurking at at least a couple of gatherings I’ve been to, the late 2003 protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Miami, and the 2004 RNC protests. The presence of a an infiltrator, pretending sympathy and often acting as a street medic, honestly, makes my skin crawl. It is all the worse for those she developed seemingly long-term relationships with, and worst of all for Eric McDavid, now sentenced to some 20 years in prison for something he never actually did, but was co-planning with FBI informant/pseudo-anarchist Anna.

And of course, it only strengthens the argument for those many times when the most compelling direct action strategy relies on bringing people in, and generating the numbers to do what a few people with the option of surprise can’t.

Anyway, you can now meet the informer, in Elle’s profile article, posted on Indybay for what seem to be solid fair use reasons. It would be unfair to not let people on Eric’s side respond, as one does anonymously here. See also Friends and Family of Eric McDavid.

p.s. More from CrimethInc.

Update: This is still one of the most visited articles on my blog. You can read a broader context on conspiracy charges as a tool of repression, and how to respond, in “The Age of Conspiracy Charges” (I wouldn’t go that far in naming it.).

And the Black & Brown Scare

Meanwhile the Liberty City 7 case, charging seven poor men in Miami with an “aspirational rather than operational” plot to attack the Sears Tower, gets ready for a third trial.

Serious coverage on that is also available at the Black Agenda Report.