Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
Here’s my contribution to the NYTimes.com Room for Debate panel asking “Is Caution the Right U.S. Strategy” for Egypt’s revolution.
Blinking and Backing Down
By Mona Eltahawy
Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt for 30 years, keeping the country in a state of emergency for every one of those years, overseeing one forged election after the other and maintaining a security apparatus renowned for its brutality.
Which part of the above sentence shows any regard or concern for the Egyptian constitution?
To buy his argument that — despite a 15-day mass uprising calling for Mubarak’s overthrow — he must remain in office to oversee an “orderly transition” and to prevent constitutional problems created by an immediate ouster is to accept the alternate reality Mubarak occupies, oblivious to the demands of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians. The ever yo-yoing Obama administration has blinked, backed down from its claims to be on the right side of history and joined Mubarak on his parallel universe.
Mubarak’s vice president, Omar Suleiman, who has appointed to the position by Mubarak only after pro-democracy demonstrations began — told an interviewer over the weekend that Egyptians didn’t “understand the culture of democracy.” Does that sound like the man to manage that “orderly transition”?
It is exactly that kind of paternalism that those hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have risen up against. And yet the U.S. — after days of lip service to being on the right side of history — is siding with Suleiman. He did after all aid the U.S. with its rendition program and oversaw torture for it.
That stance is not surprising given that the administration sent Frank Wisner as its envoy to Mubarak. As The Independent newspaper in Britain reported, Wisner is employed by a firm that was itself employed by the Mubarak regime. Such relationships as well as the presence of lobbyists in Washington who continue to burnish Mubarak’s name could further push U.S. policy toward Egypt into that parallel universe.
The Mubarak/Suleiman regime has scared the U.S. administration into buying its story that they are the guarantors of “stability” — for which the freedom and dignity of Egyptians has long been sacrificed. Meanwhile, that same regime foments anti-Americanism via state TV propaganda which portrays pro-democracy demonstrators as agent of the U.S. In other words, it’s back to business as usual between Washington and its strongest ally in the Arab world.
What both Washington and the Mubarak regime fail to fully grasp however is that Egypt has changed forever.
Even more Egyptians joined pro-democracy demonstrations on Tuesday, galvanized by the words of Wael Ghonim, a 30-year old Google managing executive who was an administrator of a Facebook page behind the Jan. 25 protests which grew into the uprising. Speaking after a 12-day detention, his shaming of the regime for trying to paint demonstrators as spies drew out Egyptians who had so far hesitated to join the uprising.
Just because Mubarak strangled all life out of Egyptian politics over the past 30 years doesn’t mean that we must allow him to oversee its revival. In a country of 80 million, surely there are legal and constitutional experts who can help the U.S. administration understand it’s possible to move beyond its dependence on Mubarak?
Mubarak and his old men can’t believe the “kids” have pulled the rug out from under their feet and the Obama administration — the administration that prided itself on making young Americans in their millions fall in love with politics again — has sided with Papa. That message is but the latest that will fuel further distrust of the U.S. among young Arabs — the majority of the region’s populace and its future.