Jan 292011
The American administration has been struggling to come to terms with the unfolding events in Egypt and take a stand that has credibility and reflects any defendable principle. This was on glorious display in the 28th/January press briefing by Obama’s Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. You could only feel sorry for the poor man as he tried to use as many words as he could to say as little as possible and stay noncommittal. Again, the old friend in Egypt is watching everything, and the US cannot afford taking the risk of angering him. After all, he may manage to overcome the protests, which is what the US hopes.

US administrations have always known what a brutal dictator President Hosni Mubarak is, but they have also made him a good friend and ally. He is the individual that they use to get what they want even if against the will of his people. That is the benefit of befriending a dictator; one can bypass people. On the 28th/January, Clinton said that “Egypt has long been an important partner of the United States on a range of regional issues.” This is a false and misleading statement. It is the dictator of Egypt not Egypt that the US has partnered. In effect, the US has been Mubarak’s partner in dictatorship in Egypt. This is the most accurate way to describe the US-Mubarak relationship. We should avoid using the American preferred term of “US-Egypt” relationship, as there has never been one.

If the USA wanted, it could have taken a tough and uncompromising stand against Mubarak’s dictatorship, but the US administration could have taken the opportunity of the current popular uprising to come out publicly against Mubarak’s brutal dictatorship and agree with the frustrated people of Egypt that he must step down. The problem, however, is that this is not what the US administration wants. Mubarak has been a good subservient partner, in particular when it comes to Israel. The vote of the 80 millions of Egypt for whatever policy the US would like to have in the Middle East can be easily, albeit fraudulently, secured by having one man on board. Too tempting even for the leader of the free world.

There is no question that Obama deserves much more respect than any other American President in recent times, but the Middle East remains the US’s Achilles’ heel even for this President. Presidents come and go, but the influence of Israel, the Israeli lobby, and powerful Zionists on the US remains. Israel wants Mubarak, so the US has to want him too. Israel knows that getting away with its illegal occupation and savage massacres, which have been ongoing for decades, requires having its neighbouring countries run by the likes of Mubarak — dictators who would do anything in return for being helped to stay in power.

On the 28th/January, the Middle East envoy Tony Blair claimed that he was “absolutely in favor of change” in Egypt. But he also stressed the importance planning “very, very carefully how it is done and how it is staged.” Even more interesting is this bit: “the danger is that if you open up a vacuum anything can happen.” Then shamelessly he went on to justify supporting Mubarak as the partner who moved the peace process forward. Blair was so frank that he implied that Mubarak is among the open-minded elite whereas his people are closed-minded. What he was arguing for is what the USA has also been advocating: having a dictator that is easy to have on board is better than having to negotiate with a legitimate leadership of a people who happen to have different views about what is going in their part of the world. The USA and its allies have been very much working with Mubarak in his capacity as dictator, so any suggestion that they were trying to have him to abandon his dictatorship is absurd. They are partners in his dictatorship.

When Hamas won the Palestinian election in 2006, the voters, who have already been suffering brutal living conditions because of the Israeli occupation, were severely punished by Western powers that cut aids to the Palestinian authority. They sent a clear message: democracy is good but only if we approve of its outcome. This is exactly why Mubarak is what the USA, the UK, and other Western allies want. An agreeable dictator is better than a difficult legitimate leader.

The US is now realizing that the Middle Eastern dictatorships it always supported and relied on can disappear overnight, as happened in Tunisia recently. But events are developing so fast that the US administration has not had the time to decide whether it has to change its policies and the terms of its relationships with the dictators it has partnered. The American President and the Secretary of State have been slow to comment on the situation in Egypt and to take a credible view because the US administration has never prepared for such a change. They did not believe it could happen. But they also never wanted it to happen. Their preferred action has always been to come out each now and then with the weakest possible statement in support of democracy in the Middle East, including Egypt, while maintaining the strongest possible relationships with its dictatorial partners. The former is for the peoples of those countries that the US administration arrogantly underestimates their intelligence, whereas the latter is for US interests, at the top of which are the interests of Israel.

Whether the US is willing to abandon its partnerships with Middle East dictators might become irrelevant soon. If those partners are toppled by their respective peoples the US would be deprived of those friends anyway. Playing the friend of those dictators would not be in the best interest of the US. It is in the best interest of the USA and the world that all those dictators disappear. If the US’s claimed support for democracy is to start gaining any credibility it has to come out now and strongly in favour of democracy and against dictatorship. The USA has the right to have its own interests which may or may not agree with the interests of another nation. However, any differences should be dealt with by engaging with the people through their legitimate leaders. Through negotiation and compromises common ground can be found. But bypassing a whole nation to get what the USA wants from its dictator is never a wise choice and does nothing to help advance USA interests in the longer term.

The slow and hesitant response of the US administration to the popular protests in Egypt represents everything repugnant about the US foreign policy in the Middle East. Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been very careful not to say something that might alienate Hosni Mubarak, should he survive the most serious crisis of his 30-year role, as they try to manage the strategic relationship that the US has with the ailing Egyptian President. On the 26th/January Clinton first volunteered advising “all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.” She gives the same advice to a nation that has been oppressed for three decades and to their oppressor! But to its credit, the US administration has called on the Egyptian authorities to restore access to “social networking and the internet.” This is as much as Egyptians should hope to get from the friends of their dictator — at least as long as those friends cannot be sure that the friend of old is on his way out.


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