Friday, February 4, 2011

Canada's PM Stephen Harper Hearts Mubarak--Favours Slow Transition Under His Presidency

A wounded anti-government demonstrator flashes the victory sign in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
(Victoria Hazou/AP)

The February 4, 2011 print edition of Canada's national newspaper, The Globe and Mail (centre right) has this image of a wild eyed rock thrower as the lead photo above the fold and below the headline "Escalation of Tension". Below the picture is the same caption and photo credit as the New York Times: "Antigovernment protesters said on Thursday that they were more determined than ever to topple the president. Credit: Scott Nelson for The New York Times."

Immediately below the fold are two articles featured side-by-side: "Canada Reacts: In break with U.S., Ottawa backs gradual handover in Egypt"; and, "Journalists Detained: At gunpoint in Cairo: Three hours, few answers". Immediately below those, and within the same box as all of the above, two more titles are offered with their page numbers: "Jeffrey Simpson: In a country with no democratic tradition, expecting a bright future is a mistake"; and, "Mixed Signals: A power struggle within the Mubarak regime is leading to confusing, conflicting messages".

Those of us who remember our Grade 9 media studies course get the point of the placements and juxtapositions on the front page. So does everyone else, consciously or subconsciously.

Photo by Khaled Abdullah for Reuters, of a protester in Sanaa, Yemen with bread taped to his head ("a common protest symbol in other countries as well"),  illustrating the Globe and Mail's "Protests: Contagion of discontent spreads across Arab world" article [not available online]

Lest anyone be in still in doubt, the rest of the front section includes such articles as "Protests: Contagion of discontent spreads across Arab world" [not available online]. Contagion? Really want to use that negative metaphor? I guess so, as it is right below the "Power struggle sending mixed signals article" illustrated with rock throwing anti-Mubarak protesters, both on the first page of two in World News devoted to the Uprising in Egypt. The next page has the continuation of the 2 front page stories, and a reprint of a NYT article on Obama pressuring Mubarak to go now--to contrast our diplomatic positions presumably.

Moving along to the Editorial and Comment page, right below "No democratic tradition, no bright future", Irshad Manji opines on "Arab Awakening: A light in the Palestinian darkness, While Gaza Stagnates, the West Bank's young people enjoy a shot at the future, thanks to Salam Fayyad". I'll save you the pain: Hamas bad-Fatah good-Occupation not so bad. Sorry, can't resist this excerpt:
In February of 2005, I found myself surrounded by students at An-Najah National University in the heart of the West Bank. During my impromptu visit, students seemed eager to talk. “Now that Arafat is gone,” one of them remarked, “it is time to accept Israel.”

He continued: “I want the occupation to end, but I am also a human being with dreams and hopes for the future. To reach my dreams as an individual, I have to live peacefully with Jews and we all have to go into the future.”

Other students could have denounced him to defend the sanctity of the national liberation campaign. They didn’t.

A year later in Egypt, I moderated a roundtable discussion of Middle Eastern and North African youth. The Palestinian delegates grumbled that their politicians treated them as “suspect” and “deviant.” Innovative ideas got tarred as “dangerous” by “inaccessible” elders.

Then this: “We cannot keep blaming the Israelis for our problems. We all know that opinions in our Arab societies are determined by family loyalties instead of reason.” Nobody disputed that claim. Trust me, these kids knew how to argue. You should have seen the Saudi girls rip into the guys.
Still the pride of place, and the worthiness of a full copy and link in this rogue's gallery of articles goes to the Prime Minister, and his Immigration Minister Lawrence Cannon hearting Mubarak. Notice that the objections of the New Democratic Party (NDP), aka, the socialists and Canada's 3rd most powerful party, are highlighted, immediately followed by the "Israel card".

In break with U.S., Ottawa backs gradual handover in Egypt
OTTAWA— From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Feb. 03, 2011 3:59PM EST
Last updated Friday, Feb. 04, 2011 7:56AM EST

The Harper government has endorsed the go-slow transition plan set out by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, signalling that Mideast stability and peace with Israel are its paramount concerns while other Western nations push for faster change.

Canada’s warnings that a rushed change in power could lead to instability – Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon insisted that “a vacuum does not mean transition” – came on a day of bloody confrontations in Cairo on Thursday.

Gangs of pro-Mubarak supporters targeted journalists for bloody beatings, and security forces detained dozens of foreign journalists, including two from The Globe and Mail who were held by the army for three hours and then released.

But while pro-democracy protesters vowed to press on until Egypt’s President steps down, Mr. Mubarak emerged to dig in his heels in a television interview, insisting he can’t leave before September because the country would descend into “chaos.”

Last night, however, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration is working with Egyptian officials on a plan for Mr. Mubarak to resign now and hand power to his vice-president, Omar Suleiman, a long-time official in the regime.

Earlier in the day Mr. Suleiman had blamed foreigners for whipping up opposition, but offered to initiate constitutional changes over several months while Mr. Mubarak stays on and to talk with opposition figures – a process rejected by many in the opposition and denounced by the United States as being neither credible enough nor broad enough in scope.

In Ottawa, though, Mr. Cannon had emphasized that Canada’s chief concern is for a stable transition, one that protects Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, and indicated support for Mr. Suleiman’s plan for months of step-by-step changes while Mr. Mubarak remains.

“I think the question is what’s next. A vacuum does not mean transition. The transition must be orderly, we have said it from the beginning. And these things must be settled by the Egyptians themselves,” Mr. Cannon told reporters outside the Commons.

“There were steps, I understand, that were undertaken this morning by the vice-president. I think these steps form part of this orderly transition effort toward reforms, and ultimately an election.”

Mr. Cannon did call for a transition to democracy, but did not emphasize speed. When asked whether he wants an “immediate transition,” he replied: “An orderly transition that should bring us to the reforms we’ve talked about.”

That is different tone from several other Western nations. On Wednesday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that when the United States calls for transition to begin now, “now means yesterday.” On Thursday, the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain called for democratic transition to begin “immediately.”

The unwillingness to call for Mr. Mubarak to quit now drew criticism from NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, who argued Mr. Mubarak’s refusal to cede power is increasing the likelihood of chaos, not lessening it. “I think Canada is letting down the pro-democracy forces by not being declarative,” he said.

But the staunchly pro-Israel Conservatives are clearly placing emphasis on other fears: that in a rushed transition, Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood could take power, or that a new government might scrap the 1979 peace treaty with Israel that Mr. Mubarak’s government has honoured. Mr. Cannon said recognition of Israel and respect for the treaty are key to Canada.

“These are things that are uppermost, because as I had mentioned at the very outset, what we’re looking for, from the Canadian government, our position is to be able to promote stability in the region, because that becomes extremely important in terms of global security,” he said.

Israel has expressed concerns that a quick change could create a new destabilizing adversary. And in Ottawa, the Canada-Israel Committee has lobbied MPs not to push for rapid regime change, arguing that Egypt’s democratic organizations are so weak that only the Muslim Brotherhood would be able to take power now.

“Yes to democracy, but let’s keep stability to make sure that what emerges is not worse than what is there,” said Richard Marceau, a senior adviser at the committee. “It’s one of the messages that we’ve been sending to every party.”

Mr. Cannon also emphasized the need for the next Egyptian government to respect minority rights, and to adopt electoral and constitutional changes.

In a day of violence and targeting of journalists, Mr. Cannon called for all detained journalists to be released, and said his officials called in the Egyptian ambassador to insist the government should ensure that journalists are not intimidated.

He did not, as other governments have, point the finger at Mr. Mubarak’s government for encouraging attacks against journalists. But he did issue a warning about the attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators: “If the government of Egypt was in any way involved in instigating attacks against peaceful demonstrators, this would be unacceptable,” he said.


I'd comment further, but I'd only rant, so I'll just apologize for not letting you know in time that you could have chatted live with Irshad Manji on the topic of Arab Youth and Arab Democracy between 11am-12pm EST. But you can still read it!

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

On Sunday, Jan. 30, an anti-Mubarak protester.(Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)


oby said...

I hope you will forgive my obtusenss,but reading Manji's article gave me hope and I thought unless it is a lie, highlights how young people in Gaza are trying to harness their collective power to bring about change. Or at least they are tentatively sticking a toe in the water so to speak, which if Egypt is any indication, can grow into a large movement and is quite different from the past. It seemed that the Palestinians have lacked a leader that had an eye on a real workable solution and maybe they have found it in Fayyad. He is young and relatable. If he can help them find their voice, a peaceable existance and a cause to rally around such as a state of their own that works for both sides what is wrong with that? I didn't get the impression that Manji was suggesting that Gaza eat the crumbs off the plate of Israel with gratitude...rather that they change what they can in the here and now and continue to move forward to long term peaceable solution that is assumed to be equitable for the Palestinians.

What am I missing?

oby said...

Actually, I think the word contagion is a particularly good word in this case. It conjures up the image of something spreading swiftly through a population. Albeit we don't think of the word contagion in a positive light and therein lies what you meant when you say it is a negative word but, I love the imagery it conjures up...swift spreading of something. In this case the courage to stand up and say enough is enough that is spreading among the people; The groundswell that is growing due to the discontent the people are feeling. Sorry, I think even though the word can be perceived as negative in this context it captures the sense of fast spreading expression of discontent that the people have felt for a long time... because that discontent has incubated for so long, that is one of the reason it is virulently spreading among the population.

(see definition #3)


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