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Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Autocrats R Us

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

It started with "Fort Trump." Last September, while visiting the White House, Polish president Andrzej Duda only half-jokingly suggested that very name for the new U.S. base he was proposing the Pentagon set up in his country (and was offering more than $2 billion to support). In other words, he grokked this American president perfectly. If it works for golf courses, why not forts? And perhaps you won't be surprised to learn that the administration of the man who had long promoted friendlier relations with Russia now seems to be forging ahead with Fort Trump, ensuring that thousands more U.S. military personnel will be stationed near the Russian border.

And Duda wasn't the only foreign leader to note a presidential proclivity for spreading that name far and wide. What about, for instance, giving it to an Israeli community to be built in the once-Syrian Golan Heights that Donald Trump only recently ceded to his old friend Bibi Netanyahu? The Israeli prime minister, as the New York Times reported, recently suggested that "he would ask his government to approve naming a new Jewish settlement in the Golan Heights for President Trump, in appreciation of the American leader's proclamation recognizing Israel's authority over the long-disputed territory."

There might, in fact, be quite a future in such gestures. For instance, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon points out today while taking us on a whirlwind tour of the latest upheavals in the Greater Middle East and northern Africa, the president only recently countermanded his secretary of state by making a personal call to Libyan warlord Khalifa Hifter and offering his support for the general's push to take his country's capital, Tripoli. Obviously, the least Hifter could do in return, should that city fall to him (still a question mark), would be to rename it Trumpoli. It not only makes sense, but fits perfectly with the famed U.S. Marine Corps hymn ("From the gates of Mar-a-Lago to the shores of Trumpoli...")

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Ah, the glories of a president who likes to see his name writ in vast golden letters across the planet! Think about that as you embark on Gordon's tour of parts of that same globe where other autocrats have already found themselves imperiled for their "high crimes and misdemeanors." Tom

Spring Stirrings and Misgivings
Of Autocrats and Uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa
By Rebecca Gordon

"Al-Shebab," said my student Jerry early in the fall 2010 semester. "We're calling our small group al-Shebab. It means 'The Youth.'" From his name alone, I wouldn't have guessed his background, but he was proud of his family's Egyptian roots and had convinced his classmates to give their group an Arabic name.

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As usually happens when the semester ends and my dozens of students scatter, Jerry and I lost touch. The following April, however, we ran into each other at a rally organized by students at my university to support the Arab Spring. Like many others around the world, I'd watched transfixed as brave unarmed civilians faced down riot police on the bridges leading to Cairo's Tahrir Square. I'd celebrated on February 11, 2011, when the corrupt and authoritarian Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned as the military took control of that country.

Jerry's eyes sparkled when he saw me. "Isn't it amazing?" he shouted. Yes, it was amazing... until it wasn't.

This spring, eight years later, there has been a new set of popular uprisings in northern Africa, from Algeria to Morocco, to Sudan. Let's hope they have more lasting success than Egypt's Arab Spring.

It's All About the Military

The victory over Hosni Mubarak was indeed amazing, perhaps too amazing to last, since the real arbiter of events in Egypt was then, and continues to be, its military. In the parliamentary elections of November 2011, the long-suppressed Muslim Brotherhood took almost half that body's seats. In June 2012, the Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi, became the country's first elected president, winning a runoff race with just under 52% of the vote.

That August, Morsi made the move that would eventually doom him, replacing his defense minister with Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He also quickly turned in an increasingly autocratic direction, issuing decrees granting himself more power and proposing a new constitution that would do the same (which was approved by more than 60% of the voters in a low-turnout referendum).

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By June 2013, many Egyptians were frustrated both with Morsi's increasingly authoritarian rule and the stagnation of the economy. Once again, millions of people gathered in Cairo, this time to call for his removal, at which point the military pushed him out, installing the head of the constitutional court, Adly Mansour, as interim president. Muslim Brotherhood supporters responded with violent attacks, burning police stations and government buildings. The government repression that followed was fierce enough that, in October 2013, the Obama administration suspended the further transfer of U.S. military equipment to Egypt. Eventually, new elections were held and, in May 2014, Morsi's Defense Minister, el-Sisi, won the presidency with a suspicious 96.9% of the vote. By then, the Muslim Brotherhood had been outlawed and would soon be declared a terrorist organization.

In April of this year, el-Sisi, running essentially unopposed, was reelected. Never one to slight an authoritarian ruler, President Trump immediately called to congratulate him and then invited him to the White House to discuss "robust military, economic, and counterterrorism cooperation" between the two countries. A few weeks later, in a "snap referendum," the Egyptian constitution was altered to allow el-Sisi to retain the presidency until at least 2030 -- essentially, that is, for life. That move also cemented the country's military, long its dominant economic power, as its sole political power, too.

Trump Goes A-Wooing in the Middle East and North Africa

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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