Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Seeing The Hieroglyphics On The Wall

With Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announcing he will not seek to remain in power with new elections, an opportunity exists for the United States and its allies, particularly Israel. Despite the genuine risk of an anti-Western government taking power à la Iran in 1979, the U.S., on the heels of Mubarak’s announcement, must now fully embrace the populist revolt that has occurred in Egypt. In spite of setbacks in reforming the governments of both Afghanistan and Iraq from despotism to more egalitarian systems, the U.S. is still the beacon for spreading democratic principles to other nations receptive to them. Egypt, the once-thriving beacon of civilization itself, is no exception to that influence.

An elected official and a pro-Western leader who has provided support in U.S.-led actions in the Middle East, including the 1991 Gulf War and the on-going War on Terror, Mubarak’s regime can hardly be considered democratic. Operating under a referendum election system, the Egyptian constitution restricts who may run against the president. In fact, Mubarak has won successive elections without any opposition candidates since 1987; even after restrictions were amended to allow other candidates in 2005, Mubarak was nominated and confirmed by parliament without facing a single challenger. Further, the country has operated under emergency law since 1967, allowing the extension of police powers, suspension of rights and information censorship (hence, the recent Internet blackout during the current crisis). Even more, political activities including the rights of assembly and unauthorized organization are sharply circumscribed, with the government permitted to imprison individuals without cause or due process for an indeterminate length of time. All with state-run media – three newspapers and television – towing the president’s agenda.

On the other hand, the U.S. must also maintain the delicate diplomacy the State Department has skillfully applied during the course of the unexpected crisis. Reformation of Egypt’s government from Mubarak’s 30-year reign must not be seen as the imposition of the so-called “American imperialist doctrine” that would play into anti-American regimes like Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. Change of the status quo, as it already has occurred, needs to continue growing from the Egyptian people themselves, with the hand of the U.S. firmly yet unassumingly extended in friendship and aid as the country transitions. The odds of the situation developing into another Afghanistan of the 1990s – in which the anti-Western Taliban seized power after a bloody civil war, exasperated by international interference from the likes of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran – is more than just academic.

Ominously, the Egyptian crisis comes as Tunisia and Yemen are experiencing populist revolts against similarly long-standing authoritarian, yet pro-Western governments as well. The question is, when the protests end and the smoke clears will it be the bleak world of 1979 that witnessed the ascendancy of the Islamic Revolution in Iran or the promising world of 1989 that witnessed the toppling of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union? As Mark Twain remarked, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Only a matter of seeing the writing on the wall as to the way in which that history will turn.

©2011 Steve Sagarra

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