Revolution Online, February 7, 2011

Revolution Correspondent Alan Goodman Discusses the Uprising in Egypt with Radio Host Michael Slate

The following is a slightly edited transcript of an interview with Revolution correspondent Alan Goodman on The Michael Slate Show on radio station KPFK, 1/31/11.

Michael Slate: We're going to be talking about what's going on in Egypt. The world is rockin' and it's centered in Egypt right now with the youth at the forefront. And it's shaking up the whole reactionary world order, giving people a lot of air to breathe. Alan, welcome to the show.

Alan Goodman: Thank you, Michael. And it's especially exciting to be able to talk about something good going on.

Slate: Exactly. Let's talk about that. I talked to a Palestinian friend the other day and he was just overjoyed. He couldn't wait to talk about what was going on in the region and especially what was going on in Egypt. And talking about the impact of that in the entire region, saying that, look, the wall of fear has kind of collapsed and that Arabs are realizing that they actually can stand up. Arab youth, all kinds of people are recognizing that they can stand up against this. It's really an incredible shift in mood and climate in the world. Your take on all that?

Goodman: Right. I think we have to be sober and have our eyes open about developments. Just as I was on hold, I was doing my best to follow what was going on in Egypt. According to what I'm seeing right now, online, hundreds of thousands of people are marching. But last night, on late night news, there were some very ominous signs. The mainstream media has been driven off the streets by Mubarak's thugs. And Internet, if it's functioning, it's still not functioning much. And Christiane Amanpour on ABC had an interview with Mubarak and his new vice president where they seemed to be laying the basis for a possible massacre and blaming that on just responsible, hard-working, patriotic silent majority Egyptians who are fed up with the chaos. So there's a lot to be concerned about. But even with all those dangers lurking and even with people here and around the world having our eyes open in terms of those dangers and our own government's role behind those dangers, which I hope we get a chance to talk about a bit, even with all that, I just think we need to step back and really smile and appreciate what has been accomplished. We've got a line in our coverage that says, "This uprising already has been, and even more could be, an important element in shaking up the whole reactionary world order, giving oxygen to all those who hunger for liberation or are even dissatisfied with the way things are." And certainly for all of us this is a very important moment.

Slate: It's a very important moment. And it's also something that, seemingly, came out of nowhere. I mean, two or three weeks ago, who would've thought that something like Egypt…damn, and Egypt that has been, you know, the empire of torture, has been the rock-steady right arm of the U.S. imperialists in the region, and all this kind of thing that's been going on. And suddenly, everything bursts open. And I think a lot of people just were really taken by surprise, myself included. What happened with this was, just "where did it come from?"

Goodman: Well, you know, with these kind of events, on one hand they come seemingly out of nowhere and on the other hand, one can say, "should've seen that coming." You mentioned that I was part of the Gaza Freedom March, and we were detained in Cairo for a couple of weeks—at the end of 2009. Just watching these protests is a very emotional, visceral experience for me. I know it is for everybody, but we were protesting right there at Tahrir Square and in front of the Egyptian Museum. A couple of hundred of us penned in by the Egyptian security forces. There are a couple of very vivid images that that'll never leave my memory. One was an Egyptian off the street joined our protest. And a phalanx of plain-clothes thugs just pushed their way into our protest, grabbed him, and threw him in the back of an unmarked car and whisked him away. Our understanding at the time was, this routinely meant six weeks on the average of isolation, being disappeared from your family, and tortured, if not worse. Just this all-pervasive atmosphere of repression.

And then the looks in the eyes of Egyptian people, just a wrenching feeling—I mean, so many people came up to us on the street and said, "we're just disgusted with our government, we're ashamed of our government, we're disgusted with our government's collaboration with Israel and the cordoning off of Gaza and everything happening there." You just felt something beneath the surface, just waiting for a crack in the dam to erupt. And that's what happened.

As you pointed out, it's just been about a couple of weeks since, going all the way back to December 17 of last year when a 26-year-old Tunisian street merchant set himself on fire. And then just a chain of events took place. One of the things that's kind of interesting, there's an article…and here we've got 25 minutes and there's so much to go into. I really want to plug for your listeners to get background on all this, including the article I'm referencing now about Tunisia. But there's an article on revcom from A World to Win News Service that notes, for example, that the U.S. apparently kind of intervened in Tunisia and orchestrated the quick departure of Tunisia's brutal dictator, Ben Ali. That, unexpectedly, sent a message to people in North Africa and the Arab world that these pro-American fascist dictators are not so all-powerful and then it spread all over the Arab world. So exactly what you're saying, both seemingly out of nowhere and on the other hand, completely expected.

Slate: I'm talking with Alan Goodman, a writer for Revolution newspaper, and we're talking about what's going on in Egypt and in the Middle East, both the dangers and the potential there. Let's talk about this. You talked about the maneuvering of the regime. It's interesting because there's all these things that's been going on, and even bringing in Suleiman as his vice president. There was a thing there, an element of let's continue along those lines or at least backing stuff up. And there's a point you're making now about the idea that they could be preparing for some kind of massacre of the Egyptian people, the unleashing of various thugs around the city, the role of the police in all this. Let's talk about, also in relation to that, there were also reports last night in the New York Times that the U.S. was thinking of developing or designing a plan that would call for Mubarak to step down immediately. There's a lot of maneuvering going on. What's the U.S. role in maneuvering?

Goodman: Someone emailed an article, a reader of Revolution sent in an article from the Wall Street Journal yesterday entitled, interestingly, "White House Charts a New Plan." Now you might wonder, what is the United States White House doing charting a plan for a country half way around the world!? But the article includes a couple of interesting things. One is, and I'm just going to read this line from the Journal's coverage: "In Washington preliminary talks include whether candidates in the next presidential election would have to…abide by existing agreements, including Egypt's peace treaty with Israel." So here you have an article in the Wall Street Journal saying that in Washington, the terms of any possible government that will emerge out of all this are being defined. And the parameters of what would be an acceptable regime to follow up on Mubarak's, if in fact a call has been made that he should go.

The other thing that a lot of people are asking me about, and very related to this, is how to understand the role of the army, which up to now has not played the same kind of openly overtly thuggish role attacking protesters. And that question in turn is very much related to U.S. strategic interests and the enormous role, which I think you alluded to in your conversation with Richard Falk [UN Special Rapporteur for human rights who preceded Alan Goodman on the show], the enormous negative role of having the world's most populous Arab country just completely aligned with the U.S. and Israel and collaborating in the subjugation of the Palestinians as well as other strategic interests of the U.S. in the region.

Slate: U.S. has had this huge relationship with Egypt. I think what you're hitting at is very very important. It is kind of audacious to hear Hillary Clinton talking about, "We can't really call the shots in Egypt."

Goodman: Yeah, right.

Slate: The maneuvering that the U.S. is playing is, yes, they're drawing up plans and doing all this stuff and they actually do call the shots. But at the same time they sort of are between a rock and a hard place trying to figure out how to press ahead, wouldn't you say?

Goodman: Absolutely. And this is a very deep contradiction. I was just reviewing the call for the original demonstration in Egypt on January 25th, that was circulated on Facebook, and a hundred thousand people on Facebook signed up for "a day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment." Well the "orderly transition" that the U.S. envisions won't address any of that. If you look at what's defined as the U.S. criteria for an acceptable regime, as reported in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, with basically the alliance with the U.S. and Israel intact, this is not addressing the deeply felt feelings and demands, articulated and unarticulated, of the Egyptian people. And you have the fact that the U.S.—and it's no secret in Egypt—has been behind the Mubarak regime. All of a sudden, you know, [U.S. spokespeople are saying] "Oh we've known all along that this is a brutal police state regime, that there was an epidemic of torture." And there's Wikileaks cables that reveal that U.S. diplomats were sending this information back to the U.S. But you've known that for 30 years, and everybody in Egypt knows you knew this, too. So yes, absolutely—this is part of the tension. This is part of the driving dynamic, that on one hand, I think the U.S. is calling the shots very directly, with the Egyptian military, and the between the rock and hard place contradiction that you're identifying explains the way that the U.S. is orchestrating the role of the Egyptian military right now, where they are, again, they've apparently formulated this "orderly transition" as their way to try to maneuver their way through the situation. But the U.S.'s version of an orderly transition does not address the deeply felt needs of the people of the Arab world.

Slate: Alan, tell me this. You alluded to the role of the army. And this has been something that's been put out in every major press around the world, that somehow the army is presented as, it's at least by appearance friendly to the people, they keep pushing the idea, maybe there's a certain element of this in Egypt, people thinking that somehow the army stands above Mubarak and everybody else. Can you talk about the role of the army in this?

Goodman: First of all, I think, there's all kinds of evidence that the army is very directly linked to the, not just the interests of U.S. imperialism, but the close orchestration of [the army by the U.S.]. Your listeners may be aware that over the past decades, Egypt has been the second largest recipient of U.S. "aid"—tens of billions of dollars, almost all to the Egyptian military or at least overwhelmingly to the military. There's very close coordination. There have been articles in the press about Egyptian military leaders meeting with U.S. officials even as the protests erupted, in DC.

And also I think the apparent distinction in the role between on one hand the security forces who are just overtly beating people, shooting them, and have been responsible for the day-in-day-out reign of terror against the Egyptian people, and somewhat distanced from—that role the Egyptian military has played. I'm not sure bad cop/good cop exactly captures it, but this relationship together serves the interests of the U.S.

And we have to look at the lessons of history. There was the CIA-orchestrated massacre of hundreds of thousands, up to a million communists and other radicals in Indonesia in 1965. There was the CIA-backed coup in Chile. And in both cases, the U.S. operated through the army. And in a number of cases, that army until its role in actually carrying out a massacre, had been perceived as somewhat above or distinct from the sort of day-to-day death squad activity of repression. These are historical lessons. In our coverage at, we go more deeply into a scientific communist understanding of the actual nature and role of armies and the role they play in society. On the one hand one can certainly understand the appeal of the slogan "the army is with us." The Egyptian people, and any people in a situation that the Egyptian people are in, face a very daunting challenge. And yet you do have to confront the actual role that that army plays. And I'll just point finally to the fact that the Egyptian army is a solid element of the suppression of the Palestinian people—enforcing the blockade of Gaza and so on.

Slate: Now one of the things that makes what's going on in Egypt and the region in general so refreshing and exciting is, it is happening in a way that is, again, unexpected, at least to a certain extent, hoped for but unexpected. The idea that neither major reactionary power, whether it's U.S. imperialism, imperialism in general and U.S. in particular, or the reactionary Islamic fundamentalists, neither one of them seems to be behind or involved in this uprising. And that's something very refreshing for people, to see and look at this and say, this is something completely different than what we've been taught to expect. And what's been the main things that's been going on in the world up to now.

Goodman: Yeah, there's a lot to that. And again, the future's unwritten. But one can certainly see the terms of things bursting out of the, like you say, what have been the terms, as framed by both sides in this McWorld vs. Jihad conflict of pick one or the other, and the two being mutually reinforcing. There is a moment here for all of us on various levels and with different understandings of what this means, of Bringing Forward Another Way. That actually is the title of a work by Bob Avakian that in a very substantial way speaks to the necessity to bring forward something completely different than either Western "democracy" or Islamic fundamentalism forward in the world. We're going to be providing easy access to that talk at So I recommend reading it for people who want to get into this dimension of things more deeply. And certainly there is a moment for everyone who finds both the current world order, and the framework of discourse in terms of what are the possible options, to jump into.

Slate: Do you have any closing comments or any thoughts on the potentials or challenges that you started to pose at the beginning of this. Any final thoughts on that?

Goodman: You alluded to this, the responsibility for all of us in this country, to unite with people and be part of and encourage resistance to any U.S.-Israeli attempts to prop up Mubarak or in other ways to sidetrack or suppress or crush the struggle. And there's a moment for all of us to really be engaging with what will it take. Oxygen has been let into the room now. And the question of what comes next is out there for all of us to be wrestling with. Again I'll point your listeners to for in-depth coverage of all the dimensions of this.

The Michael Slate Show is where you'll hear some of the most radical, provocative and farseeing analysis in the country today, including the voice and analysis of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. It provides an in-depth look at the critical and cutting-edge issues of the times. And it's the one spot on the dial where revolutionaries, scholars, journalists, artists and everyday people who care about finding the truth and changing the world have a platform for their voices and their ideas. This is revolutionary radio. It's radio that digs into the world as it is and how it should be and could be. Don't miss it!

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