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  • Freedom (Kinda)

    Why would the United States want Egypt to be democratic, while really not wanting it to be democratic?

    I was listening to an interesting conversation about the new political climate in Egypt. Two well-known media personalities were commenting about the impact the change in political culture might have on the United States. They both agreed that democracy for anyone, for everyone was a good thing, yet  somewhere “darker,” they both agreed that a democratic Egypt might not be optimum for the United States right now.

    I had always thought that America was an agent for freedom: a voracious advocate for democracy around the world, yet somehow, democracy for Egypt might be a bad thing for America.

    I learned that we live in real-world instances when a country and  its political apparatus, moves through more of a Realpolitik than human rights or civil rights initiatives, but why?

    Interests and leverage.

    If you pinpoint the reason why any individual or group seeks power, it’s rarely money alone. Power is usually formed for the ability to be actionable towards specific and personal interests, and the money and influence is how those people seeking power can turn their ideas and principles into tangible assets, which most likely imposes their worldview on others without such power.

    In Obama the Realist, Ross Douthat stated, “Obama’s response to the Egyptian crisis has crystallized his entire foreign policy vision. Switch on Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, and you would assume that there’s a terrible left-wing naïveté — or worse, a sneaking anticolonial sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood — at work in the White House’s attempts to usher Hosni Mubarak out the door. But look closer, and it’s clear that the administration’s real goal has been to dispense with Mubarak while keeping the dictator’s military subordinates very much in charge. If the Obama White House has its way, any opening to democracy will be carefully stage-managed by an insider like Omar Suleiman, the former general and Egyptian intelligence chief who’s best known in Washington for his cooperation with the C.I.A.’s rendition program. This isn’t softheaded peacenik dithering. It’s cold-blooded realpolitik.” I guess that’s freedom (kinda).

    So why would the United States want Egypt to be democratic, while really not wanting it to be democratic? American interests are deeply aligned and defined with Hosni Mubarak’s past regime. Yes, he disrupted the country’s growth, interrupted innovation and intentionally reduced the connectivity of Egypt to the rest of the world, especially for Egypt’s younger populations, but as far as the United States is concerned, Mubarak had been a stable influence in an often volatile region. Mubarak is gone – now what?

    American political, military and economic (oil) interests are concerned that a more “hardlined” government (Muslim Brotherhood) will take the place of the current Egyptian government, and America will be out of sync with the new government. American policy makers also worry that we will have no indigenous Egyptians that can or are willing to proselytize on our behalf. America will soon be the most powerful country in the world, without a strong voice in the most important region of the world – troubling.

    The television commentators kept pointing out that the American military gives more than one-billion dollars annually to Egypt, which should keep American interests appropriated as in the past. American foreign policy and military experts should know that the Egyptian people have never seen any of that money.

    None of that money has ever touched Egypt’s infrastructure, citizen economy, employment initiatives or social services etc. The one-billion never left the coffers of the highest political and military authorities, so that will not be a carrot that America can offer to quell a people’s revolution. You cannot scare people into a more accommodating position, by telling them that you are going to take away what they never had.

    In the last couple of years, America has watched awakenings within the Middle East, sleepy and poor countries, now bursting with nationalism and demanding their piece of the twenty-first century. Youth populations in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Algeria and “possibly,” Bahrain, Libya and of course, Syria, are demanding their moment and I believe they will have it.

    America also worries about the effect the uprising will have on the geopolitics of Israel and it should. Israel, one of America’s strongest allies becomes more precariously positioned, because no one really knows what position a “new Egypt” takes with Israel, and how influential that will be within the rest of the Arab states.

    Without Egypt providing “cover” for Israel within the region, and with Israel at a distance from a realistic plan and partnership with Palestine, Israel becomes even more isolated, suddenly more intolerable in the region, which is worst case scenario for both Israel and the United States. Now that Mubarak is gone, America’s big question about Egypt — does it become Turkey or Iran?

    So my question, should America want the right thing because it’s the right thing or only want the right thing for America’s interests. If I’m honest, do I really care, as long as the amenities remain unchanged? Of course I do, yet that’s the complexity of these issues. The very things, which make America strong and plural, debilitates someone else from having the very same freedoms, rights and opportunities as we do. Is that fair or am I looking at this with purposeful naiveté, as opposed to cold-blooded realism?

    Are we only the American “idea” when it serves our interests or are we something bigger than that? What is the balance between what we need and what other people need, and what they might actually need from us, or does it matter at all, as long as we get what we need?

    Good Luck

    Calvin Wilson

    Filed Under: Global Business


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    1. Upstart says:

      We are a country that politically distracts ourselves from are actual problems and deficiencies by creating boogy men especially outside our boarders. Think of the lost opportunities of the 20th century. Ho in 1918, 1946 and 1956. Lenin in 1919. Would Fidel still be in power if we had normal relations. Iran in the 50’s. Mao and Zhou in 1946. The need for external boogy men is that otherwise we would be far less controllable or predictable if we went after the real domestic villains. The “evil empire” died with Stalin while Reagan was still a liberal.

      Keeping a grasp on reality is always hard. But we make it worse. We become blind and deaf scribes. In1962 they were looking at our 10 to 1 nuclear advantage as giving us the upper hand. Thankfully, they projected that our casualties even with less than a 10% Soviet response success the US would cease to exist as a functioning republic.

      Orwell indicated that power over others was end to itself. Pursuit wealth and all other such manifestations serve that goal. Power is the drug we need not stategically but because we all die and unlike other creatures we really know that life won’t continue forever.

      We are stuck with our billion dollar commitment to Egypt’s army. But we should only make it clear that they should oversee a new democratic constitution acceptable to the vast majority wo any other preferences. If it turns out to be tied Islam in some way, taking a stand would not only be counter productive but hypocritical considering the revived interest here in Christian government. The Brotherhood is no joke, but if we are not detached, Egyptians will only be more inclined to favor them. The peace works as much for Egyptians as Israelies. So be cool

      Steve Berens [steveberens@ymail.com]

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