CHANGE THEY CAN’T QUITE BELIEVE IN
January 29, 2011 Comments Off
The people of Egypt deserve their freedom as much as the people of Iran. Yet the American government’s attitude to the revolts in the two countries is strikingly different. In Iran, the Obama administration gave unequivocal support to the protestors and equally unequivocally condemned the government crackdown. In Egypt, it has been far more restrained in its support for the protestors and in its opposition to Mubarak’s brutal regime. But then, that brutal regime has been for decades a key ally of America’s. In Iran, change is something to believe in. In Egypt, America’s not so sure. Here’s Time magazine on Obama’s ‘strategic dilemma’:
The Administration is caught in a bind, but it’s more strategic than just moral: Supporting tyrants loathed by their own people but willing to do Washington’s bidding in international matters is a decades-old U.S. tradition in the Middle East, as well as in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The problem with Mubarak is not simply that his methods are at odds with professed U.S. values; it’s that his brittle autocracy appears to have entered a period of terminal decline, with the U.S. potentially on the wrong side of history…
The logic of the long-term may dictate that the U.S. distance itself from Mubarak and ingratiate itself with a democratic opposition — most of which remains deeply skeptical of U.S. motives given its unconditional backing for the strongman until as recently as Tuesday, when Hillary Clinton’s comments that the regime was ‘stable’ and ‘looking for ways’ to address protestors’ grievances drew howls of protest.
In other words, America would prefer Mubarak to stay in power, but is worried that it may not be able to prop him up. And, as Al-Masry Al-Youm points out, it is not just Iran with which American attitudes to Egypt contrasts :
Shadi Hamadi of the Brookings Institute in Washington DC said that, in the end, Tunisia was ‘expendable’, while ‘Egypt and Jordan – Arab Pillars of the pro-American orbit -are less so.’
America’s relationship with Egypt was strengthened by the appointment on Saturday of Omar Suleiman as vice president. A former intelligence chief, Suleiman coordinated, according to Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition and torture programme in Egypt. When his appointment was announced, a crowd in Cairo’s Tahrir Square tellingly chanted: ‘Neither Mubarak nor Suleiman, we’re sick of Americans.’
There has been considerable worry in the West that the fall of Mubarak may open the door to the Muslim Brotherhood, a fear that Mubarak himself has done much to inflame. In fact, as I observed in an earlier post, Islamists already wield influence thanks in considerable part to the cynical policies of Egypt’s secular dictators. And if anything could strengthen the power of the Muslim Brotherhood it would be any attempt to keep Mubarak or his allies in power or to thwart the democratic spirit evident on the streets of Cairo, Suez and elsewhere. Western politicians like to talk at length about the need for ‘stability’. It’s time we recognized that the effervescence of popular democracy, and of an open, secular society, is something to be cherished far more than the stability of authoritarian rule, whether secular or religious.