(AV17777) Democracy Movements in the Middle East: Can We Help?

(AV17777) Democracy Movements in the Middle East: Can We Help?


good evening again i’m michael creighton
also a member of the world affairs series planning committee we’d like to
remind you to stay after the talk for a reception in book signing in the back
and to continue the discussion both of the books that she’s written are going
to be available over there by the door for sale now it is my honor to introduce
Phyllis Bennis a fellow at both the transnational Institute a global
fellowship of scholar activists and the Institute for Policy Studies in
Washington DC where she directs the new internationalism project she specializes
in u.s. foreign policy espalier issues particularly involving the United
Nations in the Middle East Phyllis Bennis worked as a journalist at the
United Nations for 10 years and currently serves as a special advisor to
several top-level UN officials on the Middle East and UN document
democratization issues she’s the author of understanding the palestinian-israeli
conflict a primer co-author of ending the US war in Afghanistan a primer has
published numerous articles on Palestine Iraq the UN and u.s. foreign policy and
is a frequent contributor to us in global media please join me in welcoming
Phyllis Bennis I was waiting for me everywhere I go I
have to adjust the mic down there good evening good evening it’s very good I’m
delighted to be back in Iowa it’s been a couple of years since I was here and I
was thrilled when I had the invitation to come again I want to thank the world
affairs series the students in particular as well as their staff for
putting together this evening and I’m glad that we’re framing this around
transitions because what a transitional time this is this is an amazing time
that we’re in you know the the title that I saw for my talk was something
like the Arab Spring how can we help and I thought well the easy answer for that
is right downtown at occupied Des Moines occupy Iowa I think that what we’re
looking at is a shaking up of how politics is being done all around the
world and it’s happening in Des Moines and other places of in Iowa it’s
happening in New York it’s happening at Wall Street it’s happening in Washington
DC and it’s happening in cities across this country and in many places around
the world where people are starting to say there’s something wrong this isn’t
just about we want to vote for the other guy this is about we need a different
system we need structural change we need massive transformation so when we talk
about transitions this being a moment of of global transitions you know I was
struck the other day some of you looking around I’m trying to judge ages here but
I think those of you who are students may not remember you probably actually
some of you weren’t born yet it kills me to say that but you will have read in
the history books and some of you who are not students will remember the first
Palestinian uprising that began in the late 1980s a non-violent society wide
uprising of protest against occupation quite an extraordinary thing that went
on for several years and it was called the Intifada that was the word the
Palestinian had chosen and they chose the word
uprising as the nearest English equivalent but when you talk with Arabic
speakers what they tell you is Intifada doesn’t really mean uprising it really
refers to shaking up or shaking out it’s a different concept and they thought
that was a bit too complex so they gave it the easier term uprising which
everybody sort of knows what that means but I’ve been thinking lately that as we
look at these extraordinary mobilizations that have become known
collectively as the Arab Spring the occupy everything movement that we’re
seeing in our own country the shake ups in Europe the shake ups all around the
world that this notion of shaking up and shaking out changing challenging is
actually a much better way of understanding some of this change so
maybe what we’re looking at now is sort of a global Intifada a global shaking
off of old patterns and a shaking out of old ideas and the effort to embrace and
create new approaches so I think this is and just an amazing an amazing moment
when we think about what can we do to help the Arab Spring I think the first
thing that comes to my mind is we can create an American autumn to bring about
the changes here that people in Egypt and in Tunisia and in countries
throughout the region are trying to achieve for for their own for their own
countries we have to demand of our government a new kind of respect in our
foreign policy our foreign policy as most of you know has not been
characterized by a lot of respect for other people and other countries and the
legitimacy of international law international law never got no respect
in this country except it turns out that people in this country actually sort of
care about international law that despite all the claims of you know
right-wing pundits and plenty of people in Congress who say oh the American
people don’t want the United States in the United Nations we want to get out of
the United Nation international law doesn’t apply here
were the Americans our law is the only thing that applies it turns out that not
everybody in this country feels that way and indeed the question of international
law emerges as something that a lot of people take quite seriously one famous
example back in the 1980s when there was a big upsurge in anti UN sentiment and
there were a lot of claims being made that nobody supports the United Nations
the US should get out of the UN altogether the US should kick out the UN
headquarters there was a study done by the one of the University the University
of Maryland and they’re there a Public Policy Research Center they did a survey
a poll on public opinion towards the UN and it turned out didn’t surprise some
of us surprised a lot of people that the United Nations actually was far more
popular and had much greater credibility levels than almost any instrument of the
US government more than the president more than Congress more than the Supreme
Court more than almost anything except the post office God knows why the post
office was doing so well but at that moment somebody had gotten a letter on
time and they liked the post office so then what they did they identified the
ten members so that was sort of interesting right but then they went
further they identified the ten congressional districts that were known
for the most hardline anti un attacks those members of Congress who were the
ones that were out there beating up the you know the UN every chance they get
and they did a much more intensive polling of those areas because I thought
well this will tell us why is it that these members of Congress are so rabid
they’re so antagonistic to the UN and then the really surprising thing
happened because it turned out that the people in those districts were identical
to the the national figures in their support for the United Nations
they weren’t opposed to the United Nations there were little groups in each
of those districts that would sit in their little attic churning out letter
after letter condemning the UN and making it appear that this was a big
deal that the that everybody hated the UN and the lesson
there it seems to me was twofold one is don’t believe everything you read don’t
assume that because some member of Congress is sort of antagonistic to the
UN and whatever that that means they actually represent public opinion in
their district but there’s something else I think that it it goes to the to
the credit of those small groups that were out there churning out their
letters and their faxes you know to say we’re all against the United Nations the
famous saying history is made by those who show up applies more and more and
the access that we all have to Facebook and Twitter and email and all the easy
ways of communicating hasn’t changed that one bit
and I’ll give you the example we’re talking about the Arab Spring I was in
Cairo in June which was after the the 18 extraordinary days of Tahrir Square but
still at a moment of enormous excitement and about the the overthrow of a
terrible dictatorship that had been backed and armed and paid by the United
States for so long for so many years and people were still just thrilled at what
they had accomplished and I was struck while I was there that one group of
people that I hadn’t heard much about while and until I went while I was here
that were so proud of the role they had played were the taxi drivers and the
minibus drivers I thought well what’s this about so I started talking and you
know little bits and pieces of Arabic and a lot better broken English on their
side why what did you do you know what what what’s your deal why are you so
proud and it turned out that the reference was to the period which was
most of the 18 days of the Tahrir Square uprising the government had shut down
the internet had turned it off essentially had shut down the cellphone
networks for those weeks most of those weeks there was no access to cell phones
to the Internet to email to Facebook to Twitter there was at the beginning and
it played a huge role in the mobile is a but then it was shut off and the
mobilizations didn’t stop because the organising continued and the reason that
the taxi drivers were so proud of themselves was because they had played
this very key role in Cairo poor people travel primarily because Cairo is a huge
city it’s it’s you know really really spread out and it goes for miles and if
you want to get across town poor people mostly travel because the buses aren’t
very good and there aren’t very many of them in mini buses and the mini bus
drivers and the taxi drivers became the conduits for information so somebody
would get on a mini bus and he would tell the driver we’re gonna meet today
at such-and-such a time at this corner and we’re gonna march to Tahrir Square
on this route spread the word and they get off and get on to another mini bus
and five more passengers would get on to the mini bus and the driver would tell
them okay here’s the plan for this neighborhood we’re going to meet at this
corner we’re gonna march on this route and they continued the organizing so all
of those old fashioned organizing methods of talking to people passing out
leaflets hand-to-hand using the mosque as a gathering place and as a bully
pulpit to let people know what the plans were all of these came back into
centrality when the much more modern electronic versions of how people
communicate were shut off so history is made by those who show up even when they
don’t have access to their Facebook account and that becomes I think a very
important message for us as well we’re hearing now about Occupy Iowa I just
came from Washington DC where we have two Occupy DC encampments that are going
on we’re hearing now some dangerous news the first of the US versions of this
Occupy Wall Street in New York City just word came out a few hours ago that the
mayor of New York City mr. Bloomberg is about to send the police in tomorrow
morning to shut down Occupy Wall Street and in fact I’m gonna ask all of you to
take down a number to call to say if you agree that you support
freedom of speech and the right to assemble and the right not to have
police roust a peaceful assembly of people in their streets trying to pose
an alternative way of looking at the world it’s an easy number to remember –
2 1 – is the area code for New York and the phone number is two one – New York
you have to go through a long waiting thing it’s you know it’s the mayor’s
office and whatever do that do that tonight send messages to your friends
Twitter and Facebook that there’s a danger that Occupy Wall Street may be
attacked by the police tomorrow morning and forced to leave
their encampment that would be a huge defeat for our movement in this country
that’s trying to look at different ways of thinking about the world because I
think ultimately this is what we can learn from the Arab Spring that there’s
more than one way to look at a region at a country at a policy that we have to be
always thinking and looking ahead and looking to a future that could be very
different than what we’ve had in the past you know some of you will remember
during those incredible days of the Tahrir Square uprising there was there
was a great deal of attention paid to two things that linked it to us here at
home that was happening around the same time as the uprising in Wisconsin where
the public employee unions that were under attack from the governor came
together to say no you can’t do this as public employees we have the support
of the people here if you’re going to attack teachers you’re attacking our
children the teachers work conditions are the living conditions of our
children and the mobilization you all know the stories how they came to the
State Capitol and occupied it occupy Madison became this new rallying cry and
one of the things that happened was that local restaurants were sending food to
the to the protesters who were staying 24/7 at the Capitol and one was a local
pizza parlor that become very famous and they had put out
the call for people all across the country who wanted to support this
mobilization in in in Madison saying call us with your credit card number and
we’ll send as many pizzas as you can pay for to the protesters and people across
the country started calling and on one day they started getting dozens and
dozens and dozens of calls from Cairo international calls with credit cards
saying we want to support the people of your spring we want to buy pizzas for
your protesters and then there was the famous picture how many of you saw the
picture you know what I’m gonna say only a few okay well there was a very
famous picture across the u.s. went out on all the wires of an Egyptian man
standing in the midst of Tahrir Square with a sign with that said in English
Cairo stands with Wisconsin it was huge it was huge they recognized it they
recognized it we just last night in Washington my Institute was presenting
our annual Human Rights Awards which we give every year in the name of our two
colleagues who were assassinated by the Chilean dictatorship in by a car bomb in
Washington in 1976 and each year we honor one domestic and one international
person or group doing important Human Rights work and the domestic award this
year went to the progressive movement of Wisconsin and the three people who came
to accepted from the unions from the mass organizing one was a former Doulton
well not former he still is a teaching assistant at the University because it
was the teaching assistants union that sparked the Madison uprising and it
turns out that he’s an Egyptian American who had also gone to Tahrir Square so we
had the linkage in our Hall as we as we moved to present the award we had that
link between Tahrir Square and Madison Wisconsin living proof it was it was an
amazing it was an amazing moment but the Arab Spring is a very complex reality
it’s no longer simply two countries with a great non-violent uprising against
tyrants it’s no longer just the defeat of us-backed dictators it’s become as
all things do far more complicated it still is about people standing up to us
back dictators but in some cases they have now taken up arms like in Libya and
they have then called for the direct engagement of the United States and NATO
this is made in my view everything worse in Libya the numbers of casualties got
higher not lower the notion that it was going to protect civilians didn’t
protect civilians who were being attacked by the anti-gaddafi forces it’s
made everything much more complicated and it’s lost some of the credibility in
the region where other actors in other Arab springs are looking at Libya and
saying it’s a little tricky we’re not so sure where they stand because it’s no
longer independent that was the great point of pride in Egypt and in Tunisia
the pride of being independent not being backed by a foreign power in Libya yes a
dictator has been overturned and that’s a huge victory it’s not quite complete
but it’s almost there but at what cost and how independent
will the new government be in Libya when it has had to depend on the US and NATO
acting as its air force for these many months so it still remains a challenge
to long-standing US policy a policy that goes back generations in this country
where you know if you look at the history of u.s. Middle East policy not
even going way way back but if you go back say to 1967 the time of the the
what led to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank Gaza and East Jerusalem
that was the middle of the Cold War and up until that time Israel had been a
close ally of the United States but it didn’t have what we now call this
special relationship that it has enjoyed since 1967 and the reason that that
trend in happened had everything to do with
the 67 war and I had everything to do with the Pentagon which looked at the
outcome of that war where what appeared to be a much smaller military had
trounced according to the mythology six Arab armies wasn’t quite true three of
them really never fought but whatever that was the mythology of the day and
certainly the Israeli army had fought brilliantly and triumphed over all of
the Arab opponents the Pentagon looked at that and said wow we could do
business with these people business being the operative word that became the
centerpiece of that relationship this is the Cold War the US is stretched all
around the world waging proxy wars and supporting proxy enemies and and
supporters in a proxy battle with the Soviet Union and Israel quickly became a
cat’s paw for those US interests all around the world not only in the region
but as far afield as as Nicaragua and El Salvador Chile South Africa Guatemala
Mozambique countries around the world where proxy wars were underway Israeli
military trainers Israeli arms became a crucial tool of US foreign policy that
was taken up in waging the Cold War the Arab Spring has challenged the regional
impact of that policy because beyond Israel that policy led to a three-part
policy that included Israel and oil and stability
those were the three goals of US policy in the Middle East region so in the Arab
countries that meant supporting arming financing providing political backing to
a host of dictatorships whose sole job relative to the United States was to
keep their populations sufficiently suppressed that they wouldn’t interfere
with either the production of oil and the shipment of oil to the US and the
West under US control because it’s ultimately you know when we talk about
oil we be clear this isn’t about access to oil
everybody has access to oil the oil market is is a global market anybody who
wants to pay the price can get the oil the issue is control who gets to decide
on the kind of contracts that are signed who gets to determine where the
pipelines are built those are the critical questions when we look at how
oil plays a role so when we look at that regional development what we saw was a
host of Arab regimes incredibly repressive Saudi Arabia Bahrain the UAE
Egypt Tunisia the litany of Arab countries characterized more than
anything else by us-backed dictators some of them absolute monarchies not
even the illusion or the the delusion of democratic representation of any sort
others that were military dictatorships operating in the name of democracy Egypt
countries like that but in no case were the peoples of those countries able to
be actors in their own countries able to be agents of their own national fate and
it was the u.s. support that made that possible
it led to the Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt it led later to
the agreement between Israel and Jordan and it didn’t matter to the u.s. in
orchestrating those agreements that the people of Egypt were being incredibly
repressed by this military dictatorship under Sadat and then under Mubarak it
didn’t matter that the king of Jordan everybody’s favorite monarch who was
very clever much smarter and more strategic than many of the others was
still an absolute monarch who allowed some of the trappings of democracy
earlier than some of the others you know you’ve probably heard a few weeks ago
there was this great big announcement about how this the king of Saudi Arabia
announced that women were going to be able to vote it was like wow what a big
deal and then it was sort of well it’s not that great because it’s not gonna be
this election anyway it’s not gonna be until 2015
well that’s a problem but the bigger problem is what are they going to be
able to vote in what the men get to vote in now is this little Advisory Council
that has absolutely no power and can be dissolved
by the king at the drop of a hat and has been on several occasions so really
that’s what we’re talking about being such a big deal
that women get to also participate in a completely fake version of democracy
it’s not my idea of women’s liberation we don’t have to talk about the driving
thing that’s a different issue but you know I mean this none of this mattered
to US policymakers as long as there was enough stability to keep the oil flowing
keep the arms purchases under way and keep the relationship with Israel at an
even keel that has characterized the region all this time in the meantime you
have two regional powers you know there were always three requirements to be a
regional power broker in the Middle East you needed size of land and population
you needed oil for wealth and you needed water because the region is half desert
so if you’re gonna be a power you need people and land and money and water and
there were always only two countries in the region that had all three Iran and
Iraq and that was a big part of the reason that they had such sharp
competition over land over resources over oil pipelines over all those things
that was it was far more competition over those things than it was religious
divides of any sort it was because those were the only two countries that had the
indigenous capacity you had other powers certainly Israel was a huge regional
power but its power was derivative because of its relationship with the
United States it didn’t have either size or water other countries were powerful
in certain ways but only Iran and Iraq had those two jump ahead now with the
destruction of Iraq by the US war and a dozen years of crippling sanctions we
suddenly have two powers again because in throughout those years another
country that nobody had really paid much attention to because it was big and it
had a lot of water but it didn’t have any oil so nobody paid attention because
how could it have any money has suddenly become the 17th well
this country in the world 17th biggest economy that was turkey it was like all
of a sudden wait a minute how did that happen in a decade turkey has tripled
its per capita GDP unequal division of that wealth is still a problem but it
has gone down the inequality has gone down every year for the last ten years
how did that happen nobody was watching they just kind of did it and suddenly
emerged we now have again two regional powers
Iran still and the other is Turkey but there’s a big difference Turkey and Iran
compete with each other they compete for markets they compete for regional
influence they compete politically but they’re not going to war against each
other the way Iran in Iraq war every other week it’s a very different
relationship Turkey is a much different kettle of fish for the u.s. to deal with
Turkey is a member of NATO turkey is an a an aspiring member of the European
Union Turkey is a huge ally of the United States and the Turkish government
has made quite clear that it is not a country – or a government to be taken
lightly or to be taken for granted so the US has suddenly had to face a very
new understanding of what its relationships can and must be with
regional powers in the Middle East in a very similar way the Arab Spring in each
country has transformed that relationship it has transformed the
relationship between people and their governments and it is transforming the
relationship between those governments as they change and the United States not
because necessarily all the governments are in power that our empower now are
any different than the ones who were in power last winter but they don’t have
the same options now that people throughout the Arab world have claimed
their rights as citizens they’ve taken up the banner of citizenship as the call
for this new era young people in particular to say yeah it’s not enough
that we have some access to some basic education this
isn’t about absolute destitution these are not the poorest countries except for
Yemen which is indeed the poorest country in the Arab world most of the
countries that have risen up are not the poorest countries in Africa or in Asia
but we have among others the youngest countries we have people that are
growing up getting an education doing it all right doing what they’re supposed to
do and finding there’s no jobs finding they don’t have a chance of getting a
job because the economy has been so distorted by the massive arms deals that
their rulers made with the United States bloated military budgets bloated levels
of corruption and no jobs for young people even for university or Kotori or
even high school graduates what sparked the Arab Spring in Tunisia the story of
a young man who had gone to school had done everything right he wasn’t the
poorest of the poor he had a he was selling fruit he couldn’t get a job so
he was selling fruit on the street and almost every day the police would come
and they’d roust him and make him leave to go somewhere else and then finally
one day he got rousted again by two police who stole some fruit and then he
was told by a police woman which to him was even more humiliating that he
couldn’t stand there he had to just leave and the humiliation because he
couldn’t provide for his family he knew he could no longer live that way and you
know the rest he set himself ablaze and killed himself in the most horrific ways
someone can kill themselves but with a flame that set a spark across the world
something that he never anticipated he wasn’t doing it to spark a revolution he
was acting out of utter utter personal despair but the impact of that in a
society where people were feeling helpless
feeling they had no way to act all of a sudden was making something possible and
it was Tunisia of all places I mean who’d a thunk Tunisia I don’t know I’ve
been in Tunisia a couple of times and I gotta say if I had to pick any country
in the Middle East that was going to be the first to have a revolution Tunisia
probably wouldn’t have even crossed my mind I always forget about Tunisia not
I’m not proud of that but I’m it is a reality it’s a small country it’s not
that strategic and us thinking but suddenly suddenly this move in Tunisia
transformed the scenario of the region and then when it was taken up in Egypt
which is of course one of the most important countries of the region the
centerpiece of Arab culture for millennia four thousand years of history
and I got to say for any of you who are thinking about going to Egypt now is the
time because they desperately need tourism money tourism has been on the
skids and there’s nobody there I mean it’s incredible when the day I went out
to the pyramids there were probably two hundred people in the entire plain of
Giza which used to have you know thousands and thousands and thousands of
people there at any moment and you could barely move for tourists so now is the
moment just a bit of advice but I think that we forget sometimes the history
that people are responding to you know Tunisia was not the poorest country in
the Arab world and it wasn’t even the biggest gap between wealth and poverty
it had its good size gap but it was a country where expectations could not be
met and at a certain point that just becomes too much so if we look at the
other the other countries where this has now taken off Yemen Yemen is an
incredibly complicated country there’s issues of tribal loyalties Yemen is an
ancient country it’s not a modern country it’s not modern now it’s it
hasn’t been modernized and it’s not a new country but the loyalties
of yemenese is a very complicated set of features who people see Yemen
traditionally in certain ways is like Afghanistan it’s not as poor as
Afghanistan but like Afghanistan all politics is local in a far more profound
way than anything that we mean by that saying most people identify with and
have loyalty to their family their clan their village perhaps their regional
area that’s about it what happens in the capital doesn’t have much impact so the
notion of a national mobilization against a dictatorship that had tried to
impose national control was shocking and amazing to see that suddenly there was a
national identity that people were claiming and that the identity was that
of challenging the dictator and saying we will have a Yemeni identity that it
isn’t only people from Sanaa from the capital that have that identity but that
all of us rural people who live in villages of tiny numbers who live out in
the desert who don’t see people from another village for months even years on
end that we can be part of this – and claim it as our own we don’t know what’s
gonna happen in Yemen you know what happened the the dictator was the
subject of a there was also fighting within the military and among some of
the the tribal militias have fought each other it’s become quite violent arms are
everywhere in Yemen so perhaps that wasn’t so surprising but it’s been
devastating and its impact The Dictator was attacked and almost killed but he
was he went off to Saudi Arabia his he was healed sort of and now he’s back
home still claiming every other day I’m going to give up power and we’re going
to have a democratic process oh no actually I didn’t mean that
I’m really not gonna do that he’s now said that I think it’s up to seven times
so far that he has promised that he would accept this this process and then
says no no no I can’t do it yet so we don’t know we don’t know what’s gonna
happen in Yemen Yemen remains the poorest
country in the Arab world that has everything to do with how people
identify in that country when they are faced with that level of poverty Bahrain
Bahrain one of the little Petro States that’s hardly big enough to be a state
at all I mean talk about the UAE the same thing these are not States these
are Petro States they only exist because they’re a tiny tiny group of people
sitting on a huge pool of oil it’s one of the huge contradictions of the Middle
East that the biggest pieces of the biggest pools of oil are where there are
the fewest people where people are concentrated in large numbers in Egypt
with a huge population 60 65 million people almost no oil Syria 25 28 million
people bits and pieces of Israel a safari
happen look at my note saying Israel bits and pieces of oil this is the oil
is concentrated where there are hardly any people so what happens these little
Petro States get created and they import people they import people so in the UAE
for instance the majority of the population are not Emiratis they’re not
people who have citizenship they are not citizens they are quote guest workers
mainly from some of the most impoverished countries in the world
they’re brought in from the Philippines from Bangladesh from Pakistan they have
no rights their passport is taken they are assigned to work somewhere they have
no rights they are subject to the worst kind of labor abuse the women who are
brought in as housekeepers and nannies are routinely raped by their employers
and they have no recourse the number of people who are citizens is tiny that the
whole populations are tiny but the percentage of citizens is even tinier so
we have not yet seen in the UAE arising but we saw it in Bahrain Bahrain that
has always prided itself on being more modern than Saudi Arabia it’s on it’s
joined to Saudi Arabia by a causeway it’s a little tiny island and it has
lots of Westerners who come to teach at the universities and engineers and
they’re building all kinds of fancy buildings and what
very good education but when people began to demand a say in their lives
they weren’t initially calling for the overthrow of the monarchy they were just
asking that there be some investment in people’s rights that the monarchy not be
able to determine everything but because this the politics and the religion like
in so many parts of the Middle East is mixed up because Bahrain happens to have
a majority Shia population about 80% and yet the ruling family is completely
Sunni and the privileged class they’re all pretty privileged relative to these
other workers that are brought in but within the Bahraini society the
privileged class are overwhelmingly Sunni it took on a sectarian tone but
the big secret that we didn’t get to hear very much about is that at the end
of the day the reason that Saudi Arabia sent troops to help the Bahraini
government suppress so brutally this uprising with almost 40 people killed in
three days hundreds injured thousands arrested you may have heard about the
the sentencing just a few days ago of 15 doctors and nurses who were working at
the main hospital treating the wounded and they were convicted of aiding a
revolutionary process or undermining the government or something like that and
sentenced to 15 years in prison for healing people who were brought in at
the death’s door in Bahrain the part we didn’t hear about was the fifth fleet
the fifth fleet is ours u.s. the u.s. 5th fleet one of our nine carrier groups
the fifth fleet is based in Bahrain this little tiny island with very few people
is great at providing a home for the u.s. 5th fleet of warships to patrol an
attack throughout the region that’s very important to the United States so the
United States spoke to our great allies Saudi Arabia and told them of course if
you go in we will have nothing to say so there were a few
quiet we urge we urge the bahraini king to
negotiate with the with the the reform movement we urge that there be a
dialogue period full stop how did that compare to Libya did we hear calls for
dialogue actually quite the contrary when the head of the African Union South
African President Zuma flew to Tripoli to try and engage in some kind of
diplomacy he wasn’t even allowed to enter the country by these outside
forces that were now guarding the skies of Libya so the question of how the US
has dealt with these different Springs of the Arab Spring has far less to do
with the nature of the government they’re all terribly repressive less to
do with the nature of the uprising they’re all mixed up in a mishmash of
all kinds of interests some sectarian some secular some democratic some
Islamists some all over the place they’re all similar in that way but what
matters is the relationship of that government to the United States so you
can be damn sure that if we hear any murmurings of an uprising in Saudi
Arabia that will be suppressed right quick probably before we even get to
hear about it and we will certainly not hear from the
United States that indeed it’s kind of a problem to have an absolute monarchy
controlling every bit of life of its population from whether and when women
can drive – how people have to be dressed you know we hear a lot about
that for example from the State Department about Iran which has an
equally in my view but I don’t live there it’s not my culture not my country
so I can have an opinion but I don’t get to tell them I happen to think it’s
pretty backward for any government to be telling women how they should dress we
here our state department talked a lot about that visa vie Iran we don’t hear a
whole lot about Saudi Arabia every once in a while we hear a little bit Hillary
Clinton was kind of guilt-tripped into admitting that oh yeah I kind of wish
that women in in Saudi Arabia could drive well you know what
the poor women in Saudi Arabia aren’t so concerned about driving because they
can’t afford a car you know the issue is we don’t want to have to waste our money
on our foreign chauffeurs oh I’m sorry you know it’s really hard for me to get
too excited about that one the problem is there is no democracy there is no
citizenship there is only subjects and the king right but that seems to be fine
for the United States because at the end of the day they guarantee our control of
oil and they guarantee that in Bahrain I don’t know where the reform movement
would have stood on the question of the fifth fleet would they have demanded
that the fifth fleet pack up and sail home I would hope so I certainly
wouldn’t want some foreign Navy occupying my country imagine but that’s
just me we didn’t hear what they would have thought because they weren’t
allowed to say anything they were suppressed before they ever got that far
oppressed in the most brutal ways so we have a host of periods we were six eight
nine months into the Arab Spring we don’t know what the next steps are going
to be we do know it’s not gonna be our call the question of whether the United
States was going to recognize a new government the reform government in
Egypt you all remember the timing of all that it was criminal it was outrageous
that it took so long it was so grudging and the day after Mubarak resigned you
had the special envoy of the president announcing in Germany when he flew when
he flew back from from Cairo enroute home he said oh yes well I do think that
the that President Mubarak should stay there to maintain stability with what
what the hell were you doing there and then you had people in the Obama
administration falling all over themselves saying that wasn’t our
message oh really he was your special envoy for God’s
sakes what is you know it’s this was insane they were so flat-footed they
were caught so unaware that this was going to happen and yeah they were gonna
have to respond but you know the really great part it really didn’t matter very
much at the end of the day what the u.s. said
Mubarak was overthrown by the people of Egypt not by the withdrawal of support
by the United States and to the degree that we see the success of overthrowing
dictators throughout the region we’re going to see in that context we’re
seeing it popping up all over the place now this last summer in Israel it was
the Israeli definition the Israeli version of the Arab Spring you probably
heard about it there were protests on a daily basis a tent encampment
reminiscent of Tahrir Square lined up on Rothschild Boulevard in downtown Tel
Aviv one of the wealthiest streets of the country now at the beginning the
focus was on the cost of housing it was a it was a financial economic issue
people were angry because the college started actually about the cost of
cottage cheese cottage cheese how many of you have ever been to Israel not too
many okay cottage cheese is a very big deal in Israel I don’t know why but they
eat tons of it and the price of cottage cheese had gone
through the roof so people were like kind of riled up
about the cottage cheese wars and then housing prices have been getting higher
and harder nobody was talking about the settlements
nobody was even talking about the fact that the reason that the settlements are
expanding so fast is because the government is putting money into them
you get money when you go to live in a settlement
it’s called subsidies the government subsidizes the settlements for all that
they can’t claim well this is natural growth we are you know we have to allow
this the government subsidizes the illegal settlements across the West Bank
and Arab East Jerusalem where there are now six hundred thousand illegal
settlers six hundred thousand people who violate international law every morning
simply by waking up because their bedroom is built in a house on stolen
land that’s a lot of people and the reason there’s so many because the vast
majority of them are not extremists they’re not nationalist crazies they’re
not religious extremists some of them are
but the majority or not the majority are settler yuppies they moved there because
it’s cheaper you can get a beautiful house with a lawn you know these white
houses on the hill with the the red tile roofs and swimming pools and all those
things subsidized by the government for maybe five hundred bucks a month where
it’ll cost you $3,000 a month to get a crowded steamy one-bedroom in in
downtown Tel Aviv who wouldn’t want to live there
one of the biggest settlements in the West Bank ma’ale adumim it’s a city it’s
40,000 people they have two colleges high schools swimming pools an
industrial zone you name it they’ve got it
the slogan or the the logo of the city is that Picasso dove of peace and you
talk to people there and it’s a left-wing community they all vote either
labor or merits the left-wing parties in Israel and and they’ll talk about cod
the settlers are such a problem and you you sort of looking a little confused in
well but you live in a settlement and then they look very confused and they
say this isn’t a settlement this is a city and it’s like well when did it stop
being a settlement when it became a city so it’s like if you can violate the law
big enough suddenly it becomes legal it’s a it’s a bizarre way of thinking
but it is how I mean I was just there a couple years ago and have that exact
conversation I was just dumbfounded by it but to come back to this protest in
Israel so there’s a big protest about the cost of housing not talking about
the government subsidies to housing in the West Bank and why that might be a
little bit better to subsidize poor people inside Israel we didn’t hear that
but we did hear and it’s a huge attack on the government and what was amazing
was that it very quickly became an attack on Netanyahu’s government but not
in the usual way where it was just about the you know the political parties the
Israeli Israeli political parties and the political system is pretty wild and
pretty wide open so almost anything goes but this was something brand-new the
chant that became the iconic symbol of that protest was saying Mubarak Assad
Bibi Netanyahu Mubarak Assad Bibi Netanyahu linking the elected Israeli
leader with these Arabs haters that was huge that was huge I was
stunned when I saw the footage of people chanting that and yet it reflected the
structural issue facing Israelis around economic rights now the challenge of
course is when is that going to be linked to the question of the cost to
Israel of this illegal occupation which brings us back to the United States what
are we going to do about what the US is doing with our economy which is all tied
up with on the one hand not enough taxes for millionaires and billionaires no
taxes for corporations bailing out the banks no money for jobs while we’re
spending trillions on useless wars in the region and while we’re spending 30
billion dollars over these 10 years in military aid to Israel 30 billion
dollars all military aid to the 23rd wealthiest country in the world it’s
crazy those of you who live in Iowa just this
year you spent 1.3 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that
did not make any of us any safer that amount of money could have provided
health care for seven hundred thirty four thousand seven hundred thirty six
children across Iowa it could have provided hiring of twenty three thousand
elementary school teachers or twenty eight thousand firefighters you tell me
what keeps our communities safer just here in Ames Ames spent eighteen and a
half million dollars this year on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it could
have paid for twenty six hundred children to be given a slot in a
headstart program it could have paid for seventeen and a half thousand homes to
be converted to sustainable wind energy or it could have
paid for 2700 University scholarships what keeps the people of Ames safer this
comes back to the Arab Spring and it comes back to how we come to understand
the role that our government plays in the rest of the world because at the end
of the day when people in the Arab Spring or anywhere else when people are
rising up against dictatorship what they want from us is not just you know coming
and stand with us I mean that’s symbolically exciting and great but
that’s not really the point what we need to do is stop our government from
denying them those freedoms you know after September 11 of 2001 after those
horrific crimes those horrific attacks on us we kept hearing the question why
do they hate us well they hate us because they hate our freedoms well I’m
sorry I beg to differ they whoever they is being referred to
don’t hate our freedoms they hate our policies that deny them their freedoms
that’s what makes people around the world hate our policies and sometimes
hate us I’ll tell you I’ve traveled in the Middle East for years and I’ve
traveled a lone woman traveling alone I never worried I never felt at risk I
mean there were a few times in the First Intifada when Israeli soldiers were
shooting and that sort of thing but then you know where you are you know what
what’s risky and what’s not but just traveling I never felt at risk but I’ll
tell you these days I still do it but I watch my back in a whole different way
because people are angry and our military which is all over the region is
very well protected very well protected ordinary people can’t do anything about
those military people or even the politicians but if they’re angry enough
they turn on the symbols of the United States of American citizens who are not
so well protected who are ordinary people like us walking around
never used to be like that this notion that these wars have made us safer is
the opposite of the truth they have put us at far greater risk so I want to just
say because I want to finish in a minute so we have time for questions and
discussion I think the best thing we can do for the Arab Spring to help the Arab
Spring is to bring a spring to our government the American autumn because
despite the Arab Spring our government’s policy in the region has not
qualitatively changed yet they face new challenges they don’t quite know what to
do but they have not made the fundamental recognition that says that
you cannot build a viable policy that’s built around power and in inequality
that’s built around we have power and we’re gonna tell you what you can do and
not do that’s built around the idea that it’s your oil and we’re going to control
it that’s built around the idea that you’re conducting an illegal occupation
and building illegal settlements and we’re gonna stand back and let you do it
and fund it to the tune of three billion dollars a year and absolute protection
in the United Nations you know we heard a lot last year about President Obama
was too hard on Israel that he was too critical of Israel that he was putting
too much pressure on Israel I didn’t hear any pressure I heard a request
please stop building settlements answer no please stop building settlements no
pretty please stop building settlements no look please stop building just some
settlements for just a little while maybe no and then they stopped asking
that’s not pressure pressure starts like this
please stop building settlements they’re illegal no answer okay you can do what
you want but you know that three billion dollars a year that you’ve been getting
you can kiss that goodbye and you know how we’ve protected you in the United
Nations so that your potential war crimes are
never investigated and no one has ever held accountable we’re not doing that
anymore that’s what pressure looks like that’s the beginning that’s step one of
pressure that doesn’t even get to sanctions that just gets to we’re gonna
stop enabling the human rights violations we never heard that we never
heard pressure so we have a very big job to do to transform how our government
operates public opinion in this country has changed dramatically it’s changed on
the question of Israel and Palestine it’s changed on the nature of how we see
the Arab world how we see Arabs it’s an amazing thing you know the shift one of
the things that the Arab Spring did was transform how most Americans who most
people don’t know any Arabs how people understood who’s an Arab what does an
Arab look like how do they talk how do they act what are their countries like
all of a sudden here’s a bunch of people on TV who what a surprise look just like
us and the guys on TV even speak English they had their cell phones they’re
wearing jeans wait a minute I mean it would the notions the stereotypes the
racism and the Islamophobia that has shaped how people in this country see
the Arab world but our government hasn’t caught up so government policy is still
based on uncritical support for Israel the same 30 billion dollars a year the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are slightly smaller than they were but they
are not even close to winding down the war and after in Iraq which by by treaty
has to be ended by the end of this year the u.s. signed off all US troops all
Pentagon paid contractors have to be out of Iraq by December 31st of this year
but what are we hearing instead the u.s. is desperately trying to get the corrupt
Iraqi government to quote invite us to stay just a little bit longer and in the
meantime they’re desperately working to transform those thousands of
paid contractors into State Department paid contractors because contractors
paid by the State Department weren’t included in the Status of Forces
Agreement why god knows probably somebody forgot and just put in the
language saying all troops all military contractors and forgot that you know
these guys in the Pentagon are smart enough to say oh well they said military
contractors they didn’t say anything about State Department contractors so
it’s gonna be the same contractors with the same weapons carrying out
potentially the same war crimes but their check will be written by the
Pentagon by the State Department instead of the Pentagon great and as a matter of
fact at the moment there are still 43,000 US troops occupying Iraq and
about 70,000 Pentagon paid contractors Afghanistan we’ve been hearing about
there’s gonna be a drawdown okay but at the moment we still have 98 thousand US
troops occupying Afghanistan 45,000 NATO troops occupying Afghanistan and a
hundred and twenty thousand us paid military contractors occupying
Afghanistan now what we heard was we’re going to withdraw troops from the thirty
thousand troop the thirty thousand strong surge that President Obama
ordered well what’s wrong with this picture number one that surge wasn’t 30
it was 33,000 thank you very much number two that was the second surge because
remember just three weeks after President Obama swore his oath of office
he ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan and said we’re gonna send
the troops and then we’ll figure out the strategy how smart is that for somebody
who’s supposed to be a pretty smart guy so we heard that 10,000 were going to be
withdrawn by the end of this year okay that’s good the more out the better and
20,000 23,000 next year fine and then what and then what we’re left with
65,000 troops ad infinitum no end in sight well by
2014 we will Tran for authority to the Afghan military an
Afghan police okay transfer authority that sounds very nice
but nowhere do I hear we’re gonna withdraw all the rest of the troops by
them because they have no intention of withdrawing those troops we have a huge
challenge the Arab Spring runs up against the US military everywhere they
turn and that becomes our job to transform our foreign policy into
something based on international law and human rights and equality for all away
from a policy that’s based on supporting occupation supporting inequality
supporting dictators that’s the goal so when we ask the question what can we do
to help the Arab Spring the answer is to create an American autumn to allow the
Arab Spring to reach full fruition and to allow us to reclaim our own democracy
thank you I guess we have time for questions and
oh we have a mic setup so if folks with questions maybe want to go to the mic so
everybody can hear and we’ll be able to have a conversation you’ve spoken a lot
about the beginnings of the Arab Spring the question that I have is about the
apparent power vacuum in Egypt right now and in particular between the Salafis
and the Muslim Brotherhood and the secularists what chance is there for
safety for the 10% that is Coptic Christian yeah the situation in Egypt
right now is very grim I think the biggest problem is still the military
they have been very uncertain about their willingness to give up power
they’ve been uneven in their willingness to protect the civilian population most
recently they’ve been unwilling to protect the cops but they’ve also been
reluctant and refused to protect Muslim protesters they’ve held on excuse me
they’ve held on to power and as we saw just three days ago they have used that
power brutally using armored cars and armored personnel carriers to run over
protesters 27 people killed hundreds injured and the government calling the
government television station calling for people to come into the streets to
protect the military from the attacks of who of some kids with stones against
armored personnel carriers this was insane so there’s a very serious
challenge of foot I think the sectarian my Egyptian friends both cops and and
Muslims tell me that the there there is a strand of sectarianism in Egyptian
politics no question but it’s been vastly over stated and taken advantage
of by the military in particular I think that if the military moved more quickly
and they are under pressure to do so and may feel the compulsions
do so they’ve they’ve been in a somewhat different position now having to answer
to civilian opinion in a way that they never did before I think that there is
every likelihood that the possibility of sectarianism being diminished can happen
I don’t think I don’t want to be a Pollyanna I’m not gonna say it’s gonna
go away there is a Salafi the Salafi ISM is the the sort of hardcore extremist
version of Islamism it exists in Egypt it exists throughout the region it’s
quite small I think it’s visible now in a way it’s
never been visible because it was completely suppressed under Mubarak and
now it’s kind of out there showing its face and it’s rather frightening for
people for all the understandable reasons but I don’t see any evidence
that it’s actually a significant significantly large political force I
think the issue is more the question of what kind of public pressure can be
brought to bear on the military to force that that transfer of power to be sooner
rather than later and that will set the stage for that very long struggle for
reclaiming civil civil discourse and and civil rights inside Egypt it’s not going
to be an easy one you mentioned the negative effect that NATO forces and
American forces had and using air force in Libya I was wondering if you thought
the effect would have been the same if Libyans would have been able to gain
their own independence without the use of the air force and if the Egypt
situation declines if the whole Arab Spring movement overall would be
negatively influenced yeah it’s it’s a very good question obviously none of us
know my own sense is that there was the possibility that the Libyans had the
capacity to win their own revolution there’s no guarantees I think there was
a danger that there could have been a massacre in Benghazi but I think it
there was no evidence that it was either imminent or inevitable it was certainly
a possibility I’m certainly not gonna say there was no
threat how could they have taken up arms people believed they were at risk the
reason I say I think they could have that there’s evidence they could have
won themselves was that at the beginning they did before the first French
airstrikes the first French airstrikes if you recall were against four of
Gaddafi’s tanks that were in the desert they had been abandoned outside of
Benghazi they had been driven out into the desert but the key to me was they
had been forced out they had come to attack the city they had been driven out
by people in Benghazi including military people who had defected in large numbers
with their weapons etc it was all true that in the east like Benghazi they had
not had access to the same level of weapons the same kind of training as in
Gaddafi strongholds but they had had training they did have weapons there
were military bases and they had managed to drive these tanks out of their city
so that when the first airstrikes hit they hit outside they didn’t hit the
tanks were not still in the city that to me said there was some military capacity
there to fight back and I I wasn’t there I’m not going to judge that they’re bad
for making the decisions they did but there are consequences that’s that’s the
the endgame I mean you make certain choices
based on what you think are the is the best way of protecting your family
protecting your country fighting for democracy and when you make certain
choices consequences ensue that can make things worse and I’m afraid that’s what
happened in Libya yeah other questions somebody’s cell phone is
that a question thank you for your telling us tonight
about what’s going on I had some experiences myself I’m the 1995 Iowa
Teacher of the Year in the historian and co-chair for international relations the
National State Teachers a year and I’ve hosted students from 16 different
countries over the years in the University asked me to go to the airport
to greet international students the last two years last summer I met two
veterinarians from Egypt they spoke English so I taught them how to count to
several thousand in Chinese in less than five minutes so they could read Russian
and they weren’t expecting that and then I gave them a couple of cards that I
have in how I see people and I’ve done this all over the world I will ask every
kid you know what I see when I see you and I get understand silence so I tell
them I see the most precious thing on the planet Earth that’s the way you
should see yourself because if you do you won’t do anything dumb or stupid to
harm anything yourself see all the people around you they also see the same
thing I handed it out to these two veterinarians from Egypt when they got
done reading it they said we’ve never had anybody in our country tell us
anything like that before in our lives and then I met two father and a son who
were starting school here the son was from the Sudan and I taught him some
math and then I asked him and they said they spoke Arabic so I handed my card to
them in Arabic they read it in Arabic and they also said we’ve never had
anybody tell us anything like that in her lives and then about three days
later I met two kids from Lebanon who spoke English French and Arabic I gave
him the card and they also said we’ve never had anybody tell us anything like
that before in our lives and I’m wondering if people are never told their
true value it makes it very easy for the leaders of the world to abuse them I
think now is there some of that going on well I think that’s a big problem
everywhere including here I think most people in this country particularly in
poor communities never hear anyone tell them of their value so I think that is a
problem in many places when people grow up
through generations of disempowerment dispossession living under military
occupation living under military dictatorship living under apartheid
systems you you grow up unable to pass on to your children a sense of value
because you’ve never experienced being valued by anyone else it becomes a
sequential thing so I think you’re right I think it’s it’s a huge problem all
around the world I wouldn’t say that it’s only only a problem in in the Arab
world I think it’s just as much a problem here it’s problem here because I
attended a Mental Health Conference it’s Shimon yesterday and the people were
dealing with mental health were talking about the same thing Thank You Kim in
this country thank you thank you very much
other questions a couple more than you’re all gonna go and buy books right
they’re cheap they’re little they fit in your pocket thank you very much for your
talk I’m wondering for a resource that is as valuable as oil that is I mean I
none of us are very happy that our world depends on oil but it does and that’s
not going to change anytime soon what hope is there for anyone really managing
it in a not corrupt way either in their own country or abroad not much I mean
you raise exactly a crucial question I’m a little more hopeful that the drastic
impact that we’re already facing of global warming and climate change is
forcing a reconsideration of oil dependency that is going to lead to
changes being sooner than they might have been otherwise in a less dramatic
situation but I think you’re right it’s not going to happen imminently there’s
no I don’t think there’s any recipe the one country that’s different where the
the presence of oil has not resulted in the impoverishment of the population the
dispossession of the population the vast disparity between wealth and poverty of
the population is Norway it’s the one model where the wealth of the oil fields
is sent by cheque to every family every person in Norway gets a personal
of the oil every year along with a huge role for government the private sector
has very little role the government provides cradle-to-grave
education housing assistance health care all the things that in a wealthy country
should be taken for granted Norway is probably the only country
where people actually get access to all that on the other hand it’s a very
wealthy country it’s an educated country and it’s a country with a tiny
population relative to the amount of oil that it has so it’s probably not a very
transferable model I don’t think there are good models I think that the problem
of resource Wars is going to get worse because we’re not only talking about
wars over oil we’re also talking about natural gas very soon we’re gonna be
talking about water I think the next set of wars is going to be fought over water
which is becoming an increasingly scarce resource and I think that how that plays
out in terms of which countries become powerful because they have water versus
which countries don’t is going to really transform power relations throughout the
world there’ll be time there’ll be time for
more questions and a book signing back in the corner over there and you can buy
your book right over at the door and so if y’all join me again in thanking
Phyllis Bennis

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