Posts Tagged Egypt Revolution

Charlie Sheen, Conan O’Brian, Middle East Revolution and Paddy Chayefsky

What do Charlie Sheen, Conan O’Brian and Steven Slater (the flight attendant who quit his job, grabbed a beer and slid down the emergency chute) have to do with protestors in the Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Iran and possibly Saudi Arabia? 

And what do any of these people have to do with a 1976 movie written by Paddy Chayefsky?

A lot. In that film, “Network”, a fictional news anchor, Howard Beale, decides that he is “mad as hell,” and that he is “not going to take it anymore!” The network decides to keep him on the air, he becomes a phenomenon and called a Mad Prophet.

Sheen, Conan O’Brian and Flight attendant Steven Slater were all frustrated with their employers. They all left their jobs loudly rather than quietly and became folk heroes in the process. Folk heroes fueled by the internet social sites, Facebook and Twitter in particular.

Chayefsky was three decades ahead of his time and the word “Network” today has a larger meaning. In the movie the public at large joined the “Mad as Hell and not going to take it anymore!” movement. Today people across the world are mad as hell.

People have been “mad as hell” for a while. The current global economic downturn has frustrated people across the planet. The difference is that now people have decided that they “…are not going to take it anymore.”  The internet and social networking in particular, are providing a way to express the anger.  More than that, the online world is providing a way to organize and get results.

The results are real. Conan O’Brian was able to keep his fan base despite being barred from broadcast television. Charlie Sheen may be onto a new career as an online Mad Prophet selling Tiger’s Blood and promoting “winning.” In the Middle East, two strongmen who held power for decades have fallen, one is in a civil war and others may still be deposed.  

The plot twist in the 1976 movie was that the “Network” decided to keep the Mad Prophet on the air in a cynical ploy for ratings. In today’s network, the TV Networks could not keep Charlie Sheen, Conan O’Brian off the air- at least not off the internet. Neither could an Egyptian state run TV station silence a Google manager.

When people are Mad as Hell in this new Communications/Information age, those in power will have to listen – they can no longer just pull the plug. The Mad as Hell side is “winning.”

That changes everything.

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Cairo, Iran, the 3 AM Phone Call, Dictators and the Egyptian Revolution

It was the Emergency phone that rang at three A.M. in the Cairo palace. With a sigh, the old man decided he should answer it. After all, he hadn’t been able to sleep anyway. He picked up the ornate receiver.

“Hosni? This is Reza.”

“Reza…?” the old man questioned.

“Pahlavi.”

“The Shah? But you’ve been …”

“Gone. Yes, over thirty years now.”

“Then how?”

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is you need to talk to someone who understands; someone who has been in your shoes.”

In the days of extraordinary events what was one more? “I’m listening.”

“Good. The main thing I’m calling to say is: don’t think about the next six months. Think about the next six years.”

“What do you mean?”

“First of all, the moment you leave the country, you will cease to matter. You will cease to shape events.”

“Didn’t you have a plan to leave, let things quiet down after a crack down and then come back?”

“Yes, I came to Egypt in fact.”

“I remember. Then we asked you to leave.”

“You and Sadat had to – Carter was so dead set on Camp David, so focused on peace that he missed the coming war.”

“The civil war in Iran?”

“Yes, that. But even worse, the Iran-Iraq war: eight years of hell. That idiot Saddam could not resist a weakened Iran. The mullah’s knew it was the only way to get the Military on their side; defending their country.”

“But Saddam had a prize to gain – the oil. What could anyone gain by attacking Egypt?”

“Weakness inspires attack. I don’t think Muammar would do anything so foolish. The Americans and Europeans and now the Chinese do not care so long as the oil keeps flowing. During Iran-Iraq they all stood on the sidelines, laughing like schoolyard instigators while the babies fought in the sandbox. Arab fought Persian, Muslim versus Muslim, while the world supplied both sides and smiled. Don’t let it come to that.”

“Who wants to fight Egypt?”

“No one wants to fight Egypt– unless they are attacked. Military men are trained to love their country and to fight for it. Just as Khomeini knew the soldiers and pilots would defend Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood knows Egyptians would defend Egypt – especially against Israel.”

“That would be madness.”

“Yes it would. Semite fighting Semite; unlike Saddam, the Israelis do have nuclear weapons.”

“Suleiman will talk reason into the revolutionaries.”

“Don’t trust intelligence officers. The CIA placed my father in power, and then the same for me. But when they saw me as weak, they were meeting with the other side. Intelligence officers blow with the breeze – look at Putin in Russia.”

“So what should I do?”

“I was allowed this call not to give you answers, but to make sure you ask the right questions. When all is said and done, no one will give you credit for things you did. We both, advanced the rights of women, built infrastructure, modernized our militaries, respected ancient history and kept the peace. Let’s face it though, we were bad at democracy and freedom. But to the victors go the spoils. Whoever wins the revolution will write the history of you on the hearts of your people.”

“I would hate for there to be a war once I’m gone. Egypt would suffer so much.”

“Then take the time you have left, to do what I did not do.”

“Which is what?”

“Make sure it is not the fanatics who win; because they will lead to war.”

“Much to think about.”

“I have to go now Hosni.”

“Reza? May I ask….where are you calling from?”

“That I am not allowed to say. But it is not where the mullahs would say I am. Salaam Hosni.”

“Salaam Reza.”

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A World without Exile…is it wise? Update: Middle East Revolutions, Gaddafi and Berlusconi

Generally, I don’t want to make a habit of reissuing old posts. Recent events have made a strong case for the premise of this piece and it deserved a revisit. This post was originally written weeks before the Tunisian Revolution, the Egyptian Revolution and the Libyan Revolution. President Zine El Abadine Ben Ali of Tunisia wound up in exile in Saudi Arabia. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has peacefully retired to a palace along the Red Sea. Yet that did not happen in Libya.  According to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi:

“Once someone put forward the idea of bringing Gaddafi before the International Criminal Court, I think the idea of staying in power became entrenched with him and I don’t think anyone can make him change his mind,” he told reporters.

Granted Berlusconi certainly has his own share of political and legal problems. But of all the European countries Italy has been the closest to Libia and Berlusconi probably has the best read of the Libyan strongman’s mindset. His statement gives credibility to this post that I originally made last December.

Why haven’t the two Korean nations united as did East and West Germany?

Perhaps it is because there is no way out for North Korea’s ruling Kim family. If the Korean nations unite, who can doubt that a prosecutor or judge in Europe will indict them for crimes?

This was the same dilemma that faced Saddam Hussein. He knew the US invasion was coming. Days before the start of military action in 2003, Saddam was offered a life in exile. Why not live out his days with his wealth and Viagra?

But Saddam only had to look at the situation of his friend, former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Four years earlier Milosevic, after having left power in Serbia, was arrested and held in a jail cell. He was placed on trial. He died in prison.

Saddam knew Milosevic well. The Iraqi’s had their bunkers built by the Serbs who had learned from the US bombing in the 1990’s.

They were kindred spirits. So when Saddam was offered exile, he had only to look at Slobodan’s fate and conclude that he was better off trying to stick it out in Iraq. We all know the rest.

Contrast this to the Exile of Chilean General and dictator Augusto Pinochet several decades earlier. Pinochet was allowed to live in exile in Spain with some of his ill-gotten gains. The transition in Chile to democracy was relatively smooth and peaceful when compared to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The Kim’s of North Korea have no doubt watched what happened to Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. They knew them both. People who are used to leading entire countries can conceive of retirement with their wealth, but living in a prison cell is worse than death.

The European courts and judges mean well. The idea of dictators living out their years in the lap of luxury without being brought to justice is distasteful. No civilized human being likes that idea. Part of the idea is making sure that dictators and others know that there is an international watch on their doings and that this would encourage good behavior.

But reality has us working in a world with paranoid dictators at a time that nuclear technology is achievable. Dictators and repressive regimes are turning to the Korean model of buying time and respect by acquiring nuclear weapons. Wounded dictators with nowhere to go are as dangerous as cornered animals.  They will fight to the finish. Now they can do so with nukes.

The exile option is far from perfect (Europeans know this from the Napoleon experience, where his return from exile led to another war.) The alternative, attempting regime change against dug in despots with atomic weapons (think North Korea, and soon Iran) and suddenly exiled dictators playing in their retirement palaces doesn’t seem so bad.

The world and European courts need to reexamine their prosecutorial zeal and allow the exile option to reemerge.

After the recent events in Lybia and Berlusconi’s remarks the last sentence above is more relevant than ever.

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