Opinion

Gregg Easterbrook

Obama, don’t fear change in Egypt

February 1, 2011

EGYPT-USA/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.

G8-SUMMIT/

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

Comments
20 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

‘Cast America’s lot with those marching for freedeom on the streets of Cairo!’ – Barak Obama. That’s the Muslim Brotherhood doing all the marching isn’t it?

Posted by amos033 | Report as abusive
 

The writer is wrong to say India has become a free-market democracy that protects freedom of speech.

India was always a free market free speech democracy, even 60 years ago. I know it since I was born in it almost 60 years ago and lived half my life there.

Free speech was always there in India, we never ever had problems with free speech. Politicians and people could be as vocal as they wanted and demonstrate as much as they wanted. India had plenty of corruption then as it has now, but was never a police state.

Free market domestically was always there in India – you could always start any business, sell anything, provided you didn’t import goods and services. Understandably as a poor country then India could not waste resources importing products. Today India has plenty of money and exports – hence it can import freely. The current Prime Minister certainly helped open the Indian economy by boldly growing the economy, opening it to world markets, increasing exports.

Posted by vocal1000 | Report as abusive
 

I have a greater fear of lack of change in the US! Cut spending for a change- you’ve had two years notice and the rest of us (private sector) were forced to change dramatically! Where’s your sense of fairness & equality? Ask what your country can do for you or?

Posted by DrJJJJ | Report as abusive
 

The author says “America’s highest ideal is freedom. The United States strongly supports freedom for itself, for Europe, for China and Japan. Why not for Egypt?”

I ask, “why then, did Barack Obama not forcefully support freedom itself in Iran in 2009 when Ahmadinejad stole the presidential election?”

And speaking of freedom from dictators…of course it would not be politically correct for a Reuters article to mention that Saddam Hussein no longer has 30+ million people under his boot.

This article presents a carefully chosen part of the overall picture. It’s utterly unsurprising which parts they chose to leave out.

Posted by Realist99 | Report as abusive
 

Yes, our own power elites will not accept democracy here, clinging to the pretense that our elections are open and fair while rigging them before the actual ballot through ballot control. Then we are told stuffing the ballot box after the election date is evil, but precluding any opposition from the ballot beforehand is alright. Our so-called “two party” system that is truly a one party system.

We too need reform and change.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive
 

It must be the ice storm or some strange magnetic field surrounding my office, but I find myself in the odd position of disagreeing with Bret Stephens and AGREEING with Easterbrook. I can’t find a single item to nit-pick. What is this world coming to? He’s right: support the freedom-seeking Egyptians.

Posted by mheld45 | Report as abusive
 

Yes, Vocal 1000, and your free market and boldly growing economy resulted in tens of thousands of American jobs being exported to your country and yes, we allowed our misguided corporations to accomplish this for higher profits.

Fortunately, this is about to change. There has never been a service or product which cannot be successfully produced in the USA. I see a growing demand for American-made product, resulting in factories re-opening and streamlining. By necessity, old manufacturing paradigms will have to be changed both by management and labor. We need to stay home and take care of business (literally) here.

We are learning the hard way, but the American dream will survive, make no mistake.

Posted by Buzz1234 | Report as abusive
 

US always support democracy in principle, but why should they be involved directly, cast a lot with demonstrators of mixed viewes and with unknown yet results ? After all it’s all internal matter of egyptians.

Posted by Alex5627 | Report as abusive
 

Yes, the Moslem Brotherhood has now joined the protesters — but as followers, rather than leaders. By and large this is a secular protest.

Posted by Lisboeta | Report as abusive
 

Obama’s message to Mubarak is quite clear!
Besides, as the street protests appear to be spontaneous and fairly peaceful, there may not be a compelling need to make a public declaration of solidarity with the protesters.
It should suffice for USA to support regime change, without overtly taking sides with any particular faction.

Posted by Ugottabesick | Report as abusive
 

I have been convinced that, regardless of the dangers, the US and Obama should use the protests to publicly reiterate their support of non-violent protests for democracy. As the author points suggests, a generation from now, whatever happens, it is likely Egyptians will remember the US’s stance.

I hope Easterbrook’s article is available on the Arabic version of Reuters.

Posted by Njonsey | Report as abusive
 

I think the reason Obama doesn’t tell Mubarak to go is because of the American monied interests there and the fact that if he does, it will all come out how the Egyptians did the Bush administration’s dirty work with regard to supposed terrorists arrested during that administration. Everything is about secrets and money, above all, money.

Posted by palmer1619 | Report as abusive
 

In theory it all sounds well and good: Democracy for the Egyptians! It has a chance, but so does an influx of radical Islamic trouble makers who could turn the well-intentioned fledgling democracy upside down. They know that destabilzing Egypt would destabilize the Middle East. Next would be Jordan. And then our ally, the democratic, freedom-loving Israelis would be all alone in a sea of insanity. Let’s proceed with caution and be careful what we wish for!

Posted by jetsetgal | Report as abusive
 

Let the citizens of Egypt chart their future, we should stay the heck out of it other than to verbally encourage democracy. It would be nice to have it here too!

Posted by Marla | Report as abusive
 

Brian57 wrote:
Obama says change in Egypt “must begin now”

Change has to start right here in America. Obama is missing the bigger picture and that is the problem with our government. Stop helping other countries and help the citizens in America. We need to get rid of the 2 political parties and be the “American” party. If our government keeps putting themselves and other countries before the American people, there will be an uprise right here in America. Americans are not going to wait much longer for our incompetent and selfish politicians to keep jerking us around and using us.

Posted by Brian57 | Report as abusive
 

Recent human history is experimental proof of the success of democracy against various dictatorships. Should another variable of dictatorship,say religious, result from democracy, it would, due to past experience, education, also be recognised as unfit for progress and eliminated.

Posted by exelhorn | Report as abusive
 

as mubarak said,the world does not understand egyptian culture.democracy and free election ,as known in world are not valid for arabs, for muslim countries ,for egyptian people.remember that gaza elected hamas by democracy ,iran elected najad by democracy.the fore-last elections in egyptian parliament were overwhelmed by muslim botherhood,
this is the best indicator .that is islam .islam,dictatorship can prevail by democracy ,but not democracy by islam

Posted by mned | Report as abusive
 

History is a great teacher, sudden revolution seldom turns out the way dreamt of before the change. Iranian revolution traded one dictatorship for another. Democracy has to do with the growth and maturity of a people. I think Egypt is ripe for that change but it must be planned and done systematically to ensure that the institutions are changed. A vacuum creates uncertainty, the greater the ncertainty the greater the struggle by different factions to control the shape of the new Egypt. The protestors are correct without their pressure change was not coming and status quo was more entrenched. But demanding immediate change is not in their best interests. The parties need to sit down and have an interim guiding committee made up of the various factions. Let the current parliament pass the legislation, the threat of demonstration will keep them on target. The interim period to allow various parties to campaign and put their case to people. Allow people to consider their new choices. Then vote the change.

Posted by SQUEEZY | Report as abusive
 

In solidarity with the author here. How the US handles this situation is important historically but more importantly, it is simply the RIGHT THING TO DO or are we simply incapabable of thinking this way because we have lost our moral compass? Then perhaps someone should reinstall one in D.C. Perhaps, the USA will need to gain more solid ground in the revival of its own freedom struggle before we see the US government take a strong stance against the myriad forms of oppression that their government is currently backing in the world;structures which are often politically and/or militarily imposed and perpetuated by them. How long will it be before the American people support the same basic human rights to overthrow such tyranny and oppression in their own land?Or will the American people allow the typical scare-mongering of demagogues such as Gingrich and Limbagh to hi-jack this historical opportunity to make a difference.The chance may not come again in the Middle East in this century or ever again. Is it not time to “prove” that America still stands for freedom and justice for all human beings everywhere? How can it call itself a great nation if it would deny the very same principles that once made it great to others? Are not all peoples endowed with inalienable rights under the constitution? Or is congress in the process of changing that too? Perhaps,it is still far easier to continue to talk of patriot acts and perimeter fences and satanical terrorists or to buy into that myopic myth of American exceptionalism — My country right or wrong BECAUSE it serves the bottom line.One thing it does not do is make us all more safe or secure–neither did McCartheism back in the fifties. Only sincere,time-tested bonds of mutual trust and co-operation can do that.Then we might all just manage to get back to a kinder,gentler world for awhile–perhaps for a long time. The US could be one of those nations leading the way if the American people demand that their government act now to show its solidarity with the demonstrators in Cairo.Now,wouldn’t that be “audacious” for a change?

Posted by thefreedomlass | Report as abusive
 

Change has gotten away from the West. This is much bigger than a US problem–it’s becoming a global issue because instability in this region has begun to spread. What does the West–and, for that matter, the developed world–have as an instrument of lowering the cost of living in the Arab world?

Who is willing to sacrifice?

No one is willing to sacrifice. And so, food and fuel prices will continue to rise. Revolution follows.

Posted by NormanRogers | Report as abusive
 

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