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.


2 thoughts on “Leaning on dictators

  1. Nice post PG. My concern is that your perspective is seen through a prism that the overwhelming majority of the people in Egypt do not possess. This prism distorts our view of the situation. I hope that this outpouring of free expression results in a more representative form of self government. I do not think this will happen. Look at the end result of similar movements in the Arab world. Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and this is just recent history. Take a look over the 700 year time frame. Where has any representative government taken hold in the Arab world. Maybe Turkey during a70 year stretch with only a few deviations towards fascism and now Islamitization. Jordan, no. Syria, no, Saudi Arabia and other gulf sheikdoms, no. As a culture, the Arab people have been a dominated culture pitting one tribe against another or one clan resulting in autocratic rule for centuries. When an Arab individual chooses to live in freedom, with liberties and justice…they move to another part of the world. Actually, the only oasis of freedom in the Arab world is Israel. I am concerned that whatever we hear from the Muslim Brotherhood or any other group in Egypt is a lie in an effort to position themselves to dominate. The resulting domination will ultimately be bad for freedom in Egypt and a threat to Israel.


    1. Thanks, AT. Your concerns are definitely legitimate, and your points are well made. My biggest concern in all this is that it not provoke an overreaction from the US, Israel, Europe and Arabs of every persuasion. I want everyone to be prepared for any eventuality – prepared, that is, in a way that maintains, and maybe even improves upon, Israel’s fragile peace with her neighbors.


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