Caso Regeni. Privacy e tortura

Privacy. Inviolabile. Fa una strana impressione leggere le indiscrezioni sul lungo (e infruttuoso) incontro tra i magistrati inquirenti italiani e i magistrati egiziani a Roma sull’omicidio di Giulio Regeni. Privacy inviolabile: i  magistrati egiziani avrebbero addotto questa giustificazione per evitare di consegnare i tabulati telefonici richiesti.

Privacy inviolabile: per chi è stato per un po’ di tempo al Cairo il concetto di privacy è un concetto che ha poco a che vedere con la inviolabilità. Continua a leggere

Mubarak’s Egypt and the US: the Pricy Alliance

Lynchpin of Middle Eastern politics. Nation of strategic importance. Element of regional stability. In the view of American foreign policy for the Middle East and North Africa over the last thirty years, Egypt has merited mostly flattering comments on the regional role it has played. And all things considered, the comments have reflected what Egypt has really meant to the USA’s political strategies towards the Middle East, the Arab nations, and the whole region. Including Iran. If only because, in that part of the world, the alliance with Egypt has been the most important and most unexpected diplomatic success, the Department of State and the White House’s prize exhibit from the last fifty years. The US diplomacy knew that this surprising American diplomatic success in the Middle East has been made possible, for the most part, by the presence as Egyptian leader of a statesman capable of making astonishing choices, Anwar el Sadat. In fact, it was the successor of Gamal Abdel Nasser the sole protagonist of a drastic change in alliance after the 1973 war, and of an equally sudden abandonment of traditional Nasserite foreign policy which had as its three fundamental pillars the Soviet Union, the Non-Aligned movement, and pan-Arabism[1].

While it is true to say that Sadat’s presence was essential to Washington considering Cairo as its Arabian bridgehead in the Middle East and North Africa, it has to be said that the alliance between the United States and Egypt has succeeded in surviving without Sadat, and above all in surviving various political earthquakes in the region that could have damaged the alliance’s stability and indeed destroyed the entire relationship between Cairo and Washington. But despite initial misgivings, despite the difference in character between himself and Sadat, and the difference between their conceptions of Egypt’s political role, Hosni Mubarak has nonetheless managed to maintain the commitments made by his predecessor. That’s to say, he has managed to preserve the alliance with the United States. although in different terms than those foreseen by Washington. Furthermore, it may well be that Washington has benefited from the changes that Mubarak has imposed during his twenty years of rule, in some cases without its ally’s approval.

At the time of Sadat’s assassination, on October, 6th, 1981, the relation between Egypt and the United States was founded on the Americano-centric premises decided by the Egyptian head of state, but after Sadat’s disappearance these premises soon evolved in ways that corresponded more to Egypt’s than to America’s strategy. The final balance, after twenty years of Mubarak’s presidency, is nonetheless positive for both partners in the alliance. The United States have had in Egypt the lynchpin of its foreign policy for the region, although Mubarak’s presidency passed almost undamaged through a turning point in world contemporary history, such as the end of a more than thirty-year lasting Cold War. Although both Egypt and the US were obliged to adjust their strategies in the Middle East, US continued with ups-and-downs to consider Cairo as a pillar of its Arab policy, based on four priorities. Firstly, guaranteeing safe passage for crude oil from the Persian Gulf through the Suez Canal. Secondly, protecting the security of Israel[2]. Thirdly, containing those nations in the region which, at different moments, have most threatened American interests (Iran and Iraq). And finally, during the first half of these twenty years at any rate, limiting the influence of the Soviet Union and exporting the policy of global containment to the Middle East and North Africa[3].

Mubarak’s regime too, from its point of view, has obtained more positive than negative results from maintaining the alliance with the United States. On the one hand, as a reward for its role as a bridgehead, it has continued to benefit from the largest economic aid package dispensed by America in the whole area (second only to the first recipient, i.e. Israel), indispensable for the country’s internal stability. On the other hand, in an analysis that is only apparently paradoxical, it has exploited its privileged relation with the Americans to gradually revive and reinforce its own position within the Arab world[4].

All things considered, therefore, this has been an alliance that has given satisfaction to both partners. Despite its ups and downs, and despite the changes which the United States could never have foreseen at the time when Sadat put himself decisively in the American camp and carried out the two principal acts of his presidency: the leap from one side of the Iron Curtain to the other, and the peace with Israel.

 

“ABRASIVE AND UNBENDING”

 

The Americans could have never imagined that Sadat would have disappeared from the Middle Eastern scene so soon, and in such a sudden and tragic way. They therefore witnessed Mubarak’s coming to power after the 1981, October, 6th Sadat’s assassination at the military parade remembering the 1973 Victory, with considerable scepticism. The initial caution among the US administration regarding Mubarak’s presidency was based on two factors. The first: the capital importance of the presidency in the definition of the Egyptian foreign policy, i.e. the relevance of Sadat’s successor for the continuation of the alliance between Cairo and the United States. The second factor: America officials were cautious regarding Mubarak, because of what they knew of him from his visits to the States as the Egyptian vice-president before Sadat’s death. During those meetings, Mubarak had shown himself to be quite different from his president. Less brilliant, in the first place, both in public and in private. Among American politicians and political technicians the main fear was that Mubarak “was seen as demanding, somewhat abrasive and unbending”, as Hermann Frederick Eilts[5] has written. The worry was, in other words, that Mubarak would not have honoured the peace with Israel, still in its infancy, and might even have returned to the path set down by Gamel Abdel Nasser.

These worries were unfounded. Mubarak respected the commitments made by Sadat, showing an unexpected degree of loyalty. But he adhered to Sadat’s legacy without his predecessor’s enthusiasm, and without Anwar el Sadat’s open and passionate conviction. It’s sufficient to enlist only one example to show the differences of political behaviour between the two Egyptian presidents.  Whereas the former defied the entire Arab world by making a state visit to Jerusalem, the latter graciously declined the initial invitation to go to the Holy City done by the Israelis after his enthroning. Mubarak went there only for the funeral of Ytzhak Rabin, in November 1995. In profoundly different circumstances, with Mubarak having only recently managed to re-enter the diplomatic manoeuvres surrounding the Oslo Agreements (from which he had been excluded). Furthermore, he decided to participate to the Rabin memorial in a regional context, where the impetuous winds of change of Oslo, the handshake between Yasser Arafat and Ytzhak Rabin, and the 1991 Gulf War, had long since petered out. Finally, Mubarak has always done his duty towards the alliance with America, but without overdoing things.

Egypt’s key commitment with the Americans was, needless to say, the 1979 Camp David agreement with Israel, and Mubarak’s loyalty was adamant from the beginning, although the presidency’s first year transitional period was the “severest possible test upon peace  treaty”[6]. Mubarak strongly reiterated that peace with Israel was not a turning-back-point of Egyptian foreign policy, whether on the Washington-Cairo bilateral relations or  on the regional niveau. For its part, Israel received immediately confirmation that Mubarak would honour his country’s commitment, through his presidential inaugural address. “Egypt, the state and the people, is continuing along the road of a lasting and comprehensive peace based upon the framework that has been agreed upon at Camp David”, said Mubarak on October, 14th, reassuring Israel that “Egypt’s position before the Israeli withdrawal in April 1982 is the same as Egypt’s position after the complete withdrawal”. The Palestinian issue, however, was expressively described as strongly linked to the path to peace and to the Egyptian responsibility towards the Palestinian right of self-determination[7].  Egypt reaffirmed shortly its commitment, finalizing several bilateral accords during the months immediately after Sadat’s assassination.

The Reagan administration alike decided that the American priority after the 1981, October, 6th attempt, that abruptly beheaded the Egyptian regime, was to let Egyptians and Israelis implement smoothly but continuously the peace agreement, especially regarding the final withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Sinai, removed on April, 25th, 1982. As a matter of fact, Washington Near East diplomacy knew that it would be impossible a new Arab-Israeli war after Camp David, inasmuch as Egypt was and still is the most militarily powerful Arab state[8]. Mubarak, on the other hand, tried in the same months to achieve a political success, able to let him earn consensus among the Egyptian public opinion, and the Sinai issue was the first test-bed of his presidency[9].

For Mubarak has always tried to walk a tightrope between a society increasingly resentful of American influence on the one hand, and his special relationship with Washington on the other. He perceived his goal by seeking a less subservient role for Egypt than Sadat had envisioned. This meant steering a middle course, which is what Mubarak did from the beginning, trying to change the perception that the Egyptian public opinion and intellectual elites had on the presidency’s foreign policy. His goal, therefore, was to give to the public a new picture of the president, loyal to the undersigned agreements with the US and Israel, but at the same time committed to regain the national pride. Mubarak tried to combine the Sadat’s legacy with the Nasser’s one, blunting the first with a partial restoration of the Nasserite socio-political myths both on the socio-economical level (smoothing the infitah) and the “foreign policy” file. Pivotal for the implementation of this new complex Egyptian attitude to the regional policy was to regain the pillar of Nasserite policy myths, i.e. Pan-Arabism, combined with the endorsement of the Egyptian identity and pride, for Mubarak considered the domestic policy and a widespread political consensus, much more important that Sadat did. The new president, less brilliant than his predecessor, needed to obtain from the Egyptian public more immediate and common support. Consequently, he started a new and different foreign policy, which blended what Louis J. Cantori described as the two key elements of his new path, “balancing the alienating effects of the peace treaty with Israel, with continued efforts at rapprochement with the Arab state system”[10].

The first symptoms of this change in the course of bilateral relations and regional politics became evident immediately after Mubarak’s appointment as president. To be precise, from shortly after the handing-over of the Sinai Peninsular by Israel, which was vital for the initial honeymoon between the president and the population. Once this issue had been resolved, apart from the dispute over Taba[11], by 1982 the new Egyptian president was already demonstrating that the relationship with the United States would no longer entirely follow the patron-client formula. What sparked the process was the Israeli government’s launching of its “Operation Peace in Galilee” in 1982, with the attack on Lebanon and the PLO bases in the Land of the Cedars.

Egypt didn’t know anything about the Israeli intention to invade Lebanon in such a massive way. Cairo was caught by surprise: until the very last day before the attack,  Egyptians and Israelis continued the scheduled program of exchanges and visits of official delegations. From the Autumn 1981 till the Spring 1982, Mubarak has decided to take a patient stance towards Tel Aviv, although the Israeli government policies were provocative and showed a strong sense of impunity, especially regarding the increase in the construction of settlements in the West Bank. The invasion of Lebanon, therefore, was extremely embarrassing for Cairo, both on the level of the relations with the US and Israel, and towards the Arab public and governments. In the meantime, the Israeli attack against both Lebanon and the PLO was the first step for the particular Mubarak’s path to let Egypt regain a powerful place inside the Arab arena.

From the “Operation Peace in Galilee” on, Mubarak’s foreign policy began to move in parallel with the unfolding of events and the reaction of Egyptian public opinion, which for the first time was able to follow on television the developments in the Lebanese conflict[12]. Mubarak immediately condemned the Israeli aggression, despite Egypt still being an outcast in regional politics due to its expulsion from the Arab League after the unilateral peace treaty with Israel. Really it was Israel’s attack that offered Cairo its first chance to mend relations with the Arab world, to such an extent that Mubarak requested holding a summit between all the nations in the region. Later, when events became intolerable for Egyptian public opinion, Mubarak took stronger action, withdrawing his ambassador from Tel Aviv. The subsequent massacres in Sabra and Shatila, and Arafat and the PLO’s exile from Beirut, contributed to the continuation of this public hard-line stance.

Though, Mubarak was very cautious to balance the public blame of the Israeli military and political behaviour, with the reiteration of his country’s commitment to the agreements with Tel Aviv and Washington. In fact, both Mubarak and the leading Egyptian officials made immediately clear, that peace with Israel would not be re-evaluated, a stance that the Mubarak’s presidency continued constantly to pursue in the following two decades. Kassam Hassan Ali, the Egyptian foreign minister, described adamantly his country’s policy, after Cairo called back home his ambassador in Tel Aviv for consultations, saying that “peace still exists and relations still exist” between Egypt and Israel.

After Lebanon crisis started, however, the normalization process almost stopped: no new agreement between the two sides was signed, although all existing accords were honoured. From 1982, at least for the following two years, the relations between Egypt and Israel reached a freezing level, known as the “cold peace”, while Mubarak narrowed his foreign policy. The president exploited the celebration of the 1952 Nasserite revolution’s anniversary (the first one as head of state) to point the way of his international policy, explaining it in a “ten point program” during his speech on 1982, July, 28th. Mubarak stated clear that he wanted to regain some of the pillars of Nasserism, such as the “positive neutralism and non-alignment”, the “rejection of foreign bases”, the “support of national liberation”, the “adherence to the Egyptian national will”, the “rejection of all forms of subservience”. He launched also a covert warning signal to the United States, stating the “rejection of foreign alliances”[13] and “foreign bases”, and the “halt to the armaments race and nuclear weapons”, followed by a shift in the Sadat’s anti-Soviet stance, that Mubarak implemented in the following years and finalized in 1984, when Egypt resumed normal relations with the USSR.

Mubarak’s warning signal to Washington was extremely important for the United States, given that the Reagan administration’s strategy in the Middle East – at least at the beginning – was a simple continuation of the Cold War policy followed in Europe. The Reagan administration’s picture of the MENA region dramatically was a non-complex vision of a field where USA and USSR could continue their match, using the same strategic standards employed on the Western side of the Iron Curtain[14]. Sadat’s successor, rather, designed a foreign policy build on a multipolar world vision, instead of a very simple, consolidated one, for his goal was more regional than bilateral. Mubarak wanted undoubtedly to re-conquer for Egypt the leading role inside the Arab world, and an important one inside the African arena. An America-centric Egyptian foreign policy shouldn’t been sufficient for reaching his goals,  both domestically and regionally. Mubarak needed to design a more complex system, build on different levels of connection and relations, in a very delicate balance, that he reached to maintain during most part of his presidential mandate[15].

Beyond any doubt, anyway, during the 80s Mubarak’s priority was the reentering inside the Arab arena[16], and the Palestinian issue was the most useful tool to avoid the alienation from the Arab world. Mubarak, therefore, reached to transform the embarrassment caused by the Israelis with the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, in an incredible opportunity to surpass some of the obstacles put on his route to a reshaped partnership inside the region. This opportunity has been transformed by the Egyptian president in a difficult and risky success through the relation with Yasser Arafat, the real target of Ariel Sharon-led invasion of Lebanon. It was also Mubarak to preserve the leadership of Abu Ammar among the Palestinians, greeting him in Egypt after Arafat was forced to abandon Beirut with the PLO officials, on August, 30th, 1982. The  Mubarak’s relationship with Abu Ammar in those circumstances was the sign of the first partial rehabilitation of Egypt by the Arab nations, immortalised in the arrival in the Suez Canal of the Odysseus Elytis from Beirut, in Arafat’s disembarking at Ismailia, and in his encounter with Mubarak in a city – Cairo – where long before he had been a student and a refugee. The encounter signalled simultaneously both the end of the six year freeze in relations between the Egyptian leadership and the PLO, and the end of the Arab embargo on Egypt after Camp David, although it would take more than seven years to reenter formally inside the Arab institutions.

The relationship with Arafat, who had always preferred Egypt as a sponsor rather than the fluctuating Jordan of King Hussein, stood up to the strains imposed by incidents such as the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, in which Egypt – instead of putting at risk its relations with the Palestinians – preferred to put at risk its alliance with the United States[17]. It was not easy for Washington to digest the tensions caused by Egypt’s mediation and by Cairo’s attempt to fly Abul Abbas and the hijackers to Tunis on an Egyptian aircraft. Just as for Cairo, and for Rome, it was not easy to digest the Sigonella incident. Basically, anyway, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of the trampolines (if not the main one) that Mubarak’s Egypt used to return to the Arab fold[18]. It is no coincidence that Egypt’s first step to the normalization of the relations inside the Muslim world followed the Mubarak-Arafat meeting in Cairo after Abu Ammar abandoned Beirut, and the beginning of the “cold peace” period in the Egyptian-Israeli relations, with Egypt’s readmission to the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 1984. It is no coincidence either that the definitive readmission to the Arab League came about in 1989, after the first Intifada and the open OF undercover diplomatic contacts between Egypt and the PLO, was carried out in spite of American worries about the repercussions on Israeli-Egyptian relations.

Expert opinion is unanimous that the relationship between Egypt and the United States has always existed within the context of an Egypt-United States-Israel triangle[19], in which Cairo is the weakest side of the geometrical figure. Until Egypt’s self-appointed role as broker between Israeli and Palestinian adversaries recently assumed a profile more acceptable to the Americans, Washington had always feared that the relationship between Cairo and the PLO might go against Israeli interests. Despite the fact that Palestinian autonomy was one of the objectives of the peace with Israel negotiated by Jimmy Carter.

 

SEEKING CONSENSUS, COURTING THE ARABS

 

Egypt under Mubarak has always tried to camouflage the peace, both through its privileged relation with the Palestinians and through gestures, aimed at reducing internal opposition from Nasserites and Islamic fundamentalists, the main anti-Israeli hardliners. Over the years these gestures have been numerous, recurring every time the brief periods of optimism broke down into periods of violence and outrage. In those phases Mubarak has always been ready to launch anti-Israeli signals for local consumption, such as convoking the Arab League in the most difficult moments (as he did after the election of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996)[20] or recalling the Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv (the last time was after the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000). On the internal level, some demonstrations were tolerated or event authorized by the regime, to show that the Egyptian national interests was not subservient to the Israeli or the American one: from time to time, small manifestations poured the Cairo street on symbolic occasions, but they were allowed only under precise limitations, both on the organizational level and the political one[21]. Those signals, however, were perhaps insufficient for an Egyptian public ever less willing to pardon Israeli policies and ever more incline to match United and Israel together, without any differentiation[22], but they were necessary to Mubarak in order to appease anger on the streets and, at the same time, avoiding over-irritating the American ally.

Mubarak has been an unenthusiastic supporter of the Camp David peace treaty, avoiding Sadat-style theatrical gestures, because in the first 20 years of his presidency, he never forgot the unavoidable relevance of internal consensus, being always careful not to lose touch with the mood of the Egyptian man in the street and the shifts in the internal political situation, in contrast to Anwar el Sadat, who paid with his life for his inability to understand what was happening in radical Islamic circles. To use the words of Ali Hillal Dessouki, on a national level Mubarak’s foreign policy “did not replace Sadat’s, but worked paralleled to it, with the aim of balancing the side-effects of his predecessor’s policies”[23].

During the 1990’s in particular, the relationship with the United States was strained by major shifts within Egyptian society, which underwent an Islamic revival that – despite the regime’s efforts to restrain it – imposed socio-political restraints on the Egyptian government that had previously been inexistent or at any rate negligible[24]. The season of radical Islamic terrorism (directed above all against tourists and Israeli objectives), and the ambivalent relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood (only formally illegal), has put a brake on the United State’s powerful influence over Egypt, to the point of creating a chasm between the regime’s pro-American stance and the widespread and intense anti-Americanism within society[25]. From this has stemmed a kind of self-censorship in Mubarak’s presidency regarding choices to do with religious observations or foreign policy. At the same time, on an economic level, the system of cliquish favouritism adopted by Mubarak has disillusioned American expectations of  rapid and virtuous privatisations in Egyptian industry, still encumbered by clogging Nasserite mechanisms[26].

To enact his middle-way strategy[27], Mubarak needed therefore to regain the active lead of the Arab region, to counterbalance the internal opposition and the growing Islamic trends inside the political arena and the society. It was time, for the successor of Anwar el Sadat, to surpass the obstacles and fight for the readmission of Egypt inside the Arab League. Mubarak’s involvement in the Palestinian issue, his role as one of the patron of the Palestinian national struggle, were the first tools used by the president to build his new place inside the Arab states political, diplomatic, institutional system. They were, however, only a part of a two-fold strategy, being the other one a renovated leading regional role for Egypt.

The freeze between Egypt and the Arab League ended in Amman, with the November, 1987 summit, when the organization decided to allow the member states to choose freely whether to tie anew or not the knot with Egypt. Few weeks later, the first Intifada changed dramatically the political scenario in the entire area, paving the way to the entry of the Palestine Liberation Organization as an autonomous actor, into the Arab League and generally inside the Arab regional political scene. The Palestinian issue, therefore, continued to be a testing-ground, as well as one of the priorities, in the relations between the United States and Egypt, although the impact of the Gaza and West bank uprisings modified even the strength of the Egyptian role as one of the two Palestinians’ patrons, together with Jordan.

Although Egypt (and also Jordan, of course) continued to be a benchmark of the Republican administration’s Middle East strategy in Washington, the US foreign policy orientated by Secretary of State George Shultz, started to shift to a different approach regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to search for a stronger involvement of those parts directly engaged in the conflict. The situation changed profoundly when it became clearly perceivable that the United States and the PLO initiated a dialogue without any mediator, whether Egypt or Jordan. “In the past” – remembered Mohammed Rabie, the Palestinian-American, who witnessed the shift in the American policy regarding the Palestinian role in the peace process – Jordan and Egypt “have controlled the major channels of communication between the US and PLO, and news of the initiative was not particularly pleasing. Although neither Jordan nor Egypt had tried to oppose the process, they resented to be excluded”[28]. Egypt, however, was about to consolidate its role inside the Arab state system, strengthening through its enhanced links with the other Arab regimes also its function in the US policy for the Middle East, outlined by the late Reagan administration and especially during the George Bush sr. presidency.

 

EGYPT AND THE KUWAIT CRISIS: THE MOST IMPORTANT ALLY

 

When we shift our attention from the area of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to that of inter-Arab relations we find that Egypt’s role and function in American strategy change dramatically. This is the context in which Mubarak plays to the full – and without ambiguity – the part of the USA’s most important ally in the region. The most obvious and revealing example is the whole operation undertaken by Mubarak before, during, and after the 1991 Gulf War[29], which was also – paradoxically – the  Egyptian president’s opportunity to express his ambivalent strategy towards the United States. A policy which, especially during the twenty years between 1981 and 2001, would give him a significant role to play at the various diplomatic negotiations in which he has participated.

In 1990-1, Mubarak succeeded to enhance its personal power and his country’s status on three levels: on a political, a military and finally an economic one. Due to Egypt’s military participation to the 1991 Gulf War, Cairo has availed itself to retrieve its former role inside the Arab arena, as the military, i.e. the political leader in the region. The new path initiated in 1987, with the decision of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to reenergize with one billion dollar investment, the Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI), based in Egypt, which supervises nine military factories which are producing civilian goods as well as military products. Afterwards,  the GCC resolved in August to ask to Egypt to train its newly integrated army. Three years after, Egypt was ready to regain the military status it had before 1979, but unlike the previous Arab wars, the Egyptian military leadership was not directed against one of the pillars of US Middle East policy: Egypt didn’t lead in 1990-91 a war against Israel, because Washington succeeded through the Camp David agreement to write a full stop in the history of Arab-Israeli wars.

It is at the level of inter-Arab relations, moreover, that Mubarak has managed to extract as many benefits as possible for his own power at home. Especially from an economic point of view, through the policies followed during the Gulf crisis and the subsequent war, Mubarak succeeded in obtaining – for the Egyptian contingent of 35,000 soldiers in the coalition against Saddam Hussein –  conspicuous recompenses that were fundamental for reinforcing the national economy. In October 1990, i.e. before the starting of the terrestrial war operations in the Saudi desert towards Kuwait, some Arab emirates and monarchies decided to  cancel their part of Egyptian debt: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Qatar wrote off 8.3 billion dollars debts, after the United States cancelled the Egyptian military debts, 6.7 billion dollars worth. Egyptian debts’ crossing-out was followed, after few months, by the most important act, the reduction by 50% of Cairo’s international debt, decided by the Paris Club and the USA: 50 billion dollars were discounted to 25 billion[30].  Last but not least, the Egyptian participation against the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait enhanced a new relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Nations, boosting the policy of Egyptian emigration in the Arabian peninsular, and new investments in Egypt by the Saudis and the Emirates[31].

It was from a political point of view, however, that Hosni Mubarak succeeded in creating a decisive role for himself, to the point where, just one year after its readmission to the Arab League, Egypt found itself guiding the whole region and even improving its relations with a Syria willing to enter the anti-Iraq coalition[32]. A leader who had seemed colourless when compared to Sadat’s daring flair in the end proved capable – without at that time losing the support of public opinion at home – of supporting Iraq as an anti-Iranian force during the first Gulf War (as originally requested by the Americans, although the bilateral relations were spotted by the Iran-Contra affair) and then, after just three years, supplying the United States with an enlarged coalition as an anti-Iraq force[33]. Moreover, the Egyptian president reached to reconstruct and maintain, at the same time, a highly respected status among the Arab nations, and obliterated from his passport the image of a country submissive to America’s will, without endangering the alliance with the United States[34].

It was Mubarak himself to build the Egyptian role inside the 1991 Gulf War file, confirming that the country’s foreign policy was based, first and foremost, on the will and the strategy of the president. Hosni Mubarak, therefore, followed the unwritten rules applied by his two predecessor, although it has to be said, that during the decennial 1991-2001 Egyptian foreign policy was build on a sort of two-track diplomacy, run by Mubarak and his foreign minister, Amr Moussa, protagonist often of a more Arab-oriented and more hard-edged-behaviour towards the American strategy in the region.

The Egyptian president started to defuse the crisis, before the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, basing his ability on two elements: Egypt’s role inside the region, given that the country was readmitted to the Arab League in 1989 and that its headquarter was reinstated in Cairo, and secondly the personal relations he has built during the decennial contacts with the Arab leaders. The Egyptian head of state had close links with Saddam, due to the military help to fight Teheran, but also with the Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh Jahir Ahmed Sabah. Therefore, he was one of the few Arab leaders capable to start – as he did – a rapid “shuttle diplomacy” to avoid the war, trying to organize a meeting between Saddam and Sheikh Sabah. The Egyptian mediation failed, Iraq invaded Kuwait, but Mubarak maintained his leading role, pushing for an Arab front against Baghdad.

The Arab League emergency summit on August, 10th, 1990, condemned Iraq. 12 states out of 20 adhered to the Egyptian-Saudi axis, Syria included[35]. Indeed, the most unexpected result achieved by Mubarak was  the Syrian participation to the anti-Iraq coalition, obtained by a personal relation with Hafez el Assad cultivated in the previous years, and culminated with the restoration of the Egyptian-Syrian relation in late December, 1989, and two decisive meetings between Mubarak and Assad during Spring 1990. The shift decided by Damascus was also an unpredicted, precious gift by the Egyptian regime to its powerful American ally, that would have never obtain alone such a goal.

Finally, the 1991 Gulf War let Mubarak to consolidate, at least at the beginning, his homefront. Through his inter-Arab policies Mubarak has also managed to obtain, at least in his first years, and to a reasonable extent, public support at home. Partly because of Egypt recovering its original role as the centre of the Arab League, lost under Sadat. Partly because of being able to combine pro-American policies with his regime’s tolerance of the ever-growing social and religious conservatism in the country. This aspect becomes even clearer if we look at how the sending of 35,000 Egyptian soldiers to Saudi Arabia was rendered acceptable to a public opinion which, on the one hand, was reminded of its resentment towards Saddam Hussein over the question of Egyptian migrant workers in Iraq, and on the other was persuaded to accept the justifications offered for Egypt’s participation in a coalition guided by a non-Muslim nation like the USA and stationed close to Islam’s most sacred sites. The most effective support for Mubarak’s line during the Second Gulf War came from the most popular preacher in the country, Al Sha’rawi, who clarified that prophet Mohammed had also appealed to infidels to defend the holy sites, because “God makes the truth triumph over impiety, even when he uses impiety to do so”[36].

 

THE SEASHORE SUMMITS SEASON

 

The honeymoon between the president and Egyptian public opinion on the 1991 Gulf War was, however, very short.  The Muslim Brotherhood’s opposition, after some initial ambiguity to Egypt’s participation in the anti-Iraq coalition, caused considerable problems for Mubarak’s regime, forcing it after the war to dilute American requests for a regional security agreement and to flatly turn down any hypothesis of stationing American troops in bases on Egyptian soil[37]. The increasing distaste of the population of Egypt for American policies in the Middle East and North Africa has grown still more intense from the mid 1990’s, spurred by Ytzhak Rabin’s assassination and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process’ gradual freezing, the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq in 1998 and by the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada in the autumn of 2000. Since the final years of the nineties it has become ever more difficult for Mubarak to distinguish, in the public’s perception, the table of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the table of inter-Arab relations, in order to demonstrate a non-subordinate relationship with Washington. From the moment that these two levels of Egyptian foreign policy have become inseparable, Mubarak has had increasing problems in justifying his alliance with the United States.

The 1991 Gulf War revealed itself also as a climax for the Egyptian role in the US strategy in the Middle East. It was the highest peak reached by Mubarak as a broker inside the Arab world, and signalled the embryos of the important changes in progress in the region during all the 90s, especially in the Arab-Israeli crisis. Although the 1991 Gulf War signed a strong setback both for Arafat’s PLO and for Jordan in the eyes of the American diplomacy, pivotal developments took place soon in the aftermath of the armistice, culminated with the 1991 Madrid peace Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the emerging of Jordan and especially the Palestinians as the main characters together with the Israeli. Mubarak’s Egypt lost the role it played for more than a decade, right after the country fully regained the lead in the Arab state system.

The Madrid conference e and the Oslo peace process were the symbols of Egyptian failure as the mediator chosen by the Americans to filter their strategy in the Middle East. Never again Egypt won back its status, although Cairo remained a stronghold in the US Middle East policy, and the recipient of the most important security assistance bestowed by Washigton, right after the assistance program for Israel. Mubarak found a pugnacious concurrent in King Hussein of Jordan, who decided to go over the Egyptian “cold peace” strategy towards Israel and inaugurate a “warmer peace” with the rapid normalization of the bilateral relations between Amman and Tel Aviv in 1994, followed by closer political relations and economic joint projects[38].

Mubarak used once again the Arab arena to show his potential power and regain the lost ground towards the Americans. The testing-ground was the campaign to press Israel to accede to the Non-Proliferation-Treaty and to place all of its nuclear activities under  the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A at the  NPT review conference in May 1995, Egypt presented a draft resolution, co-sponsored by 13 Arab league members, to express  “deep concern at the continued existence in the Middle East of unsafeguarded Israeli nuclear facilities” and to press Israel to join the treaty[39]. Although the step was unsuccessful, Mubarak signalled to the United States that Egypt could distance from the path chosen in the previous 15 years, and that could assemble a consistent number of Arab states on a delicate matter such as the nuclear issue in the Middle East. In September, Egypt was invited in Jericho to witness with Jordan the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo interim agreement, but the winds of peace in the region were suffocated by the Rabin assassination in November, and all the efforts to revive the process – also with the first of the peace summits hosted by Mubarak in the Sinai resort of Sharm es-Sheykh – failed shortly.

The second episode in the most strained period of the US-Egyptian relations was the severe stance opted by Mubarak, after the Israeli political earthquake determined by the Likud victory in the 1996 elections. The Egyptian president was among the promoters, with Syria and Saudi Arabia, of the Arab League emergency summit called in Cairo on June, 22nd, four days after the neo-elected premier Benjamin Netanyahu presented his government to the Knesset.  Although the summit final document contained severe warning to Israel, it was and it is evident that Egypt would have never again waged a war against Israel. Hosni Mubarak, however, sent a clear message to the US Democratic administration, followed by his refusal of Clinton invitation to participate to a summit meeting in Washington some months later, called after the clashes in Jerusalem, that followed Netanyahu’s decision to open the Hasmonean tunnel beside the Haram al Sharif in the Old City, which sparked the worst large-scale protest since the first Intifada. It was the beginning of difficult years in the area, severed by the US-led operation in Iraq in 1998 and by Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000.  The Middle East became totally a fragmented region in a confused multipolar world, and  Mubarak’s Egypt couldn’t regain the status it conquered during the 80s.

 

CONCLUSION

 

The overall picture that emerges from these few observations tells us that, when all is said and done, the balance of pros and cons in the relationship between the United States and Egypt has benefited both parties. If, however, we concentrate on the consequences that Cairo’s relation with Washington between 1991 and 2001 has had on the situation inside Egypt, we realise that the price paid by Hosni Mubarak’s regime has been high. The nation that set out to be the champion of Arab moderation, in the sense of a focal point for a solid relationship with the Western world, has turned out to be a nation whose 25 years of alliance with the United States has increased its own internal weakness. Both from an institutional viewpoint, with the emergence of an autocracy, and from a socio-political point of view, with the failure to carry out the democratic reforms requested by, among others, Washington. The Mubarak regime’s internal weakness has also had repercussions on its standing in the Arab world, distinguished at times by the president’s undeniable capacity for mediating between the profound divisions within the Arab League, and at others by his inability, especially in recent years, to exert any influence on American policy in the Middle East.

On international level, Egypt’s status as a regional power experienced two phases. The first one, in the first ten years under Mubarak’s presidency, went through the successful effort to regain the Arab state system leadership, the main tool to strengthen Egypt’s position inside US Middle East policy. The country’s regional role, however, weakened steadily during the 90s, not primarily for  the fault of the president, but due to the result of a radically changed political environment. Although there was not a single Arab state that could substantially challenge its status towards Washington, Egypt experienced a decline in its leadership, besides its inability to reform internally the republic for preparing the country to a peaceful and gradual transition to democracy, as well as for paving the pay to a democratic succession to Hosni Mubarak.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abdalla, Ahmed, “Antiamericanism in Egypt”, in Orient, v. 45, no. 2, 2004, pp. 219-238

Aftandilian, Gregory L. Egypt’s Bid for Arab Leadership: Implications for US Policy. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1993

Laurie E. Brand, “The Intifadah and the Arab World: Old Players, New Rules”, in International Journal, v. XLV, no.3, Summer 1990, pp.501-528

Boutros Ghali, Boutros Egypt‘s Road to Jerusalem. A Diplomat’s Story of the Struggle for Peace in the Middle East, New York:  Random House, 1997

Cantori, Louis J., “Egyptian Policy under Mubarak: The Politics of Continuity and Change”, in Robert O. Freedman (ed.), The Middle East after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986

Cantori, Louis J., “Egypt reenters the Arab State System”, in Robert O. Freedman, Middle East from the Iran-Contra to the Intifada, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1991, pp.341-366

Clarke, Duncan L ., “US Security Assistance to Egypt and Israel: Politically Untouchable?”, in Middle East Journal, v. 51, no. 2, Spring 1997, pp. 200-214

Cook, Steven, “Egypt-Style America’s Partner”, Middle East Quarterly, v.7, no.2, 2000, pp. 3-14

Faksh, Mahmoud A., “Egypt and the Gulf Crisis: the Role of Leadership under Mubarak”, in Journal of Third World Studies, vol.9, no.1, 1992, pp. 40-58

Dessouki, Ali E. Hillal, “The Primacy of Economics: The Foreign Policy of Egypt”, in Korany- Dessouki (eds.) The Foreign Policy of Arab States

Dessouki, Ali E. Hillal,, Egyptian Foreign Policy since Camp David, in Quandt, William B. (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David

Eilts, Hermann Frederick, The US and Egypt, in Quandt, William B. (ed.), The Middle East: Ten years after Camp David  

Feiler, Gil, Economic Relations Between Egypt and the Gulf Oil States, 1967-2000:  Petro Wealth and Patterns of Influence, Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2003.

Fustier, Natalie, “L’Egypte dans son environnement proche-oriental”, in Les Cahiers de l’Orient, no. 45, pp.137-147

Hopwood, Derek, Egypt. Politics and Society 1945-90, London and New York: Routledge, 1993

Ibrahim, Saad Eddine, Domestic Developments in Egypt, in W. Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David,

Ibrahim, Saad Eddine, Islam and Democracy. Critical Essays, Cairo, New York: The American University of Cairo Press, 2000

Ibrahim, Ibrahim, ed., Gulf Crisis. Background and Consequences, Washington, DC: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, 1992

Mohammad el Khawas, “Mubarak and the Persian Gulf War: the untold Story”, in Journal of Asian and African Affairs, vol. 4, no. 2, 1993, pp. 52-67

Kienle, Eberhard, A Grand Delusion. Democracy and Economic Reform in Egypt, London-New York: I.B. Tauris 2000

Korany, Bahgat- Dessouki, Ali E. Hillal (eds.) The Foreign Policy of Arab States, Boulder: Westview, 1994

Laqueur, Walter and Rubin, Barry (ed.), The Israeli-Arab Reader. A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, New York: Penguin, 2001

Lesch, Ann Mosely and Tessler, Mark A. (ed.), Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians: from Camp David to Intifada, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989

Joseph Lorenz, Egypt and the Arabs: Foreign Policy and the Search for an National Identity, Boulder: Westview, 1990

Marr, Phebe (ed.), Egypt at the Crossroad. Domestic Stability and Regional Role, Washington, DC: National Defence University Press, 1999

Meital, Yoram, Egypt‘s Struggle for Peace: Continuity and Change, 1967-1977, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997

Owen, Robert – Tripp, Charles (ed.), Egypt under Mubarak, London: Routledge, 1990

Quandt, William B. (ed.), The Middle East: Ten years after Camp David,  Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution Press 1988

Quandt, William B., The United States and Egypt, Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution Press, 1990

Quandt, William B.,  Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict since 1967, Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution Press, 2005

Rabie, Mohammed, US-PLO Dialogue: Secret Diplomacy and Conflict resolution, Tampa: Florida University Press, 1995

Roussillon, Alain, “L’opposition égyptienne et la crise du Golfe”, in Maghreb-Machrek, no. 130, 1990, pp. 79-98

Shlaim, Avi, The Iron Wall. Israel and the Arab World, London: Penguin 2000

Springborg, Robert. Mubarak’s Egypt: Fragmentation of the  Political Order. Boulder: Westview Press, 1989

Sullivan, Denis J., “American Aid to Egypt 1975-1996: Peace without Development”, in Middle East Policy, vol. 4, no. 4, 1996, pp.36-49

Tibi, Bassam Conflict and War in the Middle East. From Interstate War to New Security, Houndmills and London: Macmillan press, 1998

Waterbury, John, The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat: The Political Economy of Two Regimes, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983

 

 

 

 



[1] John Waterbury, The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat: The Political Economy of Two Regimes, Princeton, 1983; William Quandt, The United States and Egypt, Washington, 1990; Yoram Meital, Egypt’s Struggle for Peace: Continuity and Change, 1967-1977, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997

[2]  Clarke, “US Security Assistance to Egypt and Israel: Politically Untouchable?”, p.202

[3]  Cook, “Egypt-Style America’s Partner”, pp. 3-14

[4] Dessouki, The Primacy of Economics: The Foreign Policy of Egypt, in Korany- Dessouki, The Foreign Policy of Arab States

[5] Eilts, The US and Egypt, in Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: Ten years after Camp David, p.120.  

[6] Cantori, Egyptian Policy under Mubarak: The Politics of Continuity and Change, in Robert O. Freedman (ed.), The Middle East after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, p.325.

[7] Laqueur and Rubin (ed.), The Israeli-Arab Reader, p.237. Mubarak stated that “The Palestinian people are the owners of the right and owners of the first and last responsibility for solving their problem. However, we are continuing in our role, dictated by our historical responsibility. We will make all efforts and pave the way for a transitional period during which the Palestinian people will determine their fate”.

[8] Tibi, Conflict and War in the Middle East. From Interstate War to New Security, p. 150: “Egypt was isolated from its Arab environment. One clear consequence of this is that major regional wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours can no longer take place, because they are not feasible without Egyptian military potential”.

[9] The importance of the Sinai issue was underlined by Mubarak in the presidential inaugural address, confirming the “categorical assurances” that “the final Israeli withdrawal will take place on schedule, without delay and without slowing down. This coming 25th of April will, God willing, not pass without Egypt’s flag waving high over Rafah, Sharm el Sheykh and every foot of the sacred land of the Sinai. The martyr of justice will have thus given his country and nation the greatest fulfilment by liberating the territory, restoring dignbity and opening the road to a great future. With this historic event, the glorious Egyptian people and their valiant armed forces will have completed their most tremendous achievement in their contemporary history, lighting and eternal flame on the sands of Sinai that time cannot estinguish”. In Laqueur and Rubin (ed.), The Israeli-Arab Reader, pp.237-8

[10] Cantori, Egyptian Policy under Mubarak: The Politics of Continuity and Change, in Robert O. Freedman (ed.), The Middle East after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, p.324.

[11] The Taba dispute lasted until May 1989. For an Israeli politics perspective over the Taba issue, see Shlaim, The Iron Wall. Israel and the Arab World, pp.428-9. “Some Israeli officials were prepared to admit privately that this tiny piece of Sinai [Taba] was retained not because it was thought that Israel had a valide title to it, but to avoid setting a precedent for total withdrawal that could be invoke in future negotiations over the West Bank. President Mubarak, however, was adamant that the dispute had to be resolved before he would meet with [then premier Shimon] Peres. The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty laid down that any dispute that could not be resolved by negotiation should be resolved either by conciliation or submitted to arbitration. Mubarak pressed for a decision to submit to arbitration […]. Peres was prepared to accept the package. […]The arbiter eventually found in favor of Egypt, and in May 1989 the beach was returned to Egyptian sovereignty”. In fact, Mubarak met with Shimon Peres in 1986 in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria, after Egypt and Israel reached an agreement on the the arbitration to solve the dispute on Taba.

[12] S. E. Ibrahim, Domestic Developments in Egypt, in W. Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David, p 35

[13] Besides the president, other official declarations sounded as a policy redress. See, for example, what the vicepremier Mustafa Khalil said in 1982: “We have never said we are allied with the United States. Rather we said that Egypt’s strategic objectives and interests coincide with US strategic objectives”. And, to confute that Soviet Union was not a menace in the Middle East, continued saying that “There is only one threat to the area – Israel – and the invasion of Lebanon proved that Israel is the principal threat to the stability of the Arab countries”.

[14] William B. Quandt, Peace Process, p.338. See also the Reagan Plan, issued by the US president on September, 1st, 1982, Laqueur and Rubin (ed.), The Israeli-Arab Reader, p.258, on the “two basic issues”: “first, there was the strategic threat to the region posed by the Soviet Union and its surrogates, best demonstrated by the brutal war in Afghanistan: and, second, the peace process between Israel and its Arabs neighbors. With regard to the Soviet threat, we have strengthened our efforts to develop with our friends and allies a joint policy to deter the Soviets and their surrogates from further expansion in the region and, if necessary, to defend against it”. These very simple guidelines were subjected to noteworthy changes after Israeli invasion of Lebanon (“I directed Secretary of State George Shultz to again review our policy”, explain Reagan in his plan).

[15] Dessouki, Primacy of Economics, p.157. Remarkable the portrait that Dessouki drawned of Mubarak’s foreign policy: “In marked and deliberate contrast to Sadat, Mubarak followed a non sensationalist and non-confrontational style in pursue his foreign policy objectives. These objectives centered around mending the breach with Arab and Islamic countries, closer cooperation with the non-aligned movement, the Eastern Bloc countries and the Soviet Union, as well as keeping close ties with the countries of Western Europe and Japan. Mubarak succeded in achieving most of his objectives. By December, 1989, Egypt had restored diplomatic relations with all Arab countries, except Libya. Egypt was also welcomed back into the Arab league and had become active in the non-aligned movement as qell as in the Organization of African Unity (OAU)”. The multipolar vision of the Mubarak presidency reached its highest point in the second half of the 90s, after the end of the Cold War confrontation and the reshaping of alliances and strategies in the Middle East.  See Ali. E. Hillal Dessouki, “Managing Ambivalence: Egypt’s Changing Regional Environment”, in Phebe Marr (ed.), Egypt at the Crossroad, p. 197

[16] Cantori, “Egypt reenters the Arab State System”, pp.341-366

[17] Dessouki, Primacy of Economics, p.168

[18] Laurie E. Brand, “The Intifadah and the Arab World: Old Players, New Rules”, p. 522. See also  Eilts, The US and Egypt, in William Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: Ten years after Camp David, p. 121: “Egypt saw its future political role in the Arab world linked to achieving an acceptable Palestinian settlement and to active participation in the process”.

[19] Dessouki, Egyptian Foreign Policy since Camp David, in W. Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David, p. 108

[20] Fustier, “L’Egypte dans son environnement proche-oriental”,  p. 146, and Shlaim, The Iron Wall. Israel and the Arab World, p. 573. “Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia were the main promoters of the Arab League summit, which was attended by 13 out of 21 heads of state. The aim of the summit was to restore Arab cohesion and send the message to Israel and the United States that unless the new Israeli prime minister reverted to the ground rules of land for peace on which the Arab-Israeli negotiations had been based since Madrid, the peace process would collapse and the region slide into a cycle of tension and violence”.

[21] Kienle, pp.90-1.

[22] Ibrahim, Saad Eddine, Domestic Developments in Egypt, in W. Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David, p. 34, on the popular reactions on Operation Peace in Galilee, where the United States were perceived as silent partners of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon

[23] Dessouki, Primacy of Economics, p.157.

[24] Saad Eddine Ibrahim, Domestic Developments in Egypt, in W. Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David, pp. 19-62 for the period before the 90s

[25] Abdalla, “Antiamericanism in Egypt”,  pp. 219-238

[26] Kienle, A Grand Delusion. Democracy and Economic Reform in Egypt

[27] Hopwood, Egypt, p.184

[28] Rabie, US-PLO Dialogue, p. 62

[29] Khawas, “Mubarak and the Persian Gulf War: the untold Story”. See also Aftandilian, Gregory L. Egypt’s Bid for Arab Leadership

[30] Eberhard Kienle, A Grand Delusion. Democracy and Economic Reform in Egypt, pp. 104 sgg. See also S. Cook, “Egypt-Style America’s Partner”, Middle East Quarterly.

[31] Gil Feiler, Economic Relations Between Egypt and the Gulf Oil States

[32] M. Khawas, “Mubarak and the Persian Gulf War: the untold Story”

[33] For Egypt’s role in the American security strategy in the Middle East, see Clarke, “US Security Assistance to Egypt and Israel: Politically Untouchable?”. Regarding the influence of the Iran-Contra affairs in the bilateral relations, see Cantori, “Egypt reenters the Arab State System”, p.355. The Egyptian support of Iraq during the Iraq-Iran Gulf War was a key part for reinforcing the Egyptian-Saudi axis: the Egyptian military aid to Saddam Hussein, composed by weapons and technical assistance, was financially covered by the Saudi regime, in Tibi, Conflict and War in the Middle East, p.142.

[34] Lorenz, Egypt and the Arabs. See also Cantori, “Egypt reenters the Arab State System”, p.341: “In attempting to strengthen himself domestically, Mubarak strenuously pursued a solution to the Palestinian problem in an effort to guide Egypt into the Arab fold. He achieved his aim, however, not via the Palestinian issue but rather via the conflict in the Gulf. His Palestinian and Gulf diplomacy helped him gain another objective – relief from the repayment of international debts – partly on the ground of Egypt’s importance to the solving of regional crises”.

[35] M. Khawas, “Mubarak and the Persian Gulf War: the untold Story”, on the “diplomatic triumph for the Mubarak – King Fahd axis, which had persuaded the majority of the Arab states to respond swiftly and positively to Bush’s call to get other nations to follow” the US-lead coalition

[36] Roussillon, “L’opposition égyptienne et la crise du Golfe”,  p. 89

[37] Roussillon, “L’opposition égyptienne et la crise du Golfe”,  pp. 88

[38] Fustier, “L’Egypte dans son environnement proche-oriental”,  p. 145

[39] The resolution was backed by Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen

(The essay is part of a collective research on The US Friend States In The Middle East. Help Or Obstacle?)

Mubarak e quel poster strappato

Sarà stato il 20 marzo del 2003, o giù di lì. Scuole chiuse per prudenza, al Cairo, e un bel po’ di popolo egiziano in piazza per protestare contro l’invasione angloamericana dell’Iraq. Le forze di sicurezza del regime di Hosni Mubarak avevano, in un certo senso, allentato la morsa per meglio controllare la situazione. Perché l’atmosfera che si respirava era veramente pesante. Le manifestazioni permesse dalla polizia, insomma, erano una sorta di valvola di sfogo per evitare che la rabbia per le truppe di George W. Bush (e di Tony Blair) in terra araba potesse ritorcersi contro il regime del Cairo, già allora repressivo. Quel giorno, però, successe qualcosa di diverso dalla rabbia contro gli americani. A piazza Abdel Moneim Riad, alle spalle del Museo Egizio, c’era uno degli innumerevoli poster di Hosni Mubarak che riempivano la città. Poster che ritraevano il rais in tutte le pose: con gli occhiali da sole, in tenuta militare, con lo sguardo benevolo. Tutto il catalogo del culto della personalità in versione egiziana.

Qualcuno, tra chi protestava, strappò il poster. Un gesto che, al Cairo, non solo non era usuale, ma era a pieno titolo il segnale di una svolta, nel rapporto tra il popolo-considerato-suddito e il presidente-a-vita. Un poster strappato, l’effigie di Mubarak deturpata. Il segno che il rais non era più considerato onnipotente.

Da allora, contro Mubarak si parlava non solo nel chiuso delle case. Si era preso l’ardire di parlarne male anche nei corridoi dei luoghi di lavoro. La misura, da quel momento in poi, fu colma.

Per me, per la mia esperienza in Egitto, la prima, embrionale fase della rivoluzione è iniziata con quel poster strappato che rompeva il tetto di cristallo della paura. Paura del regime, e dunque del presidente-simbolo. Simmetricamente, da parte del regime, c’era invece una paura che aumentava, di pari passo alle misure di sicurezza attorno ai suoi vertici. Paura del popolo, tenuto a distanza, marginalizzato, addirittura espunto dal panorama quando il presidente, e i suoi ministri, e i suoi consiglieri, e i suoi uomini, passavano lungo le grandi arterie del Cairo. Arterie presidiate da migliaia di uomini delle forze di sicurezza per impedire agli egiziani persino di vederlo, il presidente, di scorgerlo nel convoglio di auto blu che lo portavano dalla residenza cairota ai diversi appuntamenti pubblici, fatti apposta per curare il culto della personalità.

Questo era il Mubarak degli ultimi anni. Il Mubarak anziano, il Mubarak che tentava di perpetuare tutti i suoi poteri. Individuale, famigliare, del regime. La versione sbiadita di quel Mubarak che, soprattutto nei primi anni della sua presidenza, aveva cercato di mantenere gli impegni di Anwar el Sadat senza, però, esporsi più di tanto. Fedele agli accordi firmati dal suo predecessore nei confronti di Israele e della pax americana in Medio Oriente, ma senza i grandi gesti eclatanti di Sadat (come la visita a Gerusalemme, per esempio). Leale all’imponente alleato statunitense, ma senza concedere il suo territorio per le basi militari a stelle e strisce, quando si trattò di partecipare alla coalizione contro Saddam Hussein all’inizio degli anni Novanta e di sostenere Bush padre fuori dai confini egiziani, tra Arabia Saudita e Kuwait. In linea con gli accordi di Camp David, ma sostenendo con evidenza i palestinesi, e l’allora iconico Yasser Arafat: nel caso palestinese, Mubarak diede vita a  quella versione del tutto virtuale ed edulcorata del panarabismo che gli consentì di superare l’emarginazione da parte della Lega Araba e rientrarvi con tutti gli onori. Onori che compresero il rientro della Lega al Cairo, la vecchia sede.

 

Mubarak ha continuato sino alla fine a giocare con gli alleati occidentali e con i ‘fratelli’ arabi il suo gioco ambiguo: leale con tutti, o almeno così voleva apparire. Senza, però, spendersi fino in fondo. Perché anche soltanto questo ruolo di mediatore gli consentiva di conservare la sua immagine di grande pacificatore, di grande vecchio, di grande alleato, di grande patron, di grande diga contro l’islam politico, di grande difensore di Israele,…

Mubarak il mediatore e l’alleato. Mubarak il simbolo di un regime che certo non può essere racchiuso nella sua figura, sacrificata in questi ultimi giorni, come se – dandola in pasto al popolo e ai media – si pensasse di superare le turbolenze e consentire ai neomamelucchi egiziani (i militari, in primis, ma non solo loro) di mantenere il potere, il controllo, la stretta sul popolo. Il tam tam sulle sue condizioni di salute -gestito come se si fosse non nel 2012, ma dieci, venti anni fa – è talmente ridicolo da essere del tutto superfluo.

Se, però, è ridicola la storia della morte, morte cerebrale, morte presunta di Mubarak, non è per nulla ridicola la regia di un golpe – quello militare – arrivato alle ultime battute. Inutile elencare ancora una volta le tappe di questo golpe evidente, conclamato, e senza neanche tema di mascherarlo più di tanto. John L. Esposito, per esempio, ripercorre sullo Huffington Post quello che definisce il soft coup soprattutto attraverso gli errori compiuti dalla Fratellanza Musulmana nel rapporto con il Consiglio Militare Supremo. È invece utile, secondo me, guardare a quello che – ancora una volta – non fanno le cancellerie occidentali. In primis, l’amministrazione statunitense.

Lontanissime sono le parole di Barack Obama, dopo la prima sorpresa causata dalla rivoluzione del 25 gennaio, quando sostenne in diretta televisiva l’epopea di Piazza Tahrir. A regnare incontrastata, oggi, è la vecchia maniera di far diplomazia. A Washington, e in tutte le capitali europee. Non si stigmatizza quello che di terribilmente antidemocratico stanno facendo i vecchi generali egiziani, così come – prima del 25 gennaio – le cancellerie si limitavano a fare il solletico al regime di Mubarak, nonostante le denunce di torture, repressioni, violazioni dei diritti umani, civili, ed elettorali. Ci si limita anche oggi a dichiararsi preoccupati, a parole. Preoccupati e basta, senza alcuna pressione, sanzione, minaccia. Perché l’Egitto è l’Egitto, e i militari salvano il fronte sud di Israele. Se americani ed europei non lo dicono chiaramente, ci pensano infatti gli analisti di parte israeliana a dichiarare che il re è nudo. Senza neanche edulcorare la pillola.La nostra strategia  mediterranea sembra non essere cambiata, anche se – a sud – molto, se non tutto è cambiato. Miopi, ancora una volta. Tattici, ancora una volta.

“Egypt’s military coup is now nearly complete. That may be distressing for Egyptian democracy, but it could help the Israel-Egypt relationship”, è il commento di Uriel Heilman del JTA. E leggerlo nei giorni in cui i raid israeliani hanno già causato almeno dieci morti a Gaza, getta una strana luce sul futuro prossimo della Striscia e del ruolo dei militari egiziani. Chiarissimo, insomma, il commento di Heilman, ma se le controrivoluzioni si fanno a tavolino, con una regia decisamente raffinata, com’è stata quella dei militari egiziani, le rivoluzioni sono altra cosa.

Playlist: We might as well be strangers, Keane.

Il poster strappato della foto è invece del 2011

 

Mubarak, la tv e la giustizia

Barella, sbarre, gabbia. Sono alcune delle parole chiave del processo a Hosni Muibarak, ai suoi figli, agli uomini a lui più vicini, iniziato ieri al Cairo. Il Faraone in barella, dietro alle sbarre di una gabbia. Un uomo vecchio, umiliato. Sarà pur vero, ma prima di pensare all’umiliazione di Mohammed Hosni el Sayyed Mubarak, accusato di essere il mandante delle almeno ottocento vittime della rivoluzione egiziana, bisogna pensare all’umiliazione subita per decenni dal popolo egiziano. Popolo fatto di individui che sono stati incarcerati molto spesso senza la minima garanzia, torturati nelle stazioni di polizia, processati senza le garanzie di cui gode Mubarak, imputati dietro quelle stesse sbarre su cui si è concentrata la telecamera della tv di Stato. L’unica a cui, ieri, è stato dato il permesso di filmare la prima udienza del processo.

Mi chiedo dove fossero i molti – politici e giornalisti occidentali – che parlano del vecchio Faraone umiliato e tradito, quando singoli individui senza il potere di Mubarak sono stati torturati, malmenati, uccisi. Senza la minima garanzia del diritto. La Rivoluzione poggia su questa umiliazione continua e continuata. Lungi da me sostenere la legge del taglione. Al contrario. Mi aspetto che Mubarak abbia i diritti che lui stesso ha negato ai cittadini egiziani. Mi aspetterei, da molti miei colleghi, la stessa empatia per quegli altri individui – invisibili – di cui ci si è dimenticati per anni. Salvo poi scoprire che potevano fare la rivoluzione, e buttare giù il dittatore. Il Faraone.

L’articolo (mio) qui sotto è stato pubblicato dai giornali locali del Gruppo Espresso-Repubblica.


“Lei è Mohammed Hosni el Sayyed Mubarak?” “Presente, Vostro Onore”. Le poche parole pronunciate ieri mattina nell’aula-bunker dell’accademia di polizia al Cairo dall’ex rais egiziano sono già una suoneria per telefonini che i ragazzi egiziani scaricano da internet. La rivoluzione, sulle rive del Nilo, si traduce anche in questi che possono sembrare solo gadget, piccoli simboli, oppure sberleffi verso il potere. Per gli egiziani, invece, sentire Mubarak che risponde a un giudice vuol dire rendere concreto quell’incredibile cambiamento iniziato il 25 gennaio scorso. Se è vero, infatti, che Hosni Mubarak ha lasciato il potere e il Cairo poco meno di sei mesi fa, è altrettanto vero che la fine del regime non è ancora completa. Tutt’altro. Il singolare esilio a Sharm el Sheykh, prima nella sua lussuosa villa e poi in una suite dell’ospedale internazionale, ha sempre rappresentato un vulnus, una fragilità estrema per una rivoluzione popolare, diffusa e senza capi.

L’onnipotente Mubarak, l’ultimo Faraone, ha dovuto invece finalmente rispondere alla giustizia egiziana. Dire “Presente, Vostro Onore.” Ascoltare i capi d’accusa assieme ai suoi due figli, odiatissimi nel paese, e al famigerato ministro dell’interno. Accusato di essere il mandante del sangue versato nelle tante Piazze Tahrir d’Egitto, di quei cecchini e di quei poliziotti che hanno ammazzato almeno ottocento persone. Moltissimi appena ragazzi. Sul suo volto, nessuna contrizione. Semmai – questa è la lettura dell’egiziano medio – la solita arroganza, di chi è stato abituato per decenni a controllare il più importante paese arabo con i poteri sostanziali di un dittatore. Nonostante fosse su di una barella, dentro la tipica gabbia dove in Egitto gli imputati seguono i processi penali, Mubarak non ha suscitato profondi sentimenti di pietà. La pietà riservata al rispetto per la vecchiaia, per un ultraottuagenario alla sbarra. Per gli egiziani, è un uomo che ha rubato, defraudato un paese.

E’ per questo che il suo processo è un fatto di rilevanza storica. Una cesura non solo nella storia egiziana, ma in quella di tutto il mondo arabo. Una stagione, quella dei regimi sorti dai movimenti indipendentisti, che ha strangolato e oppresso popoli che non devono diventare democratici, ma lo sono già. Paradossalmente, poi, il processo è un punto a favore di Piazza Tahrir, sgomberata appena tre giorni fa dai familiari delle vittime dei cecchini e dei poliziotti che volevano fosse resa giustizia ai loro cari. L’esercito aveva riaperto la piazza-simbolo della rivoluzione al traffico, anche usando le maniere forti. La comparsa di fronte alla giustizia egiziana di Mubarak e di alcuni tra i suoi fedelissimi, rende la fine del suo regime un fatto compiuto, un punto dal quale ripartire per una transizione che – invece – è ancora confusa e soprattutto fragile.

Il dopo-Mubarak, insomma,  è iniziato veramente ieri, con il ritorno del rais al Cairo, come aveva chiesto Piazza Tahrir. E con la sua chiamata in correità, come capo di quel sistema di corruzione e autocrazia che ha umiliato e oppresso gli egiziani negli ultimi tre decenni. I rischi per una rivoluzione giovane – in tutti i sensi – sono però ancora molto alti. A partire dal ruolo del Consiglio Militare Supremo, che ha preso le redini del paese e della transizione. Le sue decisioni sempre più ambigue rendono difficile e complicato il periodo preelettorale. E a confondere le acque c’è il ruolo dell’islam politico – quello espresso dal vertice conservatore della Fratellanza Musulmana e dalla galassia salafita radicale – che venerdì scorso ha occupato Tahrir scalzando i ‘ragazzi’ che hanno reso la piazza famosa dal 25 gennaio in poi. Dopo Mubarak, dunque, comincia la nuova storia egiziana. Ed è tutta da scrivere.

La foto è una rivisitazione di Guebara, nell’album Support the Revolution.

La fine della saga dei Mubarak

Ero sempre stata ottimista. Anche quando al Cairo, alla fine di marzo, ascoltavo i timori degli egiziani normali, quelli del popolo. L’economia che non gira, i soldi che non ci sono, e la controrivoluzione alle porte. E poi i gossip, le voci che rimbalzano. “Gamal Mubarak è al Cairo. E’ a Garden City. Ieri sera era a cena in uno dei club più esclusivi della città. Che faccia tosta…”

E’ vero, sulla scena dell’Egitto post-Tahrir c’è anche la cosiddetta controrivoluzione. O meglio, il tentativo del regime di sopravvivere a se stesso, in maniera gattopardesca. E come potrebbe essere altrimenti? Trent’anni di vita, corruzione, tangenti, repressione non si sciolgono come neve al sole. Bisogna disaggregare una struttura pesante, di cemento, di quelle che – crollando – possono peraltro fare molti danni.

Eppure, nonostante tutti questi timori, una rivoluzione è una rivoluzione. E quella egiziana lo è a tutti gli effetti, anche se la transizione viene pilotata da un pezzo importante del regime, come le forze armate. Transizione difficile, anche molto contraddittoria, ma pur sempre figlia della rivoluzione. E dunque, la messa sotto accusa dei Mubarak è segno tangibile che questa rivoluzione è ancora in corso.

Difficile, ancora adesso, comprendere cosa sia stato determinante per la messa sotto accusa e la custodia cautelare dei Mubarak, Hosni in ospedale, e i due figli in viaggio verso la prigione di Tora, quella dove ci sono già molti degli alti papaveri del regime. La stessa prigione dove, nel corso degli anni, sono stati portati oppositori (blogger compresi) di tutte le culture politiche. E’ stato il braccio di ferro fatto da Hosni Mubarak, con il suo messaggio audio trasmesso da Al Arabiya, con il quale ha sfidato il Consiglio Militare Supremo, come alcuni tweeps dicono? E’ stata la magistratura egiziana, in alcune sue componenti uno dei pochi pezzi dello Stato che si è opposto ai Mubarak, che si è finalmente tolta i sassolini dalle scarpe? Sono stati i rivoluzionari, quelli di piazza Tahrir, che hanno premuto sul Consiglio Militare Supremo con la grande manifestazione di venerdì scorso, una manifestazione da un milione di persone che ha fatto comprendere che non si potesse più rimandare l’inizio dell’epurazione ai vertici del regime?

Ipotesi tutte valide, ipotesi che si possono intrecciare l’una con l’altra. Di certo c’è una cosa, che ripeto da settimane. Indietro non si torna, in Egitto. E il 2011 si può aggiungere alla lista delle rivoluzioni: non solo e non tanto il 1952, ma anche e forse soprattutto il 1919.

La foto è una rivisitazione di Guebara, nell’album Support the Revolution.

Mubarak non se ne va. Rabbia a Tahrir

Non se ne va. Hosni Mubarak non se ne va. Rimane fermo sulle sue posizioni, fa concessioni minime, gioca ancora una volta la carta della sua storia al servizio del paese. Un discorso lontano dal suo popolo. Tanto lontano che, mentre Mubarak parlava in una sala asettica, il popolo di Tahrir insorgeva, e gli urlava vattene, vattene. E gli lanciava le scarpe, nel gesto più offensivo per un arabo. Lanciare le scarpe contro il proprio presidente. In una piazza furiosa, rabbiosa, indignata. Su twitter si dice che si andrà al palazzo presidenziale, se Mubarak sarà ancora al palazzo presidenziale.

La situazione diventa, ora, pericolosissima. E non si capisce se questa sfida sia stata fatta apposta per provocare la piazza, e costringerla a una reazione violente, per poter poi usare le maniere forti. O se invece la distanza dalla realtà da parte di un regime composto di vecchi, lontani da anni dalle strade del Cairo, faccia vivere Mubarak e i vecchi generali in una sorta di mondo a parte. Un mondo che non è l’Egitto reale. Non solo quello di Tahrir, ma quello della enorme periferia del Cairo, di Alessandria (dove un abitante su sette è sceso in piazza, un milione su sette milioni di abitanti), dell’ovest e dell’est del paese.

E dopo Mubarak, Suleiman appoggia il presidente.

Ascoltare il discorso del vecchio rais è stato straniante. Come se fosse stato registrato sulla Luna, e non da qualche parte del Cairo (o di Sharm?). Cosa succederà? Come reagirà il popolo egiziano? Come reagiranno le forze armate, e quali forze armate? C’è un confronto generazionale anche dentro l’esercito?

Le prime dimissioni eccellenti – update

La domanda che gira tra i ragazzi di Tahrir e tra gli analisti che si occupano da tempo di Egitto è la seguente? Cosa vogliono dire le dimissioni eccellenti di questo pomeriggio? Significa che il regime trentennale costruito attorno alla figura di Hosni Mubarak sta pian piano cedendo, o che invece si sta rifacendo il trucco? Le dimissioni, a dire il vero, sono eccellenti. Di primo rango.  E’ durata poco la notizia che lo stesso Hosni Mubarak avesse accettato di dimettersi da qualcuno dei suoi incarichi, e cioè quello di presidente del Partito Nazionale Democratico, lo NDP, lo Hizb el Watani. Prima annunciato, e poi prontamente smentito dalla tv di stato egiziana. Rimangono confermate, invece, le dimissioni di suo figlio, Gamal El Mubarak, dal posto di rango che occupava ormai da tempo dentro il partito, in sostanza nel comitato che disegnava le strategie dello NDP e dunque della politica di governo, non sono da sottovalutare. Si dimette, con lui, il leader della nuova guardia riformatrice, quella che doveva segnare non solo il cambio generazionale, ma anche il diverso tipo di sostegno a Gamal nel suo cursus honorum, tutto dentro il partito, da concludersi poi con la candidatura alle presidenziali. Con lui, però, si dimette – con il comitato esecutivo en masse –  anche il segretario generale dello NDP, il vecchio, esperto, tradizionale ministro dell’informazione Safwart el Sherif. Il primo che parlò dopo le manifestazioni del 25 gennaio. Lui, invece, appartiene alla generazione di Mubarak.

Tutto azzerato? Non proprio. Al posto di Sherif c’è sì, ora, un uomo più giovane, Hossam el Badrawy, ma è da sempre considerato un intimo amico di Mubarak. La sua clinica per ricchi è nel quartiere per internazionali e potenti di Maadi, dove c’è anche la casa di Gamal Mubarak. Ma questo è solo un dettaglio. La vera domanda è se Badrawy vuol dire continuità, e dunque la nuova guardia che prende il potere nel partito, oppure se invece Badrawy abbandona i vecchi amici per segnare un cambiamento nello NDP. Tutto da vedere. Per ora, queste ipotesi se la giocano 50 a 50.

Assieme alle dimissioni eccellenti, i primi segnali di – per così dire – ammorbidimento sono le indagini aperte su Habib el Adly, potentissimo ministro dell’interno, il re dell’acciaio Ahmed Ezz e qualche altro ministro da parte del procuratore generale egiziano. Ahmed Ezz appartiene a quel tipo di tycoon egiziano che non solo è diventato ricco con il regime, ma che del regime, da un certo punto in poi, ha fatto anche parte, parte politica, con un posto in Senato, o dentro lo NDP.

Questo, però, non è considerato abbastanza dalla piazza, che anche oggi pomeriggio è piena. Piazza Tahrir, dove oggi – in un evento raro per l’inverno egiziano – ha anche piovuto. I dimostranti chiedono ancora e sempre le dimissioni di Hosni Mubarak da presidente della repubblica. Dopo, si potrà parlare, anche, perfino con il capo dell’intelligence, e ora vicepresidente, Omar Suleiman. Lo hanno detto in molti, nel fronte delle opposizioni che – a differenza di quello che sostiene oggi il neo premier Ahmed Shafiq – non sembra siano indeboliti. Oggi hanno parlato sia una delle figure pubbliche del cartello di Baradei, Abdel Rahman Youssef, sia il capo del Movimento 6 Aprile, Ahmed Maher.

I believe that youth awakening and political awareness will not fade even after the current regime falls, which is the most important of all gains.

Al-Masry: Did you achieve political reform?
Maher: Steps taken by the government in response to our demands are positive, but I think that they are old demands. The appointment of vice president, dismissing the idea of Mubarak’s son inheriting his father’s seat, reforming the government, and Mubarak’s non-nomination for presidency should have been a natural response to political demands that rose with the rise of the Kefaya movement in 2004. The main demand the 25 January youth are calling for is the fall of Mubarak’s regime, besides achieving comprehensive reforms on all levels.
Al-Masry: Why don’t you ask the international community to help you achieve these demands?
Maher: Like all Egyptians we reject any foreign intervention in Egypt’s internal affairs, except the European union and the UN Security Council, because we believe that change must come from inside, moreover change by foreign powers will take into account western countries’ interests and therefore we would not feel the meaning of words such as freedom, democracy and change.
Al-Masry: Some people accuse you of receiving financial support from abroad, are they right?
Maher: Yes, we receive help from outside–from outside of Tahrir square! We receive humanitarian aid like food, water and medical supplies for protesters who haven’t left the square since 25 January.
Al-Masry: What about Muslim Brotherhood control of the movement in general and Tahrir Square in particular?
Maher: Yes, there is a large number of Brotherhood supporters and their role is organizing movement inside the square and supporting protesters morally and with physical needs. But this doesn’t mean Egypt would accept falling under Islamic control. Egypt is about to become a civil state. The role and presence of a large number of youth and other political movements is effective.
Al-Masry: When do you think life will come back to Tahrir Square?
Maher: When President Mubarak steps down and hands over power to Vice President Omar Suleiman and when the amendment of constitution Articles 76, 77, and 88 takes place before the next presidential elections. The president talked about reform, but all we witnessed were thugs bullying protesters and attacking them on horses and camels–which reflects that he has no intention to reform.

A parlare è stato anche Abdel Rahman Youssef, poeta, uno degli uomini più vicino a Baradei, terzo figlio di Yussuf al Qaradawy, il cosiddetto sheykh di Al Jazeera. Assieme a Mohammed Abul Ghar, pediatra, coordinatore dell’Assembea Nazionale per il Cambiamento (NAC) sono andati a parlare con Shafiq. E la richiesta chiave per cominciare i negoziati è che Mubarak si dimetta da presidente della repubblica egiziana, dando i suoi poteri al vice. Un segnale importante, perché nella NAc ci sono anche i Fratelli Musulmani.
I ragazzi, intanto, non lasciano Tahrir, che continua a essere molto piena, nonostante i timori che si erano diffusi durante la giornata, che cioò l’esercito volesse svuotare la piazza. Per ora almeno non ci sono riusciti. Per domani, si prevede la messa dei copti in piazza.
Non spendo parole per l’ineffabile prontezza di riflessi con cui l’inviato di Obama al Cairo, Frank Wisner, è intervenuto nella delicatissima situazione egiziana, dicendo che Mubarak (padre) doveva restare al suo posto per dirigere la transizione. Frase poi in sostanza smentita dai funzionari americani. Nel frattempo, però, ha segnato l’ennesimo punto a suo sfavore in Egitto. Come se non ve ne fossero già tanti…
Stay tuned-

La foto è presa dall’album di Ramy Raoof, su Flickr. Sul web, appena inserite, ci sono le foto di Eduardo Castaldo, appena inserite. Le facce di piazza Tahrir, finalmente

Tahrir, la piazza del popolo

Il Cairo non aveva visto così tanto popolo per le strade dai tempi di questa foto. Era anche allora febbraio, l’inizio di febbraio. Il 4 febbraio di 36 anni  fa, il 1975. Erano i funerali di Umm Kulthoum, la Stella d’Oriente, la regina della canzone araba. Allora il popolo scese in strada a rendere omaggio a colei che era più di una cantante, più della voce del panarabismo, più della voce dell’era nasseriana. Era la voce del popolo, proveniente da un piccolo paese, e diventata la voce araba per eccellenza. Un mito.

Allora si dice che due milioni di egiziani si riunirono per il suo funerale. Più di quanti si riunirono attorno al corpo di Gamal Abdel Nasser. Ora, in piazza, nella Piazza della Liberazione, a piazza Tahrir, di fronte all’odiato palazzone del ministero dell’interno, di fronte alla Lega Araba, c’è oltre il milione chiamato a manifestare contro Hosni Mubarak. Le vie circostanti, dicono i testimoni, i giornalisti presenti, sono piene. L’esercito blocca l’ingresso di altre decine di migliaia di persone che stanno arrivando in corteo dal ponte di Qasr el Aini, quello che porta alla maggiore università della città, l’ateneo del Cairo, nonché vicino al principale ospedale della megalopoli.

Mai visto il potere del popolo come questo, dicono su Al Jazeera. Una manifestazione di orgoglio, di forza, che arriva certo in tutti le più lontane, nascosto località del mondo arabo. E’ un messaggio il cui impatto non riusciamo ancora a comprendere, dentro, nel cuore del mondo arabo. Così come è arrivato forte e chiaro al regime egiziano, e al mondo arabo, che l’opposizione a Mubarak è tutta unita. Il comitato che si è riunito, mentre il milione di persone era in piazza, è composto da tutti i partiti, i movimenti, le anime politiche dell’Egitto. E con una sola voce ha detto: non parleremo con nessuno sinché Hosni Mubarak non si dimetterà. Nessun contatto, nessun negoziato, senza le dimissioni di Mubarak. Lo hanno confermato i partecipanti della riunione, compreso Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh, uno dei leader più noti dell’ala pragmatica, protagonista – già nel 2005 – della nascita del movimento Kifaya  (fu nel pugno di fondatori del cartello delle opposizioni). Un nome che significa che tra coloro che stanno formando una sorta di CLN egiziano ci sono gli uomini che hanno fatto opposizione a Mubarak negli anni scorsi. Non sono nati ieri, insomma, anche se lo stesso Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh, protagonista a suo tempo del movimento studentesco negli anni Settanta, ha riconosciuto a chiare lettere che sono stati i giovani, i ragazzi a fare questa rivoluzione. La rivoluzione del 2011.

La Storia scorre sugli  schermi, oggi.

Da FB alla strada, lacrimogeni compresi

“The Egyptian 11th commandment: Thou Shall Not Tweet or Facebook”. L’undicesimo comandamento egiziano: Tu Non Dovrai né Twittare né usare Facebook. E’ uno degli ultimi messaggini mandati oggi pomeriggio via twitter dai ragazzi egiziani che non demordono. Oggi non ci sono i numeri di ieri. Le piazze non sono stracolme, dalla piazza Tahrir del Cairo alle strade di Suez e di Alessandria. Dopo aver disperso la folla che si trovava ancora a piazza Tahrir, stanotte, la polizia ha preso il totale controllo del Cairo, nella downtown. Difficile, per chi avesse voluto manifestare, arrivare soltanto vicino ai palazzi del potere, al ministero dell’interno, al parlamento, in una Cairo paralizzata. Eppure, qualcosa è successo lo stesso. Di fronte al sindacato dei giornalisti. E soprattutto a Galaa street, l’arteria che arriva alle spalle del Museo Egizio e che passa d avanti al consolato italiano. I ragazzi che hanno incendiato copertoni erano proprio davanti al grande complesso di color rosso che sta all’angolo del quartiere del Boulaq, e poco distanti dalla sede del più importante quotidiano del regime, Al Ahram.

La polizia è intervenuta duramente, oggi. Almeno 40 arresti. Botte. Lacrimogeni, idranti, c’è chi parla di live ammunition contro i dimostranti. Nonostante twitter e facebook oggi abbiano incontrato ancor più difficoltà di ieri, tra blocchi e chiusure, nonostante i blogger abbiamo fatto fatica ad aggirare la censura del regime di Hosni Mubarak, le notizie sono filtrate lo stesso. E la notizia principale è che soprattutto i giovani non hanno voglia di demordere. La parola d’ordine che gira è: grande manifestazione dopo la preghiera del venerdì. Di venerdì prossimo. Ci riusciranno? Riusciranno ad avere i numeri, nonostante non abbiano alle spalle le grandi organizzazioni politiche? In parallelo con quello che è successo in Tunisia, va in onda al Cairo, a Suez, a Mansoura un fenomeno che prima o poi dovremo studiare. La capacità di scendere in piazza nonostante non vi siano i sindacati, i partiti di massa…

L’opposizione politica egiziana è stata in questi ultimi anni decimata. I Fratelli Musulmani hanno subito costantemente retate di militanti e arresti di leader (soprattutto quelli pragmatici). I partiti rappresentati in parlamento sono spesso l’ombra di se stessi, organismi che non riescono ad avere contatto con il consenso reale. L’unico che gode ancora di un’organizzazione diffusa è lo NDP dei Mubarak. Il resto sembra magmatico: una tendenza, un sentimento, un flusso che si divide nei movimenti su Facebook (come il ‘6 aprile’), nel cartello che appoggia Mohammed el Baradei, in ciò che resta del cartello d’opposizione di Kifaya. Divisi, eppure uniti dallo stesso desiderio, e soprattutto dalla stessa urgenza di riportare democrazia in Egitto. E’ anche di questo humus che si nutre la piazza, e il consenso di cui la piazza gode.

E’ un quadro decisamente diverso, questo, dal quadro che qualcuno sta raccontando in Italia. Il regime di Hosni Mubarak non è moderato da molto tempo, soprattutto con i cittadini di uno Stato che vorrebbero essere cittadini e che invece si sentono sudditi. Paradossalmente, questa realtà passa inosservata, come se non esistesse nelle università, nelle scuole, nelle strade, nei quartieri, negli ospedali del Cairo. La frattura tra il regime e i suoi cittadini è talmente ampio che rischia di non essere più sanabile. Anzi, non lo è più da tempo.

E allora pongo una domanda banale: cos’hanno di meno questi ragazzi del Cairo da quelli di Teheran? Hanno lo stesso valore, la stessa dignità, oppure valore e dignità si misurano a seconda della convenienza e delle alleanze delle nostre cancellerie? Mubarak non è Ahmadinejad, e dunque i ragazzi del Cairo non hanno lo stesso valore. Questo sembra l’assunto, leggendo alcune interpretazioni di quello che sta succedendo in Egitto. Meglio che l’Egitto non cada. Lo sento ripetere da tanti anni. Se avessimo pensato prima a rafforzare la democrazia egiziana, invece che puntellare un palazzo con seri problemi di stabilità strutturale, forse non dovremmo discutere ora cosa sia meglio per noi. E non per l’Egitto degli egiziani. Dei camerieri di Sharm, dei venditori di souvenir di Assuan, delle guide del Cairo…

Effetto Domino tra gli invisibili

All’apparenza, nulla dovrebbe unire l’attentato di Capodanno alla Chiesa dei Santi di Alessandria d’Egitto con la rivolta iniziata a dicembre a Sidi Bouzid e diffusasi ora sino alle strade di Tunisi. Un attentato sanguinoso con una rivolta di ragazzi per il pane e le rose? Non può essere. Il filo rosso che le unisce, però, c’è. E non è quello che succede nelle piazze, nelle strade di Sidi Bouzid o Alessandria d’Egitto, quanto piuttosto quello che succede nei palazzi presidenziali, nelle stanze nascoste dei regimi al potere a Tunisi o al Cairo.

Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, così come Hosni Mubarak, sono i nostri campioni di moderatismo. Sono i migliori alleati dell’Occidente. Prevengono l’ascesa dell’islam politico. Conservano la stabilità dei loro paesi, come se stabilità fosse sinonimo di ibernazione, di congelamento della democrazia. Poi, nei giorni del breve inverno nordafricano, si scopre che né Egitto né Tunisia sono paesi stabili. Che un attentato sanguinoso a una chiesa ortodossa di Alessandria nasconde non solo e non tanto tensioni settarie, quanto una mancata riforma del regime per trasformarlo in una vera, sostanziale democrazia. Alaa al Aswani, che ho intervistato per l’Espresso (sul numero ancora oggi in edicola), dice che “il regime non è innocente”, perché ha consentito all’islamismo radicale salafita di fecondarsi, in funzione anti-Fratelli Musulmani. Una cosa nota da tempo, non solo agli studiosi di politologia egiziana, ma a tutta quella fascia di uomini e donne a metà tra il giornalismo e l’analisi della politica internazionale che tentano di mostrare all’Occidente che il mondo arabo lasciato vivere (sopravvivere) in queste condizioni non è un fattore di stabilità per noi. Al contrario.

Stesso dicasi per la Tunisia. Sono anni che sento ripetere non solo ai politici italiani, ma all’uomo e alla donna della strada che “però, almeno la Tunisia ci protegge dai fondamentalisti, e il velo è vietato per legge, e Ben Ali è laico”. Laici sono anche moltissimi dei blogger, moltissimi dei ragazzi per le strade della rivoluzione del gelsomino che infiamma la Tunisia. E allora cos’è successo? Cos’è che non abbiamo capito? Francamente, e personalmente, noi – nel senso di quella terra di mezzo tra giornalismo e analisi – avevamo già capito, a mo’ di Cassandre. E’ solo che non ci avevate ascoltato (sulla Stampa di oggi, c’è un mio articolo sui blogger, da dove sono nati, perché sono cresciuti).

Scusate lo sfogo, ma mi fa male, nelle viscere, vedere la disperazione nei ragazzi che si danno fuoco. Mi fa male, nelle viscere, vedere il sangue su una chiesa di Alessandria d’Egitto. Si poteva evitare, a essere meno miopi, più coraggiosi, a essere meno ignoranti. A non seguire, soprattutto, le chiarine dello scontro di civiltà, di una Realpolitik senza fondamento che dovrebbe guidare i nostri passi diplomatici. La vera Realpolitik, quella di stampo brandtiano, prevedeva altro. Prevedeva coraggio e capacità di analisi. Nel rapporto col mondo arabo, sono mancate entrambe queste qualità.

L’Egitto dovrebbe traghettare alla democrazia da anni, forse decenni. Hosni Mubarak è al potere da quasi 30 anni. Le accuse di brogli nelle elezioni partono almeno dal 2000. Nel 2005 la gente è stata  costretta a entrare nei seggi dalla finestra, con una scala di legno, per poter votare. I poliziotti lo impedivano, al secondo e al terzo turno, perché i Fratelli Musulmani, presentatisi come indipendenti, stavano vincendo troppo. E qualche mese fa ci sono state altre elezioni, e con un eufemismo si potrebbe dire che hanno avuto qualche problemino.

Tralascio di dire qual è la situazione di giornalisti, blogger, oppositori. Mi chiedo solo: è questa la stabilità che vogliamo, nel colosso del mondo arabo? E non si può far niente per aiutare il processo democratico, in un paese dove la presenza di capitali europei e americani, di aiuti umanitari, di progetti di sostegno è enorme?

Vogliamo continuare con gli esempi, e parlare di Algeria? Esattamente 19 anni fa, gennaio 1992, vi fu un golpe bianco ad Algeri. Perché aveva vinto l’islam politico. Abbiamo digerito – chissà, forse anche aiutato – la sostanziale cancellazione del voto democratico e consegnato l’Algeria a una guerra civile devastante, sanguinosa, conclusasi con la ‘normalizzazione’ di Bouteflika. Poi si scopre, qualche settimana fa, che tutta questa normalizzazione non è che abbia quietato gli animi. Bastava andare ad Algeri, come ho fatto poco più di un anno fa, invitata alla Fiera del Libro, per annusare altro. Sono tornata da Algeri, e tutti mi hanno sentito pronunciare una strana frase. “Quella è una città che sprizza violenza da tutti i pori. Una città crudele”. Strana frase, visto che sono stata accolta benissimo, che non ho avuto brutte avventure, che sono stata trattata con la cortesia tipica del mondo arabo. Eppure, la tensione si sentiva. Si sentiva che quello non è un paese pacificato: è un paese diviso, spaccato, dove c’è un di qua e un  di là. Come 19 anni fa. Con una guerra civile e una normalizzazione di mezzo.

Ah, poi c’è la Palestina. La vittoria di Hamas nel 2006, sancita da poco meno di mille osservatori internazionali. La finestra di opportunità non l’abbiamo colta, e ora ci ritroviamo nel mezzo di un caos difficilmente risolvibile, con la macchia dell’Operazione Piombo Fuso che è schizzata anche sulla nostra camicia immacolata, di difensori strenui della democrazia. E come se non bastasse, mi sento dire da mesi che nei circoli diplomatici si ammette di aver sbagliato, tra 2005 e 2006, quando si è deciso di isolare Hamas dopo il successo elettorale. Bella prova!

Se volete continuo, ma lo sfogo è già durato troppo. Da veri apprendisti stregoni, stiamo allevando i mostri. E poi non dite che era colpa degli arabi. Loro ci hanno provato, a spingere per la democrazia, declinata alla laica o alla islamista. Non ci è piaciuto. Ma prima, per favore, cerchiamo di capire chi sono i protagonisti di questa vicenda. Cerchiamo di non mettere nella stessa barca i fratelli musulmani con i salafiti, islam politico con  jihadismo. E’ una questione di vocabolario, dunque di sostanza.