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JFP 2/9: Strikes and worker protests in Egypt; McCain retreats on US aid
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 9 February 2011 - 8:58pm
Just Foreign Policy News
February 9, 2011
"Orderly Transition," or "Nothing Burger" Reforms? Benchmarks for US Policy in Egypt
The Obama Administration claims to support an "orderly transition to democracy" in Egypt, but the trajectory of current U.S. policy, without clear benchmarks for reform, is a transition from Mubarak to Mubarakism without Mubarak. "Reforms" and "concessions" announced so far are a "nothing burger" as far as a transition to democracy is concerned. Benchmarks for US policy should include: ending the detention and harassment of journalists and human rights activists, lifting the state of emergency, allowing electoral competition, and restoring judicial supervision of elections. Congress and the Administration should link these benchmarks to US aid.
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1) Labor strikes and worker protests across Egypt Wednesday affected post offices, textile factories and even the government's flagship newspaper, as protesters recaptured the initiative in their battle for the resignation of President Mubarak, the New York Times reports. 6,000 workers at five service companies owned by the Suez Canal Authority began a sit-in Tuesday night. More than 2,000 textile workers and others demonstrated in Suez. More than 2,000 workers from the Sigma pharmaceutical company in the city of Quesna went on strike. Sanitation workers demonstrated in Cairo.
2) The US delivered its most specific demands on the Egyptian government yet, urging swift steps toward democracy, the New York Times reports. Vice President Biden called Suleiman to ask him to lift the 30-year emergency law the government has used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders, to stop imprisoning protesters and journalists, and to invite demonstrators to help develop a specific timetable for opening up the political process. He also asked Suleiman to open talks on Egypt's political future to a wider range of opposition members.
Suleiman has said only that Egypt will remove the emergency law when the situation justifies its repeal, and the harassment and arrest of journalists and human rights activists has continued even in the last few days. Suleiman said Mubarak had appointed a committee of judges and legal scholars to propose constitutional amendments. But all the members of the committee are considered Mubarak loyalists.
Many Egyptians at the pro-democracy protests buttonholed Americans to express deep disappointment with President Obama, shaking their heads at his ambiguous messages about an orderly transition, the Times says.
3) Influential U.S. lawmakers have eased their threats to cut aid to Egypt, the Los Angeles Times reports. The shift comes as Obama administration officials, the Pentagon and powerful pro-Israel groups in Washington urge continued support for the aid to Egypt, about $1.5 billion a year in mainly military assistance, the LAT says. Sen. McCain said earlier that "all options are on the table," including an aid cutoff. But he said Tuesday now "is just not the right time to threaten that." McCain said he was concerned that an aid cut could affect Egypt's willingness to cooperate with Israel.
President Obama will submit his 2012 budget to Congress next week, which is expected to include continued aid to Egypt.
4) More than 50 union members joined Egyptian Americans and other activists in a rally at the White House to support the Egyptian people's struggle for freedom and democracy, as part of the International Day of Action for Democracy in Egypt, the AFL-CIO reports. A report last year found that there had been more than 3,000 labor protests by Egyptian workers since 2004, the AFL-CIO notes.
5) Secretary of State Clinton's recent statements that change in Egypt would "take some time" have taken the pressure off, argues the New York Times in an editorial. Obama needs to regain his voice, the paper says. The US and its allies will have to lay down a clear list of steps that are the minimum for holding a credible vote this year: the emergency law must be lifted and Egyptians guaranteed freedom of speech and association; all detained protesters must be freed; Egyptian and international monitors will need to observe the vote and the count; the government and opposition will need to work together to establish criteria for registering parties and candidates and ensure that all have access to the news media.
6) Haitian officials issued a diplomatic passport on Tuesday for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, who wants to return home, the New York Times reports. International efforts to dissuade Aristide from returning home are likely to continue, the Times says, but this might be counterbalanced by popular support in Haiti for Aristide's return and a possible shift by President Preval, whom some Haiti observers suggest may hope that Aristide's return could help block efforts to force Preval into exile.
7) CIA officers who made mistakes that left people wrongly imprisoned or even dead received only minor admonishments or no punishment at all, an Associated Press investigation has found. Some have been promoted to top positions. In his book "Beyond Repair," longtime CIA officer Charles Faddis contrasted the CIA with the military, where he said officers are held responsible for their mistakes and the mistakes of their subordinates. "There is no such system in place within the CIA, and the long-term effect is catastrophically corrosive," he wrote.
8) According to an official U.S. government assessment, the U.S. civilian-aid program for Pakistan has failed to show it is achieving its goals, the Wall Street Journal reports. "One year after the launch of the civilian-assistance strategy in Pakistan, USAID has not been able to demonstrate measurable progress," said the report.
9) Six US soldiers have died in Iraq so far this year, and 18 since the announced end of the U.S. combat mission Sept. 1, AP reports. Since Sept. 1, 97 U.S. soldiers have been awarded Purple Hearts for being wounded in action in Iraq, including 25 so far this year. A steady string of bombings in a two-week period last month killed more than 200 Iraqis.
1) Protesters in Egypt Regain Initiative as Workers Strike
Kareem Fahim, New York Times, February 9, 2011
Cairo - Labor strikes and worker protests that flared across Egypt on Wednesday affected post offices, textile factories and even the government's flagship newspaper, as protesters recaptured the initiative in their battle for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
At the newspaper, Al Ahram, freelance reporters demanding better wages and more independence from the government snarled one of the state's most powerful propaganda tools and seemed to be forcing a change in its tone. On Wednesday, the front page, which had sought for days to downplay the protests, called recent attacks by pro-Mubarak protesters on Tahrir Square an "offense to the whole nation."
In the face of unrest now in its 16th day, government officials delivered stern warnings that seemed to reflect growing impatience with the protests, and hardening positions.
The country's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, dismissed calls by Egyptian protesters and the Vice President Joe Biden to scrap the country's emergency laws, which allow the authorities to detain people without charge.
In the most potentially significant action, about 6,000 workers at five service companies owned by the Suez Canal Authority - a major component of the Egyptian economy - began a sit-in on Tuesday night. There was no immediate suggestion of disruptions to shipping in the canal, a vital international waterway leading from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. But Egyptian officials said that total traffic declined by 1.6 percent in January, though it was up significantly from last year.
More than 2,000 textile workers and others in Suez demonstrated as well, Al Ahram reported, while in Luxor thousands hurt by the collapse of the tourist industry marched to demand government benefits. There was no immediate independent corroboration of the reports.
At one factory in the textile town of Mahalla, more than striking 1,500 workers blocked roads, continuing a long-running dispute with the owner. And more than 2,000 workers from the Sigma pharmaceutical company in the city of Quesna went on strike while some 5,000 unemployed youth stormed a government building in Aswan, demanding the dismissal of the governor.
For many foreign visitors to Egypt, Aswan is known as a starting point or destination for luxury cruises to and from Luxor on the Nile River. The government's Ministry of Civil Aviation reported on Wednesday that flights to Egypt had dropped by 70 percent since the protests began.
In Cairo, sanitation workers demonstrated around their headquarters in Dokki.
In the lobby of the [Al Ahram] newspaper on Wednesday, journalists were in open revolt against the newspaper's management and editorial policies. Several said the editor of the English-language division heads to the square to join the protests every night, joined by many of the staff. Some called their own protest a microcosm of the Egyptian uprising, with young journalists leading demands for better working conditions and less biased coverage. "We want a voice," said Sara Ramadan, 23, a sports reporter.
2) As Egypt Protest Swells, U.S. Sends Specific Demands
David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, February 8, 2011
Cairo - Pressure intensified on President Hosni Mubarak's government as the largest crowd of protesters in two weeks flooded Cairo's streets on Tuesday and the United States delivered its most specific demands yet, urging swift steps toward democracy.
Vice President Omar Suleiman, who is leading an American-endorsed "orderly transition" toward elections in September, said Mr. Mubarak had appointed a committee of judges and legal scholars to propose constitutional amendments. The committee put Egypt "on the path of peaceful and orderly transition of power," Mr. Suleiman said on state television.
All the members, however, are considered Mubarak loyalists: many senior judges who owe their prominent positions to Mr. Mubarak, two legal scholars who were members of his cabinet and two others who have already expressed support for gradual change that would leave Mr. Mubarak in office.
Although broadly committed to a transition, the Obama administration was trying to influence many of the details. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called Mr. Suleiman to ask him to lift the 30-year emergency law that the government has used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders, to stop imprisoning protesters and journalists, and to invite demonstrators to help develop a specific timetable for opening up the political process. He also asked Mr. Suleiman to open talks on Egypt's political future to a wider range of opposition members.
Mr. Suleiman has said only that Egypt will remove the emergency law when the situation justifies its repeal, and the harassment and arrest of journalists and human rights activists has continued even in the last few days.
Mr. Suleiman warned the protesters, most of whom are opposed to any negotiations while Mr. Mubarak is in power, that the only alternative to talks is a "a coup."
Many at the protests buttonholed Americans to express deep disappointment with President Obama, shaking their heads at his ambiguous messages about an orderly transition. They warned that the country risked incurring a resentment from the Egyptian people that could last long after Mr. Mubarak is gone.
3) In Congress, threat of Egypt aid cutoff eases
Paul Richter, David S. Cloud and Kathleen Hennessey, Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2011, 4:37 PM PST
Washington - Influential U.S. lawmakers have eased their threats to cut aid to Egypt in a move that reflects a growing consensus in Washington in favor of preserving U.S. leverage with Egypt's powerful military amid the country's civil upheaval.
The shift comes as Obama administration officials, the Pentagon and powerful pro-Israel groups in Washington urge continued support for the aid to Egypt, about $1.5 billion a year in mainly military assistance.
Last week, a chorus of lawmakers backed protesters' demands for Mubarak's resignation and some called for an aid cutoff to force changes.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said earlier that "all options are on the table," including an aid cutoff. But he said in an interview Tuesday that now "is just not the right time to threaten that." McCain said he was concerned that an aid cut could affect Egypt's willingness to cooperate with Israel.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, declared last week that he would not vote for the aid and said he knew no lawmaker who would. This week, however, Leahy appeared to soften his position on aid, saying through a spokesman that he would oppose new aid "until the situation is resolved."
"No one senator will decide it, but he believes there would be a lot of agreement on that position," according to David Carle, the spokesman.
[It's not totally clear from the LAT account to what degree Leahy's position has really changed - JFP.]
White House officials earlier in the crisis said they would "review" the aid if the Mubarak government didn't move promptly toward political reform. But within a few days, officials clarified that they weren't actively considering cuts.
President Obama will submit his 2012 budget to Congress next week, which is expected to include continued aid to Egypt.
In the coming year, Egypt is scheduled to receive a wide variety of U.S. military hardware under the aid program, including F-16 fighters, naval vessels, air defense missiles, and surveillance radar, all of which stand to be affected by an interruption in aid.
4) Activists Rally at White House for Democracy in Egypt
James Parks and Chris Garlock, AFL-CIO, February 9, 2011
As Egyptian flags snapped in the frigid wind, nearly 100 Egyptian American and other activists-including more than 50 union members-rallied last night in front of the White House to support the Egyptian people's ongoing struggle for freedom and democracy.
The crowd chanted, "Egypt, Egypt will be free from the Nile to the sea," and urged President Obama to use his influence to bring democracy to Egypt.
"More people were in the streets of Cairo today than ever," one of the Egyptian activists told the crowd. "Raise your voice, raise your voice," they chanted, "It's our time, it's our choice."
The rally was coordinated by Washington, D.C.-area Egyptian American activists along with the AFL-CIO and Metropolitan Washington [D.C.] Council as part of the International Day of Action for Democracy in Egypt. Yesterday, union members from around the world joined with community activists in actions outside Egyptian embassies and government buildings, pressing their governments to demand a democratic transition in Egypt and guarantee that those responsible for the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations be brought to justice.
Meanwhile, the role of Egypt's labor unions in setting the stage for the protests is being recognized. A report presented at the launch of the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center's report on workers' rights in Egypt last year found that there have been more than 3,000 labor protests by Egyptian workers since 2004.
David Macaray writes on Dissident Voice: 'Arguably, the case can be made that Egypt's current political unrest was inspired and energized by the actions of the country's labor movement….Joel Beinin, a Stanford University professor, referred to Egypt's labor activism as "…the largest social movement in the Arab world since World War II."'
The desire by Egyptian workers to make their voices heard though their own unions played a key role in laying the groundwork for the protests, says Samer Shehata, a professor at Georgetown University. In an interview with Laura Flanders  at GRITtv, Shehata says if Egypt becomes a democracy in the future, labor will play a large role. The strong involvement of unions in the protests is evidenced, he says, by the huge protests taking place in areas with large numbers of workers.
5) Mr. Suleiman's Empty Promises
Editorial, New York Times, February 8, 2011
The United States and the European Union may not have been able to wheedle or push President Hosni Mubarak from power. Still, they badly miscalculated when they endorsed Egypt's vice president, Omar Suleiman, to lead the transition to democracy.
Mr. Suleiman may talk sweetly to Washington and Brussels. But he appears far more interested in maintaining as much of the old repressive order as he can get away with. That is unacceptable to Egypt's people, and it should be unacceptable to Egypt's Western supporters.
President Obama said the right things last week when he demanded that democratic change in Egypt start "now." Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's recent statements that change would "take some time" have taken the pressure off. Mr. Obama needs to regain his voice and press Mr. Suleiman to either begin a serious process of reform or get out of the way.
More reform was promised, but it has been hard to take that seriously after Mr. Mubarak gave himself the sole power to appoint a panel to recommend constitutional amendments.
And while Mr. Suleiman was conciliatory in the early days of the protests, his recent public statements have been chilling. He said he does not believe it is time to lift the three-decade-old emergency law that has been used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders. Most alarming, he said the country's "culture" is not yet ready for democracy.
Mr. Suleiman is not going to do what's needed on his own. So the United States and its allies will have to lay down a clear list of steps that are the minimum for holding a credible vote this year and building a democracy.
The Egyptian government cannot choose which reforms to dole out when. Opposition leaders must participate in all aspects of the reform process. The emergency law must be lifted and Egyptians guaranteed freedom of speech and association. All detained protesters must be freed and the government-allied forces who viciously attacked demonstrators last week must be prosecuted.
The government and the opposition need to jointly set a date for elections and establish an independent commission to oversee the process. Egyptian and international monitors will need to observe the vote and the count. The government and opposition will need to work together to establish criteria for registering parties and candidates and ensure that all have access to the news media.
6) Haiti Issues New Passport for Aristide
Damien Cave, New York Times, February 9, 2011
Mexico City - Haitian officials issued a diplomatic passport on Tuesday for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president and - even after years in exile - one of the country's most popular and divisive figures.
Mr. Aristide's American lawyer, Ira Kurzban, said he collected the document at dusk in the capital, Port-au-Prince. "It's a long time coming," Mr. Kurzban said. He added that Mr. Aristide, after seven years of exile, mostly in South Africa, "wants to come home as soon as he can."
Given the public's deep lack of faith in the nation's political class, many Haitians would welcome the shake-up Mr. Aristide might bring. But members of the international community have expressed concern that Mr. Aristide - who was beloved by the poor but criticized by many for demagoguery, corruption and the suppression of political opponents - could create widespread instability at a precarious moment.
[Aristide] explained his desire to return in a recent op-ed article in The Guardian, using pointed language: "What we have learned in one long year of mourning after Haiti's earthquake is that an exogenous plan of reconstruction - one that is profit-driven, exclusionary, conceived of and implemented by non-Haitians - cannot reconstruct Haiti. It is the solemn obligation of all Haitians to join in the reconstruction and to have a voice in the direction of the nation."
He went on to say that he planned to focus on education - "the field I know best and love."
[Former US Ambassador] Curran said he doubted Mr. Aristide would limit himself to teaching. "No one should believe that for an instant," he said.
Indeed, a quiet academic life may not be likely for a populist like Mr. Aristide, whose popularity may surpass any other contemporary political figure. "His return would make very stark the real rouleau-compresseur, or bulldozer power, of the population," said Amy Wilentz, author of "The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier." "I believe they would rise en masse to greet him and that the airport scene would be like nothing anyone has witnessed in recent times in Haiti."
This popular support, Ms. Wilentz said, could protect him from the fate of Mr. Duvalier, who was quickly questioned and now faces charges of corruption and human rights abuses. United Nations officials have already raised the issue of Mr. Aristede's legal vulnerabilities, and other efforts to influence his decision are also likely to be employed, according to diplomats, though they may be counterbalanced by President René Préval. He was a protégé of Mr. Aristide, and even before the earthquake that further damaged his standing he had become concerned with being forced into exile, according to embassy cables published by WikiLeaks.
One theory advanced by some Haiti observers is that Mr. Préval believes that Mr. Aristide, with his large following, could help prevent that from happening.
7) At CIA, mistakes by officers are often overlooked
Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, AP, Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 12:00 AM
In December 2003, security forces boarded a bus in Macedonia and snatched a German citizen named Khaled el-Masri. For the next five months, Masri was a ghost. Only a select group of CIA officers knew he had been taken to a secret prison in Afghanistan for interrogation.
But he was the wrong guy.
A hard-charging CIA analyst had pushed the agency into one of the biggest diplomatic embarrassments of the U.S. fight against terrorism. Yet despite recommendations, the analyst was never punished. In fact, she has risen within the agency.
That botched case is but one example of a CIA accountability process that even some within the agency say is unpredictable and inconsistent. In the years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, officers who made mistakes that left people wrongly imprisoned or even dead received only minor admonishments or no punishment at all, an Associated Press investigation has found.
And although President Obama has sought to put the CIA's interrogation program behind him, the result of a decade of haphazard accountability is that many officers who made significant missteps are now the senior managers fighting his spy wars.
The analyst at the heart of the Masri mishap, for instance, has one of the premier jobs in the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and helps lead Obama's efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda.
The AP investigation revealed a CIA disciplinary system that takes years to make decisions, hands down reprimands inconsistently and is viewed inside the agency as prone to favoritism. When people are disciplined, the punishment seems to roll downhill, sparing senior managers involved in mishandled operations.
"Someone who made a huge error ought not to be working at the agency," former senator Christopher S. Bond (Mo.) said in November as he completed his tenure as the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee. "We've seen instance after instance where there hasn't been accountability."
For example, when a suspected terrorist froze to death in a CIA prison in Afghanistan in 2002, the agency's inspector general faulted the spy running the prison and expressed concerns about the top officer in the country, former officials said. In the end, the CIA did not discipline either.
The man running the prison has completed assignments in Afghanistan, Bahrain and Pakistan, where he was deputy chief of tribal operations, while his boss has become chief of the Near East Division, overseeing operations in the Middle East.
In another case involving detainee mistreatment, an interrogator put an unloaded gun and a bitless drill to the head of a suspected terrorist at a secret prison in Poland. The inspector general labeled this a "mock execution" - something the United States is forbidden to do. The interrogator was reprimanded. The CIA officer who ran the prison retired during the investigation.
The interrogator stayed on until retirement, then returned as a contractor. The Poland station chief, who witnessed the mock execution but did not stop it, now runs the Central European Division.
In his book "Beyond Repair," longtime CIA officer Charles Faddis contrasted the CIA with the military, where he said officers are held responsible for their mistakes and the mistakes of their subordinates. "There is no such system in place within the CIA, and the long-term effect is catastrophically corrosive," he wrote.
8) U.S. Pakistan Aid Shows Little Progress
Tom Wright, Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2011, 12:23 P.M. ET
The U.S. civilian-aid program for Pakistan has failed to show it is achieving its goals since Congress approved a $7.5 billion five-year assistance package in late 2009, according to an official U.S. government assessment.
The report, released jointly this week by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of State and Department of Defense, found U.S. aid officials on the ground in Pakistan had failed to supply data to allow a systematic evaluation of whether the assistance was helping stabilize the nation.
"One year after the launch of the civilian-assistance strategy in Pakistan, USAID has not been able to demonstrate measurable progress," said the report, an assessment of the program for the final three months of 2010. "We believe that USAID has an imperative to accumulate, analyze, and report information on the results achieved under its programs."
9) Violence Continues In Iraq As US Mission Changes
Lara Jakes, Associated Press, Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 4:13 PM
Baghdad - The White House says the U.S. combat mission in Iraq is over, but Army Lt. Daniel McCord and his fellow American soldiers feel anything but safe.
Their base has been shelled 28 times since Sept. 1, the day after President Barack Obama officially ended Operation Iraqi Freedom. They carefully watch cars that speed too close to their convoy on highways, wary of suicide bombers who might try to penetrate their armored trucks. Even an Iraqi kid carrying a pellet gun is seen as a threat.
With daily shootings and deadly bombings, it's clear there's still a simmering fight in Iraq as the U.S. military prepares to leave after nearly eight years, more than 4,400 U.S. troops killed and at least $750 billion spent.
Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, who just ended his tour as the Army's deputy commander in Iraq, said he's confident the estimated 675,000 Iraqi soldiers, police and other security forces can adequately protect the country by the end of the year.
"You still have an underlying heartbeat right now of violence that is still unacceptable," he said in an interview this month before he left. Six American soldiers who have died in Iraq so far this year, and 18 since the announced end of the U.S. combat mission Sept. 1. "Those guys would argue this is a pretty lethal environment," Cone said.
Since Sept. 1, 97 U.S. soldiers have been awarded Purple Hearts for being wounded in action in Iraq, including 25 so far this year, according to U.S. military data.
U.S. officials say the Pentagon is quietly weighing options that could call for thousands of troops to remain in Iraq beyond Dec. 31 if Baghdad asks for them to stay. The deadline is required under a security agreement between the two counties, and so far, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has signaled he will not extend it.
A steady string of bombings in a two-week period last month killed more than 200 Iraqis, including at least 51 at a Shiite funeral in Baghdad that triggered a small revolt by mourners who pelted security forces with debris.
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