Though we’re into day 14 of the protests in Egypt, I still don’t feel like I have a great grasp on what’s going on there . . . the specific complaints of the protesters (beyond Mubarak’s 30 years of rule and high unemployment), if there was any pro-Mubarak protesting that was authentic rather than engineered by the government, things of that nature. The presentation in the American media (aside from in some places on Fox, of course) has painted a somewhat romantic picture of a grassroots uprising where anti-government protests are saints and pro-government activists are thugs. Given the fact that the Mubarak regime has been in power for 30 years, I’m inclined to side with the protesters on this one, but I’d like to know more about the opposition before I’m sure. But my early reaction to those who worry about this revolution opening the door to the “gradual expansion of Islamist power in Egypt” is skepticism: if America is really interested in spreading democracy throughout the Arab world, do we get to withdraw support when we’re worried about the choice of leaders in which democracy might result?
While I have been keeping my eye on events in Egypt, I have also been paying attention to the response we’ve seen from the American government and the reactions to that response here in America. The most interesting advice for the Obama administration that I saw came early in the protests, when the situation in Egypt was still developing and we were waiting to hear from Secretary of State Clinton about it. From Marc Lynch (h/t Daily Dish):
The administration has to get out in the next few hours with a strong public statement by a senior official, such as Secretary of State Clinton, which clearly lays out that using violence against citizens is a U.S. red line and which goes beyond “urging” or “hoping” that the Egyptian government responds. It’s really important that the United States be clearly and unambiguously on the right side of these events, and not wait and see too long for it to matter.
He follows that later with:
It will be a long time before anyone in the region forgets some of the scenes which aired today. And it will be a long time before anyone forgets what position the United States took on today’s events — whether it lived up to its rhetoric on Arab democracy, or whether it silently accedes to brutal repression by a friendly dictator.
If Arabs have such long memories, I have to ask: why would they care what America thinks anyway?
Lynch’s call for a government position that “clearly lays out that using violence against citizens is a U.S. red line” would be comical if it weren’t so inappropriate. How can the U.S. claim any sort of moral high ground any more when it comes to dealing with dissidents? As much as we might try to classify the Gitmo detainees as “enemy combatants” and justify our “enhanced” treatment of them that way, is it really credible coming from the U.S. government? This is the same government that:
- Continues to detain people at Guantanamo despite Obama’s promise that it would be closed by January 22, 2010. This continued detention just recently resulted in the death (by heart attack) of one of the inmates who had been detained there for nine years without being charged.
- Put U.S. citizen Bradley Manning (the alleged Wikileaker) in solitary confinement, leading to a U.N.-led torture investigation.
- Has sent $250 billion worth of weaponry to the Egyptian government since 1950, presumably including the now-infamous “Made in U.S.A.” tear gas.
And yet, we see calls for the U.S. government to step up and “send the right message” to the Egyptian people. Well I won’t disagree with those calls, but I’ll add an element of my own: I call on the U.S. government to go back in time about 10 years and start building the credibility with the international community necessary to make these calls meaningful at all. Or, barring that, maybe just an improvement going forward? Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll one day be in a position where our calling for the government to respect the rights of its citizens doesn’t make me laugh . . . and then cry.