February 12, 2011
Yesterday, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as President of Egypt, leaving the military in charge of the government – hopefully, a first step toward a true democracy. Ordinary people around the world rejoiced with the young people of Tahrir Square. Even before Mubarak’s departure, the king of Jordan replaced his entire cabinet and told them to get crackin’ on those democratic changes he’d been thinking about for years, but had not carried out. The Israeli government, which had encouraged President Obama not to be too hasty in demanding Mubarak leave now, fretted about what it might mean for them as these Egyptian young people actually got the changes they wanted. And despots and dictators all across North Africa and the Middle East looked anew at their own oppressed people and wondered if they might be next to go.
Within hours after Mubarak’s departure, media pundits here – and in other western countries, no doubt – began questioning what our government should do to help these Egyptians move on into “democracy”. Meaning, of course, how can we finagle this to make sure things don’t go badly for our big corporations, military arms industry, oil companies, and the big banks that finance them all, if these peoples’ movements get out of hand – especially in those countries that have our oil underneath their sands?
Frankly, if this is – as I suspect and hope – the Peoples’ time, the answer to that question and the accompanying fears of Israel and the despots and dictators we’ve supported over the years is, Not Much.
We still teeter on the edge of an economic abyss of our own making. Oil and food prices continue to rise here and abroad. Our bloated security bureaucracy, expensive military adventures in four of those same Middle East countries, the vast array of military bases and intelligence enclaves around the world, the huge network of subsidies and tax breaks to these same multi-national corporations and the billions in monetary and military aid we furnish to both Israel and the despots only make it worse.
Now our leaders tell us we must engage in a frenzy of cost cutting here at home, designed not so much to cut the federal debt – as we are being told – but to make sure that our own elite can maintain those trappings of Empire for just a little longer at the expense of the people the government is supposed to serve. (If you doubt this, look closely at the proposed federal cuts and see how many of them dig into those stalwarts of Imperial power even marginally.)
As things get tougher for ordinary Americans – and they will – so that the elite of the Empire can maintain their perquisites, our leaders may want to take another look at what is happening in North Africa right now. As Egypt has clearly shown, when the peoples’ time comes, even those long-entrenched powers that have maintained their wealth at their people’s expense come down. The question they need to ask themselves is whether such changes here would be as peaceful as in Egypt or as bloody as are most attempts to hang onto power past its time.
This is not a call for revolution, but it is a call for our government to examine its priorities as it had so often urged those other governments to do. An Empire based on crony capitalism and militarism is no longer a democracy. If changes aren’t made to more equitably meet its own people’s needs, sooner or later – as empires inevitably do – it will run up against our own Peoples’ time and fall.