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Naked truth

By Philip Whitfield CAIRO: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Though Shakespeare gets praise for it William Congreve wrote it in The Mourning Bride. There are moments when a shutterbug turns the world on its head in a nanosecond. One such: AP’s Eddie Adams’ shot of Saigon’s police chief Nguy?n Ng?c Loan executing a …

By Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Though Shakespeare gets praise for it William Congreve wrote it in The Mourning Bride.

There are moments when a shutterbug turns the world on its head in a nanosecond. One such: AP’s Eddie Adams’ shot of Saigon’s police chief Nguy?n Ng?c Loan executing a handcuffed Viet Cong officer on February 1 1968 during the Tet offensive. American support evaporated.

In a crafted statement Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed angst after violence broke out in Tahrir Square: I am deeply concerned about the continuing reports of violence.

Then she witnessed the naked truth on YouTube: A young woman hacked to the ground, stripped and beaten, dragged by her hijab across Tahrir, her womanhood exposed; one of many women humiliated.

Mrs. Clinton kept cool. The military had their chance to repent at their press conference. No apology came. The army does not have, it isn’t in our training, a curriculum of using violence. We protect the state and exercise self-restraint, General Adel Emara told a gobsmacked press conference.

The cables went back and forth. Mrs. Clinton drove across town to Georgetown University. This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people, Clinton told an academic audience.

Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago, Clinton said. Then the judgment: She denounced the generals’ deeply troubling patter.

It’s a clever choice of word. Patter means glib, the rapid repetition of meaningless phrases, commonly used to describe fairground barkers encouraging punters into a tent to mock a freak.

Just in case her outrage was not taken seriously she spelled it out. Beating women on the street ‘is not cultural, it’s criminal and it needs to be addressed and treated as such,’ she said to applause.

So there you have it. The most powerful woman on earth branded Egypt’s military criminal. Dip-speak has its precepts. On a scale of 1-10, Mrs. Clinton’s rebuke was an 8.

Cathy Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy maven predictably scored 2 — strongly condemning violence against peaceful demonstrators. Why so timid? Europe can’t afford to upset its oil and gas applecart.

The secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon earned a 1, being highly alarmed by excessive force by the security forces against protesters. Alarmed? Substitute impotent.

The Arab League’s secretary general Nabil Al-Arabi earned a zero. Violence would push Egypt toward chaos, he said, stating the obvious. Would push? Make that: Is pushing.

Mrs. Clinton’s words are worth one-and-a-half billion dollars — the amount Egypt could have received in military and economic aid if Mrs. Clinton had remained silent. Congress requested an opinion before authorizing more military and economic aid. She answered them loud and clear.

Concerned investors are putting their money where their mouth is. The American Israel Corporation (Ampal) that holds 12.5 percent of Egypt’s East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG) to import gas from Egypt has called a special meeting of debenture holders for January 1. Ampal’s paying 110 percent to borrow money; can’t repay capital; their bonds are triple junk.

The military’s tin ear lost that which they covet most: respect and money. Their grip on power is in question. Though I disagree with it, violent street politics are shaping the revolution.

Why be upset? Violence has failed in more than half the democratic revolutions attempted in the last 20 years, whereas non-violent revolution normally succeeds.

It’s Bashar Al-Assad’s calculation in Syria. It was the Soviet Union’s game plan when Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland rose up against tyrannical rule by Moscow.

It was Mubarak’s miscalculation. His supporters rained Molotov cocktails down on peaceful protesters back in January and February; organized a lamentable camel charge; turned a blind eye (if you believe his lawyers) to uniformed snipers.

He lost when millions of unarmed Egyptians, children in hand, marched peacefully to Tahrir and squares around the country to chorus: Go.

What to do now? The military should accept the will of the people. It’s not going to change in Round 3. Islamists have about three quarters of the votes. Denying their influence is delinquent.

Representatives of the parties leading in the election should be invited to replace the interim government of headless chickens. That gives the Islamists the opportunity they crave to demonstrate their responsibility.

It gives the people an opportunity to see if they’re true to their word. They can order the military off the streets; ask the people to go back to work; seek foreign loans and investment. They can rescind the Emergency Law. They can reassure secular voters they’ve nothing to fear.

Isn’t that what they’ll be doing next year? Why not start now? The Islamists ascendency is inevitable. So why not call their bluff. If it works, skeptics will be vanquished. If it doesn’t, what will be lost? It can’t get any worse.

Egypt’s youth can be given a role as well. Many are more qualified to use their technical expertise in government than political favorites. Whom do you think ministers rely upon to do the legwork? Young, well-educated Egyptians often hired in from global organizations such as the International Monetary Fund.

The UN and the EU have paid their salaries in the past. There’s no reason to think Egypt wouldn’t be flooded with A+ résumés if the word went out.

Imagine the crisis confronting Samuel Rosenman, as he pondered writing a speech for Franklin Delanor Roosevelt seeking the presidency in 1932. The New Republic lay on his desk. The cover attracted his eye: A New Deal for America.

The country needs and demands bold, persistent experimentation… we need the courage of the young, FDR was to say. Roosevelt’s New Deal realigned American politics behind a revolutionary program of relief, recovery, and reform.

The New Deal established Democrats in the White House for seven out of the following nine presidential terms — 36 years of power and progress, begun by America’s youngest president aged 42.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based commentator.


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