I decided to re-print this article in full. It is a excellent, even amazing, piece of journalism by Robert Fisk, with a lot of highly pertinent lesson for us all.
The power of brutality & its limits – The Independant
~ Robert Fisk
5:30 AM Friday Feb 18, 2011
After three weeks watching the greatest Arab nation hurling a preposterous old man from power, I’m struck by something very odd.
We have been informing the world that the infection of Tunisia’s revolution spread to Egypt – and that near-identical democracy protests have broken out in Yemen, Bahrain and in Algeria.
But we’ve all missed the most salient contamination of all: that the state security police who prop up the power of the Arab world’s autocrats have used the same hopeless tactics of savagery to crush demonstrators in Sana’a, Bahrain and Algiers as Tunisian and Egyptian dictators tried vainly to employ against their own pro-democracy protesters.
Just as the non-violent millions in Cairo learnt from Al-Jazeera and from their opposite numbers in Tunis so the state security thugs in Egypt have used precisely the same brutality against the crowds as their colleagues in Tunis.
The cops in Cairo saw the cops in Tunis bludgeoning government opponents to a bloody mess and – totally ignoring the fact that this led to Ben Ali’s downfall – went into copycat mode.
Having had the pleasure of standing next to these state security warriors in the streets of Cairo, I can attest to their tactics from personal experience.
First, the uniformed police confronted the demonstrators. Then their ranks parted to allow the baltagi – the former policemen, drug-addicts and ex-prisoners – to strike the protesters with sticks, police coshes and crowbars.
Then the criminals retreated to police lines while the cops doused demonstrators with thousands of tear-gas canisters (made in the US). In the end, as I watched with considerable satisfaction, the protesters simply overwhelmed the state security men and their mafiosi.
But what happens when I turn on Al-Jazeera to see where we should travel next? On the streets of Yemen are state security police baton-charging crowds of Sana’a’s pro-democracy demonstrators then parting ranks to allow plain-clothes thugs to attack the protesters with sticks, police coshes, iron bars and pistols. And the moment the cop-criminals retreat, the Yemeni police douse the crowds with tear-gas rounds.
A few minutes later, I am watching Algerian cops batoning the crowds, allowing plain-clothes men to race forward with crow-bars and coshes, then spraying tear-gas across the streets. Then Bahrain, where – I don’t need to tell you, do I? – cops baton the demonstrators and slop thousands of tear-gas rounds into the men and women with such promiscuity that the police themselves, overcome by the gas, retch speechlessly on to the road. Weird, isn’t it?
But no, I suspect not. For years, the secret services of these countries have been mimicking their mates for one simple reason: because their intelligence kapos have been swapping tips for years.
Torture tips, too. The Egyptians learnt how to use electricity in their desert prisons far more forcefully on genitals after a friendly visit from lads based at the Chateauneuf police station in Algiers, who specialise in pumping water into men until they literally burst apart. When I was in Algiers in December, the head of Tunisian state security dropped by for a fraternal visit. Just as Algerians visited Syria back in 1994 to find out how Hafez al-Assad dealt with the 1982 Muslim uprising in Hama. Simple, slaughter the people, blow up the city, leave the corpses of innocent and guilty for the survivors to see. Which is what le pouvoir then did to the vicious and armed Islamists as well as their own people.
It was infernal, this open university of torture, a constant round of conferences and first-hand “interrogation” accounts by the sadists of the Arab world, with the constant support of the Pentagon and its scandalous “strategic co-operation” manuals, not to mention the enthusiasm of Israel. But there was a vital flaw in these lectures. If people once – just once – lost their fear, and rose up to crush their oppressors, the very system of pain and frightfulness would become its own enemy, its ferocity the very reason for its collapse. This is what happened in Tunis. This is what happened in Egypt.
It’s an instructive lesson. Bahrain, Algeria and Yemen are all following the identical policies of brutality that failed Ben Ali and Mubarak. That’s not the only strange parallel between the overthrow of these two titans. Mubarak really thought the people would suffer another five months of his rule. Ben Ali much the same. It proves the dictators of the Middle East are infinitely more stupid, more vicious, more vain, more arrogant, more ridiculous than even their own people realised.
People in power are NEVER keen to give it up. And I think you will find that just as much in a Western Liberal Democracy as anywhere else. The only question is how much violence they are prepared to use in the fight to retain their positions and privilege.
Because fight they definitely will!
They certainly wont shy away from lying, deception, false flags and obfuscation. Followed by strong arm tactics and intimidation.
Tunisia and Egypt has proved that can be defeated. Respect to them for what they have achieved in the face of raw and ugly State Power.
Bahrain currently has demonstrated that when the State apparatus and Apparatchiks has been used to violently assault, injure and kill its own citizens, then it has abdicated any right to to be further involved in any dialog on the future of the country. They are exposed as the violent thugs, bullies and criminals that they are. And kudos to the opposition leaders there who have called them on this. It is now too late for the current leaders to plead “mea culpa and please lets forgive and forget…”.
Too late, and too little. The now discredited (soon to be ex) leaders have run out of options and legitimacy, it is time to fold their tents and steal away into the night (I am sure they also have no shortage of stolen treasure to steal away with).
When the rulers lose the consent of the governed, one way or another – it is over.
And YES, Roberts Fisk’s last statement is all too true: “It proves the dictators of the Middle East are infinitely more stupid, more vicious, more vain, more arrogant, more ridiculous than even their own people realised.”
Now just substitute in for ‘dictators’ – ‘the powers that be’, in general.
They aren’t as smart and superior as they think they are.
But they sure are as arrogant and immoral as you think they are.
For as long as the Arab dictators have been in power, the rest of the world has been under the thumb of the Kleptocracy of Richistan.
Time for some “inchoate rage”?