Charles Santiago

Posted by : Unknown | Ahad, 6 Februari 2011 | Published in

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Charles Santiago

Charles Santiago

Address Legitimate Problems of the Egyptian people. No Taliban Scare Tactics or US-Israel Geo- Political Interests.

Posted: 06 Feb 2011 09:29 PM PST

Talk about the revolution that is sweeping across Egypt and some raise concerns about an alternative Taliban-style government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood while others insist I reminisces the overthrow of the Shah of Iran which has led to the country coming under the thumb of the radical and conservative Supreme Leaders, commonly known as the Mullahs.

Others point out that the regime would remain in power if Vice President Omar Suleiman who is also the former intelligence head rules Egypt next.

As I write this, the New York Times reports that US President Barack Obama is in a discussion with Egyptian officials about a proposal to get Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately and turn over power to a transitional government headed by Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military.

The proposal pans out further to include the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups to initiate work on the country’s electoral system.

It must be incredibly tough for the US to stay away from determining what it deems as a workable government for the world’s largest Arab nation. But Mubarak has reportedly told Obama that he does not understand the Egyptian culture and the consequences if he steps down immediately.

Obama clearly is struggling to figure out a government which would continue being its staunch ally in the Arab world and keep the provisions in the 1979 Peace Treaty signed by Egypt and Israel.

The Treaty is seen as a tool which has allowed Israel to dismiss the aspirations of the Palestinian people. And the agreement also made Egypt as the first Arab country to officially recognize Israel.

In order to support the Mubarak government and secure its obedience, the US pumps USD 1.3 billion in military aid each year to the regime.

The pro-democracy supporters have been braving the military and other security forces to make their legitimate demands for free and fair elections, an end to rampant corruption which has allowed Mubarak to amass USD 40-70 billion in assets, freeing of political prisoners,  protection of the 10 million Coptic Christians and the lifting of censorship to be heard.

More importantly, the protest and resistance at Tahrir Square must be perceived in the context of a systematic  workers mobilization against poverty, rising unemployment, low wages and high prices in the last decade.

It is reported that workers lived on 400 Egyptian pounds a month or about USD 2 a day.

Two million Egyptian workers were involved in over 2,600 factory occupations between 1998 and 2008. On April 2008 alone, 25,000 workers were involved in labour strikes at Mahalla al-Kubra, a textile manufacturing centre in the Nile Delta.  And workers in over 200 factories were involved in strikes between January and June 2009.

Furthermore, the labour movement mobilized against Mubarak and International Monetary Fund’s liberalization program which focused on subsidy slashes and privatization. Mubarak was IMF’s poster boy.

Historian Joel  Beinin categorised the phenomenon in the following way: the “largest and most sustained social movement in Egypt since the campaign to oust the British occupiers following the end of World War II.”

The protesters at Tahrir Square thus have multiple agendas and demand.

However, Western diplomats including the media are focusing on Egypt going the Iranian way with the Muslim Brotherhood.  The role of labour and the need to redistribute wealth and income equality are all but ignored.

At this time,  Mubarak still holds on to power and his men are looting and killing civilians to spread further chaos and fear.

So far at least 300 are dead and 1200 injured.

Yes, the concerns that fundamental Islamist groups could hijack and manipulate the uprising are valid. But there are possibilities beyond a military rule and Islamic extremism for Egypt.

Apart from Mubarak’s son Gamal, the President has never groomed an heir apparent.

The Muslim Brotherhood has many strands which are relatively unknown because of the political control.

For the same reason there is no one person who has the political skills to lead Egypt. Civil societies are almost non-existent and Mohamed ElBaradei has been strongly criticized for lying about Iran’s nuclear weapons, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

He is reported to be more known  outside the country than within.

And the most powerful institution remains the military which has been, till the time of uprising, Mubarak’s staunch ally. WikiLeaks, however, reports that the military is deeply divided.

But as the most nagging issue is about Egypt being plunged into extremism following what’s happening in Iran, it is crucial to note that Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamist movement and the Muslim Brotherhood are different. The Brotherhood has undergone a process of moderation.

Furthermore the protesters in Egypt are not pushing for an Islamic agenda but calling for democratic reforms which have been crushed under Mubarak’s rule.

While this is the fact sheet about Egypt, we could always find inspiration in neighbouring Indonesia which has had a similar dictatorship and military control under the Presidency of General Suharto.

He ruled for 32 years and was Washington’s steadfast ally.  The Clinton administration was reluctant to let him go and was taken by shock when his regime fell.

But despite never having a whiff of democracy, a military which was infamous for torture and murder, Indonesia emerged as the world’s third largest democracy 13 years after Suharto’s fall.

While Egypt’s political and socio-economic  make-up might differ from Indonesia, it is possible that the country could emerge as a moderate Arab nation in the next decade. We certainly need to give Egypt a fair chance.

But for that to happen, Mubarak must resign.

The new government would need to focus on promoting income distribution, wealth equality and protecting democratic rights and institutions.  These are the core issues that brought the resistance in Alexandria, the Suez and other parts of the country including the million person protest at Cairo's Tahrir Square.

We have seen worldwide outrage as people aligned with Mubarak continue to unleash violence on the people. The media has come under intense scrutiny as journalists have been kidnapped to engineer a blackout. One journalist has been killed.

In Malaysia, the baton-wielding policemen punched and beat-up protesters as they were preparing to disperse following a peaceful march to the US Embassy to strongly condemn its support of Mubarak and demand that Obama ensures Mubarak’s immediate resignation.

I vehemently condemn the unleashing of violence by Mubarak’s security forces against civilians. A news report, in particular, showed a military truck running down the protesters.
This is appalling and must stop.

This tyranny, however, would only end with Mubarak’s resignation.

With the stepping down of Mubarak, Egypt would face tough times in finding a smooth political transition. But, with Indonesia in mind, a democratic transition is certainly possible.

Charles Santiago

Member of Parliament, Klang

Questionable Spending For New Warships

Posted: 06 Feb 2011 09:04 PM PST

The government recently reiterated that it has allocated RM 6 billion to build six new patrol vessels under the Tenth Malaysia Plan.

When the plan was deferred two years ago the Malay Mail quoted Prime Minister Najib as saying that the new orders were required because 2,000 companies depended on the additional work under the vendor development programme.

However, only 632 vendor companies have been identified by Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to benefit from the current plan. He added that at least RM2 billion of the allocation will be channelled to them.

It has not been disclosed who these companies are and, again, there has not been any indication that an open tender process was utilised for this project.

The addition of six new warships also raises questions as to why the Malaysian government is allocating billions of taxpayer’s money to stockpile new weapons of war. It has already acquired two new submarines–of which its acquisition was shrouded in controversy–and the 6 new OPVs are part of a 1995 arrangement to have 27 new OPVs built by 2015.

The government needs to explain why it is acquiring these new offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) which will cost taxpayers RM1 billion for each OPV. This is relatively more expensive than South Korea’s much larger and newer frigates which were recently contracted to Hyundai Heavy Industries at US$300 million each.

In their context it would be easier to understand such expenditure considering that South Korea, an advanced country, aims to be a blue water navy by 2020 and is confronted with North Korean aggression involving one of the largest armies in the world.

In light of the recent increase in food and commodity price levels in the country as a result of 'subsidy rationalisation', the question that needs to be asked is if this counts as prudent spending?


Charles Santiago

Member of Parliament, Klang

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