Obama Soft on Mubarak; Hard on China Over Human Rights

Posted on January 31, 2011


Obama spoke to Chinese President Hu in sharp terms about the sorry state of human rights in China.  But he has been singularly soft-spoken when it comes to Mubarak of Egypt.  According to on-air comments by Dr. Fouad Ajami  [Middle East expert; professor Johns Hopkins; Fellow Hoover Institute] on CNN 1/30/20011, we can look to President Obama as the source for the US initially not being a force behind the rights of the people in the streets. Obama created a kind of “vacuum.”  The Muslim Brotherhood  have stepped into the vacuum. Now, the Anti-Americanism is beginning to show.  He referred back to Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech as did the author of the following:

In accordance with his warm new priorities, democracy was the fourth of Obama’s five themes is his speech in Cairo in 2009, the one called “A New Beginning.” When he finally got around to it, he introduced it this way: “I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.” Or: the United States will no longer bother you about how you are living. He then proceeded to a fine little sermon about the virtues of government “through consent, not coercion,” but said nothing about the political conditions in Egypt. The Cairo speech did not discomfit the Mubarak regime. I imagine that many of Obama’s listeners in Cairo that day are on the streets of Cairo today, and some of them attacked the American Embassy.It was a terrible mistake for Obama to make democratization seem like an “imposition,” with its imperialist implications, and to conflate it with military invasion. The promotion of democracy is a policy of support for indigenous Egyptian, or Arab, or Muslim democrats who are just as authentic as indigenous Egyptian, or Arab, or Muslim autocrats and theocrats, and certainly more deserving of American respect. It is a policy—to borrow Gibbs’s words—of taking sides—specifically, of taking sides with peoples against regimes. It does not create dissidents, in some sort of ugly-American conspiracy; it finds them, and then it assists them, because they are in need of assistance, and because assisting them expresses our values and our interests. To be sure, there are instances in which our interests and our values may collide, because anti-democratic and anti-American forces may come to power by means of a democratic process; but there is no surer way to bring them to power than to ignore the illegitimacy of a tyrannical government and the ordinary grievances of a repressed population. The bizarre irony of Obama’s global multiculturalism is that it has had the effect of aligning America with regimes and against peoples. This was the case with our response to the Iranian rebellion in 2009, and it was the case with our response to the Egyptian opposition until a few hours ago. The striking thing about Barack Obama’s “extended hand” is how utterly irrelevant it is to the epochal events in Egypt, and Tunisia, and Iran, and elsewhere.

Leon Wieseltier is the literary editor of The New Republic.

NOTE:   Full text of Obama’s Cairo Speech 2009 may be found here.

Finally, one last look at the effects of the Obama policy in Egypt:

Obama’s Freedom Agenda for Egypt

By Ken Silverstein

From Adam Shatz in London Review of Books:

Barack Obama, keen to break with Bush’s messianic talk about spreading democracy, has worked to rebuild trust with the Egyptian government. In his speech in Cairo in June 2009, he spoke of his belief that all people want ‘government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people’, and insisted that ‘we will support them everywhere.’

Yet he has done little more than express mild criticism of Mubarak for extending the Emergency Law, and his administration has reverted to the pre-2004 position of reserving USAID funds for NGOs approved by the Egyptians. Military aid, Robert Gates has made clear, will be provided ‘without conditions’.

Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations has published a ‘contingency planning memorandum’ in favour of continued support to the regime, which, as he describes it, ‘has helped create a regional order that makes it relatively inexpensive for the United States to exercise its power’. Less expensive at any rate than it would be in the event of an Islamist takeover that ‘would pose a far greater threat—in magnitude and degree—to US interests than the Iranian revolution’.

This seems to be the Obama administration’s implicit wager, too. It’s bad news for ElBaradei and his supporters: bad news for all the Egyptians who fear that they will never know democracy because of the ‘American veto’.  [Harper’s]

Obama was too late in Tunisia and is too late in Egypt to side with the people and to adhere to American values.  But then, he has not done that on the home front either. Too late the Administration has said that it will withhold foreign aid if undue force is used to suppress the people in the streets. [NY Daily News]

Egypt is ruled by one of the most oppressive regimes in the Middle East. Mubarak has clung to power since 1981, under emergency laws that allow him to imprison thousands of dissidents without charge or trial, to muzzle the press and to stifle peaceful political activity. Mubarak’s regime receives nearly $1.5 billion a year in U.S. assistance, making it the second-highest beneficiary of American foreign aid after Israel.

The majority of this U.S. aid – $1.3 billion – goes to the Egyptian military. If Obama threatens to withhold this money, he could force the military to remain on the sidelines instead of cracking down on protesters, effectively ending Mubarak’s reign. (The administration said on Friday it would “review” U.S. aid to Egypt if protesters are dealt with harshly, but that is a vague threat.)

Posted in: DEMOCRACY, EGYPT