Leaning on dictators
We say democracy is the guiding light of humanity’s potential, as a society. Take a look at humanity – not the man in the mirror, but the one at the door, on the sidewalk, in the car beside you, at the store. Take a look at the people in Midan Tahrir, the children, the women, the soldiers. If democracy is the most necessary tool of a liberated people, to give them some real sense of being in charge of their own destiny, then should not every free country jump to support what has been going on in Egypt the last two weeks?
This is a human movement, despite the promises of hope and change, and without the overt support of the US. Though the Obama administration reached out to the Muslim world with a 2009 speech in Cairo, it came to nothing. The administration’s failures to move peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians forward, its failure to cease extraordinary renditions to countries like Egypt, and take a stand against “friendly” regimes for human rights violations, have tainted the region’s view of America as the “shining city on the hill.”
Our policy, historically, in the region has been less of a knee on the chest of democracy and more of a thumb on the scale, favoring dictatorship. Our leaders came to the decision, that Mubarak must go, too late – not by a day or two, or a year or two – but by at least a decade. It should not come as a surprise, then, that to many of the people participating in the protests in the Arab world, “there’s a negative attitude to America, a disappointment,” as one Jordanian activist told the Washington Post.
It is not that obvious, though, how this strikes our country, when there are no “Death to America” chants in Tahrir. But as Liz Sly, in her Post article, points out, “just as burning [American] flags are not part of the current repertoire, neither are demonstrators carrying around models of the Statue of Liberty, as Chinese activists brought to Tiananmen Square in 1989.”
Iran, of course, views these events as a fatal wound for our historic foreign policy in the Middle East. “If [protesters in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen] are able to push this through then what will happen to the U.S. policies in the region will be an irreparable defeat for America,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told worshipers in Tehran on Friday.
But it is just as much a defeat for Islamist regimes, like Iran’s, because, “The current uprising in Egypt is largely secular and nationalistic,” admits Yamin Zakaria, in a column on the activist-journalism site, Media Monitors Network. “Everyone is waving the Egyptian flag instead of the black and white Shahadah (there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger) flag in Arabic,” he added.
The good news might be, that if this is the beginning of a global, vocal human rights movement, then it could “mark a turning point” in how the US deals with “non-violent, political Islam,” Robert Malley, of the independent International Crisis Group, told USA Today.
The reciprocal way we leaned on Hosni Mubarak – keeping him in power out of fear of what the alternative might do to our regional interests – has left our Middle East policy on a very narrow pedestal. It may be that the only thing keeping us on top of the foreign policy game – besides our infamous American bravado – is the legacy of what a strong, wealthy world partner ought to be able to bring to the table.