Archive for Tuesday, February 1, 2011

U.S. must press free elections in Egypt

February 1, 2011


If you want to understand the Egyptian uprising and how U.S. officials should respond, let me take you back to the pro-democracy demonstrations I witnessed in Cairo in 2005.

Middle-class protesters went to the streets then, too, demanding free elections. But the government of President Hosni Mubarak — tarring all opposition as radical Islamists — surrounded them with police in Darth Vader helmets and shields.

I spoke with professional women who had been beaten and groped by police, and with young women journalists whom security agents had threatened to jail on prostitution charges. I interviewed a conservative judge who was furious because the government had forbade the judiciary to monitor Egypt’s first contested presidential election. “If we had an independent judiciary and fair elections, everything would change,” I was told by Judge Hesham el-Bastawi. The judge later had a heart attack after being threatened by the regime.

I interviewed Egyptians in a working-class slum who complained bitterly about economic conditions, before a burly plain-clothes cop snatched and ripped up my notebook; he threatened to punch me when I tried to grab the notes back.

Those 2005 demonstrations were small but were a preview of today’s drama. Instead of encouraging a middle-class opposition, the regime crushed it, rigging 2010 parliamentary elections so boldly that the governing party won nearly all seats.

The current revolt is far larger, inspired by the rebellion in Tunisia. Egypt’s demonstrators are linked not by clear leadership but by cell phones, Facebook, and Twitter (which the regime blocked last Tuesday).

The source of this Egyptian revolt is not Islam, nor is it simply poverty and unemployment. “This is not only about economics,” says Marwan Muasher, a former deputy prime minister of Jordan who fought for political reforms in his country and is an astute Mideast observer.

“Most of the slogans are about governance,” Muasher says. “People are fed up with the corruption.”

Egyptian demonstrators — mostly young, often college-educated, and jobless — want a reason to hope for their future. They watch bitterly as privileged Egyptians grow rich from corrupt regime ties. They have no voice in the system and no chance of replacing a frozen governing party whose leader has held power for 29 years. That’s why they are calling for Mubarak to go.

“Until Arab leaders are willing to put countries on a sustained reform process, and to share power, things will get worse,” says Muasher, now a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington.

Serious reform, he says, means “a serious parliament, serious electoral laws, a serious political opening, with no restrictions on political parties.” He says Islamist groups, with their strong following, must be permitted to run so long as they commit to “peaceful means and peaceful rotation of power.”

If people in Egypt and elsewhere in the region could see a serious reform process put in place, “they would be willing to wait,” Muasher says. “But things like bringing sons to power are out,” he emphasizes, referring to Mubarak’s reputed plan to have his son Gamal succeed him as president.

The Obama administration has had understandable trouble figuring out a response to the uprising, for the same reasons the Bush White House backed off its early support for Egyptian democracy activists. Egypt is a vital ally in fighting Islamist terrorists and in curtailing the spread of Iranian power. Cairo has a peace treaty with Israel and has worked with Washington to curb Hamas Islamists in Gaza and push for the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Moreover, the Egyptian revolt has no clear leadership; its titular head, former U.N. official and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, only just returned to Egypt and has few deep links to the protesters. He is now under house arrest.

The best-organized opposition group is the Muslim Brotherhood (although it has not led this upheaval). This raises U.S. fears about a future Islamist government in the region’s largest country. A newly elected Egyptian regime might be anti-American, upending U.S. policy in the Mideast.

Yet the march of Egyptian history won’t wait. Calls by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama for nonviolence, and their pleas for Mubarak to engage the opposition, have been outpaced by events. The United States is behind the curve.

The moderate middle-class demonstrators I met in 2005 were ready for engagement with Mubarak, but he blew it. Today’s rebels might accept a serious dialogue that led to a free vote.

But the Egyptian president isn’t listening. His appointment of a new government, and (for the first time) of a vice president, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, won’t satisfy protesters. They want Mubarak out.

The big question now: Will Egypt’s army, which is still popular (unlike the police), mount a coup that ushers in a transitional government? That would permit time for the organization of new, non-Islamist parties and new elections within a reasonable time.

The Obama team is correct not to call openly for Mubarak’s exit. But there must be an unequivocal U.S. message conveyed to Mubarak and to his military — both publicly and privately — that the White House endorses Egyptians’ call for serious dialogue that leads to free elections.

This will not be an American diktat. The Egyptian drama will produce a new leadership sooner or later no matter the U.S. message. But a clear U.S. position might help make the transition more peaceful and put Washington on the right side.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

What Corruption and Force Have Wrought in Egypt

Posted on Jan 30, 2011

By Chris Hedges


"The only way opposition to the U.S.-backed regime of Mubarak could be expressed for the past three decades was through Islamic movements, from the Muslim Brotherhood to more radical Islamic groups, some of which embrace violence. And any replacement of Mubarak (which now seems almost certain) while it may initially be dominated by moderate, secular leaders will, once elections are held and popular will is expressed, have an Islamic coloring. A new government, to maintain credibility with the Egyptian population, will have to more actively defy demands from Washington and be more openly antagonistic to Israel. What is happening in Egypt, like what happened in Tunisia, tightens the noose that will—unless Israel and Washington radically change their policies toward the Palestinians and the Muslim world—threaten to strangle the Jewish state as well as dramatically curtail American influence in the Middle East.

The failure of the United States to halt the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israel has consequences. The failure to acknowledge the collective humiliation and anger felt by most Arabs because of the presence of U.S. troops on Muslim soil, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but in the staging bases set up in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, has consequences. The failure to denounce the repression, including the widespread use of torture, censorship and rigged elections, wielded by our allies against their citizens in the Middle East has consequences. We are soaked with the stench of these regimes. Mubarak, who reportedly is suffering from cancer, is seen as our puppet, a man who betrayed his own people and the Palestinians for money and power."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

So why did Bush invade Iraq to take that dictator down, while giving the one in Egypt $3 billion a year so he could have his thugs imprison and torture his own people for merely demanding democracy and freedom?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

The "brotherhood" are Egyptians. It's not up the US to decide who participates in internal Egyptian affairs-- especially when it entails propping up a brutal dictatorship.

And the last couple of weeks show that Arabs are fully capable of taking down dictators all on their own. Saddam Hussein, included.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 3 months ago

This is Iran all over again. We support a despotic dictator who is a "friend of the US" and provide them aid and cover in their own country. All the while they go about the business of abusing and killing their own people, with the assistance and support of the US. The Shah of Iran was the first and that country fell to the Islamist terrorists, and now the right wing nuts in Egypt are on the same track and another US supported dictator is on the way out and the wing nuts on the way in. Does anyone see a parallel here?

Paul R Getto 7 years, 3 months ago

The Egyptian dictator is our guy on the ground. We support tyrants in the name of 'democracy,' to maintain the myth of Israel and to get cheaper fuel for the sheeple. Clearly, his time is up, but the eternal question, who is next? This may be a tough one for the President and we must hope the chaos doesn't spread rapidly.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 3 months ago

The next one in line is the new VP or some suggest. Yes the drug of choice for the USA gov't or maybe the Defence Dept and State Dept. The Muslim Brotherhood might not bow down to USA oil industry influences....which paints the Muslim Brotherhood as evil.

Keep a close eye on that oil and natural gas which is looking tempting:

The Oil and Natural Gas of Egypt The newly discovered oilfields in the Mediterranean seabed have opened up fresh opportunities for reviving the country's oil export business. The 3.7 million barrel reserve that Egypt previously possessed, now have more than doubled the reserve figures. The markets of Turkey and Israel are the chief targets of Egypt.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 3 months ago

If we banned the use of internal combustion lawn care machine, we'd be cutting our need for foreign oil! Not doing that would be dumb and irresponsible!!!

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