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Portland’s federal courthouse is the US equivalent of Tahrir Square

Aug 05,2020 - Last updated at Aug 05,2020

Remember the "Arab Spring" intifadas of 2011? The world is now witnessing via satellite television the "American Summer” uprisings of 2020. Protests against Donald Trump's crackdown on protest are spreading across the country from California in the west to Virginia in the east.

The epicentre of the protest movement is Portland, Oregon, in the northwest. Already a restive city, Portland took to the streets in continuous Black Lives Matter protests after the murder by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Counter-demonstrations have been held by far-right factions, white supremacists and neo-Nazis, precipitating the violence. This gave Donald Trump a pretext to dispatch to Portland federal agents in military clothing. They have used tear gas, pepper spray, flash grenades, beatings and arrests to counter protesters whose right to assemble and protest is guaranteed by the sacrosanct First Amendment of the US Constitution.

The federal intrusion gave the protests, which had been winding down, a new lease on life. A yellow-clad "Wall of Moms" formed to protect protesters and demand the recall of the federal agents. Portland "dads" dressed in orange and armed with leaf-blowers blew tear gas away from the protesters and into the faces of gas-masked federal agents. Military veterans, lawyers, teachers and healthcare workers turned up to support the protesters, as they had in Cairo's Tahrir Square in late January-early February 2011.

Portland’s federal courthouse is the US equivalent of Tahrir Square. While both have long been protest sites, iconic Tahrir Square is at the heart of Egypt's capital while Portland is 4,500 kilometres from the US capital at Washington, DC. The Egyptian authorities could not ignore the occupation of Tahrir Square in 2011, but Trump could and did ignore the distant Portland protests for more than 50 days before sending in the "federals". This enabled him to promote his image as a law-and-order commander-in-chief ahead of the November election.  He clearly hopes this will distract the public from his miserable failure to contain Covid-19 and tackle police violence against Black citizens.

Let us go back nine and a half years to January 25, Egypt's national police day. Activists told this correspondent they had expected the usual 150 people to turn up at Tahrir Square and another 50 elsewhere to call for an end to police brutality and the 30-year regime of Hosni Mubarak. "Fifty thousand came," the activists said, demanding bread, freedom and justice. And when the police responded with brutality, tens of thousands returned on the 26th and succeeding days. On Friday 28th, thousands of riot police in black, wearing helmets with visors and body armour, armed with batons and tear gas, attacked unarmed Egyptian men and women as they tried to reach Tahrir Square.  Nevertheless, they not only won the first round in the battle for possession of the Square but also in the campaign to topple Mubarak who was compelled to resign after public squares and streets all around Egypt filled with millions chanting, "Ash-Shab Yurid Isqat Al Nizam!” — "The people want the fall of the regime."

By "regime change", Egyptians meant the ouster of Mubarak and his en tourage and the installation of a government sensitive to the needs of the people and ready to deliver their demands for bread, freedom and justice. US protesters are insisting on much more.

Today's protesters have stuck with the "Black Lives Matter" slogan and cause, demanding a radical change in the "white colonist" regime that has cursed the US since the first African slaves were landed at the east coast Jamestown Colony in 1619. Their lives mattered so little that it is estimated between 15-30 per cent of the enslaved Africans died during the journey.

Since that time, Black lives have not mattered enough to provide security and a decent standard of living to the majority of the descendants of the slaves. Most suffer discrimination, prejudice and violence although they were emancipated in 1865 by the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, the north fought a war with the south to free the slaves, and the US Congress has adopted legislation meant to grant the Black minority equality with the white majority.

This is why Trump — whose electoral "base" consists largely of white men and women who fear regime change — has, belatedly, ordered "federals" to crush protesters. To win reelection Trump counts on the vote of his "base" as well as citizens who are disturbed or frightened by the protests. He knows that if he is out of office and his inept, backward-looking administration is ousted by Democratic rival Joe Biden, there could be "regime change" on the racial front. During his 2016 election campaign, Trump whipped up support by pledging to build a wall along the Mexican border with the US to prevent Hispanics — whom he called "criminals and rapists" from entering the US.

Trump won then with scare tactics and it can be expected that he will, increasingly rely on these tactics during his ongoing reelection campaign. He has already been falsely accusing largely peaceful protesters of being  "leftists", "antifa" or anti-fascists, "anarchists", "radicals" and "violent mobs".

Scare tactics may work with his most loyal followers but are unlikely to hold sway with doubting Republicans and independents. To secure their crucial votes Trump must, belatedly, contain Covid-19 which is rampaging across the US. He must deliver financial aid to millions of US citizens who have lost jobs and whose businesses are on the brink of bankruptcy. Finally, he must, get children back in school and reopen the covid-stalled economy.

Cairo's "uprisers" or "revolutionaries" toppled Mubarak but failed to effect long lasting regime change.  Having experimented with free elections, which produced a Muslim Brotherhood, dominated government, Egypt has reverted to rule by a military man.

It remains to be seen whether, the US protest movement will manage to oust Trump and then proceed to racial regime change by eschewing the residual colonial regime by recognising Blacks and Browns as full citizens and granting them their rights.

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