Monday, February 14, 2011

Cuba is no Egypt

Posted on Monday, 02.14.11

Cuba is no Egypt
Castros' dictatorship not same as autocratic Egypt

Somewhere in Havana, Fidel Castro is probably laughing out loud to see
Hosni Mubarak lose his grip on power after 30 years of undisputed
leadership. In Castro's eyes, no doubt, the octogenarian Mr. Mubarak
brought a world of trouble on himself by trying to mollify Western
critics through the creation of a phony democracy that would give his
regime a veneer of respectability.

Mr. Mubarak was never a softie. Egypt's intelligence service, the
Mukhabarat, is justly feared throughout the Middle East for its inhumane
treatment of anyone perceived as an enemy of the state., well documented
in a 95-page report issued recently by Human Rights Watch on its use of
torture and repression.

But the flip side of this officially sanctioned terror was the attempt
to create a kind of fictional democracy to give the state the appearance
of legitimacy. Thus, Egypt's citizens had access to the Internet.
Opposition (closely watched and within strict limits) was allowed in the
media. The anti-regime Muslim Brotherhood was officially banned, but its
underground survival tolerated. Rival political parties exist, at least
on paper. Until now, foreign reporters have operated freely and with
little fear of harassment. Uncensored TV news from sources like
Al-Jazeera was widely seen.

In Mr. Mubarak's Egypt, the illusion of freedom was allowed to flourish.
When the upheaval came, the mirage vanished. Internet access was cut
off, Al-Jazeera banned, foreign reporters detained and in some cases
beaten by mobs, opposition silenced, the regime's thugs given free rein.

Cuba is a different place.

In Cuba, none of the trappings of democracy have existed for half a
century. It is not part of the Castro playbook to permit any activity
that would nurture the popular aspiration for liberty.

Access to the Internet for everyone – are you kidding? There is no
opposition press, real or make-believe, no opposition parties, foreign
reporters are closely monitored and the average citizen has practically
no access to independent sources of information. Egypt's business class
is reported to be in anguish over the turmoil because it's hurting the
economy. In Cuba, there is no business class – the military runs the
economy. Nor is there any civil society to speak of.

In Cuba, moreover, the military is an uncondtional appendage of the
Castro regime. In Egypt, the armed forces are an institution apart.
Officers must support the regime, but the institution's ultimate loyalty
is tied to the state and to the military's own traditions and customs,
not to the political fortunes of one individual.

In Cuba, it's all about loyalty to Fidel and Raul. Officers are closely
scrutinized for signs of disloyalty (and publicly disgraced, even
executed, if they fall under a cloud of suspicion).

Fidel Castro has no use for the trappings of democracy because he has no
interest in democracy. His is a zipped-up, no-nonsense totalitarian
regime, designed to perpetuate one-man rule, brooking no opposition and
making no concessions to foreign or domestic critics.

In the place of normal civic organizations, there are the notorious
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution – neighbors spying on
neighbors. Principled and outspoken critics of the regime are thrown in
prison and left to rot. Dissidents honored by foreign human rights
groups are rarely allowed to go abroad to accept their honors.

Fidel and Raul Castro have had 50 years to hone the apparatus of Cuba's
paranoid tyranny. Crushing dissent has been their principal preoccupation.

If the streets of Havana do not burst forth with protest, it is not
because Cuba's people are any less thirsty for liberty than the people
in Cairo. But, unlike Hosni Mubarak – and Sadat and Nasser before that –
the Castro brothers have foreclosed every avenue of rebellion and taken
every conceivable step to stifle the longing for freedom. Like the Sun
King, Louis XIV, Fidel Castro has been able to proudly proclaim that he
is the state.

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