2011-02-15 WikiLeaks Vindicates Those Behind Unfolding Revolutions

ImageFor those in countries that are working to topple brutal and oppressive regimes, there is a power that WikiLeaks cables have, one that can be tremendously beneficial. Cables from Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Algeria, Bahrain, Libya, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia all illuminate why the people of those countries would rise up against their governments. They compel people to acknowledge the magnitude of abuses and suffering that the people have been experiencing under autocratic regimes.

The planned “Day of Rage” protests being met with security forces and violence in Algeria, Iran and Yemen can be further understood thanks to the cables. The clashes in Bahrain and the brewing unrest in Syria can be illuminated because of the analysis from US diplomats in the cables. And, what continues to unfold in Egypt and Tunisia and inspire people in countries like Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Libya, whose people intend to hold their own “Day of Rage” on February 17.

The current events are not a result of WikiLeaks. They are not more important because of WikiLeaks. But, the context surrounding the uprisings are easier to understand because of released cables.


The spread of unrest being witnessed is believed to have begun in Tunisia in January. Tunisians were aware of the level of corruption of the Tunisia family of their now-former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. But, after a Lebanese newspaper released cables further illuminating the workings of Tunisia government, after WikiLeaks drew attention to a specific cable, Tunisians could now be grateful because everyone was now “whispering” what Tunisians had always known.

One of the cables that is widely believed to have been what empowered Tunisians is the cable titled, “Corruption in Tunisia: What’s Yours is Mine,” from June 23, 2008.

Another cable on a site that popped up in the first month of Cablegate called TuniLeaks 08TUNIS679 highlights the corruption in Tunsia:

…the excesses of President Ben Ali's family that inspire outrage among Tunisians. With Tunisians facing rising inflation and high unemployment, the conspicuous displays of wealth and persistent rumors of corruption have added fuel to the fire.

The recent protests in the mining region of Gafsa provide a potent reminder of the discontent that remains largely beneath the surface. This government has based its legitimacy on its ability to deliver economic growth, but a growing number of Tunisians believe those as the top are keeping the benefits for themselves.

14. (S) Corruption is a problem that is at once both political and economic. The lack of transparency and accountability that characterize Tunisia's political system similarly plague the economy, damaging the investment climate and fueling a culture of corruption. For all the talk of a Tunisian economic miracle and all the positive statistics, the fact that Tunisia's own investors are steering clear speaks volumes. Corruption is the elephant in the room; it is the problem everyone knows about, but no one can publicly acknowledge.

Another cable on Ben Ali taking over a bank, 08TUNIS568, suggests, “Tunisians are unable to complain publicly, but do so loudly in private about crony capitalism and ill-gotten gains. Rumors of familial corruption have become widespread in Tunisia, with Banque de Tunisie just one of many examples.” And adds, “Faced with high unemployment and high prices, Tunisians are simultaneously confronted with obvious corruption and conspicuous displays of wealth. The frustration is palpable, but it appears there is no end in sight.”

It is the “crony capitalism” and the unemployment and the inability for Tunisians to express their discontent that ultimately erupted into a revolution that led President Ben Ali to flee. WikiLeaks, in addition to Mohamed Bouzizi self-immolating to call attention to the need for opposition to Ben Ali, toppled a regime.


The popular revolution in Egypt, which drove President Hosni Mubarak out of power around three weeks after a “Day of Rage” on January 25, maintained a lot of its momentum by communicating through Twitter. Much of the world paid attention to the unfolding events by following the hashtag “#jan25.” It is hard to gauge how the cables on Egypt played a role in the uprising, but, for people outside of the country, it provided much needed context as events were unfolding.

Cables showed how Egyptians were routinely victims of police brutality and how bloggers and activists were often targeted. At least one cable illuminated how members of political opposition groups were rounded up ahead of elections in 2010.

09CAIRO874 shows why Mubarak was averse to reforming his regime. Part of that cable reads:

… No issue demonstrates Mubarak,s worldview more than his reaction to demands that he open Egypt to genuine political competition and loosen the pervasive control of the security services. Certainly the public "name and shame" approach in recent years strengthened his determination not to accommodate our views. However, even though he will be more willing to consider ideas and steps he might take pursuant to a less public dialogue, his basic understanding of his country and the region predisposes him toward extreme caution…

… As with regional issues, Mubarak, seeks to avoid conflict and spare his people from the violence he predicts would emerge from unleashed personal and civil liberties. In Mubarak’s mind, it is far better to let a few individuals suffer than risk chaos for society as a whole…

When Omar Suleiman was appointed vice president to possibly help contain the revolution, it became known quickly why Egyptians were not going to be pacified by the appointment. They revealed Suleiman despises the Muslim Brotherhood, was willing to help Israel by interfering in elections in Palestine to prevent Hamas from winning, and that he helped maintain the blockade on the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza and actively engaged in anti-smuggling efforts.

This, in addition to key information on how Suleiman had been someone who helped the CIA with rendition and torture in Egypt, made clear the revolution would never let him take control of Egypt.

Now, as the military seeks to transfer the country from a military to a civilian government, cables on General Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, revealing that he has traditionally been resistant to change—context that can help the world understand why the military is working to prevent protests and strikes from taking place that might influence what happens in Egypt’s transition period.


Perhaps, it is no surprise that an uprising would be brewing to get rid of President Omar al-Bashir. The South just seceded and earned recognition from the United Nations.

The Sudanese people held their “Day of Rage” on January 30. It has not led to the success that Egypt had (but then again, the world’s eyes were on Egypt, which no doubt had a huge influence on the success of the Egypt uprising).

The day was particularly deadly for students. One student beaten by police during demonstrations died from his wounds. That day hundreds of student protesters, according to Al Jazeera pushed past security forces to get on to the streets and shout, “Revolution against dictatorship!”

The growing unrest is organic and inspired by what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt. To better understand why President Omar al-Bashir, one might consult a November 2008 cable, which involves a meeting between Sudanese Foreign Minister Deng Alor and former Egypt president Hosni Mubarak, describes a “volatile political situation” that Islamists in the country might try to exploit to their advantage.

The cable shows Bashir facing an increased crisis of legitimacy. The meeting in Egypt focused on “worries about the unity and stability of Sudan.” Mubarak and Suleiman are quoted saying, “Progress comes about as a result of quarrels which leave greater bitterness behind." It is noted that unity had not been made “attractive,” as the country’s regime has not “invested in the South even though it has oil money,” which leads them both to ask, “Why would anyone want to stay in such a country?"

Suleiman describes how Bashir is becoming more politically isolated:

… The Egyptians told Deng that Bashir is increasingly isolated with only some of the senior professional officers in SAF loyal to the President, but they are not really in charge of most of the military. Alor and Murbarak commiserated about the recent Fateh Arwa incident when Bashir attempted to replace the powerful Ghosh with retired Army General Arwa, issuing a decree reinstating Arwa as a Lieutenant General in preparation for placing him as head of State Security. Bashir was confronted by Taha, Nafie, Al-Jaz, MOD Abdurahim Hussein and Presidential Affairs Minister Bakri Salih (the last two frequently seen as Bashir loyalists) and told that appointing Arwa was a party "red line" for them. Bashir was forced to humiliatingly reverse his order after 24 hours…

The isolation and recent secession of southern Sudan leaves Bashir desperate, so desperate he recently called for government to “expand rural electrification efforts “so that the younger citizens can use computers and Internet to combat opposition through social networking sites such as Facebook.”


Finally, the state-sponsored violence against Yemenis protesting the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh has greatly intensified. Thousands of Yemenis have continued to return to the streets since the planned “Day of Rage” on February 3.

Pro-government thugs are using batons to disperse crowds. The regime is making it impossible for journalists to operate and report on state repression. A BBC journalist was brutalized on February 14 and a CNN reporter had his camera taken away making it difficult to file a report with footage from the protests. (The camera was later returned.)

Even though Saleh has pledge to not run for another term in 2013, the protesters are not taking any chances. Like with other countries, rising food prices, unemployment and a disregard for human rights has pushed individuals to revolt. But, in Yemen, the unrest has deeper consequences for the regime as it complicates the regime’s ability to confront a militant secessionist movement in southern Yemen.

Cables reveal the US, as with Egypt, has a significant military to military or close partnership on security that is viewed as necessary to success in the “global war on terrorism.” A cable, 09SANAA1669, on a meeting held in September 2009 between then-Deputy National Security National Security Advisor John Brennan and President Ali Abdullah Saleh illuminates Saleh and the Yemen government’s large inability and unwillingness to address socioeconomic problems in the country:

Saleh welcomed the letter from President Obama that Brennan hand-carried, and expressed appreciation for U.S. concern over the stability and economic hardships facing the country. He agreed to move forward with the 10-point plan outlining necessary economic reforms (reftel) but did not provide details regarding dates or implementation goals. Responding to Brennan's concerns that economic and other assistance might be diverted through corrupt officials to other purposes, Saleh urged the U.S. to donate supplies and hardware rather than liquid funds in order to curb corruption's reach. Saleh also told US officials that they could have full access to financial records to ensure proper usage of donor funding. (COMMENT. Saleh's preference for infrastructure and equipment over cash displays a lack of confidence in his own regime's ability to handle liquid assets and hardly provides a viable solution for stemming the curb of corruption in the long run. END COMMENT.)… [emphasis added]

At the end of the cable, the cable reads, “Not surprisingly, Saleh was far less animated when Brennan attempted to focus his attention on the need for immediate action to relieve Yemen's deteriorating socio-economic situation, largely limiting his response to a pitch that the USG persuade recalcitrant donors to speed up and increase their assistance to Yemen.” His disdain for addressing the socio-economic situation leads him to suggest he is “no longer interested in an invitation to the White House,” a visit he had been seeking since President Bush’s re-election.

The United States government is in the process of finalizing a deal that would give $75 million to Yemen to fund a “special Yemeni counter-terrorism unit.” The funds, according to Raw Story, would be invested in a special Yemeni counter-terrorism unit that is operated under Yemen's interior ministry and now totals around 300 people.” And, they would be “unrelated to another $120 million earmarked for Yemen in President Barack Obama's 2012 budget request unveiled on Monday. Right now, the request includes “$35 million in additional military assistance for Yemen and $69 million in economic assistance.”)

The US could make additional funding contingent on political or economic reforms. The reforms could possibly help restoring. Instead, funding looks like it will move ahead. The money, going to the country’s interior ministry, will no doubt end up aiding the Saleh regime in its ability to repress Yemenis seeking revolution.

Photo by jorge dragon on Flickr.

That concludes Part 1. Look for Part 2 of this two-part feature story will be posted later in the week.

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