My timing seemed right again as I returned to Cairo for the third time since the Janauray 25th revolution. On Saturday, March 19th, as I was landing from Luxor, Egyptians were voting on their first referendum in at least 30 years. The turnout was high - almost 80 percent of the population showed up at the polls.
Egyptians seem to be in a hurry for reform. Nobel Prize laureate and pro-democratic supporter, Muhammad ElBaradei had rocks thrown at him outside a Cairo polling center because he called for a “no” vote in the referendum. He thinks the constitution should be completely rewritten and political parties need more time to organize before new elections.
Supporters of the amendments and referendum included the Muslim Brotherhood, and the former National Democratic Party, Mubarak's party. They are the two most organized political parties in Egypt at the moment. Only time will tell how the revolution will serve the common citizen.
As I came back from almost two weeks visiting temples and tombs in Upper Egypt (the south), between Aswan and Luxor, I find myself revisiting my thoughts about power, religion and exploitation. Ramses II comes to mind with his huge statues in Memphis and temples everywhere in the country, including the Great Abu Simbal, near Aswan, which I didn't visit. Prominent head priests like Roy and Shuroy, whose tombs remain intact, are very large and ornamented, another sign of the power religion played during pharaoh times.
At some of the temples, the pagan pantheon of the ancient days, Isis, Orus and Osiris, are often depicted next to a pharaoh and his queen and sometimes their children. I can only guess that by association, the royal family give themselves a special status in the Egyptian society. Monarchy and dictators need to convey the idea of their specialness and their power to the ruled masses, otherwise, there is a risk of dissent.
Western powers play a more subtle game, the propaganda and manipulation is not as direct, but it all means the same in the end – concentration of power, wealth and resources in the hands of an elite. Which brings me to the current news in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and the role of the imperialist powers of the day, namely, France, Britain and the U.S.
Last week, France, Britain and the United States began a process that will possibly overthrow Moamar Gadaffi, Lybia's dictator and tyrant for 42 years.
In attacking Libya, western nations led by France, have argued that Moamar Gadaffi is massacring “his-own-people.”
A week ago, March 14th, 2011, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, deployed 1,000 troops, 500 security personnel and armored troop carriers to Bahrain to help their fellow monarchy after a month of protests against the Al Khalifa dynasty. The following day the Bahamian government declared a three-month state of emergency and authorized the military "to take necessary steps to restore national security." The government security forces attacked protesters with tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopters.
The Shia, who have been marginalized for 200 years by the Al-Khalifas and the Sunni ruling elite, make up 70 per cent of the 550,000 population. The Saudis are surely fearful that protests will spread to their own largely Shia Eastern Province.
Saudi military forces entered Bahrain two days after U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Bahrain and met with its Commander-in-Chief and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the Defense Force. Gates praised the king's and prince's "willingness to engage with the opposition," citing their efforts as "a model for the entire region" - the Middle East and North Africa.
The United States has long been Saudi Arabia's leading arms supplier. From 1950 through 2006, it amounted to almost US$80 billion, including services. This is almost a fifth of all American arms sales during the period, even more than the arms supply deals with Israel.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet, one of six used by Washington to patrol the world's seas and oceans, is headquartered near Manama, across from the Persian Gulf and Iran, where between 4,000-6,000 American military personnel are stationed. The area is vital to U.S. international military and energy strategy as 50% of the world's oil comes from this region.
In the meantime, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is trying to appease the masses in his country with more “bread.” As hundreds of the minority Shia Muslims in the eastern part of the kingdom protested peacefully on Friday in support of Shias in Bahrain, the king of Saudi Arabia offered US$93 billion in benefits to the population. This is in addition to the US$35 billion announced a month ago, or over 20 percent of the total GDP of the Kingdom, an indication that the monarchy must be feeling very threatened.
I am not in favor of mass massacres like what Qadaffi is doing in Libya, but the excuse used to impose the no-fly policy and crash the current dictatorship sounds like manipulation, propaganda and hypocrisy.
Western nations have done nothing about the massacre of more than 40 peaceful protesters in Yemen during the same week, by the government of Yemen and it’s paramilitary or militia, because Yemen is a client nation state, eager to serve interests of western nations. The west has also not helped Bahrain citizens who are being massacred for fighting for their rights, but instead, are praising their government for “controlling” the population.
In 1994, almost a million people were massacred in Rwanda, due to ethnic cleansing between Hutu and Tutsi despite the presence of the United Nations troops in the area. Darfur Sudan, is another example, where millions of Darfurians Sudanese died, because of their religion, race and southern origins in the Sudan.
These are only a few examples, where massacres even greater than what is happening in Libya were met with mostly indifference by the west.
Some westerns say that the world cannot intervene every time a “barbaric” nation wants to kill their citizens for no other reason than race and religion. I am not sure which is worse, no action or selective action. On top of selective action, we are sold on the humanitarian zealousness of the West, which is offensive to me as a western.
As I visited hundreds of temples and museums during the last month, the signs of domination and exploitation in Egypt are too great to be ignored. Both in ancient times but also in modern days.
Maybe the pyramids were not built by slaves, but I am not so sure the population of that time enjoyed any more distribution of wealth as they do today.