Thursday, 10 February 2011
As Another Pharaoh Falls...
Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak, the octogenarian who has been ruling the Arab Republic of Egypt for 30 years, did not heed the signs either. Today, he is drowning in the sea of the multitudes who are demanding that he quit immediately. In response to this demand, the president has belatedly become a democrat, promising he will relinquish power during the general elections in September. But his vile regime is falling apart, with his family members and top officials scurrying into exile in airplanes stuffed with millions of U.S. dollars.
Mubarak would have been kicked out many years ago if not for the support he enjoyed from successive United States governments. Six attempts were made on his life. Under him, Egypt became the de facto 52nd state of the USA, the 21st of course being neighbouring Israel. Six American presidents from Carter to Obama had given the leading Arab despot all the support he needed to remain in power and continue to serve western interests, i.e. peace with Israel, which includes maintaining the economic blockade on the Palestinians, giving the U.S. and Israeli military access to Egyptian air space and the Suez Canal, spurning any rapprochement with Iran and serving as bulwark against Islam’s resurgence, described as Muslim fundamentalism and or terrorism. In return, Egypt has collected U.S.$28 billion in American aid, given at an average of $2 billion annually since 1979, much of it in military aid. The combined total makes Egypt the second largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel.
Mubarak disdained U.S. request that part of the money be spent on democracy promotion programmes in Egypt. “On principle, the Egyptian government rejects U.S. assistance for democracy promotion activities,” Jeremy Sharp of the U.S. Congressional Research Service said in a background report updated on January 28. Meanwhile, as corruption ate deep into the Egyptian government, life became harsh. Egypt ranks 101st on the U.N. Human Development Index, between Mongolia and Uzbekistan. In the Middle East, it ranks 10th, below not just rich countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but behind Libya, Jordan, and Algeria as well. Food prices are rising to levels not seen since the global food crisis of 2007-2008. The U.S. had turned a blind eye to these problems, assenting to Mubarak’s winning of all the presidential elections in which he usually scored over 90 percent of the vote in a quasi-democracy in which opposition parties were either banned or sidelined, and their leaders assassinated or forced into exile.
The ongoing tumult once again exposes the double face of U.S. foreign policy and the rotten underbelly of the American government’s ethical standard. Mubarak expects to receive U.S. support at his hour of need, but the reverse is the case. The Obama administration is working on a post-Mubarak Egypt. President Barack Obama told the American public after a 30-minute telephone conversation he had with Mubarak this week: “Now, ultimately, the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people, and I believe that the Egyptian people want the same things that we all want: a better life for ourselves and our children, and a government that is fair and just and responsive. Put simply, the Egyptian people want a future that befits the heirs to a great and ancient civilization.” The message for other despots in the region is that they can no longer count on America to continue to lord it over their people. But is the U.S. making this volte face for altruistic reasons? We all know that the same U.S. had supported President Saddam Hussein to the hilt in his war against his own people – and against Iran – only to lead a coalition of western countries to topple him and ultimately oversee his hanging by a puppet regime in Baghdad. One would not be surprised at a U.S. support if Mubarak should be tried for corruption and other charges. The 83-year-old former Air Force officer owns wealth estimated at US$40 billion to $70 billion, all stolen from the Egyptian treasury.
The U.S is mulling the idea of propping another puppet in Egypt. Top on the list is Mohammed El-Baradei, the former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The west is already making the mistake it made in many Muslim lands; it is frantically trying to sidetrack the main opposition party in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood. While most western officials and commentators hail the storm against Mubarak, they also shiver at the prospects of the Brotherhood coming to power. An editorial in the Globe and Mail last weekend warned against allowing the Brotherhood, which it described as “the only well organised opposition party” in Egypt, to take power – even through an election. The paper gave its reason thus: “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the Muslim Brotherhood created what is now called Islamism: a religious revival that proposes to adapt to modernity while building shariah law into the state”. It advises Mubarak to hang on to power at all cost in order to find a way to institute a mechanism that would maintain the pro-Israel, pro-U.S. status quo.
The danger in not allowing Egyptians to select their new leader in a free and fair election is that the west is gambling its remaining goodwill in the country and creating a scenario close to what happened in Iran in 1979. When the Islamic Revolution was on course, the west did all it could to derail the popular will by trying to help the Shah to stay put and, when that was failing, install a puppet. At the end, the people triumphed and the west found itself at the receiving end of an Iranian backlash. A similar case happened in Gaza, where Hamas, which won an election conducted according to western standards, was rejected by the U.S. It is in America’s interest to allow Egypt’s latest pharaoh to fall as heavily as he deserves and, then, let the people choose their leader freely. The western assumption that any government with “Islamist” credentials is an enemy further exposes its infamous fallacy: the nation in charge of Islam’s roots – Saudi Arabia – is the west’s staunchest ally in the Middle East.
Published in LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, last Saturday