Revolution is romantic, but let's not forget about the day after.
By Zvi Bar'el
6 Feb. 2011,
Alas, the stampede has begun. The planes of U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon land in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where they will pull improvised banners out of their backpacks and shake their fists in the air - shouting alongside the demonstrators: "The world wants Mubarak gone."
For a moment, though, let's put the hypocrisy aside. After all, these are not the righteous gentiles, but the world leaders who have said nothing about the Saudi king, the sultan of Oman, Libya's Muammar Gadhafi or the Algerian regime, and who a moment ago considered Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a pro-Western island of sanity and as providing a major obstacle against Iran's spreading influence.
Suddenly citizens' rights top their priority list. Freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate are now the guiding light for those who staunchly opposed the results of the Palestinian Authority elections that gave Hamas power, and who are now witness to how Iraq's wonderful "democracy" is handing the country over to Iranian control - dreading the moment the masses overthrow the king.
Revolution is romantic. It is exciting to watch women in hijabs protesting alongside men with yuppie beards, homeless people celebrating near the sons of the middle class, religious next to secular. This is indeed a civil revolution, in terms of the public manifesting its power; and academic studies are finally finding legitimacy on the Internet as a space for resistance.
But let's not forget about the day after. One can shove Mubarak in the same tent as Gadhafi, Sudan's Omar el-Bashir and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; redefine the axis of evil; and decide that a country that does not respect human rights or occupies another amounts to a terrorist state. But what is happening in Egypt should raise concerns for anyone assessing the regional political map.
Mubarak's Egypt failed to solve regional conflicts. It did not solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the crisis in Lebanon. It also failed to prevent the war in Iraq. The power of Mubarak's Egypt - the leader who lacked ideology and always sought to achieve a balance - lay in granting legitimacy to political/diplomatic moves or in rejecting them: The auspices under which Egypt brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; its struggle in favor of the Arab Initiative, which became an inseparable part of the Arab peace agenda; its support of the Sudanese referendum, which created a new reality in Africa; the backing it gave Jordan against the Israeli proposal of an "alternative homeland"; and mostly its uncompromising fight against Iranian influence, which set the borderline of Arab consensus.
If Mubarak leaves now, as a result of the revolution and not as part of an orderly transfer of power - even if it occurs at a later date than the demonstrators demand - the country will be a different Egypt, wild and self absorbed. As it will be busy with internal battles, with begging for donations to rebuild the enormous losses incurred over the last two weeks, and with assessing relations with the United States, another country will take its leading place in the region.
In the best-case scenario, this will be Saudi Arabia - a model democracy which relies on the United States for its protection, but who can also turn to China and Russia if the need arises. In the worst-case scenario, this country will be Syria - which will leverage the Turkish-Iraqi-Iranian axis that, to date, encountered difficultly in setting the Middle Eastern agenda because it was blocked by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with the help of the Gulf states (with the exception of Qatar ).
Without Mubarak's Egypt, the West's ability to conduct an "Arab policy" will be seriously diminished. And while it's true that such policy was always a bit fictitious, political theory has shown that if you succeeded in convincing Egypt, most of the remaining Arab states would follow.
Mubarak is not gone just yet, despite the stones being thrown at him from Washington. One can only imagine what he feels toward Obama, that same American leader with whom Mubarak resumed ties after boycotting George W. Bush for five years. But that is less important at this very moment. The question at hand now is how any potential Egyptian leader feels, or for that matter, every reigning Arab leader, toward Washington. What is the lesson learned by the Saudi king or the Qatari ruler? What are Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei celebrating?
Even though the Americans have suddenly taken note of the will of the Egyptian people, and even if they had no other political interest in the region, they must still push for a process in which power will be transferred gradually, as Mubarak is proposing. From his perspective it may be a matter of honor, but from Washington's point of view - and that of the Mideast region - it is of strategic importance.
Egypt's turmoil as a lesson in humility
E.J. Dionne Jr.
Sunday, February 6, 2011;
In light of the history-shaking events on the streets of Cairo, it's not surprising that a truly remarkable development slipped through the news cycle with barely a nod.
On a unanimous voice vote last Thursday, the Senate passed a resolution co-sponsored by John Kerry and John McCain urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to hand power over to a caretaker government as part of a peaceful transition to democracy.
It's easy to be cynical about this as mere feel-good politics. The president, not the Senate, executes foreign policy, and declaring a goal is far easier than bringing it about. Yet this should not distract from how American responses to events in Egypt have been as different as one can imagine from our responses to almost every other issue.
Note that while Kerry and McCain were doing their bipartisan work, Republicans in Congress and conservative judges were trying to scrap a health-care law that was the product of two years of legislative struggle and debate.
Yes, there was a teensy bipartisan moment when the Senate agreed to repeal certain IRS reporting requirements in the law that both parties decided were too onerous. But that was an exception to the rule of ideology, partisanship and posturing on health care.
We should be having a continuing dialogue over how we can get health insurance most efficiently to all Americans and how last year's law could be improved. Instead, Republicans would get rid of what we have without putting anything in its place.
Similarly, there was large-scale bluster on the budget deficit. Republican House leaders proposed $32 billion in cuts in domestic programs over the next few months. The amount is derisory in light of the size of our country's long-term fiscal problem. Yet because they are concentrated on a limited pool of domestic programs, these reductions could cause enormous difficulties in the basic operations of government.
But as long as conservative ideologues refuse to acknowledge that fiscal balance will require tax increases as well as spending discipline, there can be no rational conversation on how to move forward.
What has made the Egypt debate different? Beyond the structural issues, it's worth noting that Kerry and McCain are both patriots who served their country in war and have built strong personal bonds despite their philosophical differences. Such personal ties are increasingly rare in Congress.
And events in Egypt have moved too fast for ideological lines to harden. Both conservatives and liberals are divided between human rights advocates who think the United States should long ago have distanced itself from Mubarak's regime and realists who worry that a post-Mubarak government might be hostile to American interests.
By reflecting both realist and democratic impulses - or, in the eyes of the less charitable, straddling them - the Obama administration has gradually been building a consensus behind the idea that backing Egypt's democratic forces is the most realistic thing to do, since Mubarak's days are numbered. That accord was embodied in the Kerry-McCain resolution.
There has also been a certain humility in both parties about the meaning of the Egyptian rebellion. There is at least some acceptance of the limits of the United States' ability to influence events, and also a candid acknowledgement that no one really knows where this uprising will lead. For once, politicians on both sides are being straight with one another and with the country about how a particular situation presents us with a mix of opportunities and dangers.
And notice how silent Tea Party-oriented politicians have been about all this. They have nothing to say because their sweeping anti-government ideology - focused more on the America they imagine existed in 1787 than on the world that actually exists in 2011 - offers no guidance as to what a global power should do in a circumstance of this sort. (I'd exempt from this critique those libertarians who really are principled noninterventionists, even if I have differences with their view.)
Will we learn lessons from all this about the limits of ideology, the value of intellectual humility and the fact that political choices are hard because the world is neither as simple nor as compliant with our wishes as we would like it to be? What has happened over the last decade gives little ground for such hopes. Our Egypt moment should be a model. It will more likely be an interlude.
U.S. deeds don't follow U.S. words on Egypt
By Anne Applebaum
Sunday, February 6, 2011;
If you closed your eyes at the right moment during the security conference here on Saturday, everything suddenly melted away. The German luxury hotel vanished, replaced by cement walls and fountains. The northern European winter became a hot summer day along the Nile. Hillary Clinton, in a brown suit and gold necklace, morphed into Condoleezza Rice, in a gray suit and pearls.
So similar were the words of these two American secretaries of state, in fact, that one had to pinch oneself to avoid confusing February 2011 with June 2005. On that earlier date, Rice gave her famous "democracy" speech at the American University of Cairo. During that lecture she declared, among other things, that "for 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East - and we achieved neither." Now things would change:
"Egypt's elections, including the parliamentary elections, must meet objective standards that define every free election. Opposition groups must be free to assemble, and participate and speak to the media. Voting should occur without violence or intimidation." Rice argued against those who fear that "democracy leads to chaos, conflict and terror." On the contrary, she declared, "freedom and democracy are the only ideas powerful enough to overcome hatred, division and violence."
Clinton put it differently - but only slightly. She, too, spoke of free elections, as well as of "good governance, the rule of law and an independent judiciary, transparency and a free press, strong political parties, protection for the rights of minorities." Some leaders in the region, she noted, raise "fears that allowing too much freedom will . . . lead to chaos and calamity." But, like Rice, she argued to the contrary. "If the events of the last weeks prove anything, it is that governments who consistently deny their people freedom and opportunity are the ones who will, in the end, open the door to instability."
In between those two speeches, American foreign policy traversed a full circle. Not long after Rice's Cairo speech, the Bush administration began to retreat from its "freedom agenda," at least in public, following the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections and facing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's steadfast refusal to step aside. It may be true, as a former administration official argued in Munich, that Bush officials continued to push that agenda behind the scenes and off the record. Obama administration officials say that they do exactly the same.
But in public, President Obama and Clinton, anxious to distance themselves from George W. Bush and Rice, backed off even further. They accepted Egypt's rigged elections in November without much comment. More to the point, last year - possibly at Mubarak's request - the administration cut funding for democracy promotion in Egypt. To be clear: That was money that would have been targeted at promoting "good governance, the rule of law and an independent judiciary, transparency and a free press, strong political parties, protection for the rights of minorities," which Clinton so decisively advocated Saturday.
As a practical matter, greater funding for democracy promotion in 2010 would have had little impact on the demonstrations of 2011: We don't have that kind of influence and never did. But if powerful Americans had cultivated the leaders of Egypt's secular opposition - and they do exist - they would at least have more people to talk to right now. In Munich, Clinton declared that "we are committed to supporting strong civil societies, the activists, organizations, congregations, intellectuals, reporters who work through peaceful means to fight corruption and keep governments honest." Had we actually maintained that commitment over many years, perhaps we might even have helped enrich "the soil in which democracy grows," as the secretary put it - maybe, possibly, increasing the chances of a happy ending for Egypt in the coming months.
By "democracy promotion," or "civil society construction" I do not mean that we should have funded violent opponents of the Egyptian state or paid anyone to bring down Mubarak. But it is possible to maintain relations with an authoritarian government while simultaneously helping to nurture civil society through education, radio and media. We did that in the Soviet Union and Central Europe for decades.
We should follow the same course in the Arab world, not only because it's morally right but because it's pragmatic. Come the revolution, it might even pay off.