Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lessons from Tahrir to Damascus

Lessons from Tahrir to Damascus !!!
By Francesco Sisci ....

BEIJING - Aside from geopolitics and the balance of power, Egypt is also an issue of principle - of democracy, an idea crucial to the West, one that found its identity and role during the last century in the fight against totalitarian regimes.

Nowadays, democracy is vital for the West and the global world order as the old West is economically weak following the 2008 crisis, or perhaps in decline before the rise of China and other developing countries.

It was difficult for the Barack Obama administration to stand by a repressive regime in Egypt tyrannizing its own people. If it stood aloof while former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was killing unarmed demonstrators, then its policy towards repressive regimes like North Korea, Iran and possibly, partly also authoritarian China, would be unhinged. Those regimes would be fully justified in dragging their feet on all accusations regarding their lack of democracy.

Half of the Western world says it, the other half thinks (or hopes) for it: in Cairo today, in Beijing tomorrow; Mubarak today, the Chinese despot tomorrow. The powers of the contagion of revolution are larger than those of colds, and the viruses of street protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 will no doubt be back. The West, bearer of universal values of democracy, will emerge triumphant.

Or will it? For the Chinese leaders, the current situation in Egypt poses no risk, only advantages. If the transition to democracy works in Cairo, prudent China could accelerate its process of political reform preceded by the example of Egypt. The lesson of Tiananmen has been simply that of trying to anticipate, and thus cull, mass protests by setting forth reforms first.

If democracy wins in Egypt, the global signals will be clear, and China will have plenty of time to play along. Its situation is by far better than that in Egypt and Beijing in theory will have plenty of time to adapt to the new circumstances. If, otherwise, things go wrong, Chinese prudence will have triumphed.

In reality, the attempts to export Western democracy to the Islamic world, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, were all unsuccessful. In Tehran, almost 30 years ago, it was an American president, Jimmy Carter, who gave the green light to drop the tyrannical shah. It took only a few months because the moderate entrepreneurs of the Iranian bazaar, who in the beginning had dominated the protest, passed the hand to Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic fundamentalists.

The Iranian religious revolution, which at the time had to be a signal against the atheist Soviet enemy, became the tombstone of Carter. The Shi'ite Khomeinists managed to wangle between the two blocs and survive well, so far, even the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nor did things go better when the United States did not try to drive the political process from the outside but instead ventured into trying to micromanage democracy implants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Certainly, the two countries no longer export terrorism nor pose a threat to neighbors, but it is doubtful that today they are more democratic than when the Americans entered, while a war at various levels of intensity lasted some 10 years.

In Egypt, the conditions are no better than anywhere else in the Muslim world. Many women are forced into the medieval practice of infibulations, over 20% of the population lives below the poverty line, 30% are illiterate, despite the supreme traditional wisdom of writer Neguib Mahfuz or the library of Alexandria.

From this history, cynical Chinese senior leaders, who experienced the revolution firsthand in the days of Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four, infer the possibility that the days after Mubarak could be similar and even worse than the 30 years of Mubarak's rule. That result would humiliate America's simple democratic enthusiasm and would give new weight to the prudent Chinese political choice.

Beijing knows that as people took to Tahrir Square the streets in Cairo several old counter-revolutionary forces took in action in the region. The Egyptian protest scares known infamous despotisms of Syria or Libya, but also the less notorious ones of Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Morocco. They fear the contagious virus first and know that the battle for their stability is being fought today on the streets of Cairo.

The situation will not be resolved anytime soon. The push for elections in the coming weeks or months will be tailed by international grain price hikes, of which China's present drought and new appetite for meat also contributed. These price hikes have ignited the powders of protest in the first place.

In June, when the poor summer harvest comes in, it could be a time of global inflation for food products and this, in turn, could kindle a new wave of demonstrations in Egypt and in the whole Middle East. That is to say that in June, no matter what government is in power, a tough choice could arise: either topple the new government or accept a violent crackdown of the more radical protests.

Neither aid program that could prevent the spiral of demonstrations would be easy to implement. It would not be easy to move sacks of foreign flour from the airports to the homes of the poor; it would be much easier to sell them on the black market. Two forces have an interest in this happening - some corrupt profiteering officials, but also the extremists who want a radicalization of the protests because they ride the hungry and angry masses.

The Chinese are not gloating about the situation. They are concerned because they see the confusion and difficulties of their beacon, America, as a sign of a tarnishing global order in which they have thrived for over 30 years. Without America, China does not know what to do and yet does not want to be embroiled in setting a new political world order.

Earlier, a People's Daily commentary warned the United States of the dangers of supporting a protest that could soon turn anti-American. [1] If this happens the US would shift attention from the Pacific to the Middle East, which would then reinforce the need for America to rely on China. This, too, Beijing saw how within a few days after September 11, 2001, the George W Bush administration, which had been poised for confrontation with China, drastically switched its priorities.

Certainly American choices are stark in Egypt. Supporting a crackdown would further smear the US image in the Islamic world and globally. The alternatives, if things spin out of control, are doomsday scenarios: The Suez Canal blocked, choking off trade between Asia and Europe, or Israel, fearing for its survival because of a new anti-Jewish Egyptian government, attacking Egypt, and shock waves reverberating around the whole Muslim world.

In fact, can America guarantee that Egypt will not fall in the hands of radical Muslims? Its army is not professional, is made of conscripts and the middle-ranking officers can be sympathetic with the cause of their fellow protesters. Furthermore, already once, with Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1952, Egyptian colonels took matters in their hands by staging a coup that changed the destiny of the Islamic world.

There is a broader issue, that democracy is not easy implant, and for this reason before trying to spread it, one should try to defend it where it exists, as there are many places in the world where democracy was suppressed.

This means that possibly America should have been more careful, less enthusiastic, as it is not certain that mass protests mean that the majority of Egyptians are against Mubarak's rule. But perhaps in present circumstances, even if America's democracy will be "beaten" in Egypt, its mistakes were unavoidable.

This is a further lesson for China. What would China do is it were number one and had to take an international stand in Egypt? Staying aloof would just be siding against the protests and thus against popular sentiments in the Muslim world, something that for all its prudence and realism could put China on the wrong side of history, something that Beijing could pay a dear price for sooner or later.

Now China can comfortably seat back, comfortably side with America and wait for developments to unfold just knowing that it will win anyway as things develop and it will learn a lot about how to be number one in a distant or not so distant future.

1. "Washington doomed to be caught in Mideast unrest," by Li Hongmei January 31, 2011.
Weapons of mass disruption
By Michael Schwartz

Memo to United States President Barack Obama: Given the absence of intelligent intelligence and the inadequacy of your advisers' advice, it's not surprising that your handling of the Egyptian uprising has set new standards for foreign policy incoherence and incompetence. Perhaps a primer on how to judge the power that can be wielded by mass protest will prepare you better for the next round of political upheavals.

Remember the uprising in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989? That was also a huge, peaceful protest for democracy, but it was crushed with savage violence. Maybe the memory of that event convinced you and your team that, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced when the protests began, that the Mubarak regime was "stable" and in "no danger of falling". Or maybe your confidence rested on the fact that it featured a disciplined modern army trained and supplied by the US.

But it fell, and you should have known that it was in grave danger. You should have known that the prognosis for this uprising was far better than the one that ended in a massacre in Tiananmen Square; that it was more likely to follow the pattern of people power in Tunisia, where only weeks before another autocrat had been driven from power, or Iran in 1979 and Poland in 1989.

Since your intelligence people, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), obviously didn't tell you, let me offer you an explanation for why the Egyptian protesters proved so much more successful in fighting off the threat and reality of violence than their Chinese compatriots, and why they were so much better equipped to deter an attack by a standing army.

Most importantly, let me fill you in on why, by simply staying in the streets and adhering to their commitment to nonviolence, they were able to topple a tyrant with 30 years seniority and US backing from the pinnacle of power, sweeping him into the dustbin of history.

When does an army choose to be non-violent?
One possible answer - a subtext of mainstream media coverage - is that the Egyptian military, unlike its Chinese counterpart, decided not to crush the rebellion, and that this forbearance enabled the protest to succeed. However, this apparently reasonable argument actually explains nothing unless we can answer two intertwined questions that flow from it.

The first is: Why was the military so restrained this time around, when for 50 years, "it has stood at the core of a repressive police state"? The second is: Why couldn't the government, even without a military ready to turn its guns on the demonstrators, endure a few more days, weeks, or months of protest, while waiting for the uprising to exhaust itself, and - as the BBC put it - "have the whole thing fizzle out"?

The answer to both questions lies in the remarkable impact that the protest had on the Egyptian economy. President Hosni Mubarak and his cohort (as well as the military, which is the country's economic powerhouse) were alarmed that the business "paralysis induced by the protests" was "having a huge impact on the creaking economy" of Egypt. As finance minister Samir Radwin said two weeks into the uprising, the economic situation was "very serious" and that "the longer the stalemate continues, the more damaging it is".

From their inception, the huge protests threatened the billions of dollars that the leaders and chief beneficiaries of the Mubarak regime had acquired during their 30-year reign of terror, corruption, and accumulation. To the generals in particular, it was surely apparent that the massive acts of brutality necessary to suppress the uprising would have caused perhaps irreparable harm, threatening its vast economic interests. In other words, either trying to outwait the revolutionaries or imposing the Tiananmen solution risked the downfall of the economic empires of Egypt's ruling groups.

But why would either of those responses destroy the economy?

Squeezing the life out of the Mubarak regime
Put simply, from the beginning, the Egyptian uprising had the effect of a general strike. Starting on January 25, the first day of the protest, tourism - the largest industry in the country, which had just begun its high season - went into free fall. After two weeks, the industry had simply "ground to a halt", leaving a significant portion of the 2 million workers it supported with reduced wages or none at all, and the few remaining tourists rattling around empty hotels, catching the pyramids, if at all, on television.

Since pyramids and other Egyptian sites attract more than 1 million visitors a month and account for at least 5% of the Egyptian economy, tourism alone (given the standard multiplier effect) may account for over 15% of the country's cash flow.

Not surprisingly, then, news reports soon began mentioning revenue losses of up to $310 million per day. In an economy with an annual gross domestic product (GDP) of well over $200 billion, each day that Mubarak clung to office produced a tangible and growing decline in it. After two weeks of this ticking time bomb, Credit Agricole, the largest banking group in France, lowered its growth estimate for the economy by 32%.

The initial devastating losses in the tourist, hotel, and travel sectors of the Egyptian economy hit industries dominated by huge multinational corporations and major Egyptian business groups dependent on a constant flow of revenues. When cash flow dies, loan payments must still be made, hotels heated, airline schedules kept, and many employees, especially executives, paid.

In such a situation, losses start mounting fast, and even the largest companies can face a crisis quickly. The situation was especially ominous because it was known that skittish travelers would be unlikely to return until they were confident that no further disruptions would occur.

The largest of businesses, local and multinational, are not normally prone to inactivity. They are the ones likely to move most quickly to stem a tide of red ink by agitating the government to suppress such a protest, hopefully yesterday. But the staggering size of even the early demonstrations, the face of a mobilizing civil society visibly shedding 30 years of passivity, proved stunning.

The fiercely brave response to police attacks, in which repression was met by masses of new demonstrators pouring into the streets, made it clear that brutal suppression would not quickly silence these protests. Such acts were more likely to prolong the disruptions and possibly amplify the uprising.

Even if Washington was slow on the uptake, it didn't take long for the relentlessly repressive Egyptian ruling clique to grasp the fact that large-scale, violent suppression was an impossible-to-implement strategy. Once the demonstrations involved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Egyptians, a huge and bloody suppression guaranteed long-term economic paralysis and ensured that the tourist trade wasn't going to rebound for months or longer.

The paralysis of the tourism industry was, in itself, an economic time bomb that threatened the viability of the core of the Egyptian capitalist class, as long as the demonstrations continued. Recovery could only begin after a "return to normal life", a phrase that became synonymous with the end of the protests in the rhetoric of the government, the military, and the mainstream media. With so many fortunes at stake, the business classes, foreign and domestic, soon enough began entertaining the most obvious and least disruptive solution: Mubarak's departure.

Strangling the regime
The attack on tourism, however, was just the first blow in what rapidly became the protestors' true weapon of mass disruption, its increasing stranglehold on the economy. The crucial communications and transportation industries were quickly engulfed in chaos and disrupted by the demonstrations.

The government at first shut down the Internet and mobile phone service in an effort to deny the protestors their means of communication and organization, including Facebook and Twitter. When they were reopened, these services operated imperfectly, in part because of the increasingly rebellious behavior of their own employees.

Similar effects were seen in transportation, which became unreliable and sporadic, either because of government shutdowns aimed at crippling the protests or because the protests interfered with normal operations. And such disruptions quickly rippled outward to the many sectors of the economy, from banking to foreign trade, for which communication and/or transportation was crucial.

As the demonstrations grew, employees, customers, and suppliers of various businesses were ever more consumed with preparations for, participation in, or recovery from the latest protest, or protecting homes from looters and criminals after the government called the police force off the streets.

On Fridays especially, many people left work to join the protest during noon prayers, abandoning their offices as the country immersed itself in the next big demonstration - and then the one after.

As long as the protests were sustained, as long as each new crescendo matched or exceeded the last, the economy continued to die while business and political elites became ever more desperate for a solution to the crisis.

The rats leave the sinking ship of state
After each upsurge in protest, Mubarak and his cronies offered new concessions aimed at quieting the crowds. These, in turn, were taken as signs of weakness by the protestors, only convincing them of their strength, amplifying the movement, and driving it into the heart of the Egyptian working class and the various professional guilds. By the start of the third week of demonstrations, protests began to hit critical institutions directly.

On February 9, reports of a widening wave of strikes in major industries around the country began pouring in, as lawyers, medical workers, and other professionals also took to the streets with their grievances. In a single day, tens of thousands of employees in textile factories, newspapers and other media companies, government agencies (including the post office), sanitation workers and bus drivers, and - most significant of all - workers at the Suez Canal began demanding economic concessions as well as the departure of Mubarak.

Since the Suez Canal is second only to tourism as a source of income for the country, a sit-in there, involving up to 6,000 workers, was particularly ominous. Though the protestors made no effort to close the canal, the threat to its operation was self-evident.

A shutdown of the canal would have been not just an Egyptian but a world calamity: a significant proportion of the globe's oil flows through that canal, especially critical for energy-starved Europe. A substantial shipping slowdown, no less a shutdown, threatened a possible renewal of the worldwide recession of 2008-2009, even as it would choke off the Egyptian government's major source of steady income.

As if this weren't enough, the demonstrators turned their attention to various government institutions, attempting to render them "non-functional". The day after the president's third refusal to step down, protestors claimed that many regional capitals, including Suez, Mahalla, Mansoura, Ismailia, Port Said and even Alexandria (the country's major Mediterranean port), were "free of the regime" - purged of Mubarak officials, state-controlled communications, and the hated police and security forces.

In Cairo, the national capital, demonstrators began to surround the parliament, the state TV building, and other centers critical to the national government. Alaa Abd El Fattah, an activist and well-known political blogger in Cairo, told Democracy Now that the crowd "could continue to escalate, either by claiming more places or by actually moving inside these buildings, if the need comes". With the economy choking to death, the demonstrators were now moving to put a hammerlock on the government apparatus itself.

At that point, a rats-leaving-a-sinking-ship-of-state phenomenon burst into public visibility as "several large companies took out adverts in local newspapers putting distance between themselves and the regime". Guardian reporter Jack Shenker affirmed this public display by quoting informed sources describing widespread "nervousness among the business community" about the viability of the regime, and that "a lot of people you might think are in bed with Mubarak have privately lost patience".

It was this tightening noose around the neck of the Mubarak regime that made the remarkable protests of these last weeks so different from those in Tiananmen Square. In China, the demonstrators had negligible economic and political leverage. In Egypt, the option of a brutal military attack, even if "successful" in driving them off the streets, seemed to all but guarantee the deepening of an already dire economic crisis, subjecting ever widening realms of the economy - and so the wealth of the military - to the risk of irreparable calamity.

Perhaps Mubarak would have been willing to sacrifice all this to stay in power. As it happened, a growing crew of movers and shakers, including the military leadership, major businessmen, foreign investors, and interested foreign governments saw a far more appealing alternative solution.

Weil Ziada, head of research for a major Egyptian financial firm, spoke for the business and political class when he told Guardian reporter Jack Shenker on February 11:
Anti-government sentiment is not calming down, it is gaining momentum ... This latest wave is putting a lot more pressure on not just the government but the entire regime; protesters have made their demands clear and there's no rowing back now. Everything is going down one route. There are two or three scenarios, but all involve the same thing: Mubarak stepping down - and the business community is adjusting its expectations accordingly.
The next day, Mubarak resigned and left Cairo.

President Obama, remember this lesson: If you want to avoid future foreign policy Obaminations, be aware that non-violent protest has the potential to strangle even the most brutal regime, if it can definitively threaten the viability of its core industries. In these circumstances, a mass movement equipped with fearsome weapons of mass disruption can topple a tyrant equipped with fearsome weapons of mass destruction.
Iran's post-Islamist generation
By Pepe Escobar

What has just happened in Iran?

There's no question the military dictatorship of the mullahtariat - that conglomerate uniting President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's faction, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his clerical circle, and the military/business complex ruled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) - very much followed to the minute the extraordinary chain of events in Egypt.

And then suddenly they are confronted by a potential remix of Tahrir Square right in their own backyard (Azadi Square in Tehran).

What to do? They could not possibly relax their iron grip on the rules of their game; so to deal with their own protests, they resorted to the usual package of tactics - pre-emptive detention and repression, but stopping short of a bloodbath.

Thus, since early last week at least 30 Iranian activists and journalists got that knock on the door in the dead of night and then "disappeared". A threatening wave of text messages warned people not to attend the rallies. Internet speed was reduced to a crawl and search engines blocked from searching the words "25 Bahman", the date of February 14 according to the Iranian calendar.

This Monday saw hordes of anti-riot police and Bassiji militia on motorbikes riding two-by-two clutching clubs; an orgy of tear gas and paint ball guns; state media tarnishing the mostly young protesters as "seditionists", "spies" and "counter-revolutionaries" who should be crushed; and at least 1,500 people arrested and transferred to sinister Evin prison, plus two confirmed dead. Shades of Mubarakism, anyone?

Former prime minister Hossein Mousavi is part of the old school establishment. His brand of opposition wants reform from within - not revolution; in this aspect, Iran is definitely not Egypt. Mousavi was very smart. He scheduled a march of solidarity with Tunisia and Egypt on the same day Turkish President Abdullah Gul was visiting Tehran.

Any hardcore repression would seriously shatter Tehran's regional reputation with the Arab street, to the benefit of Turkey - especially with Khamenei claiming that the 1979 Islamic Revolution was a key source of inspiration for Tahrir Square.

Which brings us to the key question of allowing the rally to proceed. The government said the demonstration was illegal. But then there were insistent rumors that Gul had asked the government to issue a last-minute permit - and that was accepted. Central Iranian state news confirmed it. But then Deputy Interior Minister Mahmoud Abbaszadeh Meshkini denied it.

The key point is that this time protesters went all out - targeting Khamenei himself, not Ahmadinejad. The most popular chant was Mubarak, Ben Ali! Nobateh Seyyed Ali! ("Mubarak, [Tunisia's] Ben Ali! Now is Seyed Ali [Khamenei's] turn!) And next in line was Khamenei haya kon! Mubarak ro negah kon! ("Khamenei, shame on you! Look at Mubarak!")

Estimates about the size of the crowds vary wildly, from only a few hundred involved in what could be characterized as a rebellion of wealthy north Tehran students, to no less than 350,000 people from all walks of life - as quoted by a Tehran bureau correspondent (affiliated to the US Public Broadcasting Service network), filling "a radius of about half a kilometer to 400 meters on both sides of Enghelab Avenue".

What seems to be very important is that for the first time working class areas of Tehran were part of the protest. The Ahmadinejad administration has slashed a lot of subsidies - and basic costs are ballooning; the cost of a metro ticket in Tehran, for instance, is quadrupling. Many people who voted Ahmadinejad in 2009 because of his trademark government handouts are now seriously angry.

Very much aware of Tahrir Square, the regime barred foreign media from any meaningful coverage. Lots of wobbly citizen videos anyway ended up on YouTube. When it did not solemnly ignore the protests, Iranian media whirled adjectives, like the IRGC-linked Fars news agency describing protesters as "hypocrites, monarchists, ruffians and seditionists" who didn't even chant anything vaguely supporting the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings.

Well, for the "seditionists" to take to the streets was in itself a victory - considering the hardcore repression in the summer of 2009. The problem is nobody knew where to go, what to do and how to coordinate the next steps.

Enter the new Green movement
Whether or not former regime loyalists Mousavi, Mehdi Karrubi and former president Mohammad Khatami don't want regime change, the fact is what so far has been known as the Green movement in Iran is now split - with a radical, youth wing openly advocating the end of Velayat-e Faqih (rule by jurisprudence). This can only mean all-out revolution - much as what youth groups in Tahrir Square had in mind three weeks ago.

This reborn Green movement is leaderless - just as in Egypt. How sizable it is, no one knows. Perhaps 25 Bahman could be considered ground zero for the real Green movement. What happens next becomes essential - because either the moderates or the more radicalized may have a chance to show to the Middle East and world public opinion how to call the regime's bluff; how can you possibly censor, beat and arrest the sons of the land as you laud the revolutionary youth of Egypt.

It's up to this new Green movement to prove they are not just an elite sect funded - or influenced - by the West, fighting a self-described Islamic Republic which serves the working class and the wretched poor while standing against American/Zionist imperialism. They must prove they encompass a very broad social base cutting across class, gender, religion and the city vs countryside divide, supported by diverse provinces, and oriented - even if they are leaderless - particularly by women, students, and the working classes.

Iranian banks such as Meli, Saderat and Melat Sepah are very short on cash. A bank run would certainly speed up the new Green movement's success. At the same time, they must show how the second Ahmadinejad term, supported by the supreme leader, has cracked down really hard on labor unions, arrested labor leaders, and repressed protests by everyone from bus drivers and sugarcane workers to oil workers and teachers.

It has changed labor laws against labor, and embarked on a privatization drive that only served to redistribute Iranian wealth towards the military-intelligence establishment, the IRGC-controlled state within a state.

Nothing less will do. Because now, for the new Green movement, the slogan, like in Egypt, is "We want the regime brought down".

The post-Islamist generation
It's always helpful in critical situations like this to turn to one of the West's top specialists on political Islam; Olivier Roy, director of the Mediterranean program at the European University Institute in Florence.

Roy, writing in Le Monde, is one of the few already theorizing that a post-Islamist revolution is now on in the Middle East. Essentially, this can be viewed as a refutation of Khamenei; young people, analyzing the record of the Islamic revolution in Iran, have concluded that it does not solve the practical problems of poverty, corruption, government lies and mediocre economic growth.

The post-Islamist generation is secular (separating politics and religion); pragmatic; non-ideological; and nationalist (without being fanatics of nationalism). It's pluralist and individualistic. It rejects corrupted dictatorships - as well as Islam as a political ideology - as much as it yearns for democracy. For them, even pan-Arabism is not attractive. The values they cherish are universal.

They have better education than their parents; better access to information; still live in the framework of a nuclear family; have less children; but vast legions are unemployed, or live at the margins of society. The fact they are wired and networked allows them to bypass political parties (which are forbidden anyway, in both Egypt and Iran).

Islamist regimes are de facto dictatorships; so they are not attracted to either Iran or Saudi Arabia. Thus those who protested in Egypt are very similar to those who protested against Ahmadinejad in 2009, and against the supreme leader this Monday.

Roy says "a revolt does not make a revolution. The movement does not have leaders, political parties or a platform, something that is coherent with its nature, but that poses the problem of the institutionalization of democracy".

He ranks as "not very probable" that the ending of a dictatorship automatically entails the birth of a liberal democracy, "like Washington hoped for Iraq"; although he could have stressed the difference between a peaceful, passive revolution (in Egypt) and the midwife to democracy being the barrel of a gun (former US president George W Bush's Greater Middle East being born in Iraq).

Additionally, what would be very interesting to compare is the end of the collective humiliation Arabs have felt for almost a century - especially after the Bush invasion and rape of Iraq in 2003 - as opposed to proud Persians defying the empire for the past three decades and now dreaming of Western-style democracy.

Roy also notes how the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) does not embody the young post-Islamist generation's search for another social and economic model; they are conservative in morals and practically neo-liberal in economics. Islamists have become marginal among social movements in the Nile Delta.

The left - as in union militants - is back. The MB from now on may be important as a bellwether of how change will develop. Especially because the middle class in Arab societies is conservative - most of all they want political stability. And Generation Revolt may in the end refuse to structure itself politically - just staying anchored in protest revolt and not plunging in the hard work of conceiving a new regime from scratch.

That old regime change hard-on
And that brings us to Washington's reaction to what has just happened in Iran - and is happening all across the Maghreb-Middle East arc.

For Washington, it's all about their Iranian obsession - and never about those scores of US client states from the Maghreb to the Middle East.

Protests were also brutally suppressed in absolute monarchy Bahrain - home of the US Navy's 5th Fleet, with the US Navy spending $580 million to double its real estate holdings; Yemen - a failed state where 40% of its 23 million people live on less than $2 a day and 35% face severe hunger; and Algeria, a brutal military dictatorship. Not to mention Jordan's merry King Abdullah and "Queen Youtube" Rania, an absolute monarchy with a brutal secret service keeping in check tribal leaders and a mass of Palestinian residents (tribal leaders are increasingly trashing Rania's life in the fast lane).

Bahrain is absolutely crucial. The Shi'ite theocracy in Tehran obviously encourages Shi'ites against a Sunni monarchy, while Saudis are literally freaking out, thinking of their Shi'ite-majority eastern provinces, where the oil is. Saudi troops may have already been deployed across the 20-minute causeway that links both countries. And Bahrain is not Qatar or the United Arab Emirates - able to shower petrodollars to buy the silence of anyone politically inclined (anyway they're trying hard).

To deal with all this Washington - not exactly at ease with revolutionary Egypt - seems to have developed a new narrative. Iran's regime is all-out "evil", while Mubarak's was "stable" and relatively OK.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton immediately accused the "awful" Iranian government of "hypocrisy" and then wished the Green movement "and the brave people in the streets across cities in Iran the same opportunity that they saw their Egyptian counterparts seize in the last week".

Is this the same Clinton who initially supported "stable" Mubarak against the Egyptian street? And while she's so revved up, why does she not wish the brave people in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Libya "the same opportunity that they saw their Egyptian counterparts seize in the last week"?

Someone should urgently haul Olivier Roy to Washington so he may teach them one or two things about the post-Islamist generation.....