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InsiderOnline Blog: February 2011

Egypt and U.S. Policy

The Egyptian masses want Hosni Mubarak gone, and the question for the West is whether that aspiration will lead to a democratic government that respects human rights or an Islamist government such as was produced by the 1979 Iranian revolution. A number of experts now say that the events in Cairo and in Tunisia show that the United States has been too willing to see Arab autocrats as sources of stability against Islamist movements, and that the Obama administration has continued this mistake by being too timid in expressing support for the Egyptian people.

Eliot Abrams, for instance, writes in the Washington Post:

The regimes of [Tunisia’s] Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak proffered the same line to Washington: It’s us or the Islamists. For Tunisia, a largely secular nation with a literacy rate of 75 percent and per capita GDP of $9,500, this claim was never defensible. In fact, Ben Ali jailed moderates, human rights advocates, editors – anyone who represented what might be called “hope and change.”

Mubarak took the same tack for three decades. Ruling under an endless emergency law, he has crushed the moderate opposition while the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has thrived underground and in the mosques. Mubarak in effect created a two-party system – his ruling National Democratic Party and the Brotherhood – and then defended the lack of democracy by saying a free election would bring the Islamists to power.

… regimes that make moderate politics impossible make extremism far more likely. Rule by emergency decree long enough, and you end up creating a genuine emergency. And Egypt has one now.

Abrams, like Marc Thiessen also writing in the Post, says the Obama administration should have been more outspoken in support of the people: Thiessen writes:

While Egyptians marched by the tens of thousands demanding President Hosni Mubarak‘s ouster, Vice President Biden publicly defended Mubarak against the charge that he is a dictator, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed confidence in the stability of his regime. As these words reached the teeming streets of Cairo, the perception took hold among demonstrators that the United States is siding with Mubarak against the people. The Post reported Sunday that “many protesters are now openly denouncing the United States for supporting President Hosni Mubarak.” One protester complained that U.S. officials “speak about their own interest, not ours.” Another declared: “Tell America that we get to choose our president . . . not them.” Yet another said flatly: “We believe America is against us.”

The administration’s response, says The Heritage Foundation’s Morning Bell, is of a piece with its overall lack of enthusiasm for supporting freedom:

The Obama Administration has been slow to embrace calls for liberty in Egypt is completely consistent with the Obama Doctrine as applied in the Middle East. When the Iranian people rose against the regime in Tehran in the wake of a disputed national election, Obama offered virtually no support for the cries for freedom. He was too committed to his engagement strategy with the Iranian regime, believing his “charm offensive” would be enough to deter them from pursuing nuclear weapons. Those efforts have completely failed. Nevertheless, the “playing nice initiative” with Tehran fell flat. Today, the regime is more aggressive than ever—backing a terrorist takeover of the government in Lebanon, snubbing Western nuclear negotiators, and promoting an Islamist agenda across the region.

Richard Williamson, writing in The American:

As is often the case, America is trying to balance interests and values. But here the distinction is less than many suggest. In Egypt, the people are leading a call for reform, the very sorts of reforms that America has historically called for throughout the world. The longer Mubarak tries to hold on, the longer the protests will continue. And, as we have already seen, as demonstrators are forced to continue their quest for reforms, they are beginning to take on an anti-American flavor absent in the opening days of this crisis.

It is past time for Mubarak to go. He has lost the Egyptian people and he has lost legitimacy. It is in the interests of the United States and the Egyptian people for this to happen sooner, not later.

Malou Innocent, at Cato-at-Liberty:

The Obama administration can extend diplomatic support to a political emancipation movement in Egypt, thereby visibly abandoning its long-time dictatorial client and pushing other U.S.-backed autocrats to end censorship, political repression, and address their people’s demands for economic and political reforms. This change, however belated, can help salvage a decent relationship with a successor government and with the population of the country–similar to moves President Ronal Reagan made during the 1980s toward both South Korea and the Philippines. Although such a stance would likely do little to limit recruitment levels of militant outfits in North Africa, it does have the potential to substantially enhance America’s image in the Muslim world.

Posted on 02/01/11 04:54 PM by Alex Adrianson

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