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Weissman writes: "This was an enormous destabilization campaign, far larger than the CIA mounted in Brazil and Chile to encourage the military in those countries to intervene in 1964 and 1973. As a result, by the time Obama gave his consent on July 1, there was no conceivable way to stop the Egyptian military from stepping in."

A portrait of Army Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in a crowd of anti-Morsi demonstrators. (photo: Reuters)
A portrait of Army Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in a crowd of anti-Morsi demonstrators. (photo: Reuters)

Did Google and the Nonviolent Serbs Help Stir Up Obama's Coup in Egypt?

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

13 July 13


s Edward Snowden drops one bombshell after another, he has revealed Silicon Valley as a central player in America's surveillance state and the growth of high-tech electronic espionage the world over. A "do no evil" digital industry whose founders once presented themselves as an anti-war alternative to the grubby hands of the Military Industrial Complex now stands exposed as the hardware and software of a new Orwellian world. Add to that their leadership in global tax dodging, manipulating patent rights, and exporting American production jobs, and they seem as power-hungry and self-serving as John D. Rockefeller and the Robber Barons of our nation's inglorious past.

But Egypt? What could Google have to do with a military coup that dare not speak its name? And how did it come together with Serbia's Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, the veterans of Otpor and its U.S.-backed destabilization campaign against Slobodan Milosevic?

The story starts with President Barack Obama, who gave his consent to the Egyptian coup no later than Monday night, July 1, when he urged Morsi to give in to the protesters demanding his resignation. After "Mother America" tried to ease Morsi out without the need for a visible coup, Washington finally sent word that the military takeover was about to begin. One of Morsi's aides captured the moment in a text: "Mother just told us that we will stop playing in one hour."

With that chilling sarcasm, Obama now owns the military ouster of Egypt's first democratically elected government. It will be his enduring legacy no less than Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger own the 1973 coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet and the "free market" Chicago Boys to power in Chile.

Characteristically, Obama appears to have followed from behind. Nowhere did his mixed messages confuse both friend and foe more than on the target of the Egyptian coup, the Muslim Brotherhood. Having a non-devout Muslim stepfather and spending part of his childhood in Indonesia, Obama has long shown a willingness to work with various currents in the Muslim world. He also took advice during his first campaign from Robert Malley, a former classmate from Harvard Law School who had worked under Bill Clinton to set up the 2000 Camp David peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The son of a well-known Jewish Communist from Egypt, Malley regularly met with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their Palestinian offshoot Hamas in his work as a Middle East specialist for the International Crisis Group. But, under pressure from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who branded Malley as pro-Palestinian, Obama publicly disowned him before the 2008 election.

Four years later, following Mohamed Morsi's election as president of Egypt, Obama took Malley to heart and set out to work with the Muslim Brotherhood. The effort scored its greatest success in November 2012, when Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly praised Morsi for helping broker a ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu even described Morsi as a "nice surprise." But when Morsi tried to extend his constitutional authority within Egypt, Obama fell under renewed pressure from his critics, and his lack of clarity encouraged Egyptians to blame him both for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and for opposing it.

In fact, the key to Obama's policy remained Washington's long-term relationship with the Egyptian military. If the mostly secular-leaning generals could find a way to live with the Muslim Brotherhood, Obama would almost certainly have stayed the course. But, on June 15, Morsi attended a rally of hardline Sunni Islamists who denounced as "infidels" the non-Islamists in Egypt who opposed Morsi and the Shias in Syria fighting to protect president Bashar al-Assad. According to military sources cited by Reuters, Morsi appeared to back the rally's call for a holy war in Syria.

Reuters saw this as the "tipping point" in the military's concern about the way Morsi was governing Egypt. The generals did not want to fight a war beyond Egypt's borders, nor did they want to deal with a generation of returning jihadists. Morsi had crossed "a national security red line," declared the analyst Yassser El-Shimy, one of Robert Malley's subordinates on the Middle East and North Africa team at the International Crisis Group.

Receiving $1.5 billion a year in U.S. military assistance, the Egyptian generals were in continuing communication with Obama's national security team and brought their concern to Washington's attention. This came just as Obama found himself forced for the first time to publicly support arming the Syrian rebels.

This is where Google and the Serbs enter the picture. Along with other journalists, I have written widely about the nonviolent revolutionaries from CANVAS and about Jared Cohen, a wunderkind on the State Department's Policy Planning Staff under both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton and now head of Google Ideas. My exposés did not win a lot of friends. But Wikileaks has since definitively outed both CANVAS and Cohen in "The Global Intelligence Files." These are in-house emails from Stratfor, a private intelligence group that works closely with the US Marines, Defense Intelligence Agency, Homeland Security, and other government agencies. It also provides intelligence analysis and private spying to major corporations, such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Dow Chemical.

"Otpor strengthened its connections with Western governments and nongovernmental organizations, which provided the group with funding and limited amounts of intelligence about potential weaknesses in regimes they were already targeting," Stratfor wrote in an October 2007 report. "The tactics used in the crucible in Belgrade were 'marketed' in documentaries and training manuals. Otpor became more than 'just' a student group and transformed itself into the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). Among the group's strongest allies are Freedom House and the Albert Einstein Institute and, through them, the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of State."

How did Stratfor know? Directly from Srdja Popovic and other Otpor veterans, according to the emails Wikileaks released. "They are [a] very impressive group of guys," wrote Stratfor analyst Marko Papic. "They just go and set up shop in a country and try to bring the government down. When used properly, [they are] more powerful than an aircraft carrier battle group." Papic believed that the Otpor students had been more important than the U.S. money in their native Serbia, but he saw CANVAS as an "export-a-revolution" group. "They are still hooked into the U.S. funding and basically go around the world trying to topple dictators and autocratic governments (ones that U.S. does not like)." The Stratfor emails also revealed that Popovic met at least twice at the White House with President Obama's National Security Council and clearly shared intelligence with them.

The depth of CANVAS's role in the overthrow of Mubarak remains a matter of controversy, but the New York Times reported that, "The April 6 Youth Movement modeled its logo - a vaguely Soviet looking red and white clenched fist - after Otpor's, and some of its members traveled to Serbia to meet with Otpor activists."

Stratfor's emails about Cohen are less flattering. They speak of contacts at Google who could not figure out whether he was "a hippie activist" and "global rabble-rouser" or a serious player with a State Department/White House license, especially for Egypt. They knew that he ran the Alliance for Youth Movement (later, which helped train some of the digital activists in the April 6th Youth Movement, the group that ran the 2011 protests against Mubarak. The emails also noted that Cohen had dinner during the protests in Cairo with Wael Ghonim, the Google executive in Egypt who became the face of "the Facebook revolution." An email from Stratfor vice president Fred Burton, a former State Department security official, added that the dinner with Cohen came just an hour before the Egyptians arrested Ghonim.

George Friedman, Stratfor's crusty CEO, was especially skeptical of Cohen - and of the protests, which he understood far better than those who believe that Washington's "democracy bureaucracy" was trying to create anything resembling a revolution. "The military got exactly what they wanted," wrote Friedman. "They got rid of Mubarak and held on to power. The demonstrations were a tremendous help to them in achieving their goals. So I want to know the links between the military and the demonstrations. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe Cohen was hired by them. Maybe this is the CIA solving a problem. I don't know. But Cohen is stooging for someone. Who? And was Cohen significant or designed to divert."

Burton took a different tack. His sources believed that "Cohen's rabbi" was Google's billionaire boss and "Obama lackey" Eric Schmidt, and that Google had "White House and State Department support and air cover. In reality, they are doing things the CIA cannot do."

To anyone who has studied the Otpor revolution against Milosevic, the Tamarod strategy will seem a well-adapted copy with an added emphasis on the military. Tamarod started with a massive petition demanding Morsi's resignation, used clever slogans against him, and scheduled a series of nationwide demonstrations against him to begin June 30. They also seemed to understand fully the criticisms Schmidt and Cohen made of the January revolution in their recent magnum opus, "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business."

In practice, Tamarod scored a much bigger success, with backing from the Nobel prize-winning Mohamed ElBaradei and Egyptian liberals and secularists and a wide range of society, from trade unionists and Coptic Christians to major business people and former supporters of Hosni Mubarak. The New York Times even suggested that members of the old establishment actively sabotaged the economy to help bring Morsi down.

This was an enormous destabilization campaign, far larger than the CIA mounted in Brazil and Chile to encourage the military in those countries to intervene in 1964 and 1973. As a result, by the time Obama gave his consent on July 1, there was no conceivable way to stop the Egyptian military from stepping in as Tamarod was pushing them to do. This leaves two big questions still to be answered: Did Obama or his national security understand the Tamarod campaign? Or, contrary to his image of following from behind, had he or they already given prior approval to the coup?

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How To Break Their Hold."

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