Kept in power for thirty years by many billions in US foreign aid and military technology in order to keep Suez open, maintain a rear ally for Israel, and suppress Islamist dissent undesirable to the US government (and with it, all dissent), it looks as though the repressive kleptocracy of dictator “President” Mubarak may finally be doomed. Tunisia seems to have begun a season of revolutions in the Mideast, and Egypt may not be the last.
While many in America are supportive of the Egyptians protesting in the streets, there is also a line of debate indicating substantial unease, and narcissism. It is as though, confronted by a season of Mideast revolution, some Americans wonder: do people in the Mideast deserve revolutions, or even, should they be allowed revolutions? Do they have the right to press for freedom, if it may “destabilize” the region?
The historical hypocrisy of Americans skeptical of popular revolution against dictatorship would be remarkable, but it is a predictable consequence of the spoiled, disconnected culture suitable for Imperial Rome which has come to define political America much more than its own revolutionary past.
It is nothing to be proud of to see how many Americans—out of those who notice events in Egypt, and realize these events will affect them—have lost empathy and acquired an attitude toward the Mideast suitable for Rome toward the outlying provinces: assuming Egyptians (et al.) can’t take care of themselves without the sponsored client-king who keeps the trade in
grain and spices oil flowing home to where people matter more. That’s the patronizing attitude of colonialism, alive and well. There is no doubt a dose of racism also; the horrible truth is that despotism, poverty and torture seem more reasonable to some Americans when they are inflicted on brown foreigners.
Not only is it demeaning, of course it is ignorant. There is no requirement, despite fears fanned by some media, that the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is the only alternative. Most Americans seem to feel compelled to pretend they have only two parties and no alternatives, but there is no particular reason to assume protests in Egypt aren’t doing what seems apparent—insisting on alternatives. While Egypt will continue to be primarily Muslim, religion is not a driving force behind these protests, and there are reasons to believe the Brotherhood is being bypassed by events.
Regardless of the extent of the risk that “extremists” may turn events to their advantage, this is a risk borne by every revolution, and a simple thought experiment can clarify the issue for Americans and others with trouble relating to it: No matter your political affiliation, imagine the “extremists” you would most disagree with, and be most afraid of gaining power in your country through election. Now, consider whether you would be comfortable with a foreign government appointing a “friendly” dictator in order to rule over you instead of taking the risk of elections, just in case those extremists might get elected. Imagine for one instant that Americans would accept that idea, for their own good!
For Obama and other political leaders who have supported the Mubarak regime, and lauded it as a “stabilizing” force, this is probably the last chance to choose between the US having a pet dictator (who is probably finished), and salvaging some credibility in the region. It seems rather too late for respectability, but not too late to salvage what can be salvaged by ceasing support for Mubarak, admitting he’s a dictator. Living up to that Cairo speech for “democracy,” even if following through on words IS the last thing a politician ever expects he’ll do, is a much better way to “take the fight” to al-Qaeda:
Obama doesn’t seem to understand that the US doesn’t need to “take the fight” to al-Qaeda, or even fire a single shot, to score its greatest victory in the “war on terror”. Supporting real democratisation will do more to downgrade al-Qaeda’s capabilities than any number of military attacks. He had better gain this understanding quickly because in the next hours or days the Egypt’s revolution will likely face its moment of truth. And right behind Egypt are Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, and who knows what other countries, all looking to free themselves of governments that the US and its European allies have uncritically supported for decades.