Speech on Uprising in Egypt

by Danny Colligan

President Obama delivered a much-hyped 2009 speech in Cairo entitled "On A New Beginning." [1] His intention in Egypt was "to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect" and he lauded the common values of "justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings." Obama's remarks were received with much praise.

Less well known are Obama's remarks spoken immediately before his Cairo trip regarding the relation between the two worlds that perhaps more accurately reflect US foreign policy in the Middle East. When asked if he would address the "authoritarian" nature of the Mubarak regime, Obama meekly replied "I tend not to use labels for folks." Obama continued, "[Mubarak] has been a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States." [2]

The warmth that Obama shows towards Mubarak is not unique amongst US politicians. Vice President Joe Biden told PBS, "Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts ... I would not refer to him as a dictator." [3] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was even more lavish in her praise, saying, "I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family." [4] Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain recently lamented the "virus [] spreading throughout the Middle East" that threatened to topple the US's treasured ally. [5]

Given the history of US foreign policy in the Middle East, these anti-democratic remarks are entirely expected. Contrary to popular belief, the United States has been quite content to support authoritarian regimes at the expense of the people of the Middle East. A case in point is Mubarak, who has received $1.3 billion dollars annually in American military aid and who is the second largest recipient of total American aid. [6] This in addition to the aforementioned ideological cover in which senior US politicians continue to shower him. Such a policy towards Arab dictators is not new. The National Security Council informed President Eisenhower that "In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism. They believe that the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress." [7] Which is, no doubt, an accurate perception.

Attention to the American administration's current moves suggests this policy will not change anytime soon. According to today's New York Times, Obama is attempting to put Omar Suleiman, current Egyptian Vice President, at the head of a new government. [8] Such a change would be a different face in power, but would not signify a substantive policy shift. As Jane Mayer reminds us in an article entitled "Who Is Omar Suleiman?" the current Vice President was the CIA's "point man" for renditions and oversaw torture of detainees. [9][10]

The popular democratic uprising in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world has been quite inspiring. And the United States' policies towards the region, yesterday and today, have been anything but. At the very least, we should embrace the principle that Egyptian affairs are for Egyptians to decide and stop thwarting their efforts towards self-determination. More constructively, the United States should pursue policies that work to nurture Egyptian democracy in concert with the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

The Arab revolts have an spurred an awakening in the United States about the realities of the Middle East. The Progressive Jewish blog Mondoweiss highlighted the fact that web traffic to AlJazeera.net is now equal to that of the New York Times, a dramatic rise from just a week ago. [11] An Al Jazeera staffer noted that 45% of the web traffic for Egypt coverage is coming from the US. [12] More and more Americans are now realizing the terrible reality of what is US foreign policy in Egypt and elsewhere.

What should we do with this new found knowledge? I say we follow the example of our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere and work to change the rapacious policies of the American government through democratic means. Perhaps we may one day reach a point where support for brutal dictators is not a feature of the present, but a shameful reminder of the distant past. The people gathered here at present give me hope that this goal may be possible. Thank you.

[1] http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-cairo-university-6-04-09
[2] http://www.haaretz.com/news/preparations-for-obama-visit-in-full-force-in-egypt-1.277150
[3] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Backchannels/2011/0127/Joe-Biden-says-Egypt-s-Mubarak-no-dictator-he-shouldn-t-step-down
[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/09/AR2009030902478.html
[5] http://www.democracynow.org/2011/2/4/headlines/mccain_compares_pro_democracy_movement_to
[6] http://www.presstv.ir/detail/163197.html
[7] Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects. p.193
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/04/world/middleeast/04diplomacy.html?hp
[9] http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/01/who-is-omar-suleiman.html
[10] http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/02/04/guantanamo/index.html
[11] http://mondoweiss.net/2011/02/how-do-you-say-all-the-news-thats-fit-to-print-in-arabic.html
[12] http://twitter.com/mohamed/status/31043443497111552

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