Sunday, 30 January 2011

Egypt: Obama of the Two Faces

As protests against the Mubarak regime in Egypt grew this week, President Obama could not have been more ambivalent during a television interview about the crisis. In remarks echoed by Secretary of State Clinton, he acknowledged the need for the Egyptian people to be able to have "greater participation" in their Government. But, while he cautioned Mubarak against some sort of Tianamen Square-style slaughter, he employed the old trick of warning the protesters against violence. Things should be resolved peacefully, he proclaimed loftily.

Except how can we expect the demonstrators to remain calm and peaceful in the face of the brutality of the Egyptian regime?

(CAUTION:distressing scenes - discretion advised)

Egypt is effectively a one-party state where a sham electoral process delivered Mubarak a Soviet-style victory in the last Presidential election and his party, the NDP, 420 seats to just one for the main opposition party in the elections held just 8 weeks ago. Consequently, Mubarak's mafiosi has long depended on its viciously corrupt police and secret services to stay in power. Along with, we have learned from Wikileaks this weekend, $1,300,000,000 per annum from the United States in military aid.

Ever since Anwar Sadat travelled to Camp David for the first round of talks with Israel's Menachem Begin and President Carter in 1978, Egypt has played a central role in enforcing American policy in the Middle East. As well as its craven surrender of Gaza to the vicissitudes of Israeli internment, including helping to enforce the current blockade on the beleaguered refugee camp, Mubarak kept his country on message with US objectives during the Kuwait crisis and the Iraq war.  This followed a long tradition of the West sponsoring corrupt regimes like Mubarak's originally as a bulwark originally against Arab socialism and its attempts to democratise the region, and now against the perceived rise of Islamism.

Of course, neither Egypt's protesters nor the revolutionaries in Tunisia a fortnight ago are driven by Islam in particular. In Egypt, many of the substantial Christian minority - some 15% of the population - have joined in what are secular protests. The main opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, is in any case more of the ilk of the ruling AKP Justice and Development Party in Turkey, which is based on Islamic values but essentially democratic in its outlook. Contrary to the frankly ignorant views of the British Foreign Secretary, there is no prospect of some fundamentalist religious regime rising in Cairo - unless of course Mr Hague wants to create such an impression in order to justify a violent crackdown on the protests.

Wikileaks has shown that the US has since 2007 tried to play both sides - covertly courting opposition figures like the International Atomic Energy Authority chair, Mohammed ElBaradei, just in case Mubarak ended up in the fix he is in now. But Obama is caught not only by his current equivocation, but by three decades of America and Europe supporting the twisted nepotism and sham freedoms of the NDP and its elite. He may try to ride two horses in his patronising advice to the protesters, but his words are likely to fall on deaf ears.

In the sixth century, the Byzantine Emperors bribed the Ghassanids, petty Arab chieftains, to defend the borders of the province of Palestine against the emergent Muslims in Arabia. When the Arab armies came out of the desert, the Ghassanid rulers found themselves deserted en masse by their troops and the Islamic ghazi warriors swept into Palestine and Syria before turning south to conquer Egypt for the Caliphate. Now as then, subsidising corrupt men to rule over reluctant peoples does not pay - rather it makes the reckoning all the harder when it comes.

Which Egypt: What would Ba say of Obama?
ElBaradei has criticised the US for condemning authoritarian regimes in Burma and Iran, but being silent about those  who are "our dictators". As Pinochet's Chile, Somoza in Nicaragua and the Ibn Sauds in Riyadh exemplify, his words ring so terribly true. And this is why for Obama any hope of winning the hearts and minds of the rising revolution in Egypt is now a moment lost. Had he used his own visit to Egypt in 2009 to press for truly fair and free elections, he might have restored some faith after years of collaboration with the Mubarak. But he balked at such a prospect and instead warmly embraced the failing Pharaoh, and now pays the price.

In ancient Egypt, the goddess Ba of the Two Faces was revered as a symbol unifying the halves of Egypt - upper and lower - and her two faces represented her ability to see both sides. Sadly, Obama's two faces are not formed from his perceptions or in any way unifying. His failure to act decisively, this week and previously, simply confirms America's claimed support for genuine democracy to be the fraud that it truly is.

No comments:

Post a Comment