Thursday, January 27, 2011

Does Washington Really Want Democracy for Egypt?

The US is stuck on the wrong side of a thorny problem.   While it loudly champions the spread of democracy it quietly props up compliant despots.  Think Egypt, think Saudi Arabia, think Kuwait and the Emirates.   America has a rich legacy of this sort of thing in South and Central America, Southeast Asia, even Africa.  Unfortunately it's a policy that rarely ends well.

South America today, once considered a gaggle of American fiefdoms, is breaking free of Washington's hold.    The US once had much of Africa its for the taking but now it is being muscled out by China.

But a classic example of how American policy backfires is Palestine.  The Palestinian people, offered a free choice between pro-American Fatah and pro-Palestinian Hamas, elected Hamas.  So what do the US and Israel do?  They ignore the election and carry on as though Fatah's Palestinian Authority was the legitimate voice of the Palestinians.  They even smuggle arms to the PA for the violent overthrow of Hamas.  Now al Jazeera has unveiled documents showing that the PA was willing to sell out the Palestinians to Israel on East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.   And the Americans wonder how Islamist movements gain popular support?

Awful as the Palestine problem is, the US and Israel are far more concerned today with the uprising in Cairo and Suez that threatens their compliant despot, Mubarak.  Mubarak and his party have held onto power for 30-years largely thanks to fixed elections.   For a government that claims to embrace democracy, Mubarak has been preparing to hand control over to his son who is even more hated and has reportedly fled the country.

The Egyptian protests face far greater hurdles than the apparently successful uprising earlier this week in Tunisia.  Israel, which counts Mubarak as its strongest regional ally, has most to lose should he be topped.  Israeli leaders, however, believe Mubarak's control over Egypt's security forces is stable and will enable him to put down any uprising.   

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that "we support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. And we urge the Egyptian authorities not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications, including on social media sites."

"We believe strongly that the Egyptian government has an important opportunity at this moment in time to implement political, economic, and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people." 

The White House may actually hope that Mubarak will give in and implement reforms, something to placate the protesters, while retaining his hold on power.  Some American diplomats, however, doubt Mubarak will budge.

America may have placed itself in a lose-lose situation on Egypt's troubles, one that may be decided more by its interests in Riyadh than in Cairo.



Beijing York said...

Such hypocrites! They certainly lent loud moral support when it comes to people rebelling against the current governments in Iran (green revolution), Burma (saffron revolution), Lebanon (cedar revolution), and a whole slew of colour revolutions in former Soviet states helped by George Soro's Open Democracy Initiative.

My friend in Egypt says that the situation is not as violent as the western media is reporting but that it's still frightening. She said things will definitely escalate if Mubarak doesn't step down.

The Mound of Sound said...

I can see Mubarak stepping down, even leaving Egypt but will that really change things? I don't know that Egypt's powerful military are reform minded and without the military's support for democratic reform, Mubarak's brutal security services should be able to suppress the rioters.

We saw in Iran and East Germany (among others) that the a despotic government has to fall entirely to successfully decapitate the security apparatus.