Revolution in Egypt – and the Hypocrisy of the US and the West


For the United States and other Western countries, the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt (which threaten to spread to other countries, including Yemen and Algeria) are something of a nightmare. Just as the authorities in these countries are struggling — and failing — to cope with popular uprisings, so too the United States and other Western countries are rudderless when faced with an undefined enemy — and make no mistake about it, the people of foreign countries are the enemy when their revolts against dictatorship threaten Western interests.

Only the most perceptive people in the West realize that, for decades, the perceived threat of communism, and, in recent years, the perceived threat of Islamists, has led their governments to support the dictatorial regimes that are now being challenged or overwhelmed by ordinary people whose eruptions of revolutionary anger are largely spontaneous and leaderless, and, as such, cannot easily be suppressed.

What will happen next is unknown. It is no wonder that the West is getting jittery, but it is difficult to see how Western governments will be able to maintain their influence when the revolutionary movements know that, although they have been oppressed by their own rulers — kept in poverty, deprived of work, and often subjected to torture, arbitrary detention, disappearances, and extrajudicial execution — their rulers have largely been able to abuse them so thoroughly because of the backing of the West.

The horrors of the Cold War are behind us, but on the Islamist front, it is all too easy to see how the United States, in particular, enlisted the support of the dictatorial regimes in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Morocco in its “War on Terror,” drawing on their expertise in torture to host secret torture prisons on behalf of the CIA, where dozens of men and boys — seized in other countries and subjected to “extraordinary rendition” — were delivered, some of whom have never been seen or heard from again.

It is also easy to see how numerous countries, including the U.K. and France, responded to the Islamic Salvation Front’s first-round electoral victory in Algeria in 1991 by backing a military takeover that led to an almost unspeakably horrendous civil war, while protecting Western interests in Algeria’s supplies of oil and gas, and how Libya — previously a pariah — was also drawn into the “War on Terror,” when Colonel Gaddafi, with his plenteous supplies of oil, also joined the Western alliance.

With Libya, the hypocrisy was laid bare — although few realize it — when political refugees to the U.K., whose claims for asylum had been accepted, were suddenly labeled as terrorist suspects and imprisoned, or held under control orders (a pernicious form of house arrest) without charge or trial, and on the basis of secret evidence, after Gaddafi became a British ally in 2005.

Although judges intervened independently to prevent the involuntary repatriation of these men, ruling that “diplomatic assurances,” which were supposed to guarantee humane treatment on their return, were fundamentally untrustworthy, the control orders against the men were only finally dropped in the last few years when the Gaddafi regime began a program of reconciliation with its former opponents.

The West’s hypocrisy in the “War on Terror” also included Tunisia and the brutal regime of President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali (whose fall is leading to hopes that the terrorist stigma attached to his former political opponents might now be exposed for what it was), and, of course, Syria, whose fearsome Mukhabarat (secret police) tortured at least nine CIA “ghost prisoners” in 2001 and 2002, even as Bush’s speechwriters were including the regime in an “axis of evil.” A few of these prisoners — who included teenagers rendered from Pakistan — have resurfaced (most notably, the Canadian citizen Maher Arar), but others remain unaccounted for.

Of all the allies in torture, however, Egypt was the most prominent, the final bloody destination for those seized in America’s first forays into “extraordinary rendition” under President Clinton, and the place where, in the “War on Terror,” an untold number of men were disappeared.

Just a few of these stories are known, but they expose the true horrors of America’s relationship with Egypt. One prominent victim is Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen, seized on a bus in Pakistan, who was rendered to Egypt before being sent to Guantánamo (and released in January 2005). Providing a dark insight into why Hosni Mubarak’s decision to appoint intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice president on Saturday is the worst possible move for Egyptians seeking total regime change, the author and journalist Richard Neville, drawing on Habib’s memoir, reported:

Habib was interrogated by the country’s Intelligence Director, General Omar Suleiman … Suleiman took a personal interest in anyone suspected of links with Al-Qaeda. As Habib had visited Afghanistan shortly before 9/11, he was under suspicion. Habib was repeatedly zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to his nostrils, beaten, his fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks … To loosen Habib’s tongue, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a gruesomely shackled Turkistan prisoner in front of Habib — and he did, with a vicious karate kick.

Another prominent torture victim is Abu Omar (Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr), an Egyptian cleric who was brazenly kidnapped from a street in Milan in February 2003, by CIA operatives and their Italian counterparts. In November 2009, an Italian judge handed down, in absentia, a sentence of between five and eight years to 22 CIA agents and a U.S. Air Force colonel for their part in Abu Omar’s kidnap and rendition (and two Italian agents received three-year sentences), but not before Abu Omar had been imprisoned in Egypt for four years, and, during much of that time, subjected to torture.

The most significant story of all, however, is that of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the emir of the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, which was closed down by the Taliban in 2000, when he refused to cooperate with Osama bin Laden. After his capture in December 2001 — in Afghanistan, or crossing the border into Pakistan — al-Libi was rendered to Egypt by the CIA, where, under torture, he falsely confessed that al-Qaeda representatives had been meeting Saddam Hussein to discuss the use of chemical and biological weapons. Despite the fact that al-Libi later recanted his false testimony, it was used by the United States to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, figuring prominently in Colin Powell’s presentation to the U.N. the month before.

After visits to other torture prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA, al-Libi was eventually returned to Libya, where he died in prison in May 2009, allegedly by committing suicide — although no one who knows anything about “suicides” in Libyan jails believed that particular story. His death was convenient for at least three countries — Libya itself, and the two countries responsible for the deadly lie about Iraq; namely, Egypt and the United States.

More than anything else, the story of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi defines the blood-soaked relationship between the Bush administration and the brutal regime of Hosni Mubarak, and if there is to be genuine change in Egypt and throughout the Middle East, then the Obama administration and other Western governments need to step back from supporting torturers or enlisting their torture assistance or making convenient arrangements with them to establish secret dungeons in their countries to pursue their own repulsive agendas.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation, as “Revolution in Egypt — and the Hypocrisy of the U.S.”

33 Responses

  1. Revolution in Egypt – and the Hypocrisy of the US and the West « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad 2 February, […]

  2. Rafiq Hajat says...

    Thank you for stripping the veil away from the lies and hypocrisy that many of us suspected but could not prove. Venal hypocrisy is alive and well!

  3. Gary Rudd says...

    A fine and timely piece of journalism Andy. I read your book ‘Battle of the Beanfield’, which features my good friend ‘Music’ Martin Wilks, and this article was sent to me by Anita Gwynn.
    I will spread the word!

    Best regards


  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Rafiq and Gary. Great to hear from you.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Ruth Gilburt wrote:

    Andy – another great article. Sharing as usual x

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Patrick O’Brien wrote:

    ‎… thank you, Andy, shared …

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Tom Krohmer wrote:

    Mubarak Fails to Quell Protests With Departure Pledge –
    By Ahmed A. Namatalla, Nayla Razzouk and Massoud A. Derhally
    Bloomberg Businesssweek, February 1, 2011…parture-pledge.html

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Jamie Mayerfeld wrote:

    This is a splendid article.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    If you want to know where US learnt some of their torture techniques at Abu Ghraib they had plenty of practice at Arkansas State Pen (the source of my husband’s treatment as an NHS patient) look at history of Tucker Telephone on this link last paragraph… look on Arkansas Prison website there’s a big chunk of history missing… the US and UK govt had been complicit in torture for years and unethical experiments on prisoners against Nuremburg code… and never been held to account.. thousands dead and it all got covered up…I know it was going on for years after this as I was in touch with the families of prisoners…Clinton was govt of Arkansas when this was happening…
    Go back in history if you want to make your present cases stronger…there’s a long timeline…

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Ghaliyaa Haq wrote:

    Andy – WOW! You are incredible – and you never cease to amaze me!! 🙂 GREAT job – bravo!!

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Halimah Felt wrote:

    I shared it on my FB page … I would like more peops to see and read this and other articles Andy has provided!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    It’s actually a relief that persons are protesting torture. I know I was beginning to feel lonely. And depressed about all of this “mistreatment.”

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Ghaliyaa Haq wrote:

    You were, Mui? There are lots and lots of people protesting this! Keep fighting the good fight! Where are you, the UK or the US or..?

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    The U.S., Ghaliyaa. I know there are people protesting, but it feels like not enough. It’s still lonely as heck.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Kamran Ahmad Rai wrote:

    A lot of US client states’ police and security apparatus have been trained in torture techniques by the good old CIA. Though I cannot quote source right now, I remember watching a BBC the documentary “The power of nightmares” which explained how these torture techniques taught by the CIA were used by Egyptian police to interrogate and humiliate Muslim Brotherhood members during Nassar and Sadat era. Amongst the reciepients of this degradation and humiliation was one Dr.Ayman al Zawahiri….who is now bin Laden’s no.2. Brutalising a person only serves to induce hatred and resentment and sometimes leading them extreme militancy beyond the purvey of their religious beliefs and moral ethics. Frankenstein’s monster syndrome I would call it…

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Wassyla Heyett wrote:

    Very good piece, Andy. Thanks a lot. Sharing.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Amir Khan wrote:

    Another superb article Andy. Thank you so much!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Neill Le Roux wrote:

    Once again you convey with clarity where the true problems lie… Thank you Andy.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Klaus Graichen wrote:

    Do you remember the Islamist revolution in Iran, when the Shah was toppeled over 30 years ago now? Many on the left welcomed it then, because it was a) a popular uprising and b) nothing seemed possibly worse than the Shah-regime.
    So, fears about the uncertain outcome of a revolution in Egypt are not exactly unfounded.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Amir Khan wrote:

    Fears of another puppet brutal dictator supported and funded by the US is also not unfounded.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Anne Elliott wrote:

    Western governments…caught with their trousers down! What a wonderful turn up for the book!! Thank you Andy, shared.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf Artist wrote:

    Disgusting. I think we western countries and perhaps the entire world has lost touch with what the word ‘civilized’ means. It feels like we are living in the dark ages.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, everybody. Some lovely supportive words there, and some great insights. Kamran, I had meant to mention torture and its effect on Ayman al-Zawahiri, but ran out of time! Thank you for mentioning it. Very important.

  25. Beth Lyles MS says...

    The dark ages did not have all our modern knowledge of science, psychology and conditioning to backstop ordinary human brutality. Torqemada had nothing on B. F. Skinner and the CIA.

  26. troutsky says...

    VP Suleiman, one of the worst of our torturers, just spent thirty minutes on state TV setting an elaborate trap for the pro-democracy protesters and Western governments now caught in their own contradictions.

    This man is sly as well as wicked. Chalmers Johnson has warned of “blowback” for some time but this is another test for which I fear Obama is horribly unqualified and unprepared.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Zoon Imran wrote:

    It’s time the ppl in the West wake up too & ring the bells of revolution against their evil regimes who are the factual breeders of these evil forces !!!

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Zak Lyautey wrote:

    Hi everybody,
    I`m very sorry to ask you this I wish it was a better day……
    Can you Help in this…..?

    3Fev10 2:00 AM

    They start shooting. people with live amunitions……in the Heart of Cairo. The GVT of EGYPT released thugs, inmates with the help of secret police to chase and kill people in the Heart of Cairo in Liberation Square. (Most of Them are educated young poeple, even ladies are amomg them who want to be free to express themselves and free elections not rigged ones and free from a police state and military regime.

    Only yesterday night more than 1500 injuries and 5 shot dead.
    The Square is like an open Sky Hospital
    and the Egyptian Army wich receives almost 2 Billions USD/year standing by not intervening.

    Contact the White House | The White House
    U.S.. Military International. Street : …. PhoneNumbers. Comments: 202-456- 1111. Switchboard: 202-456-1414. FAX: 202-456-2461 …

    Or the foreign office or the DOD and leave a Message by phone or call on your representative (SENAT and CONGRES)

    Please call and leave a comment (For the President to Press to stop this bloosheed,) it is Free to STOP THIS…….the more people call ..they will do something……..and let anybody who has some Human Dignity…you know to call this number..or do something……

    They blocked CNN, CNBC, and other chanels , Al Jazeera English and Arabic on Nilesat, Arabsat and hot bird(satellite) so we don`t see the killings of civilians

    According to the UN report up to 300 has been killed since 25 Jan.


  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Zak Lyautey also wrote:

    May God be with you…! Please share

    It look soon they will be no pictures…..cause they are clearing Reporters from the Ramses Hilton and all the building around the Liberation Square…..I have a suspicion and presentiment when no Camera is left of life Picture….the slaughter will begin … the Square….The apology about yesterday of the PM is a BS: while in the conference their attacks were live

  30. Protestors in Egypt Remain Angry and Determined as Mubarak Fails to Quit « Eurasia Review says...

    […] power to the recently appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman (the former head of intelligence, and the favorite torturer of both the United States and Mubarak himself), and spent some time discussing constitutional […]

  31. The Year of Revolution: The War on Tyranny Replaces the War on Terror « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] interest whatsoever in the welfare of the people of the Middle East, and that they have, instead, supported the very dictators who have either fallen or are now clinging onto […]

  32. The Year of Revolution: The “War on Tyranny” Replaces the “War on Terror” « Eurasia Review says...

    […] interest whatsoever in the welfare of the people of the Middle East, and that they have, instead, supported the very dictators who have either fallen or are now clinging onto […]

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Portuguese translation by Murilo Leme, on his website, “Translations,” please see:

    The translation begins:

    Para os Estados Unidos e outros países ocidentais, os levantes populares na Tunísia e no Egito (que ameaçam espalhar-se para outros países, inclusive Iêmen e Argélia) são uma espécie de pesadelo. Do mesmo modo que as autoridades nesses países estão lutando — e fracassando — para gerir os levantes populares, os Estados Unidos e outros países ocidentais ficam desarvorados ao enfrentar um inimigo indefinido — e não nos enganemos, os povos de países estrangeiros são o inimigo quando sua revolta contra a ditadura ameaça os interesses ocidentais.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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