Obama, don’t fear change in Egypt
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has announced he will not stand for reelection in the fall, Reports are that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak will not stand for reelection in the fall, and one reason for Mubarak’s decision is that President Barack Obama privately urged this course.
That’s a step in the right direction — but President Obama needs to go much farther. He should publicly, and enthusiastically, back the protesters who are demanding a new dawn in Egypt.
Yes, many things could go wrong if there is sweeping change in the world’s oldest nation. But many things could go right, too. America’s highest ideal is freedom. The United States strongly supports freedom for itself, for Europe, for China and Japan. Why not for Egypt?
In 1979, Washington put itself on the wrong side of the Iranian revolution, standing by the dictator Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. When he fell, the United States looked foolish and lacked credibility with Iran’s next generation. In 1991, Washington put itself on the right side of the Moscow military coup d’état, with the elder George Bush publicly, and firmly, backing the thousands of Russians who took to the streets demanding elected government.
True, the 1979 Iranian revolution led to a dangerous theocracy, at least at the top (many young Iranians strongly oppose the country’s corrupt regime). Perhaps if the United States had sided with democracy in Iran in 1979, the outcome would have been different. And true, today’s Russian Federation has taken, at best, halting steps toward consent of the governed. But compared to Russia’s past, that is progress. In 1991, when Washington did the right thing regarding Russia, the good guys won.
It is time to do the right thing regarding Egypt — Barack Obama, cast America’s lot with the demonstrators in the streets! Their cause is just and their desire to be set free from dictatorship is the same desire that motivated the founding of the United States. America must not be caught on the wrong side in Egypt in 2011, as it was in Iran in 1979.
If Mubarak’s autocracy collapses, practically anything could happen — from democracy in Egypt (great for Egyptians, and great for Israel) to theocracy (bad for Egyptians and Israelis both) or perhaps something in between. There is risk involved in any change.
But backing the pro-democracy freedom activists on the streets of Cairo — who are showing discipline in mainly being peaceful, a good sign — is the right thing to do.
Propping up dictators in hope of regional stability has long been American policy in the Middle East and nearby areas, and what has it gotten the United States? Oil supplies and endless inconclusive tension. What has it gotten the people of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other nations? A miserable life under dictatorship. That’s not right. The United States must stand for what’s right.
What’s right is a bold endorsement, by President Obama, of the pro-democracy movement in Egypt.
Yes, this could trigger a sequence of events that would be bad for Israel’s security. It could also trigger a sequence of events which gives Israel a large, strong neighboring democracy, improving Israel’s situation dramatically. In either case, how can it be right that 80 million live under the heel of dictatorship in Egypt so that 8 million can live in freedom in Israel? There must be another way.
In the last generation, the old Soviet Union collapsed; China has changed from ruthless party control to semi-free; South Africa abandoned apartheid in a peaceful fashion; India has become a free-market democracy that protects freedom of speech. All these positive developments were viewed as impossible by the sorts of people who want to protect the old status quos in these nations against change.
If Egypt changes from autocracy to even fitful, halting free elections and free speech, that could send dictators on the run across the Arab world — and perhaps the Persian world of Iran, too.
Barack Obama — don’t be timid! Don’t fear change! Cast America’s lot with those marching for freedom on the streets of Cairo!
Photo, Top: A demonstrator holds up a sign during a protest outside the White House in Washington, January 29, 2011. Protests emerged in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, where about 150 people marched from the Egyptian Embassy to the White House and stood outside the gates chanting, “Hey Obama, don’t you know, Hosni Mubarak has to go.” REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana
Botom: President Barack Obama speaks with Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak before a round table session during the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy July 9, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed