Several days ago, VP Biden said that Mubarak was not a dictator, upsetting, predictably, those who support the democratic uprising in Egypt. That was on Thursday – at the beginning of a string of protests that has already toppled the faceless technocrats in the government and will like bring the heavy top down as well. Yesterday, well into the protests, US President Obama made a major speech in which he carefully treaded between support for the demonstrators and for the longtime US ally. Again, supporters of Egyptian democracy were upset at the President for not denouncing Mubarak. It seems for now, that the US government is attempting to remain neutral for as long as possible.
Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei called out the US government for its inability (or unwillingness) to pick sides in the debate. Those protesting in DC likely were of the same opinion. It seems clear to most that the Mubarak era is rapidly and unceremoniously coming to a close. Why is the Obama administration not jumping on board? March Lynch maintains that the President’s approach to these events is well thought-out and his support for both sides should not be read as blind support for the dictator:
What [the Egyptian people] do need, if they think about it, is for Obama to help broker an endgame from the top down — to impose restraints on the Egyptian military’s use of violence to repress protests, to force it to get the internet and mobile phones back online, to convince the military and others within the regime’s inner circle to ease Mubarak out of power, and to try to ensure that whatever replaces Mubarak commits to a rapid and smooth transition to civilian, democratic rule. And that’s what the administration is doing.
Logical. work the practicalities while giving Mubarak one last chance. It seems like the diplomatic response, rather than the activist one and, as Lynch notes, Egyptian supporters would have been angry with anything short of a demand for Mubarak’s fall. Great, but what happens next. If Mubarak falls, the dictator who held a central role in American regional policy is gone, filled, one would hope, by a democratically elected alternative.
ElBaradei? The recently appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman? A Muslim Brotherhood member?
Certainly, the US would be fine with the first two. ElBaradei is perhaps more western than Egyptian (even if he has been trying to hide it recently) and Suleiman has played a major role in the US backed Israel-Egyptian peace since 1993. The last possibility has many in the States concerned. Democratically elected Islamists in Egypt mean danger for Israel (so the argument goes.)
[tweetmeme] The ‘danger’ of democracy leading to undesirable results for the US is exactly why the US has supported dictators across the region. Yet, the program of democracy promotion in the Middle East – or at least the rhetoric it contained – is leading to a clash between the ideal of democracy and the ideal leaders. Part of the big democratization effort of the Bush administration was to promote elections in Palestine. Hamas (the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) won, and the US urged the toppling of the will of the Palestinian people. Now Hamas is buried in Gaza and Fatah is without support in the West Bank.
Could Egypt be another example of unwanted democratic change? Will the US support Egyptian democracy if – and only if – the Egyptian people can elect the ‘right’ person? It is highly unlikely that the US would replicate its actions in Palestine should the Muslim Brotherhood win elections, but that has not stopped many in the US from feeling a sense of uneasiness over these Egyptian protests.
Thomas Joscelyn of the Weekly Standard, goes out of his way to underline his belief that the only the ‘right’ democratically elected leaders are acceptable:
Hosni Mubarak’s regime is no friend of freedom, even though it is certainly an ally against al Qaeda.
In all likelihood, an Egypt dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood (if that is how the turmoil plays out) would be neither.
Ben Birnham of the Washington Times provides yet another example of the imperfect democratic tendencies of many in America:
It is understandable that many in Washington are hypersensitive to the possibility of a Brotherhood-led Egypt. Many in Washington are unwavering supporters of Israel and a Brotherhood government in Egypt would effectively end the siege on Gaza (at least the Egyptian end) while presenting a potentially hostile government on Israel’s border. Unfortunately for those rainy-day friends of democracy in Washington, there is nothing they can do to avoid democracy in Egypt.
So where does the Obama administration stand now? It seems clear from his speech last night that Obama can count Mubarak’s remaining days without trouble and is attempting to transition American support from dictator to democracy. The more important question is where will Obama stand one year from now, when he may be meeting with the new Islamist president of Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood could be democratically elected in Egypt and the US should be prepared for that possibility. However, unlike the ideologically confused pundits who seem to support democracy in only certain situations, the United States should accept whatever the Egyptian people choose. Who leads Egypt after Mubarak should be the choice of the people of Egypt – a fact that many in America have not seemed to accept.
Photo from AWL