With Hosni Mubarak gone, let's do a little Egyptian math on the Mubarak years.
According to experts, the fortune amassed by Egypt's former president and his two sons (both billionaires) could reach $70 billion. That includes funds in secret offshore bank accounts and investments in residences and real-estate properties reaching from Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills to Wilton Place in central London and Egypt's Sharm el-Sheik tourist resort. Since Mubarak has been president for 30 years, he's put that little fortune together at a record clip -- something like $2 billion or more a year. He and his family are now worth approximately four times the gross domestic product (GDP) of Paraguay, five times the GDP of embattled Afghanistan, and more than ten times the GDP of Laos. He may be the richest man and they the richest family on Earth. All this happened, by the way, in the years when millions of Egyptians -- at least one in every 10 -- lost their farms, while more than 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day.
And let's just mention a few others in the cast of characters who let the good times roll and made a few bucks off the reign of the Mubarak family: steel magnate and ruling party insider Ahmed Ezz, for instance, managed to eke out a $3 billion fortune, while former Interior Minister Habib Ibrahim El-Adly scraped by with a near-rock-bottom $1.2 billion. And they are just two of at least five much-loathed Mubarak cronies who reportedly crossed the billion-dollar mark in these years.
As for a trio of Washington lobbyists -- former Republican representative Bob Livingston, former Democratic representative Toby Moffett, and mover-and-shaker Tony Podesta -- who bravely hired themselves out to the Mubarak regime, they made chump change: reportedly a mere $1 million a year for their efforts. Who knows what Frank Wisner, the former ambassador sent to Cairo by the Obama administration to give Mubarak the boot, made working for Patton, Boggs, a company which proudly boasts of the litigation work it's done for Mubarak and company? Conflict of interest anyone?
Meanwhile, don't forget the Egyptian military. It didn't do so badly in the Mubarak years either. After all, according to one expert, it owns "virtually every industry in the country," and it still managed to take in a handy $35 billion in "aid" from Washington since 1978.
As for ordinary Egyptians who protested the devolving state of their country? Estimates of the number of political prisoners in Egypt's grim jails have varied over the years from 6,000 to 17,000. Their well-being was overseen by former head of intelligence Omar Suleiman. Since Egypt was a "torture destination of choice" for the Bush administration's Global War on Terror, Suleiman happily oversaw that program, too, as Mubarak's torturer-in-chief. Appointed vice president by his pal, Suleiman was the "democrat" the Obama administration seemed ready to back until recently to manage the "transition to democracy."
All in all, should we wonder that such a torturing kleptocracy on the Nile is now being shaken to its foundations and that another spirit, a spirit of democracy, freedom, and justice, is rising in the region? Sometimes such a spirit can be caught in the story of a single ordinary, yet remarkable, life. Jen Marlowe has done so in her just-published book The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian's Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker. It's a remarkable story about how even prison can prepare the way for another world and its message, as Marlowe's latest TomDispatch post indicates, is particularly appropriate for this Middle Eastern moment. (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview in which Marlowe discusses how prison became university for one Palestinian prisoner, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
From An Israeli Prison to Tahrir Square
One Palestinian's Odyssey in a Middle East Ablaze
By Jen Marlowe
As pro-democracy demonstrations sweep across the Middle East, ousting dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, many in the West have expressed surprise that such a strong, sophisticated vision of a democratic future is being articulated by ordinary citizens and grassroots movements in the Arab world.
I have not been surprised. Sophisticated organizing for democratic reform and justice has a rich legacy in the region. In fact, watching anti-Mubarak demonstrators taking to the streets en masse to demand true democracy, freedom from repression, and the right to be stakeholders in their own political and civil systems caused me to reflect on my friend Sami Al Jundi, a Palestinian from the Old City of Jerusalem who has spent the last two decades working for peace and a nonviolent end to Israeli occupation. He is, in many ways, a product of that legacy.
Sami's political awakening came in 1980, when he was inducted into a highly organized, democratic community and, at the age of 18, began a program of serious study, reading hundreds of books including:
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Social Contract
Makarenko's Pedagogical Poem
The writings of Ho Chi Minh, Basil Liddell Hart, and Angela Davis
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Incoherence of the Philosophers by Imam Ghazali
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Arab Nationalism Between the Reality of Separation and the Aspiration for Unity by Munir Shafiq
The complete works of Dostoevsky. Twice.
These were not parts of syllabi for courses in political science and literature. Sami was not in a university. He was a Palestinian political prisoner in an Israeli jail, incarcerated for building a bomb with two friends intended to be used against Israeli security forces. The bomb exploded prematurely, killing one of Sami's friends. He and his other friend were arrested by the Israeli secret service, tortured, interrogated, and finally sentenced to 10 and 15 years in prison, respectively.
It was in prison that Sami received his higher education. The veteran prisoners in his jail had established a complex, intricate, community-based society with self-governance. This included a program of study for the new prisoners via a curriculum created and overseen by an education committee.
Previously, political prisoners had been forced to work in Israeli military factories, making netting for tanks and building crates to hold missiles. The prisoners revolted, burning down one of the factories, and then made a collective decision: their efforts and energy would go only towards their own people. They won access to books, paper, and pens through hunger strikes and other acts of resistance.