Award-winning Investigative Journalist Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Award-winning investigative journalist and founder/editor of, Robert Parry has passed away. His ground-breaking work uncovering Reagan-era dirty wars in Central America and many other illegal and immoral policies conducted by successive administrations and U.S. intelligence agencies, stands as an inspiration to all in journalists working in the public interest.

Robert had been a regular guest on our Between The Lines and Counterpoint radio shows -- and many other progressive outlets across the U.S. over four decades.

His penetrating analysis of U.S. foreign policy and international conflicts will be sorely missed, and not easily replaced. His son Nat Parry writes a tribute to his father: Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews.

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Egypt: The Latest in Long History of Popular Revolts Against Repressive U.S.-Backed Regimes

Posted Feb. 5, 2011

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Interview with Stephen Zunes, professor of politics, conducted by Scott Harris

Editor's note: This interview was conducted Jan. 31, 2011, before street battles between anti-government activists and Mubarak supporters broke out in Tahrir Square.

mubarakprotest The people of Tunisia sparked popular revolts across the Middle East when they took to the streets to demand the ouster of their president. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who held power in Tunisia for 23 years, fled into exile with his family to Saudi Arabia after protests over economic issues gained momentum across the North African nation. Demonstrations against other authoritarian governments soon spread to Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan and the Arab world's most populous nation, Egypt.

Angry protests against U.S.-backed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled his nation for 30 years, soon took center stage. Egyptians from all walks of life joined massive demonstrations in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities and towns, demanding Mubarak's immediate removal from office. The U.S., which provides Mubarak's government $1.3 billion annually, was caught in a dilemma on how to react to the rebellion against its most important Middle East ally after Israel. In a major address delivered to the Muslim world from Cairo in June 2009, President Obama spoke eloquently of human rights and democracy, but apart from the rhetoric -- and until the January uprising -- he continued to follow the Bush administration's policy of supporting repressive governments across the Middle East.

The unrelenting protests, met with open sympathy by the Egyptian Army, pushed Mubarak to announce on Feb. 1 that he would not seek re-election in a vote scheduled for September, but vowed to remain in power through the end of his term. The concession was rejected by many demonstrators. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, who assesses the popular uprising in Egypt, and the long history of U.S. support for anti-democratic regimes around the world.

STEPHEN ZUNES: In many ways, it's just a continuation of what we've seen in the past 20 or 30 years of these unarmed insurrections that have taken down autocratic regimes from the Philippines to Poland, from Chile to Serbia, and even lesser known countries like the Maldives and Mali. And it's basically people who realize that they can't work for change within the system, that armed struggle has all sorts of problems associated with it and so they're willing to go out into the streets and place their bodies before the tanks and the tear gas and truncheons and bullets to fight for their freedom.

And, there have been some uprisings like this in the Arab world that have been short-lived. But Tunisia, I think, really helped indicate that it was possible to overthrow a government by these largely nonviolent means. And just let me mention that while the rioters tend to get most of the attention from the media -- in fact, well over 90 percent or more of the protests in both Tunisia and Egypt were nonviolent.

But I think certainly, the worsening economic situation in both Tunisia and Egypt had that bad combination of liberalizing economically while not liberalizing politically. And so, the inequalities and social injustice just got exacerbated because of the influence of corrupt, well-connected families.

The fact that you have demographics where over half the population is under 30, and even people with college educations were unable to find jobs.

BETWEEN THE LINES: How do you assess the Obama administration's reaction? It seems to, I think, most everybody, that they are equivocating; they're on the fence, they're trying to hedge their bets. And, I'm sure that's apparent to people on the street in Eqypt and other countries around the Middle East. What does that do to the U.S. reputation in terms of what we all would like the world to think of us as (the) international No. 1 promoter of democracy?

STEPHEN ZUNES: Oh, it's been a great moral and political failure as far as I'm concerned. I mean, the very fact that we have over nearly 30 years of the Mubarak dictatorship -- since that regime, over $50 billion in military aid, which has nothing to do with legitimate defense needs. The tear gas, the bullets, the water cannons, the vehicles -- I mean, the stuff that's being used by the police to suppress the pro-democracy demonstrators were all made in the USA. And to talk about "Oh, we had to invade Iraq to promote democracy" -- that was as big a lie as the weapons of mass destruction. We've always been the No. 1 supporter of dictators in that part of the world. And it's really has had a negative impact on America's reputation.

I've always thought it strange that you have the United States give all this assistance to these repressive military-backed regimes that suppress democratic movements and then we turn around and say, "Oh, there's no democracy in the Arab-Muslim world, because it's not in their culture." And then we also say, "Oh, we have to support (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu because Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East."

I mean, if we weren't so busy supporting these repressive regimes, there'd be a lot more democracy. And, I think what Tunisia and Egypt have demonstrated is that when democracy does come to the Middle East, it's not going to come through foreign intervention. It's not going to come through sanctimonious statements from Washington. It's going to come through the Arab peoples themselves, from the grassroots, from the bottom up. And so, I think the Obama administration belatedly has been coming around to a more responsible position. Not because of a great moral shift, unfortunately, but simply because they recognize that would be pretty stupid to be on the wrong side of history.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Stephen, there's a lot of speculation, of course, on what shape any new government might take in Egypt if, as expected, eventually Mubarak will fall. What's your take on what kind of government Egypt might have, given the opposition forces that are there now and have been repressed for these many years? There's a lot of discussion about Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner. What's your sort of guess here, as to how this may come out?

STEPHEN ZUNES:Well, the best case scenario is that there would be, in pretty short order, an interim coalition government would be formed, made up of the liberal and democratic and moderate Islamist parties. They have already united to say that they are willing to serve together and that Mohamed ElBaradei would indeed be the interim leader and that this interim government would, as soon as practical, organize a free and democratic election so the people of Egypt themselves can decide what kind of government they want.

My guess is that there would be some kind of coalition that would include moderate Islamists, but it's important to note that those who have really been leading the charge here in the street have been these young, secular groups that frankly see the Muslim Brotherhood -- you know, the traditional opposition and their aging leadership -- as at least as out of touch with their day-to-day reality as the regime itself. And the fact that the Brotherhood refused to even endorse the demonstrations until after they got going and were receiving widespread support, obviously smacks of opportunism and it really hasn't helped their standing. So, despite what you hear on Fox News or whatever about "oh, the Muslim fundamentalists are going to take over" and that kind of thing, my strong sense is that it's not something you have to worry about. Especially since the Brotherhood -- though socially quite conservative, not a party that I would vote for if I was Egyptian -- they've renounced violence, they've condemned terrorism; they want to be a legitimate political actor in a democracy.

Stephen Zunes is author of the book, "Tinder Box: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism." Read his articles online at

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