On the United States’ anxiety over losing an ally in the Middle East

Mubarak ordered troops into Egyptian cities in an attempt to quell street fighting and growing protests / Reuters

The glorious revolution in Egypt is changing the power dynamic in the Middle East. Government officials in both the United States and Israel are undoubtedly nervous about what will happen next. Although Hosni Mubarak insists on maintaining despotic control over the Egyptian people, once the opposition forces him to abdicate his position, Egypt will become the newest free country in the Middle East.

An Egypt without Mubarak or his corrupt cabinet obviously poses a threat to both the United States and Israel. Mubarak’s regime currently receives the third most aid from the United States and his unconditional support of the Israeli government is a primary reason why Gaza remains under siege today. But I advise you to look beyond Mubarak because, although he truly stands as the main source of Egypt’s problems, the revolution doesn’t just concern him. It’s a fight for democracy in a region regularly criticized by the West for lacking in that general department.

Whether or not Mubarak stays in power doesn’t matter to Barack Obama or to Hillary Clinton. The U.S. government is skilled at finding ‘pro-Western Arabs’, as the phrase goes, and installing them in a well-funded albeit unpopular governmental umbrella. If Mubarak falls (which I say he will), a coup or a quick invasion will do the trick. The real cause of concern on Capitol Hill is that the U.S. government has, quite naturally, actually, found itself in a contradictory position.

Democracy stands at the core of American values, and rightfully so. Whereas children grew up on sugary cereal and Saturday morning cartoons, I grew up on American promises to establish a foothold for democracy in the Middle East. The time has come for an Egyptian representative democracy but the reaction from the West has shown the world how baseless its promises can be.

Vice President Joe Biden came out with a public statement supporting Mubarak, a dictator by all means, and urging the Egyptian people to tone it down, literally. Barack Obama vaguely proclaimed his allegiance for reform through nonviolent means but has yet to pledge support to the overthrow of a despotic dictator. Our congressmen are confused: Is Democracy in Egypt really worth it?

And by default, the follow-up question will always be: How will this change affect international ties with Israel?

Egypt has a long history with Israel. Long before the current administration, Egypt wasn’t necessarily considered a hostile country but legislators in Tel Aviv recognized Egyptian opposition to the occupation of Palestine. Since Mubarak assumed authority thirty years ago, every Israeli political party made sure to take advantage of his cabinet’s increasing concessions. The effect was felt during Israel’s 2008-2009 invasion of the Gaza Strip. No Egyptian intervention meant Israel had free reign to finish its mission. No Egyptian pressure meant the Gazan borders remained locked to journalists and, more importantly, to the very people living within the besieged territory. Egypt had been paid and trained to sit quietly.

Now the United States finds itself in a very awkward position. Does it support democracy in Egypt by backing the protesters or does it support the interests of Israel, it’s strongest ally, and back Mubarak or any of the other pro-Western dictators willing to follow him in his path? The answer is clearly contingent upon how complacent Egypt can remain with Israeli policy.

With talks of the Muslim Brotherhood seizing control of Egypt’s popularist movements plastered all over American mainstream media and Egyptian state television, it’s quite possible that America has already made its choice and pledged support to the almost-unseated Mubarak. Focus has shifted from the oppressive sociopolitical nature of Mubarak’s reign and has now zeroed in on hypothetical scenarios involving the Muslim Brotherhood and their alleged take-over of the Arab region. As seen through the eyes of diplomats in Washington, Tel Aviv, and even London, the more the Muslim Brotherhood is involved in the opposition, the more reason for the U.S. to stand by the dictatorship and help quell any attempt to democratize the nation. After all, wouldn’t you have expected a more immediate statement from the United States rather than loosely issued announcements and YouTube addresses published days after the revolution’s humble beginnings?

For the sake of politicians all throughout the world, let it be known that the Muslim Brotherhood did not provide the spark for the revolution in Egypt. Let it also be known that the Brotherhood isn’t as involved as CNN might make it out to be. The people (emphasis on people) of Egypt have had enough of Mubarak’s tyrannical rule. With almost half of the country’s population of 85 million living under the poverty line — $2 a day per United Nations standards — these protests aren’t just politically driven. People want food and clean water, security and shelter, jobs and freedom of expression. The Muslim Brotherhood is undoubtedly highly invested in the uprising, particularly because it stands to benefit from any resulting power turnover, but it definitely isn’t at the forefront of one of the most popular and iconic movements in the Middle East in the last few centuries. This is a highly debatable point, I understand, but if viewed through the eyes of an Egyptian citizen, the Muslim Brotherhood is not making a grand emergence. The revolution in Egypt is a mass mobilization of individuals standing in unison against the poor treatment of the country’s citizenry by an unruly dictator. The Muslim Brotherhood isn’t 85 million strong but the population of Egypt is.

This is not to discredit the Brotherhood’s role in the uprisings but rather to distinguish their political gains from the conditions that continue to motivate the people. The protesters demand their rights to choose their own destiny. If the Obama administration is worried, it’s because the cabinet members recognize the capabilities of the Egyptian people who will no longer tolerate living in an undemocratic and unrepresentative state. The people will no longer be silenced when voicing their concerns over the brutal occupation of the country next door. The leader of the newly free Egypt will be chosen by the people and even if the United States and Israel both stand in denial, Egypt will once again be taken seriously in international political discourse.

The people won’t fail, but it’s unsurprising that the West hopes they will. After all, it’s easy to financially back a leader into power so long as the system is already set up for him. But once the governmental structure collapses, the United States will have lost its final chance at retaining one of its strongest and most notorious backers in the Arab region.

Sami Kishawi

There is one comment

  1. cheyenne

    Excellent..an apt assessment of the beginning-of-the-end of the Mubarak regime and the conundrum of interests vs. rhetoric faced by its supporters. Could you focus a coming post on your perspective of the end-of-the-beginning of the revolution of the Egyptian people? When demands are met (which is, God-willing, only a matter of time) and Tahrir Square is emptied, what are the next steps and what role can/should/will Egypt play as an agent of change in the region? Are we being overly optimistic in viewing its liberation as the proverbial domino that we’ve been waiting for? If not, what are the some of the foreseeable/tangible implications this uprising will have for the US/Israel, the wide variety of despotic states in the region and people suffering at the hands of each? Thankfully, there’s no going back, but how will we all move forward? Your piece eluded to some of the potential answers to these questions and, if you’re open to requests, I’d benefit from your perspective in more detail.

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