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February 9, 2011

Wael Ghonim vs. Barack Obama: Change we Can Believe in, Yes we Can

By Professor Juan Cole --

Source:  Informed Comment

It is no secret that President Barack Obama has been in some regards a
profound disappointment to the American Left, and his erratic and often
disgraceful performance on the Egypt crisis exemplifies his faults in this
regard. (Tom Engelhardt puts it best regarding the administration: “It has
shown itself to be weak, visibly fearful, at a loss for what to do, and always
several steps behind developing events.”) Obama just seems to lack
empathy with the little people and is unwilling to buck the rich and powerful,
even though they all opposed his run for the presidency. As Iran’s speaker
of the house put it, the Obama administration, faced with a choice of
supporting the youth revolution or the camels unleashed on it, has chosen
the camels. It makes a person think there should be rule that no one can run
for the presidency who didn’t have a proper father figure in his or her life
(Bill Clinton, W., Obama), since apparently once they get into office they start
thinking the billionaires are their long-lost parent, whom they have to bend
over backward to please.

Obama dealt with the Wall Street crisis by rewarding with more billions the
corrupt and/or grossly incompetent financiers who threw millions of
Americans out of work and out of their homes, and by appointing persons to
deal with the crisis who had been among its instigators. He declined to end
the abuses against the Bill of Rights of the Orwellian-named ‘PATRIOT Act,’
even though he had a Democratic House and Senate. Indeed, the Left was
put in the humiliating position of being grateful to Michelle Bachman for
helping do what Obama would not, when she and other Tea Party
Republicans joined the principled Democrats in the House to decline to
extend the human rights abuses embedded in that infamous Act.

“National Security Letters” under the act allowed the FBI to snoop on people
with no court warrant and no evidence of wrongdoing, even spying on their
library records. Librarians from whom the records were demanded were put
under an unconstitutional gag order that prevented them from revealing
what was going on. You could discover that the FBI had tossed your
apartment with no warrant and for no reason, and then be forbidden from
even publicly complaining about it! This is not America, it is North Korea.
Obama has actually expanded the Surveillance State, violating our Fourth
Amendment rights in a thoroughgoing way. He is enamored of pulling the
trigger on people he doesn’t like through covert operations rocket and
missile strikes, operating outside any rule of law (the missiles are fired into
places with which the US is not at war, killing people who have been
convicted of no crime; in short, Obama is simply assassinating people, and
would do so to Americans, something that even past Republican presidents
agreed was illegal. Because he charged the CIA with the drone strikes, they
are classified operations and citizens and their representatives cannot even
question administration officials about them in public!

Obama has coddled his administration colleagues who support Mubarak,
want him to stay, and support VP Omar Suleiman.

Unlike Obama, Wael Ghonim, the 28-year-old Google executive who helped
instigate the Egyptian uprising, wants genuine change.

He wants long-serving autocrat Hosni Mubarak to step down. Unlike VP Joe
Biden, Ghonim has no doubts that Mubarak is a dictator.

Ghonim wants an end to the “Emergency Laws,” more Draconian than the
PATRIOT Act, whereby the Egyptian state sets aside any slight civil liberties
mentioned in the constitution.

He wants an end to Egypt’s crony capitalist state, which allowed Hosni
Mubarak to accumulate a fortune of $70 billion while 40 percent of Egyptians
live on $2 a day or a little over that. Ghonim told CNN, “The plan was to get
everyone on the street. The plan was number one we’re going to start from
poor areas. Our demands are going to be all about what touches people’s
daily life. And by the way we honestly meant it. One of the very famous
videos we used all the time to promote this was a guy eating from the trash.”

He added, ‘we truly believe in these demands. Like the minimum wage. Like
talking about the end of, the end of unemployment…reducing unemployment
or at least giving people some sort of compensation to make living.’

Ghonim’s emphasis on labor demands came about because the uprising in
Egypt is largely a labor uprising. It is an alliance of blue collar workers with
white collar workers, all of them supported by a progressive youth
movement and college students. It is therefore not actually a surprise that
some 200,000 working class people joined in the protests on Wednesday,
striking, encouraging strikes, and demanding a proper minimum wage.

“Muhit” reports that as the revolutionary movement entered its third week,
thousands of workers in a number of factories and establishments launched
sit-ins, strikes demanding better pay and better working conditions.

A few workers at the Suez Canal joined in, which threw everyone in the West
for a loop — though their work stoppage was not aimed at disrupting canal
traffic. 7.5 percent of all world trade goes through that artery, and 10% of all
petroleum. Given tight supplies for the former, a Suez work stoppage that
actually closed the canal temporarily would be a further blow to Western
economies. (The small labor actions of Wednesday did not threaten such a
thing, but the longer the uprising festers and Mubarak refuses to step down,
the more the danger grows). In Port Said, poor slum dwellers set the
governor’s mansion ablaze.

On Wednesday, 1500 workers in the official government telecom company
struck, and in Damanhour, 2000 electricity workers ceased work. In the Delta
town of Kafr Ziyat, 1500 hospital workers stopped work. Additionally,
thousands of protesters on Wednesday cut the road and rail link of the
southern city of Asyut with Cairo.

The broad commitment of the working class to the revolution has been
apparent all along, but it turned dramatic on Wednesday because of the size
and variety of unions who declared for read change.

Change we can believe in.