Four weeks have passed since the beginning of the people’s revolution in Egypt and while much of the world celebrates the fall of a dictator and his brutal regime by protesting neighboring dictators in the Arab world, the United States and Israel together stand knee deep in a pool of misconception and disappointment.
January 25 marked the first day of protests in Egypt. Calling for an end to government corruption, police brutality, and violations against social and civil liberties, the crowds of protestors quickly grew in both size and power until finally, on February 11, after almost three weeks of braving state-sponsored intimidation and incitement, Hosni Mubarak waived his office of presidency and fled Cairo. Egypt took its first step toward true democracy and other countries quickly followed suit.
Like many others, I naïvely expected the United States to champion the Egyptian people for their impassioned determination to peacefully bring about democratic reform to a country in which the self-chosen president selfishly amassed $70 billion in personal assets while half of the population lived hungrily on less than $2 a day. But even at the onset of the revolution, the Obama administration made its stance clear: Vice President Biden declared his trust in Mubarak, Hillary Clinton implicitly urged the protestors to reconsider, and President Obama himself failed to support or even acknowledge what conservative news sources managed to frame as the looming threat of democracy in an Arab country.
In all fairness, the U.S. government did eventually manage to align itself with the protesters – due in part to mounting criticism for ignoring Egypt’s galvanic push toward increasingly democratic values but also because, as an expert political analyst once put it, America must always end up on the right side of history.
Nevertheless, this does not discount the fact that the next edition of high school history textbooks can’t claim the U.S. brought democracy, or even the idea of it, to the region. Inspired by the Tunisian revolution the month before, the revolution in Egypt was Egyptian-bred and Egyptian-led. The same can be said in Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, and Yemen today.
Despite the successes (and the horrifying tragedies) of these pan-Arab-like revolutions thus far, it comes as no surprise that the Obama administration’s first foreign response – to Mubarak’s resignation and to the subsequent catalysis of the entire region – was a diplomatic trip to Tel Aviv involving American and Israeli security officials. Concern over the future of Egypt’s already fragile peace treaty with Israel has since taken center stage on Capitol Hill, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to voice his disapproval of Mubarak’s resignation and his worry that national authority might transfer to radical extremists intolerant of Israeli policy.
Furthermore, the growing reality of North African resistance to U.S.-backed regimes has forced American security officials to reconsider their complicit involvement and interference in Middle Eastern affairs. And in the Gulf, Bahrain is consistently singled out as Iran 2.0. Rather than recognizing the Arab world’s move towards democratic stability, foreign administrations insist on labeling each individual revolution as an Islamist opportunity, a threat to the only European state in the Asian and African Middle East, and a potential for disaster that must be quelled as soon as possible.
It is this exact mentality that undermines both America’s and Israel’s roles as the proverbial beacon of democracy in their respective regions. And it is this very misconceived notion that necessitates the enlightenment of all of those who are critical of the Arab world for criticism’s sake or for the sake of American-Israeli political interests.
Returning to Egypt in particular, the people revolted against Mubarak’s regime because it didn’t represent them, address their national-interest concerns, or even secure their fundamental civil rights. One of Mubarak’s policies that struck an angry cord is his complicity in the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip. He openly supported the indefinite closure of Gaza’s borders and he refused to use his leverage or political influence to convince Israel to back down in its assault on the territory that left over 1400 dead just two years ago. It is fair to say that his allegiance to the Israeli military drove the population of Egypt against him.
Judging by the American-Israeli reaction to the Egyptian revolt in particular, I’m forced to narrow my conclusions to the following two: Either the West (and by ‘West’ I mean Netanyahu’s Obama-backed administration) inherently despises the Arab world or it openly interprets the region’s population as one tied to extremism, murder, and violence. Whichever it may be, Netanyahu is wrong and his concerns are illegitimate, unrealistic, and based solely on misconception.
The same logic applies to Obama’s administration. What began as a unified push against undemocratic and un-American authoritarianism has since been interpreted and transmuted into a sludge of ill-conceived emotions and ideas. At face value, the U.S. government seemingly appreciates the spread of democracy to Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain, but because Israeli policy is at risk, there will be no pro-democracy festivities on Capitol Hill or in Tel Aviv tonight.
It is this discontentment that makes the Middle Eastern revolution for democracy all the more glorious.