Tag Archives: dictators

Tahrir Square and the birth of a nation

Thank you Tahrir
Ahmed Tharwat
On my last visit to Egypt, as I landed at the airport I noticed that Egypt has changed. Security were screaming the names of VIPs or travellers who have connections. I went through the check out. “Do you have anything in these bags,” asked the airport security?

“Not really a few gifts and my underwear,” I joked. Go ahead, he ushered me through the gate with a smile. This was the last smile I saw in Egypt throughout my trip. I asked the taxi driver to take me to Tahrir Square.

“For what sir? Nobody goes to Tahrir Square anymore, only Al-Sisi supporters,” he whispered.

Take me there anyway, I requested. I wanted to see the place where the revolution started, where the Egyptian popular uprising that erupted on 25 January resulted in the birth of a nation. The place where millions of Egyptians found out that Egypt is their own country and not Mubarak’s and his family’s.

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The World is Run by “Generals”

American flag log

Harry S. Truman once said, “The ‘C’ students run the world.” That was a long time ago, and now the world is run by “Generals”–still “C” Students- -in two different camps. The first camp is usually run by military generals like Saddam, Gad
dafi, Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, Ziad, Al-Sisi, Mugabe, Barre, Al-Bashir, Idi Amin, and the list goes on. The other camp is run by a different kind of general, corporate generals, like General Motors, General Electric, General Food, General Mills, General Dynamic, General Union, and the list goes one.
Where are the similarities and differences between these two camps of generals? The military generals usually run undemocratic oppressive regimes, and they enforce their will on people’s lives through guns and security measures. However, the corporate generals run more democratic systems, and they enforce their will and control over their people’s lives and institutions thorough money and influence. The military generals specialize in their undemocratic style and lack of political freedom, and they don’t respect human rights or the rule of law. Because corporate generals don’t have this luxury, they control people by different means. They control people’s minds, and take the political process to the market place creating a culture of consumerism where citizens become consumers and the political freedom moves from the ballot box to the shopping malls. Military generals may rig elections to stay in power, but corporate generals rig the election process and electorate’s minds.
Brendan Geoffrey reported in Forbes magazine “There may be 147 companies in the world that own everything…. But it’s not you and I who really control those companies, even though much of our money is in them. Given the nature of how money is invested, there are four companies in the shadows that really control those companies that own everything.”
Today, corporations have become the dominant institution of business and impact practically everything on this planet from people, animals and plants to the quality and availability of water, food, energy and resources (e.g., fossil fuels, timber, metals, gems, chemicals) to transportation, housing, media, education, communications and the shaping our socio-economic-political system, which was shown when the Supreme Court ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations.
Mark Chasan, CEO of AWE Global, wrote in the Huffington Post
“Prior to the 17th century, the first corporations were created as not-for-profit entities to build institutions, such as hospitals and universities, for the public good. They had constitutions detailing their duties overseen by the government. Straying outside the constitutional boundaries was punishable by law.”
For example, the world’s first commercial corporation was the East India Company, set up by merchants to get spices from India. The East Indian Company expanded into a vast enterprise, conquering India with a total monopoly on trade and all the territorial powers of a government. At its height, it ruled over a fifth of the world’s population with a private army of a quarter million.
Nothing has changed that much, here in America, where we have our military industry complex, with a $555 billon dollar budget, which spent mostly on Corporate generals.
Here is Mark Chasan again, on how our institutors are rigged to provide corporate generals the support and the legal “A substantial amount of today’s regulatory environment is couched in public interest, but provides great economic benefits to large corporations that can afford the lobbying and sponsorship, while often causing significant damage to the public, entrepreneurs, small business and innovation. For example, a study by the Sunlight Foundation, which used tax data to correlate corporate investment in lobbying with decreases in taxes, found that between 2007 and 2009, Exxon Mobil, Verizon, GE, AT&T, Altria, Amgen, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing invested approximately $540 million into lobbying which resulted in aggregate tax reductions of approximately $11 billion.
Similarly, Wall Street analysts predict Apple could earn up to $45.6 billion in its current fiscal year, but could manage to avoid paying billions of dollars in tax.
“We need red blood cells to live, the same way a business needs profits to live, but the purpose of life is not to make red blood cells, the same way the purpose of business is not to exist to make profits.” – R. Edward Freeman, author of Strategic Management
Now corporations run the government and make the laws. The corporate generals’ camp will develop their own institutions, jihadists, in their own way, who would produce the cultural and legal framework in which they operate and flourish.
Consumerism controls the average American, who is exposed to 20,000 marketing messages a day, 7,000 of them advertisements alone. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go back to bed, corporate generals tell us what to eat, drink, wear, what to think, and what is beautiful and what is fun. Consumerism fills our culture and consumer values replace our human values. The average American spends just 15 minutes a week on politics and six hour a day watching TV. Women spend an average of 17 years of their lives trying to lose weight following one weight loss trend after the other.
At the end of the day, we may have the freedom to select between 300 different kinds of water or beer, but we only have two parties to choose from, one is the Republican Party and the other is the Republican “Light” party, which both are in all actuality controlled by corporate “Generals.”

Ahmed Tharwat
Host/Producer of Arab American TV show Bel Ahdan with Ahmed
Blog at
Notes from America WWW.ahmediatv.com
His articles appeared in national and international publications
You can follow him on fBook, Twitter, and YouTube/ahmediatv

Sincerely yours

Ahmed Tharwat
Freelancer/ Foreign Press Fixer/ Public Speaker
Host BelAhdan.. with Ahmed …
a show with an accent for those without one,
airs on Public TV Mondays 10:30pm, Ch. 202

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NOTES FROM AMERICA: THE FLAG

Notes from America: The flag

By Ahmed Tharwat

The American flag consists of 13 horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with six white. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies and the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. It has three colours; red symbolises hardiness and valour, white symbolises purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice. As you travel around the country or walk down the street in your neighbourhood; you see the ominous American flag waving everywhere, including on restaurants, businesses, boats, bikes, underwear, cars and in people’s own private spaces. Wal-Mart recorded the biggest sale of American flags this year.

The American flag has not just become a part of the American patriotic landscape, but also a perennial part of their front yard landscape. Americans show their patriotism through flag posting and seem to show their affection to their flag regardless of their political or religious affiliation; and this was even before the 9/11 tragedy. The American flag will rise and the national anthem is sung before every national or local sporting event, even between two high school teams in the same town with the same nationality.

The American flag has become a symbol of the national identity as Americans; it is becoming the patriotic polygraph test and is now becoming the Republican Party mascot. This sense of flagrant public patriotism is absent in the Arab and Muslim world. Growing up in Egypt, flags fervour is replaced by leader fervour – Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, Morsi, and now Al-Sisi – their pictures are posted everywhere, on every building, street, public or business office, square, and now even on chocolate, cheese, clothes and jewellery.

The perennial president’s face, with his confident look staring at us wherever we go – you can still see it on all the cover pages of the mainstream media (whether governmental or privately owned), thereby providing us with our daily patriotic fix. The only places devoid of this presidential invasion are Egyptians’ private homes and mosques; these Egyptians own private spaces where the presidents’ pictures are replaced by verses of the Quran, or a family picture.  Do you get the picture?

This goes on in all Arab countries, and with all Arab leaders, as evidence of national insecurity. The president is acting as a father figure; a symbol of our identity, he is the head of our tribe. A friend of mine told me that before Syria had been destroyed, the picture of President Assad was so prominent that he grew up having never seen a picture of a bird or any form of art. Pictures of human faces are not encouraged in Islam, so only our leaders can break this religious taboo with such unbridled fervour. Americans experienced this phenomenon firsthand when they invaded Iraq and experienced Saddam Hussein’s pictures, with his dominant moustache posted everywhere. When the Iraqis felt secure enough, these pictures were the first to be attacked and torn down by the Iraq people – no longer to be seen.

Arab leaders may own the public spaces, they may own the power and governments, media, banks, courts, police and authorities; and they can impose their will on anything and everywhere. Private spaces, however, remain sovereign and out of their firm grip, and while those leaders may own the public conversation, they can never touch the private conversation or people’s faith.

In the Arab world, freedom of expression is a private affair; where the Arab leaders get their real pictures and private names. President Mubarak was the “laughing cow” (La Vache qui Rit), President Gaddafi was the “lunatic”, King Abdullah was the “royal idiot”, Saddam was the “Butcher of Baghdad”; Nasser was the looter, Sadat was the “drug addict”, interim president Adly was the “idiot”, first civilian elected president Morsi was the “spare tire”, and now Al-Sisi has earned a nickname that took this private conversation to another level of vulgarity, the “Pimp”.

Flags don’t mean much to most Arabs – the flag represented the past and serves as a symbol of disgrace and disappointment in their leaders and nationalism. Flags waving in dictatorial systems take a different meaning. You don’t wave the national flag when you protest against your state; you burn it. Lately, and for the most part, we only saw Al-Sisi supporters, remnants of old dictators and paid thugs who wave the flags in Tahrir Square.

The interrogators at Guantanamo Bay may have desecrated the Islamic holy book to force a confession; however, they would never have considered desecrating a national flag. That would have never worked. On the other hand, when Arabs are protesting against Americans they burn the American flag, and not the constitution or even the Bible for that matter. For Americans, and in a consumer culture, the flag remains the larger symbol of unity and an overzealous belief that we are all Americans, at least under the flag, regardless of our race, religion or socioeconomic status. Even in a land of moral relativism, where nothing is sacred, where most of what we use is disposable; the American flag stands tall everywhere, and unlike the Quran, it is illegal to treat it with anything but absolute respect.

Someone once said: “When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross.”  In Egypt, it came wrapped in the picture of dictator waving a gun.

Ahmed Tharwat is host and producer of the Arab-American TV show Belahdan (with open Arms), a weekly talk show that airs on MN Public TV. He blogs at Notes From America www.ahmediatv.com. Follow him at Facebook, Twitter and YouTube: ahmediatv

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The man with big ideas…!

The man with big ideas!!

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, winner of three Pulitzer prizes, writer of several bestselling books, is a man known for his big ideas. Friedman never ceases to amaze us with a new ‘big idea’ every now and then, from the bizarre to the ridiculous. For example, Friedman created the ‘burger’ war theory that suggests, “No two countries with McDonalds go to war with each other.” But when they do, as Belén Fernández reported on Kosovo in Alter Net online magazine, “…it is preferable if the outcome of the conflict indicates that Serbs ‘wanted to stand in line for burgers, much more than they wanted to stand in line for Kosovo.”
Or consider his big idea in “The World is Flat,” in which he asserted that the internet leveled the playing field, and an Indian man with a modem can now compete with General Motors, or IBM. In his book, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” Mr. Friedman professed that “Globalization is what is new…world affairs today can only be explained as the interaction between what is new, as an internet website, and what is old, as a gnarled olive tree on the banks of the river Jordan.”[1]
It is worth noting that this book was primarily based on one visit to an automated car plant in Tokyo, where cars are made almost entirely by robots. Would it have been a different premise if he had visited a sweatshop in China, or Vietnam? On his return on a train, he read an article about people in Beirut and Jerusalem who were fighting over who owned which olive tree, and, hence, the juxtaposition of these two ideas.
I would contend that rather than a big idea, what is behind most of the fighting around the worlds is competition for resources. Mr. Friedman has a great affinity for what is new and what modern technology can offer humanity in solving our social and cultural problems,
Thomas Friedman also has a knack for ignoring history, facts, and socio-political realities; he can reduce a complicated social issue to a sound bite and a sixth-grade essay. His big ideas, are largely based on anecdotal personal experience, a friend, a trip, or a hotel bar conversation. Consider a few more of his big ideas over the last 20 years, as researched by Belén Fernández. Enjoy the ride!
*2004: If the U.S. lowers its profile in the Arab world, the Arabs will realize that their children are being outperformed academically by the children of their maids.
*2003: Saudi Arabia suffers from an excess of democracy.
*2002 Massacres of Muslims are a sign of freedom.
* “…. the Iraq war was the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the U.S. has ever launched.”

Big ideas indeed.
In an op-ed he wrote late last year, Friedman came up with another big idea – an idea that is so outlandish and out of step with history that it nearly takes your breath away. In the article titled, “Did Dubai Do It?” he remarks, “Dubai/ UAE is the capital of the Arab Spring — the real revolution started here.”[2] Yes folks, and he had more than 3 years to think and research this little ‘gem’ of an idea. He goes on to explain, “The Arab awakening did not start because they wanted freedom and democracy. It started in the mind of the average (Arab) who the saw the evidence in Dubai that we could do things that are hard, and we could do them world class (like Dubai Ports and Emirates Airlines).” According to Friedman, it wasn’t the years of Mubarak, Ben Ali, Gaddafi, Salah, and the Bashar dictatorship that sparked the awakening of democracy after all.
As a journalist, I attended three “One Million Man” marches in Tahrir Square, and at each event, I never saw one sign for Dubai, the Emirates, or even one chant expressing the right to have a fine, clean airline; the right to have clean bathrooms, maybe. Of course from an orientalist mindset, Mr. Friedman believes he can understand Arab minds more than Arabs themselves.
As a matter of fact, the Arab Spring started with the escape of the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali, and he went, of all places, to Saudi Arabia. Which, along with Dubai, and the Emirate sheikhs, are leading a vicious bloody counter-revolution, supporting the regimes of old dictators to return them back to power. In Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria, these powers are making sure that the Arab Spring is dead on arrival before reaching the kingdom’s gates.

Based on Mr. Friedman’s thinly veiled racist analysis and oversimplification of Arabs and their struggle, we can surmise that he thinks Arabs don’t aspire for freedom and dignity, like in the west, but rather, they want malls, iPhones, and luxurious airliners. Mr. Friedman may be confused by the fact that Dubai didn’t really inspire the Arab revolution, but rather has inspired an Arab dictators’ counter-revolution, punctuated by a fascination of putting their names on buildings and cities. The Saudi and El Hashimy families named the whole country after themselves. In Egypt we have Nasser City, Saddat City, Mubarak disaster city and now General Sisi moving Cairo capital city away from Tahrir Square.

Writing in the Egyptian Observer, the academic and Cairo native Khaled Fahmy argued, the glistening Gulf metropolis fascinates Egypt’s authoritarian leaders.” But perhaps a better comparison to the effort might be found in distant Burma. In 2005, the Southeast Asian nation moved its government from Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, to an uninhabited patch of land in the country’s center. (According to rumor, Burma’s then-president Than Shwe chose the location on the advice of his astrologer.) A decade later, the new capital, Naypyidaw, is a ghost town—a monument not to clever planning but to megalomania. According to Gulf Business the United Arab Emirates government has apparently pledged almost $4 billion in aid to Egypt; in turn, a major part of the new city is expected to be named after one of the UAE’s leaders. Maybe this will inspire Mr. Friedman’s next big idea theory!

Ahmed Tharwat
Host/Producer
Arab American TV show, Belahdan
“A show with accent for those without one”
Airs on Minnesota Public TV, Mondays, 10:30pm
Minnetonka, MN
Ahmed blogs at The Middle
www.ahmediatv.com
www.twitter.com/ahmediatv
www.facebook.com/ahmediatv

[1] Friedman, Thomas.  The Lexus and the Olive Tree, 2000 edition. Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-49934-5. Page 25.

[2] Friedman, Thomas. Did Dubai Do It? November 19, 2014. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/19/opinion/thomas-friedman-did-dubai-do-it.html?_r=0

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